SMOKING SUCCESS: WORDS OF WISDOM FROM CHUCK MATTO

Embarking on the journey of smoking meat is an adventure that promises rich flavors, tender textures, and unforgettable culinary experiences. Whether you're a seasoned grill master looking to expand your repertoire or a novice eager to dive into the world of smoking, there's no better time to get started. We partnered up with Chuck Matto (pictured above in blog banner from Chuck's Flavor Train website) to teach all the tips and tricks for smoking meat. A contestant on "Fire Masters" and collaborator with Gordon Ramsay, Chuck infuses love and fun into his culinary creations. He specializes in recipe development, private cooking, and event catering, living life to the fullest through food. His delicious creations can be found on TikTok, FacebookInstagram, and YouTube. He’ll walk us through the basics of smoking meat, from choosing the right equipment to mastering essential techniques, equipping you with the knowledge and confidence to unlock the full potential of your backyard barbecue. Let’s get started!

CAN YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND SHARE HOW YOU GOT INTO SMOKING MEAT? 

My name is Chuck Matto... my friends call me Chuck, C-Train or Flavortrain. My BBQ Journey started at the end of 2016 when my brother got me a Weber Smokey Mountain for Christmas. I fired it up for the first time a couple days later and the rest is history. 

WHY IS SMOKING SO POPULAR? 

I'm not a smoking historian by any means but I suspect smoking is popular for a few reasons. For starters, everything about the process is therapeutic. Whether it be the process of trimming and preparation, the long smokes and fire management or even the act of sharing food itself. Additionally, it's fun! It's a communal and tribal thing that gets everyone involved.... the smell of the smoke and meats cooking, sharing beverages and telling stories. It just naturally brings people together. And lastly, despite what the internet will have you believe, it's fairly affordable! You can buy a used kettle for $50, grab a chuck roast for $15 and a cheap bag of charcoal and get right to it. The kettle will last a lifetime if you treat it right and just like that, you've got everything you need.

WHAT KIND OF EQUIPMENT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND FOR SOMEONE JUST GETTING STARTED? 

I would start off with a kettle smoker or a drum smoker. They both double as a grill and smoker, they're affordable and they both provide great flavor. And as for actual equipment: a thermometer. I can't express this enough. You don't want to serve anything raw, you don't want to overcook and dry anything out and you want to learn what proteins look like at different temperatures. Get a good thermometer ASAP!

WHAT ARE THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF SMOKING?

I'm not so sure on this as I don't like gatekeeping or telling people what to do. So I guess my "don't" would be: Don't feel like you have to do anything one way. Have fun with the process, enjoy every cook as a chance to learn, and DO WHAT YOU LIKE AND WORKS FOR YOU!

HOW IMPORTANT IS CHOOSING THE RIGHT TYPE OF WOOD FOR SMOKING, AND WHAT ARE SOME POPULAR WOOD CHOICES?

The type of wood matters as some types of wood put out a more potent smoke, such as hickory or mesquite, which might overpower something like seafood. Other woods, such as apple or cherry, which have a more mild and sweet smoke, traditionally don't pair as well with something like a brisket and might not be potent enough to provide the smoke flavor you're looking for. My favorite wood is oak, as it provides a nice middle of the ground smoke flavor. Not as strong as hickory or mesquite but more potent than apple or cherry. Additionally, oak pairs well with other wood. My favorite combinations are oak and cherry or oak and apple.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH THE BASIC STEPS OF PREPARING MEAT FOR SMOKING? 

In the simplest terms, you're going to want to trim, apply a binder and season. Whether it's a brisket, a pork butt or even chicken thighs, there is generally some trimming that needs to be done to your protein before you smoke it. For beef, like a brisket, dino ribs or a chuck roast, you'll want to remove any thick hard fat and trim any exposed silver skin. Hard fat doesn't render and silver skin can affect the texture and also prevents the seasoning from making true contact with the meat IMO. If it's a pork butt, maybe trim down some excess fat or even score the fat cap for more flavor and smoke penetration. Once your meat is trimmed and prepped, you can apply a binder (not necessary but I enjoy it if I'm trying to add flavor) to help your seasoning stick to your protein. Mustard is the classic BBQ binder. You don't taste it, it's cheap and really helps the seasoning adhere to the meat. Olive oil works just the same. Personally, if I use a binder, I like to use worcestershire sauce or fish sauce if I want to add some savory/umami elements. I'll use a hot sauce if I want to add heat. After applying a binder, season your meat with your rub of choice. From there, you're ready to get to smoking! 

