smokers and smoker grills

A Quick Guide to Smokers & Smoker Grills

A smoker is an outdoor appliance that cooks meat “low and slow,” typically at a temperature between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit, inside a smoky chamber for several hours. Smoking meat is both an art and a science, but with a little patience and the right techniques, you’ll enjoy a uniquely delicious result. To figure out which smoker works best for your needs, it’s important to know the difference between the many models on the market. We’ve broken down the top styles, the best wood types and how to choose your meat to help you achieve home-smoked goodness.

Pellet smokers

Pellet smokers combine the convenience of an electric smoker with authentic, real smoke flavor for a high-tech solution that’s simple and precise. Requiring electricity to run, a digital thermostatic controller regulates the delivery of wood pellets to the firebox, while a fan circulates the air and smoke inside the grill, keeping everything at a designated and controlled temperature. Many pellet grills even include probes to check the internal temperature of your meat. In addition to being a great smoker, these appliances can also be used as an oven or grill, making them a handy, multi-use appliance.

Charcoal smokers

Appealing to the traditionalists, charcoal smokers use both charcoal and wood to provide the deep, authentic smoky flavor one typically associates with smoked foods. Most charcoal smokers suspend the food over the coals, drawing the heat and smoke up and around the meat as it ventilates through the top. Though heating coals and tending fire may be fun at cookouts, the potentially time-consuming process makes this style better suited for those looking for a hands-on cooking experience every time.

Propane & gas smokers

Using natural gas or propane in addition to wood chips, these relatively compact smokers produce great tasting results. Using a vertical model, they have a burner at the bottom and shelving for the wood, water and food, and are topped with a chimney for venting. When using a propane smoker, keep an extra tank on hand to avoid running out of gas in the middle of your all-day cooking session.

Electric smokers

Electric smokers use a heating element, rather than burning wood or charcoal, which keeps both cooking and cleanup simple. Since they provide hands-off temperature control, you can set dinner up in the morning and let your electric smoker slow cook the meat to perfection while you go about your day. To give the food a more traditionally smoky flavor, add wood chips to the equation.

Choosing the right wood for your smoker:

Though matching your wood with your meat isn’t a requirement, the right combination can easily enhance the overall flavor. While taste is subjective, here are a few recommended pairings to get you started:

  • Beef: cherry, hickory, mesquite, oak, pecan or walnut
  • Chicken: alder, apple, cherry, hickory, lilac, maple, mesquite, mulberry, oak, orange, peach, pear, pecan or plum
  • Pork: alder, apple, cherry, hickory, lilac, maple, mulberry, oak, orange, peach, pear, pecan or plum
  • Lamb: apple, cherry, mulberry or oak
  • Seafood: alder, apple, lilac, maple, mulberry, oak or plum

Choose the right size for the job. Chips are coarsely chopped and ideal for smoking over shorter intervals. Chunks, which are larger pieces of wood, are better for smoking over longer periods. To get the best, most even flavor, refrain from soaking your wood before cooking as the water will need to evaporate before the wood can produce smoke.

Preparing the meat:

Even with the most expensive smoker on the market, you need the right meat to take your barbeque to the next level. Though you might be tempted to stick your best cut in the smoker, the better option would be a fattier meat with lots of connective tissue. The classic go-to options of beef brisket, pork shoulder and ribs are all tough, chewy meats that work well in the smoker and don’t do well when cooked by other methods. Other great options include pork butt, chicken and lamb shoulder – though the possibilities are endless.

When smoking salmon or other seafood, try cooking on a cedar plank. Not only does the wood board keep the fish from sticking to or falling through the grates, it also infuses the meat with a rich, smoky taste that complements the natural flavor of the fish.

Ready to get smoking? Shop our smoker selection online today. Plus, order the ingredients and outdoor cooking accessories you need to turn your typical backyard cooking to a better, smokier flavor experience.

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