At a minimum, a decent meat smoker is going to run you about $100. But why spend that kind of cash when you can simply smoke your meats over an open fire? Call it the more primitive alternative or the more cost-effective alternative, either way you'll end up with some tasty meat cooked by the fiery hands of Mother Nature herself! So if you're ready to learn the divine art of smoking the most savory beef brisket possible, check out these 10 tips for smoking meat over an open campfire!
Tip #1 - A Fire Pit and Grate Are Pivotal
Because you'll be suspending your meat over the flames, having a designated fire pit and a cooking grate will be essential for smoking meats over your open fire. You can purchase a pre-made fire pit or you can make your own out of rocks or bricks. You can also purchase a metal grate or you can make your own out of green tree branches.
Tip #2 - Use Hardwood
You aren't aiming to create a roaring, crackling, sky-high bonfire. You want to make a hot, smoky bed of coals. The best wood for achieving this is hardwood, such as maple or oak. Hardwoods are known for producing long-lasting, lush coal beds which are perfect for smoking meats.
Tip #3 - Keep It Constant
The hardest trick to master when smoking meat over an open campfire is to keep the heat at a constant temperature, ideally around 225º. You need to maintain this steady temperature for several hours at a time. If you notice that your coals are dying, add more wood to sustain the life of the embers, but remember to keep the heat just off to the side rather than directly under the meat.
Tip #4 - Slow and Low Is The Perfect Combo
Remember that you are not cooking the meat, you are smoking it, so don't rush the process. Keep the temperature low and give your meat plenty of time above the coals. Ideally, you would have about a 1"-thick coal bed with no rising flames, and allow cook time anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the type of meat.
Tip #5 - Practice Makes Perfect
As sinful as it is to ruin a great slab of meat, you shouldn't expect to smoke your meat perfectly over a campfire on your first go around. As the art form that it is, it will take time to master. Start out with thinner cuts of meat before moving to thicker pieces once you feel more confident in your campfire smoking abilities.
Tip #6 - Stay Within Distance
To compensate for any change in temperature, you may want to lower or raise your grate accordingly. Don't let your meat get too close to the heat or you'll risk charring it. Don't let it sit too far above the coals or it won't smoke in a timely manner.
Tip #7 - Use The Right Tools
So you've already opted out of a fancy, high-priced meat smoking machine, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to forgo all man-made tools. A pair of long-handled tongs will certainly come in handy, as will a pair of well-insulated welder's gloves. They might not be au-naturel like your campfire, but they can definitely help you avoid a painful burn!
Tip #8 - Fight Any Flareups
When fat drips from your meat, it can cause a flareup which will dramatically increase the temperature of your fire. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to douse out any flareups that arise. Spray away from your meat so that ash doesn't splash up on it.
Tip #9 - Don't Leave Your Meat Unattended
Fires are unpredictable and there is nothing worse than expecting a supreme rack of whisky BBQ chicken only to find out that you've started a forest fire instead. Keep a watchful eye on your flames and don't leave your fire unattended. You won't just be risking ruining your meat, but you could also risk having your fire grow out of control too.
Tip #10 - Smoke Color Matters
If your smoke has a black hue to it, that's not a good sign and it can indicate that your fire lacks the proper ventilation. You want to have a clean stream of white smoke emanating from your coals. Black smoke can taint the taste of your food, while white smoke will infuse it with the earthy taste of smoldering forest timber.