You don’t need a decade of practice to get the hang of smoking, but it’s more demanding than a round of grilled cheese. First, there’s the heat — you’ll want the temperature low over a long period of time. And then there’s the smoke — you need to keep it smoking for hours.
Keeping the heat steady and low takes work. If you are working with a standard kettle charcoal grill, you’ll want a chimney-starter full of charcoal. Hardwood charcoal burns with an intense, clean heat, but doesn’t last long. Briquettes, on the other hand, burn at a medium heat for a longer time. A combination of the two is optimal. Once the mountain of charcoal is covered in gray ash and no longer distributing flames, push it all to one side of the grill. In barbecuing, you do not want to place your meat directly over a mass of hot coals. Instead, you want to use indirect heat, where you put the meat on the part of the grill that is beside, rather than on top of, the pile of coals.
Keep a supply of charcoal handy. Periodically, while you smoke your pork ribs or turkey legs, you’ll want to add fresh coals to keep the heat steady.
As for the smoke, smoked foods demand hardwood, like oak, apple, mesquite, pecan or hickory. But whatever type of wood you select, it’s important that you soak it in a bowl of water for at least an hour before it’s added to the flames. Wet wood smolders and smokes for hours, while fresh wood can burn away in 20 minutes. If you’re using chips, wrap the sopping wood in tin foil that you’ve punctured with holes. This keeps the little chips smoking for longer.
While you can smoke meats using gas grills, charcoal works best. Types of charcoal grills include: inexpensive kettle-style grills, ceramic Japanese-style grills that are similar to outdoor ovens, a cylindrical device called a “water smoker” or a big pit smoker, with a chimney, a fire box and a separate cooking chamber.
In addition to hardwood and charcoal, you’ll also want:
a culinary brush used to swab meat with sauce
a mop — a tool that looks like a miniature mop, that is used to apply sauce
a rib rack (if you plan on smoking ribs) — a metal device that holds your rib racks up on their sides, rather than flat on the grill
The barbecue industry offers a wide range of barbecue gadgets and products. They can come in handy, but the most important things you need are time and patience.