January 29

Pit Smokers Lets get Horizontal


Wood burning Pit Smokers are a must for the traditionalist and smoker cooking purist. Anything else is sacrilegious.

Pit Smokers use a dual-chamber design to isolate the fire from the smoking meat. A “firebox” is mounted on the side of the meat-smoking chamber, usually slightly lower. 

These smoker can have horizontal or vertical alignment, it’s not uncommon for arguments to erupt over which set up is best. Temperature control is almost an art, a dance of fire size, air intake adjustment, and proper use of the flue damper.  


Pit Smoker Cliff Notes

Pit smokers are for serious smoking and barbecue. Many are custom made and can run into the thousands of dollars, however for the beginner a nice unit can be had for under $600.00. These smokers often resemble an oversized metal oil drum / barrel. This is the pit, or cooking chamber. In the off set firebox you build a nice fire with hardwood logs from which the smoke rises into the cooking chamber. The meat and a large water pan are kept in the cooking chamber. The water keeps the meat moist. The pit also has vents which open and close and are used to control the  smoke level and temperature of the pit.

Cost and Quality

Like everything else there is the high end and low end. Pit smokers vary widely in price and quality. It’s not to hard to find an acceptable one for around $200.00 during the fall or at “spring sales.” Just keep in mind a couple hundred dollar unit will be small and the quality may be borderline. It pays to do you research first. If it came down to spending $200.00 on a cheap pit or the same on a nice gas vertical we recommend the gas vertical smoker.    

At the other end of the spectrum are large custom smokers which can easily top six thousand dollars! These are pretty extreme units, often geared toward the commercial venture or smoker cooking fanatic. If you are a fanatic fine, but lets talk about something a little more reasonable.   

For most of us a nice smoker can easily be had for around five hundred dollars. For that kind of money you can step into a nice size unit of more than acceptable quality. Check the internet and yellow pages for local manufacturers. If you have no luck there start looking on the net for companies in Texas, if you can’t find the pit smoker you want in Texas it ain’t made!   

Your imagination and pocket book are the only limits. You can get a model with wheels and a trailer hitch. Multiple doors are also a popular feature.  

Fire it up … Burning Desire

Your pit smoker can be fired with wood, or a combination of charcoal and wood. Oak, hickory, mesquite, apple, and maple are just a few of the best woods to use. They also happen to be the safest . Top priority is maintaining a clean burning fire at a temperature of 200 to 225 degrees. Your perfect smoke will have a pale blue hue. 

Fresh wood seasoned for five to ten months is our recommendation. Push it to eighteen months and run the risk of having “dirty tasting” meat.

Water Smoking in the Pit

Can you water smoke in a pit smoker? Sure! Just add pan of water or other liquid in the smoking chamber near the firebox and presto. You have a water smoker. When the hot air flows from the firebox the heat is absorbed by the liquid, causing it to simmer or boil. This keeps the meat moist and produces extra flavor. 

The water vapor humidifies the smoking chamber, and in turn, it helps the meat stay juicy and moist. It also helps regulate the chamber temperature.  For an extra treat add something flavorful and aromatic to the liquid.

Dry Smoking

You can achieve great tasting and moist meat without the use water smoking. You just need to learn a little about dry smoking in pit smokers. It is simple to do, however you need to pay close attention to the meat or it will be ruined. Mix up some of your favorite baste and apply regularly or when the meat seems to be drying. We like an water and oil base formula for basting. If you are smoking a large piece of meat such as a brisket you can wrap the meat in foil to help hold in moisture.     

Is Pit Smoking Right for You?

Using a pit smoker requires a little education, regular attention, and a fair chunk of change. But for fans of pit smokers the rewards are worth the extra effort. 

Your extra effort will pay dividends every time you sink your teeth into that oh so perfect brisket, or a rack of tender ribs. 

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