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So I picked up a smoker at a flea market for $5. I've always wanted to get one and without knowing anything, I laid down the 5 beans to start my journey.

This is a photo of my new smoker. It's a Char-Broil H2O Smoker. 

Of course there are no instructions, so I have done some research, but wanted to ask some of the ALEiens how they do it.

This smoker has 2 pans. I am guessing one is for Charcoal and the other is for Water. Once I get my charcoal burning, I add in my wood. This is where I read 20 different things on the web.

I bought Apple Wood Chips, I hear chunks are better. Some say they soak the chips over night, others just for 30 minutes. What are your opinions?

Also, what is a good first meat to smoke? I am looking at trying a Pork Shoulder for making pulled pork. Recipes seemed easy enough. Any suggestions? 



PS, Yes I created a whole category on the forum dedicated to BBQ and Smokers, so post your BBQ recipes and photos here. 

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1.) Yes, one pan is for charcoal or whatever other tinder you use, and the other is for water, marinades, beer, wine, juice, etc. The one for coal should have some slits or holes or something to allow for air flow. The one for water I'll usually fill with water and any left over dry rub that I might have.

2.) I usually use chips to smoke with and chunks to do the actual cooking. Not on the same cut of meat though.

Chunks burn hotter than charcoal, so you don't need as much in the way of chunks as you would with charcoal. I don't soak 'em because I want them to burn up due to the fact that I'm cooking with them. You can smoke with them, in which case you would need to soak 'em. Over night is probably best with chunks, but I can't speak from experience.

Chips are what I usually use to smoke. They need to be soaked, but overnight isn't necessary. They burn off in 20 minutes to an hour & you then need to add more. You could soak the entire day's allotment of chips over night, but an hour is good. I usually get the first batch of chips soaking while the coals are lighting. As soon as I throw the 1st batch on the fire, I get the next batch soaking. I'll keep doing that until the end of the smoke.

You can also soak your wood chips in other things besides water. I like to use beer or apple juice sometimes. It'll add a little flavor.

3.) With apple chips, pork is always a good choice. Good places to start would be baby back ribs and shoulders. Spare ribs are also good & are more flavorful than baby backs, but they are a little tougher than baby backs so they need a little extra care. I also like to do beef ribs & briskets with mesquite or hickory. Briskets however, take a little practice. It's a tough cut of meat, and it's easy for it to come out tough & dry if you aren't careful. I messed up my first one or two briskets. When it's done right though... A water smoker really helps out.

I hope that was helpful.
That does. When I first got the smoker, I thought coal down below and the chips in the pan above. Glad I didn't try it first. Thank god for the internet.

Where do you get your meats? Super market? or a Butcher? I live right down the street from Dan Madrigal Meats. Have you ever been in there?
I just ordered a Boston Butt to be my first smoking victim. I am going to pick it up tomorrow and then Brine Season it for Saturday morning. Should be interesting.
I honestly get most of my meat from Bj's wholesale club or the supermarket. A butcher is definately the way to go if you can, but I don't have any that are close enough to me.
Dan Madrigal's is on Bristol and Old Lincoln Highway right near Neshaminy Mall.
Thanks, I'll have to check it out soon.

There used to be 2 of butcher shops close by. One on them my wife hated, the other was close enough to walk to and had good stuff. But they're both out of business now.

There's another one that I know of in Northeast Philly by 5 points, but they do mostly German stuff. By that I mean sausages and schnitzel and stuff, assuming I remember correctly. I think it's more of a glorified deli than a real butcher shop.
Dan Madrigals seems to be a good butcher (don't have much to compare it too), but they also offer prepared foods. I don't know the full extent of their selection, I just called up yesterday and ordered my Boston Butt. The are preparing it for pick up today.

I plan on soaking it in a brine solution tonight. Adding a spice rub tomorrow night, and smoking starting Saturday morning.

I've heard that you smoke the meet for 1 - 1.5 hours per pound at 225f, is that about right. I know I will need to check on the internal temp of the meat. I am making pulled pork, so they say internal temp up to 190f.
Ok, there's a bit of room on what people call "done" when it comes to pork butts. My instant read thermometer calls 170 done, but that's a bit low in my opinion. It should be somewhere between 180F to say ~195F. The higher end of the temperature range would be recommended. After it's done let it rest for 15-30 minutes before pulling or chopping. You'll probobably want heat resistant gloves if you're gonna pull it. I never wear gloves, and I curse up a storm every time I smoke a shoulder.

