How to Make the Best BBQ in a Smoker

Fire up your smoker!

Fire up your smoker!

I recently had the opportunity to try smoking for the first time — smoking meat for barbecue, of course!

Seeing that we blew through all of our prime venison roasts this past winter and spring, I decided to break down and buy a Boston pork butt from the store (yes, I know, “blasphemy!”) for the smoker’s maiden voyage. I am proud to say, however, that is the first store-bought meat we’ve had in more than a year.

by Daniel E. Schmidt

My first trial in smoking meat with a propane smoker went off without a hitch this past weekend; so much so that it has given me all sorts of ideas for preparing smaller cuts of venison like steaks and chops for the rest of this summer.

Prepping the Weston smoker was relatively easy. After assembling the unit last month (which took less than a half hour), I seasoned it by letting it dry smoke at a high temperature for more than an hour. This helps bake away and factory finish from the powder coating, and also seasons the grates, wood tray, etc.

The best BBQ starts with a big hunk of meat! (photo by Dan Schmidt)

The best BBQ starts with a big hunk of meat! (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Prepping the meat was also easy. The pork butt weighed about 8 pounds. I thawed it for several days in the fridge, then rubbed it with a homemade mixture of sea salt, garlic and cracked pepper.

After filling the wood tray with hickory chips, I placed the meat on the middle rack and closed the smoker. Instructions called for a smoking time of one hour per pound, so I planned on staying near home the entire day. There was lots of yardwork to be done, so that made this the perfect side project.

 For safety, it's wise to keep the propane tank as far away from the smoker (and your house) as possible. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

For safety, it’s wise to keep the propane tank as far away from the smoker (and your house) as possible. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

This particular Weston smoker (a propane unit) has a built-in thermometer, which makes it easy to gauge the progress. Outside air temperature was steady at 75 this weekend, and there was only a slight breeze. This made it really easy to maintain the smoker at 215 degrees while running the propane regular on the “low” setting.

The best woods to use for smoking include hickory, apple, cherry and alder. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

The best woods to use for smoking include hickory, apple, cherry and alder. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Word of advice: You’ll need to swap out the woods chips every hour to hour and a half. Furthermore, it isn’t necessary to keep chips in the smoker for the duration of the process. The meat can only absorb so much smoke. Instructions said to use four trays of chips. I got by with only using three trays, because I decided to wrap the meat in foil for the last two hours. Wrapping the meat helps prevent it from drying out and, in a case like pork, allows the juices to be drawn back up into the meat. This is essential for mouth-watering barbecue.

Keeping the smoker at an even temperature is critical. It is also important to use a meat thermometer (a remote unit works best) to ensure the meat is cooked safely. For this attempt, I maintained the smoker’s temperature between 200 and 215 degrees for the entire day.

This built-in thermometer makes it super easy to check on your progress. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

This built-in thermometer makes it super easy to check on your progress. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Although 160 degrees used to be the standard, the USDA now recommends that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. However, for pulled barbecue, the meat must reach the magic temperature of 190s degrees. When it gets that hot, the meat just falls apart, which is precisely what I wanted.

SEE: Get the smoker Dan uses and make your own fantastic slow-cooked venison this season. It’s easy to make and will provide super meals all year long!

I was amazed that this first attempt went precisely as planned. My timer read “7 hours, 58 minutes” when the beeper went off, indicating the meat had reached 190 degrees. I removed the meat, placed it on a large oven pan, took it into the house and set on our large cutting board. The meat was kept in the foil wrap for one hour. This is called “resting,” which allows the meat to absorb more moisture.

Note: Finishing any type of smoked meat in foil will cut down on the amount of “bark” that’s left on the outside of the meat. Bark is the really tasty crust that forms from the smoking process. In this case, there was still enough of it to provide that extra flavor.

Wrapping the roast in foil and allowing to "rest" for an hour helps retain some moisture. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Wrapping the roast in foil and allowing to “rest” for an hour helps retain some moisture. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Pulling the meat is also super easy. Armed with two large forks, I just twisted the meat right from the bone. The shredded strips literally fell from the pork butt, and the bone was removed without hardly even trying. I used a sharp knife to shred the bark layer into tiny bits, and sprinkled those bits throughout the meat as I added it all to a large slow-cooker. The slow-cooker was used merely to keep the meat warm until it was time for dinner.

Barbecue done right! It doesn't hurt to have some great sides, either.  (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Barbecue done right! It doesn’t hurt to have some great sides, either. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

The final result for some of the best BBQ in a smoker? One awfully quiet dinner table. It was that good!

Any type of barbecue (done right, anyway), requires homemade sides. Whether it’s coleslaw, potato salad or fresh-cut vegetables from the garden, the eating experience is only enhanced by prepping these before the barbecue is ready. On this occasion, we opted for fresh-sliced radishes and kohlrabis. These zippy early summer veggies are the perfect complement to any barbecue.

Next up: Smoked venison steaks. There are four big round steaks thawing right now, and they have the smoker’s name on them. A deer hunting friend told me to merely smoke the steaks in hickory smoke for 20 minutes before throwing them on a hot grill. This, he said, adds a great flavor to otherwise lean venison steaks.

Want to become the best BBQer on your block? Get the good stuff:

30-inch Smoker

30-inch Smoker

1. Propane smoker from Weston Supply.

2. Hickory smoke in a can.

3. Vacuum bags for marinating.

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