Smokers (BBQ - not grilling)

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Fred W

1 Wheel Drive
FJR Supporter
Nov 9, 2006
Reaction score
Eastern VT
I know there are some experienced Barbeque guys (and gals) out there. Heretofore I've always been a big fan of consuming it (in unhealthy quantities at times) but I've never before delved into the production side of the hobby.

The past few weeks I've been messing around with an old cheapo charcoal grille and managed to make a few fairly credible attempts at imparting the smoke spice into some meats. I've read a little (enough to be dangerous) and know that this is one of those hobbies (like most others) that you can go "whole hog" on and spend a literal fortune on equipment and supplies. That, I have not done as yet.


As you can see, I am using some pretty low budget (Ok, it's ghetto!) equipment, but I did drill a hole in the lid for a thermometer for monitoring the smoker interior temps and do have a digital cooking thermometer to poke down through the main upper vent into the meat.

First attempt was just some relatively thin pork chops that I smoked for about 2 hours at 225F and just used some dried oak wood chunks that I had out on the firewood pile for the smoke on a whim. The flavor was good but they were a tad dry as I had not done enough to redirect the heat from the meat that time.

Sunday I made a second attempt, this one was a bit more ambitious as I bought a small (4 1/2 lb) brisket. Made up a dry rub and rested it over the prior night in the fridge. And this time I built the charcoal fire towards the back of the grille bottom, and laid some foil across the main cooking rack (that I wasn't otherwise using) to make the heat travel to the front side before wafting around and upwards to the meat, which was perched up high on the "warming rack." I also used some hickory wood chips in lieu of the oak chunks for a finer smoke flavor.

I ended up being able to cook it low and slow, attempted to hold to ~225F, for a bit over 6 hours total while listening to the kickoff of football season, with the first 2-3 hours being the smokiest ones by design. The brisket came out pretty nicely done, the rub turned into a nice bark, and the meat had a great 1/4" smoke ring with real good flavor. (Sorry about the crappy cell phone pics)



But the meat is still a bit tougher than what I'd like. I think I need to do one of a couple of things the next time:

I've read about brining the meat overnight first. Not sure exactly what that adds, but I assume that the brine breaks down some of the collagen and tenderizes the meat before cooking? Anyone practice this witchcraft?

I've also read about hypodermic-ally injecting the meat with stuff (baste), but I would assume that has more to do with flavorizing than tenderizing.

Maybe I need to introduce some steam in the smoke environment? I see where some folks have a dish full of water in their smokers to add moisture throughout the long smoking.

I also realize I need to learn how to cut the meat cross grain, as I tried, but screwed the pooch on that this time. Looks like I need to cut at the 90 degree opposite angle to get that

So, what say ye BBQ gurus?

PS - Before anyone else suggests it, yes I am already shopping for options to replace the frugal Kmart grille, though I really don't think that is a cause of many problems, it will make smoking much more enjoyable as I will have more even temps with less hassle.

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Good googly goo... I'm hungry.
I purchased a Traeger Texas Grill a few months ago. Besides the FJR, best purchase of the year.

It's an electric, wood-pellet smoker. If you're into stoking the fire and monitoring the pit to regulate the temperature, this smoker/grill is not for you. But if "set it and almost forget it" is appealing to you, consider something like this. I haven't worn it out this summer, but it's produced some excellent pork butt and ribs...





I haven't tried a brisket in it yet. Perhaps this weekend. I can recommend the Traeger Texas smoker/grill. It's fargin-groovin!

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Thanks man. I'll check them out. Getting something I can do a big butt in is one big incentive to upgrade.

And an overnight smoke (with no attending) would have some appeal.

PS - Them ribs look incredibly delicious.

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You wanna go ghetto and cheap, build yourself a UDS. Ugly Drum Smoker. Google that and you'll find TONS of info. The Mega Thread at the BBQ Bretheren will take you weeks to complete if you read it start to finish.

I got mine assembled earlier this year.

Some of the eats that have come off of it...


Sliced with the sausage that was cooked with it.

Moinks and Armadillo Eggs...the eggs were definitely tastier.

Last night's meal...chicken on a vertical roaster

I love my UDS, so simple and didn't cost me a fortune. The individual parts did end up costing more than I'd planned but you can do it on the cheap. Now I just need a nice domed weber lid and I'll be set.

Yes, yes yes!!

Please keep it coming boys. That drum smoker is the shit!

I don't know if I could ever fill that kind of vessel, but it sure would be fun trying!

We do the same kind'a thing with metal trash (ash) cans full of lobsters and clams, but that is easy and quick compared to doing these smokin' things.




