12 Meat Smoking Mistakes That You Might Be Making

For those of us who enjoy barbecuing, smoking meat, or just cooking our own food at home, you may have noticed that many people have different opinions about the smoke. Some think it’s great, and others may find it gross or harsh on their taste buds.

We know many ways to smoke meat and cook your food, but there are also some mistakes that you can make that don’t give your food the best flavor possible. Some people think they are doing everything right but maybe committing a small error that will affect how tasty the meal will be.

It’s important to know that there are certain ways that meat needs to be cooked and smoked. There are things that you need to consider, and there are some mistakes that people tend to make that may alter the taste of the meat, so it’s important to know what you’re doing.

Here are the 12 most common smoking mistakes you might be making and should watch out for.

Using the wrong cut of meat

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Photo credit: bonappetit

It is never a good idea to go to your local supermarket and grab the cheapest cut of meat that you can find.

When smoking meat, make sure that you are using the best cut of meat for the job. This way, you will be able to maximize your flavor potential and really enjoy what it is that you’re doing.

The solution:

When looking for meat to smoke, firstly visit your local butcher, a farm that is close by, or buy the meat online. This will ensure that you are getting the best quality of meat possible and make sure that it will look great on your dining table.

Which are the best meats for smoking is a vast topic, but here are some guidelines:

  • Pork Butt – to achieve great results when smoking a pork butt, always look at the opposite end of the bone. There should be large tube-shaped muscles rich in fat. When the butt is done, this fat will melt and render
  • Ribs – If possible, avoid frozen meat. The ribs should have a thick layer of meat above the bone and not too much surface fat.
  • Brisket – When buying a brisket, look for a whole and with a 1/4″ of tick hard white fat above the meat.
  • Chicken – The best is to use a whole chicken for smoking. As far as cuts are concerned, it would be best if you went for the breast side.

In conclusion, if you end up using a great cut of meat to smoke, then chances are you’re going to get some really good-tasting food. It all comes down to knowing what you’re doing and putting your best foot forward.

Using lighter fluid to light the charcoal

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Photo credit: kingsford

Even though many people use lighter fluid to light the coals, you should try and avoid this. The reason is the liquid fluid can emit toxic fumes, leave a chemical taste on the meat even after you cook them well.

The solution

First, let’s not follow the mistake of using lighter fluid to light the charcoal for your BBQ smoker.

Knowing how to start charcoal without a lighter fluid is essential for you if you are looking to enjoy the best of your favorite meat.

As long as you have good-quality charcoal briquettes and a chimney starter, your coals should be hot enough to start. A good quality product like the Weber Chimney Starter is always a good idea.

To light the chimney starter, you will need to put a couple of bunched-up papers at the bottom grate, fill the chimney with coals. Then put it on the grill grates and light the paper. In about 20 minutes, you should have all the coals lighted and ready for the smoker.

Not regulating the temperature in the smoker

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Photo credit: foodfirefriends

Getting a good piece of smoked meat requires a low and slow approach, which means low and steady temperature. Smoking at high temperatures will cause the meat to be dry, resulting in a disappointing end product.

The solution

If you’re only going to do one thing right, let that be smoking slowly.

When you are smoking meat, always have an internal thermometer in the meat to monitor the temperature as it is cooking.

It would be best if you always tried to keep the temperature of your smoker between 225F – 250F (121C – 149C)

So, to regulate the temp in the smoker, you need to know how to control the vents. This will be different for every smoker, so you’ll need to refer to your own smoker’s manual or talk with somebody who knows it.

The general idea is that when the vent is fully open, the temperature inside the smoker increases quickly and can get quite high. If the vents are closed, you reduce the oxygen flow, and the heat produced by burning wood in the firebox is reduced.

You can use vents to get the desired temperature in the smoker with relative ease. You have to make sure to stabilize the temperature inside the smoker before adding the meat.

Set up your thermometer away from direct heat and wait for 10-20 minutes for the pit to settle into an even temperature, then put your meat in.

To take control of everything, you will need a reliable thermometer set up to help you control the internal temperature of your meat and the temperature inside the smoker.

Keeping a pan full of water inside the smoker is essential. The water will evaporate and will regulate the humidity and the temperature. If you plan long smoking, check the water pan because you’ll need to refill it a few times during smoking.

Adjusting too many things at once

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Photo credit: smokedbbqsource

It is a common mistake that many people make when smoking meats. Rarely can you find two smokers alike, so experiment with small adjustments to various variables until you get the level of results you desire.

Imagine how you are smoking, and everything is going perfectly. Until the temperature inside the smoker starts to rise or fall. Suddenly, you start making many adjustments to the vents, adding more fuel, or opening the lid.

While these adjustments might be accurate when done one by one, doing all of them at once seems overreaching.

