Tuesday, August 28, 2012


About 16 years ago, I purchased something for around 200 bucks that I still use today.  Think about that.  What have you purchased that has stood the test of a decade and a half?  Probably not your refrigerator.  Perhaps your laundry pair?  Your car?  Carpet for the house?  Your cell phone or computer? 

A now out-of-business retailer (Barbecues Galore!) sold me a smoker built by a bought-out-of-business manufacturer.  I’d seen one of these cookers at a small commercial eatery in Old Sacramento and after a bite of smoked brisket, I knew I had to have one. 

A smoker differs from a grill in that there is one chamber for fire and another for cooking.  A traditional smoker is really a barbecue.  A grill is not.  Smoking food – or barbecuing it – is a process of long cooking times using low heat.  Here’s how to do it.

The night before – if I’m planning ahead which I’m usually not – I either apply a dry rub to what is to be cooked, or immerse the product in a marinate.  Sources abound for rubs and marinates although I look for products or recipes that minimize the use of corn syrup and/or white sugar.  About the time I’m going to fire up the smoker, I pull the meat out of the frig. 

Dried hardwood (oak, almond, pecan, fruitwood, hickory) is a more flavorful fuel for barbecuing than most commercially obtainable (and chemically laced) charcoal.  Filling a large bucket with water, I soak the firewood for 30 to 60 minutes prior to throwing it on.  Most of my fuel I’ve harvested from the oak trees in my back yard, but I’ve been known to purchase a downed peach tree during orchard removal or swipe a few chunks of almond from my brother.  Particularly when smoking pork, the smoke from different woods impacts the flavor of the finished product – always in a distinctive and positive manner.

Compromising my disdain for charcoal, I do light a small pile.  Once ashed over, I toss the wet log on the pile, open up the chimney and wait for the cooking chamber to achieve the temp I want – usually between 220 and 250 degrees. 

I place the seasoned chicken or marinated tri-tip in the middle of the smoke chamber and wait – sometimes forgetting to monitor the heat which is easily adjusted by allowing more or less air into the fire chamber.   

The aromatic smoke wafting through the neighborhood invites more questions than the purchase of that new Rav 4 sitting in your driveway.  And the new Toyota will only be new for about a week. 

Because it takes between 3 and 5 hours to fully smoke a chicken, this is when a nice cigar with a smooth bourbon over a little ice comes in handy.  Your “customers” will think you’ve been slaving out in the hot sun for that entire time so act worn out when you bring it in the house.  A couple of “Sen Sen” will mask your foul cigar breath and cover up the whiskey so you may continue the ruse another day.

Enjoy your meal and accept the accolades you will receive for your cooking prowess while the rest of the household was mashing potatoes, steaming the green beans, baking biscuits, brewing ice tea, setting the table, and on and on.  Your guests will think you did all the work.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company, out of the hill country in Texas, sold to CharBroil, a competitor.  In the transition, the new company “improved” the old smoker by reducing the gauge of the steel and swapping out wooden handles and shelving for plastic making the unit lighter and more readily able to rust through.  In short: they improved on it until it didn’t work as well.  It costs less, however.  [If anyone sees a New Braunfels “Black Diamond” still in a box, contact me.  I’ll buy it in a heartbeat.]


The Smoke and Spice Cookbook, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press) is a terrific primer on smoking food.  The Jameson’s provide information on smoker types, woods, food preparation, recipes for sauces and rubs and recipes for foods that will complement a nicely smoked entrée.  My copy was © 1994, but I see an updated and revised is still available at your local bookstore. 

The Jamison’s website may be accessed at http://cookingwiththejamisons.com/cookbooks.html
© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

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