Hot Smoking Gameby Robert Gooch August 05 2018
With so many indoor and outdoor smokers now on the market, smoking meat and fish at home is easier than ever before. We show you how to add the flavour of woodsmoke to your favourite game and share some top tips from Charlotte Pike, author of Smoked.
The trend for outdoor entertaining has reached new heights this year. And there’s one piece of kit guaranteed to create a memorable al fresco meal: an outdoor smoker.
The taste of smoky meat fires up our deepest primaeval pleasure receptors. “Evolutionarily speaking, fire and smoke signal meat roasting, so we may have been programmed to find them desirable in expectation of what is to come,” says Charles Spence, the Oxford University professor of Experimental Psychology. If your mouth waters like Pavlov’s dogs at the first whiff of meat cooking on a wood fire, treat your inner caveman to a taste sensation and invest in a hot smoker.
Hot smoking versus cold smoking
“Hot smoking works particularly well with game flavours, enhancing their richness.” says Charlotte. “It is also the quickest and easiest way to smoke meat at home.”
When the weather is cooler, you can also try your hand at cold smoking. While hot smoking cooks food, cold smoked food is not cooked, only gently dried while being infused with the smoky flavour – but this is best done in cooler conditions.
Hot smoking versus barbecuing
So what’s the difference between hot smoking and barbecuing – or grilling – with wood chips?
While barbecuing traditionally involves cooking meat over the gentle heat of wood or charcoal – and grilling means quicker cooking over a higher heat – hot smoking is the process of cooking with hot smoke only.
Hot smoking is, therefore, the slowest of the three cooking methods with temperatures usually only somewhere between 50 and 100 degrees Celsius.
Slow and low cooking is the ideal way to cook game joints and cuts that require longer cooking times. Allow at least twice as long to cook game in a hot smoker than you would in a conventional oven for mouthwatering tender meat packed with smoky flavour.
Unless you’re smoking sausages, you will need to salt, cure or brine your meat before smoking. Salting is simplest: just spread an even layer of salt on a large plate or tray and place your meat on top before covering over with more salt. Leave in the fridge for up to two hours as specified in your recipe (larger cuts will need much longer than small ones) then rinse meat quickly and thoroughly under a cold tap and pat dry with kitchen paper before smoking.
Charlotte’s outdoor smoker of choice is the Big Green Egg, which can be used for barbecuing as well as smoking. There are now a huge range of options on the market, though, starting from as little as £30.
For a traditional American style ‘bullet’ smoker, charcoal and wood chips are placed in the bottom so that the heat and smoke cools as it travels up to the top section, where you place your meat. A tray of water can be added to the centre to keep temperatures down and meat moist.
A thermometer is essential so if your smoker doesn’t have an inbuilt one, place an oven thermometer in the top to monitor the temperature.
After a couple of hours, you’ll also need to check that ashes aren’t blocking the air flow. If you need to remove hot ashes, do so with caution and deposit them somewhere that isn’t a fire risk!
Charlotte Pike’s game smoking tips
- All game meat works well with the flavour of smoke, but sometimes the smokiest flavours work best with the mildest flavoured meats. Strongly flavoured game meats work best with lighter smoked flavours.
- Dark woods work really well with game meat flavours. Try oak, hickory or cherry.
- Try smoking pheasant, duck, venison, chicken and guinea fowl for an easy way to add another layer of flavour.
You’ll find recipes for all types of game in Smoked: A Beginner's Guide to Hot- and Cold-Smoked Fish, Meat, Cheese, and Vegetables by Charlotte Pike (Kyle Books, 2017).
We also recommend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes from the Guardian and the recipe for whole smoked partridge (which also works for pheasant and grouse) and smoked & spiced venison haunch from hotsmoked.co.uk.
We’d love to see your smoking pictures if you’re going to give it a go! Share them with us via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.