I have a Primo XL it's the best investment I have made and the last Grill/Smoker I will need to buy, Costco has a smaller Kamado type cooker for $550.00 that looks pretty good. Picture above Pork Butt before and after 20 hour low and slow.

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I don't entertain like I used to...

Smokers are a lot like motorcycle seats, get a good one and you only cry once!


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You don't so much fill the UDS with meat. It's got a single 22" grill on the top, but with the domed lid you can run two grills or get a turkey in there. Once you get your valves figured out and airflow it's pretty easy. That thing with a decent load of lump charcoal will hold a steady 225F all day long.

Here's my first cook. It was a cheap piece of pork..something like a pork tenderloin roast thingy. I tossed it on and then spent a few hours playing with figuring out what settings of the valves produced what temperatures. In the end it turned out well and I didn't ruin it.

You wanna go ghetto and cheap, build yourself a UDS. Ugly Drum Smoker. Google that and you'll find TONS of info. The Mega Thread at the BBQ Bretheren will take you weeks to complete if you read it start to finish.
I got mine assembled earlier this year.

+1 on UDS, holds 225F all day..
...used some dried oak wood chunks that I had out on the firewood pile...I've read about brining the meat overnight first. Not sure exactly what that adds, but I assume that the brine breaks down some of the collagen and tenderizes the meat before cooking? Anyone practice this witchcraft?...
I use apple wood from my property, but if one were to live in the middle of apple orchard country like Londonderry and Derry NH you can show up at spring pruning and get all you could possibly use from the orchards. I also have oak and maple from my property that I age and dry. Depending on your smoke mission it help to soak the wood in water (for a long time) before using. It helps the wood smoke and not burn while adding moisture to the smoke.

I also brine, but not everything. Brines are salt and water, usually with some combination of sugar, spice and other seasonings. I usually brine pork like butts (actually a shoulder cut, from the butt end of the joint) and shoulders. I also like to brine poultry. Depending on mood and alcohol content you can supplement the witchcraft with beads, feathered rattles, Jamaican 'incense', and some chanting.

The chemistry is simple, it is about liquid density. Meats contain natural salt water. A brine has a higher concentration of salt (and sugar) than the meat so the brine and any seasoning will displace the salt water in the meat replacing it with the brine. This leaves the meat loaded with moisture that stays in the meat as it cooks.

Brining meat can take up to 24 hours or more. After brining rinse the meat or poultry before cooking. If you are brining poultry rinse it off after the brining, then allow it to stand in the refrigerator an additional 6 - 12 hrs before cooking. The standing time will let the meat absorb the moisture from the skin so it can make a golden, crisp skin.

I use kosher salt, you should never use salt with iodine or additives. When the brine concentration is correct a raw egg will float. The meat will need to be submerged which may require a weight to hold the meat down. If I'm doing a turkey I put a food grade bag in a BIG tall pot, pour in the brine, add the bird then twist the top of the bag until all the air is out and tie it off. Usually at turkey time the out-of-doors is colder than the 'fridge so it can go on a protected porch. If porch is unprotected the racoons will let you know if the turkey was good or not

FWIW, for most cooking my big buck 'smoker' looks a lot like yours. I do have a smoker like Chuck35 which allows both hot and cold smoking. My big smoker does not close tight enough to let me really control the cooking the way it needs to be. I really need to take a torch to it and reset the hinges so the main door fits better.

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Hmmm... lots of options, it seems.

I have looked at the Kamado type ceramic cookers but couldn't really see how they would work all that much better than the basic Webber Smokey Mountain bullet style (which is supposed to work pretty well too) but those Kamados command a sizable investment.

Green Egg seems to have a cult like following. Their restrictive marketing model (only sell through "dealers", don't publish prices) may be a good deal for the manufacturer, not sure it is beneficial to the buyer.

There are certainly many other options for Kamados, and most do publish their prices. One of the appeals to them is that they seem to really stand up to the weather well, unlike the steel barrels with the side firebox. Those things almost always seem to be in decrepit shape after a year or two outdoors. It may be you just have to move up to the heavier gauge units and spend the similar $$ to those ceramic eggs to get one heavy duty enough for New England weather?

The electrics or propanes have a lot of the automatic, set it and forget it appeal. I think they might be better for cold smoking fish and cheese too, which is also something I'd be interested in trying my hand at some day.

So many options...

And thanks especially to ionbeam for the low down on the brining thing. I should have known to "Just ask the Per'fesser!"

I already knew that cooking is one of your primary passions. Should have realized that with your prior history this would include BBQ. We'll have to get together some Sunday afternoon for a Patriots Game Day BBQ Extravaganza (if I ever get something figured out here).

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