HOW DO YOU CONTROL TEMPERATURE AND MAINTAIN CONSISTENCY WHEN SMOKING MEAT? 

Maintaining temperature on a smoker is fairly straight forward. If you're cooking on a drum, barrel, Kamado or bullet style smoker, once it hits your desired temp, it will burn steady for at least 8 hours. The main thing to be aware of is how to light your charcoal for a long cook. I've explained it in a video here. 

WHAT ARE SOME RECOMMENDED MEAT CUTS FOR BEGINNERS TO SMOKE AND WHY? 

Starting out you want something fatty and affordable. Fat is not only flavor but provides moisture and will prevent your meat from drying out. And I say affordable as you don't want to blow your whole paycheck on an Australian wagyu brisket only to ruin it. Cuts I would recommend are chuck roasts, beef back ribs, ostrich wings, ostrich necks, beef shanks, lamb shanks, chicken wings and chicken thighs.

HOW LONG DOES IT TYPICALLY TAKE TO SMOKE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEAT AND  WHAT FACTORS CAN AFFECT SMOKING TIMES? 

The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors. The bigger the cut, the longer the smoke time. The lower the cook temperature, the longer the smoke time. And it's hard to say with different types of meat.... Sure, briskets generally take longer than pork butts but what if it's a big pork butt and a small brisket? A 12 pound butt will take longer than a 5 pound brisket flat. A 5 pound lamb leg will take longer than a 4 pound lamb shoulder but will cook faster than a 13 pound ostrich leg. But what if I cooked the ostrich leg at 350 degrees and the 5 pound lamb leg at 200 degrees. Are you cooking in 105 degree weather in Texas or are you smoking in 20 degree weather in the snow in Canada? Do you see what I'm saying here? There are various factors at play with every cook, which is why I personally never like to give times when sharing recipes. 

CAN YOU SHARE SOME TIPS FOR ADDING FLAVOR TO SMOKED MEAT BEYOND JUST THE WOOD CHOICE?

Layer your flavors and season every step of the way! You can use a needle to inject your meats with melted butter, broths or stock or even brines. If you use a binder, pick one with flavor. Hot sauce, soy sauce, worcestershire, gochujang etc. Use a quality rub and avoid anything with too much sugar. Look for balance in the seasoning. When your meat is smoking, you can spritz. Water is great if you don't want to alter or add flavor but if you want to kick things up you can spritz with apple cider vinegar, coca cola, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and water... anything you can think of. Additionally you can mop your meat with a mop sauce or make a butter baste. At the end of the cook you can sauce your meats. After your meat has been sliced, chopped or shredded, hit it with a dust of seasoning and even more sauce if needed!! 

WHAT’S THE MOST UNIQUE INGREDIENT YOU’VE SMOKED-MEAT OR OTHERWISE?

After watching a food documentary on Peru, where cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy, I had to try it. I found a South American market in NY that shipped them. I smoked it rotisserie style and it was absolutely delicious!!!! 

ANY FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE FOR FOLKS WHO WANT TO START SMOKING MEAT?

Don't think about it, just do it! Trust the process and have fun! 

WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO LEARN MORE? 

Social Media! Whether it be YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, FB or whatever, the resources and information are endless. I learned watching YouTube and then the doors opened from there. Once you get the basics down, you'll forge your own path and find your own way. Happy smoking!!!

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Embarking on the journey of smoking meat is an adventure that promises rich flavors, tender textures, and unforgettable culinary experiences. Whether you're a seasoned grill master looking to expand your repertoire or a novice eager to dive into the world of smoking, there's no better time to get started. We partnered up with Chuck Matto (pictured above in blog banner from Chuck's Flavor Train website) to teach all the tips and tricks for smoking meat.