When it comes to cooking outdoors, no technique is more revered or more demanding than smoking your favorite meats, veggies and cheeses. If you’re willing to commit the time and energy, the benefits are plentiful. Longer cooking times and smoke from natural woods leads to astounding aromas, tender textures and mouthwatering flavors that will have everyone asking for seconds. Just like with grilling, having the right equipment can help make preparing delicious foods much easier. Read on to learn about the latest models and features when buying a smoker.
Types of Smokers
Charcoal smokers are the tried-and-true, classic smokers. Some experienced grillmasters may even tell you that charcoal smokers are the only real smokers out there. While the equipment you use is largely a matter of preference, charcoal smokers do offer a number of advantages over other types of smokers.
- Authentic flavors – If you’re an outdoor cooking purist, charcoal smokers can provide the ideal combination of smokiness and classic charcoal flavors.
- Customization – Since everything from establishing and maintaining the fire to regulating the temperature using the air vents is done manually, you have complete control over the smoking process.
Gas smokers are a convenient alternative to traditional charcoal models. Like gas grills, these smokers are easy to set up, run and adjust on the fly. If continuously adding charcoal and adjusting the temperature for hours doesn’t sound manageable, then this option is right for you.
- Ease of use –With no charcoals to look after, a gas smoker can be set up and left to cook without much additional hassle.
- Precision controls –If you find that your gas smoker is running above or below the proper temperature, you can simply adjust the knobs appropriately, instead of tinkering with air vents that can require more nuance and effort.
One major advantage of an electric smoker over charcoal or propane styles, is that even the time can be regulated automatically on many models. If you know that your recipe calls for a specific number of hours in the smoker, simply program the machine accordingly and check back when it’s done.
- Safety –Electric smokers use a heating element, as opposed to a burner or lit charcoals, which means that there’s no potentially dangerous open flame to worry about.
- Simple cleanup –Even smoking purists can appreciate how easy it is to clean an electric smoker. Instead of scraping spent charcoal from the interior, you’ll just need to empty the wood ashes and wipe down any spilled juices before closing up shop.
These high-tech smokers utilize preformed wood pellets to continuously heat and smoke your food for a true-to-style taste with less hassle. While they don’t deliver a hardcore charcoal flavor some enthusiasts crave, their ease of use make them a valued addition to any outdoor cooking collection.
- Precision heating –Pellet smokers are able to provide continuous heat by automatically loading wood pellets via the attached hopper. All you have to do is fill up the hopper, adjust the settings and the smoker will do the rest.
- Rich, natural flavors – Some outdoor cooking enthusiasts claim that the fuel used to cook on gas smokers can negatively affect the flavor of foods, while others don’t seem to notice. If you don’t like the taste of food from a natural gas or propane smoker but don’t like operating a charcoal model, this may be your best option.
Features of Smokers
The basics of smoking might seem straightforward, but mastering your technique requires careful attention to detail. Understanding the common features of different types of smokers can help you choose one that complements your skill level and ambition.
- Heating element –The heat source or fuel type can drastically affect the flavor of foods. While gas and pellet smokers directly burn wood chips, gas and charcoal smokers can provide more complex characteristics both in the appearance and taste of the finished product.
- Dampers –Dampers regulate the airflow throughout a smoker. For charcoal smokers, this is the primary way in which you’ll control the temperature inside.
- Firebox –Fireboxes are included on what’s known as offset options. Offset smokers generally feature a standard grill grate inside a cylindrical body. The firebox is attached to one side and is used to contain and help monitor your charcoals and wood as they burn.
- Smoke chamber –The smoke chamber is where your foods cook as the hot, smoky air circulates. This area generally dictates the overall shape of the smoker as well. Styles range from vertical “egg” and rectangular smokers to horizontal offset models and more.
- Thermometer – Maintaining a consistent temperature while smoking your favorite foods is absolutely essential, which makes the thermometer one of your most important pieces of equipment. While most models include a built-in thermometer, double-checking the status of your smoke chamber with an alternate thermometer is recommended.
- Water and drip pans – The water pan helps keep your foods moist and tender over the course of the smoking process, while the drip pan collects excess juices at the bottom of the smoke chamber. Having easy access to both will make maintenance and cleanup simpler.
- Hopper –Hoppers are an exclusive feature of pellet smokers. They both contain and distribute the preformed wood pellets.