The solution

What you should do is left everything alone for a few minutes and then made small adjustments. Don’t open and close the vents every minute; it will drive you crazy.

It will take time for you to get into a consistent routine of smoking your meat properly. Once in that routine, you will be able to quickly identify what is going wrong or right without opening the smoker’s lid.

Opening the lid too often will make the temperature inside the smoker unstable.

Experiment with small, simple changes to your smoking setup and process. Leave everything alone until you can clearly notice the deviation from the normal routine, and then make one simple adjustment to fix it.

Using Too Much Smoke

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When you’re barbecuing or smoking your food, everyone has a tendency to want more smoke.

“If I add more smoke, my food will taste better!”

Trust me; it’s not the best thing for your food. In fact, this is one of the biggest mistakes that most people make when smoking meat.

They want too much smoke in one sitting, and the best way to achieve this is by adding extra wood chips on their smoker’s firebox lid or completely closing the smoker vents.

The solution

Use just enough wood chips or chunks to give off some light smoke but not so much that you can’t see through it.

When smoking your meat is done in this fashion, the meat will absorb all the subtle flavors of the smoke, but the slight amount you’re using won’t overwhelm the meat.

The right amount of wood depends on the smoker you use. On a smoker like Weber Smokey Mountain, you will need just a few wood chunks to maintain a nice smoke throughout the cooking time.

I prefer to smoke the meat for a few hours until it has absorbed the full flavor of the wood. Then, I’ll remove it from the smoker and wrap it in foil. Put back into the smoker for an hour or so and enjoy one of the best smoked meats you’ve ever tasted.

When smoking meat, it is important that you only smoke it long enough to give it a good flavor. If you decide to over smoke the meat, then there’s a chance that the taste may end up being too strong for people who are not used to eating smoked foods.

Giving yourself less time than you need

If you are a beginner, one of the most common mistakes you might make is believing that you can reduce smoking times.

We all have been in a hurry, waiting for our guests to arrive or just in a rush to eat some delicious meat.

It’s only natural that we want to get our job done as soon as possible, but the problem occurs when you start pressuring yourself and working under the assumption that smoking is an easy task.

This mindset will definitely make things harder for you, and you will make mistakes along the way.

The less time you give yourself for completing each step, the more likely you’ll be to get into trouble.

The solution

Don’t try to rush things and give yourself more time than you need for smoking because it will definitely be worth it in the end.

Since smoking meat is a slow and delicate process, you need to allow yourself enough time to get the job done properly. It takes a lot of patience and attention, so don’t rush it when you are right in the middle of your smoke session.

Observing the right smoking times and temperatures will reward you with succulent meat with all the nuances you were looking for. It’s alright if things take longer than you expect but never compromise on quality.

There is no need for you to rush through the smoking process just because you’re excited about trying out a new recipe or smoker. Relax and enjoy yourself, but don’t forget to give yourself enough time and space to complete the task.

If you are a beginner, start with much smaller pieces of meat and make sure that you don’t go too fast. Leave yourself extra time, and don’t rush it.

If you are really in a hurry, you can try the technique called the “Texas cheat.” This cooking method requires smoking your meat for a few hours until it takes all the smoky flavor you need. Afterward, you can wrap the meat in foil and continue to cook it in the oven at 325F for a few hours more.

In a stall situation, many are quick to panic

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Photo credit: madibarestaurant

Waiting for the smoked meat to reach the perfect temperature could be a painstaking task. This is especially true for people who are not used to the amount of time it could take to prepare a piece of meat that is properly smoked.

You know, how we always hear from our parents and grandparents that waiting is a virtue? That wisdom applies here as well: “patience” makes all the difference between well-smoked meat and one that is not.

When smoking a big chunk of meat, there’s a big chance to experience the phenomenon of “stall.” It is when the temperature of the meat stops rising while it is being cooked.

The most newbie mistake is to increase the heat when you experience this.

The solution

There are many explanations of the stall and many thoughts on how to fix it. The most reliable one is that the stall you experience is caused by the moisture leaving the meat and ends up cooling it.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, we have a comprehensive article explaining the whole concept of the stall and all the possible solutions.

The best thing to do is to leave your meat alone. Just keep the temperature stable and wait, even if it takes an hour or two more than you planned.

It might seem like nothing is happening in the smoker, but you will be pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be succulent and perfectly cooked.

If your meat is properly seasoned and smoked, you need to wait until it reaches its perfect temperature and color. So again: patience is a virtue!

Often peeking through the smoker lid

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Photo credit: kudugrills

Another newbie mistake is to check often meat’s progress, which can make a cook nervous, especially when smoking.

Each opening of the smoker lid will release some of the heat inside your smoker and the smoke.

