INTERNAL MEAT TEMPERATURE
The smoker's internal temperature isn’t the only the temperature that requires your attention. The final internal temperature of the meat is a vital piece of the puzzle for ensuring both ideal tenderness, doneness and safety.
The only accurate way to know all this is to use a meat thermometer. When smoking, you’ll want to use either an instant read thermometer or a “leave in probe” thermometer with an alarm (especially to monitor thick cuts of meat – you don’t want to be probing it constantly with an instant read thermometer).
At the very least, you'll need an instant read thermometer for checking doneness. Avoid relying on unproven "hack" methods for checking doneness.
Always remember - real smoke masters use thermometers!
INTERNAL (AMBIENT) SMOKER TEMPERATURE
Normal charcoal or gas braais usually operate around 200°C while a smoker is best around 110°C for Low & Slow cooking.
One must remember that meats don’t all cook the same way and throwing a pork shoulder or brisket onto a flaming grill wouldn’t exactly turn out the way we’d like it to. The high heat will have caramelized the outside of the meat long before the inside has a chance to heat. Leave it on too long, and it will simply burn on the outside, with a layer of dry, unappetizing meat beneath it.
A general rule of thumb is that the thinner the meat, the higher heat. The thicker the cut, the lower the heat. That’s why we throw steaks on the grill for just a few minutes, but a roast takes all day.
While the high heat from the flame cooks the outside of the meat, the inside is cooked by the radiant heat coming in from the outer layers of the meat. You need to give ample time for the heat to migrate throughout the roast, allowing it to reach the desired internal temp before the outside burns or crusts beyond a desirable point.
Cooking Low and Slow also lends more control over the cooking process, ensuring you don’t overshoot and dry out the braai. There’s room for error, and minor heat flareups don’t ruin the food.
The traditional temperature for smoking brisket or pork shoulder for example is 110°C, which gives the most control and results in the juiciest final product. Many people, however, find that 135°C gives solid results in much less time, results good enough to satisfy most casual braai fans. 150°C is another possibility when you’re in a time crunch, but the meat will likely become noticeably less juicy and tender. For beginners, we always recommend smoking between 110°C to 120°C.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Cooking times vary widely. Factors that effect cooking time include size of cut, cooking temperature, how much salt there is, moisture, and even the weather. The serving chart provided below is therefore not a guide on time but more on what the finishing temperature needs to be for certain cuts of meat depending on how you like your doneness - as well as our own recommended “ideal” doneness temperature.
When planning your cooking time remember that a very moist piece of meat takes longer because water content causes the meat to “sweat”, essentially. And a cold, windy night can drive heat away and cooking times up. So again, always cook with a thermometer to be sure and in your first few smoking sessions write down what went right or wrong including total cooking times so that you are more prepared for the next round.
In our recipes section there is some sure-win recipes you can try with cooking times indicated to further guide you.
FIRESMITHS MEAT TEMPERATURE GUIDE