Without a doubt, the best birthday present I’ve ever received is the meat smoker that my wife gifted me five years ago. To this day, I’m not sure if her intentions were selfish (to get me more involved with cooking) or altruistic (a sweet, thoughtful gift that she thought I would enjoy). In the end, she accomplished both goals. When I opened up my Masterbuilt meat smoker, my inner caveman came alive. I immediately bought 10 pounds of various meats that I planned to turn into a masterpiece. I spent the next day and a half testing different dry rubs and cook temperatures, hoping to become an expert overnight.
I invited a crowd of friends and family over the next day for a smoked ribs and pork shoulder dinner. And actually, I didn’t do too badly. It was not the best meal I’d ever prepared, but everyone seemed to enjoy the experience — both the taste of the smoked meats and getting their hands dirty in the process of eating. I guess everyone has a little caveman or cavewoman in them.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: It’s pretty tough to mess up smoking meats.
You cook at such a low temperature for a long period of time, so the window of time to pull the meat out is fairly large. It’s a pretty forgiving cooking process. Even the least experienced cook can execute it. Worst-case scenario: You overcook the meat and it’s a little dried out but still tastes smoky and delicious, like beef jerky. Who doesn’t like beef jerky?
What I’ve learned about smoking meat over the past five years: Everyone has a secret recipe or ingredient, and everyone thinks that their way is the best way. What this means is that even after only a couple of attempts, you can claim to be the best meat smoker in the neighborhood, because you will be — in your mind anyway. Congrats!
Smoking meat is different than any other cooking technique. The process uses a combination of tiny particles from a source material (mostly wood like hickory, cherry, or mesquite) with water to form an aerosol vapor that penetrates the meat and infuses it with flavor in a way that nothing else can. You cook at a lower temperature (200-250° F) and for a longer period of time (2-8 hours, typically). This slower preparation seals the natural juices into the meat, making it smoky and delicious.
It’s a simple process. You rub the meat with a salt-based rub (see my recipe below for an example) anywhere from one to 24 hours before you plan on cooking, and then place the meat in the smoker for the recommended cook time. Add wood chips as needed to keep it smoking, and in a few hours, your meal is ready.
One thing to know before getting started is that the recommended internal cook temperature varies for different cuts of meat. The best piece of advice I can give: Invest in a good meat thermometer to take the guesswork out of the cooking experience. Like anything else, there is a range in quality and accuracy with the thermometers. I highly recommend the Masterbuilt Vertical Gas Smoker.
My smoker has been a focal point of some amazing get-togethers with family and friends. It is my favorite way to cook, and I’m sure it will be your favorite as well. Good luck and happy eating!
By Mitch Reinholt with Ben Higgins
Do you smoke meat? What are your tips for beginners?
Sweet and Spicy Dry Rub
3 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
2-3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar (increase to decrease spiciness)
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
½ Tablespoon Chipotle Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt