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"Come and get it before I throw it to the hogs!" "Last one to the table washes the dishes" "Get it while it's hot." "Who gets the drumstick?" "Somebody get that dog out of here" "Where's Grandma?" I could go on and on.

In 2003 I wrote the following article for my original book "Turtle's Campfire Cookbook": Circulation was 4. I looked at it again last night and it's still as valid as the day I wrote it.

One of the major problems facing outdoor living is the lack of refrigeration during the summer months - or in Florida, all year long. Keeping meat, foul and fish from spoiling is a very real problem. Native Americans, and ancient civilizations around the world, faced the same problem. Believe it or not, Columbus did NOT have a refrigerator on the Nina, Pinta or the Santa Maria. His crew and passengers ate salt pork out of a barrel. YUK!

Smoking meat is just another way to prepare food for dinner. It has the sideline benefit of preserving the food as well as cooking a great tasting meal. In the wilderness, as soon as you kill something, it begins to spoil. Many hunters and trappers could and did build smoking fires right next to the carcass of their fallen prey. Now, faced with up to a 2 month walk back home, the meat wouldn't spoil.

Today, we have more updated versions of smokers available to us. I elect not to use them. Not that I'm a purist outdoor fanatic, I'm just cheap. I can do the same thing on my barbecue grille that anybody else can do with a $1000.00 smoker. I just can't do it as fast.

Fire, smoke, an enclosed space, and a little temperature control - and dinner is ready for tonight and maybe the next 6 weeks.

Smoking meat and curing meat can be done at the same time. With fantastic results. Instead of the salty, rotten pork from the Nina's hold, you can dine on smoked and cured ham. Hang it in the shade, and it will last for a long, long time.

Different commercial smokers may have different smoking instructions that are unique to that particular make and model. Use their instructions when these instructions differ from this article.

If you already have a smoker set up at your 6-P survival site, more power to you. Carry on.
If you don't, there are instructions here on how to use your charcoal grille instead. Or, you can dig a few holes and make one in the yard.

The really nice thing about smoking meat is that you can cook up a bunch of meat AHEAD of TIME and have it ready to go if, and when, an emergency strikes. No, starting the smoking process at the time the emergency starts WON'T WORK. It takes a lot of time to do this correctly. But, in a survival situation, making sure your food is both safe AND tasty, is worth the effort.

OK. How many of you thought this article was going to be about smoking illegal herbs?

I understand. Sorry.

Smoking food, both for preservation and for taste, is a technique older than history. Technical experts will tell you that the smoke enters the meat and preserves the meat (or fish, or fowl, or….) by adding "stuff" that keeps it fresh. Who Cares? I just know that: 1. It works. 2. It tastes great. 3. It's not all that hard to do. If Neanderthal man can smoke meat, so can I. Granted, I will substitute chicken for Mammoth meat. Mammoth meat is hard to find now. Can you still get a "Mammoth Tag" for your hunting license?

Real wood smokers, those that burn real wood or charcoal, are different than the run of the mill barbecue grille. My discussion here will not include gas cookers, water cookers, electric smokers, or other "high tech" stuff. Only good old wood (charcoal) smokers. Smokers are most commonly used for cooking larger pieces of meat. Examples would be briskets, pork shoulders & butts, slabs of ribs, hams, pork loin, whole chickens and turkeys. I should point out than when outdoor cooking these types of meat it is generally referred to as "Smoking", but it is really another form of "Barbecuing" just takes longer.

There are three parts that are common to all smokers: The Firebox, the Cooking Chamber, and the Smoke Chimney.

All three parts of the smoker work together to produce the correct cooking environment. When properly heat controlled, it is possible to produce award winning entrees that will feed a hungry crowd with only intermittent cheering. The main responsibility of the cook is to maintain the proper heat, consistent flow through the cooking chamber and adequate exhaust. Just like cooking with cast-iron, heat control is critical. You will have to decide whether to buy a commercial smoker, or make one of your own. Most smokers are heavy. Unless you've got lots of room in a large vehicle or trailer, you probably won't have one in the deep woods with you. But at home, or in a semi-permanent campsite you return to frequently, a smoker will pay for itself by producing quality good-tasting food that needs little refrigeration if done properly. Hunters and fisherman in the north woods have been known to build smokehouses large enough to walk in. They use low heat smoke cooking that can takes 24 hours or more. This is a little too time consuming for me, since you have to check the fire, heat and smoke throughout the smoking process. I don't have that much patience.

The bottom line is that you have to predict what you will be cooking 6 weeks from now, or 6 years from now. Will you be smoking a side of beef or chicken wings? The smoker size will be a lot larger for the cow. How many people will you be cooking for? More people means a larger smoker. If you can build one yourself, you can make it any size you want. It is very frustrating to not have enough room to cook everything you want. A large smoker will cook the cow (or a chicken wing) equally well.

The Firebox

Most smokers have the firebox mounted to the side of the cooking chamber. The reason is simple: By keeping the fire off to the side of the cooking chamber, the cooking chamber is not subjected to the direct radiated heat from the fire. This method is known as the Indirect cooking method and prevents the searing heat from direct heat coming from directly below the meat. Indirect cooking requires less frequent turning and more cooking time because the meat is being barbecued at roughly 225° (200-250° range) instead of being grilled at 500° to 700°.

Ok, there are a few smokers out there with the firebox mounted underneath the cooking chamber. But you have to make the distance between the fire and the cooking chamber greater. You also have to add a solid heat deflector (sheet metal) mounted horizontally to deflect the heat to the sides of the upper cooking chamber. This becomes a real problem of keeping the smoke in, and the heat out of the cooking chamber. There are several clever systems of achieving this, however. Most involve the use of a long metal pipe that leads to the upper chamber. (Smoke houses use this too.) The uninsulated pipe will slightly cool the heat from the fire, but allow all the smoke into the cooking chamber.

Heat rises! This is an important point. All heat goes straight up unless there is a draft to pull it sideways.

There are four parts of a firebox. The first is an adjustable air intake usually found in the door to the firebox. Next is some form of metal grate to hold the fire itself (or charcoal). Third, an exit for the heat/smoke to enter the cooking chamber; and lastly, a lid on top of the box that is removable so you can barbecue/cook directly over the hot fire in the firebox. A word of caution: The lid is VERY HOT when working. (Don't lean on it...yes, I did.)

Both these photos show the door open, the air holes in the door. You can see the bottom grate for the fire/charcoal and the top grate for cooking. The flip-up lid keeps the smoke/heat inside when you're not using the top grate for cooking. If this is your ONLY source of heat for cooking, use it. If not, forget it.
Between the firebox and the cooking chamber there is a "Baffle". This is a piece of metal that deflects the heat and smoke downward and under the meat. Heat in the firebox wants to rise straight up, but with the lid closed it can't get out. It follows the path of least resistance and flows out under the cooking chamber. It does this because the air holes in the door let air IN, but it has to get out...out through the baffle into the cooking chamber. This is a draft. You don't control the heat by adjusting the adjust the amount of air coming into the firebox. If you have a barbecue grille with a lid on it you already know you can control the heat of the fire by opening and closing the air coming into the grille from underneath. This method of air control is surprisingly efficient. You will notice a temperature change very quickly when you adjust the draft using the air vent holes on the door.

This schematic shows the incoming air passing through the adjustable air inlet at the front of the firebox. The heat of the fire makes the air rise up where it "bounces off" of the tightly sealed lid. Since there is another opening (going to the cooking chamber) the draft will force the heat/smoke out this hole. The baffle deflects the heat/smoke further down so it passes underneath the meat to be smoked. Unless something else is done to the heat, it will once again rise straight up. In the next drawing, you can see how we control this little problem.

The Cooking Chamber

This schematic shows the addition of the Cooking Chamber and smoke stack (flue, exhaust, chimney, whatever). The heat/smoke from the fire is directed under and through two racks. This allows the smoke to be circulated over, under and around the meat thus introducing a smoky flavor to the meat being barbecued. The all-important baffle can be made adjustable if you feel the smoke is not circulating properly. As with a lot of "primitive" cooking, trial and error is the rule. If you have a thermometer, be sure it is reading at the level of the cooking grate, not 6 inches above it. Heat rises. The hottest shelf is the TOP shelf, not the bottom one. To cook longer and slower, move the meat to the shelf the furthest away from the baffle, and on the bottom shelf. To cook faster, move closer to the baffle, and use the top shelf.

There has to be room around the meat for the heat/smoke to circulate. Keep the meat at least 2 inches away from the inside walls of the cooking Chamber. This allows an even air flow and prevents excess radiant heat from the surface of the cooking chamber.

The Chimney

The first Chimney's were located right up on top of the cooking chamber but that meant that all that heat/smoke you worked so hard to get went right out of the cooker before it had a chance to work. By moving the outlet for the chimney closer to the cooking rack, the smoke is forced to stay inside the cooker for a longer period of time. Some cookers are made with two chimneys. One for each rack. Since most smokers are round, the middle rack is the widest and is generally used as the primary cooking rack. Each chimney will have a shutoff baffle to make sure the smoke stays closest to the rack you are actually using. DO NOT USE THE CHIMNEY BAFFLE TO CONTROL HEAT. Always leave the exhaust vent FULLY OPEN when smoking/barbecuing meat. Control the heat using the Intake opening on the firebox.

A key factor is that the cooking chamber be large enough to handle all of the barbecuing necessary for a large group of people. What's large? Everything is relative, but 2 turkeys, 3 to 4 briskets, and/or 10 to 15 whole chickens would certainly qualify.

I'm surprised that someone hasn't come up with an oven attachment for the unused side of the firebox. It seems to be a logical location for a small oven for bread, baked foods, etc., that you do NOT want smoked. A lot of heat seems to be wasted using a smoker. Maybe I'll try to make one and see how it works.

