Memorial Day marks the official start of grilling season in my book – but there’s a secret second season that rides tandem to the BBQ: the smoker!
Having grown in popularity over the last decade or so, smoking your meats is now the trendy new way to serve everything from chicken and beef tips to apple pie and cream cheese. With just a little extra patience (i.e. less time standing by a hot grill) you can have perfectly cooked meats of many varieties.
In the spirit of seeing what else I could toss in my smoker, I decided to take meatloaf on a test run – and to be honest, I might never make meatloaf in the oven again.
Packed with cherrywood smoked flavor and topped with a tangy apple barbecue sauce, this meatloaf will have you rethinking everything you can make in your smoker.
Charcoal vs Electric Smokers
Before you start smoking your meats, first you have to decide what kind of smoker you want to invest in. Fortunately, smokers come in all sizes and prices so it’s pretty easy to find one that suits your needs. However, there are pros and cons to both.
For our wedding, we recieved this charcoal smoker (affiliate link). I smoked everything from chicken to apple pie – and trust me, I am building up my smoker recipe archives!
The pros? The charcoal smoker adds excellent flavor and tend to be on the cheaper end of the two options. Nothing comes close to the flavor that can be achieved on a charcoal smoker. For avid smokers, charcoal presents a fun challenge of maintaining the heat throughout the day and checking temperatures to make sure the food inside doesn’t stall.
The cons? Reread the last sentence. While some people like to putter about the grill all day to make sure their meats are smoked to perfection, there is definitely a downside to it too. Charcoal takes longer to reach the correct temp and depending on the weather, it can get hotter or colder without any notice. Food is more likely to stall in cooking in a charcoal smoker – meaning the meat will sit at one temp, usually too low of a temp, for too long without actually continuing to cook.
There’s more prep and maintence to charcoal overall.
Electric smokers on the other hand offer convenience over patience. We recieved this Masterbuilt electric smoker (affiliate link) as a hand-me-down from our in-laws after they upgraded their smoker to a Traeger (affiliate link) – like I said, there’s a huge range in prices and sizes!
The downside to electric is that you only get the flavor from the woodchips you add, not any charcoal. If you’ve ever eaten a hot dog that’s been on a grill vs a hot dog cooked over a fire, you will know there is a definite difference – and that’s basically the same diference missing in the electric option. You are losing the ‘wood fired’ element but you make up for it with more control over the flavor of the wood in the end.
Electric smokers are more or less “set it and forget it” – like a slow cooker in grill form. Most of the time you can find options that are larger than the charcoal options for similar prices. If you would rather focus on the food than the fire, electric is the way to go.
Regardless of the option you choose to use, I’m team smoker from here on out!
For the Meatloaf:
Here’s what you need to make the perfect, smoke-able meatloaf.
- ground beef – you can also swap for healthier alternatives like ground turkey!
- panko – adds texture and helps bind the meatloaf together
- eggs & milk – more binders for holding the meatloaf together
- honey crisp apple – I recommend using an extra sweet apple in this meatloaf
- onion & garlic – essential to adding savory notes
- honey – essential to adding an undertone of sweetness
- jalapeno – for just a hint of heat
- chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – get the canned variety for the best flavor
- unsweetened cocoa powder – adds depth to the savory flavor notes
Let’s Get SAUCY
Everyone knows the best part of the meatloaf is the sauce!
- ketchup – the perfect meatloaf sauce base
- honey – helps to sweeten AND thicken the sauce
- peach bourbon jelly – adds depth and helps to thicken, feel free to sub in your favorite peach jam!
- Worcestershire – because something had to be hard to pronounce in this dish
- tomato paste – boosts the tomato-y flavor
For my recipe, I used my electric smoker. However the temps and cook times are the same if you were to use a charcoal smoker.
Barbecue Smoked Meatloaf
- Prep the smoker according to the method recommended by the smoker's brand. If using an electric smoker, preheat to 220°F.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together the panko, milk and eggs. Soak for 15 minutes. Then mix in the ground beef, apple, onion, garlic and jalapeno. Then mix in the chipotles in adobo sauce and unsweetened cocoa powder. Rest for 15 minutes to develop flavors.
- Grease a loaf pan with cooking spray then transfer the meatloaf mixture to the pan. Use a spatula to round over the top of the loaf.
- Place the uncovered meatloaf in the smoker and tightly seal the smoker. Then add in your smoking chips to the chamber. The smoke should last about 30 minutes.
- Smoke the meatloaf for 45-55 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
- While the meatloaf is smoking, start the sauce. In a large pot over medium high heat add the ketchup, honey, peach jelly, worcestershire and tomato paste. Whisk until smooth then bring to a low simmer. Continue to whisk until the sauce is starting to thicken then reduce the temp to medium low and continue to simmer.
- When the meatloaf reaches an internal temp of 160°F remove it from the smoker and tent with foil. Cool for at least 30 minutes for the best results. The meatloaf will be easier to slice the longer it cools.
- When ready to serve, spoon about a quarter to half cup of sauce over the top. Slice and serve. Enjoy!