It does take about 1-2 hours per pound, depending on temperature & the size of the shoulder. A 7-10 lb pork shoulder will take 6-8 hours if it's smoked at a temp of 250F-300F, it'll take longer at 225F. I'd use a thermometer the first few times to check the internal temperature of the meat to be sure it's done. I honestly don't use a thermometer for anything except the smoker most of the time anymore. Sometimes I check the meat itself, but it's kinda like homebrewing, I just kinda know when it's done.

Now, I know that most people will tell you to smoke at 225F, that would be the ideal temp I guess, but if my cookers are that low that means that the coals are about out & I need to add more. I add enough coal to bring it to around 250F-300F and that'll give me an hour or so before I have to add more coal just to keep the fire going. Damp wood chips going on the coal will also knock the heat down a little. Like homebrewing everybody's system is different, so you kinda need to find out what works for you and what temperatures you can hold with your cooker.

Another thing is that you will probably have to add more coals every hour to maintain the temperature. They say that every time you open the lid, you add 20-30 mins onto the cook time. I don't know if it really adds that much time, but depending on how you light the new coals you'll need to keep the food away from the heat for a few minutes.

You can light the coals ahead of time, and then add the already lit coals to the existing fire, but it helps if you have another charcoal grill or other fire proof surface to do that. I just dump unlit coals onto the existing fire, but as the unlit coals start to catch they make an acrid smoke that won't taste too good if it gets onto your food. I try to leave the lid off/open, or remove the top part of the water smoker altogether until the new coals stop producing smoke. Your food will taste better, but it will add some time to your cook times.
Awesome. My cheap smoker doesn't allow me to remove the unit from the coals. I have already read up on modification to make my unit better. I don't have any vents or anything in mine, so I hear it burns cooler. People have recommended drilling some hole in the pan. I may do a couple holes. Then add some on the next smoking session to see how it goes.
I agree with Dave... you're not necessarily cooking for "doneness", you're cooking for tenderness so there's some wiggle room on the final internal temp. I think it's a good idea to monitor the temp to see what's happening but I think the ambient temp of the smoker is more important... too high and you'll reach your "done" internal temp before all of the connective tissue has had a chance to break down. Time is very important... You'll notice that the internal meat temp will continue to rise until it hits about 165F. It plateaus here because this is the temp that the collagen in the connective tissue is breaking down. When all of the collagen is dissolved, the temp will start to rise again. (At least that's my theory.)

Here's a little slow cookin' science...

At about 140F, meats start to shrink and release a lot of juices. This is a result of the collagen fibers (connective tissue) shrinking and it makes the meat firmer and chewier. As the temp rises, more juice is "squeezed" out by the shrinking fibers and the meat will become dryer.

At 160F, the connective tissue begins to slowly dissolve into gelatin. The dissolving of collagen to gelatin accelerates as you approach 180F but it is still a lengthy process. This breakdown of the collagen requires water so it's important not to get too hot, otherwise the meat will completely dry out before all of the connective tissue is broken down. (Brining leaner cuts of meat helps combat this loss of moisture. I've read pork butt doesn't require brining because of its high fat content... probably contributes flavor though.)

When properly slow-cooked, the muscle fibers will technically be overdone (stiff and dry), but the meat will be tender (because there's nothing holding the muscle fibers together) and juicy (because of the gelatin).

Man, I'm getting hungry. Haven't had lunch yet.
Awesome Info Sam. I'm excited to do this. I chose pork butt because I heard it was a good starter meat that was very forgiving and if I screw it up, it is pretty cheap.

I am going to Brine it tonight, put rub on it tomorrow night, and use a spray mop of Apple Cider Vinegar and Apple Juice every couple of hours. I will also be using Apple Wood chips as my smoking wood.

I am worried about controlling the temperature, but have read a bunch on it. I am going to take pictures and write a post about my experience.

I also can't wait to smoke some grains to make a smoked beer.
Sounds awesome! My dad was a butcher for 18 years so I grew up around meat. Dave's been twittering some BBQ info that got me interested again...

What beer to pair with bbq pork? Does it even matter?!

Oh, and since we're brewers, record keeping is important, right? See attached file...
































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