David Lagonell from Smokehouse shares his best tips for hot smoking. From techniques, rubs and the perfect temperature, David inspires us to head to our local butcher, put a nice cut of meat on our smoker and patiently wait for the best piece of smoked meat we'll taste.
What inspired you to get involved with this style of barbecue?
I’ve always loved food, meat in particular, so naturally as a Chef, I’ve always looked for ways to accentuate its flavour in different ways using different cooking methods, old and new.
Growing up in South America, doing parrilladas – grilling on the BBQ – is a skill you acquire as a young man, but that doesn’t mean that we have the best method, that only means we are very good at that particular way of cooking meat. Barbecue and smoking brings yet another dimension to what we already do. I think rather than inspiration I’d put it down to curiosity and my will to keep on learning and working with people who can open doors for me and this city, London, is very good at that.
Why do you think the ‘low and slow’ smoking/barbecue technique is becoming more popular?
Well what’s not to like! I’m actually surprised it’s taken us this long to get excited about something that’s been out there for generations. I believe it’s the part of us who want to go back to basics, to the minimum expression – and what’s more elementary than wood, fire and meat? Its primitive and probably the most fundamental way of cooking. Besides very few cooking techniques would offer you the same flavour profile whilst being so simple. All you need is a handful of good quality ingredients, wood fire and seasoning.
I believe it’s the part of us who want to go back to basics, to the minimum expression and what’s more elementary than wood, fire and meat?
What do you think is the best way to prepare a joint of meat before smoking/barbecuing?
We only work with carcasses that come from small farms and grass fed herds, 28+ day dry aged; very little fat- if at all - gets trimmed off. This is the key to incredibly moist meat once it is cooked.
Apply your rub or marinade and let it sit. Ensure the smoking chamber is really nice and clean, any residue from previous cooking will burn and give bad taste to the new batch. Pre heat your smoker and let the wood burn a bit before the meat goes in, this allows any impurities on the wood to disappear... Then you are ready.
What do you think are the best ingredients for a great barbecue spice rub or marinade?
Well the most basic form of rub and the one combination that actually does the job is plain and simple: salt and pepper. Rubs have a far more important role in smoking than just flavour – it helps create a good crust (bark) & dries the surface of the meat, allowing the smoke to adhere to it. Other than that the choice is yours! There are sooo many rubs out there, it’s really a matter of doing what works for you, sweet, savoury or spicy or all three.
The one combination that actually does the job is plain and simple: salt and pepper
What do you think is the best ratio of salt-sugar-spice in a rub?
I’ve seen lots of different combinations out there, I think pretty much depends on personal taste. I’d start with a 50/50 ratio of salt to sugar, plus any other herbs and spices. Taste the results! In the end it’s all about what tickles your taste buds – keep on experimenting and have fun with it, like Aaron Franklin would say “You don’t have to have a complicated rub to make a great barbecue but sometimes it’s fun to add something special”.
What smoking wood do you use the most and why?
We use sustainably sourced English Oak mainly from Kent, although we have also experimented with Apple, Cherry and Beech. Next I’d like to try Sweet Chestnut or even orange, I hear it’s very special.
Keep on experimenting and have fun with it
During the smoking/barbecue process, what is it important to keep an eye on?
Temperature I’d say is number one, you want to keep an even temperature throughout the smoking to guarantee a nice bark and even cooking, constant temperature allows the infiltrated fat to render slowly, keeping the meat nice and moist during the whole process & adding tones of flavour.
Do you ever smoke/barbecue things that are not meat? If so, what is your favourite so far?
Sure thing we do, we smoke fruits, vegetables, sauces, purees, shellfish, nuts, dairy products, and so on, we have experimented with different food groups, using various types of wood, seasoning, etc, smoking is a much more versatile style of cooking than many people realise.
Learn some basic butchery, do lots of research and be patient!
Any other hints and tips for home cooks looking to get into proper smoking and barbecue?
Visit your local butcher and ask lots of questions, learn some basic butchery, do lots of research and be patient! Smoke and BBQ is all about getting the best ingredients possible. Keep it really simple or get inventive – it’s really is entirely up to you, do what you feel comfortable doing. You should be able to enjoy every aspect of it, sometimes you will have to start the day before, preparing condiments, marinades or brining, on the day, start nice and early.
For example, a whole Boston Butt (pork shoulder) can take up to 10 hours give or take depending on the size and temp, so don’t use an excessive amount of wood or charcoal otherwise the temperature will rise too quickly creating a bark that’s too thick for further smoke to penetrate the meat. Do not open the chamber - unless you really have to, as you delay the process and alter the temp and humidity that’s been created. Once the meat has reached 90C or above you can take it out and let it rest for as long as possible.
Now you can eat! It’s a long but uncomplicated process, it’s most definitely a labour of love.
David Lagonell, Smokehouse Islington