January 13, 2023

I have found that buying presents for others on birthdays, Christmas, or any time gets harder as they age.  It was easy to buy for me when I was little.  Get me a set of plastic army men (no women back then) and I was happy.  The bigger the event merely meant the larger or smaller the set needed.  As I aged, it became a more difficult buy for me (aside for the underwear and socks we all need).  That is further complicated as I probably have most things I want, and many things I do not have are for a reason.  This is true for me, as well as for others I buy things for.  The trick is to find something they enjoy, and preferably have not been doing for a long time, and buy something unique within the field.  My son and I have always liked cooking outside on the grill, and several years ago he got into using a smoker.  I know nothing about this form of outdoor cooking but did some research and came up with a variety of wood chips for his smoker.  At least it was something he could use.

When I looked online, I found grilling means cooking hot and fast over a fire, barbecue means cooking low and slow over a fire, and smoking means cooking low and slow with smoke.  Where grilling may refer to cooking meat, fish, and poultry, it can include vegetables, fruits, and other foods.  Smoking and barbecuing are all about meat.  It is the low temperatures and long cooking times that help big, tough cuts of meat turn tender and express their full flavors.  The same grill can be used to accomplish all three methods, and it does not matter whether you use electric, gas, or charcoal, you can still grill, barbecue, and smoke.  You can purchase a dedicated smoker (of one of the three heat sources) if you want to get into big time smoking or take on a large-scale project, but your grill will work. 

The biggest difference between the three forms is temperature and time.  Grilling hot and fast means cooking at a temperature of 350F (176.5C) or above for less than an hour.  For steaks and chops temperatures should approach 450F to 500F (232C to 260C) to allow for short cooking times.  There is not a lot of finesse in grilling steaks, but that is not the case with fish, vegetables, or poultry.  For more delicate foods it’s often better to use a lower temperature.  Barbecue is where you get into large cuts of meat like whole pork shoulders, beef briskets, rib roasts, slabs of ribs, or a whole turkey.  Big cuts need low temperatures, or between 190F and 300F (87.5C to 149C), although you see recipes calling for between 225F to 250F. (107C to 121C), and cooking for several hours.  The trick is to keep the right temperature for the duration of cooking.  Using a smoker is like an extreme version of barbecuing, and you cook the food with smoke from smoldering chunks or chips of wood rather than direct heat.  Smoking occurs at an even lower temperature than barbecue, between 125F and 175F (51.5C to 79.5).  Any hotter and the outer parts of the meat will cook too soon, forming a barrier the smoke cannot cross.  Cooking at this temperature means cooking times of 24 hours are not unusual.  Of the three methods, smoking requires the most expertise.  I have been grilling hamburgers and hotdogs and barbecuing ribs for over 30 years.  I guess it is time to step up a notch with a smoker.

THOUGHTS:  When I ordered the wood chips, I mistakenly sent them to my address.  I canceled the order, but they showed up anyway.  My father-in-law had a smoker that has sat on our patio for the last four years.  On inspection it turned out to be electric (the easiest to use).  I found the cord and issued a challenge for a smoke off to my son.  While I am not sure how we will judge our results when we live 1,500 miles (2,414 km) from each other, I look forward to the competition.  Making and sharing food can be a blessing, especially for those living in food deserts or struggling to find food to eat.  While this is remembered during the holidays, the need is year round.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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