The facts about smoking meat

Tips for properly smoking meat

Smoking your meat will give it delicious flavour that is sure to be a hit at any barbecue.  Here's some tips on how to do it effectively and safely.

The facts about smoking meat

1. How to smoke meat

Before building a smokehouse, whether temporary or permanent, check with your local council about regulations affecting such structures. Do not use the smokehouse when fire restrictions are in force.The difference between smokehouses for hot and cold smoking is largely a matter of distance between smoke chamber and fire — the greater the distance, the cooler the smoke.

Proper ventilation is important because stale smoke trapped in a chamber gives food a bitter taste. Too much ventilation, however, dissipates the smoke. Your best guide is the temperature inside the chamber. Install a thermometer to be read from outside, then open or close vents as needed.

2. Cold smoking

Meats are cold smoked for the delicious flavour the smoke adds to the meat.

  • The temperature inside the smokehouse should be up to 30°C (86°F).
  • Locate the fire about three metres (10 feet) from the smoke chamber on the side from which the prevailing winds blow.
  • The top of the pit should be about a third of a metre (about one foot) lower than the bottom of the chamber, with a stovepipe or tile-lined tunnel between.

3. Hot smoking

Hot smoking requires smokehouse temperatures of 85°C to 100°C (185°F to 212°F), so the chamber should be insulated. Smoke is produced inside or directly beneath the chamber. It is easier to maintain a proper temperature with an electric burner.

  • Aim to slowly raise the internal temperature of the meat to at least 65°C (149°F).
  • Test it by piercing the heart of the meat with a meat thermometer; for example, an eight kilogram (18 pound) ham will take about 10 hours.

4. Flavouring

The flavour added by smoke depends on the type of wood burned. Softwoods should not be used because resins spoil smoked food, but almost any hardwood is suitable, especially tea-tree, acacia and eucalypt. Use untreated timber only and avoid wood and leaves from poisonous shrubs such as oleander.

To use an electric burner

  •  Fill a 500 gram (two cup) can with damp sawdust, shavings or chips.
  • Place it on the top of a burner set to low.
  • You will need to replenish the fuel about once every hour.

Otherwise, start a fire with hardwood and let it burn to glowing coals before adding more wood. Do not use a chemical firelighter as the odour will linger in the smoke. When the chamber is filled with smoke and the temperature is right, load in the meat and fish.

The best method is to hang the food from crossbars near the top. It can also be placed on mesh shelves of stainless steel or aluminium, not brass, copper or galvanized steel.

  • During smoking, continue to add damp fuel to maintain dense white smoke.
  • If the smoke turns blue, the fuel supply is running low.
  • If you line your smoke chamber with metal, it is important to get rid of smoky deposits that will make new batches of food taste bitter.
  • Clean and scrub the walls after every third or fourth use.
  • Timber walls are more difficult to clean but as they absorb much of the smoke before the deposits start to show, they need not be scrubbed as often.


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