All true barbecue finds its origins in cheaper cuts of meat like brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder, so it seems only natural to cook ground meats in the smoker as well. Take an American classic like meatloaf and give it a modern twist by cooking it in the smoker (or on a grill set up as a smoker). It's as easy as cooking in the oven, but the results are so much more flavorful. It is important to follow a few tips to be sure your meatloaf doesn't fall apart or dry out. Once you try smoking a meatloaf, you may never bake it in the oven again.
Choose a Recipe
In terms of the meatloaf ingredients, you can use almost any recipe you prefer, but it does need to have a certain consistency and texture. That means the meat should be beef or pork—ground turkey and chicken do not always hold together well. The meatloaf is going to be cooked somewhat free form instead of in a pan, which would help to hold its shape, so you want a meat mixture that is firm enough to hold together while the meatloaf cooks. A good recipe includes beef, pork, bread mixed with milk, an egg, ketchup, and a few seasonings. A glaze is always a delicious addition but optional.
To cook the meatloaf, you need a smoker or a grill set up to act as one, wood chips, and parchment paper. A meat thermometer is also handy.
Because you don't need a lot of smoke for a BBQ meatloaf, you really don't need a smoker to make this. Charcoal grills work perfectly, and if you can generate smoke on your gas grill, you can use that as well.
Shape the Meatloaf
Traditionally, the meatloaf mixture is cooked in a loaf pan. But a pan would limit the smoke penetration to all of the sides except the top, and you want to make the most of the smoke flavor and expose as much of the surface of the meat as possible. Therefore, you need to form the meatloaf into a shape that will maximize the smoke exposure and hold together well. The basic loaf shape works, as long as you keep it as thick through the middle as possible so that the center will stay moist.
Make a Crust
Since this is a barbecue meatloaf, you can treat it like any other barbecue meat when it comes to the seasoning. Of course, you are putting flavor into the meat mixture, but adding a good barbecue rub to dust the surface of the meatloaf will help give it a flavorful, crusty outer coating.
Preparing the Smoke
Ground meat absorbs smoke much faster than other meats, so you want small amounts of a mild smoke. Fruit woods work best with meatloaf, particularly apple. Use fewer wood chips than you would if you were smoking ribs or chicken.
Set the Temperature
Although the mantra for smoking food is "low and slow," ground meat should not spend a lot of time at a low temperature. Turn up the heat to anywhere between 250 F and 275 F; this will still allow the BBQ meatloaf to cook slowly and get a good dose of smoke, but it will cook it fast enough to keep bacteria from growing. To be safe, cook the meatloaf to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.
Place It in the Smoker
In most smokers, the smoke rises, so putting the meatloaf in any kind of pan or on a tray is going to deflect a lot of the smoke away from the meat. A technique could be to place the meatloaf on a wire rack and then put the rack on the smoker grate. The problem with this method, however, is that the meatloaf could slip between the grids. A good solution is to place a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of the meatloaf underneath the meat. This will keep the meatloaf together while letting smoke move around it. To prevent it from breaking apart, it is important not to move the meatloaf while it cooks.
Let It Rest
As with any meat you grill or smoke, your meatloaf needs some time to rest. This will allow the meat to relax and the moisture to spread out evenly inside. Once you have finished cooking the meatloaf, take it out of the smoker, cover with foil, and set aside for about 10 minutes. Then, slice and serve.