First, I love these forums and am glad I signed up several weeks ago.
I wanted to share an observation of mine that's very obvious to many of you veterans.
Smoking meat is a great hobby - (and a profession for some), but I'm beginning to realize that it's very much misunderstood by people that are new to the activity.
What I mean by that comment is this. I've been an avid 'Outdoor Griller' for my whole adult like (I'm 61 years old). Hey, hot dogs, hamburgers, kick-ass BBQ chicken, Steaks cooked to a 'perfect' medium, and on and on. Give me my $200 propane 4-burner grill and I'll whip out anything you want! :)
So, I've walked by smokers at Home Depot, Lowe's Local Outdoor stores, a thousand times. Looking at my wife, I'd walk past them saying "I should get one of those, but I don't know if I'd really use it enough to make it worth having another thing being stored in the garage". How many times I've said that!!!
This past year, I don't know if I've just gotten more interested in smoking, or if it is catching on to be more 'mainstream', but I've noticed that all of a sudden, I'm seeing more of a variety of smokers available. I've also seen larger displays of many more varieties of smoking woods available in bags. Hmmmm.
So I did what most of us do.
I researched a few models that I could buy locally, that fit my budget - under $200, and zero'd in on what seemed like the best choice.
Then I saw an infomercial for a pellet smoker for about $600. Looked really interesting, but no way could I spend that much.
So, I bought the Masterbuilt! :)
After all, what can be so difficult about smoking?
Turn on the propane, fill the water pan, put wood chips in it, and look! I'm smoking!
Right off the bat, what do I try first? Yep, the thing that causes more people heartburn than anything else I've read here. A pork butt.
And, because smoking is so easy, I might as well buy the biggest damn pork butt I can find so I have plenty of leftovers.
So I threw an 8 1/2 pounder in the smoker at around 10:00 on a Saturday morning, expecting that we should be eating by 4:00.
Ok, The end of that story is pretty obvious. Pulled it off way later than 4:00, the meat was hitting around 175 which I thought was already overdone, and I literally used my carving knife to slice it. It was tough, and was nothing like what I expected.
So I posted - looking for help.
Wow, heat was too high, no - heat was too low, you didn't wrap it in foil, you didn't let it cook long enough, People asking me:
What's the "IT",
Was it 'FOTB",
Did you use a Thermapen?
Did you double check your oven temperature because the one that comes with the unit is crap?
Huh? What? Don't laugh. It took me a few minutes to figure out what FOTB and IT were aconyms for.
And I had to look up Thermapen on Amazon to see what that was.
$140 for an instant thermometer? Ok, that's not gonna happen. I bought a $10 one that looks the same, seems to read accurate, and will probably break - but I can't spend $140 on a thermometer.
Well, after the pork butt debacle, I decided to try something much easier.
Yea, Baby Back ribs.
Heck, those are easy to cook.
So I picked up 4 slabs, got me some Apple wood chips, and into the smoker they went.
3 hours, they were looking pretty good.
4 hours - no foil - didn't read about that trick yet, they looked almost done.
My and my son cut off a bone section, it was pretty good.
My wife says - "You better keep an eye on them, the seem like they are almost done!".
Naw, you don't understand dear. You can smoke anything in a smoker for a good long time and it only gets better and better.
So my son and I went out back to do some target shooting for a while, then took the quad for a ride.
Got back, ready to eat.
Yea, those were the best Baby Back Rib '- Jerky - I've ever had.
Dried out, hard, but it had bark all right. Actually, that's all it had was bark. :)
Ugh, 2 smokes down, now I'm getting mad.
What the heck is up with this smoking thing?
This is actually harder than it seems!
I start reading the forums. Looking for answers.
I had thought that the 4-page instruction manual that came with the smoker would be all I needed.
I was wrong.
So I'm soaking in more information, tips, hints, instructions, guidance from many generous friends on this forum.
Next? I better try chicken. That has got to be easier. And it was.
But there was a problem.
I did a quick search on this forum, wondering if it would be better if I 'Butterflied' a chicken for smoking.
Huh! Nothing. I can't believe no one here butterflies a chicken!
Several minutes later, looking through the 'chicken' section of the forums, I keep seeing this word that at 61 years old, I've never heard of before.
What the heck is a spatchcock?
I actually googled the word.
Oh my god, Martha Stewart is Spatchcocking a chicken online!
Are you kidding me?
I watch a few youtube videos on some guy spatchcocking chicken.
So, I make one.
My wife is arguing that I should smoke the chicken as-is.
She says it will be dried out if I spatchcock it.
In a moment of strength, I resist the temptation to give in, and I tell her - "I'm gonna spatchcock this thing, because everyone on the forum says that's the best way to do it!!!" Whew!
At this point, I've done a lot of things in a short period of time to improve my odds.
People on the forum have told me to get another internal oven temperature probe. Sure enough, I confirm that the probe that comes with the Masterbuilt is reading about 30 degrees colder than reality.
I've added a cast iron pan on top of the sheet metal chip pan to stop the wood chips from starting on fire and - as I realized too late - wood chips on fire make great Baby Back Rib Jerky. :)
And I've changed to the aluminum foil, throw-away, larger pan for water than the sheet metal pan that came with the smoker.