Right: This is a "small" Texas style smoker. You should see the big one.
Image: Avalon


K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Stupid. Other than just hanging meat over an open fire and "hoping" it will smoke up and cure, this system (easily made with salvaged parts) could be made in the woods. I have a feeling this one came from poachers.

To build the smoker above: (According to "", the author of this rig)

  • (2) 55 gallon steel drums free of oil, grease and dirt
  • (6) Joints of stove pipe and 1 elbow, 6" diameter; black iron or galvanized -or-
  • (6) Joints of clay tile, 6", and 1 quarter bend joint (tile is preferred)
  • (2) Steel rods ½" diameter, about 3' in length
  • (1) Piece of sheet metal or metal roofing, approximately 3' x 3', or use ends cut from steel drums
  • (6) 1" x 6" boards, 3' long for smokehouse cover (cypress is preferred)

    Construction: Use an old metal drum or tub 14" x 16" high or cut a section from the drum to make the firebox. Set up the smoke pipe as show above and be sure the tile or stove pipe is covered with at least 2" of dirt. The bottom of the smokehouse drum should be packed with dirt around the outside. The fire would burn best if it sets on a heavy steel grate to allow air under the fire, however, it will work without it. This smoker will NOT cook the food, only smoke it slowly.

    But we can make it better:

    If you have been paying attention in the previous two pages, you'll see (at least) one mandatory item missing from this drawing: The chimney. Since the "draw" of the smoke from this fire must travel between 10 and 12 feet, something must "push" it along. Some smoke will filter out through the holes for the ½" steel rods; and probably the seal around the top will leak too. But is it enough? If not, try using a series of holes about midway around the cooking drum, at about the middle of where the hanging meat will be. Not enough holes, punch some more, until you get it right. Too much smoke leaking out the wooden top: add a layer of sheet metal under the wood.

    Oh yes, the Firebox has a problem too. What goes out, must come in. There is no provision for air going into the firebox (barrel, in this case). To fix this one, I would use an old metal downspout with a 90° bend in it, and cut an air slot under the fire grate. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can adjust the amount of air going in by putting a small piece of wood partially (or fully) over the upper opening, above ground. Any old metal pipe would do, actually. The temperature of the above cooker will be about 140°; it is not hot enough to cook the meat, only smoke it. It could take from 12 to 24 hours to fully be smoked.

    Placing this same arrangement on the slope of a small hill would mean that you could leave one half of the firebox open to the elements, in this case air. The air slot would be on the open side of the firebox.

    Some helpful hints for smoking meat in the BOWZONE smoker:

    1. The metal used in construction should be clean and free from rust and contaminants. Make sure the barrel (whatever) you use was never used for oil or chemicals that are toxic. The toxins in these metals will enter you meat, spoiling the taste and be a hazard to your health.

    2. Keep hanging meat 6-8" apart for free air circulation.

    3. Once smoked, the meat is still not cooked. It may taste good, but you will need to cook it to insure it is fully cooked.

    4. Meat to be smoked should be dry, not wet. Wet or moist meat will repel the smoke, or make a smoke crust that does not penetrate the meat.

    5. If you are using regular firewood for your fire, don't use resinous wood (pine, in particular). Pine wood makes the meat taste like creosote...which is a by-product of wood smoke. (Never, never use Pressure-treated can be poisonous!!!)

    6. The wet wood chips (or sawdust) is added to any fire once it gets going in the "hot coals" stage. Some people place the chips in a metal pan, some just throw them on the coals. The object is to get the wet chips to smoke, not burn up. This can be tricky but you'll soon get the hang of it. Always have more chips/sawdust ready "just in case". Once you're out of chips, you're out of luck.

  • Wood Used in Smoking

    HICKORY: Hickory is the king of the woods in the southern U.S. The strong hearty taste is perfect for pork shoulder and ribs, but it also enhances any red meat or poultry.

    OAK: If hickory is king, then oak is the queen. Assertive but always pleasant, it's the most versatile of hardwoods, blending well with a wide range of flavors. What it does to beef is probably illegal in some states.

    PECAN: Pecan burns cool and offers a subtle richness of character. Some people call it the mellow version of hickory.

    APPLE and CHERRY: Both woods produce a slightly sweet, fruity smoke that's mild enough for chicken or turkey, but capable of flavoring a ham.

    MAPLE: Mildly smoky and sweet, maple mates well with poultry, ham, and vegetables.

    MESQUITE: The mystique wood of past decades, mesquite is also America's most misunderstood wood. It's great for grilling because it burns very hot, but below average for barbecuing for the same reason. Also, the smoke taste turns from tangy to bitter over an extended cooking time. Few serious pitmasters use mesquite, despite a lot of stories about its prevalence in the Southwest. Most chefs use oak or pecan in the southwestern U.S. Forget Mesquite!

    © Lake Country Farms, All Rights Reserved, Jan, 2003.

