In Texas, where barbecue draws near-religious devotion, smoking is an art respected by many but practiced only by few. It’s easy to see why even fervent barbecue fans might steer clear of smoking: a side of brisket can take 11 hours to cook, and the coals and wood chips must be tended hourly. A smoker that can handle the job is a big investment. But if you could smoke an entrée or side dish in less than one hour, using your basic covered grill, wouldn’t it be worth a try?
With a simple charcoal grill – such as a Weber kettle model – even novices can tackle entrees such as steak or shrimp, and vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes or portobello mushrooms, says Bobby Coulson, the Garland-based national commercial sales manager of Barbeques Galore. A 17-year smoking veteran, he’s smoked on everything from an inexpensive Weber grill to the deluxe Big Green Egg ceramic smoker.
The trickiest aspect of smoking is maintaining the proper temperature for hours, Coulson says. Because quickly smoked dishes don’t require refueling, they’re a safe bet for novices using a covered grill.
Coulson suggests starting with his smoked garlic bread, stuffed with cheese, onions and olives.
“It’s a fail-safe recipe,” he says, adding that you can smoke it after you finish grilling or – if you’re up for it, smoking – your entree.
From there, it’s an easy step up to smoked cheese or shrimp, which take 15 to 20 minutes.
Hankering for meat? Go for flank steak, a flat cut that’s far more manageable than brisket; a marinated steak smokes to perfection in 45 to 60 minutes.
Whereas grilling is cooking directly over high heat, smoking is cooking at lower temperatures using indirect heat. That means the coals are not placed directly under the food, but to the side of it.
Because smoking requires lower temperatures, usually about 225 F, it takes longer than cooking with direct heat. That’s a good thing, though, as it allows more time for the smoke flavor to penetrate the food. When water-soaked wood chips are added to the coals, they smoke. Covering the grill traps the heat and the flavorful smoke, too.
We took Coulson’s advice and experimented with quick-smoked dishes, all of them foods we’d never considered smoking. Although it takes some vigilance, the time commitment is short and the results delicious.