I am going to keep these barbecue tips very basic, they are geared towards a beginner. Over the years I Have used a NBBD offset smoker, Char Griller Duo, Weber Bullet and currently a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. I am still in the learning stages of barbecuing and it seems like a process that will never end. I have done extensive reading online before even attempting this new way of cooking and found there is a ton of good information out there, sometimes too much.
The first thing I did with all my smokers was, make the modifications that were recommended for that model smoker I found on the barbecue message boards.
Tip 1: Start with regular charcoal briquettes:
The first time I attempted to use my smoker I used natural lump charcoal. I could not get the temperature low enough, it stayed around the 290 degree level and I could not get it any lower. The next attempt when I used regular Kingsford charcoal the temperature remained in the 220 to 240 ranges without any changes in the smoker.
Tip 2: Cook a chicken on your first attempt:
Chickens are a relatively inexpensive way to learn how to use your smoker. You really would hate to mess up large expensive cut of meat. There is no real benefit to cooking chicken low and slow so you will not screw it up if it gets to hot. You can make adjustments and learn your smoker. When you are confident in your ability to control your temperature move to a large piece of pork (or beef). Contrary to popular belief a large cut of meat is harder to mess up then smaller cuts.
Any change you make to increase or decrease the temperature will take a minimum of 20 minutes to take full effect. One small change (.25 to .50 of an inch) in the firebox vent can change the temperature 20 to 40 degrees. Patience is a virtue here, it can take up to an hour just to get fire right before placing your food on so take your time and do it right.
Tip 4: Smoker Placement will affect the cooking temperature:
Try to place your smoker in an area that will either be in constant shade or constant sunlight. Think about it: your smoker is a black metal tube, if left out in the sun, the inside temperature will get over 120 degrees on a warm day, without any fire. The temperature in my smoker dropped by 30 degrees when the shadow of my garage covered it, at first I had no idea why all of a sudden the rapid drop in temperature.
Tip 5: Wait and wait then wait some more.
It will seem like it is taking forever for your food to finish and at one point the internal temperature may stop rising for an hour or so. This is normal! Good barbecue takes time and this was the hardest part for me to deal with. Generally you are attempting to get your food over 200 degrees and it hits a wall around the well done range, wait it out. It won’t burn.
About the author: Mike is the owner of 4thegrill.com, a Certified Food Safety Professional and KCBS member.
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