How to Smoke Pork
Three traditionally recognized reasons for smoking meat are for preservation, appearance, and flavor. Smoked meat is less likely to spoil so this practice began before the age of refrigeration. Smoke is an antimicrobial and antioxidant, but smoke alone is insufficient for preserving food in practice, unless combined with another preservation method. The main problem is the smoke compounds adhere only to the outer surfaces of the food; smoke does not actually penetrate far into meat or fish. In modern times, almost all smoking is carried out for its flavor. Artificial smoke flavoring can be purchased as a liquid to mimic the flavor of smoking, but it has no preservative qualities.
Meats can be either cold smoked, smoke roasted or hot smoked.
Cold smoking is for curing dry rubbed pork, traditionally pork belly into bacon, and can be used as a flavor enhancer for items such as pork bellies, pork jowls and pork loins. Some cold smoked foods are baked, grilled, roasted, or sautéed before eating. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are below 100°F (38°C). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. Meats should be fully cured before cold smoking. The perfect example of a cold-smoked meat would be bacon. The raw belly is cured either wet, in a salt and sugar based brine, through immersion or injection. It’s allowed to cure and is then smoked at 80-90°F for several hours. This process preserves the meat and provides a great smoky flavor. The meat must still be refrigerated and cooked before serving.
- In smoker, turn on smoking element only. Insert soaked wood chips to start producing smoke and let accumulate for a few minutes. If using an off-set smoker, maintain proper temperature by only lighting a few coals at a time.
- Ideal smoking temperature range is between 80°-95°F.
- Place pork directly on cooking racks and close door, letting some air vent.
- Smoking time can be anywhere from five hours to five days depending on the size of the cut and preference of smoke flavor. A 7-9 pound pork belly, skinless may take approximately 6-8 hours.
Hot smoking occurs within the range of 165°F (74°C) to 185°F (85°C). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185°F (85°C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are cooked away. Most should be brined or cured prior to smoking.
Hot smoking a “city” ham takes about 24 hours to smoke and cook. Smoking is usually accomplished in three stages.
- During the first phase, or drying stage, the smokehouse is heated to 125°F. Open all dampers to allow excess moisture to escape. There is no smoking during this 8-hour period.
- During the next 8-hour stage, the dampers are partially closed and the temperature of the house increased to 135°F and smoke is generated.
- The smoke is continued throughout the third stage with all dampers closed, and the temperature of the house raised to 180°F. This temperature is held until the product temperature reaches 142°F. These hams require further cooking in the home for full tenderization. The wood used to generate any smoke should be a hardwood such as post Oak, Hickory, Apple, Cherry or Mesquite. Pine or any other resinous wood or sawdust are not recommended because the smoke from these woods will be sooty and strong-smelling.
Smoke Roasting or Baking
Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is sometimes referred to as “barbecuing,” “pit baking” or “pit roasting.” It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood-fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250°F (121 °C) or in a conventional oven by placing a pan filled with hardwood chips on the floor of the oven so the chips smolder and produce a smoke bath. Proper ventilation of the area is necessary for this method. An example of smoke-roasted meats would be a pork butt for pulled pork, or spare ribs. The raw meat is rubbed with a dry mixture of salt, sugar and spices and allowed to marinate. It can also be injected with brine and dry rubbed for added flavor and moisture. It’s then cooked, “low and slow,” meaning low temperature, usually about 250°F, for a long period of time to fully cook the meat until it’s tender. Hot smoking exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment. Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hams and ham hocks are fully cooked once they are properly smoked.