The Smoking Process
Many barbecue chefs swear by smokers. Barbecue smokers use low heat and long cooking times to prepare meat, as opposed to more traditional cooking methods that rely on high heat. Those who prefer smokers say that this food preparation technique produces meat that is more tender and flavorful. Meat is usually left in smokers for hours, and is coated with a sauce or dry rub before being cooked. The temperature in barbecue smokers usually ranges from 175 degrees Fahrenheit to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Setting Up a Smoker
Smokers are usually quite large and barrel-shaped. The smoker contains racks that the meat cooks on. The smoker's base is filled with some sort of fuel, such as charcoal or wood. The fuel is usually topped with a layer of damp wood chips. These wood chips are what produce the majority of the flavorful smoke that cooks the barbecue. Many chefs say certain types of wood give the meat different flavors. Hickory, maple and cherry wood chips are among popular choices for barbecue smokers. The fuel is located in a different chamber from the meat. The smoke from that fuel is filtered into the main smoker compartment, so the meat only receives indirect heat while cooking.
Low and Slow
Barbecue smokers produce tender, flavorful meat because of the "low and slow" technique. The low temperatures allow the meat to cook more slowly, keeping it tender and soft. Because the smoke is what's actually cooking the food, the smoker never gets hot enough to sear or burn the outside of the meat. The meat absorbs the smoke as it cooks, and this smoke is what gives authentic barbecue its distinct flavor.