This article explains the science behind smoking meat -- how it works, how it affects your food's flavor, and the different types of smoke you want (and don't want) to see.
Smoking meat has evolved over hundreds of years from a way to cure meats for storage to, as we know it today, a tastier way of cooking. Smoking meat adds flavor, naturally tenderizes, and can even take some of the cheaper, less desirable cuts of meat and turn them into filet mignon rivals. All it takes is a little patience.
How Smoke Works
Smoke = Flavor
When cooking over a fire, smoke will naturally penetrate and bind with the meat. The longer the meat is exposed to the smoke, the more flavor it will have. This becomes more apparent with a smoke ring.
Smoking vs Curing
Our grills add smoke flavor; we don't cure with smoke. Curing with smoke comes from cold smoke, which is reserved for foods like lox and cheese.
Some of our grills come with the 'Super Smoke' feature. 'Super Smoke' mode lets you blast your food with 100% hardwood smoke. When you select this mode, your grill holds back pellets to stabilize consistent, even combustion. See Super Smoke to learn more.
While cooking meats in your typical fashion for long, slow periods would result in a tough, dry, and tasteless jerky, the long process of smoking meat does the opposite: it breaks down all the fats, collagens, and connective tissues that make tougher cuts of meat more sweet, tender, and juicy. These connective tissues break down into basic sugars, adding moisture and sweetness to the barbecue.
Keep It Moving
Smoke needs to be moving throughout the smoking process; otherwise, stagnant smoke will build up and leave bitter creosote on your food. Properly maintaining and cleaning your grill will help facilitate air flow to prevent this.
Types of Wood
Smoke comes from the burning of wood, and we all know how many types of wood there are. A few kinds of wood that may come to mind when talking about smoking might be Hickory, Maple, Cherry, Oak, etc. Different types of wood produce different flavors, which may come in handy when cooking different types of meat.
Types of Smoke
Smoke requires a heat source, fuel and oxygen. You will see different types of smoke based on these three factors and how they interact.
Thin, Blue Smoke (Clean/Ideal Smoke)
Thin, blue smoke occurs when there are low levels of oxygen, meaning the pellets don't combust, but rather smoke. This type of smoke comes from fresh wood and consistent low temperatures. It comes from nitrogen gas and can create smoke rings.
White smoke is not necessarily "good smoke," but it's also not bad, provided it doesn't last long after startup. It's caused by the vaporization of grease and gasification of pellets and usually occurs during startup. Once that burns off, it becomes thin, blue smoke.
If white smoke continues, it's likely due to moisture in pellets. Don't worry too much about brief exposure to thick, white smoke; however, prolonged exposure (over an hour) can create a bitter taste from ash and creosote.
Yellow, Milky Smoke
This type of smoke indicates a high concentration of wood gas, and it can lead to a lid burp. If your grill is producing this type of smoke, it means there are too many pellets in it at once.
If your grill emits black smoke, similar to the type that a diesel truck produces, it's an indication that there isn't enough oxygen entering your grill. Black smoke can cause your food to taste bitter.