    Smoking on a Charcoal Grille

    You may already own a barbecue grille with a lid on it. I own a big Weber® grille that has a fat round top. You can use this alone to both cook and smoke meats. The trick is a small fire to generate low temperatures in the 200-250° range. Newer grilles have an access panel built into the grille that flips up so you can add charcoal when needed. This is great for smoking meat.

    How to do it: You need a charcoal grille, charcoal, a method to light the charcoal, a drip pan, a water pan, (a sawdust pan if desired), and an oven safe thermometer. These pans can be the disposable aluminum type found in most grocery stores.

    Begin by removing the cooking grate and build a fire on one half of the grille. If there is any wind, be sure the fire in on the WINDWARD side (the side closest to the wind). This is important since airflow is everything when it comes to smoking. Next, place the drip pan on the bottom of the grille, directly opposite the fire. Light the fire and put the grille back on the barbecue. If you have a flip-top grille, place the flip-top section over the fire. Fill the water pan about 2/3 full and place it directly over the fire (remember, it's only on one side of the grille).

    The water adds moisture to the air inside the grille. You can add a small pan of wet wood chips or sawdust to the fire through the flip-top lid before putting the water pan inside, if you desire. Place the meat over the drip pan with the thermometer next to it. Put the lid on the grille. The tricky part now is to adjust the air vents so that the airflow passed through the fire, over the meat, and out the lid of the grille. The lid vent should be directly over the meat. Keep adjusting the vents until the inside temperature reaches 200° to 250°. Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and add hot charcoal if the fire starts to get too cold. EXPERIMENT. With a little practice you'll be a pro.

    A picture is worth a thousand words: This diagram shows the setup for smoking meat on a barbecue grille with a rounded top (such as my Weber). Only a small fire need be used until you get the temperature correct. Only "peek" at the thermometer to read it, then put it back quickly. I use a second "Hibachi" grille to start up extra coals to add if needed.

    Remember: This type smoking WILL cook your meat. Check the meat for doneness as you would if you were using a regular barbecue grille without smoking steps. Birds, particularly turkeys, can use a meat thermometer stuck into a thigh to insure the correct doneness. Place the thermostat where it will be easy to read when you crack the lid to "peek" in. Never "Stuff" a bird for smoking. The turkey thigh must reach 180° for safe eating. For turkeys, try to maintain a smoking temperature of 225° to 300°. A general rule for turkeys is 50-65 minutes per pound at 225°-250°. Adjust your cooking time alloted accordingly. If you don't want to add water, leave the dry pan in and wrap the turkey in water-soaked cheesecloth. Cook turkeys/birds with the breast side down. Only cook turkeys that weigh less than 12 pounds, to insure safe eating. If in doubt, cut up the bird prior to smoking to insure each part is fully smoked and cooked to the correct temperature. Turkey can be marinated prior to cooking, but make sure it's in the refrigerator while soaking.

    Cooking times will be very long due to the low heat. Don't go off for a round a golf while its cooking. You need to check it frequently. A little trial and error will make the next meal easier. Hickory, apple and/or maple wood chips work well with turkey. Use ½ cup of wet chips/sawdust in the chip pan.

    Ed: Turkey info courtesy Honeysuckle, "All about Turkey".


    What do I do when everything turns to #@*$@$^&? The fire is out, I'm out of charcoal. It's raining and my grille is too cold. It's so windy I have no smoke inside. I lost the lid to my grille. It's snowing and I'm freezing. Etc., etc., etc…

    As with any type cooking, you can just take it off the grille, and cook it the remainder of the way by other means.

    • (I didn't say this) but a microwave is handy here. Even a partially smoked dish tastes great finished in a microwave oven.

    • If you're near another campsite, ask to use their fire when they are through with it. Most will say "Sure".

    • Re-refrigerate the meal and wait until conditions improve to start over. Caution: Partially cook meat is the same as raw can spoil quickly.

    • Fry the meat in a skillet. The smoky flavor will make it taste great.

    • Boil it in a water tight plastic bag until it gets to the correct temperature.

    Never - ever eat partially cooked food. You can die from salmonella poisoning. Better hungry than dead!

    OK, OK. The only exception to the above warning may be seafood from the OCEAN. Sashimi (raw fish) is a Japanese delicacy. I personally don't eat "bait", but my wife and daughter do. The rule of thumb on Ocean fish is "If it looks like a real fish, then it's "probably" OK to eat raw. If it looks like a STRANGE looking fish, throw it away or use it as bait to catch a real fish." DO NOT EAT ANY FRESH WATER FISH RAW. Most contain some form of parasite that you can also catch.



    The following charts show different meats and how they should be prepared for smoking. I am my own worst enemy because when I first wrote this article I didn't pay close enough attention to detail. I have just published another chart to help you out.

    In the right hand column of the smoking graph, you will see the title "Indirect Grilling Heat and Time". It shows the temperatures to use as "Low, medium or High". I hate that. I don't have time or energy to fix this, so please use the graph below to interpret the smoking graph. I apologize for my original oversight in not including this data in the original chart. It was my first cookbook.







