Attend this Intermediate level class from Meatgistics University by watching the video, reading the article and post any questions you have!Getting Started at Low Temperatures
The first thing that we want to make sure we are doing is starting the smoker at low temperatures. To avoid putting too much stress on the proteins we want to stay around 20 degrees from the animals living temperature. A hogs temperature is a little warmer than humans, right around 101° Fahrenheit so we want to start our smoking process around 120°. The other thing we want to do at the start is to dry the outside of the product. For most home smokers this will simply mean opening the top and bottom dampers to allow air to travel through the chamber and dry the surface of the product. This drying stage should usually last around an hour, if you skip this step you will have problems with smoke adhesion and you might end up with a streaky appearance on the surface of your sausage. If you are planning on using a water pan in your smoker I recommend that you NOT add it during this first hour to get the full benefit from the drying phase.
Then, once we are past the drying stage we want to close the dampers down and begin the cooking process by stepping up the temperature gradually. If you try to go directly from 120° to 170° you run the risk of cooking the outside of the sausage too quickly, this is called case hardening and this is how you end up with a product that is overcooked on the outside and under-cooked on the inside. Slowly increasing the temperature will allow the outside of the meat to transfer heat to the interior of the meat easier.Relative Humidity
A very important factor when you are smoking any piece of meat is the relative humidity. You’ve heard us talk about the water holding capacity of meat a lot in the past, well Relative Humidity is the water holding capacity of the air and being able to increase that can speed up your cooking process and give you a juicier finished product. Most people at home do not have a way to control the relative humidity in their smokers and just put a pan of water in there, which is better than nothing but it is a shot in the dark. A psychrometer is something that a commercial smokehouse would have that will have both a Dry Bulb and a Wet Bulb and by getting those two reading it can give you the relative humidity.
So, placing a pan of water took our relative humidity from about 10% up to 15%, which as I said, is better than nothing but it isn’t going to make a ton of difference. So I started thinking of ways to increase that. There are a bunch of chemicals you can add to water to make it evaporate quicker but they are not ones that you want around food, you could disturb the waters surface with a constantly moving paddle, you circulate air through it or you can increase the surface area of the water.
The surface area of the water seemed the most doable to me so I have been doing some experimenting with ways to do this. In my pk 100 I took 3 large auto cleaning sponges, soaked them and then placed them so they were mostly out of the water, the sponges will continue to suck up water through them and will offer a better surface for evaporation. When I did this I was able to top out at 50% relative humidity with an average of 47%. I’d call that a pretty significant improvement from the 15% I was getting from a water pan alone.
Next, I bought a dry wick towel and laid it out on a rack above the water pan and draped part of it over and into the water to try to keep it moist. My thought was that this type of towel, much like the sponge would stay moist as it could draw water up from the pan. With this set up I topped out at 54.1% and had an average of 50.1%. I also tried a mop head and a regular towel but these were not as effective.Finishing In Water
The last one I want to bring up is pulling your meat out of the smoker and finishing it up in water. I have been doing some testing here on this method and I think it has a lot of promise. So far I have found that the best results are when you smoke it to 130-140° and then move it to water that is a steady 170°. Usually, the 130-160° range takes 3 or more hours, depending on your relative humidity, from 140° your sausage should be up to temp in one hour. Surprisingly putting it in a vacuum bag does not seem to make a noticeable difference in the quality of the meat or the amount of smoke flavor. I am still going to recommend you vacuum bag it for an extra level of safety but plenty of people are doing it without them. One note, if you DO use a vacuum bag and you want to see what the temperature is, make a small cut in the up near the seal, insert your thermometer and then you don’t need a new vac bag if it needs to be cooked longer.Special Thanks
@Parksider and @gadahl deserve a ton of the credit for the above section (Finishing In Water) as it was @gadahl’s great post titled “Summer Sausage Nightmare” that brought up the idea to us and @Parksider that recommended it. Since then I have used this technique 4 times and it has never failed!Shop waltonsinc.com for PK 100 Pro Smoker Smokehouse