Backyard smoking

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There has been an increase in interest in backyard smoking of meats with the availability of relatively inexpensive equipment which you are likely to find at Home Depot or, in my case, at my friendly (very) neighbourhood Home Hardware store: Quincaillerie Azores.

I love looking at the charcoal barbecues and smokers that this store carries. I haven't bought a smoker mainly because the one that I like the most is almost the size of a gas barbecue, and I was trying to reduce my footprint on my condo's terrace, but it doesn't stop me from looking. I don't really need a dedicated smoker unit, though, as with a bit of knowledge of the smoking process, I can accomplish a decent smoking on my inexpensive but well-designed charcoal bbq that has a 17" circular grill.

I described how I might smoke my sausage while cooking it in yesterday's blog posting but the basics are this: wood chips (mine are applewood) in a foil pack (the shiny thing in my photo) placed over hot coals with the lid on. If you don't have smoke coming out the vent holes in your lid, then your wood chips are not burning. Move them to the hottest coals.

When I put my sausage on the grill to smoke last night I had a 300° F reading on my thermometer. This is a bit hot as you don't want your meat cooking right away. The temperature will go down to about 275° F fairly soon with the lid on. Even at this temperature, you will have enough heat to cook your meat within 25 minutes or less. If I had the smoker from Quincaillerie Azores with the firebox on one end I could make my smoking much more effective by lengthening out the time before I finally cook the product.

If you are not so hungry and want to see how much pink (evidence of the nitrite in the wood smoke) that you can get into your product try this with your charcoal barbecue: Use much less charcoal than you would normally use for cooking (let's try 1/4 the amount that it takes to cover the bottom with coals). Prepare the coals so that they are hot enough to set your soaked wood chips smouldering (I use a bbq chimney to start my charcoal along with an electric element that is plugged in for the first 7 minutes and inserted in the chimney with the coals). Put the meat as far away from the coals as you can. At the end, you could introduce some hot coals if your sausage is not cooked through (internal temperature 160°F).

I would recommend that you smoke and cook enough sausage so that you can experience it cold the next day. Here is a plan for this: BBQ hamburgers, steak or chicken for supper. When this has finished cooking remove excess coals keeping enough to set your smoking wood chips smouldering, put the sausage on the grill and put the lid on (with the vent holes open both below and above). Go and eat supper. At the end of supper finish cooking the sausage, if it hasn't had enough heat to do so itself in your absence. Put in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.

That's what I would do.

Cooking sausage on the barbecue

Dettweiler's Smoked Pork Sausage is your all-season sausage. Here are a few tips which will make for the best possible outdoor grilling experience:

First of all, if you have a large gas-powered grilling area, put it on the section of the grill with the heat on the lowest setting. If you are cooking only sausage, or only meats and vegetables that benefit from having the lid of the bbq closed, then you might use the indirect heat method which involves having the sausage on a part of the grill without any flame below it. Sausage benefits from being cooked slowly via indirect heat. With a low to medium heat (300 to 350° F) and the grill covered, it might take about 15 minutes to cook your sausage optimally. Pork sausage should be cooked to an internal temperature of 72°C (160° F). Many find they prefer a few additional degrees than this lower safe limit. I'd strongly recommend not overcooking our sausage, though, as above 80° C internal temperature, I find the sausage starts to lose on flavour.

If you have a charcoal grill - these are some additional grilling tips for you: I recommend using hardwood charcoal, not briquettes. I put my sausage on the side of the grill away from the intense heat produced when charcoal is immediately below the sausage. Again, if you don't also have something on the bbq that requires the grill to be uncovered (steak) then put the lid on (but with the vent holes open and perhaps the lid propped up an inch or so - not fully closed (for benefit of sustaining the heat of the charcoal). I have hardwood chips that I'll soak in some water beforehand. I use applewood chips, one of the best smoking woods commonly available. Most often I will wrap the soaked wood chips in a bit of aluminum foil and then place the package on top of the hot charcoal. If you have the lid on your barbecue you can produce a good amount of smoke with a handful of soaked wood chips. Smoke will be pouring out of the vent holes of the lid. If you cook your sausage slowly enough (which means low heat, so don't fill the barbecue with charcoal) you should notice a distinct pink colour when cooked around the outside of the sausage, just under the skin (casing). The slower you have cooked your sausage (less charcoal) the more the pink will extend toward the middle of the sausage.

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If you have one of the now commonly available backyard smokers you should be able to get this pink colour right through to the centre of the sausage. Remember, the more heat you have in your smoker the less your meat will be smoked thoroughly. The reason for this is that when meat reaches a certain temperature where it cooks, the proteins bind together sealing out the smoke from passing through the meat. The pink colour in smoked meat comes from nitrites in the meat. Dettweiler's Sausage does not include sodium nitrite among our ingredients so the colour of the pork when cooked would only be a pink colour if you have succeeded in introducing the nitrites that are a component in wood smoke into your sausage while cooking it. More than cosmetic, the nitrites from properly-smoked meat give it that smoked flavour that many of us love.