When to cook Low & Slow or Hot & Fast
Smoking Low and Slow is generally preferred over Hot and Fast cooking since:
- The meat remains juicy.
- The end result is more tender and flavourful.
- Food gets kissed with a hint of smoke flavours that is just right.
- Makes it easy for the smoke master once you mastered the craft so that you can spend more time relaxing with friend and family.
- You are less likely to overcook your meat.
How does Low and Slow retain moisture in meat?
The entire premise of braaiing began as a means take tougher cuts of meats and make them easier to eat. Long ago however it was found that cooking your meat over an indirect heat source for extended periods of time produced a richer, more flavourful, and more tender meat with a distinctive smoky taste versus simply just throwing onto the braai.
A common misconception however is that juicier meat means there is simply more water retention when the meat is cooked. This is just not the case. A lot of the juiciness that is experienced with Low and Slow braaing techniques has to do with the melted and softened fats, gelatinized collagen, and protein-bounded water.
Cooking slowly therefore is really the best way to naturally tenderize the meat and maintain a juicy texture. Gelatinized collagen is actually what gives the meat a sweeter flavour when smoked slowly.
Does that mean Hot & Fast cooking should be avoided?
Absolutely not. You can still smoke tender and juicy meat with the Hot & Fast method, but it takes skill and lots trial and error. Especially for first timers as there is two big challenges:
- You really must pay attention and monitor your meat so it does not become overcooked.
- Cooking at higher temperatures means your meat will lose moisture much faster and possibly dry so that too will need to be carefully monitored and controlled.
- Take note that when it comes to searing meat, like a good steak, you want to go Hot & Fast to get that nice brown, almost caramelized coating or sear that only a very hot, direct heat source can provide.
When should I use a Low & Slow or Hot & Fast cooking method?
There is no hard or fast rules here. It all depends on what you are cooking and what you prefer the end-result needs to be. With certain meat cuts, Low & Slow is a better and with other cuts Hot & Fast – sometimes a combination of the two is required for best results.
Still unsure? Follow these general rules of thumb for both cooking styles to help you decide:
Rule of thumb #1: Cuts with high fat content and marbling should be cooked Low and Slow, while leaner cuts need the Hot and Fast treatment
- Low and Slow: Even though there certainly are cuts that prove to be an exception to this rule, it is still a good general rule to work with. The best thing about considering the fat content is that a quick look at the cut can easily give you the idea of how fatty or lean it is. Portions like pork shoulder, chicken legs, beef brisket, ribs, leg of lamb etc. are visibly higher in fat not only on the outside but within the meat fibers as well. These cuts are best served when cooked on a low heat for a longer time. Cooking for an extended time allows the connective tissue and fat to break down, which not only softens the meat up but also preserves its moisture. In short, the fattier the meat the more suitable it is for low & slow cooking and finally it’s size - larger cuts of meats in general are better suited so even whole chicken or turkey does better using this cooking method.
- Hot and fast: Consider a prized lean cut like fillet or even a chicken breast. Being low on fat, a longer cooking time for these cuts would completely dry out whatever natural moisture they have. Cooking them quickly over high heat will ensure that their internal juices remain intact, and you get a succulent piece of meat as reward for your hard work. Same goes with thinner steaks. If you have a thick cut however, like a beef rib-eye you can always do a reverse sear, which is cooking low & slow in the beginning and then going hot & fast near the end to get a good sear on your meat.
Rule of thumb #2: Thin-cut meat should be cooked Hot and Fast, while thick cuts are best cooked Low and Slow.
- Low and Slow: Let’s say you have a thick, tough cut of meat like a beef brisket or lamb shank and you are wondering what to do with it. This rule suggests that these tough meaty portions will yield the best results when they are cooked on low heat for a good amount of time. If cooked using the hot and fast methods, these cuts will develop a sear from the outside but will remain uncooked on the inside, rendering them virtually inedible. Longer cooking times ensure that the heat reaches to the innermost parts of the cut and cook them well.
- Hot and Fast: Anytime you are planning to use a thinner meat cut like skirt steak, chuck, or flank or even thin sirloin, rump steaks etc., cooking it fast on high heat will yield the best results. With a thin cut, any slow cooking method will overcook the meat and leave it with a chewy, rubbery texture. Hot and Fast methods help make sure that the pieces of meat sear well on the outer side without completely drying them out from the center.
Rule of thumb #3: Low and Slow cooking methods employ moist heat, while Hot and Fast cooking is done with dry cooking techniques.
- Low and Slow: Smoking something for a longer time means you must cook your meat in the right type of heat dynamics (such as convectional airflow within the 360-degree structure of a Hero Smoker & Grill), employ direct or indirect heat (or both) at the right time and quantities and create enough heat moisture for your meat to not dry out. When done right, you will get perfectly moist and tender meats that still has a nice bark finish to it.
- Hot and Fast: The quick modes of cooking are generally those that do not require any additional moisture making use of the dry cooking methods. Tender cuts of meat like the fillet, chicken breast or other thin cuts of meat are already soft cuts and if subjected to heat over a longer period, they can actually lose all their tenderness and turn incredibly tough due to being overcooked. Searing these portions using dry heat allows for minimal moisture loss gives you the chance of enjoying a juicy portion of meat with a fantastic sear.
Don’t be. Ultimately you can cook, braai, smoke or grill according to what works and tastes best for you. You will find out quickly that the Firesmiths Hero Smoker & Grill is incredibly versatile. Besides, experimenting is part of the fun and learning process so play around and see what works for you.
Do visit our recipes page for some great ideas and sure-win recipes that will make you very popular with family and friends in no time!