Smoking is one of the most popular ways to cook food and I have already talked on the blog about why a good old Weber Kettle is a great way to learn. The array of smokers on the market today can make choosing which one to buy a little tricky when the time comes. In this article I want to quickly run through the different types of smoker and when it might be time to pull the trigger and make a purchase!
What is a smoker?
A smoker is a little different to a traditional BBQ although there is some crossover between the two styles. There are some traditional BBQ’s out there that have the capability of grilling and smoking, depending on how the BBQ is set up.
A smoker will traditionally make it easy to maintain a low temperature for a long period of time. The food is commonly placed further away from the heat source or some form of deflector is used to create a low indirect heat.
The most important factor of all is the smoke. All smokers will use some form of wood as fuel or a combination of a heat source and wood to create smoke. The basic equation looks something like this:
((Wood + Heat = Smoke) + Food) x Time = Awesomeness!
So let’s take a quick look at the different types of smokers available on the market today and how they work.
Different types of smokers
Water smokers are a form of vertical smoker sometimes known as Bullet smokers or cylinder smokers. Smokers such as the Weber Smokey Mountain, ProQ and Drum Smokers would all fall under this category.
The fire is located at the bottom of the smoker with a large water pan directly above. When filled, the water pan helps to regulate the temperature and also acts as a diffuser between the fire and the food on the cooking grates directly above.
Water Smokers make temperature control very easy once you learn the correct setup for your vents and have a great cooking capacity for any backyard enthusiast.
An offset smoker consists of a smoking chamber with a firebox ‘offset’ to one side and a chimney to direct the flow of air through the smoking chamber. Offset smokers use different forms of pipes and baffles to channel the heat and smoke into the smoking chamber then out through the chimney.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from small backyard smokers to smokers that you tow behind your car allowing you to smoke for the masses!
Smokehouses in America have become famous for using gigantic versions of this style of smoker and it is right at the heart of American BBQ.
Unlike the water smokers, an offset smoker requires a little more knowledge of fire management if you are burning a wood fire but with practice, they are a great way to smoke food at home.
Pellet smokers use compressed wood dust pellets as a fuel source which are ignited with a heat rod. The great thing about this form of smoker is that it takes care of the fire management aspect for you as the pellets are automatically fed from a hopper. This means you set your desired temperature and the smoker takes care of how much fuel to add to keep the temperature inside the smoke chamber consistent.
It’s really a matter of personal preference. I know the fun part about smoking for a lot of enthusiasts is watching the temperatures and controlling the fire but if your only goal is to end up with smoked food, there is no easier way to do it.
Cabinet smokers work in a similar way to water smokers. They are a form of vertical smoker which commonly have multiple levels allowing you to smoke lots of food at once. They are available in a range of sizes, from little tabletop cabinets like the THÜROS Tabletop Smoker to large industrial cabinets.
They can be fueled by anything from charcoal, pellets, gas or electric. The heat source is located at the bottom of the cabinet. There is usually a water pan just above this then multiple cooking grates to hold the meat.
If you are smoking a lot of food and don’t like the idea of the large offset smokers then a cabinet smoker might be the best choice for you
These are just some of the styles available on the market today. I haven’t even touched on some of the ‘crossover’ grills like any of the large ceramics or the Weber Summit Charcoal which can be used for grilling and smoking. Not to mention the countless homemade smoking contraptions that can be put together with old fridges, filing cabinets or a few simple plant pots!
Why would you use a dedicated smoker?
I’ve talked to lots of customers before who have had their interested tweaked by smoked foods, so they immediately assume a smoker is what they need to get these results. They often don’t own any other form of BBQ and my advice is always the same. Buy yourself at least one good general BBQ first that will allow you to try smoking and if you enjoy it, then look at a dedicated smoker.
Smokers are a specialised piece of kit and can often be quite expensive. They are designed to cook in a certain way so they don’t suit all styles of BBQ.
If, on the other hand, you have been smoking on your charcoal BBQ and feel you want to take it up a gear then a dedicated smoker is perfect! Specifically designed to maintain a steady temperature, it makes those long cooks a lot more enjoyable and easier to manage.
As for choosing which style of smoker to buy? That is really down to budget and personal preference. Ask questions in groups like the Barbechoo and Country Wood Smoke Facebook groups. The members in groups like these own almost every style of smoker out there so will help you narrow down your options.
There isn’t one style which is better than another, They all have their own unique advantages so simply ask yourself which of them is more important. If you enjoy managing the fire to maintain temperatures all day then a wood fired offset might be right for you. On the other hand, if you prefer to ‘Set it and forget it’ then some of the pellet smokers may be more up your street.
There is lots more smokey goodness to come in the following weeks so be sure to sign up to become a free member. Simply enter your name and email address below and you will receive my exclusive email content a few times per month helping you make the most of your BBQ this year.