Regular readers of The Meatist probably know that I don’t own a smoker, for which I am deeply ashamed. And while I’d love to get my mitts on a review model of the 18.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain that I covet when I’m alone (do you hear me Weber publicist?), it never seems to appear in my Amazon Vine selections and I wasted the last wish from my genie bottle on an a Cheech and Chong comedy LP (no, he said I couldn’t “wish for more wishes”).
I did, however, recently get my hands on a stainless steel smoke box from Williams Sonoma. This thing is pretty basic: it’s a medium sized box with a slotted tray at the bottom, beneath which you put wood for smoking. The instructions say to prime it by blasting it with heat until the wood starts to smoke, insert your meat, and then drop the top on it. Going into this project, I’ll confess that while my expectations weren’t high, my hopes were. So who was right, Brad the optimist or Brad the pessimist?
Before I give up the goods on how it went, I should say that on more than one occasion I’ve tried the traditional turn-your-grill-into-a-smoker technique, and have yet to meet with much luck. The method involves taking a vented metal box, or a pan of tin foil, filling it with water-soaked wood chips, and placing it above the burners on the grill (or above the “flavor” bars on a Weber).
Getting smoke to pour off the wood isn’t that hard, but temperature management becomes a problem almost immediately. It’s simply too hard to keep the wood smoking nicely without overheating the grill, which makes the process fraught with stress: precisely the opposite of what smoking meat should be. So in the end I just accepted the fact that for now my life would be smokeless. Like a pitcher’s tobacco life. Except without the gross spitting.
After finding some peace on the issue, I had mixed feelings about trying this thing out: while I didn’t expect too much, I still ran the fantasy in which everything went perfectly and I’d be happily snorfing down delicious smoked brisket by the end of the night. I told myself that since this thing holds wood chips in the bottom chamber and meat in the upper, not as much smoke would need to be generated and perhaps temperature management wouldn’t be as big an issue.
So I took the beautiful flat-cut brisket I’ve provided that lovely photo of, rubbed with a new variation of my dry rub, and gave it a shot. Sadly, the same temperature problems cropped up. I tried every combination of box position, flame heat, and grill top position, and still found nothing but heartbreak. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. Keeping the wood hot enough to smoke puts too much heat into the main chamber, cooking the meat too fast and not allowing it to get that delightful red-ring-of-smoke that’s so key to smoked food. Lowering the temperature to reasonable levels just shuts down the smoke.
For some folks, this wouldn’t be a total loss: smoke was easy to generate, and if you were going to cook smoke-flavored meat, you’d probably be o.k. But smoked meats and smoke-flavored meats are eons apart on the meat-eating culinary scale, so for me, this thing was a sad failure. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the end product.
Time to find another genie bottle, I guess.