Smoking & Drinking with Michael Smerklo

When entrepreneur and investor Michael Smerklo is not mentoring startups at his firm Next Coast Ventures, writing for his blog or fishing, he just may be smoking a whole chicken or picanha for his family of six. Lisa Flynn asked Michael about his favorite things to smoke for a family weeknight dinner, his must-have grilling tools, including the $12 piece he cannot cook without, and what cut he wants to challenge himself with next.

What’s the last thing you smoked?

Michael Smerklo

Half chickens on the pit barrel cooker for the whole family, and they were phenomenal. I have my butcher take out the backbone and then I brine them with a salt-water solution. My general rule with white meat is to always brine anywhere from two hours to two days. I put on a light rub, nothing fancy, just some Himalayan salt and a little bit of generic spice rub. Then I smoked them for about 45 minutes on the Pit Barrel.

 How did you learn to smoke?

My brother-in-law taught me. He had done some competitive barbecuing. But it really started when I bought the Green Egg seven or eight years ago. It was my first foray into it and I started just by trial and error. I spent a bunch of time on the Big Green Egg forum when I was using that smoker and learned all these tips and tricks. Now I'm just a self-taught YouTube guy that watches every video that's out there and tries to learn as much as I can.

Any favorites?

I really like The BBQ Guys. I love the  Big Green Egg videos because it's some guy sitting there with his green egg and a beer. I'm a massive fan of the user-generated content because you get so much more passion and energy and tips and tricks that you can't get anywhere else.

Which smokers have you used?

Whole Smoked Chickens on the Pit Barrel

First, I went to Green Egg. Then to the Hasty-Bake, which might be the greatest smoker of all time. In the Hasty-Bake you can do charcoal, you can do wood, you can do anything. It's got this crank and you adjust the heat by turning a crank to raise and lower the heat source. It’s also got a kind of an interesting-looking design to it so the smoke permeates it pretty effectively without overkill.

I bought a house with a Hasty-Bake. I would have bought another one but they're just kind of hard to get, really a super cool smoker, all-purpose grill. When I sold the house, I also sold the smoker and had to get a new one. I looked at the Traeger but felt it was cheating a little bit. Just a little too easy. And that’s what led me to the Pit Barrel Cooker.

So you're not totally hands-off?

You know, here's the secret for me: I think it's a magical time to get away. I love my wife and kids, but part of the beauty of the grill is that I get to go, drink a beer, stand around the fire and act like I'm doing something of importance. I thought with the Traeger grill if I just put this on, drop in the pellets and it controls everything, what am I here for?

What wood do you like to use?

I had a mesquite phase where I was always going, “Put more mesquite on.” After a while, my family finally waved the flag and said we can't handle any more mesquite. So I think mesquite is helpful but if you don't overdo it. I have historically overdone it and now I tend to go with something light as to not overkill the smoke flavor.

What is a favorite tool for smoking?

Best thing I’ve bought cost about $12 at Home Depot: an electric starter  that looks like a medieval torture device. It’s this prong thing that plugs into a power source and heats up. And it feels a little bit like cheating but, man, it gets coals burning. It's kind of my “can't live without” starting device. You've got to be careful with it, but it's a killer heat source so you can avoid the paper that's required normally to start charcoal or wood. And you don't use any fluid, so it's good.

What do you drink while you’re smoking?

I'm from Ohio, so it's Budweiser or Coors Light. Every once in a while I'll get crazy and have one of these IPAs. But for the most part, it's just lightweight, generic, Midwestern beer.

Do any of the kids help, or is this dad time?

Dad time, all dad time. You must make it look like it's really harder than it is. That's my secret.

You’re one of the rare people who smokes a weeknight family dinner. Do you do any project smoking?

You name it, I've tried it. I do a bunch of ribs. Pulled pork is probably my favorite and most consistently good. And I've done brisket. I've done it really well and really shitty. And I would say the Green Egg was always a mystery. It was either going to be wonderful or horrible. And as to the pit barrel, why, I could be their spokesperson. Brisket was super easy and even my wife and kids all said that's the best one you've ever done.

One of my favorite cuts I smoked was a Brazilian-style Picanha.  Everyone out there should go buy one of those. That was the best. I did that on the Hasty-Bake and my family and in-laws still rave about it. Getting my meat from Rosso and Flynn has changed my family's receptivity to my experiments.

Whole Brisket in the Pit Barrel Smoker

What's the next thing you want to try?

I've never done turkey. Turkey is a little bit of a Mount Everest. I've done deep fried whole turkey, but I've not smoked a whole turkey yet. I think that will be my next conquest. And Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

You can learn more about Michael on his blog and through E2E, his fund's original content.

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