GET READY TO SMOKE

Using a smoker can be intimidating but the first step to smoking success is to choose the best one for your needs. Let’s start by looking at the different types of equipment available and the advantages of each type.

Regardless of the smoker purchased, its performance will be greatly improved by purchasing a high-quality instant-read thermometer. Handheld units are great for checking doneness of meats and models that monitor the smoker temperature let you know what’s happening under the hood.

SMOKER TYPES

While there are many options available, below is a look into a selection of most-used smokers, including pros/cons and the best application for each type.

OFFSET SMOKER

thumbnail_600x800

Considered to be the original, offset smokers were historically made with old propane tanks, scrap metal and pieces and parts found is a salvage yard. The tank was turned on its side, legs were added, and doors, hinges and handles were cut and fitted. Equipped with a fabricated smokestack, a firebox was added to the side “offsetting” it from the tank.

This is not the choice for those who want a quick and easy cook. It takes time and patience to learn proper technique for an offset smoker. They are fueled by wood, whole logs or cut wood, and the temperature and amount of smoke added to the meat is controlled by the fire. They can be customized by tank size which makes offset smokers the top choice for pit masters cooking large volumes for restaurant use.

There are many brands of offset smokers to choose from and it’s important to know what you are looking for before you make the purchase commitment. There is a wide range of prices and options from smaller, less expensive, options that can be purchased at your local hardware store to custom made pits fabricated to meet your every need.

A less expensive model, while affordable, can disappoint. They are made of thinner metal and often do not hold heat or temperature efficiently. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a more expensive model is well-made, and built to last a lifetime. A couple of brands offering a top-of-the-line offset smoker experience are Mill Scale Smoker and Jambo Pits, also known as the Cadillac of Pits.

Size – Range is wide. From smaller 15 gallon tanks to monstrous 1,000 gallon custom pits.

Price - $150 to $10,000+

Temperature Control – Excellent – once fire control is mastered.

Ease of Use – Intermediate to Expert. Fire control is exceptionally important and must be monitored and adjusted throughout the cook.

Offset Smoker Tips

  • Wood logs or cut wood is a preferred fuel for offset smokers.
  • Fire Management is key. Start small and practice until you understand how temperature is controlled via the fire box.
  • Different areas of the smoker will have different temperatures. You may need to rotate placement of your meat throughout the cooking process to obtain an even cook.
  • Keep a clean pit and firebox. The cleaner the pit, the cleaner the smoke added to anything you are smoking.

KETTLE GRILLS

opt-kettlegrill800x1200

This classic grill shape is what many of us think of when it comes to outdoor cooking. Charcoal grills are available in a wide range of sizes (and colors) and can be purchased for a reasonable price. Weber is the industry leader providing excellent quality. Many other options are available, but keep in mind that higher prices generally equate to better quality.

Although any type of charcoal can be used, these grills perform best with briquettes since they are uniform in size, burn at an even rate and can easily be set up as a consistent level or pushed to one side for 2-zone cooking.

Size – Diameters of 14” to 22”. 22” is a good size providing 363 square inches of grill space.

Price - $50 to $800

Temperature Control – Very good, although this can vary with the features of each grill.

Ease of Use – Very good. Use a charcoal chimney for fast and easy charcoal lighting.

Kettle Grill Tips

  • Use “natural” or “hardwood” briquettes since these do not contain any additional additives.
  • Light charcoal with a chimney and avoid the off-flavors of lighter fluid.
  • Preheat your grill with the lid closed to prevent meat from sticking.
  • Keep the lid closed to maintain heat and keep flare-ups to a minimum.
  • Add chunks of hardwood, soaked in water, to add even enhance the charcoal flavor.

BULLET SMOKER

WeberSmokeyMountain_Smoker-bullet

Another iconic smoker many beginners start with is a Bullet Smoker. Easy to use and compact they can be used in almost any area outdoors. They are not electric and are an excellent smoker to start you on your outdoor cooking journey. The most common bullet smoker is the Weber Smokey Mountain.

Sometimes referred to as a vertical water smoker, they are fueled by wood chunks and charcoal. A water pan is added to create an even distribution of heat and help create a consistent humid environment.

While the cooking capacity is smaller than larger smokers, they will comfortably fit enough to feed your family and friends. They can be easily transported and found in almost any local hardware or bbq supply store and are among the most inexpensive smokers available.

Size – Diameters of 14” to 22”. 22” is a good size providing 363 square inches of grill space.

Price - $50 to $800

Temperature Control – Very good, although this can vary with the features of each grill.

Ease of Use – Very good. Use a charcoal chimney for fast and easy charcoal lighting.

Bullet Smoker Tips

  • Briquette charcoal combined with wood is a preferred fuel for bullet smokers.
  • Do not use lighter fluid, please. Use a charcoal chimney or torch to start your fire.
  • Keep it clean. Remove ash from smoker after using. Water pan can get greasy and should be cleaned after each use.
  • Take it on the road. This smoker can be broken down (when clean) and transported in a trunk of a car.

