Meat Smokers… come in a wide variety of sizes, styles, functions, and price ranges. It can be confusing picking the smoker just right for you.
Maybe the gas or charcoal grill you have in the backyard is fine. Or, Perhaps a multi-tier bullet smoker is what you need.
For those in urban areas a compact electric meat smoker may be just the ticket.
Cooking for big crowds means a commercial grade smoker. Before you buy a meat smoker there are several things you need to consider. Lets start with the basic points …
How will I use it – Smoking, Grilling, Barbecuing, or all three?
How will I fuel it – Wood, Charcoal, Gas, Electricity, Pellets?
Cost – Just how much should I pay for my meat smoker?
Size and Capacity – How much will I cook, how big to buy?
Features and Gadgets- What bells and whistles do I want?
Smoking, Grilling, and Barbecuing … What’s the Difference
Both Smoking and Barbecuing cook using low temperatures over a long period of time with an indirect heat source.
Barbecue: Traditionally cooked using charcoal or wood for fuel in a barbecue pit or in an offset fire box on a barbecue. Contrary to popular belief you don’t need barbecue sauce to barbecue. Barbecue is just the method of cooking. Todays high quality gas grills make it possible to turn out some decent Q.
Smoked foods: Cooked “low and slow” in smoker, or in a barbecue with wood chunks or shavings added. The smoke flavor produced by the wood infuses itself into the meat giving it that great smoked flavor. So yes, it is possible to smoke foods in a barbecue or barbecue food in a smoker. Did I loose you yet.
Grilling: A much quicker cooking process using higher temperatures produced by direct or indirect heat.
The classic barbecue pit smoker, called a Dual Chamber Meat Smoker is what most people picture when you mention meat smoking. It’s tried and true for traditional smoking, that’s low and slow. The heat source, a small fire box, is off-set and provides indirect heat and clean smoke. Chefs control the heat and fire size with an adjustable flue.
The classic grill is the Weber Style Kettle Grill, which by the way also makes a dandy smoker. Grill styles vary but most share similar features. A fuel tray, vents to control flame size, and possibly a cover. Your Charcoal Grill is not just for grilling, it makes a fine meat smoker.
Gas grills may also be used to smoke meat, however an inexpensive grill that cannot hold a steady temperature will pose a problem. See our Gas Grill Smoking … smoke on your gas grill page to see if your gas grill will work for food smoking.
Tpes of smokers include:
These smokers should not confused with a smokehouse. Smoke houses are large walk in rooms where meat is smoke cooked at low temperatures in a smoky atmosphere for up to 24 hours.
Once you get more experienced with smoking you can either Cold Smoke or hot smoke.
How will I fuel it … Gas, Wood, Charcoal
Today’s smoker chef has a wide variety of meat smokers to choose from. Selecting the right smoker for your needs involves balancing convenience, flavor, budget, and a heaping of personal preference. Lets look at your choices …
- Pit Smokers -Classic and traditional, these are the original smoker cookers. Wood fired meat smoking will take practice, but the rewards are oh so delicious. Just remember when working with fire safety is a must.
- Easy Gas Smokers- Clean, convenient and easy to use. Just pile in your favorite wood chips, light it off, cover, and let it do it’s magic.
- Charcoal Smokers- The most difficult to master, but also our favorite smoked flavor. This is a good method to “work your way up to.” Smoked food aficionados swear by the charcoal smoking process.
- Pellet Smokers- About as easy as it gets. Add your favorite flavor of wood pellets into the hopper and turn it on! Great for smoker chefs with little time.
Cost … How Much will I pay for my Smoker
Entry level meat smokers cost about fifty dollars. Charcoal Smokers are popular starter meat smokers. Stepping up to the quality and convenience of a nice gas or electric water smoker will cost you about $75.00 to $150.00. Of course the fancier they get the more they cost. High quality Gas Smokers are a reasonable buy at about $225.00.
For a nice wood fired pit smoker that can pass on to your kids expect to pay $400.00 to $600.00. For the professional commercial and custom smokers are available for a thousand dollars and up, but that’s the extreme.
Use caution when buying a yard sale smokers unless you know what you are doing. Replacement parts can quickly add up to the price of a new smoker, especially for older models. The one exception would be buying a used Weber Grill strictly for Charcoal Grill Smoking .
Avoid the temptation to buy a low priced meat smoker. Their quality will be questionable and it’s useful life will be short. In the long run they cost you more money. A poor quality smoker will not heat properly and can’t maintain a steady smoking temperature.
If possible go for the better built higher price model. They last longer, and are easier to use. Trust us, that adds up to enjoyable and delicious smoker cooking.
Meat Smoker Size and Capacity … How big should you buy
Cooking for a crowd, or is it just you and a few friends. New smoker chefs often “under buy” when purchasing their first meat smoker. People love smoked food, so make sure your food smoker has the capacity to satisfy the heartiest appetites. For the casual smoker chef or couple a Stove Top Smokers or kettle grill may work fine.
When cooking for a large group or entertaining on a regular basis you may need a Pit Smoker capable of smoking several types of meat at one time. Some where in the middle would be multiple tier mid size gas or electric smoker. We found it’s best to choose a smoker that seems big enough, then go a little bigger, you’ll be glad you did.
Features and Gadgets … The Bells and Whistles
Even meat smokers are high tech these days. Some modern day smokers are digitally controlled by computer. After market digital thermometers and a host of high quality smoker accessories are available. You can even plan and have a custom meat smoker built just for you.
Traditional Construction … Part by Part
There are three main components to a smoker:
Cooking chamber – This is where the cooking is done in your smoker. It is the enclosed body of the smoker where the heat meets the meat! You access the chamber by a small door. Inside you’ll find a cooking grate for the meat. The cooking grate is usually located vertically in the middle of the chamber. It’s important to leave about 2 inches clearance between the meat and the walls of the chamber. This allows for proper air flow for the heat/smoke to circulate around the meat. A key factor is that the cooking chamber should be large enough to handle all of the barbecuing necessary for a large party.
Firebox – Usually located on one side of the meat smoker. This is an important feature ensuring the heat is not situated directly beneath the meat. The is cooked at about 225 degrees in a proper firebox setup.
Chimney – The chimney is a key element of your smoker that does more than simply allow the heat to escape the cooking chamber. The right chimney allows for free air flow while retaining the proper amount of heat in the cooking chamber. This traps the heat while allowing the free flow of air which is required for proper cooking.
Well, those are the meat smoker basics. Explore the rest of Smoker Cooking Secrets to learn everything you need to know about Smoker Cooking.
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