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General newbie questions...

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I'm very new to trying to use a smoker. Not being able to afford a nice expensive one I got a Master Forge at Lowe's for about $70 and after watching some youtube vids put dampers in the top and bottom, and made it so I can control the hole in the bottom that came with it. Also raised the water pan a bit so it's easier to add wood and shift the coals around.

 

I bought a digital "wireless" meat thermometer and cooked a pork shoulder, putting it on the well done pork setting which I believe was 160 degrees. When I put it in the meat I was planning on it taking about another 40 minutes but the thermometer said "H" so I figured that meant it was above the target temperature. So I closed all dampers and after a few minutes took the meat out, and it was still red inside. I returned the thermometer. Does anyone have any suggestions about that?

 

A week later I tried a chuck roast about the same size as the pork shoulder, just under 2.5 lbs. I cooked it for 2 hours at between 250 degrees and 300 which was about the same as the pork, and hoping it would still be red inside like the pork was (not having replaced the thermometer yet or still). But sadly it was well done and a bit dry. Does beef cook quicker than pork? Can anyone suggest how to not overcook beef, since I like it rare to medium rare?

 

I'm still trying to find a favorite rub. So far I like Butt Rub. I don't want anything very sweet or spicy. Is the way to apply it just to rub it on the meat and let it sit for a while? How long should it sit before cooking? I'm interested in any favorite rubs people have that are popular and easy to come by, and aren't very sweet or very spicy. Also in what type of wood people like for smoke. I soak it in water for an hour or more. I've tried apple, cherry and hickory and don't taste any difference between them, and don't get much of a smokey flavor out of any of them. I do taste a good smokey flavor from Mesquite though. Maybe my taste buds are going bad now that I'm 56 years old? Does anyone have any comments or suggestions about the wood to use?

 

Thank you for any help!
David

post #2 of 10

Hey David, welcome to SMF.  Be sure to stop in over at Roll Call so folks can properly welcome you.

 

For $70 at Lowes there are two Master Forge smokers that cost about $70.  I'm going to assume you got the Charcoal Vertical Smoker. 

 

I can't help you with the meat probe thermometer unless you can remember the manufacturer.  That will possibly give me an idea what happened.

 

A 2.5 lb pork shoulder or chuck roast (aka chuckie) should both take about the same amount of time, roughly 4-6 hours unwrapped at the smoker temp you were using.  160F internal temp (IT) is WAY too low for both cuts of meat.  They need to be cooked to about the 200F-205F IT and be pulled or shredded.  Cooking either a pork shoulder or chuckie to only 160F IT does not give the collagen inside the tough cuts of meat a chance to melt and break down, making the meat tender and succulent.  At 160F IT you probably had very tough, dry tasting cuts of meat.

 

The cuts of pork and beef you want to serve at lower internal temps are things like pork loins/tenderloins (140-145F IT) and beef sirloin/round/cross rib/prime rib roasts (125-135F IT). 

 

You can sign up for Jeff's 5 Day Course to learn what you need to get that smoker working properly.  You can also take a look at the Amazing Ribs website, go to the "Techniques" section, then read up on the meat science.  Then look at the recipes section and read up on cuts of beef/pork and how best to prepare and smoke them.  You'll be happy if you did both of them.

 

As far as rubs, Jeff's Rub is a solid winner and can be purchased here on the website.  Everything you make yourself is a matter of trial and error.  I've made a bunch of rubs from recipes online and most are okay but won't knock your socks off.  Personal preference plays a big part in what you like too.  I use different rubs for beef, chicken, and pork.  SPOG (Salt, Pepper, Onion powder, Garlic powder) is always a solid winner for just about anything.  I keep the rubs I don't use for smoking meat around though and use them in creative ways, like smoking nuts or making chili. 

 

Have fun smoking.  You'll get this nailed in no time flat!

 

Ray

post #3 of 10

David, Ray has you covered on the rub.  I use Jeffs with a couple things added to make it a touch better.

