Turn your backyard into a barbeque with a smoker
If you’ve ever driven past a BBQ restaurant and caught of whiff of the delicious smoke coming out of their kitchen, you’ve experienced the magic of cooking with smokers. Standard gas or charcoal grills are great for fresh, flavorful home-cooked meals, but nothing brings out rich flavor quite like a smoker. Smokers slow-cook foods at lower temperatures over longer periods of time – think of them as the slow-cooker versions of grills. This guide will teach you how to use a smoker, whether the charcoal, propane, or wood chips styles.
Tip: When cooking with any type of grill, periodically check the food temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure its internal temperature is high enough.
Depending on what you’re trying to cook, meat smoker temperatures are usually set between 200 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, with that temperature regulated using dampers found at the top and bottom of the smoker.
By regulating the airflow, you can adjust the temperature up and down. Opening the lower damper will allow more air to flow to the fire and increase the heat, while opening the upper damper will allow more heat to escape and lower the temperature.
Cooking times will vary based on the exact temperature, the type of meat and the particular smoker you’re using, but a good rule of thumb is to allow one to one and a half hours for pound of meat.
Make sure you cook to temperature and not to time! Smoke your meals to perfection by following these times.
Types of Smokers
Smokers are available in electric, propane, charcoal or wood pellet varieties. While charcoal or wood pellets provide richer flavor, it’s quicker to heat and easier to control the temperatures in electric or propane smokers.
Light the smoker as you would a grill of the same fuel – see our guides on gas grills and charcoal grills for more information – and close the lid, turning the food only a few times while cooking. Don’t check on the food too often, of it will lose valuable heat and smoke. That’s it!
Only charcoal smokers can give you that rich chargrilled taste, and wood pellet smokers natural infuse your food with smokey flavors. But if you find the cleanliness and ease of electric or gas smokers more appealing, there are a few steps you can take to try to match the flavors created by naturally-fueled smokers:
- To get the most flavorful food, try adding wood chips in a pan of water to your cooking surface. The wood chips will add a smokey taste and the water will keep the food from drying out over the long course of cooking. Refill this water pan as needed when you turn the food during cooking.
- You can even add wood chips to charcoal smokers: Soak the chips in water for 30 minutes, strain them, then add them to the preheated coals before cooking.
- For added flavor, mix herbs and spices into the water pan and place the meat over the water pan so the drippings fall in.
If smoking for an extended period of time (over 4 hours), it may be necessary to add more charcoal.
Tip: You can purchase small containers of flavored wood chips that are pre-packaged and ready to be inserted into your grill or smoker.
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Just like with regular grills, you should clean the smoker grates after each use using a wire brush and water. As for the rest of the smoker, while it’s good to retain flavors in your BBQ smoker, over time grease and debris can gather in the bottom. In order to prevent fires and protect your health, you should clean this out after every few times you use your smoker.
- Wearing gloves, scrape out the grease from the bottom of the smoker.
- Wipe down the bottom and sides with a paper towel, then apply a thin layer of vegetable oil around the bottom of the smoker to prevent rust.
You can use the same vegetable oil trick on the outside of the smoker, as the extended cooking times of smokers may cause their external paint to flake off quicker than standard grills.