Why Barbecue Enthusiasts Are Turning to Smokers

A group with the moniker The Brotherhood of Smoke may sound a bit intimidating. But fear not: This is not some cabal of evildoers starring in the next Marvel movie adaptation. Instead, it’s a friendly group of customers at Curto’s Appliances and Grills who are obsessed with the process of smoking.

“We’re a loose-knit network of guys addicted to slow-cooking meat using smokers,” says Jonathan Giannettino, third-generation owner of the Yonkers store founded by his grandfather Mario in 1948. “I swear I have just as many photos on my smartphone of whatever meat one of the Brotherhood crew is cooking on a particular weekend as I do of my three kids.”

According to Giannettino, while grilling will cook meats in a short time, a gas grill doesn’t do much for flavor. Smokers are better insulated and retain moisture. “Smoke will transform the flavor and accent the attributes of what you’re cooking. The layer of smoke flavor is fantastic.”

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There are essentially three types of smokers: the traditional offset smoker, or stick burner, in which air dampers are used to manually control the temperature, thus requiring a certain amount of “babysitting”; the ceramic smoker grill, which works similarly to an Indian tandoor oven and uses lump charcoal; and finally, Giannettino’s favorite, the pellet smoker. It’s a smoking device that’s thermostatically controlled, like your kitchen stove, so you don’t have to tend the fire constantly. It’s “an outdoor oven in a way but uses pellets made of compressed sawdust.” Hickory and oak pellets are most popular, but mesquite (for beef ribs or brisket), fruitwoods — like apple, peach, and cherry (for ribs, poultry, and pork) — and alder wood (for salmon) are also used. “Competitive barbecue types look down on pellet smokers, but I find them more versatile than offset smokers,” says Giannettino. “Curto’s is the area’s largest source for pellet smokers. It’s one of the hottest growing segments in backyard cooking.”

A quality starter pellet smoker (Traeger is a brand Giannettino likes) ranges from $799 to $999.

Brisket (“the apex of barbecue,” per Giannettino), pork shoulder, beef ribs, and other meats that require long cooking times are obvious choices for a smoker, but corn, black beans in a skillet, and savory pies can also be done well in one. Coffee-rubbed smoked prime rib is a specialty of Giannettino’s.

The Brotherhood of Smoke has approximately 50 “members,” and is growing, according to Giannettino. “We have everyone from surgeons to Wall Street financers from all around the Metro area,” says Giannettino, whose nickname is Señor Smoke. “People have smoked food since the Bronze Age. We’re just connecting back to our primal roots.”

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