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General Smoking Questions for a Beginner

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hi, my name is Jeff.  Earlier this year I picked up my first smoker (electric), and I've been hard at it since.  I love smoking so far, but the reality is that I'm still very green when it comes to smoking.  At this point, I've only been focusing on ribs and have had some success.  I'm stepping up to a longer smoke this weekend -- pork butt -- for a family event.  This will be my first time smoking anything this long (or anything that isn't ribs for that matter), and I have some questions that I could really use help with.

 

I picked up a Maverick wireless thermo.  I haven't had to us a thermo yet because i've been cooking ribs.  

 

  1. Where is the best or recommended place to stick the internal meat probe in the pork?
  2. When wrapping the butt or placing it in a tin pan with a foil cover, how do you manage the wire coming off the meat probe?  I would think that pulling the thermo out, wrapping, and reinserting it would only create unnecessary punctures in the meat, and thus allowing it to dry out more.  Do most just wrap around the wire?

 

A couple more questions:

  1. Do most people inject a pork butt before smoking it?  Is there a good reason not to?
  2. I was reading Jeff's "best mistake ever made" pork butt newsletter.  In this cook, he finished the meat in the oven.  Other cooks he didn't.  Is there a general consensus on which method is better?
  3. For a pork butt, what are some wood preferences?  I was thinking of using a 50/50 of hickory and mesquite.  Almost all the woods are available to me, with the exception of peach.  Any recommendations here?
  4. Lastly, is it better to mix the woods each time I add wood, or to heavy smoke through one wood by itself, then the other?

 

Thanks in advance for any insight!

 

JT

 

EDIT: I reposted this in general discussion forum, and I can't figure out how to delete this post!  I guess I can check both for replies.  My apologies...for the repost.

post #2 of 12
Hi JT! Welcome to SMF!!!
So lets hit the basics. Since this is your first post would you do us a favor and swing by "Roll Call" and introduce yourself so we can give you a proper SMF Welcome, Thanks!

Now the next thing, Safety! There is something we call the "40 to 140 in 4" rule, that is with any meat that is ground or the surface has been compromised by an injection needs to go from 40* to 140* in less than 4 hours. 40* to 140* is called the danger zone where bacteria can grow and if the surface of whole muscle meats has been probed than that bacteria can be pushed deep into the meat.

So if you want to inject your meat with something that is fine but just make sure it gets to over 140* in less than 4 hours. I have tried injections with pork butts but wasn't thrilled with them, I like the natural flavor of pork and it has so much natural moisture I don't think it needs anything added to it. Everyones tastes are different, that was just my opinion.

As far as your temp probe. Butts will take many many hours so I just don't see the need to insert a probe at the start. I always wait at least 3 hours before inserting to make sure the surface temp is above 140*. I really don't care about watching the temp go 50 60 70.... I don't care until it approaches 190*.

Foiling is a big preference. It will speed up the cook but it will also lessen the bark. I Love bark so I never foil, I just ride it out. If you want to foil do it when the butt gets to about 160* and add some liquid. You can pull the probe and after wrapping just stab it back in through the foil, the little juice you might lose won't matter, the previous hole will close itself up. Try and probe in the thickest part of the butt and away from the bone, touching a bone will give a false reading.

Temp is very important for safety but doesn't always tell when it's done. When it gets up to 190*, start probing in different areas, you can use a skewer or toothpick. When it slides in like hot butter you know it's done and will pull very easily. Also with butts, if you grab the bone and it feels very loose it is probably done.

When you pull it off, if you haven't already, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler wrapped in an old towel for insulation for about an hour or so to let all the juices to redistribute, then pull it and start enjoying!

Oh the oven question. Nothing wrong with finishing in an oven Once you wrap in foil you won't be getting any more smoke so an oven is just fine. It really doesn't matter, just a choice of which fuel you want to use.

I hope I covered all your questions, If I missed something I'm sure someone else will hit on it!
post #3 of 12

S2K9K gave some great advice.

 

Probing meat at least before the first 2 hours is a waste of time. So 3 hours for a butt is spot on. I wait for two hours on whole chicken. Waiting is also safer, whenever you probe you are opening it to bacteria, as S2K9K mentioned. 

 

As far as the oven goes not a problem. Meats only take smoke up until about 150-160, there is debate about what temp to be exact but you get the idea. Anything above 160 does not add smoke flavor you are just getting the internal temp up so using a oven just helps you do that. Since an electric smoker does not get that hot an oven is a good option.  

 

Foiling is important for big cuts of meat such as a pork butt or briskett. Thick meat will reach about 150 and stall out and settle there for one, two, three, four hours or more.  The best way to get meat past the stall is to wrap it with foil. This is proven, read this article to learn the theory. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/physicist-cracks-bbq-mystery_b_987719.html

 

You do not have to foil, you can  just wait, as S2k9k mentioned he prefers not to foil because he wants a better bark. It is a preference. If you are on a schedule and family is going to be wating I would foil at 150-160 and get the meat done then l would put the butt in a cooler in the foil maybe an extra wrap of foil and covered with a towel. Let it rest at least an hour. 2 hour or more rest is not bad. Look around the forum for resting times. The longer the rest it really does make a more tender butt. I like to let my butt rest for two hours.

post #4 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pastorgadget View Post

 

 

As far as the oven goes not a problem. Meats only take smoke up until about 150-160, there is debate about what temp to be exact but you get the idea. Anything above 160 does not add smoke flavor you are just getting the internal temp up so using a oven just helps you do that. 

 

The temps you hear about w/  regards to smoke flavor actually only apply to the formation of the smoke ring, meat will take on smoke as long as it's exposed to it but it'll be primarily on the outside. 

post #5 of 12

What Dave said.  I  know my smoker well enough to know that at 250 I will be at 160 IT in 6 hours.  I do foil.  I'm not a huge fan of bark.  By wrapping I can be done with my butt  in about 10-11 hrs.  The more butts you have in your smoker, the longer it will take.  If I'm running a full smoker (14 butts) it will take me around 18-20 hours at 250.   More cold mass, longer to get it all hot.  Practice makes perfect.    

 

I might add to the other comments.  If your rest is more then a couple hours, you may want to pull it at 190 IT.   The meat will continue to cook  in the foil.   Over cooked pork butt becomes kinda mushy.   Its still awesome, but not much to chew on.   Not to worry.  When you foil and towel it for the rest, it will stay above 140 for many hours.   I have packed coolers full of butt, 6 in each and they will be so hot in 6 hours there still to hot to handle.  

 

Good luck and don't forget the Q view!!

post #6 of 12

Tucker, here's how I do mine , it's just another way and you choose what you rather like best:

My answers in Red .

 

  1. Where is the best or recommended place to stick the internal meat probe in the pork?

I like touse a Bone -in Butt, just me, I want the flavor.  Place the probe in the deepest part of the Butt without contact to the bone. Wait about an hour to probe so you get around the 40 to 140 rule.

 2. When wrapping the butt or placing it in a tin pan with a foil cover, how do you manage the wire coming off the meat probe? I would think that pulling the thermo out, wrapping, and reinserting it would only create unnecessary punctures in the meat, and thus allowing it to dry out more. Do most just wrap around the wire?

I never wrap,again my choice, I like the bark it gets...therefore no problem, if you do foil, just wrap it around the probe... the tip of it is the business end .

 

A couple more questions:

  1. Do most people inject a pork butt before smoking it? Is there a good reason not to?

Why inject and chance injecting Microbes and leaving holes for the goodness to run out , but if you do , use all the precautions you can...cross contamination (especially from Poultry) is Bad!!! Stay clean as you can,wash,wash,wash and with some vinegar in the water to help clear the Pathogens.

 2.I was reading Jeff's "best mistake ever made" pork butt newsletter. In this cook, he finished the meat in the oven. Other cooks he didn't. Is there a general consensus on which method is better?

I have done that when time constraints indicated, I got way too tired to Stoke the Pit or for a person that wanted just a little Smoke flavor. My usual practice is ,once in the Smoker, it stays unopened until my target Temp. is reached:

Betty 004.JPG I normally do severalto this point of donness as seen below

 

003.JPG 

700 Still juicy...

 3.For a pork butt, what are some wood preferences? I was thinking of using a 50/50 of hickory and mesquite. Almost all the woods are available to me, with the exception of peach. Any recommendations here?   

I enjoy Apple or Cherry on all Pork, just me...                                                                                                                 

 4.Lastly, is it better to mix the woods each time I add wood, or to heavy smoke through one wood by itself, then the other?  

No, create a nice light - bluish smoke , then introduce the meat , add what you like as far as wood  and keep the smoke clean, pre-heat wood to help in ignition and lower the incidence of 'White' Smoke. If you only smell the odor of smoke and your meat, and the temps. are where they need be ; you're "Prefect".

.

 

a good smoke...

Have fun on your Quest of Perfect Pork Butt and as always . . .                                                                                                   

post #7 of 12

Quote: 4.Lastly, is it better to mix the woods each time I add wood, or to heavy smoke through one wood by itself, then the other?  

No, create a nice light - bluish smoke , then introduce the meat , add what you like as far as wood  and keep the smoke clean, pre-heat wood to help in ignition and lower the incidence of 'White' Smoke. If you only smell the odor of smoke and your meat, and the temps. are where they need be ; you're "Prefect". End Quote.

