I think for a lot of people, smokers are intimidating. They do take a bit of time and commitment, but the payoff is great. The food that comes out of a long smoke is unlike anything you can buy or make without it, and once you get the hang of it, it’s super easy.
I like to think of my smoker like a slow cooker with fire (and a great way to make some healthy paleo meals). There’s different types of smokers, but the basic idea is the same: take meat (or whatever you’re cooking), apply a slow and steady heat and a bit of smoke. The heat’s there to cook, and the smoke’s there to add flavor. Much like a slow cooker, this “low and slow” method of cooking is great for rendering tough cuts of meat, and can make a pork butt to rival a good filet.
Meat Trivia: I’m all for eating every part of the animal, but pork butt is actually a cut from the pig’s shoulder, and the perfect cut for pulled pork.
I use a charcoal smoker, because I like burning little pieces of burned wood.
Types of Smokers
If you want to get into the nitty gritty, there’s a lot of different kinds of smokers. I want to do that, just not today. So for now, I’m going to give you what I think the 3 major categories are. I’ve shown an example in each category of a smoker I’d recommend (either based on use or reviews), with affiliate links that support the site.
Electric Smokers – These smokers use electricity as a heat source. That shouldn’t give any extra flavor, so you’ll still need to add wood chunks or chips that will smolder and add the smoke flavor you’re looking for.
As long as your electric smoker isn’t leaking heat, these are a “set and forget” appliance. Electric smokers will automatically control their temperatures, so all you need to worry about is the temperature of the meat – not the smoker.
Charcoal Smokers – This is what I went with, and I’ve loved it. Charcoal takes a little more work (but still not much as long as you get a decent smoker that holds heat well), and adds a little more to smoking as a hobby. The charcoal also adds its own smoke flavor, which I think is great, but some may want to get the “purer” taste of a specific wood with one of the other types.
The weber linked above is the exacty model I use and I highly recommend it, it holds heat well and is super easy to use. If you don’t mind a little extra work, and you’re in it for the hobby as much as the end result, I personally think this is the way to go.
Propane/Gas Smokers – A propane/gas smoker is another great option. Here you’ll use a tank of propane as your fuel source, which is easy to change out and should last you a while. I like to think of this as in between the electric and the charcoal. You’re still cooking with fire, so you’ll need to monitor your smoker heat closer than with an electric smoker, but it’ll be a little easier for a beginner to manage the temperature of the smoker than with a charcoal smoker.
I think this is a great “middle of the road” choice between the others. As with electric, you’ll have to add smoke woods, and will be purely getting smoke flavor from there.
If you’re looking for more information, I’ll be posting soon with more details, but I think that should be enough to get you started, and by now you probably have a good idea what type of smoker would be a good fit for you. For any specific questions, post in the comments.
Using the Smoker
Low and Slow – The smoker is usually used “low and slow”, turning tough cuts of meat into buttery tenderness. It’s great for pulled meats, brisket, and all sorts of things. You’ll generally want to cook in the range of 225-250F, and maybe up to 275F. For poultry, to get a crispier skin, some recipes may go up and over 300F, but you’ll never be running high heat like in an oven.
Temp Not Time – When cooking in a smoker, there’s a ton of variables at play, in your equipment, the environment, and in the meat you buy (every butt’s different, folks). While you’ll start to get a general idea of how long a smoke will take the more you use your smoker, always plan for more time, and determine “done-ness” based on internal temperature of the meat.
Feed a Party or Eat for a Week – Smokers are usually built to cook a large amount of meat at once. They’re great for hosting parties, or for having tons of leftovers. Cook a big meal on Sunday and your family could have leftovers for most of the week.
All Smoked Out
That’s it for today. I hope you’re a little less intimidated and that you seriously consider getting into smoking foods. It’s a great way to add some variety to your paleo recipe list, and there’s just nothing quite like it.