Taking your holiday roasts outside to the smoker has big benefits. Not only do you get to spend some time outside smelling the cool air with a warm or cold drink in hand, but it will free up your oven and adds that amazing "wow" factor flavor from the smoke.
1. Always start with quality ingredients.
There is really no substitute for quality proteins. But beyond taste, responsibly raised meat helps lower the environmental impact of our diets and allows us to know that the animals were treated humanely. Your local butcher is always a great resource. And there are a few excellent American producers that deliver the best quality, sustainable, humane meat. When buying and shopping for your holiday meats, check out Snake River Farms and Crowd Cow for delivery right to your doorstep.
2. Salt early and with intention.
Salting the meat at the right time brings out the flavors, but you must do it well ahead of time to allow the salt to penetrate and the juices to reabsorb. Also, there are different types of salt with different properties, so be sure to know your salt.
3. Start long cooks the night before.
Smoking large cuts of meat seem to take a little (or sometimes a lot) longer than expected. Starting the night before takes the stress away from rushing to finish the cook for serving time. Resting longer is almost always a good thing if it finishes early.
4. Cook by temperature and not by time.
Since there are so many variables, cook time is just an estimate. Temperature is precise. Always use a remote probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. And remote thermometers can allow you to monitor the smoker and meat temps without having to be right there.
5. Temperature and fire control are super important.
There are a few tricks to getting the temperature up slowly and keeping it steady, like adjusting the vents and/or using a temperature-control fan.
6. Don't open the lid unless you have to.
The lid is designed to be closed to maintain temperature and keep the smoke in, so only open it when necessary. When you do open the smoker, be sure to "burp" some hot air out before opening it all the way to avoid a scary and potentially dangerous "flashback."
7. Use a water bath.
The water will add humidity to the smoker's environment, which is good for attracting smoke to the meat. The pan catches the drippings, preventing flare-ups and helping to keep your smoker nice and clean.
8. Don't skip the rest.
After reaching the "pull temp" and removing the meat from the smoker, the internal temperature will often continue to rise. Resting gives the meat time to redistribute all those juices, so it stays that way. This is an important part of the cook and cannot be rushed if you want perfect results. If it's a large cut like a brisket or a pork shoulder, rest it wrapped up in an insulated cooler.
9. Clean the grill grates right after use.
Rather than waiting until next time. The grates are way easier to clean when still hot. And remember to clean your smoker once it's cool before the next use, as ash can impede proper airflow. A shop vac is helpful. You can (and totally should) reuse any leftover charcoal or wood chunks.
10. Don't over-smoke the meat!
Using the right wood for smoke to pair with the protein you are smoking makes a big difference. And you don't want to use too much smoke, which can be a turn-off for a lot of people. And if using a pellet smoker, there are some easy ways to get more smoke flavor from it.
Bonus Tip: Have Fun!
Cooking outside with a cold beverage or two is supposed to be relaxing. You're not being paid to do it. So think of it as a cool hobby, not a stressful job.
Favorite BBQ Tools & Equipment
These are my favorite tools I use every time a roast is involved.
- Butcher twine
- Peach butcher paper
- Large cutting board
- Thermapen instant-read probe thermometer
- Remote thermometer
- Long slicing knife
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt