When smoking your meats, it’s important to take the time to allow your pit to come to temperature and burn off any impurities before you start. Your smoke color can tell you a lot. Kevin says, for the most part, you shouldn’t see any kind of color coming out of your smoker if you have a nice stoked fire. The smoke that wafts out should be a thin blue smoke and that will tell you that you are burning clean. If your smoke looks dirty and dark, the residue it leaves behind will impart an unpleasant flavor onto your meat. There are a few things that can contribute to dirty smoke, Kevin says, like burning too hot which will create a campfire like look to your smoke. If the fire is smoldering and not breathing, and it’s under temperature that can also affect the color of smoke by producing impurities you don’t want. You need to have good airflow, the right temperature as well as the right wood. Don’t use wood you just chopped, Kevin says. You want good green wood that has been sitting for a few months before you send it to the smoker. The moisture content will be ideally in the 9%-15% range, the sweet spot for great smoke flavor. The biggest mistake people make, Kevin says, is that they get too excited or fall too far behind on time and they rush putting the meat on. Once your pit is setup and you get your wood going, don’t be tempted to put your meat on right away. Instead, give your pit 35-45 minutes and let your pit burn and equalize, allowing it to come to temperature and burn for a bit until you get to a place with nice clean smoke. If you put your meat on too soon, Kevin says, you’re going to have some bad barbecue.
Fish can be one of those things that’s hard to cook well on the grill as it’s commonly dry or burnt at the end of a cook. Kevin says that both fish and poultry absorb smoke really well so a little goes a long way. Because there is very little fat, unlike beef or pork, you don’t want to overpower fish. He suggests using a little bit of apple and/or pecan wood but staying away from more potent woods like hickory or mesquite. When it’s time to cook, Kevin says he likes using direct heat at about 350-400 degrees for whole fish and fillets. As for doneness, he recommends pulling them off when they get to 135 degrees as the heat will continue to cook them even after they come off and take the internal temperature to about 140. For salmon, he likes a low and slow approach, however for most other fish he prefers going with a higher temperature. The caveat to low and slow with fish is that the longer it stays on the grill, the more moisture is pushed out which can lead to really dry fish. Most people are familiar with the advice to let meat rest when it comes off the grill. Kevin says it’s important to let meat rest to allow the juices to redistribute throughout. And in the event that you overcook something, you can help it out by allowing it to rest longer.
When it comes to the question of cooking fish with the skin on or off, Kevin says that cooking fish without skin can be tough. If that’s the route you decide to try, a light coating of olive oil on the fish to keep it from sticking and to keep it from caramelizing will help it release better once it’s done. However, Kevin says leaving the skin on has its advantages. Warming your grill to between 450-500 degrees, you can put the skin side down and cook it 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Then once it’s ready to come off, you can slide your spatula between the skin and the meat, taking it off without worrying about sticking, falling thru the grates or other issues. What about oiling your grates prior to grilling to help with sticking. Kevin say it has its pros and cons. In reality most of the oil will simply run off the grates and be pulled into the grill and if not cleaned regularly, oil will pool and collect over time which could lead to issues down the road. However, oil is a great meat glue and helps the rub you put on your meats stick better and when you have more rub, you have more flavor, and you get more caramelization.
Check out Weber’s awesome cookbooks and the huge selection of accessories they have to help you improve your backyard grilling game. Kevin says their cookbooks and the iGrill app both have recipes and how-to’s to help you improve your craft, so use those tools and make the most of the warm weather and grill every chance you get!
Get your smoke on,