Sure, you can handle a grill, and may even have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to barbecue. But what do you really know about smoking (the, uh, culinary kind)?
Enter Project Smoke, the latest endeavor from BBQ guru Steven Raichlen. The new public television series from the five-time James Beard Award-winning author premiered this week, and it’s the first-ever how-to TV program to focus exclusively on the time-honored tradition of smoking, offering tips on standards like brisket and pulled pork, as well unexpected items such as cheesecake.
“Even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had smokehouses, and your wealth was measured by how many smoked hams you had in the smokehouse,” says Raichlen.
Now, decades later, Raichlen predicts that the next frontier in the culinary world for home-cooks will (once again) be smoking.
This Fourth of July weekend, tap into the sacred knowledge passed down from our forefathers by following some of Steven’s commandments for achieving peak “umami of barbecue” success.
1. Know the difference between barbecue and smoking.
Raichlen says: “All barbecue is smoked, but not all smoked foods are barbecue. Texas brisket, Carolina pork shoulder, and Kansas City ribs are barbecue. Virginia ham, Scandinavian smoked salmon, and Italian smoked mozzarella are smoked, but they’re not barbecue.” (Photo: Wikicommons/John Ross)
2. Understand the flavor of smoke.
Raichlen says: “Think of it as the umami of barbecue. Smoke has a unique ability to endow familiar foods, from sausage to steaks, with an otherworldly quality that is simultaneously familiar and exotic.” (Photo: Wikicommons Mariuszjbie)
3. Smoke everything (even cocktails).
Raichlen says: “Really. Meat, poultry, seafood, of course, but also cocktails, vegetables, cheese, fruit, and dessert.” (Photo: DrinkDogma)
4. Buy organic, heritage, heirloom, grass-fed, and local.
Raichlen says: “What your meat eats and how it’s raised matters as much as how it’s smoked.” (Photo: Wikicommons/Daniel Schwien)
5. Low and slow is the way to go.
Raichlen says: “Ribs, shoulders, and briskets need a slow cook at a low temperature to achieve smoky perfection.” (Photo: First We Feast)
Raichlen says: “Wrap brisket and beef ribs in unlined butcher paper the last 2 hours of smoking. This seals in moistness without making the ‘bark’ (crust) soggy.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
7. Give it a rest.
Raichlen says: “Once brisket, pork shoulder, and other large cuts of meat are smoked, transfer them to an insulated cooler to rest for a couple hours. Your meat will be juicier and more tender.” (Photo: Wikicommons)
8. It’s okay to overcook your meat.
Raichlen says: “It’s essential to overcook your [barbecue]. Shoulders, bellies, brisket, and ribs need to be cooked to 195 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve the proper tenderness.” (Photo: Wikicommons)
9. Remember this simple formula: Lower heat produces more smoke; higher heat produces less smoke.
Raichlen says: “Adjust the vents accordingly to control the airflow and thus the heat.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)