Hot Tips for Smoking Meats the Right Way

It may seem daunting to the uninitiated, but smoking meat is like a good recipe: combine the right ingredients and savor the results.

“You need a good smoker, and you need to be patient,” says Mark Hibshman, co-owner of Headon’s Fine Meats in Creston. The butcher shop has supplied cuts of fine meat to grillers all across northern Illinois for decades, and Hibshman has smoked more than a few juicy briskets in his day.

The secret starts with a good cut of meat and some simple ingredients, says Hibshman. For fattier meats like brisket, use pepper, garlic powder and a dash of salt. Cover it and let it sit overnight.

“You want to make sure the Saran wrap is tight so that your meat doesn’t dry out,” he adds. “Then, take it out 2 hours before you put it in the smoker to get it close to room temperature so it can cook evenly.”

Once meat is in the smoker, temperature control and timing play a crucial role. The idea is to cook at a lower temperature, for a longer period of time, for a tender, flavorful outcome.

“I smoke meats between 190 and 210 degrees for about 9 to 10 hours,” says Hibshman.

The internal temperature of the meat is important to monitor, especially with brisket. Once the probe reaches 160 to 165 degrees, wrap the brisket in foil and continue to smoke it until it hits 200 degrees, says Hibshman.

“There’s a temperature window between 160 and 190 degrees where the heat stalls and the meat breaks down and becomes tender,” says Hibshman. “When your brisket stalls, take it out, wrap it in foil and put it back in so the juices can absorb.”

For those who are just getting started or have been frustrated with past attempts, the best thing is to practice with inexpensive cuts like tri-tip or chicken, says Hibshman.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of meat,” he adds. “If you don’t smoke it properly, the worst thing that happens is it’s going to be dry or tough. If you’re worried about that, you should start with a cheaper piece of meat.”

Headon’s Fine Meats is located at 103 N. Main St., in Creston.