Smoking! The Way to Delicious Leftovers!
If you have never smoked any meats (or anything), you are probably missing out on something terribly delicious. Smoked meats have an intense flavor that just doesn't stop. They are great for barbeque, slicing, sandwiches, salads and a tremendous amount of additional leftover opportunities!
Another wonderful aspect of smoking meats, is that they last longer and freeze well. How many times have you cooked a turkey, only to find that after Day 5 of turkey leftovers, you really hate turkey? With a smoked turkey, eat off of it for a day or two, then freeze it. When you are ready, you can thaw and make a variety of other, delicious dishes.
So....Let's start with smoking a turkey. Consider these points:
- Do you have a smoker? Don't worry if you don't as there are options.
- What size bird? In my immediate household, there are only the two of us now, but you never know who might 'pop' in unexpectedly (especially if they hear you are smoking!).
- Time? It takes a long time to smoke properly, so be sure that you have time to monitor your progress.
- Location? Somewhere safe and away from children.
- Weather conditions? Windy days are killers for smoking.
Once you consider all these things, you are ready to begin your journey for the most tasty turkey you've ever cooked!
Do you have a smoker? Get Creative!
Several years ago, I learned that I could entice my shoppers at my store with the intense aroma of smoking salmon. I was managing a concept store for Lodge Cast Iron, and needed to draw more interest in the store, as it was newly opened.
I purchased an electric burner unit, took a dutch oven, inserted a metal rack in the bottom over a pie plate with fine, alder chips and smoked salmon on the weekends. Customers could smell it outside the store and were drawn into it, thus not only learning a different way of smoking, but I achieved my goal of selling more! (Don't worry....this type of smoking doesn't produce an intense amount of smoke, but just enough that any venting should be turned on.)
So, there's one way of smoking without a smoker. Another way, is on your ordinary grill. The real trick in smoking without a smoker is that you smoke the meat, not cook it.
Preferably, you have a rectangular grill, instead of the round one. Round ones will work, but not near as effectively, as you get smoked taste only on the outer portions of the meat, not infused into the meat. With the rectuangular grill, you can adjust your amount of direct heat by stratgically placing the heat and meat on opposite ends with a heat barrier between. The barrier can be bricks, or a heavy piece of metal to force the heat up, not out, as well as the smoke. This type of method with still produce a great flavor and smoke. This is how my smoking 'career' began.
I first used an old rectangular grill my mother gave me. My husband had cut down a cherry tree and we decided to try smoking a piece of pork. Using my heat/smoke diversion method on the grill, we produced the most beautifully, reddish tinted pork butt ever! When sliced, it had a deep, red, intense smoke ring that was undeniable. I was sold on smoking, and have tried many different types of woods, including blending.
Short of going whole hog, and buying an expensive smoker unit, there are a number of others out there that work beautifully for the homecook smoker. I still prefer using charcoal, as to me, grilling just isn't grilling on gas. I purchased a unit that holds 2 (or more) 22 lb turkey's or 40 lbs of pork and has the smoker box attachment. Total investment was about $150.00. This multipurpose unit is extremely effective for my needs and easy to use.
What size bird?
When I smoke, I generally look ahead to determine my needs for the future. As I still work full-time outside of the home, maintain a website, help with a family owned business, and just generally still try to have a life, I try to be prepared for my meals.
I love to cook, but sometimes, there's just not the time. This is when I look forward to those 'treats', like smoked meats to help me out. Therefore, when I smoke, I never smoke one item. Today, for instance, while I am writing this, I am smoking one 24 lb. turkey and 20 lbs of pork butt. Considering that it is now Thanksgiving Day, I can fill my freezer with smoked meats and be ready those unexpected happenings of the winter.
Consider your personal and family needs and smoke accordingly. Don't waste your smoker to just a small piece.
Time, Location, and Weather Conditions
Choose a day when you have time to smoke. While you are going to be able to leave your smoker alone and let it 'do it's thing', you still should monitor your heat and keep the smoke up constantly. With the smaller homecook smokers, you may even need to rotate your meats for even smoking. So, take a day when you will be 'hanging around the house', and start your smoker early.
The next challenge is the location of your smoker. I have a nice, covered deck that houses my smoker and works great. If you are smoking close to your house, remember that smoke travels, and unless you want that smoke in your house, select your location carefully. Also, consider children and the proximity of the smoker. Teach children the dangers of a smoker and only use in an area safely away from playing children.
Then, consider the weather. On cold, rainy and especially windy days, your smoker MUST be protected from wind or you loose too much smoke to properly smoke your meat. If it's cold, the same thing should be considered. You always want your smoker to hold a temp of approximately 200-250 degrees. Weather can be your worst enemy.
There are several ways to prepare your smoker. Actually...two.
Start with charcoal and add your wood once started, or use only wood. Either way will work. Starting with charcoal works better if your weather conditions are not the best, as it will start your wood better and there is less chance of the fire going out until the wood catches. Under perfect conditions, just use the wood.
Start the smoker and have the smoke building before adding your meats.
Now...Let's talk TURKEY!
Select your turkey and make sure it has been cleaned properly inside and out. I always check my turkeys carefully, especially if it is one I haven't butchered myself.
Once it is cleaned, separate the skin from the breast by inserting your hand into the area and pulling the skin. Then take butter, and bathe the breast (under the skin). I then place several whole sage leaves between the skin and breast. Salt and pepper the outside of the bird and coat lightly with olive oil. (This helps seal in moisture and gives a crisp skin to the smoked bird.)
In the cavity of the turkey, place one whole onion, several pieces of celery and carrots (optional). Salt and pepper as well. Tuck the legs or tie together. Tuck the tips of the wings underneath the bird.
Place on the grill once the smoke has begun to build. Monitor carefully, turning the bird as needed for even smoking.
Sit back...relax...have a nice glass of wine, enjoy your family and monitor your meat. Slow smoking results in a better taste, texture and smoke ring. The smoke ring is what you want. This is the true sign of a good smoke.
Use a meat thermometer to determine the doneness of the meat. I like using one that I can insert in the meat and mount on the outside of the smoker. Not only does this allow me to monitor my meat, but I can do so without losing smoke by opening the smoker.
Final Results? Dinner then Leftovers!
I smoked this turkey for approximately 18 hours, never getting the temperature higher that 225 degrees. When slicing the breast, juices flowed out giving a most marvelous aroma.
Poultry doesn't give that great smoke ring like other meats, however, the taste is always the test. This turkey was moist, tender and had the gentle smoke taste throughout the bird. It was absolutely DELICIOUS!
So, now comes the leftover portion of this bird. Smoked turkey gives a wonderful, and different twist to other dishes like:
Slice it, pull it off the bone, and freeze it! Don't get 'turkey crazy' by trying to make your family consume the entire bird before it goes bad in the fridge! Not only will you be able to plan meals around this wonderful bird for a later date, but most of the work will already be done!
Update - April 2013
For the record, we just finished off the balance of the smoked pork that was being done at the time I wrote the article (11-22-12). We froze the entire piece, thawed it, pulled it and carried it over to a friends' home, along with homemade baked beans and potato salad!
It tasted as freshly smoked on this day as it did the first day! So nice to enjoy smoked meats all the way through the winter, with a little effort and prep work!
*** As it happened, smoking and preparing in advance was a blessing for us, as on 12/23/12, I was in an accident that resulted in a badly fractured and dislocated ankle. Having this ready and easy for my husband to use, made things much easier for him when having to take over cooking for 3 months! ***