Smoking is a ritual in Texas, its rich history rooted in the many cultures that settled the Lone Star State and forged our state’s incredible foodways long ago. The Spanish brought a tradition of barbacoa, after all. German and Czech butchers smoked their proteins to preserve them, and African American pitmasters smoked hard and sauced up the cheaper cuts of meat available to them. The craft itself is slow-going, demands constant attention, and reveals how the elements (Fire!) give us sustenance (Brisket bark!). But there’s also an art to setting wood aflame, listening to the gentle crackle, and watching as the fire slowly cooks meat, fish, and vegetables before our very eyes.
Maybe that’s why, as we’ve spent more time at home honing our cooking chops, buying a smoker for the backyard is sounding increasingly tempting, albeit a bit daunting. But where do we even start?
To help us tap into our inner smoking nerd, we’ve enlisted some of Houston’s top experts—renowned modern pitmasters Brett Jackson and Russell Roegels and chef Chris Shepherd—to guide us on all things smoker, from wood, necessary tools, and cook time to why we should attempt such a feat in the first place.
“For me, sitting in the backyard and on the patio, watching football, having a beer or a glass of wine and tending to a fire? It’s awesome,” Shepherd says. “I absolutely love it.”
That’s just it, isn’t it? Smoking meat is all the things that connect us to the past, sure, but it’s also about being outside next to the smoker at 3 a.m. as the fire rages, an H-Town Pils cradled in our elbow as we wrap the meat in butcher paper—simple pleasures that bring us joy.
Follow these tips and you’ll be out there keeping watch over your own meats and veggies in no time.