Have you ever wondered why is smoked meat so good? You know it tastes good. But a whole lot more makes this everyone’s favorite meal.
Smoked meat goes back centuries and over the years it’s been changed to suit our modern lifestyles. It’s not only about the unique flavors and taste but it’s an art in itself. It’s not about throwing some burgers onto the grill. Smokers, both amateur and experts, agree smoking meat takes patience and techniques to master the perfect smoked meat.
And, that’s why smoked meat is so good!
Table of Contents
What Makes Smoked Meat Taste So Good?
A whole lot goes into smoking meat. It’s not a simple process and certainly not something you decide to do at the last minute with your mates! Barbeques on a Saturday afternoon with a piece of steak or burgers thrown onto the fire are great. And, the meat is good.
But what makes smoked meat, in particular, so delicious?
- The type of meat: Just about any piece of meat can be smoked. Fish, chicken, pork ribs, and beef all do well smoked. The Christmas smoked gammon goes down famously with the family while your friends will rave about the smoked Thanksgiving turkey.
- Preparation: Every cook knows good food is a result of preparation. This could mean cleaning and scaling the fish or removing the membrane on the ribs. Brining meat for smoking is often done. The brine ingredients also add to the taste of good smoked meat.
- The rub and sauce: All cooks have their “secret” recipe. A combination of spices and other seasonings enhances the flavor of any meat being smoked.
- The smoker (and other tools): Whether it’s an electric smoker or a charcoal smoker, the appliance contributes to a good piece of smoked meat. Of course, you can’t expect the smoker to do the job alone – it needs a dedicated cook to use it to its full advantage. Other tools include meat temperature probes, basting brushes, and a sharp knife.
- Low with temperature: Smoked meats do well at low and steady temperatures. Managing and controlling the temperature of your smoker is important. This technique will determine the outcome of your meat. Cooked too high and you’ll have dry, tacky meat. Cooked too low for too long and you’ll end up with chewy meat not safe for consumption!
- Time, time, and time: And this is where the patience comes in. Not only is the meat smoked at low temperatures but it’s cooked over a long time. It’s accepted you’ll spend up to 8 hours when smoking the perfect piece of pork rib. If this process is rushed, the flavor and texture of the meat will be disappointing.
- Smoke for flavor: Wood chips, pellets, and charcoal all add a different flavor to the meat. You can have fun experimenting with the different wood chip blends. Some blends do better with some meats than others.
You can see now why smoked meat tastes so good. So much time and effort go into producing the unique flavors associated with smoked meat.
What Are the Different Types of Smoked Meat?
Just about anything can be smoked, from beverages to cheeses to meats. Smoked beverages? Yes! Smoked beer imparts the flavor of malted barley done over an open fire. But today I’m focusing on smoked meats so I’ll stick to the different types.
- Bacon: This piece of meat is taken from the pork belly or back. It’s salt-cured and undergoes a smoking process, resulting in bacon as we know it today. It’s enjoyed on its own or used to enhance the flavors of other dishes.
- Jerky: Small strips of lean trimmed meat, soaked in brine, and smoked for the ultimate flavors. Low temperatures of 160 degrees is best suited for this type of meat.
- Pork ribs: Cooks spend hours smoking ribs to perfection. These can be spare ribs or back ribs, with the back ribs being smaller and tastier.
- Montreal-styled smoked meat: A kosher deli meat originating from Canada. Pieces of beef brisket are salted, spiced, and left for a week to absorb the flavors. It’s then hot smoked.
- Smoked poultry: Most fowls can be smoked with turkey and chicken being the most popular choices.
- Smoked salmon: A piece of fish fillet prepared either through cold or hot smoking. It’s considered a delicacy in most parts of the world and can be expensive. Here are some tips on how to smoke a salmon.
- Smoked kippers: This is your herring fish, gutted and cut into butterfly fashion. It’s either salted or pickled and cold-smoked over woodchips.
- Smoked oysters: A mollusk found in seawaters and also considered a delicacy. It’s also famous for its aphrodisiac properties!
