The Return of the Smokehouse : Smoking Your Own Meats
Smoke your own meat, build your own smokehouse
Although there are a few remaining smokehouses to be seen nestled among old gray outbuildings alongside rural roads, most have vanished from the American countryside. Before the advent of refrigeration, and for quite a while afterwards, they were a fixture on every farm where pigs were raised.
In the fall of the year, on a cold day to prevent spoilage, enough pork to last the winter would be prepared for smoking. These rustic little buildings with aromatic smoke seeping out of the cracks, emanated the smell of bacon, spices, and the type of wood the owner preferred to use for smoking the meat.
This would continue until most of the moisture was removed which prevented the meat from spoiling.It is said that smells trigger memories. If you've ever entered a smokehouse full of sausages, hams and shoulders, and of course sides of bacon, you will know this is true. Many of us remember going with our grandparents to “fetch some fresh bacon” for breakfast and long for that taste once again.
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The taste of real smoked pork is unforgettable. What is labeled as smoked meat today cannot compare to the old way of smoking meats..
Artificial smoke flavor, along with other chemicals, are injected or soaked into the meat to try to mimic the taste and look of real smoked pork. There are some real smokehouse products available but still, it’s not the same.
Recent concerns about food safety and the desire for authentic smoked meats has caused a resurgence of interest in traditional smokehouses,
Old methods of curing and smoking pork, and sometimes beef and fish, are being used to rediscover the unique taste our grandparents enjoyed all year long.
The once endangered little shed is starting to make a comeback in many rural areas. The pleasant aroma of wood smoke is once again stirring memories throughout the countryside.
Why smoke your own meats?
The reasons for this sudden interest in having one’s own smokehouse are many. In areas of the south a recent influx of wild hogs has suddenly provided an inexpensive supply of pork to hunters and landowners alike. Deer hunters have discovered the delicious taste of venison sausage and how easy it is to make it themselves.
Even farmers are once again processing their own pork for the dinner table because of the high prices charged at local abattoirs. There are extra charges for smoking sausage, hams, and bacon from most processing facilities with the "old familiar" taste missing somehow.
But whatever the reason, a smokehouse is relatively easy to construct even for less-than -professional carpenters. The basic concept of a smokehouse is simple. A dry enclosed area with hooks or racks to hold the intended meat until the majority of water is removed from the meat.
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Smokehouse Building Materials
Hardwood smoke not only flavors the meat, but removes excess moisture while protecting it from insects as it cures. The size smokehouse you need depends on the amount of meat you intend to cure. For most, a small two-holer outhouse size will do the trick.
The type of wood or other material you plan to use will dictate some facets of the construction. It is recommended that the fire box be located outside of the structure if possible. Many of the old smokehouses had a dirt or clay floor on which to build a small smoky fire.
This lowered the chance of the smokehouse burning down. Others used a small brick or stone hearth with the flue exhausting into the interior of the smokehouse. Today, some use a propane or electric heat source combined with wood chips to provide the smoke needed for the curing process.
Some commercial deer processors use old refrigerated trucks such as those ice cream or milk was delivered in. The insulated coolers are perfect for converting into large smokehouses. These are mainly used for smoking sausage links made from venison and pork.
One of the best sausage makers in this area of southern Georgia uses peach wood to smoke his wonderful links with. The wood comes from local orchards when they prune the trees annually. These sausages are so good many hunters have the whole deer processed in this manner.
In some parts of the country wild hogs are becoming a nuisance to homeowners and agricultural business owners. Some hunters many not have room in their freezers to store all of the meat these animals provide, so smoking part of it may be an option to be considered instead of freezing it..
Wild pork is especially suited for smoking as a preservation technique. In many areas of the south wild hogs are there for the taking by industrious and adventuresome hunters. Because of their destructiveness to crops and property, hunters bag them with the blessings of the landowner.
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The curing and smoking process
Before smoking the meat it is important to use a curing method consisting mainly of covering the meat with salt until the meat is rid of a lot of the water contained in it. Other spices such as black and red pepper, sugar and molasses, or even oregano may be used to flavor the meat. There were many preferences among the “old timers” with some being passed down through the years. Covering the meat with salt is the most important part though. So you must choose your own method for this step. There are books available which give greater details on some of the old favorite methods.
Once the meat has been salt cured for a few days it is time for it to be placed into the smokehouse to finish the curing process. Hooks and straps are used for hanging the hams and shoulders. Slabs of bacon can be hung in the same manner. Horizontal poles hold links of sausages wrapped around them in loops. The manner in which these hooks and racks are used is not important as long as the smoke can reach the surface of the meat.
The type of wood used to smoke the meat is usually one of availability in the area. Hickory seems to be the favorite but down here in Georgia many favor pecan. Most of the oak woods will do a decent job as will other hardwoods. Pine or other conifers will not do as they leave a pitch taste and soot covering on the meat. Peach or apple wood gives a pleasant taste and smell to the meat. Again, old timers had their own favorites which varied from farm to farm.
So if you are a hunter with a hankering to smoke your own meat, or if you are just an ordinary person who likes the taste of real smoked meat, then build your own smoke house. Learn how the old timer’s produced such wonderful tasting hams and sausages. The process is easier than you may think and you will savor the results. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.