Tips for Better Smoking
Whether you are using your charcoal grill, the 3 in 1 Apollo® Smoker, or your Napoleon Gas Grill, smoking is a fantastic way to add extra flavor and fun to your meals. Here are our top tips for better smoking.
Timing is Everything
Before you light your charcoal, preheat your smoker, and get smoking, you need to determine how long your cook is going to last. You need to take into account things like what time you want to eat dinner and factor in the possibility of a stall. That is how you decide when to proceed. For long smokes like a gigantic brisket, you will need up to 16 hours if not longer, which can lead you to begin to smoke at around 4 am the day of the cook. Smaller things like fish and even ribs only take up to 6 hours, so plan accordingly.
BBQ Stall, also known as the plateau, is when the temperature of your meat in the smoker fails to rise for up to a few hours. This is caused by moisture evaporating off the meat.
Don't Use Too Much Smoke
This is a blog about tips for better smoking, but the thing is, if you use too much smoke, then the food has a tendency to go bitter. You should only smoke food for about 50% of the smoking process, leaving the other 50% of the process to gently cook low and slow using your favorite medium, like charcoal. This is partially due to the fact that fat and water-soluble flavors in the rub help the smoke absorb more readily when the meat is raw. Smoke won’t penetrate into the food once the bark is formed and the food is closer to being done. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule - homemade bacon being one of them. The short time and low temperature of the cook mean that a big smoke won’t turn that delicious hunk of awesome into a bitter mess.
So, you don’t have to smoke the whole time, but what else could you possibly need to know? Quality of smoke is important too. You are looking for a gentle flow of white smoke when you are smoking. Anything darker than a light grey and you will find the smoke flavoring bitter. This is because you’ve got a fire. Black and medium-grey smoke is bad and tastes bitter.
Temperature is Essential. No Pressure.
The ideal temperature to smoke meat is between 200°F and 275°F. The reason for this is twofold. To melt the fat in the meat, which is then redistributed throughout and to loosen the collagen, which makes the meat tender.
Controlling the temperature of your smoker or charcoal grill can sometimes be challenging. Sunlight, outdoor temperature, and wind can all affect the temperature of the unit you are using. To help with these factors, try to place your smoker in a sheltered (out of the wind but never under a covered area or indoors please) shady area and use the water pan to help modulate temperature. The Apollo® Smoker has a large water pan that can be installed just below the cooking grids in the first chamber. When doing a hot smoke, it is recommended that you use hot water to fill the basin to avoid having to wait for the charcoal to heat it.
When using a Charcoal Kettle Grill you can still use a water pan. Place a tray into the grill and fill it with water. You can place lit charcoal to either side of the water pan – ideal for roasting and a little smoke, or place the water pan to one side and the charcoal to the other – which is ideal when doing a longer and slower smoke. When using a water pan in a charcoal grill, remember to place the food directly above the pan.
How to Manage Dropping Temperatures
When the grill or smoker temperature begins to drop and does not respond when you adjust the vents for more oxygen, it is time to add more charcoal. When adding lit charcoal to your smoker or grill, you should only need to add ¼ to ½ of a load unless the smoker has consumed all of the charcoal. At this time, your cook should be nearly over anyway.
If you are looking, you’re not cooking. Opening things up to check should be avoided unless necessary - for example, moping and spraying. When you open the lid on your smoker or charcoal grill you are letting out heat and extending cooking time.
The vents in your Apollo® Smoker or Charcoal Kettle Grill are indispensable when it comes to managing temperature and airflow. When you are cooking food low and slow using a smoker or a grill, charcoal doesn’t need as much oxygen. Keeping the bottom vents open ¼ to 1/3 of the way open will provide sufficient airflow. In fact, you may not even need all of the vents open on our Apollo® Smoker – this is due to the tall chimney shape. The air control system at the base of a Napoleon Charcoal Kettle Grill should be open to the first setting- only ¼ open.
