1. DO start the fire with only a small amount of charcoal. Too much will result in too much heat.
2. DON'T use charcoal lighter fluid to start the fire, unless you want your food to taste like a chemical. That goes for the use of self lighting briquettes (quick lite) or charcoal too.
3. DO use hardwood natural lump charcoal. Use brands that are all natural and/or no additives.
4. DON'T open the lid on the cooker constantly! Opening the cooker's lid allows more oxygen to the fire. You need to shut off the air supply to the fire when you want to bring the cooking temperature down.
5. DO use woods sparingly when cooking. View the wood as just another cooking ingredient. Remember - you can always add more but you can never take away what has already been added.
6. DO experiment! Every palate is different. Don't be afraid to mix different woods to find a signature flavor.
7. DO keep ingredients for rubs, sauces, and mops fresh. No ingredient should be kept for more than 6 months.
8. DO purchase meats with the bone-in. Bone acts as a heat element; it absorbs heat and then transfers it into the meat, allowing for more even cooking.
9. DO marinate meats a minimum of 6 hours. That includes use of a dry rub. This is called seasoning the meat.
10. DON'T soak wood chips or chunks prior to using them. This only depletes the heat of the cooking chamber and messes up your cooking temperature. Ideally, woods should have a moisture level of about 20%.
11. DON'T use woods with the bark-on. The bark is like the skin of the tree - it absorbs all the impurities the tree comes in contact with-like resin, mold, spores, larva, etc. It also will be the driest portion of the tree, thus, it can cause fluctuations in temperature control as well and produce a white, acrid smoke.
12. DO store all woods in a dry, cool location out of direct sunlight. Remember, wood needs to breathe so don't seal it in a bag or other container unless you know for sure the moisture is less than 8%.
13. DON'T overuse woods that are high in lignin content (the glue that binds the wood molecules to each other), as they tend to burn hot. These include: Hickory, Mahogany, Ironwood, Locust, Oaks, Persimmon. These woods require restricted oxygen supply or higher moisture levels. Ideally, they work well when mixed with other hardwoods.
14. DON'T throw away wood because its color has changed. Be sure you can differentiate between true mold and the natural color change of wood (mold generally can wipe off or smear and has a distinct unpleasant aroma).
15. DO consider sanitizing wood prior to throwing it away or burning it for heat. You can easily sanitize wood by mixing 1.5 oz. of white vinegar to 3 gallons of water. Be sure the wood is completely covered for 2 minutes, prior to removing and allowing to drip dry or place near a heat source to stimulate drying.
16. DON'T rest meats for lengthy periods of time. Basically, by the time you remove the meat and prepare it for cutting, it has rested enough.
17. DON'T keep adding wood until you see billowing smoke! The ideal is to see very little smoke with a blue-like color. This means the airflow to the fire is ideal and the combustion occurring will have a flavorful outcome.
18. DON'T worry so much about matching a wood to a food item. ANYTHING is fair game! The ingredients you select for your rubs, sauces, glazes play much more of a part, with the wood just another one of these ingredients, so experiment and find what you like.
19. DON'T put room temperature meats on the grill or smoker. Instead, be sure the meat is cold, taken directly from the refrigerator. This allows for the smoke vapor produced from wood to be absorbed into the meat.
20. DON'T reuse wood chips or chunks that are completely black in color. Black coloring means the wood has carbonized and turned into a fuel wood not a flavor component. If you are looking for more heat for higher temperature, then feel free to add them in. Otherwise, add fresh wood especially when using an electric unit.
21. DON’T just take any hardwood from your neighborhood and think it will make a great smoking wood. Stay with hardwoods that are known as suitable to produce smoke: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch, Cherry, Chestnut, Hickory, Pecan, Maple, Persimmon, Oak, Walnut.
22. DO consider using wood chunks on a gas grill versus wood chunks to get better smoke vapor production and longer smolder time. If you don’t want to apply the chunks directly to the heat shields, think about placing smaller chunks like the Double Filet in a smoker box, a very inexpensive accessory readily available.
23. DO invest in a chimney starter if you own a charcoal grill. This will make lighting the fire so much easier and safer. At less than $20, these not only help with starting the fire but act like a measuring cup so you know how much charcoal is needed for different foods.
24. DON’T rely on time only to judge when foods are cooked. Invest in a digital thermometer that is easy to read, preferably back-lit, and has an extra long probe for use with roasts and thicker cuts of meat and poultry.
25. DO introduce a water pan to your equipment if one is not included. Not only does this help with temperature control and hot spots but it keeps the surface of the meat moist which will attract more smoke vapor.
26. DON’T parboil or microwave meats prior to grilling and refrigerator until the next day. This will stimulate bacteria growth which can potentially cause sickness in those who consume the meat.
27. DON’T marinate meats on the counter! You must refrigerator all marinated meats and discard the marinade once used or it will transfer bacteria.
28. DO clean your grill thoroughly if you only use it seasonal and cover it for the winter. Once you’ve scrubbed down the interior, open the vents so mold will be less likely to grown during the cold months.
29. DO use disposable pans to act as water pans, drips pans, and cookware. You don’t have to cook directly on the grill grates. Cooking in a disposable foil pan makes great foods, even smoked ones, and cleanup is a breeze!
30. DO learn the two-zone cooking method – heat on one side of the grill, food on the other. This will keep you from overcooking foods and allow you to relax while grilling and smoking rather than having to babysit the grill.
More information on tips and techniques follow Dr. Smoke and the Culinary crew by visiting our blogs!
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