Introduction to Hot Smoking
Learn how to get started with Hot Smoking on your barbecue smoker for those delicious and authentic Low 'n' Slow BBQ flavours. We take you through a step-by-step guide on the best approach.
Hot Smoking is the most common method for cooking authentic American Style BBQ, and is generally split into a couple of temperature ranges referred to as either low ’n slow or hot ’n fast.
American barbecue started as a way to get great results from cheaper cuts of meat like brisket and pork shoulder. Often thought to be tough, fatty and undesirable, these cuts are tender, full of flavour and unctuous when cooked at a low temperature 95 - 120°C (220 - 250°F), for several hours. This renders and softens the fat, and breaks down the connective tissue/collagens, leaving you with incredible results.
Traditionally this was achieved by constant tending of a fire in a large brick pit or offset smoker by a Pitmaster. BBQ smokers like the ProQ smokers make this style of cooking much more accessible for the home user.
Hot & fast BBQ is a much more modern method which allows very similar results to be achieved in a lot less time. Stemming from the BBQ competition circuit and often used in catering operations, this technique can be great when time is short. Whether or not you think the results are better, worse or just the same, it’s well worth trying to see what you prefer.
Whilst not as hot as a typical indoor oven, hot & fast is still quite a lot hotter than typical BBQ, and is usually done in the 135 – 175°C (275 – 350°F) range. This can improve things like crispy skin and pork crackling as well as shortening cook time, but as you’re cooking at a higher temperature the window when your meat is perfect is smaller, and you may need to keep a closer eye on your BBQ temperature particularly when getting used to cooking like this.
We recommend starting out with the low’n slow method, and using water in the pan to get an idea of how you set up your fire, get up to temperature and get an idea of how often you need to do things like topping up the fire. Once you have learnt and understood how to control your BBQ Smoker, it’s easier to move on to hot’n fast cooking.
Good quality BBQ smokers are efficient. Once the smoker is set up for hot smoking, one full basket of good quality fuel will give you around 8 hours of cooking time so there's not a lot of tending, other than to toss a couple chunks of wood on every now and then for smoky flavour.
Use a good quality lumpwood charcoal or briquettes and avoid using anything that says instant light, these are impregnated with accelerants like paraffin and other chemicals that can taint the flavour of your food. In the UK, we've found that it's best to use premium cocoshell briquettes or restaurant grade charcoal.
You can light your charcoal directly in the charcoal basket/pan or you can use a charcoal chimney starter (an excellent tool that makes starting a fire easy).
The amount of charcoal to use for each cook will depend on what's cooking, but if you find that you're running out of fire during a cooking session, the unique ProQ design makes refilling the charcoal basket easy. Simply clip all the stackers and lid together, and lift them off carefully to access the fire.
Next up is the water pan, the real secret to this way of cooking. The pan acts as a buffer between the fire and the food and will protect your food from the direct heat of the fire and help to keep the whole cooking chamber at a nice stable temperature.
For the simplest most fool proof method, line your pan with foil and fill it up with warm or hot water, put this in the first stacker and move this onto the base.
For a full breakdown of what to use in your waterpan and when, please check out our guide on Using Your Waterpan to Get the Best Results.
This is the most important part - it is essential that you choose good quality meat to start with. The food should be completely defrosted and will absorb smoke better if it is at room temperature when it's put on to cook.
Preparation is equally important and this is where you get to put your signature on the dish, by using blends of spices and herbs (Rubs) or Marinades (often injected deep into the meat by means of a marinade injector) to enhance flavours. Check out this simple rub recipe which is delicious and also makes a great base for playing with flavour.
Place your food in the middle of the cooking grates above the water pan. Once the food is on, put the lid on, remembering to open the vent on the lid and adjust the vents in the base until the unit runs at your desired temperature - this will be between 200°F - 250°F (95°C - 120°C) if you use water in the pan.
Open the lower door and place your chosen wood chips or chunks directly onto the charcoal. Use wood chips or chunks for the best results as you would a spice to add flavour to the food, 1-2 chunks or a handful of wood chips should suffice for most cooks, try adding more if it’s not smoky enough for your palette.
If you need a hand matching smoking wood to your food, then check out our useful smoking wood guide.
One thing you will notice about smoked food, is that the smoke can cause the meat to turn pink (this is known as the "Smoke Ring"), which makes it quite difficult for the novice to determine whether or not the food is cooked. The best and most accurate way of testing this is by using a good quality digital probe thermometer which will measure the internal temperature of the food.
Once the food is cooked, take it off the heat and let it rest for at least 15 minutes, and even up to an hour before slicing and serving.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, take a look at our tried and tested recipes here.