Cooking Methods - Pros & Cons: Smoking/Barbecuing
Smoking/Barbecuing Both refer to the same process: extended cooking times at LOW cooking temperatures, calibrated to dissolve connective tissues, retain as much moisture as possible and to allow for as much smoke absorption as possible and desired. Coals provide the heat, be it in an offset smoker, in a spit/rotisserie setup, or in a pit. The wood is NOT meant to be the main heat source, and the smokiness needs to be considered in advance; excessively smokey product acquires bitter, acrid flavors, so start with a small amount of wood chips, chunks, or logs, and work your way up until you’ve mastered that cut (culotte, brisket, poultry, etc.). You can pretty much always add smoke; you cannot, unfortunately, remove it.
Smoking/barbecuing is best suited towards cuts that have both fat and connective tissue, both of which will cook down and either dissolve and moisten or simply baste the product while cooking. Smoke deposits slowly, so it is best to let the cooking process take its time, too, which makes this method suitable for cuts that need more cooking - tri-tips, briskets, culottes, even heels and parts of the shoulder can be successfully prepared this way.
Smoking can work well with flatter steaks - flanks, flaps, and skirt steaks, for example, which although leaner, needn’t be deeply penetrated by the smoke in order to absorb serious flavor and cook properly before they dry out. Flap steaks is especially well suited for smoking, since its loose grain makes for a somewhat crevaced surface, which gives the smoke more surface area over which to deposit. The heavy marbling keeps it moist and attracts smoke even more readily than leaner cuts might.
Goat and lamb legs and shoulders are especially delicious prepared this way. The combination of fat cap and connective tissues gives them some staying power and will baste them on the outside and keep them moist and gelatinous on the inside. It is therefore advisable to specify that you want a fat cap on the product when purchasing it for this purpose, since most of it will render off during the process anyway.
Note: fat absorbs smoke more readily than meat does. Even if you don’t intend to eat it, the fat cap will absorb smoke particles and baste the meat with both juice and flavor as it cooks off. Lean meat takes longer to allow the smoke to penetrate, which is risky, because it is even more susceptible to drying out than fattier meat is if you want it to cook long enough to take on meaningful smoke. It just comes with the territory. Embrace it and move on.
Beef roasts are, generally speaking, too lean to be of much use in this method. Shins and shanks aren’t advisable either, as they are too lean and at the same time take way too long to cook and soften. Brisket cooks at the same pace, but its fat cap makes all the difference.