Figuring out what to cook in a smoker can be quite daunting, considering you can cook anything in a smoker. If used and treated correctly during the smoking process, you will be able to cook anything you would in your oven at home and so much more.
Things you have never smoked in a smoker before and seem impossible are even more manageable in a smoker and take less time. The smoker will allow you to thoroughly cook most foods from start to finish, just like you would with any other method.
It may take longer sometimes, but at least your food will take on intense smoky flavors at the same time. In this article, we will go over some of the best food to smoke in the smoker and why they do so well at lower temperatures and slower cooking.
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Types of Food to Smoke
When there are so many different possibilities of food choice to smoke in the smoker, it’s hard to choose the right combination. However, just because you can smoke a food item doesn’t mean you should.
While it may cook in the smoker, it may do better in the oven instead. Just like pork shoulder will be better in the smoker than the oven. We decided to break the foods down into the five major food groups. We replaced the fats and sugar with processed foods because, yes, you can smoke those as well.
It may amaze you, but you can smoke foods in all the major food groups as long as you do it correctly.
When it comes to smoking meat, there are endless possibilities, and just about every single type of meat can be smoked. Meat is the pinnacle of smoking food and should be your number one choice when it comes to what to cook in a smoker.
The reason barbeque and smoking foods came about was not to preserve foods in long winters or food droughts but also because that was the only way to cook the meat that was available at the time.
Back in the day, the rich people were able to buy the excellent and expensive cuts of meat, and all that was left were the undesirable cuts that most people just threw away—very fatty pieces with lots of bones and sinew.
The meat was usually very tough and hard to cook. But when you would smoke these cuts low and slow the fibers in the meat when breaking down and create delicious tender meat that fell off the bone.
Some of the best choices to go with are beef brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, and whole chickens. These are the top choices at most barbeque places, but you can also smoke so many other types. Sausages, hot links, beef ribs, beef short ribs, pork belly, whole hogs, spring pigs, and ham hocks, to name a few.
Other game birds and unusual animals will also do well like lamb shank, a whole turkey, turkey breast, quail, pheasant, duck breast, chicken wings, and pork chops. Even the good cuts of meat like steak and tenderloin can be smoked as well at the right temperatures.
Most temperatures need to be maintained at about 225 to 250 degrees throughout the smoking process. Dense and flavorful woods like oak, hickory, and mesquite work well with meats.
Fruits and Vegetables
These can also be smoked but usually are very delicate, so they need to be treated, prepared, and smoked with care and very gently. Otherwise, you may end up with a pile of mush in your smoker.
They take the least amount of time in the smoker, about under an hour or less when it comes to most of the fruits. The best rule of thumb is the softer the fruit or vegetable, the less time or lower temperature will be needed to smoke the food.
But with such little time allotted to smoke the food, you will be surprised by how much smoke flavor you will pick up. Some great fruits and vegetables to try smoking first could be any squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and apples.
Some of the denser foods like carrots, lemons, and oranges don’t work as well as the others, though.
Most dairy products that are smoked will be cheeses and some other soft products. The problem with smoking cheese is that it will melt most of the time, especially if they are soft cheeses.
This does not mean you can’t smoke them, though. You will want to use a cold smoking method where the temperature barely rises, and you introduce smoke to the smoker. Wood chips or pellets work well for this. Smoking liquids doesn’t work very well, though.
Grains, Pasta and Bread
Bread can be smoked if the recipe allows it. Usually, you can’t bake bread unless they are self-rising. Bread needs higher temperatures to bake, usually a minimum of 325 degrees.
Pasta is probably one of the most popular smoked dishes. A lot of barbeque joints will have a variation of smoked mac n cheese, which is very easy to do. You can make any pasta in the smoker, but you can’t use fresh pasta. It will turn to mush.
Use the dry pasta, and don’t boil it first. Just add the sauce, meat cheese, dry pasta, and a tablespoon of water for each cup of pasta together in a metal baking dish and smoke in the smoker until the pasta is soft and tender.
You wouldn’t think you could smoke processed foods in the smoker, but they are quite popular—mostly frozen foods. Most of the time, you can place them in the smoker frozen and cook them—a trendy frozen food item to cook in the smoker pizza.
You could, of course, make your pizza fresh from scratch and cook it on a pizza stone in the smoker, but with frozen pizzas, you place them in the smoker directly on the rack and smoke away.
Some say they turn out better than if they were cooked in the oven. Just be sure to double the cooking time and keep a close eye on the pizza.
Knowing what to cook in a smoker shouldn’t be that difficult. Anything is possible, and people are coming up with new and exciting recipes every day. So, play around with all types of foods before you decide it doesn’t work.
Challenge what others say as well. What may not work for someone may work for you and your smoker!
Is smoking foods in a smoker healthy?
This is a loaded question, but the short answer is yes and no. You are smoking the food, so there are carcinogens and ash that will affect the food and are not great for your health.
But you are removing fat during the smoking process and not using a lot of unhealthy ingredients like you would in an oven.
What is the quickest meat to smoke?
Chicken. Especially is the bones and carcass have been removed. Chicken will cook much faster than most foods. However, sausages and hot links will also cook very quickly.
What is the lowest temperature you can smoke food at?
Food can be smoked at any temperature as long as you adhere to food safety guidelines. Food smoking can be divided into two main categories, hot smoking and cold smoking.
We only recommend cold smoking for high safety foods like nuts, cheese, or spices like kosher salt. For more information click here to read our article Cold Smoking vs Hot Smoking Foods.
Why does smoking meat preserve it?
Smoking meat can help preserve it by drawing out the moisture. The addition of a salt cure can further aid in the preservation process. Jerky can be made in this way.
Also, the bark that forms on the outside of the meat can prevent bacteria from penetrating the meat. You will still want to store this in your refrigerator for food safety.
Should you soak wood chips before using them in the smoker?
No, it isn’t necessary, but you still can. If you do, it will only slow the burning process of the wood and create steam within the smoker. It also may lower the temperature of the inner smoker.
Additionally, many people think that wet woodchips produce dirty smoke that can give your food a foul taste.