For anyone smoking meat, one of the main goals is to ensure it is moist and juicy when it comes out of your cooker. There are a lot of different things that can affect the temperature and moisture content of the meat while it is cooking.
For example, higher altitude environments or other places where the outside humidity is low makes it harder to prevent the meat from drying out. Similarly, smoking in winter weather offers its own set of challenges. The type of smoker you are using, the type of meat you are cooking, and the cooking temperatures are some of the other factors that can affect the meat’s moisture levels.
So, if you are struggling with how to keep meat moist while smoking, we’ve put together some of the top tips you can follow to ensure you end up with a deliciously juicy result every time:
This is one of the most important tips on the list. If you start with a sub-par cut of meat, nothing you do is really going to help when it comes to keeping the meat moist while smoking it. A quality cut of meat is going to give you better results, so don’t be too cheap. Of course, there are still some good economical cuts of meat that can be smoked well. The main thing to remember is that fat holds moisture. So, a good lean-to-fat ratio in the meat is crucial so don’t go too lean.
Salt helps not only to flavor the meat but helps it retain its moisture as well. The process known as denaturing, which is initiated by the salt, actually helps to slightly break down the proteins in the meat and add to its moisture level. So, before your meat goes in the smoker, dry brine it with kosher salt, use a salt-based dry-rub, or use a liquid salt-based brine, depending on the type of meat.
A liquid brine is great for leaner cuts of meat. This will give you a slight buffer and allow you to smoke it longer without it getting too dry.
Make sure to check out our article on how to make a great homemade dry rub.
Source: Food Network
Leaner and tougher cuts of meat, especially large cuts like beef brisket, are easy to dry out if you’re not careful. That’s why using a meat injector and a liquid injection is a great method for keeping the meat moist.
Injecting the meat will allow you to deliver fats, salt, seasonings, and more liquid deep into the core of the meat, far below the surface. The mixture that you inject will help to moisten the meat from the inside out and prevent it from drying out while you are slow smoking it for long periods.
Check out our article on how to inject brisket for more information on proper injection techniques.
One way to lock in moisture while you are smoking meat is to wrap it in either aluminum foil or pink/peach butcher paper. This will prevent moisture from escaping and help maintain temperature throughout the cooking session. Make sure to wrap the meat so that it is totally covered and there are no gaps where steam could escape.
Aluminum and butcher paper are both very effective for wrapping meat. The main difference to keep in mind is that butcher paper is more porous so it will let more of the smoky flavor in. Whichever material you use, don’t wrap the meat until it’s already been smoking for a few hours.
Charcoal is a very efficient fuel source, but sometimes it can be hard to control your cooker’s internal temperature when using it. Because charcoal burns very hot, using too much of it can quickly raise the internal temperature of your smoker higher than you want.
To help prevent this from happening and help ensure your meat stays moist, mix some wood chunks in with your charcoal. Doing this not only gives the meat that delicious natural wood-smoke flavor but also gives you better control over the smoker’s internal cooking temperature. Just follow the “less is more” approach when adding your charcoal to the smoker.
Check out our article on cooking with charcoal for more helpful tips on using this fuel source.
Source: Traeger Grills
If you are trying to master how to keep meat moist while smoking, the last thing you want to do is put the meat directly over the fuel source. This is one of the quickest ways to dry it out. So, make sure you are cooking using indirect heat by placing the meat away from the direct heat.
Depending on the type of smoker you have, this could mean placing the meat a couple of racks up from the bottom or placing it to one side away from the fuel source.
Being able to properly control the internal temperature of your cooker is essential. Reaching the desired cooking temperature and then maintaining that temperature will make it easier to keep the meat moist. If the temperature goes too high, you can quickly overcook the meat. If the temperature drops too low for too long, you won’t cook the meat all the way through.
So, you should be constantly monitoring your smoker’s temperature to ensure that it remains even throughout the whole cooking process. When smoking meat, you typically want to maintain a temperature around 225 to 245 degrees Fahrenheit.
A good digital thermometer is a must-have accessory and can help ensure you maintain the proper cooking temperature. You don’t want to just rely on the smoker’s built-in/mounted temperature gauge as these are rarely correct. In many cases, the smoker will be hotter in some areas than in others. You want to know the temperature of exactly where the meat is sitting.
If your smoker has air vents that are used to control the airflow and temperature (versus electronic temperature control) make sure you are comfortable with how to open and close them as needed. If you need a higher temperature, open the vents more. If you need to lower the temperature, close the vents.
Some smokers come with a built-in water pan at the bottom that you can use during each cook. The manufacturer did not include this as a side thought. If you are not using yours, start today! If you don’t have one in your smoker, put an aluminum pan with water in it on the bottom rack (in a vertical smoker) or to the side of your meat.
While you are smoking the meat, the heat of the cooker will cause the water to evaporate and create steam. This steam will help moisten the meat and seal in its internal juices.
Just because you are smoking meat doesn’t mean that the more smoke you use the better. Of course, some smoke is needed to impart that delicious wood-smoke flavor into the meat. But too much of it can quickly dry out the meat and overpower its natural flavor.
When you are smoking meat you want to aim for a thin stream of blue smoke coming out of the chimney. This indicates a good, clean-burning fire. If you start to see thick black smoke billowing, it’s probably time to replace the wood. This type of smoke can suck the moisture out of the meat and impart a strong and bitter charred taste (from creosote), which is definitely not what you want.
Spraying or basting your meat during the smoking process can help not only add flavor to the exterior of the meat but also add moisture. There are a variety of different things you can use to spray or baste depending on the barbecue style you are going for and your personal preferences.
For Carolina-style barbecue, pitmasters often use an apple cider vinegar spray. While St. Louis-style usually means occasionally brushing the meat with a semi-sweet tomato-based sauce. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different options for spraying or basting and find the one you love best!
Newer smokers often have the hardest time with this. But you must fight the urge to keep opening the lid of the smoker to check on your meat. The steam that has built up inside is released when the lid is opened. Losing this steam can cause the meat to dry out much faster.
Instead of constantly checking on the meat, trust your tools. Rely on a digital meat thermometer and the thermometer you’ve put inside the smoker (as mentioned above).
Source: Traeger Grills
Almost as important as starting with a quality cut of meat is letting it rest after it comes out of your smoker. When the meat is done and you first pull it out, it is still tensed from the heat. If you cut into it right away, you’ll cause all the tasty juices inside to leak out, making the meat really dry.
Letting the meat rest for a little bit first will allow the muscle fibers to relax and reabsorb the internal juices. Then once you do cut into it, it will be deliciously juicy. Your best bet is to let it rest for a minimum of 10 minutes. You can wrap it in clean butcher paper and towels and store it in a dry cooler to keep warm.
Sometimes smoking meat can be a challenge and requires some strategy, energy, and patience. With the tips we’ve covered above on how to keep meat moist while smoking, you can utilize a few of them and help ensure you end up with a deliciously juicy final result every time.
Have you recently used any of these methods above? Do you have another tip for keeping the meat moist? Leave a comment and tell us about it. We want to hear from you!
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