Smoked meats are the product of a technique of curing white meat, red meat, and some seafood that originated in the Paleolithic Era. In addition to curing the meat, smoking also adds flavor, improves the texture of cured meat through the Maillard Reaction, and added to the preservation of the meat through the Salting and baking process. There are several methods of smoking, but most meat smokers use smokehouses or smoke rooms. These smoke houses are constructed in a large warehouse, usually consisting of concrete, wood, or metal, to contain the temperature that will kill the bacteria in the air, and sustain the growth of the meat at the same time. Smoke from the smokehouse can be carried in the air to the rooms where the food is being prepared or can be used to create the temperature needed to kill off the bacteria.
Most smokers use coal or wood as the source of heat. To produce smoke, the coals are placed in an ash pan or in a specially designed smoker that has a chimney. The smoke from the coals is used to create the smoke cloud and the resulting light brown color of the smoke. The smoke is then directed into a chamber where the meat is being processed. Most commonly, meat is processed and smoked in a large room or cellar.
Different temperatures are required to produce good quality smoked flavor. The temperature of smoke required to give a hardwood smoked flavor or to give a salty taste to a cured pork shoulder, is generally around 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoked fish products require a temperature of around 170 degrees Fahrenheit, as do certain cuts of steak. For the most intense flavor, however, a longer slow smoking process is best, lasting several hours. Fish canned in water should be smoked at room temperature.
The most popular smoked meats are those that are used for barbecues, in barbeque pits and other indoor cooking facilities. Barbeque is an old world term for cooking over an open fire. In recent years, however, the process of barbecuing has been modernized by the use of gas grills, outdoor fireplaces and smoker units. Many barbeque pits can now be used for smoking meats. Most smokers will hold three to twelve hickory logs, with the uppermost two being smaller diameter than the lower ones. The number of logs is usually determined by the size of the pit.
Smoke racks are used to support the meat while it is smoking. There are several types of smoker racks available, but most are built of metal. A metal smoker rack can be used to smoke one cut of meat at a time, or to smoke a whole animal at once, using one unit of charcoal or seasoned wood.
Smoked meat smokers come in many styles. The traditional smoker rack, also called a smoke box, is a large metal box that contains multiple racks and smoke pipes. Some of these racks have side racks to hold the wood and hickory racks to hold the meat. The top of the box might also contain a grate to increase the rate of burning the meat.
A smoke box grill, which might look like a small outdoor fireplace, contains a pot that contains a cover and an attached burner. To heat the meat, it sits on the top of the grill, where the direct heat from the burner can singly or simultaneously heat the meat and surrounding area. Meat placed on the grill will retain more of its flavor and tenderize when it is properly cooked.
Gas grills can be used to smoke meats as well. The gas grill has a rotating spit that creates smoke instead of flames. It is usually made of stainless steel to ensure optimum sanitation. Smoking woods also produces smoke, which some people find to be better than the other kinds of smoke. Smoked fish is also a popular alternative to smoked meats, which usually contains large amounts of oil that gives the fish the smell of smoked fish.