    Very Slow






    Moderately Slow






    Moderately Hot






    Very Hot



    Use this chart as a guide as to how thick/thin to cut up your meat, and how much time you will most likely need. When available, a temperature setting is given for the meats to be smoked and/or grilled.

    Cut or Type

    Thickness, Weight, or Size


    Smoker Time


    * Indirect Grilling Heat & Time






    Boneless rib eye, tenderloin, top loin steak

    1 inch

    Medium rare


    40 to 50

    50 to 60

    Medium, 16 to 20

    Medium, 20-24

    Boneless sirloin steak

    1 inch

    Medium rare



    1 to 1¼ hours

    Medium, 22-26

    Medium, 26-30

    Boneless rump roast

    3 pounds


    3¼ - 3¾ hours

    Medium Low, 1½ - 2 hrs

    Boneless rib eye roast

    4 pounds

    Medium rare

    3 - 3½ hours

    Medium Low, 2 -2½ hrs

    Brisket Fresh

    3 to 4 pounds


    5 to 6 hours

    Low, 2 - 2½ hours

    Rib Roast

    4 pounds

    Medium rare


    3 - 3½ hours

    3½ - 4 hours

    Med Low, 2-2½ hours

    2½ to 3 hours

    Ribs, back

    3 to 4 pounds


    2½ to 3 hours

    Medium, 1 - 1¼ hours






    Boneless leg, rolled and tied

    3 pounds

    Medium rare


    1¾ -3 hours

    2¼ - 2½ hours

    Med Low, 1½ - 2 hours

    1¾ - 2¼ hours

    Boneless sirloin roast

    1½ - 2 pounds

    Medium rare


    1¾ - 2 hours

    2¼ - 2½ hours

    Medium, 1- 1¼ hours

    1¼ - 1½ hours


    1 1/3 - 1½ inches

    Medium rare


    55 - 65

    65 - 75

    Medium, 16 - 18

    Medium, 18 - 20






    Boneless top loin roast

    (Single loin)

    2 to 3 pounds


    1¾ - 2 hours

    Medium Low, 1 - 1¼ hours


    1¼ - 1½ inches

    Juices run clear

    1¾ - 2¼ hours

    Medium, 35 - 40

    Loin Center rib roast

    3 pounds


    2½ - 3 hours

    Medium Low, 1¼ to 1¾ hours

    Ribs, country style

    2 to 4 pounds


    3 to 4 hours

    Medium, 1½ - 2 hours

    Ribs, loin back or spare ribs

    2 to 4 pounds


    3 to 4 hours

    Medium, 1¼ - 1½ hours






    Chicken, meaty pieces

    2 to 3 pounds

    Juices run clear

    1½ - 2 hours

    Medium, 50 - 60

    Chicken, whole

    3 - 3½ pounds

    6 - 7 pounds



    2½ - 3 hours

    3¼ - 4 hours

    Medium, 1¼ - 1½ hours

    Medium, 1¾ - 2½ hours

    Chicken breast half (boneless & skinless)

    1 pound

    Juices run clear

    45 - 60

    Medium,  15 - 18

    Turkey, whole

    8 - 10 pounds


    4½ to 5 hours


    Turkey breast half

    2 - 2½ pounds


    2 to 2½ hours

    Medium, 1¼ - 1½ hours

    Turkey drumstick

    8 - 12 Ounces

    Juices run clear

    2½ - 3 hours

    Medium, 1 - 1¼

    Turkey tenderloin

    8 to 10 Ounces

    Juices run clear

    1¼ - 1½ hours

    Medium, 25 - 30






    Fish, dressed 

    8 to 10 Ounces

    3 pounds



    1½ - 2 hours

    2½ - 3 hours

    Medium, 15 - 20

    Medium, 45 to 55

    Fish, fillet & steak

    1 inch


    45 - 60

    Medium, 20 - 25

    Shrimp, Jumbo

    (12 -16 per pound)


    Not recommended

    Medium, 10 - 12


    The above chart is a GUIDE, and the ultimate responsibility for insuring the doneness is up to you. Sorry, there's no section for "road kill". Indirect cooking is done with the meat closer to the heat source than smoked meat is placed, and using smoke chips is optional. Hence, the cooking times are shorter for indirect heat smoking than ordinary smoking. Indirect Grilling/smoking is a compromise between direct barbecuing and smoking.

    The USDA Says: ( Smoke food to a safe internal temperature and doneness:

    • poultry breast - 170° F
    • whole poultry - 180° F
    • beef, veal, and lamb roasts - 145 - 170° F
    • pork - 160 - 170° F

    Let's "Kick it up a Notch!" - Smoking and Curing

    Curing meat generally refers to soaking the meat/poultry in a (salt) brine solution with any number of other ingredients. Curing, by itself, is a preservative. Brine-cured hams and turkeys have been a staple food for as long as recorded history. "Salt pork" is really a salt-brine soaked pork. Adding smoke just adds more flavor and a higher level of preservatives.