So I lay that chicken out in the smoker.
Just looking at it laying there makes me think I know something about this smoking craft.
I can't wait. I set it for about 250 degrees.
I now have the low-grade version of a thermapen (for $10), and I'm checking the breast, looking for 170.
Man, this thing better not be dried out or my wife's never gonna let me hear the end of it.
By the way, we've been married for 33 years and the good news is, she loves smoked meat as much as I do, she's just not a big fan of Baby Back Rib Jerky.
All of a sudden, I'm gently lifting the chicken out of the smoker, finishing it with a quick grilling with BBQ sauce, and....
I'm sorry. I had to stop typing for a minute to wipe the tears of joy from my face.
Oh my god. I have never had a chicken taste so good. I'm shouting to her, look! Look! There's a smoke ring! And it's juicy and tender. And it only too less than 3 hours.
To me, that was the biggest revelation. Being able to smoke in 3 hours means I can smoke after work on any day during the week without waiting for the weekend!
Nice guy that I am, (and a very smart guy), I did not bring up my wife's prediction that it would be dry. I told you, I've been married 33 years for a reason. I've learned a thing or two. :)
So now? the weekend's coming. I proudly post pictures of the spatchock chicken on the forum and thanking people for helping me with the process. Next up? I'm going big. Well, big for a newbie.
The weekend is the 4th of July party. My plan is ribs and chicken wings.
The day before the party, my kids show up from out of town. My son and 2 daughters, all with a friend each. And my nephew from Buffalo NY. So there's a bunch of us.
I go bold. I'm smoking (3) Spatchcock chickens for dinner.
This will be make or break. But I feel confident.
I get a few more tips from the forum.
The best tip? When smoking chicken, it doesn't matter how hot you get the smoker, it will always be tender if you watch the IT.
I now know that means Internal Temperature. :)
I wait for my son to show up. By the way, I'm proud of all 3 of my kids, but I see Jeffrey (my son) a lot. He's 26, did 4 years in the Air Force - spent a tour in Iraq, is currently in the reserves, and got married last year and bought his first house. We do a lot together and he's loving this smoking as much as I am.
So he shows up, and I tell him we're going to spatchcock chickens. He looks at me puzzled and I explain.
I prepare one chicken, then tell him to do one, then I get the last one done.
3 of them in the smoker, long story short - they come out perfect again!!!!
Everyone is raving about it. There's nothing left after dinner.
The next day is the real test.
Baby Back ribs, and 10 pounds of 'jumbo' chicken wings.
I don't have the process down - at all - for the ribs.
This will be my 3rd smoke for ribs.
I frantically read forums - not at all confident of my abilities to smoke the ribs.
I get them on, (no membranes), rubbed, apple wood, 240 degrees.
3 hours open smoke.
1.5 hours in foil pans covered with a foil top.
1/2 hour open smoke, BBQ sauce.
Yay! They come out pretty darn good.
Still not FOTB, but almost there.
The wings are fantastic.
I finished up the wings on the hot grill, BBQ sauce on some, and a Buffalo style hot sauce on the others.
Best compliment of the day?
A little 4 year old girl walked up to me, shaking a chicken wing drum stick at me, saying "Mr. Wayne? These are the best chicken wings I've ever had!". (Probably the only ones she's ever had, but I don't care.)
Wow, what a great sport. Or Hobby. Or lifestyle. Or craft. I don't know what the proper term is for what we do, but I'm loving it.
So here we are.
2 days ago on Saturday, I took the smoker to a campsite - there were all our kids and friends, my brother, and my nephew with his family. I made 20 pounds of wings. By the way, that is the absolute limit of what you can fit in the Master Built smoker. 5 pounds on each of the 4 racks.
I thought about switching the racks up and down during cooking but didn't bother.
I listened to someone's advice on the forum and cranked the temp up to 300 degrees for crisper skin.
I must be a needy person because I crave the compliments. And boy, did I get them.
Everyone loved the wings.
So here we are.
Getting ready to go to work - thought I'd share my experiences.
I've learned a bunch of things and have realized a lot.
Here's the bottom line:
You couldn't buy advice that's as valuable as you get here in these forums.
As I suspected, the people here are more than happy to share their knowledge and advice.
Smoking meat is much more than just learning to cook. There are so many variables involved compared to grilling.
The satisfaction level of bringing a smoked dinner to the table that has the flavor and tenderness is hard to explain.
And the disappointment of expecting something more than you get is tough at first.
But, as I've finally understood, people like Al, have graciously mentioned that even after smoking for many, many years, he is still learning. And it's nice to hear from a 'pro' that it took a long time to get it all figured out. Thanks Al.
I've read threads from other new people that are frustrated with 'failures'. I hate to say it, but I like reading those. It gives me the understanding that I'm not alone, that others struggle too. But you know what? If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Learning this craft is very satisfying for me - and all those who reap the rewards of what I bring to the dinner table.
I'm happy to be here, I've realized that I'll always be learning new techniques - and love getting the advice and tips from others.
Thanks for reading.