Smoking is a method of processing food that has been around for a long time. In the good old days it was used to help preserve meats for longer periods of time. This method is still used to this days. But there is also another type of smoking that is a very different process with a different end result in mind: the BBQ smoking. This type of smoking is all about cooking, tenderizing and adding flavor to pork, ribs, or whatever else you fancy eating including cheese or vegetables.
The process is relatively simple, in that there is not that much science to it. However there are a lot of little things you have to keep an eye out for and one of the most important ones is the temperature. Smoking works by burning some material (hardwood preferably, although some say that even corn cobs will do), and letting the smoke fill up a container that holds the meat. This is a slow process, but it is slow for a very good reason. The low temperature gives the meat time to break down into sugars, becoming tender and sweet at the same time.
One of the most important tools to be used is the thermometer. The only way to get the best out of your BBQ is temperature control. You need to know the temperature of both the inside of the smoker and the inside of the meat. The smoker should be kept at about 220F, while various meats have different temperatures which they have to reach before they are done. Usually it is somewhere in the range of 160-190F.
There are several ways you can go about this, but a good rule of thumb is to go for quality. This way you avoid overcooking or undercooking meat, and more importantly, food borne diseases. For the thermometer inside the smoker, go for the best (or something in the vicinity of the best). That’s about it. And the great thing about it is, that it will work for your indoor oven too, which is in most cases a worst thermometer than the quality in-grill one you are going to get.
For the food thermometer you have two choices (or at least two choices that matter): a leave-in and an instant thermometer. It might be a good idea to get both, but if you can only go with one, go with the instant thermometer. Get an electronic one, and all you will have to do is open the grill, stick the probe of the thermometer into the meat and wait three seconds for the temperature. Again, try to go for quality. This does not mean that expensive is better, not in this case or in the case of the in-grill thermometer. Accuracy is the most important thing to look for, but also keep an eye out for the speed to read and the temperature range. For an instant thermometer, find one that has a long, thinner probe to make sure you can get to the middle of bigger meats, while leaving in as much of the juice as possible.
You know how they say: a handyman is only as good as his tools. Or maybe nobody says that. Either way, good thermometers are what makes the difference between a good steak and a bad steak.