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Smoking Wild Game

Capt. Lewis
Wednesday May 14th 1806.

We gave the indians who were about 15 in number half the Grilling Salmon Over
Alder Wood
female bear.... this was a great treat to those poor wretches who scarcely taist meat once a month. they immediately prepared a brisk fire of dry wood on which they threw a parsel of smooth stones from the river, when the fire had birnt down and heated the stones they placed them level and laid on a parsel of pine boughs, on these they laid the flesh of the bear in flitches...,after this they poared on a small quantity of water and covered the whoe over with earth to the debth of four inches... I taisted of this meat and found it much more tender than that which we had roasted or boiled, but the strong flavor of the pine distroyed it for my pallate.


The more traditional smoking techniques include hot smoking and cold smoking.  

Hot smoking can take place in a smoker or grill and the temperature is within a range of 180 to 250 degrees F.  At these temperature the meat is cooked to the desirable temperature that will kill most microbes.  
Cold smoking takes place  at less than 140 degrees F and at these temperatures the meat is not cooked and the microbes are not killed.  Cold smoking is not recommended unless additional steps are taken to preserve the meat including pre-cooking the meat before smoking or cooking at 300 degrees F after smoking until the meat is cooked through.

Hot smoking can be done by using your charcoal grill, a smoker or gas grill:

If you have a charcoal grill arrange the briquette on each side of the grill .  Place a pan between the piles and partially fill with water.  Put water soaked wood chips directly on the charcoal briquettes and allow to smoke before cooking.  Place the meat on the grill above the water pan and cover the grill.  Add briquettes and water as needed.
Smokers are designed to have three areas beginning with a charcoal grate, a grate for a water pan and a grate for the meat.  The soaked wood chip are added through a small door on the bottom of the smoker.  Some smoker have an electric heating element that eliminates the need for charcoal.  After adding the soaked wood chips, place the meat on the grate above the water pan and close the lid.
Gas grill can be used to add a smoke flavor by placing lava rock around the burners and using soaked wood chips.  The will be a tendency for the meat to dry since there is no water pan to add moisture.
Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the center of the meat has reached a safe temperature.  

Wood Smoke Flavor

Smoke flavor is a matter of personal preference so you should try different hardwood chips or chunks until you find the ones that taste best for big game, upland birds, waterfowl and fish.  A general guide for wood flavor is present below:

Hickory - strong smoky flavor - good with all meats.
Alder - mild flavor - good with fish such as salmon, sturgeon and steelhead
Apple - fruity smoke flavor - good for venison and game birds
Mesquite - sweet light flavor - good with all meats

The are many different types of wood chips available including such woods as grape vines and wine barrel oak.  You can also combine different woods to develop you own special mixtures and flavors.

Easy Smoking

The simplest way to smoke meat is to add "liquid smoke" directly to the meat during the grilling process.  There is a large variety of commercially available "liquid smoke" mixtures and they can be obtain with different smoke flavors (hickory, alder, mesquite, apple).  Some people can not tell the difference in the taste of meat that has been treated with liquid smoke and meat that has been smoked in a more traditional manner.  The best approach is to try it and determine if it meets your personal tastes.

Smoking and Drying

Smoking and drying is a two step cooking method often used to make jerky and is usually done in a smoker.  

After the meat has been cut in strips and marinated, it is place in the smoker and smoked for about 3 hours at 150 degrees F.  
The smoke is then stopped and the meat is dried at 145 degrees F for an additional 6 hours or until the meat is firm, dry and will not break when bent.  
Instead of drying in the smoker, the meat can be removed after smoking and placed in an oven set at 140 degrees F with the door ajar.

If you want to make traditional jerky, the best way is to cure, smoke and dry the meat using a jerky cure and seasoning mix (e.g.  Cabela's Jerky Seasoning or Hi Mountain Jerky Cure and Seasoning) and following the directions carefully.   Also the Colorado State University Extension has addressed the food safety concerns relating to making jerky and has prepared a set of recommendations and a recipe for making traditional jerky.  You can access this information by clicking on "Leathers and Jerky no. 9.311".  A copy of their recipe can be found on this site under Recipes/Big Game/ Venison Jerky.