Maintaining a consistent temperature is the key to slow-cooking meat successfully in an outdoor smoker. Too hot, and the meat dries out and becomes tough. Not hot enough, and your food might spoil before it is cooked sufficiently. The ideal smoking temperature is between 200-225 degrees F for large cuts of meat and 175 degrees F for fish. Thick meat cuts, such as beef brisket, can take 12 hours or more to smoke, depending on weight, so it's important to know how to keep up the smoker's internal temperature.
Things You'll Need
- Fuel (charcoal or hardwood chunks)
- Built-in external thermometer or portable chef's thermometer
Keep the lid closed and resist the temptation to peek inside your smoker. If you are basting the meat with a mopping sauce according to a schedule prescribed in your recipe, there should be no need to open the smoker unless you are basting. Every time you lift the cover on the smoker you are adding 20 to 30 minutes to your cook time due to lost heat and dropping temperature.
Open the lower vents fully on a smoker to increase the air draw underneath the fire. This oxygenates the burning charcoal or hardwood, which burns hotter, increasing the temperature.
Raise the internal smoker temperature even higher by gradually opening the chimney or top vents and monitoring the heat with a thermometer. In tandem with opening the bottom vents, this will draw air up through the grill and enrich the fire with oxygen, causing it to burn hotter.
Add fuel to the firebox every two hours to maintain the temperature. Throwing in five to six fist-sized chunks of hardwood or 3 lbs. of charcoal every couple of hours should sustain the temperature in most smokers designed for home use. Large, commercial-grade smokers might need another 10 to 15 lbs. of hardwood or charcoal added to the fire every couple of hours to keep up the temperature. More fuel may be required during the winter to keep the smoker at the desired temperature.
Tips & Warnings
- Never attempt to kick-start a fire with lighter fluid or another accelerant once the food is inside.
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