While some may put their meat smokers on ice during the colder months, we see no reason to pack it in until balmy weather returns.
As far as we're concerned, there's not a season that isn't meat smoking season – winter included.
When it comes to smoking meat in winter, however, the simple fact remains that it's not the same as smoking any other time of the year. More than the other three seasons, there's more you'll need to do to have successful smokes.
But like smoking in spring, summer, or fall, a little preparation and showing up ready goes a long way.
How Does Cold Weather Affect Smoking Meat?
For those who've never braved frigid temperatures to prepare the perfect smoked meat (or even barbecue), a valid question.
In a grand sense, cold weather does not affect smoking meat. As long as you're attentive to what's inside your ugly drum smoker, you'll still produce a great finished product.
But from an experiential standpoint, that's another story.
Meat smoking in winter does require a bit more from you than any other season. The simple fact is you're dealing with elements (no pun intended) that you typically wouldn't at other times of the year. For instance, at the peak of summer, chances are you're not going to contend with negative windchill temperatures. The same goes for patches of slippery ice.
But like smoking meat in the spring, summer, or fall, the quality of your meat smoking sessions comes down to two key factors:
- How prepared you are – whether it's matching the right cut of meat with the right seasonings/rub or smoker wood or having the right tools and equipment on hand, nothing can derail what's sure to be a great smoking session than coming to the table unprepared. As it's been said in one way or another, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Maintaining a constant temperature inside your smoker barrel – non-electric wood and charcoal smokers are more prone to temperature fluctuations, as the wind can be a factor, plus you're dealing with fire in cold weather. Without a constant temperature, you risk your meat drying out or not cooking through.
Setting Up for Winter Meat Smoking
To our point about being prepared:
When it comes to smoking meat in the winter, the biggest component of your preparations should be having a space that's safe & functional – a meat smoking station that's neither all but guarantees a disappointing finished product and a frustrating experience. The same goes for a patio area where your station is located.
What are the necessities for either? We've compiled two checklists to help you out:
Checklist #1: For Your Smoker Station
Your meat smoking station is command central. During the winter, its must-haves include:
- Windbreaks or Semi-enclosed Spaces – to protect the smoking area from cold winds and snow. This could be a temporary structure like a windscreen or a more permanent shelter.
- Thermometers – a reliable meat thermometer and a smoker thermometer to accurately monitor temperatures without frequently opening the smoker. Wireless meat thermometers are worth their weight in gold during the winter – you'll never need to open your UDS smoker to take a meat temperature reading and lose heat.
- Protective Gear – Insulated, fire-resistant gloves for handling hot equipment and warm, comfortable clothing suitable for outdoor conditions.
- Lighting – as winter days are shorter and it gets dark earlier.
- Non-Slip Mats or Surfaces for safety around the smoking area, especially if snow or ice is present.
- Cover for the Smoker – this one applies to all seasons and is pretty self-explanatory. Even if your smoker is in a covered area, it's still a good idea to go the extra mile to protect it with a waterproof and insulated cover when not in use.
Checklist #2: For Your Patio
In addition to improving your winter meat smoking experience, these musts for your patio in winter can give the space longer usability during the year:
- Heating Elements – sometimes you may be outside a bit longer than expected. Outdoor heaters or fire pits to keep the area warm and comfortable.
- Weather-Resistant Furniture – durable and comfortable seating that can withstand winter weather.
- Outdoor Rugs – to add a layer of insulation to the patio floor.
- Safe and Efficient Pathways – another self-explanatory one – snow and ice exponentially increase the chances of a slip, trip, or fall.
Storage – weatherproof storage for grilling accessories, cushions, and other patio items.
A Word on Winter Smoking Safety
We've alluded to this a bit in the checklists via non-slip mats and safe pathways.
While safety knows no season, it's especially important during the winter.
You guessed it – ice and snow. Both forms of water are indeed hazards that lend themselves to slips and falls.
Keep in mind you'll be working with fire and a drum smoker that'll be several hundred degrees hot. The last thing you'll want is a burn or injury from it that could have otherwise been prevented.
Speaking of your smoker ... just like any other time of the year, make sure to not place it directly on the ground or atop snow and ice. Remember, your barrel will get hot and its heat can cause the ground to shift or snow and ice to melt. The last thing you should worry about is your barrel being on sure footing or unstable.
Did you know ... the Smokin' Ugly drum smoker hinge upgrades safety and user experience? With its motion control technology, the hinge allows you to not only effortlessly lift or close your smoker's lid but also set it at any position. That means you can always have both hands free when you need to.
Smoked Beef Brisket with a Winter Spice Rub
With all that said, what better way to take on smoking meat in the winter than by actually doing it?
Here's our recipe that takes a staple of smoked meats and adds a twist of winter flavors to it.
Beef Brisket: 5-6 lbs, with fat trimmed to about ¼ inch
For the Winter Spice Rub:
- Brown sugar: ¼ cup
- Paprika: 2 tablespoons
- Coarse salt: 2 tablespoons
- Ground black pepper: 1 tablespoon
- Garlic powder: 1 tablespoon
- Onion powder: 1 tablespoon
- Ground cinnamon: 1 teaspoon
- Ground nutmeg: ½ teaspoon
- Ground allspice: ½ teaspoon
- Ground cloves: ¼ teaspoon
Smoker Wood Recommendation: Hickory
The Day Before:
- Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (about 1 hour). Trim excess fat, leaving about ¼ inch for flavor and moisture.
- In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the winter spice rub. Generously apply the rub all over the brisket, ensuring it's evenly coated.
The Day Of:
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C).
- Place the brisket fat side up in the smoker.
- Smoke until the internal temperature reaches between 195-205°F.
- Once done, remove the brisket from the smoker, wrap it in butcher paper or aluminum foil, and let it rest for at least 1 hour.
- Serve and enjoy!