Sometimes, you will find me smoking in the evening, with a glass of bourbon in hand; other times, early in the morning, with a cup of coffee, because the smoke has been rolling all night and I have gotten up for the third or fourth time since midnight to tend to the fire. The meat is almost done, and I will go get a few hours of straight sleep now.
Many people use pellet or puck smokers, solid wood or charcoal. Some use big-name brands or ones they have made using their own recipes. And like me, some have multiple smokers that smoke differently and are best for different types of meat.
I have three different ones myself, and two are true smokers. They are vertical smokers that I built in the last year and I use the most for smoking. I have another horizontal smoker/grill that I built 24 years ago as a barbecue grill with a friend and a welder he knew. It has been a work in progress and has been constantly evolving all these years.
It started off as a 300-gallon fuel tank that we cut and put on legs and weighed about 700 pounds. I had to call friends to help me load it in a trailer, and finally got smart, took it off the legs and mounted it to its own trailer. A few years back when I started getting into smoking more, I added a smokestack on it. Later, I cut a hole in the opposite end and put a snorkel on it, attached to a garbage can lid for offset smoking.
Before I made my current vertical smokers, I made a vertical one from a commercial refrigerator. When I showed it to my butcher, he laughed at it and told me it looked good but it would catch on fire. They always do because they are not insulated for heat, he said. I said I will never have it hot enough to worry about that because it’s just for smoking — it will never be over 285 degrees. Three weeks later, I had to call him and tell him that it caught on fire.
Smoking meat can be an around-the-clock endeavor, but it’s worth it. You might find me up at zero dark thirty or going to bed at 2 or 3 a.m., or even in the afternoon in between working with my mortgage clients, taking a quick peek at the barbecue. Sometimes it’s pouring down rain or maybe even snowing. For real smoke enthusiasts, it doesn’t matter what time it is or what the weather is like; it’s all about the smoke and the finished product.
A friend asked me why I didn’t just go out and buy a name-brand smoker that a lot of people use. I will not say the name, but it uses pucks of compressed wood sawdust that are time-released from a hopper that has an electric timer and temp gauge. He said it could smoke just as good as mine but without all the time and work involved. I disagreed. I smoke with chunks or sticks of wood that I must split or cut myself. And I have to keep an eye on the smoker to make sure that it’s not too hot or the fire hasn’t gone out, or the smoke isn’t too heavy or dark.
There is an art to smoking that you can’t achieve if you just plug in a cord and turn on a switch and go to work. You have to watch your smoke, check your temps constantly. But most of all, you have to smell that smoke perfume. Depending on the smoke, there is a different smell that comes out of the smoker, as well as smoke colors.
A good smoke is thin and blue and has an amazing fragrance. This perfume is different for every person and is part of the smoking habits. Sometimes it’s because of the wood or combination of wood used. Sometimes it’s the fire, because of the heat or lack of heat for the type of smoking you are doing.
Some people like a mild sweet smoke, some like a heavy smoke that permeates and some like a delicate smoke like for lox — you almost don’t know it is there. Each one has its own fragrance.
Most of us like the smell of a good perfume so that is why I call it smoke perfume. Just like any perfume, we all have different tastes in what smells good to us. This might become your signature, a certain smell you try to achieve and others might recognize. But for you, it just means the smoke is right.
I think the best part of smoking is when people try my smoked meat and tell me how good it is. I say, “Thank you but show me how good it is by emptying that plate and getting more.”
Enjoy your smoker and don’t be afraid to experiment, be creative and enjoy what you create and share it with others.