 

Smoke color and density are not the issue when it comes to smoking meats. Just as there are preferences for different species of wood for a particular cut of meat, certain cheeses, nuts, salt, spices, vegetables, etc, there are different applications for different types of smoke. Thin Blue, Thick White...smoke is smoke for beginners...if you're new to smoked meats, keeping it thin and blue as much as possible is probably to your advantage, but there's nothing wrong with a rolling white smoke now and then, and it's a normal part of smoking when the smoke wood begins heating up anyway. If you really like smoke, this will get you the flavor you want that much sooner. Color and density is nowhere near as important as not allowing the smoke to get stale by preventing it from flowing freely through the smoke chamber...stale smoke is where the bitter taste, numbing of the mouth, lips and tongue will come from.

 

There's a lot more to smoke than most of us care to know, but if you want to learn the heart and soul of smoke, here's a great place to start:

 

http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/139474/understanding-smoke-management-updated-5-18-13

 

 

Eric


Edited by forluvofsmoke - 5/25/13 at 6:47am
post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone!  I've got 2 butts (roughly 15.5lbs total) in the smoke now.  I'll report back how they turn out.

post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hey Gang -

Quick question.  I just foiled the meat with some juice, and i put them back in the smoker at 220-225 degrees. I'm not going to put any more smoke to the meat.  Since the meat is foiled, should I close the damper on the smoker (MES), leave it wide open, or somewhere between.  I know why I shouldn't close off the damper during the actual smoke.  Wasn't sure what is optimal at this stage.

 

Thanks!

JT

post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by JTucker View Post

Hey Gang -

Quick question.  I just foiled the meat with some juice, and i put them back in the smoker at 220-225 degrees. I'm not going to put any more smoke to the meat.  Since the meat is foiled, should I close the damper on the smoker (MES), leave it wide open, or somewhere between.  I know why I shouldn't close off the damper during the actual smoke.  Wasn't sure what is optimal at this stage.

 

Thanks!

JT

 

I think since you're foiled, keep the vent open part-way to allow for more effective convection of heat from the smoke chamber through the foil. Moving heated media (air, water, etc) should transfer it's energy more easily to mass, such as meat, foil or added thermal mass in the smoke chamber. If the air in the cooking chamber is not moving, it transfers it's thermal energy less effectively (more slowly).

 

I have read about a contradiction to this recently, but I'll wait to discuss that until the author has come out off the closet and is openly discussing that information...doesn't want to get flamed for posting it. The member I speak of, myself and one other, are the only one's who know the identity of this person...and for now, it's staying that way.

 

 

Eric

post #11 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by forluvofsmoke View Post

 

 Moving heated media (air, water, etc) should transfer it's energy more easily to mass, such as meat, foil or added thermal mass in the smoke chamber. If the air in the cooking chamber is not moving, it transfers it's thermal energy less effectively (more slowly).

 

Eric

Not being a scientist by any means, but this is called "Convection heat transfer" . The reason a convection oven will cook at a faster rate at the same temperature than a non convection oven will.

 

Tom

post #12 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by JTucker View Post

Hey Gang -

Quick question.  I just foiled the meat with some juice, and i put them back in the smoker at 220-225 degrees. I'm not going to put any more smoke to the meat.  Since the meat is foiled, should I close the damper on the smoker (MES), leave it wide open, or somewhere between.  I know why I shouldn't close off the damper during the actual smoke.  Wasn't sure what is optimal at this stage.

 

Thanks!

JT

JT, afternoon.....   With the meat foiled, in some circles, you will avoid the dreaded stall that may be caused by evaporative cooling.... I would leave it open....  all or some....

 

I, myself, me etc.... recently experimented with the concept of the "stall"....  After drying the meat surface, in the smoker at 140 ish, then smoking for 3-4 hours at 180 ish, I closed the exhaust stack about 98%, (because of the wire holding up the exhaust diverter) on the MES 30, and cranked the temp up to 270 or so....  

 

(My idea was to super heat the outside of the meat and force the liquid back into the center.... Same principle as a steak on the BBQ...  Hot side down, liquid is forced to the top of the steak... I think it is by pressure from the steam, or what ever... The steam can't go out the side where all the heat is... ) 

 

The internal temp of the butt shot up to 159 F like a rocket..  I turned the heat off and left the butt in the smoker to cool down, the smoker was still closed up to reserve what heat was left....  foiled and refered overnight.... 

 

Next day, sliced up half for pork sammies and Bride wanted some for supper as a roast....  Reheated the roast at 225 ish in the oven...   You should have been here to see the expression on Brides face....  I think she made some comment about how moist it was.....  the best roast she had eaten....   The sliced came out the same.... moist and delish.....

 

Maybe this was an anomaly ???  I'll know more on the next butt roast whether it is pulled or sliced...    

 

Sorry for stealing this thread....    hijack2.gif ....Dave

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