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Smokin’ for the Summer: Choosing a Grill, Wood, Rub, Spices, and Recipes

June 1, 2019| by ashlynn reynolds-dyk

Have you hoppered onto the smoker bandwagon yet? Smokers are to summer what Instant Pots are to winter, and since June marks the beginning of summer, it’s time to fill that wood hopper with some pellets, wood chips, or whatever your smoker requires. The possibilities smokers offer are endless and typically result in healthy, family-friendly, delicious meals. 

Jeff Averill of King’s ACE Hardware says they are one of the store’s biggest sellers this time of year. Meals can range from a relatively traditional smoked brisket to smoked scallops, pizza, pineapple, and even chocolate lava cake. (Admittedly, the chocolate lava cake does not meet the “healthy” characteristic mentioned above, but it gets a double check for the “delicious” criteria and is sure to impress your family and friends.) There are endless options when it comes to smoking food. 

Thinking about purchasing a smoker? Here are some things to consider: 

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First, consider your main goals or uses for the smoker… do you want to cook regularly for your family, or are you looking to use the smoker on occasion when you are entertaining larger groups of people? This can help determine both the amount you want to invest and the size you select. If you plan to use the smoker for entertaining, you may want to spring a little more cash for a high-quality, large model. If you will only use it on occasion for your family, you do not need the biggest smoker out there and can “save yourself some change by purchasing a good quality mid-sized smoker,” says Averill. 

From there, think about (a) where you will store and use your smoker and (b) what you want to be able to cook on your smoker. This can help determine if you want charcoal, electric, or gas—I have a friend who exclusively uses a charcoal smoker due to better smoke flavor and a hotter grill. My husband, however, prefers the electric feed pellets or wood chips because they allow for greater control, requiring less effort and time on his part. Ceramic smokers like the Green Egg, work best for pizza because of the extremely hot temperatures they reach.

If you are often on the run, you might also think about the accessibility of products—consider brand popularity and type of fuel source availability. We have had a couple of different types of smokers, and I prefer pellet-style mainly because of accessibility at various stores. Most charcoal grills have fuel sources that can be easily found, while some fuel sources are exclusively found at specialty outdoor and/or sporting good stores.

Next, think about the style of the smoker—cabin, barrel, etc. Smoke tends to rise so cabin smokers can help get an even smoke, while barrel smokers are nice because you can stand over them and see your masterpiece-in-progress. Some types of smokers are easier to clean than others. Do your research.  

Finally, think about the brand. There are some reputable ones out there like Traeger or Weber, and I suggest one of those because you will want good quality steel regardless of what size and style you choose. Additionally, if you choose a good quality steel smoker, you can worry less about cabin vs. barrel since the higher-end steel product will help heat and smoke evenly.

Considering Wood Flavor and Rubs/Seasonings:

Once you decide on a smoker, you have many more decisions to make—for example, what do I want to cook? As you think about this, you must also consider what kind of wood, rubs, and spices you have in the cupboard or are willing to go to the store to purchase. What you desire to eat (cook) can determine the wood, rubs, and spices you need and vice versa. 

A quick rundown of the most popular wood/smoke flavors: apple and other fruit flavors sweeten your product and are best used for (lighter meats) pork, ham, or poultry, while cherry may be the most preferred fruit wood for smoking because of the cherry coloring it gives your product. Cherry can be complemented by hickory, oak, pecan, or maple, which are middle of the spectrum flavors. Mesquite has a pretty intense flavor and should be used somewhat sparingly; we avoid using mesquite with desserts preferring the milder smoke flavors. Combining some of these flavors can work exceptionally well; we tend to buy a gourmet mixture made by Traeger.

When it comes to seasoning your product, the choices are all over the map. For example, coffee grounds are frequently used for seasoning meat. There is a debate about whether seasoning should include salt; some say salt pulls the natural juices and flavor from your product drying it out, while others report it enhances and preserves the natural flavor. With the deliciousness of the infused smoky flavor and other spices, in addition to making a healthier choice, I say forgo the salt. Averill explains that most smoker manufacturers have a line of rubs you can purchase, and the product packaging tells you what is in the rub and how best to use it. If you want to make your own rubs, do it! Some of the best and most common ingredients used for seasonings include mustard, garlic, cayenne, chili powder, paprika, cumin, brown sugar, and vinegar. The best thing is to experiment with different combinations of spices. We keep a journal of recipes, and report on what was good, bad, or otherwise; I highly suggest this as you quickly mix up and forget what you have done in between smoking sessions.

A Favorite Recipe: Smoked, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

Ingredients:

  • 18 fresh scallops
  • 9 strips of bacon, sliced in half
  • ¾ Cup of butter, melted
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Garlic powder

 To Cook:

Wrap the scallops with a half strip of bacon. Use a toothpick to hold in place. Place the scallops in a 9x9 or 9x13 baking dish. Cover with melted butter and sprinkle the pepper mixtures and garlic powder over the top. Place dish in the smoker with a cold smoke for 45-60 minutes. Heat grill to 225 degrees, and continue cooking for another 25-30 minutes until the meat is a nice solid, white color.  

Originally printed in the June 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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