Author Topic: General guidelines for smoke times  (Read 2073 times)

Offline EZ Smoker

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General guidelines for smoke times
« on: May 18, 2010, 03:03:52 pm »
I've been researching smoking for several months now, and I need to know how much of what I read is science, and how much is conjecture, or just tradition.   I commonly see three different sets of guidelines for how long to smoke beef and pork.   

1.  Many people seem to use 4 hours of smoke, whether they're smoking pork butts, briskets, or ribs.   

2.  I've also read that a good rule of thumb is that meat should smoke for half the cooktime.  (though for a 20-hour brisket that seems like a lot).

3.  And I've read that meat stops taking smoke after it reaches an IT of 140 F, and should be smoked only to that IT. 

I don't know the science, but I've been smoking pork butts and briskets for about 7 hours, while smoking ribs for 4 hours.   They've worked very well, but if I'd get just as much smoke flavor from 4 hours of smoking, then I'd rather not waste the extra pucks.  Does anyone here have insight or experience that would help?
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Offline FLBentRider

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2010, 03:09:27 pm »
I can tell you I've not seen _any_ science to support any of that. I've been looking.

I've read that meat doesn't take smoke after 140F, but there is no science that I have seen to support it.

I've also talked with other respected members of the BBQ community that put the smoke on at the END of the cook.

Now for the fun part.

Start experimenting and find out what _you_ like and to heck with everyone else!

I've put 8 hours on a butt, but (pun intended) I can't really say it was that much smokier than a four hour butt, certainly no twice as smoky.

It also depends on what you are smoking. The surface to mass ratio comes into play. Think pork butt versus ribs.
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Offline Oldman

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2010, 03:14:51 pm »
I've also read that a good rule of thumb is that meat should smoke for half the cooktime.  (though for a 20-hour brisket that seems like a lot).
I smoke a lot Texas style brisket. I only smoke them 4 hours.

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Offline OU812

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2010, 04:17:54 pm »
4 hr on brisket, butts, fatties and summer sausage.

2 hr on loins, poultry and smaller sausages.

Works for me.

Experiment with what works for YOU.

You will also find different kinds of wood will work with different amounts of time.

Fruit woods are not as pungent as the hard woods.

There is NO science just madness when it comes to smokin.  ;D

Offline Caneyscud

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2010, 04:25:22 pm »
I have not noticed any scientific results regarding Bradley smoke, but I'm sure Bradley must have some.  I will speculate that the Bradley smoke is "stronger" in that it is a product of non-combustion combustion.  HuH!  Smoke - no flame - but only ashes are left.  Typical smoker uses wood that has been burnt to coals in another firebox, and the smoker is trying to obtain a "thin blue" smoke - not really that much smoke.  A billowing white smoke or black smoke would indicate problems.  Many smokers, including myself, use a base of lump charcoal laying flavoring wood billets on top for the smoke generation.  And yes I get ignition, and "dirty smoke" both.  But that is what I like.  Some soak chips before putting them on the smoker - never understood that.  Until they are dry, there is no smoke but steam, and then Poof - flames quite often and little real smoke.  The burning of a Bradley Bisquette certainly must be much more efficient than that. 

Some "facts" gleaned from eating and reading.  
1.  Smoke does not penetrate very far into the meat.
2.  A cold meat surface absorbs smoke better than a hot one.  
3.  A cooked meat surface (say 140 deg or so) absorbs little smoke - but "smoke" still seems to be able to be deposited on it.
4.  Smoke seems to layer on any surface - including moisture.  You don't really want moisture on your meat if it is only going to sit there accepting a layer of smoke only to roll off and down the v-tray.
5.  Salt seems to intensify smoke flavor or absorbs it.  A big difference in smoky flavor for me can be had between pieces of meat salted or not salted.  
6.  Smoking requires a good clean burning fire that is not too cool or too hot. A cooler, smoky fire is a starved fire and will leave sooty particles on the food and deposit nasties with a creosote flavor on the meat.  Too high a burning temperature will cause the breakdown of the flavor into harsh or often flavorless products.
6.  Don't ask me about the processes, chemicals, and reactions of smoke - way to complicated for my mind.  

