A beginners guide to smoking (food)

By Matt Grace

Illustrated by George Naylor

Featured in Capital #83
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Matt Grace, the Urban
Lumberjack, is the guy
with all the tips you need
to start cooking up
delicious hot-smoked
food on your grill. A life-
long lover of being
outdoors, lighting fires,
and chopping wood, Matt
switched after 20 years in
telecoms to supplying a
range of high-quality
smoking woods (think
peach, pohutukawa, pear)
for the booming New
Zealand BBQ industry.
“Over the past four to five
years, specialist barbecue
has established itself in
New Zealand. The
community around it is
fantastic, there’s so much
interest in it” You can find
the Urban Lumberjack
online at ulj.co.nz

It’s time to elevate our BBQ. We’ve cooked up this guide for smoking, with the help of an expert in the field.

Equipment needed

BBQ gloves
You’ll be moving your proteins, adding wood, and handling hot grills and metal

Heavy duty tin-foil
For wrapping your proteins to lock in the moisture towards the end of a cook

Digital thermometer
Some can even send the temperature to your phone via Bluetooth

How to smoke

Sort your grill. Ask yourself how much time you have to commit. The best results are from low and slow cooking, but this means you might have to tend the grill for several hours. Otherwise, a simpler charcoal grill could be the answer. See below to see what grill suits your needs.

Now you’ve got your grill, you need to think about what proteins to use. Certain woods pair better with different proteins. Fish or chicken will take the smoke more intensely than a large piece of brisket. See the chart for a complete guide.

Once you know what you’re cooking, season it and explore flavour options like rubs. You don’t need too much, though, as the smoke will do a lot of the work. The popular Texas BBQ style is predominantly just salt, pepper, and oak wood smoke.

Cook time
The protein you’ve chosen will affect the fuel and wood you use. For cooking larger pieces like brisket or ribs you want bigger charcoal that will burn for longer; for fish, sausages, and steaks, smaller charcoal will burn quicker, achieving higher temperatures faster.

The wood goes on once you have the charcoal burning efficiently. This is where you impart the smoke flavour, so it’s important you use the right pieces and research which wood goes well with your protein. Less is more when experimenting (you can always add an extra piece next time). One or two chunks placed over the charcoal is a good place to start.

Types of grills

Grills come in all shapes and sizes. The offset and pit barrel smokers have their roots in the Deep South of the USA, where the cheaper cuts like ribs and brisket needed to be cooked slowly, to get them soft and tender. This is where the low and slow smoking method was born, and you can do it too. First things first, you need a grill.

Offset smoker

Cook time: Very long
Results 10/10

  • Uses charcoal and smoking wood in a separate firebox.
  • Low-and-slow-style grilling, long cook times: the traditional method for Texas-style smoking.

Pit barrel smoker

Cook time: Long
Results 9/10

  • Proteins can be grilled or hung, thanks to the smoker’s size.
  • Charcoal and wood go in the bottom, and smoke rises up over the meat.

Ceramic charcoal smoker

Cook time: Medium-long
Results 8/10

  • Popular charcoal grill which can easily incorporate smoking wood.
  • Internal ceramic bricks retain heat, keeping the temperature consistent.

Charcoal BBQ

Cook time: Medium
Results 7/10

  • Your standard backyard BBQ, ubiquitous and iconic.
  • Can take chunks of smoking wood on top of charcoals.

Gas grill

Cook time: Medium
Smoke flavour 6/10

  • The most convenient option, but results in less of the smoke flavours.
  • Can take a piece of wood directly on the burner or in a metal tray to infuse some smoke.


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