Types of Charcoal
There are three types of charcoal that you could be familiar with and you should purchase for a long and slow smoke.
Hardwood Lump Charcoal
This type of charcoal can have a few different properties, depending on the woods used. Some can burn high and hot, while others are ideal for longer and cooler cooking. Napoleon’s Blackstone Charcoal is the perfect blend of sugar maple, birch, and beechwood that can produce incredibly high temperatures for searing or low and gentle temperatures for smoking depending on the amount used and the vent settings on the grill you are smoking on.
Briquettes are a type of charcoal that burn at a medium temperature – that is, not too hot but not low either. This type of charcoal needs to be completely lit and ashed over before being used or added to existing charcoal. This is due to the fact that there are easy light chemicals, additives, and glue that can change the flavor of your food if not burned off first.
Coconut charcoal burns evenly and for long amounts of time. Coconut charcoal produces a sweet-smelling smoke and very little ash once consumed. A small pile – around eight or nine – will produce a temperature of around 250°F for about four hours under ideal conditions.
Types of Smoking Wood
There are a few different products that produce smoke that is fantastic for flavoring your favorite foods.
Wood chunks are ideal when you are doing a long smoke. Perfect for both the bullet style Apollo® Smoker and Napoleon’s Charcoal Kettle Grill. These are denser and will last longer so you don’t have to check on your food as much. Use the minion method and place a few chunks throughout the charcoal before you light for a timed release of smoke.
Wood chips are smaller and less dense than a chunk. They’re ideal for placing into a Smoker Pipe, pouch, or the integrated smoker on our PRO 665 and 825 Gas Grills. They don’t last very long - up to an hour maximum, so changing will need to be done with more frequency. This means that they are perfect for adding a little extra flavor to something that you aren’t cooking for very long.
Pellets and Pucks
Pellets and pucks are generally for electronic smokers, although they do come in some tempting and unique flavors. If you find yourself with pellets and are using a bullet style smoker or kettle grill, you can fill a Napoleon Smoker Pipe and place that on the charcoal. This will prevent a quick flash of smoke, allowing a slower consumption of the pellets, however, they will need to be switched out frequently.
Tips for Monitoring Your Grill
As mentioned above, looking under the lid will increase your cook time and cause fluctuations in temperature. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. With Napoleon’s Apollo® Smoker there are ports on all levels that will allow you to peek at your food and charcoal to monitor things without opening the lids or dismantling the levels and loosing heat and smoke. Devices, like our Wireless Digital BBQ Thermometer, have multiple probes that can be used to monitor temperatures both inside the grill and the internal temperature of the meat. This make them invaluable tools to a person who enjoys smoking.
Not only do you have to monitor temperature, but you need to keep an eye on the amount of smoke and its quality while you are smoking. Once more, the ports on the side of Napoleon’s Apollo® Smoker make this easy. Smoking, generally is quite hands off once you have the charcoal going and the temperature dialed in. As long as you stay close by, you should only need to check on things every hour or so. This will ensure that your temperature remains steady and smoke is white.
Smoke More Than Just Meat
Did you know that you can smoke other things, not just meat? Fish is a delicious choice and pairs well with cedar and maple. However, you can also smoke eggs and cheese, which benefit from hickory and mesquite smoke. Chocolate, cream, and vegetables benefit from the cold smoke technique and the smoke of fruit and nut woods like apple, cherry, and pecan.
PRO TIP: Do not forget to rest your meat after smoking. Approximately 10 minutes per pound. This allows the redistribution of juices and prevents the loss of those juices when slicing.
While all of this information may make it sound like a complicated and scary process, these tips for better smoking will actually make it far easier for you to set up and have a nice, relaxing day while your smoker or kettle grill does all of the heavy lifting. Do you have tips of your own? Share your favorite smoker recipes, tips, and tricks on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram by using the hashtags #NapoleonSmoker and #NapoleonGrills.