 

As far as wood,  I use hickory for everything.   I have tons of it available for the cutting.    I can't see going out and buying wood when I can just go cut a tree down.  I have used red oak a couple times.  I really can't tell any difference in the flavor.  But that's just me.

post #4 of 10

Woods, I forgot about the woods.

 

First off, in a charcoal smoker, stop soaking the wood. It is not the same as using a water pan and just messes with your fire and your smoke.   

 

Second, hopefully you are using chunks not chips.  When I wet smoke (water in the water pan), I use 3-4 fist sized chunks of wood or piles of chunks.  When I dry smoke (no water in the water pan), I use up to twice as much and put wood on top and buried down in the charcoal.  I dry smoke the majority of the time.

 

In a charcoal smoker you should be able to taste a distinct difference between woods.  I can definitely taste the difference between hickory and mesquite, two of the strongest woods.  The milder woods like oak, pecan, cherry and apple require a bit more taste bud training to tell the difference, but it is apparent with more experience.  You can wet smoke so more smoke adheres to the meat to help train your taste buds. 

post #5 of 10

Go with what Ray said and you will be good to go. Remember to drop by roll call so we can all give you a proper SMF welcome.:welcome1:

Happy smoken.

David

post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Noboundaries View Post
 

Hey David, welcome to SMF.  Be sure to stop in over at Roll Call so folks can properly welcome you.

 

For $70 at Lowes there are two Master Forge smokers that cost about $70.  I'm going to assume you got the Charcoal Vertical Smoker. 

 

I can't help you with the meat probe thermometer unless you can remember the manufacturer.  That will possibly give me an idea what happened.

 

A 2.5 lb pork shoulder or chuck roast (aka chuckie) should both take about the same amount of time, roughly 4-6 hours unwrapped at the smoker temp you were using.  160F internal temp (IT) is WAY too low for both cuts of meat.  They need to be cooked to about the 200F-205F IT and be pulled or shredded.  Cooking either a pork shoulder or chuckie to only 160F IT does not give the collagen inside the tough cuts of meat a chance to melt and break down, making the meat tender and succulent.  At 160F IT you probably had very tough, dry tasting cuts of meat.

 

The cuts of pork and beef you want to serve at lower internal temps are things like pork loins/tenderloins (140-145F IT) and beef sirloin/round/cross rib/prime rib roasts (125-135F IT). 

 

You can sign up for Jeff's 5 Day Course to learn what you need to get that smoker working properly.  You can also take a look at the Amazing Ribs website, go to the "Techniques" section, then read up on the meat science.  Then look at the recipes section and read up on cuts of beef/pork and how best to prepare and smoke them.  You'll be happy if you did both of them.

 

As far as rubs, Jeff's Rub is a solid winner and can be purchased here on the website.  Everything you make yourself is a matter of trial and error.  I've made a bunch of rubs from recipes online and most are okay but won't knock your socks off.  Personal preference plays a big part in what you like too.  I use different rubs for beef, chicken, and pork.  SPOG (Salt, Pepper, Onion powder, Garlic powder) is always a solid winner for just about anything.  I keep the rubs I don't use for smoking meat around though and use them in creative ways, like smoking nuts or making chili. 

 

Have fun smoking.  You'll get this nailed in no time flat!

 

Ray

Thank you and everyone who has helped me so far! Yes it is the charcoal vertical smoker. At this point I just want to try learning to use a regular cheap thermometer, and then maybe move on to a more expensive one later...not whatever kind I got before, I'll have to check on that.

 

You're right the meat was tough and dry. I never heard about what you said regarding the collagen before so there's a whole new thing to try to learn about. With beef I'm mainly interested in trying to cook it medium rare when possible, so can that be done and still soften up the collagen? I also don't understand what it means to pull meat, or really even to shred it. I'm very ignorant about all this and have never even grilled before, and maybe never will.

 

I want to try to find Jeff's course that you wrote about and also the Amazing Ribs website, and whatever else you think would be good. I wonder if you can get Jeff's rub anywhere other than ordering it online. Do you know? The reason I got interested in this at all is because years ago a guy asked me if I wanted some chili he made in his smoker. He was going away for a while and it would go bad before he got back, so I said okay not expecting much of it. It was awesome!!! I figured it might have a little smokey flavor to it but everything about it was fantastic. Talking to him later I learned that he's really into that stuff big time and enters a lot of contests. And in order to do better in the contests he became a judge so he could learn what they taste for...became a judge to do better in contests. And he bought an RV specifically to go live at contest sites for days at a time. That's pretty into it. 

 

Thank you folks again for your help!

David

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Noboundaries View Post
 

Woods, I forgot about the woods.

 

First off, in a charcoal smoker, stop soaking the wood. It is not the same as using a water pan and just messes with your fire and your smoke.   

 

Second, hopefully you are using chunks not chips.  When I wet smoke (water in the water pan), I use 3-4 fist sized chunks of wood or piles of chunks.  When I dry smoke (no water in the water pan), I use up to twice as much and put wood on top and buried down in the charcoal.  I dry smoke the majority of the time.

 

In a charcoal smoker you should be able to taste a distinct difference between woods.  I can definitely taste the difference between hickory and mesquite, two of the strongest woods.  The milder woods like oak, pecan, cherry and apple require a bit more taste bud training to tell the difference, but it is apparent with more experience.  You can wet smoke so more smoke adheres to the meat to help train your taste buds. 

Thank you again! I would love to stop soaking the wood and as you said it does mess up the fire. But people I talked to all said to soak it which is why I've been soaking it. All I know about is chips sold in a bag at Ace Hardware and Lowe's and it would be great to use something bigger than that too because I've been adding more every 15-20 minutes. Where do you suggest trying to get chunks? It would also be nice to not use the water pan but from my pov so far is seems that is good because it adds humidity to help the meat get less dried out, and also keeps the fire below from being as directly on the meat as it would be without the water pan. Again (still :-) my ignorance is so much that I don't understand the basics apparently, not understanding how it would be good to not soak the wood or use the water pan. Do you ever use the water pan without the water? Maybe put wood in it with the pan dry? I look forward to explanations about all this...my position of ignorance is like an itch that needs scratching, but I can't reach it myself and need help getting to the "spot"...

 

As a sort of interesting side thing I saw an online vid where a guy was showing some mods for a cheap smoker. He was suggesting drilling holes in the charcoal pan so it would breathe better, and then what he did appeared to be to drill holes in the water pan. But now I'm wondering if maybe I got the wrong impression about that too.

 

Thank you people again for your help!

David

post #8 of 10

David this is the only place you can get the rub.  Believe me, I searched the web for it.   Its the best kept secret in the country  but you won't regret getting it.   If you go to the main site everything you need is on the main page.   If you have questions about anything smoking, you found the right forum.   Lots of great helpful friendly folks here.  Cheers!

 

http://www.smoking-meat.com/

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by nopeda View Post
 

Thank you and everyone who has helped me so far! Yes it is the charcoal vertical smoker. At this point I just want to try learning to use a regular cheap thermometer, and then maybe move on to a more expensive one later...not whatever kind I got before, I'll have to check on that.  When you learn to smoke effectively on inexpensive equipment you become so much proficient when you move up to a better design.  It is always best to learn with inexpensive cuts of meat, like chicken, chuck roasts, and pork butts.  Trust me when I say if you did both the pork butt and chuckie again and did exactly like you did the first time, just smoking it longer to a higher internal temp, it would have been great. 

