Today I am smoking two 10 lb pork shoulder picnics for the Superbowl celebration tonight.
I haven't had a major cook in a few weeks, so I've been looking forward to it for the past several days. Their is a certain challenge to cooking 20 lbs of meat within an established timeframe and to a certain standard. I want juicy, flavorful pork that is not too dry and not too greasy. I want it cooked to 199-200 degrees internal temperature so that it pulls apart easily - just the right consistency for pulled pork sliders I have in mind for Superbowl snacking.
There's only one problem....it's 12 degrees outside right now and we've had a few days of snow that's beginning to accumulate into several inches at this point.
I use an upright charcoal smoker with a charcoal maze, water pan, adjustable air intake, adjustable exhaust, and 1 inch of insulation throughout the cooker walls. The water pan rests on a removable metal grate about 4 inches above the charcoal. The water pan is completely adjustable. I can remove it completely, move it forward or backward, or place it directly above the center of the maze. This adjustability gives me more control over the fire management and temperature of the cooker and ultimately; how fast I cook the meat.
I have experience with cold weather smoking, so I thought I would share some tips that I've learned.
Cold Weather Smoking Tips
1. Prepare everything the night before
- load the cooker with charcoal, get your supplies ready, move your cooker into an easily accessible pre-staging area so it's easy to get to when you're ready to start cooking. I store my cooker in the garage, so last night before going to bed I pulled it out from it's storage area and positioned it directly in front of the garage door. This morning all I had to do was roll it outside, light the fire, and it was off to the races.
2. Use an insulated charcoal smoker
- In temperatures below freezing, a stickburner (i.e. offset smoker using firewood with the cooking chamber located to one side of the cooking grates) isn't going to work
3. Get the fire hot first
- In warm weather it's not crucial, but in cold weather it's a mistake to put the meat on the cooker before the cooker temperature reaches at least 200 degrees. Put the meat on too early and you will probably extend the cooking time by a couple of hours. Opening and closing the door and pittling around adjusting the fire will keep the cooker temperature lower than desired longer than desired.
4. Add water to the charcoal pan slowly
- To help your cooker build temperature quickly, don't start with a lot of water in the water pan. You can always add more later. I like to start with about 1/2 a gallon in my 3 gallon water pan and then add more as needed.
5. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge
- In cold weather the cooker temperature will fall very quickly if conditions are not just right.
6. Keep additional supplies of charcoal close-by
- In cold weather it's going to require more fuel to maintain a given temperature, so don't be afraid to add more charcoal during a cooking session if it's needed.