Beginners at smoking meat

7 Jul

Over the holiday weekend, Alex and I FINALLY broke out the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker that his mother bought us for Christmas. We were a bit intimidated by it at first. Smokers and smoking meat is a real science that takes people years to perfect, and we were definitely amateurs. It took a little convincing to get Alex to agree to bring it out over the holiday weekend since he thought that the whole process would be overly complicated, but he reluctantly agreed. So we woke up all bright eyed and bushy tailed Friday morning to play with our new toy. The smoker itself was pretty easy to assemble. The smoking process, however, was not as easy. People have told us that you can just throw a piece of meat in there, walk away and come back several hours later to a nicely cooked finished product. We found that to not be the case. It may have been due to our lack of knowledge on the matter, but we found ourselves babysitting the smoker all day to make sure that the temperature stayed within the proper heat range. We were continually heating up more coals and feeding it to the smoker. All in all, we had a great time learning about this new cooking method. Here is a recap of our day:


Our beautiful Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. I read in Jeff Phillip’s Smoking Meat: The Essential Guide to Real Barbecue that this is a top notch smoker that is used in many barbecue competitions.

Our heating method was mostly coal with some pieces of cherry wood. We decided on cherry because we read that it has good solid flavor without being overwhelming. Alex wanted to be very cautious about having an overly smokey flavor.


After we got the charcoal heated, we closed up the smoker and let it burn for a while to get the new smoker seasoned. I read that this is especially important for first time use. While the smoker was seasoning, I prepared the rib meat indoors. Before seasoning any rack of ribs it’s important to remove the membrane. The membrane is a thick piece of plastic-like skin found on baby back and spare ribs (we bought one of each). If the membrane is not removed, it will prevent the smoke and seasonings from penetrating the meat. To easily remove the membrane, I just inserted a sharp pairing knife under one corner of the rack. Then, I used a paper towel to grip the membrane and pull it off completely. If it tears in the process, just pry up another piece with a knife and repeat the same process until all of the membrane is removed. Spare ribs also have a flap of meat that runs along the length of the ribs. This is supposed to be removed before smoking for the same reason as the membrane. To do this I read that you just need to pull up on the flap and cut it with a sharp pairing knife. I had a really hard time getting this flap of meat off so I just left it on….our ribs still tasted great so I’m not sure how important this is…


We put a nice simple rub (recipe below) all over both sides to make sure the seasonings would adhere.


We let the meat sit out for about 20 minutes to let it get to room temperature. I read that this is important because if you throw a cold piece of meat in the smoker, it could take the smoker a long time to get up to temperature. Not that it really helped because the temperature of our smoker kept dropping.


Like I mentioned above, we had a really difficult time keeping the temperature high enough. The gauge on the smoker said that the “smoking range” was between 200-250 degrees but our temperature kept dropping to the 170-180 range. We ended up having to borrow our neighbors charcoal grill so we could heat up more briquettes to feed into smoker to bring the temperature back up. We did this about once every hour. At one point during the day, we were so desperate to get the temperature up that we threw in a piece of newspaper into the smoker to get the fire going. We were unsure about this decision but it was recommended to us by Alex’s brother so we just decided to go for it. Who knows, maybe ink smoked ribs will be the next big thing.


Ribs take 4-6 hours to smoke, then we basted them with some homemade BBQ sauce (recipes below) and finished them off on the grill so they could get a nice char on them.


Despite our somewhat suspect methods of keeping our smoke up to temperature throughout the day, we thought our ribs looked pretty good!!


We brought the ribs over to our neighbor’s cookout and everyone loved them (or at least that’s what they said to our faces). The general consensus was that the spare ribs turns out a little better than the baby rack.

After it was all said and done, Alex really enjoyed playing with the smoker and is looking forward to experimenting some more this weekend!

Lessons Learned:

1. Wood chunks not chips: We bought wood chips because they were cheaper but they burned off way too quickly.
2. Not enough charcoal:  Our instructions said to heat up about 50 briquettes of charcoal when smoking ribs.  We felt that this was our biggest mistake and was quite possibly the reason why we had so many heat problems.  Next time we are doubling that amount.
3. Charcoal chimney: We had never even heard of this device before but after lots of googling, we decided to make this purchase to ease our heating process.


BBQ Rub 

2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp pepper
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp dry basil
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp ground mustard powder


South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce
3/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
2 tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup vinegar (either apple cider or white)
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Tabasco
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients together in a mason jar, shake well and refridgerate for 24 hours before use.


Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce
2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar (either apple cider or white)
5 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp hot sauce (I used habanero hot sauce)

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.


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