Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to Use a Bradley Smoker

Dan Trout from Spencer, WI wrote in:


I just bought a Bradley Smoker secondhand and couldn't find a recipe & instruction book. Could you help please?


I know you're going to love that smoker with the self feeding smoke bricks! I would recommend contacting Bradley to order your next box of wood bricks and ask for a recipe book - they have them there. Or simply continue to check out the videos on this blog that put the Bradley Smoker to work. Here are a few to start out with:

I use the smoker at the end of course, so you'll be able to pick up some tips when you get to the end of the videos.

Smoking meats is all about basic principles. You can learn about natural smoke application, water activity, relative humidity, and surface moisture from our Sausage and Jerky Processing DVDs. Once you have the basic smoking principles down you can develop your own products & recipes and be smoking like a pro in no time!

Brad Lockwood

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Making Sausage & Smoked Products from Frozen Meat

Tom from Pekin, IL asked:

Can you make sausage and smoked meat from frozen meat?


For sausage, so long as the meat is not already ground, then yes, you sure can! You can simply watch any of our online Sausage How-To Videos and make a great product. You'll simply drop your frozen, cubed meat into the grinder just as you would unfrozen and go from there! 

If it has already been ground, then you're limited to the products that you can make. You'll have a texture issue with sausage, so no, I do not recommend making sausage from frozen ground meat. Most ground products where the texture matters - I would not use frozen ground meat.

One smoked product that I like to make from already ground and frozen hamburger is ground jerky. You can simply add your seasonings, grind it one or two more times to get it to a nice fine texture, and get your seasonings mixed well. Then, you push it out through the Weston Jerky Gun and load it into your smoker. That's one of my favorites - Here's the post and video about how to do it: Hamburger Jerky.

As for making smoked meat from frozen meat...
The issue with freezing any meat is that it damages cells. When you freeze meat, the moisture inside turns into ice crystals, which puncture the muscle cells. When the meat thaws, all of the fluid - holding those good salts and proteins - floods out of the holes that were made. The result is more loss of moisture when you cook the meat than you would have lost starting from raw meat. That said, this isn't really a problem in sausage making because you're going to grind the meat anyway. 

It comes into play more with roasts and steaks. If you're talking about smoking a chunk of frozen meat, then no, it's not the best way to do things. It's not unsafe, and it will get the job done. However: the point of thawing is even cooking. If the meat is frozen, it will take longer for the internal temperature to rise - so the outside of your meat will be overcooked by the time the inside of it gets to where it needs to be for safe eating. The moisture will also have left so quickly that you'll be left with a tougher product. Obviously, it's frozen, so it's going to take quite a while to cook. At that point, you'll probably have been better off just taking the time to thaw it.  But my advice is this: If you're going to smoke frozen meat, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, and go low and slow. You can do it, it's just going to bring the quality down. 

Finally, if you're talking about the age-old myth that you can't freeze and thaw meat, then make anything from it - that's just an old wives' tale. Most of the meat products we receive in the commercial processing industry have already been frozen before we ever receive them. Like I said before, there's some damage caused by freezing, but if you're not cooking a filet mignon, it won't make enough difference to truly affect quality so long as you're thawing it first. The way you prepare and cook it will be much more important. 

Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

Brad Lockwood

Monday, January 13, 2014

Non-Fat Milk in Sausage Making

Tim from Bullhead City, AZ asked:
Is the non-fat milk the stuff you buy in stores for sausage making?

Thanks for the question Tim,

Yes, the non-fat dry milk that you buy in the grocery stores can be used as a binder when making smoked sausage products. I use this product a lot when making summer sausage. A typical mixture would be 1 lb for every 50 lbs of meat. It's a great binder with very little flavor effect on the product, and it really helps hold moisture in. 

When making smoked sausage products, you can always figure that the smoker will pull about 12-15% moisture out of your product, so I always add an additional 10-12% water, then my non-fat dry milk, and then I mix it all very well until all the water has been absorbed. 

Often times, it's a good idea to place the product back into the cooler for an hour or so to let the meat set up a little before stuffing. If you stuff right away, the product will be very wet and difficult to work with.

Good luck Tim and please let us know how the product turns out! 

Brad Lockwood

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Meat Smoker Recommendations

Kenny from Shenandoah, VA wrote:

I would like your recommendation on a durable smoker that is dependable, rugged and not terribly expensive. It should be easy to use, hold a consistent temperature and have large capacity, as I would like to smoke whole hog hams and sides. I have looked at many brands and spoke to some friends but I just can't make up my mind. Any assistance would be appreciated.

Kenny thanks for the question,

I apologize for being late on my reply, hunts and the holidays have me running behind. Sorry about that! 

There are several things to consider when looking at a new smoker:

  • Gas heats faster than electric, but electric has much less maintenance and is a lot more convenient.
  • Will you be smoking in an area where electric is conveniently located, or would a propane tank be easier to use at that particular location? 
  • How well is the cabinet insulated? The heavier the steel and thicker the walls are, the less heat you'll lose when smoking during cold temperatures. 
  • The most important topic for me is the method that the house uses to create smoke. I like the smoke generator on the Bradley Smoker. Because it has a separate heating element, this smoke generator allows me to smoke products like cheese (which would ordinarily melt) and cold smoked sausage. It also allows me to smoke a lot longer at lower temperatures. The issue with many of the smokers on the market is that the heat source that creates the heat inside the cabinet is the same heat source that creates the smoke. So with that being said you have to turn up the cabinet temperature to have smoke, so you can't properly smoke salmon and other cold smoke products so you can't have smoke inside the cabinet without a lot of heat. 
  • Another great feature of the Bradley smoke generator is the way the wood pucks only remain on the heating element for a selected period of time. They are then pushed off into a pan of water and drowned out. This keeps from burning the same old wood chips over and over again, which causes that bitter, sharp smoke flavor that you don't want in your products. When you can burn fresh wood chips you'll get a smoother and cleaner smoke. Having a smoker with a separate smoke generator is a very convenient feature to have. 
  • If you're not worried about cold smoking products or smoking cheese, and you'd prefer a propane-fueled smoker, I'd recommend a Weston. They're all made of thick steel, some of them have stainless steel doors, their fuel delivery systems are solid, and they come with sausage hooks, which are mighty handy. They have different sizes, the largest being the 48", which will surely fit your hams. The thing to remember about the propane-fueled smokers is that the larger they get, the harder they are to heat and maintain. A 48" smoker is quite a beast, so you have to make sure you preheat it and monitor the temperature every so often. Anything that large is going to take some care to heat. If you look at the 36 inch and think that will fit what you're trying to smoke, then I'd go with that one since it's easier to keep hot.

I don't know how much this helps, but hopefully it will give you some ideas to consider when making your selection.