How to Use a Smoker Basics Revisited!
Curing and smoking meats is an ancient method used for preparing all types of meats. Before refrigeration was available for food storage, this process was a primary food preparation process for enhancing flavor and preventing spoilage. The same procedures can be modified and used to prepare many other types of meats.
Salt is the main ingredient common to all curing and or smoking processes. It contributes to the flavor and texture of the meat, and discourages growth of spoilage microorganisms that could render the meat inedible. Additional ingredients are often used to enhance the flavor and improve the appearance of the finished product. In some cases the addition of sugar counteracts the salty flavor, drying, and toughening that results when only a salt brine is used.
Additional preservatives like potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate were used in the past to protect against the bad "cooties" like the growth of spoilage organisms like Clostridium botulinum that causes botulism. Today, many people prefer to avoid use of these preservatives due to possible health risks. When nitrates are used, the cured meats exhibit a pinkish color.
The basic ingredients for curing include salt, sugar, preservatives like saltpeter, flavors like sauterne wine and spices like pepper, onion or garlic.
The curing solution and meat are kept cool to discourage possible growth of microorganisms. Temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees F. are ideal during the curing phase. After the curing process is complete, carcasses are removed from the brine and allowed to drain. Additional brine can be removed by rinsing in cool water. Before smoking, allow the carcasses to dry slightly to improve the adhering of the desirable smoked color.
Various woods are used to smoke the meat. Each type of wood contributes a distinctive effect on the flavor and color of the finished product. Woods frequently used include hickory, oak, maple, mesquite, apple, cherry, plum, and peach. Soft woods are never used due to the presence of resinous substances in the woods.
The internal temperature of the meat at its deepest point must reach 160 degrees F. or higher. If this temperature is not attained, additional cooking in a conventional oven is necessary to produce a safe product. Using a cooking thermometer ensures complete cooking. Smoking at 185-190 degrees F. during the first 2-3 hours, followed by lower temperature.
So this is the scoop ... don't forget the basics!