    Generally, brine solutions must cover the entire meat pieces. The time they are left in the brine determines the amount of "cure" you get. In poultry, the brine soaks into the meat at approximately ½ inch per 24 hours. Pieces more than 2" thick can have brine "pumped" into the meat using a large cooking syringe to stick the brine into the meat. Skin and other factors slow the penetration of the brine solution. All brine soaks should be done in a refrigerated room or refrigerator (35° F is preferred). The cold temperatures insure a minimum of bacterial growth.

    Salt cured meat was widely used before refrigerators were even thought of. Most of this curing was done in wooden barrels that also lent a degree of flavor to the meat (usually oak). Various brine solutions were used, depending on who did the curing. Back then, freshly slaughtered meats (wild or domestic) would be cut up into "ham sized" pieces, of 8 to 10 pounds. A prepared brine barrel soaked the meat for up to 6 days. After 6 days, the meat was dried off, put into flour or gunny sacks (to keep off the flies). Then it was hung up in a cool dry place to dry out. It will keep like this for (perhaps) six weeks if stored in a cool dry place. In the winter months, or if constantly refrigerated, it will last much longer. Of course, this leaves you with meat that is VERY high in salt content. The meat can also be smoked, if desired. The result is: 1. Meat that has even more natural preservatives and will last without refrigeration even longer, and 2). Meat that has a lot more flavor than just salt. The old-time ham and pork recipes called for a smoking time of up to 3 days.

    For an even more tasty meat, more natural processing can be done with sugar. Sugar curing is a step added after salt curing but before the meat is finally smoked. These extra steps now cost lots of money, since they're labor intensive. It's cheaper to do it yourself.

    Sugar curing is also done in a brine barrel. It was usually soaked for about 3 days. So, the basic (salt) brine took 6 days, the sugar brine took 3 days, and smoking another 3 days. 12 days total from kill to kitchen. Then, you have to add in the drying time which was, I'm sure, very much a variable. It's conceivable that some meats took 1 to 2 months before sufficiently cured and smoked to be sold commercially...maybe longer. If you want to try all this work, here's a couple of brine recipes that will start you out. Remember, nothing here is written in stone. If you want to change it, please do so. But write out what you did so if it's a success, you can do the same thing again.

    Basic Salt Brine for Curing Meat

  • 1 Brine Barrel
  • Hot Water
  • 1 C Salt (per 2 gallons of water)
  • Vinegar

    Fill the brine barrel half way up with 1 cup salt per 2 gallons of hot water. That's a 32:1 ratio, water to salt. Add a "bit" of vinegar to taste.

    Better Brine for Curing Meat

  • 5/8 C Salt (per 2 gallons of water)
  • 3/8 C Curing Salt (Commercially available from special stores/catalogs: Morton makes it)
  • Hot Water
  • Vinegar

    Mix the same as the basic brine recipe. The ratio is still 32:1, water to salt. Vinegar to taste. Put your cut up pieces of meat into the brine barrel and let sit (cool and dry) for 6 days. Keep all meat submerged, turning meat at least once during this time period. Add more brine if level goes down. (leaks, evaporation, etc.). When meat is salted, remove from the brine and dry it off. Place meat in four or gunny sacks to keep off flies. Hang the meat in a cool dry place to dry. It will keep like this for up to 6 weeks.

    Sugar Curing Brine

  • 4C Brown sugar (per 3 gallons water)
  • Water
  • Vinegar

    Fill a brine barrel with half full of brine mix consisting of 4 cups brown sugar to 3 gallons of water, plus a "bit" of vinegar. Use NO SALT. Inject some of the sugar brine mix into the already salted meat with a syringe. Submerge the meat in the sugar brine for 3 days, turning at least once. (Note: Adding sugar increases the chances for bacteria to grow. Keep meat cool to cold to insure minimum bacterial growth). Meat can be cooked and eaten right now, or further smoked for up to 3 days.

    WHY DOES IT WORK? (For those of you who just "have to know everything".)

    Salt and sugar cure meat by osmosis. In addition to drawing the water out from the food, they dehydrate and kill the bacterial that makes food spoil. In general, though, use of the word "cure" refers to processing the meat with either sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate.

    Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are the basis for two commercially used products. Prague powders #1 and #2. Prague powder #1 is a mixture of 1 part sodium nitrite and 16 parts salt. The chemicals are combined into crystal form to assure even distribution. Only 4 ounces of Prague powder #1 need be used for up to 100 pounds of pork. For home use, use only 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat. Prague powder #2 is 1 part sodium nitrite, .64 parts sodium nitrate, and 16 parts salt. It is primarily used in dry-curing meat.

    Both these powders can be found in specialty butcher shops or some catalogs. Sausage makers use these products also. A few internet merchants may also offer these powders.