WOOD PELLET GRILL

GMG-PelletSmoker-GreenMountianGrill800x600

A relative newcomer to the smoking world, wood pellet grills are outstanding for convenience and temperature control. Since there is a large, continuous supply of fuel, these grills offer “point and shoot” control that’s hard to beat when cooking larger cuts. There are many options when selecting a pellet grill including from brands such as Weber, Green Mountain Grills, Yoder Smokers, Memphis Grills and MAK. Regardless of the maker, pellet grills have a lot of electronic bells and whistles like digital pellet controllers and wi-fi connections to monitor and control the cook. Keep in mind access to electricity is required to make these grills go.

Look for a smoker that can adjust the temperature in degrees. Some basic models have a simple “low, medium, high” dial which is less than optimal. Wood pellet grills are not cheap, and you pay for the convenience. As with most things, the more the features, the higher the price. Consider what you actually need before making your final selection.

Wood pellet grills truly excel for slow cooking meat and are the easiest way to smoke brisket or pork shoulder. For ease and convenience, a wood pellet grill is a perfect addition to your cooking arsenal.

Size – Diameters of 14” to 22”. 22” is a good size providing 363 square inches of grill space.

Price - $50 to $800

Temperature Control – Very good, although this can vary with the features of each grill.

Ease of Use – Very good. Use a charcoal chimney for fast and easy charcoal lighting.

Wood Pellet Grill Tips

  • Lower temperatures produce more smoke. Pellets burn clean at higher temps with almost no smoke.
  • Clean the grill often. An ugly combo of grease and ash can build up inside and cause problems.
  • Follow the maintenance plan – there are a lot of moving parts that require periodic attention.
  • Play around with different wood pellets to find the right flavor profile for your cook.

KAMADO STYLE CERAMIC GRILL

GrillingGuideDay600x800

These ceramic clay cookers trace their history back to the ancient Asian cookers. They became popular in the U.S. when military folks shipped them home after World War II. The Big Green Egg was introduced in 1974 and continues to be a top offering. There are numerous other brands to consider including Komodo, Kamado Joe, Primo and even Weber has grills in this category.

The thick sides of these grills retain and reflect heat well and the tight seal works with the vent system to control temperature very well making them outstanding smokers. The thick sides also work well in cold weather where thinner sided grills can struggle to maintain proper temperatures. 

Kamado grills use charcoal and additional smoke can be added with chunks of hardwood. These grills do retain heat very well, so the cool down period takes longer than other grills. A purchase is more of an investment and can ring up more than $1,000.

Size – Diameters of 14” to 22”. 22” is a good size providing 363 square inches of grill space required for briskets, pork shoulders and larger cooks.

Price - $50 to $800

Temperature Control – Very good, although this can vary with the features of each grill.

Ease of Use – Very good. Use a charcoal chimney for fast and easy charcoal lighting.

Kamado Grill Tips

  • Lump charcoal is best for Kamado-style cookers to obtain even, long burning heat.
  • Supplement the charcoal with pieces of hardwood to impart more smoke flaver.
  • Place a 1/4 pan of warm water in with the cook to help increase humidity.
  • Put a chunk of wood under briskets to cause it to bow. This allows moisture to run off and helps with bark formation.
  • Keep the lid closed to allow the ventilation system to do its job.

DRUM SMOKER

Gateway_Drum_Smoker600x800

A drum smoker, while not new to the smoking game, has recently had a facelift and become a popular choice for hot and fast smoking enthusiasts. Originally referred to as a UDS or Ugly Drum Smoker, popularity rose due its easy of use and the ability for smokers to build them on their own. The design is simple, a basket is placed in the bottom of the drum, grill grates are placed above and a lit tops the barrel. Temperature is controlled by vents coming from the fuel basket and on the lid.

Drum smokers have a small footprint so they're perfect for crowded outdoor cooking areas and are easy to transport. These simple smokers are very easy to use. Light the charcoal, add wood chunks, set in themeat and control the temperature with the vents. Like bullet smokers, the capacity is small so the amount of meat you can cook at one time is limited. Drum smokers cook hot and fast, and have no problem hitting temperatures high enough to sear and grill. Prices range from $250 for a DIY model, up to about $1,200 for custom sized and painted drums made by Gateway Drum Smokers.

Size – 27.5" is the standard size, with other options available.

Price - $250 to $800

Temperature Control – Very good. 

Ease of Use – Excellent.

Drum Smoker Tips

  • Briquette or lump charcoal is our preferred fuel for a drum smoker for high even heat.
  • Briquette or lump charcoal is our preferred fuel for a drum smoker for high even heat.
  • Keep the lid closed to allow the ventilation system to do its job.
  • Rotate and flip meat as needed to prevent over cooking.
  • Remove excess ash before using to keep the airflow moving through the drum smoker.