How to Smoke Meat on the Grill with Chef Craig Deihl
By Stephanie Burt, Photos by Robert Donovan
Three-time James Beard nominee Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress and Artisan Meat Share in Charleston, S.C., has made more than 90 types of charcuterie in his restaurants. When when he’s at home, though, he loves to fire up the backyard grill for his family. It’s relaxing for him to be out of the kitchen and his children, Keegan, 8, and Calvin, 22 months, love to spend time with Dad just steps away from their swing set.
This grill master doesn’t need fancy restaurant equipment to create the short ribs and fresh vegetables -- just a classic Weber grill, lump charcoal, and hickory chips. Here’s his homemade method for smoking meat on the grill.
Start by soaking the chips. Before he leaves for the restaurant in the morning, Diehl fills a bucket with water and adds half a bag of hickory chips to soak for at least eight hours. This ensures that water will penetrate deep into the wood and provide long-lasting smoke once they hit the coals.
Start with lump charcoal and use a chimney starter to ignite the coals. The amount of charcoal you use depends on the circumference of your grill, but make sure you have at least 4 to 6 inches filling the bottom. Use heatproof tongs to create a generally flat layer on the surface of the charcoal. Deihl is a fan of lump hardwood charcoal because of its quality and because it burns hotter. “You want a hot fire for searing meat,” he explains.
Add a metal container for the wood chips. Using a pan or lid will keep the chips from direct coals contact, so that they smoke instead of burn. Deihl uses an old pot lid, which he places on the top center of the coals. A disposable metal pie pan will work just as well. Put handfuls of water-soaked chips into the pan until it’s well-covered and the chips are smoking.
Place meat evenly around the edge of the grill. First, Deihl adds the grate, covers it, and allows it to heat for at least two minutes for a better sear once the meat is added. “The chips in the middle act as a diffuser for the heat, so you want to place meat over the coals on the edge,” he explains. Close the lid and allow to sear at least two minutes, or until the meat easily releases from the grate.
Don’t leave the grill! With a hot enough fire, your meat will cook quickly, so stay close. Once the meat is flipped, close the lid again, then open occasionally to check doneness. Whatever you do, don’t overcook. Residual heat will cook the meat a little longer once you remove it from the grill.
Don’t waste that smoke and heat. Vegetables take very well to hickory smoke, so use that to your advantage and grill veggies for an easy side dish after the meat is done. If the chips have dried out, a few sprinkles of water will do the trick.
Smoked Short Ribs Recipe
Deihl promises that short ribs don't have to be cooked “low and slow” with this recipe. Here he cooks them like a traditional skirt steak, then cuts on the bias for smoky, juicy flavor. Start with 2 pounds of market short ribs, chuck short ribs, or Denver ribs, plus some salt and pepper.
1. Allow ribs to come to room temperature.
2. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of each rib.
3. Once grill is hot and chips are smoking, place meat in ring around the outside and close lid.
4. Allow meat to sear for at least two minutes, or until meat easily releases from the grate, and then flip.
5. Depending on thickness and heat of coals, cook until desired doneness, around five additional minutes for rare to medium rare.
6. Remove from grill to platter and allow meat to rest at least 10 minutes.
7. Slice at a diagonal if desired.
Smoked Grilled Cucumbers and Squash Recipe
Take advantage of the heat and smoke, and grill some vegetables. You'll need:
3 English cucumbers (or 6 Kirby), halved and cut lengthwise
3 squash, halved and cut lengthwise
Generous sprinkling of kosher or big-flake sea salt
8 ounces vinaigrette dressing of your choice (Experiment with alternative dressings, like chimichurri or pesto.)
1 bunch parsley, chopped (optional)
1. Place the cucumbers and squash cut-side up on platter, then sprinkle liberally with salt.
2. Allow to sit for at least five minutes to start to pull juices out of the vegetables.
3. After meat has been removed from grill, place vegetables cut side down and close lid.
4. Grill at least two minutes, or until the vegetables have heavy char marks from the grill. (The time will depend on the residual heat from the coals.)
5. Remove cucumbers and set aside.
6. Flip squash to skin side and grill until marks appear but squash is still firm.
7. Remove from grill, then chop cucumbers and squash evenly into ½-inch to 1-inch size pieces.
8. Place pieces in bowl, pour over vinaigrette, add parsley if using, and toss. Serve warm.
Stephanie Burt is a native North Carolinian who grew up on good Southern cooking and lots of books. She is the host of The Southern Fork, a weekly podcast where she travels with a fork and shares some of the most interesting stories in the culinary South, and writes online for The Home Depot about grilling.