Look at this problem this way: every lid opening increases the cooking time by 10-15 minutes.

So when smoking meat, please make an effort to check on it after an hour or two and look at its color and texture through the window.

The solution

What you should do instead is be patient and allow your meat to cook and develop its color. The best way to go about this is to keep the lid closed as much as possible and avoid peeking inside more than often.

Smoking meat needs a stable temperature, and when opened to look inside, there is a likelihood of the temperature changing. It is enough to monitor the meat’s internal temperature using a thermometer. If the meat gets done early, you could always wrap it in aluminum foil to keep the flavor and juices from escaping.

The type of the smoker also matters. If you are using a kettle grill, every opening is crucial. Charcoal-fueled grills like the Weber Kettle grill has limited heating potential. Opening the lid too often diminishes and burns out the coals resulting in lower temperature and reduced cooking time.

Trusting the lid thermometer of a smoker

The thermometer build in the lid will lie to you. It is almost for sure that these thermometers are chap.

There is a lot of variance in temperature between the top and the bottom of the smoker. The exact numbers on the lid thermometer will only show you the temperature above your meat.

The solution

Always ignore the thermometer of a dome smoker.

Your best option is to get a dual probe thermometer that can measure the internal temperature of your food and the ambient temperature of the smoker.

A good smoker thermometer will measure temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit and high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

This way, you can easily monitor the temperature of your smoker without opening it too often.

Picking an incorrect type of smoke wood

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Smoking with the wrong type of wood can be a costly mistake.

Often people purchase their wood without knowing which kind of wood will work best with what type of meat. They usually ask the guys down at the local BBQ store or look in a book to see what kind of wood goes well with what type of meat.

There are some different opinions about which woods to use for certain meats, but the most important so not the exact type of wood, but the basics of smoking with wood.

The solution

Different types of smokers use different types of wood. Knowing if your smoker works best with logs, chunks, or chips is essential when buying your smoke wood.

There are quite a few woods that go well with meat smoking and some that do not.

In terms of flavor, Hickory, Mesquite, and Apple are probably the best.

If you want a stronger smoke flavor, pick something like hickory or mesquite as opposed to apple. Remember, there is no right wood for meat smoking. Many people will tell you that your smoker needs this type of wood or that type of wood to work correctly. This is not necessarily true.

Ensure that you read your owner’s manual and look for instructions on what type of wood to use in your smoker. If there are no instructions, you can essentially do as you please, but knowing how certain woods will affect the taste of your food may help as well.

Not letting meat rest after it’s done cooking

By not letting your meat rest, it will lose its juices, flavor, and tenderness.

Meat that has been smoked will be very soft and tender because the structure of the meat fibers has changed. If you cut into this while it is still hot, you end up with juices running in all directions, and you lose most of the juice.

Also, not knowing how and cutting with the grain of the meat can ruin the texture.

The Solution

So why does hot meat lose its juice?

Because the heat from cooking can break down the thread-like protein molecules that hold onto moisture and make meat juicy.

This is why it is best to let your meat rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it or serving it so that the juices keep in place and settle within the meat’s fibers.

If you are not in a hurry, letting the meat rest for one hour is even better.

Cutting against the grain of the meat is very important. If you cut with the grain, your smoked meats will be tougher and less juicy. The optimal thickness of a brisket slice is 1/4 inches.

Over-smoking a piece of meat

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There is such thing as too much smoke, and it’s the same as with other cooking methods. You can overdo it and end up with dry, almost blackened, hard to chew what was once tasty meat.

The solution

The key is not to add so many smoke wood chunks that you have a thick cloud of smoke around your meat.  A thin layer of smoke will penetrate the meat, add flavor and keep the meat moist.

For the meat to absorb enough smoke flavor, it needs about 3 hours with a thin layer of smoke.  This time will also depend on the thickness and weight of your meat piece.

Using too much smoke wood chips at the beginning

On the other hand, the smoke wood chunks and chips will burn in no time and create lots of smoke if you put too many at once.

To prevent this from happening, place small amounts of them on the hot coals.

Conclusion

Smoking meat is a process that should not be rushed or taken lightly. A few things can go wrong if you do not take your time while doing this.

When smoking meat, you want to make sure that it is moist and has a good flavor.

There’s nothing wrong with being wary as you start because you don’t want to ruin all that work you’ve put into it. Start slow and get it right from the beginning, and you’ll be able to smoke your meats to perfection in no time.

One of the best things about smoking meat is that it never gets boring. You can try different types of woods, rubs, and meat cuts each time you want to make a new meal.

If you are not sure about what to do, go back to basics and try one of the classic recipes that you like.  If your taste buds aren’t satisfied after that, smoke a little more until you get a combination of flavor and tenderness that works for you.

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