Guide to Smokin’ Meat
Tools and Knowhow to Get Started Plus smoking tips for an Assortment of Meats
Tools and knowhow to get started plus smoking tips for an assortment of meats.
The smokestack sent plumes of cherry wood exhaust airborne, and as it disappeared into the atmosphere, a love developed for the intricacy of this time-honored cooking method. Hours later, juicy venison loins were removed from the smoker. They turned out beautifully. Though you may have dabbled with meat-smoking, using legitimate equipment will create all the difference. Numerous meats can be smoked, from delicious wild turkey to exquisite rainbow trout, with outstanding results. Perhaps you desire to take up meat smoking, but don’t know how or where to begin. Let’s help with the learning curve and required tools.
Understanding the Concept
Some folks mistake grilling with wood chips tossed over hot charcoal as smoking. While this certainly adds smoky flavor, it’s not smoking. Smoking uses indirect heat to cook meat over a long period of time, where traditional grilling uses direct heat to cook meat within minutes. Smoking is a versatile cooking method. Some meats are basted or marinated, and others are dry-rubbed or saltwa-
When preparing bear meat for smoking, I leave about a quarter of the fat on the meat. Depending on the time of year and the bear’s diet, the meat will likely have a region-specific flavor. I’ve heard that the only bear meat that doesn’t taste good is from areas where they eat a high proportion of fish. Bears are omnivores, but 85% of their diet is vegetation. In many parts of their range, a high percentage of the remaining 15% is in the form of insects. A bear killed in the fall in Arkansas will have gorged itself on acorns and hickory nuts. I find the flavor, even in mature male animals, to be excellent. Bear meat is greasier and heavier than what you’re probably used to, but don’t let that be a deterrent. It’s great meat for smoking. The shoulder of any wild animal isn’t considered a high-quality cut and can be challenging to use. However, it can be put to great use in the smoker. Smoking flavors the meat and can be used as a preservative. Bear meat is red with a beef- or pork-like texture. In centuries past, when gaining lots of calories from food was in vogue, calorie-rich bear meat was a top choice. Fatty meats have a lot of connective tissues called collagen. When cooked fast, collagen shrinks and tightens the meat, giving it a tough, rubbery texture. Slow cooking melts the fats, effectively rendering it between the muscle tissues, providing a tender texture and juicy flavor. When done correctly, a slab of bear meat hot off the smoker has the texture and flavor of beef brisket.
The smoke ring is an important part of all smoked meats. This is a distinct pink section of meat usually in the first ¼ inch. Don’t let the pink color deceive you into thinking it isn’t cooked; it is. The ring indicates that the flavor of the wood penetrated the meat, and it looks great, too. In scientific terms, the smoke ring is formed by iron molecules oxidizing and turning the flesh pink. The ring will be shallower or deeper based upon how long you expose the uncovered meat to direct smoke. Good smoked meat will have a smoke ring. I typically only leave the meat on the wood smoker for about two to four hours. Why? Convenience. It’s easier to keep the oven at a steady temperature than to monitor the smoker constantly. The meat will receive its mouth-watering smoke flavor during this time, and a great smoke ring will have time to form. After a couple of hours, I take the meat out and place it in the oven in a covered pan for the remainder of the cooking time, which also prevents the meat from drying out.
RECIPE: SMOKED BEAR SHOULDER
01 INGREDIENTS AND TOOLS • bear front shoulder • salt • pepper • onion powder • barbeque sauce • wood smoker • aluminum foil • disposable aluminum turkey pan • 10 pounds of charcoal • 10 pounds of mesquite wood
02 TRIM, SEASON AND BASTE Do your final cleaning of the shoulder, trimming off any excess fat but leaving some for flavor. Liberally apply salt, pepper and onion powder to the entire shoulder. Then, generously baste barbeque sauce onto the meat. The charred sauce is what gives the smoked meat the “bark” or crust that makes barbeque taste so good. If you don’t like bark, then don’t apply sauce until after the meat is cooked. Many people like to marinate meat 24 hours before smoking. This is a good idea, but I typically don’t wait that long. 03 SMOKING THE MEAT For a bear shoulder that weighs approximately 10 pounds, I like to cook at 225°F for up to 10 hours. Lower temperatures for longer periods of time typically mean more tender meat. Using a formula of 1 to 1 ½ hours of cooking time per pound of meat is a reasonable guideline. However, it’s much better to use a thermometer to test the internal temperature. Bear meat should be cooked thoroughly because of the risk of trichinosis. However, it’s killed at 145°F degrees and is no longer a problem. The USDA suggests cooking pork and chicken to an internal temperature of 160°F, just to be safe. I’d suggest the same for bear meat. However, the final cooked temperature of the meat should be around 190°F. After the meat has been rubbed with the ingredients, place it in a smoker that’s been preheated to 225°F. I typically use a full 10-pound bag of charcoal—5 pounds in the first two hours and 5 pounds the second two hours—to keep the temperature stable. If you’re using an electric smoker, this won’t be an issue. I put generous amounts of wood on top of the charcoal to create good smoke. 04 BAKING THE MEAT I let a shoulder cook in direct smoke for four hours at 250°F. Then take it out, cover the pan with foil and place it in the oven preheated to 250°F for another four hours (eight hours total). By this time, the smoke has done the flavoring; now the meat simply needs to slow cook. On larger cuts of bear, I’d suggest cooking at 200-225°F for longer periods of time. 05 SLICE AND SERVE After the meat has cooked, let it sit for at least 20 minutes before you begin to slice it. The meat can be sliced against the grain like brisket and eaten with barbeque sauce. When you cut into the meat, you’ll see a beautiful, pink smoke ring around the outside of the meat. It should be cooked all the way to the bone. Some parts of the shoulder are tougher, and I like to chop it up into smaller pieces for other uses. Everyone who’s eaten bear meat cooked this way has been delightfully surprised; many people think it’s beef. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday that ends in a truly American meal.