The 4 to 5 hour smoke limitation stems from member's experience that burning more pucks than that does not necessarily add up to a greater smoke taste.  There is apparently a factor of "diminishing returns" in effect.  The cost of producing the smoke is not equated to increased satisfaction.  Also some members do not like as strong of a smoke flavor as others do.

To totally bust the 140 deg. limit to smoke absorption is a cheater brisket I do for a specific competition.  This competition is only for 6 hours max.  Not long enough for cooking a brisket.  But they do allow pre-cooking as long as not on a grill or smoker.  So I cook the brisket to near doneness in the oven overnight and finish it off in the smoker the next day during the competition.  One would think, no smoke flavor, but amazingly it does have it.  My theory is that the smoke flavor builds up on the salt and rub or the fat or all three.  

Smoking for 1/2 of the cooking time is not practical in many smokers - like say a stickburner.  The cooking fuel is the same as the smoking fuel - so one tends to limit the smoke produced to "thin blue".  

A thicker piece of meat requires more smoke than a thick piece.  The smoke to raw meat volume is much lower in a butt than say a rib, where you get at least one and probably two layers of bark in each bite.  

As FLBR states - the experimenting is fun AND tasty!  The additional smoke flavor gained from burning more pucks, may be worthwhile to you.  Have fun!
« Last Edit: May 18, 2010, 04:29:30 pm by Caneyscud »
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Offline Quarlow

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2010, 06:00:30 pm »
I look at it like this. Smoking food was originally meant to preserve foods so they would last longer. Adding smoke to foods does 3 things: it adds flavour, it drys food so it won't get spoilage as quick and the smoke has an antibacterial quality which helps to keep the food from going bad. But lets face it, we are really only smoking for flavour in this day and age so we don't need to smoke the begeezers out of it like they did with salmon and buffalo cause it doesn't need to keep threw the winter feeding the tribe or settlers. So we add smoke flavour to our liking, we play with the flavours and the spices and have a darn good time doing it so we can get maximum enjoyment out of the eating experience. If we got to caught up in it we wouldn't have fun and then we would just eat frozen dinner and "Stove Top Stuffing" or "Shake and Bake". EEEWWW I shudder to think. So have a blast, experiment till it is how you like it and if you like 10 hrs of smoke on a brisket then put 10 hrs of smoke on your brisket. If someone is over for dinner and says it's to smoky then guess who doesn't get to come next time. ;D ;D ;D
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Offline Habanero Smoker

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Re: General guidelines for smoke times
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2010, 02:51:44 am »
The way I apply smoke using the Bradley is judging the mass to surface ratio. If there is a lot of surface as oppose to mass, such as what you have with thin cuts of meat (ribs, chicken parts, pork chops etc), I use 2 hours or less. For cuts that have greater mass to surface ratio, brisket, butts, roasts I use 3 - 4 hours. But I do have exceptions, do to my particular taste. For pork loins, whole chicken & turkeys, and tender roast cuts I will keep my smoke time to 2 - 3 hours.

I take a slightly different view on the 140°F temperature, and that would be the surface temperature, not internal temperature. The 140°F is when the meat starts to denature, the cells begin to shrink and the texture of the meat gets firmer. It would make sense that if the meat properties change at that temperature, the reaction the smoke has with the meat will change.

It is true that smoke penetration is only 1/4" to 3/8" deep at ideal smoking/cooking conditions As mentioned above smoke will continue to adhere to the surface of the meat. Smoke will adhere to almost any surface, but the hotter the surface becomes the less amount of smoke will adhere. So the smoke flavor will continue to get stronger, as you apply it.