    Source: © 1996, Leslie Basel


  • 100 Lbs. Pork cuts
  • 8 Lbs. Salt (mix of 48:1, water to salt)
  • 2 Oz. Salt Peter
  • 2 Lbs. Brown Sugar
  • 5 Gallons Water

    Mix salt, brown sugar and salt peter, add to water and bring to boil. Stir to dissolve sugar. Skim off any scum that may form while boiling (after everything has dissolved). Remove from heat and chill off until quite cold.

    Pack the pork pieces into clean barrels or earthenware crocks, placing the meat as close together as possible. Put the large pieces of meat in first, with the smaller pieces on top. Pour the cold brine over the meat and make absolutely sure the meat is completely covered. Place a piece of wood, cut to fit just inside the barrel or crock, on top of the meat and weight it down with a clean weight. (Don't use iron or steel, they will rust rapidly in the salt brine.) The weight will insure nothing floats to the top and exposes the meat to the air.

    Smaller pieces of meat cure faster than large pieces. The small pieces on top can be taken out of the brine sooner than the large pieces. Experience counts here, as it is a trial and error method.

    All meat should be cured in a brine whose temperature is just above freezing. Salt water will not freeze at 32° F, but takes a lot lower temperature to freeze. But, the meat WILL freeze at 32° F (0° C) and slow down or stop the curing process. Should the brine accidentally reach a warmer temperature, it may show signs of "souring". If this happens, remove the meat from the brine and wash it completely with lukewarm water for an hour or so. Throw out the soured brine and make a new batch. Clean out the container, repack the meat and start over.

    Hints: Bacon sides and loins require 2 days per pound in this brine. Pork shoulders will take 3 days per pound. Hams will take 4 days per pound.

    After the meat is cured, soak the pieces in warm water and wash in cold water, or even scrubbed with a clean brush to remove any scum that may have accumulated during the curing process.

    Hang the meat by very heavy cords in a smoke house/smoker and allow to drain for 24 hours before starting the smoking process. Use a drip pan to keep the floor of the smoker clean.

    Hard wood is the best to use for smoking and the temperature in the smoker should be 100-120° F. The ventilators should be left open at first to allow any moisture to escape. Smoke until desired flavor and color is reached.

    Source: Remember Mama's Recipes, Alberta, Canada


    FIRST: Any meat using only salt or sugar brines, and/or smoking as the SOLE source of preserving meat should be cooked before eating. I know, many people eat it right as it is, hanging in its' little bag. But the argument exists that not all spores of microorganisms are killed and that some parasites may still be hanging around. Why take the chance? Cook it first, eat it later. A hot ham sandwich tastes better anyway.

    SECOND: The USDA says to use two (2) thermometers when smoking food. One is an internal meat thermometer that will tell you when the meat is fully cooked. The other is an oven thermometer for the smoker itself to adjust cooking temperatures. More expensive? Yes, but Safer - YES!

    Another Brine Recipe:

    Basic Recipe Optional Additions to the Brine:
  • 1/4 C Kosher Salt
  • White Wine
  • 1/4 C Packed brown sugar
  • Soy Sauce
  • 4 C Water
  • Herbs and spices to taste

    In a medium bowl, combine salt, sugar and water. Use a whisk and vigorously stir until all the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour the mixture over the meat, poultry or fish that you are preparing. (Note: Make certain that the meat is fully submerged in the brine, and make more brine as needed to fully cover the meat.) Smoke, cook and eat.

    Source:, Smoking' Ron

    TURKEYS: Turkeys (fowl) require some special treatment, since all fowl is a little more difficult to smoke and cure. The National Center for Home Food Preparation ( recommends the following two techniques, used either separately or both at the same time:

    PUMP CURING: This involves using a syringe with a No. 12 needle to "stitch" or inject brine into the bird. Inject the brine uniformly in all of the muscles and joints, using about 10% of the weight of the bird. Be sure the giblets and any other viscera are removed prior to curing.

  • 4½ Gal. Cool Water
  • 6 Pounds Salt (12 Cups)
  • 3 Pounds Sugar (6 Cups)
  • 3 Oz. Sodium Nitrate (Salt Peter) = 6 Tbsp.
  • 1 Tsp. Sodium Nitrite (optional)

    Stitch the bird uniformly and then immerse the bird in the remaining cool curing solution for about 48 hours. The temperature of the brine and the cooler should be kept below 40° F. Weigh the bird down to keep it covered with the brine. For small birds, the bird can be immersed directly into the brine without pumping and held for 4 to 5 days. This will give equal results. Large turkeys, however, need stitch pumping because of the longer time required for curing. At this point, if you desire, you can cook the bird by conventional means. Or, you can continue to the next step, smoking.

    SMOKE COOKING: Remove the bird from the brine and wash in fresh water to remove the surface salt. All the surface to air dry and place the bird in the smoker. Start the smoker at about 140° F. Keep a high humidity (60%; use a water pan) and a dense smoke for the first 4 hours. This will prevent the meat from drying out and give a lustrous pecan-nut brown color. After 4 hours, raise the temperature in the smoker 10° F every 20 minutes to 190° F. and hold this temperature until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 165° (175° if you are smoke cooking ONLY). Measure the temperature by probing the inside of the thigh with a meat thermometer. Total cooking time is approximatel 10 to 12 hours.

