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How to Use a BBQ (Barbecue) Smoker

Tips and Techniques for Using a Backyard Smoker

My first introduction to a Smoker was when a friend of mine shared some smoked Wild Bore that he had made. Needless to say, it was delicious and my Smoker journey began.

Smokers are not difficult to use, but they do require a little more attention and maintenance during the cooking process than a charcoal or gas grill. This section is labeled "How to Use a Backyard Smoker" for a reason. Professional barBarbecue Bullet Smokerbecue competitors use much more sophisticated equipment and techniques that can last a full day or more. They are very serious about their barbecue. Some of their Smokers must be towed behind a truck. "How to Use a Backyard Smoker" is targeted at the individual wanting to make some barbecue on the weekend or while entertaining friends.

Types of Backyard Smokers

There are many types of smokers. You can easily find Barbecue Smokers that will fit on a porch or deck in a suburban environment. Please refer to the additional information in our Types of Barbecue Smokers section.

The Smoking Process

The smoking process is much different from grilling. When smoking, low heat and a much longer cooking cycle are the keys to success. Typically, you will grill at much higher temperatures, perhaps 400 degrees and above. When smoking, temperatures are usually in the 200 to 275 degree range.

For large cuts of meat, it takes about 1 to 1.5 hours of smoking for each pound of meat. Cooking time varies based on the exact temperature, type of meat and the type of smoker. With my small Vertical Water Smoker, I find that cooking times are longer than this 1 to 1.5 hour average (probably closer to 1.5 to 2 hours/lb).

The cooking time will also extend if you are regularly opening the smoker. When grilling you will open the grill lid many times to turn the meat and make sure there are no flare-ups. However, when smoking you want to minimize the number of times when opening the door. Temperatures are lower and the meat is further away from the heat source, so flare-ups are not common and the need to turn to turn the meat is only about one to two times during the cooking cycle. Each time you open the smoker door heat escapes and the cooking duration extends. Refer to our How Long Does it Take to Smoke Meat Guide to get a better understanding for cooking/smoking times.

Depending on how you prefer your beef, general temperature guidelines are:
  • 140° F  =  Rare
  • 145° F  =  Medium Rare
  • 155 ° F  =  Medium
  • 160° F  =  Medium Well
  • 165° F +  = Well
We recommend that you purchase and use a good meat thermometer to determine when your meat is ready. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should cook meats to safe temperatures as follows:
  • Beef, veal, and lamb roasts and steaks to at least 145° F
  • All poultry to minimal safe internal temperature of 165° F
  • Pork to an internal temperature of 145° F with a rest time of 3 minutes
  • Finfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° F. Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open. This means that they are done. Throw away the ones that didn't open.

6 Easy Steps for Smoking Meat

  1. Season your meat - Apply your dry rub or wet rub to the meat and let it marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Bring your smoker to temperature - Light you charcoal and let the fire burn down. Use the vents on your Smoker to stabilize the temperate around 200 to 240 degrees.
  3. Add water and smoking wood - Add hot water to the water pan. You can add some seasonings such as some rosemary, garlic and other herbs. Also, add your smoker wood. See our Types of Smoker Woods for suggestions.
  4. Add meat to the smoker - Meat on bottom racks will cook quicker than the top racks. So, place larger cuts of meat on the lower racks/shelves.
  5. Maintain the smoker - Baste your meat at least every 2 hours (some suggest every hour). Just remember that each time you open the smoker door, heat escapes and extends the cooking time. During the final 30 to 45 minutes of smoking, apply your favorite Barbecue Sauce. You will most likely need to add smoker wood as well.
  6. Apply a finishing sauce - This step is optional, but many folks like a BBQ sauce on tTop 10 Smoker Tips heir ribs and chicken. Do this during the last 45 minutes of smoking time.
More questions? Should you rotate or turn your meat during smoking? Does it matter which rack you place the meat?

See our Top 10 Tips for Using a Smoker to get perfect smoked BBQ every time you visit your backyard!

How to Use a Smoker VideosAlso, make sure to visit our How to Use a Smoker Video library which includes everything from smoking salmon and quail to corn on the cob a delicious pork roast and much more.



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