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Smoking meat

Grilling & Smoking

Tips to Keep Meat Flavorful and Juicy

Scott Bish 

It’s time to get fired up about outdoor cooking and bringing that authentic char flavor to almost anything you can imagine. 

But being a grill master means knowing your way around the pit and using the right tools and techniques to draw out the most flavor. Before you strike that first flame, consider these tips to master your grill game on day one. 

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Flavor
One of the tastiest ways to go beyond the typical meat-over-flame approach is by using a smoker grill. Smoker grills are built for low and slow cooking, coaxing out big, bold flavor by slow-cooking over steady heat. The trick is to maintain a consistent temperature, along with a good amount of moisture, for a long period of time. What makes it all worth the wait? One word: flavor. As the meat slowly cooks, it soaks up that thick, rich smoky flavor to become fall-off-the-bone tender. 

You can up the flavor game by slathering the outside of the meat with a spice rub. The sugar and salt in the rub combine with the smoke and the moisture on the meat’s surface to form a dark, crusty texture called bark. Sink your teeth into a mouthwatering brisket or pork ribs covered in bark and you’ll know why Americans have been cooking this way for generations. Get it right, and your family and friends will be angling for a seat at Sunday dinner. 

There are several kinds of smoker grills: electric, propane, charcoal, and wood pellet. Here are the main differences between them: 

Electric Smoker
Traditional models have an adjustable thermostat dial to set the temperature. The digital ones feature a push-button screen to set the temperature. 

Propane Smoker
Essentially a metal box with a burner attached to a propane tank and a temperature regulator. Expect hours of steady heat that burns clean and odor-free. 

Charcoal Smoker
Delicious for that extra-grilled flavor. Simply get a good light going on the coals, add a pan of water atop the grate, and cook the meat over consistent indirect heat. 

Wood Pellet Smoker
This is an automated convection cooking system with an auger that feeds hardwood pellets from a hopper into the fire pot. As the pellets come in contact with the hot rod, they ignite. Just set the temperature and you’re good to get smoking. 

Which type of smoker grill you choose really comes down to your cooking preference. 

If you’re just starting out, consider an electric or propane smoker. These make it easy to keep cooking temperatures steady. You can upgrade to a charcoal or wood pellet version as your experience and skills improve. On your journey to becoming a meat smoking pro, keep in mind these tips, no matter which smoker method you choose: 

1. Be Patient
Avoid checking the food too often. We know it’s hard, but repeatedly opening the smoker lets the good hot smoke escape and prevents the temperature from staying consistent. 

2. Adjust the Airflow
Use the dampers on the smoker to allow air to enter and exit. This will either raise or lower the heat as needed. 

3. Monitor the Meat
Use a trustworthy meat thermometer. Check it once every hour to make sure the meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature. See our handy Food Temperature Guide for specific levels of doneness. 

4. Let It Rest
Certain types of meats, such as pork, lamb, beef, and veal, need to rest after cooking to allow the meat to re-absorb the juices, making it juicier and more flavorful. 

TIP: After you’ve enjoyed your low-and-slow feast, reach for a steel brush and clean off the cooking grate while the grill is still warm. It’ll be easier to clean the crusted bark from the hot grate. 

Why You’ll Dig Cooking Over a Grill Pit
You’re already king or queen of your land. Now it’s time to become the pit boss! If you have the space and love cooking outdoors, think about building your own grill pit. Beyond the satisfaction of cooking over a log fire, the size of the grill pit means a lot of space for different proteins and vegetables, enough to feed all your friends and family gathered around. Best of all, you can’t beat how juicy meat drippings and wood smoke combine for a savory, complex, and rich flavor and aroma. 

If you already have a fire pit, just add a metal tripod-style or metal spit grate over the top to create your rustic, open-air kitchen. Need to build one? It’s easier than you think.

  • Dig a 1-foot-deep-by-3-feet-wide circle, and level out the bottom and sides.
  • Next, line the outside edge of the hole with tightly packed fieldstones or a galvanized fire ring.
  • Check that your setup will keep the fire safely contained, then simply toss in a few logs, add the grate, and you’re good to get grilling.

Grilling over an open pit can transport you back to simpler times, but with some modern-day food traditions. For example, trade out your typical hot dogs for some home-smoked sausages. Kick up your barbecued chicken by stuffing chicken breasts with spinach and garlic, and flavor them up with some char marks. To grill garden vegetables, cut them into wedges and brush with seasoned oil or butter for a slightly toasted taste. Always a favorite: Wrap bacon strips around just about anything on the menu to ensure your next cookout is a delicious success. 

Food Temperature Guide
Always cook meat to the right temperature, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to keep food bacteria-free and your hungry family and friends safe, healthy, and happy.

grilling & smoking pic 3

Recipe 1 - OMG Burgers
Amy S. Barnes from Carthage, Indiana 

“Everyone who has tried my burgers exclaims, ‘OMG,’ after the first bite,” writes Amy. 

1 ½ pounds ground beef
6-7 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 cup crushed Caesar croutons
1 large egg

Fresh cracked black pepper (to taste) 

Fire up the grill. In a large bowl, mix first four ingredients and form patties. 

Sprinkle pepper over one side of patties. Place patties peppered-side down on the hot grill, then sprinkle pepper over the other side. 

Cook burgers until they reach 160 degrees internally. 

Remove burgers from grill and serve on toasted buns with your favorite toppings.

Recipe 2 - Grilled Rock Lobster Tails
Joelle Verhagen from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin 

“Be careful on the grill, because like all things, [lobster] can dry out,” Joelle writes. “Just don’t ever try to rush it. Make sure that you can take the time to cook it slowly.”

1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 10-ounce rock lobster tails

Preheat the grill to high heat. 

Make marinade: In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk in salt, paprika, pepper, and garlic powder. 

Using a large knife, split lobster tails lengthwise. Brush flesh side of tails with marinade. Lightly oil the grill grates and place tails flesh-side down on the grill. 

Cool for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once and basting frequently with the remaining marinade, until the lobster is opaque and firm to the touch.

grilling & smoking pic 2