The list goes on but I’ve shared some examples of the most commonly known smoked meats.
What Does Smoke Meat Taste Like?
And, now we’re getting to the reason why smoked meat tastes so good and why it’s a popular choice, when eating food, around the world.
What does smoked meat taste like and why does it taste so different from other types of cooked meat? Let’s first explore what we mean by the word “taste”. Are we talking flavors here or the texture? It could even be the smell!
Taste can be bitter, sweet, salty, or sour. While we rely on our taste buds to highlight the flavor of what we’re eating, we also rely on our other senses. And the biggest one here is the smell. Think smoked meat and you’ll immediately smell the aromas of smoke – even if you’re not at the smoker. Open a packet of smoked chicken and the first thing getting your juices flowing is the tantalizing smoked scent.
How often have you been invited to a barbecue and as you walk onto your friend’s patio, you’re blown away by the smell of food cooking? Before the food even gets to your plate, you’re already having a tasting experience!
Smoked meats use a combination of elements to build up their unique taste. These include the following:
- Brine: The basic ingredients are salt and water. But as cooks are naturally into experimentation to improve their foods, other ingredients can be tossed into the brine. Peppercorns, whole cloves, onions, carrots, and garlic powder are some of the seasonings a cook will include in their brining solution.
- Rubs and sauces: From great spices to vinegar, tomato ketchup, brown sugar, or honey, cooks enhance the taste of smoked meats with rubs and sauces.
- Smoke: it’s no secret but what sets smoked meat apart from any other cooked meat is the smoke! A simple wood fire turns the plainest piece of meat into a true gastronomic experience. Add a blend of wood chips with flavors such as applewood, cherry, maple or hickory, and your meat is sublime! Smokers have been designed to infuse the food with different smoke flavors.
Together with the low and slow approach to cooking, these elements are what smoked meat taste so good.
The texture is another part of the tasting experience. If it’s flaky, dry, moist, or chewy, each one, for some reason, imparts a taste message to our minds.
So, when asking what does smoked meat taste like, we’re looking at a whole taste explosion of flavors. Smoked meat can be a combination of sweet and salt, bitter or sour. Flavors are dependent on what seasonings have been used and which smoke. You may get a hint of apple or nutty flavor. Or the sticky, smokehouse flavor so famous in our ribs.
Smoked meat can taste delicate or robust. For some people, the smoke flavor can be overpowering while others love it. The flavors and taste vary between the different types of meat.
The Story Behind Smoked Meat
In times way back, cold-smoking of meat was used to preserve meats. Refrigerators were unheard of and meats were cured to last through long winter months. Think that now you can even make a cold smoker out of a refrigerator!
Hot smoking is what we’re more familiar with. This style of cooking has less to do with preservation and more to do with taste. It’s all in the low and slow process – low heat and timing.
Every country has its preferred smoked meat. In Africa, up to 80% of the fish caught is smoked. The most common method used is placing fish on bamboo racks over a smoky fire. Mud ovens have also been used, with modern-day brick ovens taking over.
The American barbecue began when the Native Americans smoked fish and game. What makes American smoking fascinating are the techniques used in different regions. Kansas City smokers focus on the sauce while Memphis is known for its dry rub ribs. North Carolinas uses ketchup and vinegar to sauce up pork shoulders.
Pastrami came about by the Turkish Huns and mastered by the Romanians. Pieces of beef underwent a process of brining, spicing, and smoking to produce the traditional pastrami we’re familiar with today.
The interest in smoking meat continues. Cooks worldwide are exploring the different ways of preparing and smoking meat.
Smoked meat tastes so good because of the whole smoking process. When so much time and detail is put into cooking any meal, smoked or not, the taste is going to be delicious. Connoisseur smokers take pride in creating the ultimate smoked meat.
A true smoker chef falls in love with the process, the aroma of smoking meat, and presenting the perfect smoked meat. Smoking meat is an art, just like any other cooking. And, your friends and family will discover why smoked meat is so good.