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What is the minimum amount of time that I need to smoke food (in particular meat) in a smoker to achieve a noticeable smokey taste (assuming I have plenty of smoke)?

Is there a maximum time after which smoking will not appreciably add to the smokey taste? If so, does this imply that I can switch cooking methods without adversely affecting flavor (for instance transition from wood to charcoal, smoker to oven, or wrap in foil)?

Is smoking more effective for flavor transfer at the beginning of cooking rather than the end?

Do these answers vary based on what type of meat is being smoked?

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2 Answers

Smoking time depends very much on what you are smoking and the size if it.

It is possible to smoke meat too much, it is important not to strangle the original flavor of what you are smoking.

Mussels for example, should only have a couple of minutes, since they have a very delicate flavor. Fillet of trout should have some 20 minutes, sausages a couple of hours depending on the stuffing and a whole ham even longer, maybe a day or two.

Smoke is not necessarily most effective at the beginning of the cooking process. Some meats may benefit from being cooked first, followed by smoking for flavor.

When I make spare ribs for a lot of people it can be cumbersome to do it on the barbecue. Instead I divide the process up.

  1. Boil the meat
  2. Smoke the meat (to give it the taste of barbecue)
  3. Marinate the meat
  4. Finish under the broiler
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Interestingly, smoke capture is higher for cold, moist meats. See Greg Blonder's fascinating site. Some people also argue that soaking wood has little impact on smoke quality.

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