 

You're right the meat was tough and dry. I never heard about what you said regarding the collagen before so there's a whole new thing to try to learn about. With beef I'm mainly interested in trying to cook it medium rare when possible, so can that be done and still soften up the collagen? Smokers work with all kings of meat, both tough and tender cuts.  The Science of Meat on the Amazing Ribs website does a great job of explaining the differences between the two and how best to smoke them.  The tender or lean cuts are the ones you smoke to "medium rare." Tough cuts, highly exercised or weight bearing muscles, have to be smoked to a higher internal temp due to the collagen that forms from constant use by the animal.  It has to "melt" while being cooked and it doesn't even start to melt until 160F internal temperature or so.  That's why you smoke tough cuts to an internal temp of 190F-205F so the collagen melts and makes the meat tender.  Have you ever noticed gelatin in meat juices that have been in the refrigerator overnight?  That's melted collagen, not fat.   

 

I also don't understand what it means to pull meat, or really even to shred it. I'm very ignorant about all this and have never even grilled before, and maybe never will.  Don't sweat what you know and don't know.  Everyone has to start somewhere learning something new.  When a tough cut of meat is properly cooked and the collagen melted it will pull apart easily with a fork held in each hand.  As you "pull" the meat apart you have what is called pulled meat, or shredded.  It leaves you with tender, stringy strands of muscle.   

 

I want to try to find Jeff's course that you wrote about and also the Amazing Ribs website, and whatever else you think would be good. I wonder if you can get Jeff's rub anywhere other than ordering it online. Do you know? The reason I got interested in this at all is because years ago a guy asked me if I wanted some chili he made in his smoker. He was going away for a while and it would go bad before he got back, so I said okay not expecting much of it. It was awesome!!! I figured it might have a little smokey flavor to it but everything about it was fantastic. Talking to him later I learned that he's really into that stuff big time and enters a lot of contests. And in order to do better in the contests he became a judge so he could learn what they taste for...became a judge to do better in contests. And he bought an RV specifically to go live at contest sites for days at a time. That's pretty into it. 

 

Thank you folks again for your help!

David

 

David, thanks for sharing your experience.  We all here try and shorten people's learning curve as much as we can.  You are asking the right questions and on the path to successes. 

post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by nopeda View Post
 

Thank you again! I would love to stop soaking the wood and as you said it does mess up the fire. But people I talked to all said to soak it which is why I've been soaking it. All I know about is chips sold in a bag at Ace Hardware and Lowe's and it would be great to use something bigger than that too because I've been adding more every 15-20 minutes. Where do you suggest trying to get chunks? They sell wood chunks at Home Depot.  It would also be nice to not use the water pan but from my pov so far is seems that is good because it adds humidity to help the meat get less dried out, and also keeps the fire below from being as directly on the meat as it would be without the water pan. Again (still :-) my ignorance is so much that I don't understand the basics apparently, not understanding how it would be good to not soak the wood or use the water pan. Do you ever use the water pan without the water?  My empty water pan stays in my smoker all the time.  I use it as a heat deflector.  I only wet smoke (water in the water pan) maybe 10% of the time, and that's just to get more smoke flavor on the meat.  The water pan is not there so much to keep the meat moist.  It is there to control temperatures in the smoker.  It has to do with physics and the properties of boiling water that I won't bother you with now. 

 

Maybe put wood in it with the pan dry? Nope, don't do it.  Bury your wood chunks in the cold charcoal and put some on top of the cold charcoal too before you add the hot charcoal.  The wood on top will ignite until you start restricting the airflow through the smoker, then the flame decreases and the wood fiber carbonizes, releasing the desired characteristics you want.  Wood that first starts burning burns with a lot of white or grey smoke that is filled with improperly burned fibers.  As your fire heats up and burns more efficiently, the smoke will turn bluish.  It may even disappear but you can still smell it when you whiff your hand over your smoker's vent. That blue or light smoke is the smoke you want on your meat.  I look forward to explanations about all this...my position of ignorance is like an itch that needs scratching, but I can't reach it myself and need help getting to the "spot"...  I'll leave the scratching to you!

 

As a sort of interesting side thing I saw an online vid where a guy was showing some mods for a cheap smoker. He was suggesting drilling holes in the charcoal pan so it would breathe better, and then what he did appeared to be to drill holes in the water pan. But now I'm wondering if maybe I got the wrong impression about that too.

 

Thank you people again for your help!

David

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