We covered the basics of smoking which you can use to familiarise yourself with this favourite braai technique. But if you find you have as many dry, bitter blackened disasters as you do succulent, smoky successes, we’ve got advice from Pitmasters to ensure every smoke is a mouth-watering crowd pleaser.
Smoking uses indirect cooking slowly at low temperatures, at the same time flavour ingredients with smoke given off by wood slowly combusting over a heat source. The heat source, in most cases, is a bed of hot coals on which you burn flavourful wood logs, chunks or chips which we’ll discuss further on.
You don’t need billowing clouds of smoke to get the deep smoky flavour you’re after. Too much smoke only overpowers the natural taste of your ingredients, or worse, makes them taste burnt and bitter. Ideally, you want thin, blue smoke that’s barely visible.
What Wood Should a Smoker Smoke
Before you even get to the fire, however, you need to choose the correct wood. Whether you choose logs, lumps or chips, the following tips apply. Never use softwoods or evergreens, plywood, chipboard or lumber. Wood containing toxic compounds like mangrove or oleander can taint your smoke. The same goes for store-bought wood, which is usually treated to burn faster and hotter, destroying any flavour imparting compounds and giving o a lighter fluid smell and taste.
Choose natural cured hardwoods with low sap and no resin content. Nut and fruit trees impart the most flavour. Soaking wood for up to 12 hours before use, slows down combustion and generates even more smoke. Soaked wood also allows you to keep the temperature consistent. Ensuring the wood burns entirely relies on hot coals and controlled airflow. The wood isn’t meant to generate more heat, it’s to create smoke. All the heat you need should come from the coals.
Where There is Smoke, There is Fire
Start by building a charcoal fire. Let it rage for up to 30 minutes until the coals are ashy, white around the edges and glowing orange. The most convenient method is to use an Ember Maker or Charcoal Starter to make extremely hot coals then transfer them to your smoker. If you don’t have an Ember Maker, you can use another braai to make your coals in the same way. Then place a cup of soaked wood chips or 2 to 3 logs of wood on your coal bed. You don’t need more than that to start. Remember, a little smoke goes a long way. Use wood sparingly if it gets too hot you won’t burn through the wood entirely and create too much heat, also too much wood will smother the coals underneath creating too much smoke as well.
Go with the Airflow
The final element you need to manage is airflow. Too much oxygen and your coals will burn too hot, burning up your wood too quickly creating those unwanted clouds of white smoke. The experts’ advice says, keep your chimney open and control airflow using the side vents. Watch the smoke to determine if you need more or less airflow.
Start with a Clean Slate
None of the above will help if your smoker is dirty. The black, sticky grease build up in your smoker, otherwise known as creosote, along with soot and ash is the by-product of burning coal and wood. It gives off black smoke and turns everything bitter. Clean your smoker before and after every cook to prevent this. A quick and easy trick is to line the inside bottom of your unit with think aluminium foil before use.
Ultimately, it takes a lot of practice, trial and error to master the art of smoking. Pick up one of our amazing Coalsmith Series Grill & Smokers. Try your hand at the classics first, like beef brisket, pork shoulder or ribs. Expand into poultry, seafood and even veggies. Try different flavourings and seasoning. Experiment with the types of wood you can smoke with.