Try a Different Way of Cooking Fish and Game — Fire Up the Smoker
Smoke cooking is easy, done outdoors, and the slow-cooking process requires cooking the meat for hours, depending on the weather and other conditions. This is one time when cooking it a little longer than necessary rather than too little is preferable. The flavorful smoke created by the smoldering chunks of damp fruit wood and the smell of cooking meat wafting from the smoker all day is guaranteed to have the whole neighborhood drooling.
In smoke cooking the meat or other food item is cooked very slowly at a temperature of 200 to 250 degrees F and the smoke from small chunks or bits of wood that have been pre-soaked and placed on the heat source to smolder and create smoke.
Here’s how it works:
1) The smoker is open at the bottom to allow air to circulate in and around the fire pan, which is at the bottom of the smoker and holds charcoal or an electrical heating element.
2) Small pieces of wood, usually chips, small chunks or finger-sized sticks 3 to 4 inches long, are ideal. The rule is to use only wood from deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves) because the pitch and resin found in pine, cedar or other evergreen trees can give foods an unpleasant taste and discolor them.
3) Popular smoke-cooking woods are mesquite; nut-bearing trees such as hickory, oak or walnut; fruit-bearing trees such as apple, cherry and peach. Most of these are commercially available, or you can use those that might be growing on your own property.
4) A short distance above the fire pan is a water pan which holds water, beer, or a carbonated beverage, such as 7-up. During the cooking process the liquid simmers and makes steam, which helps keep the food being smoked from drying out but does not cook the food.
5) A grill is placed directly above the water pan and some people put vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions on that rack to cook.
6) Above that rack and at the top of the smoker’s main section, is the cooking grill on which the meat is placed so none of the meat touches the sides of the smoker.
Many smoke-cooking instruction or recipe books instruct the user to us a meat thermometer to make it easy to determine when the meat is fully cooked. The smoker’s rounded dome closes the smoker and containing the smoke and heat inside.
As with other kinds of cooking, veteran smoke-cooks have their own variations for how they do things, how long they allow their food to cook, what woods they prefer to use for smoke because of the flavors they produce, whether they like to put slices of fruit in the drip pan to add subtle flavors to the meat and what kinds of fruit to use with what meats, and so on.
It is a good idea for people new to smoke-cooking to a smoke-cooking recipe or instruction book for basic information. Many smoke-cooking recipes discuss marinades, preparing the food for smoke-cooking, the recipe itself, an estimate to the length of time if will take to cook a certain cut of meat and suggestions for what other foods to serve with the smoke-cooked meat.
For instance, here’s a recipe for preparing bluegill or crappie:
6 bluegill or crappie, cleaned, fresh or thawed
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
6 slices bacon cut in half
Soak a handful of wood chips or 2-5 chunks of wood for 2-3 hours before charcoal is ready for cooking. The fire pan should be about half full of charcoal.
Paint the fish with canola oil inside and out and salt and pepper them.
When the coal are evenly gray, shake the water from the wood and place on top of the coals.
Put the water pan on the tabs that hold it and carefully pour water or other liquid into the water pan until it is one-half to two-thirds full.
Put cooking grill on tabs located near top of smoker. Put fish on cooking grill and lay two pieces of bacon on each fish.
Put the dome on the smoker and after about two hours check the fish with a fork at intervals. The fish will be done when it easy flakes with the fork.
Serve with hot corn-on-the-cob, vegetable salad, and iced tea of other cold beverage.
– Tom Keith –