Vertical water smokers utilize a pan of liquid positioned between the heat source and the meat. The liquid raises the humidity inside the smoking chamber keeping the meat moist. As the liquid vaporizes it marrys with the smoke creating a smoky flavor which penetrates the food.
Many liquids can be used, however popular are water, seasoned water, beer, wine, and fruit juice. Many units also include a wood “chip box.”
You can fuel you water smoker with gas, electricity, or charcoal. Each fuel has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, it usually comes down to personal preference. We recommend you do a little research before buying.
Water smoking is nothing new. Old timers using wood fired pit smokers placed a pan of water in the cooking chamber to keep their smoked foods moist. Modern technology just made the process easier.
Fuel Sources … Feel the Heat
Vertical water smokers can be fueled with gas, electricity, or charcoal. The first step to consider just how you plan on using your smoker. Do you plan on using it in several locations or will it be a stationary? Will you be smoking in an urban, suburban, or remote location? How many people will you be smoking for? Also consider budget, how much can you afford to spend on both the smoker and fuel.
There is a water smoker that answers each one of these questions and will be perfect for you. Lets take a closer look.
Gas smokers offer great portability and versatility, especially propane fueled units. It’s as simple as moving your smoker and propane bottle where ever you need them. Maintaining a proper smoking temperature is very easy with a gas unit, just adjust the steady burning flame. Propane is a clean burning gas so clean up is a breeze. Nice models run about $175.00 dollars. If you can use a gas grill you can use a gas smoker.
Always follow the manufactures recommendations for cleaning and care. Nothing ruins your smoking like clogged burner jets and replacement parts add up quickly. Monitor your fuel supply, running out of propane halfway though twenty pounds of baby back ribs isn’t fun. Consider purchasing a spare propane tank as a back up. I also have a gas grill so a spare propane tank is a must.
Natural gas smokers are also available. If you plan on installing a permanent smoker as part of an out door kitchen a natural gas smoker may be right for you. The biggest drawback is running a gas line run to your smoker. On the plus side natural gas is cheaper than propane, and you don’t have the hassle of switching bottles. Those considerations aside natural gas smokers share the same advantages as propane units.
The Verdict: Gas vertical water smokers are all around outstanding units. The portability, ease of operation, and cleanliness of propane units make them our number one pick. New smoker chefs and old hands needing versatility can’t go wrong with a gas propane smoker.
Electric Water Smokers:
Electric water smokers are also easy to use and fairly portable. Their strongest suit is convenience. Simply add your meat, wood chips, and plug it in. An added safety feature is No Fire or Flammable Fuel concerns. This is great if you have kids or pets. The biggest drawback is the need for a nearby electrical plug or extension cord. Expect to pay around $150.00 for a nice unit.
Most electric smokers have no temperature adjustment. Nicer models may have a “high” and “low” setting. The heat level is preset and is determined by how much wattage the heat element draws. The key in proper heat control is keeping the water pan full, the smoker will do the rest. When using our “Little Chief” electric unit we keep monitoring temperature with a good oven thermometer.
The Verdict: Electric water smokers are easy to use and clean. If you have concerns with fire or flammables in your area this is the smoker for you.
Charcoal Water Smokers:
Charcoal water smokers require more knowledge and attention to use than a gas or electric unit. However, purists insist the flavor of charcoal units are second to none. On the plus side they are less expensive and are the ultimate in portability, no burners, bottles, or electrical cords to worry about. Taking safety into account there is really no place a charcoal unit cannot be used.
One thing you must master is temperature control. Start out by following manufactures directions on charcoal is arrangement, effects of outdoor temperature, amount of charcoal to use, and how to safely ignite the coal. Smoker chefs willing to spend a little extra time willing to learn the ropes of charcoal units swear by them.
The Verdict: Charcoal units require more effort to use. Their price tag, portability and good construction are big pluses. If you are traditionalist or think you will enjoy mastering this interesting way of smoking this may be the smoker for you.
Quality and Construction
“You Get What You Pay For”
Consider what type of vertical water smoker suits your needs. Then buy the best quality model you can afford. Quality, construction, and fit vary widely. A good quality smoker has a big impact on your food smoking enjoyment. Be sure and ask experienced smokers for “reasonable” recommendations.
If you can, buy a dual-wall construction model, this adds to the smoker’s efficiency. Not only will you use less fuel but the exterior walls are cooler, a nice safety feature.
Look for quality construction. If you don’t know what good quality looks like ask a friend who knows. Check for straight and clean welds, thick metal, doors that open easily and secure tightly, and a high temperature powder coat finish. Ask to see an assembled unit and test it’s stability.
If you can afford it consider a stainless steel unit with a cover, you will pass that one on to your kids! If possible avoid sheet metal, unless you don’t mind tossing it after a few years. However, folks that TLC cheap smokers claim they get five or more years out of their smokers.
If you have to go cheap you must remember: TLC, TLC, TLC, and Maintenance, Maintenance Maintenance!!!!!
Points to Remember
- Ask others for recommendations regarding good brands.
- Always follow your manufactures instructions and use common sense.
- Look for a well constructed unit.
- Buy the best smoker you can reasonably afford.
- Clean, dry, and cover your vertical water smoker between uses.
- Look for a model with a built in temperature gauge
- Consider buying an oven thermometer as a back up.
- Have Fun!!!!!!!!
These are the basics in getting started when it comes to vertical water smokers. The rest is up to you. Do your research, don’t hesitate too long, and above all Get Cooking.
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