The start of a hot summer usually means one thing for any die-hard foodie out there: the official start of barbecue season. In turn, that means getting the meat smoker set up and ready. Who doesn’t like a tastefully grilled ribeye steak with butter and garlic sauce? Or, a hamburger with the perfect grate marks? Let’s not even dive into the sound of hot dogs sizzling on the grill on a hot summer afternoon. Add meat smoking to the process, and you can create many amazing feasts.
Smoking meats can take barbecue and other cooking experiences to the next level. Remember those tasty baby back ribs that were so juicy and tender? Or are you thinking about an easily shredded and smoky-tasting pork shoulder for pulled pork sandwiches? Meat smokers have become popular over the centuries for various reasons, but the main appeal today lays in the pink, flavorful smoke ring found in smoked, cooked meat.
The History of Smoking Processes
Barbecue-style cooking and the art of smoking meat are distinctive ways for food to be prepped and cooked. Methods have evolved over the centuries to give consumers the best cooking methods for their meat. In earlier times, civilizations discovered that smoking certain types of meat would preserve the food and leave a pleasant taste. Civilization has come a long way since then with the rise of technology and safe food practices.
The best way to achieve true, slow-cooked barbecue is through the use of a meat smoker. The smoky conditions inside not only tenderize tough cuts of meat, such as a large brisket, but it will convey a pleasant taste to the meat as well Finding the best smoker can be a challenging task, so we decided to present a rundown of a few things to consider when looking at your next purchase.
What Is a Meat Smoker?
A meat smoker, electric or otherwise, cooks meat in a controlled and smoky environment at much lower temperatures than an oven or grill. Cooking times are slower, but this piece of cooking equipment can be beneficial in giving meat delicious taste.
A meat smoker keeps the meat juicy and tender because of the lower temperatures, which break down tough fibers and help the smoky flavor penetrate it. Depending on the type of smoker used (and we'll elaborate on the types available later in this post), various types of aromatic wood chips and pellets can be added to enhance the taste of meat. Many electric smokers can be set to regulate themselves and need little supervision, but logs and flavored wood chips will fuel an old-fashioned wood smoker and deliver great results as well.
Is There an Ideal Way to Smoke Meat?
Today we'll cover five different types of meat smokers to consider: charcoal, gas, electric, pellet, and wood. All have their strengths, benefits, and limitations. Some enthusiasts may suggest that all you need are the right wood and a hole in the ground, but commercially available meat smokers are the best route for most cooks to safely and successfully smoke meat. You can have far greater control over temperature and other factors without frequent supervision of the process.
Types of Smokers to Consider
If you are experienced with barbecue-style cooking, grilling, and perhaps smoking meat as well, you probably know that a wood smoker is an optimal way to smoke many cuts of meat. Wood smokers offer the best results when it comes to slowly smoking meat, but they are notoriously tricky to manage when it comes to temperature control. Adding wood to keep the temperature low and steady can be a difficult challenge for a beginner.
Charcoal, gas, pellet, and electric smokers are far easier for beginner cooks to use than traditional wood smokers. The end results will be tasty without having required extensive time management and attention. These type of smokers will regulate the temperature reliably, and the only supplies required are the wood blocks, chips, or pellets that add flavor to whatever meat is being cooked.
Depending on the what meat smoker is being used, wood chips and blocks may need to be dampened beforehand in water. Placing damp wood chips on charcoal, as an example, will create the smoky atmosphere you want for your meat without compromising the temperature.
It is important to note that safe food practices are critical when using a meat smoker. The temperatures in a smoker are much lower than a gas grill, and depending on what type of smoker is being used, it can be difficult to cook food to the proper temperature. The FDA suggests that all meat must be fully thawed out before being placed in a meat cooker, cook thoroughly to the designated internal temperature, and use safe food storage. A meat thermometer is an essential tool for smoke masters and grill masters alike.
How to Choose the Best Meat Smoker
There are several factors to consider when selecting the smoker that will best fit your needs but not overextend your budget. Here, we will break a few basic things to remember when striving to purchase a smoker that will enhance your life without causing problems.
One of the first things to consider is your skill level when it comes to barbecue and cooking in general. As stated above, there are five different types of smokers. Some are more sensitive and labor-intensive than others. If you are relatively new to the concept of a meat smoker, an electric smoker is the best choice to get acquainted with the process and try out recipes. On an electric smoker, the temperature and smoke can easily be adjusted with no one having to watch the temperature gauge. A charcoal smoker can also be a good choice for the newbie chef ready to jump on the barbecue train.
Comparing Types & Sizes
Selecting a meat smoker that fits your cooking skills is just the start. Lifestyle and space considerations play important roles when purchasing cooking gear. There is a variety of smokers available in different shapes and sizes with different capacities. Some meat smokers are built for the sole purpose of feeding large groups of people and occupy a large amount of space. Finding the right meat smoker to fit on your back porch or in your outdoor kitchen, for example, will help avoid headaches in the long run.
Most meat smokers are relatively large and fit best near the grill space outside. However, there are smaller electric meat smokers that can be used inside a kitchen, too. Indoor electric meat smokers are popular in the food industry because most or all of the cooking is done inside. It’s important to note that most meat smokers don’t need to be watched or checked frequently outside, but using an indoor electric smoker brings a greater risk of fire that needs to be considered.
Capacity is another factor to consider. Lessons from television commercials that show too little space in the oven during Thanksgiving to cook can be applied to barbecue equipment as well. Running out of space on the grill can create unnecessary frustration and stress. You need enough grate space and room inside your smoker to hold whatever meat that needs to be cooked.
Each meat smoker has a range of abilities intended to achieve the same goal: safely cooked and tasty meat. Finding a smoker that can handle a whole chicken with a few extra items without compromising the smoker’s capacity will spare you a scramble to find the space to cook enough for everyone.
Take Accessories & Supplies into Account
Just like any other purchase, the accessories included and supplies required should be considered when shopping for the right meat smoker. There are several meat smokers that require and offer different accessories. For example, a charcoal smoker that isn’t electric requires charcoal chimney starters and a bag of charcoal. There are even a few smokers, such as pellet smokers, that come with an extra grilling grate to make room for more food items.
Simple storage spaces in the form of grill add-ons can make cooking easier. Remember that all meat smokers require a smoke source: typically wood chips, pellets, and/or blocks. There are many different types of wood to choose from that pair well with different meats. These bags of aromatic wood can be purchased in stores or ordered online.
Much like any other substantial purchase, finding the right meat smoker can be a challenge. We want you to find the smoker that fits your lifestyle and needs, making its use a good and flavorful addition to any meal. A good, reliable smoker can both cut down the hassle of cooking and produce delicious tasting meat. For example, a rack of ribs slowly cooked and smoked to perfection in a meat smoker will be a sure crowd-pleaser.
Keep in mind that space, capacity, and cooking skills will impact how a meat smoker fits into your life. Selecting the right smoker will spare future issues and headaches. If you are new to barbecue and cooking, a new electric meat smoker will soon become a go-to piece of cooking equipment for you. Whether it’s for indoor or outdoor use, selecting the right smoker has positive benefits that everyone will enjoy.
Fair warning to potential buyers. Buying a meat smoker has addictive qualities because of the taste and cooking time, but it will also establish a trend in your cooking. You will crave that smoky flavor, and so will your family and guests!