A Beginner's Guide To Using a Smoker Grill

Here's what you need to know.

If you've recently become the owner of a smoker grill, you probably have a line of people around the block asking when you're throwing your first barbecue. Who can blame them? There's no better way to cook meat so flavorful and tender it falls off the bone. But if you've never used a smoker grill, you might be a little hesitant to send out those invitations before you gain some experience. Don't worry, using a smoker grill is easier than you think. To get you started we put together a beginner's guide to using a smoker grill with the help of Scott Moody, co-owner of PK Grills, and pitmaster John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina.

Smoked Meat on Grill
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How To Use A Smoker Grill

According to Moody, a smoker grill is most easily explained when you start by describing the differences between smoking and grilling. He says, "Smoking is a type of cooking that takes place at lower temperatures over a longer period of time, allowing the food to cook slowly and bathe in the aromas of the process. Grilling, by contrast, is typically done at much higher temperatures over a shorter period of time and often directly over the heat." He concludes by saying a smoker grill is an outdoor cooker that performs both functions well.

Light Your Charcoal

The first step to using a smoker grill is lighting your charcoal (Moody calls it the best, most versatile fuel for outdoor cooking). Keep an eye on the temperature, when you're smoking barbecue, the key is low and slow. Aim for a temperature of about 225-250 degrees.

Flavor Meat Before Putting It On the Grill

Lewis says, " I like to apply a healthy amount of yellow mustard on the outside of the meat to allow for the dry rub to adhere well. Personally, I use a PK Grill at home to smoke meat and prefer a combination of charcoal and oak wood chips for a good smoky flavor. If I'm smoking pork, I'll spray the meat with some apple juice during the smoking process to keep it moist, too"

Maintain Your Temperature

The vents on a grill go by many names including intakes, dampers, and baffles. According to Moody, "they're just openings to allow oxygen to flow in and, once combusted, exhaust to flow out in the form of smoke." He continues on to explain how to use them to control the temperature of your smoker grill, "intake vents are usually located somewhere low on the grill body and the exhaust vents are usually located somewhere high on top to allow the heat and smoke to flow out. By controlling the size of the opening of the intake vents you can control how much oxygen reaches your hot coals and combusts, thus controlling the size of your fire and the heat it creates inside the grill.

By controlling the higher exhaust vents you can control the "draw," which is the vacuum created when the hot air exits the grill. Controlling your fire by manipulating the intake and exhaust is how you control the temperature inside a closed grill."

Pull the Meat Off the Grill When It Reaches the Right Internal Temperature

Moody and Lewis both say that dry meat is almost always the result of overcooking. Moody says, "I cook my meat until it reaches the internal temperature I want–and that varies widely by the type of meat and cut. A side of smoked salmon won't take as long as a pork butt for instance. I never use, and would not advise using, time as a criterion for determining when grilled and smoked meats are done."

Pro tip from Lewis, "I'd also recommend wrapping the meat tightly in foil once it comes off the grill. That'll give it a little steam and keep the juice from coming out before you cut into it."

The Best Cuts For a Smoker Grill

Lewis says, "the key to properly smoked meat is using a protein that has enough fat content. Because you're cooking the product for a longer amount of time, the fat really helps to lock in moisture and make sure the meat doesn't dry out. If you're just starting out, I recommend beginning with a forgiving cut like a pork butt or pork shoulder. Both will allow you to get comfortable with the temperature and smoke levels and it's hard to overcook them so you'll end up with a great tasting product."

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