Learning to Smoke Meat

We started on this road to smoking our own beef by buying a whole side from a local rancher. We had been thinking of it for a while because the price of a side of beef works out to be much cheaper than buying meat cuts individually. Generally speaking you can buy a whole side of beef for about the same price per pound or a little more than the price of hamburger. Yes, you do get a lot of hamburger but you also get a lot of other meat including some very fine cuts like sirloin and T-Bone. If you consider the price that would cost, you save a whole lot of money buying an entire side of beef.

The second reason we decided to buy a side was the animal care issue. The location place we buy from is a ranch that raises their own beef, slaughters and processes it in a little local butcher and then cuts and wraps it right there as well. So you get locally grown, locally produced, locally processed meat that I know it is the highest possible quality and my money is staying right in my community. It comes from good solid honest hard working Christians who share much the same life philosophy we do. I know it is grass fed and humanely treated because I can actually go check on those animals myself. It’s not kosher, as in supervised and approved by a rabbi, but for us, it is close enough to do quite nicely, especially since the nearest Kosher butcher is in Toronto.

But what really convinced us it was time was the COVID-19 pandemic. Beef in our local stores skyrocketed in price. We were soon looking at $40/kg for some cuts. Plus there were lots of limits and shortages. Now that things have settled a bit the prices have started back down and the shelves are almost as full by rearrangement and replacement, but still missing a lot of things. However, if we get a second wave that might change. So buying a whole side of beef meant a stable supply.

Once we made our decision, we went out and found a medium sized freezer suitable to a hold a whole side of beef. We made a trip to the butcher to put in our order. We got to select how the meat was cut. For us, that meant a lot more steaks and ground beef and a lot less roasts and stew meat. We went and picked up our order a few days later. We transported it home and shoved it all in the freezer.

It wasn’t long before we realized something. We have all this fabulous meat but we’re really not big beef eaters. Sure we like a good steak but honestly we only ever ate beef once or twice a week. It wasn’t long before steak got boring. I recall looking at all that beef and wondering how we would ever eat it all. Plus one of the specialists advised my husband to severely limit red meat to about three times a week and avoid processed stuff due to his stroke.

Around the same time my husband lamented how hard it was to get really nice smoked meat and beef salami. Folks here grow and eat pork as much as they do beef. It’s actually really hard to find all beef salami or Montreal Smoked style beef. To get that kind of meat in a beef only variety, you pretty much have to special order it in and it never is great quality stuff. And Kosher? Forget that. It is simply not happening.

This got me looking about for some DIY “other” kind of meat to make with our beef. I started with an old fashioned Irish corned beef. It is ridiculously easy to make old fashioned corned beef from scratch. There are many recipes on line. Basically you soak a cut of beef in brine with pickling spices for 5-7 days and then boil the meat with cabbage and potatoes. My very first batch of home corned beef had my husband positively raving. Home made corned beef from scratch was far better tasting than the ready made stuff in a pouch we had been buying in the USA. There was nothing hard about it either. If you can make a loaf of bread or a stew you can make corned beef. The only thing hard was having to think seven days ahead from when I wanted to eat it.

That got us thinking about other kinds of processed meats we love to eat. One of our absolute favourites is smoked all beef salami. We were introduced to that while traveling in the USA. It is simply not available where we live. With a little bit of digging I found a recipe so that I could make it starting from scratch. I watched some youtube videos. I found out there are a whole lot of ways to make your own salami. Some require smoking. Some you can do yourself in an oven. Some require casings. Some types can be made by simply rolling the meat into a log shape. After some searching I found a recipe that kind of looked like the sort of smoked salami we enjoy. I purchased a different casing because I wanted the larger size and I don’t want pork casing. I purchased the ingredients. I ordered a small electric smoker. My neighbour has had plenty of experience living with hunters and she gave me some tips. Lots of people out here in this rural area smoke their own game meats, fish and beef. I found out an electric smoker is as easy to use as an electric fry pan. Because so many folks around here smoke their meat, the supplies like wood chips, casing and curing salt are easy to find in almost all the local hardware stores.

My first batch of smoked beef salami came out far better than I expected. Like the corned beef, the taste was just beyond description compared to store bought stuff. I also tried to make Montreal smoked beef and it too came out far better than we expected. In fact I had to remind Hubby Dearest that he’s not suppose to eat more than three or four servings of beef a week and he’s supposed to avoid the processed stuff. He laughed and told me if the end of the world as we know it ever comes, we’re practically homesteaders now. And I can always barter my smoked meat. I cut the smoked meat and the salami up into small amounts and put it in the freezer for future consumption. (I can’t use the smoker in the winter.) Today I made a second batch and I am trying to smoke a whole steelhead trout. If you have never tried making your own corned beef or smoking something I urge to try it. It’s easy. It’s fun. The results come out far better than anything you buy in the store. Plus it is another skill you can acquire while staying at home hiding from the damned virus that might just come in handy if we get a second wave and the supply chains get messed up again.

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