    PANIC: Not enough charcoal, it's raining, I can't finish in time for dinner...etc., etc. OK. Shorten the cooking time by taking the bird out of the smoker, and finish cooking it in a conventional oven. It's done when the internal temperature reaches 165° F for a stitched bird, or 175° F for a smoke-only bird. Be sure to cover the bird with foil to prevent further drying out or skin cracking.

    The finished smoked pump-cured turkey should have a rich pecan-nut brown surface with a light pink color in the breast meat. The thighs should have the color of well cured ham. A salt content of about 4% is normal. Turkeys that are only smoke-cooked are highly perishable and should be handled as all fresh cooked poultry. Smoked turkeys are rather bland and don't nearly taste as good as the pump cured and smoked version. The pump cured turkeys can be freezer stored ready to roast or ready to eat for as long as 10 months without a negligible change in color or flavor.

    Here's a handy tool: Weber sells a small charcoal chimney that is great for starting extra charcoal briquettes. If you only have one barbecue grille (or smoker), then you have a problem getting a second batch of charcoal ready to add to the already burning charcoal inside the grille or smoker. This handy chimney lets you light up as many (or few) pieces as you think you will need to add to the fire. It only costs about $15-20.00 and is worth the investment. Of course, you can make one yourself (if you're handy) from an #10 tin can or a large coffee can. You need a grate about half way up the can to hold the briquettes, and air holes in the bottom. Be careful, it gets VERY HOT. Set it only on concrete or bare earth. It will start a fire if it sits on the grass.

  • SALT: For the best brines, use only un-iodized salt, also known as Kosher salt. Salt will murder any steel or iron container and for that reason, you should keep all brines in wooden barrels, or earthenware crocks. Plastic may work, but why chance it? Never use the salt that you can purchase for icy roads as it is very dirty. Soaking meat in water after curing (from 30 minutes to 2 hours) will help get rid of excess salt on the surface, and equalize the salt on the inside. Always dry the bird prior to smoking.

    SODIUM NITRITE: This is the ingredient that determines the internal color of the turkey meat. Smoked turkey that has not been cured using sodium nitrite will be brownish-white, not pink, after processing. Using the sodium nitrite will give all poultry a nice light pink color after heating. Note that you don't need a lot of this stuff for a good brine.

    How to make a Smoker from a Trash Can

    Looks good, doesn't it? Would you be surprised if I told you that this is a home-made smoker made from a trash can. Yes, it is. But it's a NEW trash can. Feel better?

    Click on the link above and find out how this author did it. My only concern is the use of an electric hot plate as the heat source. But everything else is just fine. I'll think of a way to make it work with wood or charcoal and get back to you. Cut a hole in the bottom for the smoke flu? We'll see.

    I imagine that if you want to set up a smoker like this, it would be best used to prepare meat at home. Smoked meat can be kept a lot longer than fresh meat, and doesn't need refrigeration if done correctly. Don't get me wrong. I love refrigerators. I have 2 at home. It's just that you can't count on their being available during an emergency.


    Native Americans cured meat in the sun. The women cut the flesh into strips and dried it on elevated racks in the sun. This was called 'jerky' a derivative of the Spanish word Charqui. In the Journals of Lewis and Clark, we learn that early explorers adopted the jerky as a means of keeping meat on hand.

    A second method of preservation was pemmican, (the word derives from the Cree pimii meaning grease or fat). Pemmican was a well-preserved and calorie rich dish. Jerky was put into the tough hides made from the bison's skin, and a hot marrow fat was poured in with it. When slightly cooled but still pliable, the dried meat was broken into pieces for storage and for easy transport. It was a staple.

    Strips of moose meat are smoked over a fire in a makeshift wigwam, a traditional Obijwa way of preserving meat. Other Native American groups preserved meat by drying it on racks in the sun.

    "Cold smoking" is an hours- or days-long process in which smoke is passed by food which is held in a separate area from the fire. Generally the food is held at room temperatures (60-80°F) as it is smoked. Since no cooking takes place, the interior texture of the food generally isn't affected; neither are any microbes living within the meat or fish. For this reason, cold-smoking has traditionally frequently been combined with salt-curing, in such foods as ham, bacon, and cold-smoked fish like lox (smoked salmon). Curing means to preserve food (meat, for example), as by salting, smoking, or aging .

    Technically, ham is the thigh and buttock of any animal that is slaughtered for meat, but the term is usually restricted to a cut of pork, the haunch of a pig or boar. ... Bacon is any of certain cuts of meat taken from the sides or back or belly of a pig, or Beef Cattle, cured and possibly smoked. ... Lox is salmon, typically a filet, that has been cured, and then often it is cold smoked. Cold smoking preserves the fish without cooking it. Hot smoking, makes some equally great, but quite different. The advantage of hot smoking is that you can do it in hours instead of days.