In the olden days, in the Netherlands, they smoked their meat in a barrel to preserve it for wintertime. Nowadays, meat gets smoked all around the world because we love the taste. I got an old wine barrel to recreate the way my ancestors cooked.
It’s the most fun I had in a while, and the result was amazing. So find a piece of land where you can build a small fire, and I show you how to smoke in a wooden barrel.
Get a wooden barrel
First step? Get a barrel. Search the internet and ask around. Someone surely has one lying around. Take out the top and bottom and clean it if it’s got mould or cobwebs inside.
Make your own embers.
Chop some hardwood in different thicknesses. The thinnest, as thick as your wrist and a little bit thinner. Take a few pieces of bark to start a fire. The bark contains more oil than the wood itself, and the fire ignites easier.
Light the bark and ad the thinnest pieces of wood when the flames are high enough. Start adding thicker pieces until you’ve got a big pile of glowing embers.
Seasoning the meat with salt
In the meantime, you season the meat with salt. The thicker the cuts, the more salt you sprinkle on. Let the meat sit for 45 minutes so the salt can penetrate the meat. You can be more creative when you start to get the hang of barrel smoking. For now, salt is enough.
positioning the wooden barrel for smoking
Place the barrel over the glowing embers, so the embers are on one side of the barrel. It’s best when the barrel has some gaps at the bottom where the air can come in.
Hang your meat
Put a meat hook in every cut of meat and hang them on iron rods that you place on the top of the barrel. Make sure the meat does not hang over the direct heat of the embers.
Temperature control in a wooden barrel
To control the temperature, you close the barrel with a wooden plank. When you need more heat, you slide the plank, so you get a bigger opening. When the heat gets too high, you close it more.
To measure the heat, you can use a digital thermometer, but what’s the fun in that. Why don’t you use your hands as they did back then? Stick your hands in the barrel as low as the meat hangs. When you feel that your hands start cooking, you know the meat is cooking.
When the heat is too high to hold your hands for a few seconds, you have to take out some embers or close the barrel more. When you are not sure if the heat is high enough, you raise it by adding more wood or opening the whole at the bottom more. It’s all about trial and error.
How long does it take to smoke meat in a wooden barrel?
Every cut of meat takes its own time to cook, and it’s up to you how long you need. Fatter cuts of meat usually take longer than leaner cuts. The same with thicker and smaller pieces. When you want the meat to almost fall of the bone, you just let it hang longer.
The more patient you can be, the greater the reward. But when you are satisfied with what you see and feel, you take it out and enjoy your meal. You can’t go wrong. Just don’t forget the meat. That would be a shame.
This kind of cooking is all about the experience. Take a chair and a cold beer and let the meat, the glowing embers, and the smoke do their work while you control the heat and relax.