Using a smoker and smoking your own food can be a nightmare of a task to get round for the first timer. It is super easy to google ‘Smoking food’ and disappear down about 4 or 5 different rabbits holes simultaneously. Electric smokers, coal fires, offset, upright, chamber smokers, smoker box, liquid smoke (don’t.) the list goes on. With this article I am aiming to simplify it a little bit for you if you were looking to get started as at it’s core… it’s fairly straight forward. Two main areas are vital for success, managing and understanding your pit and timing. Get these two aspects down and you are going to get at the very least, results you can be happy with.
First of all it’s about buying a smoker that suits you. For beginners I would advise not spending too much as you don’t need to spend around £1000 on a unit that you might not actually like using. I bought my offset smoker for £80 and there are a variety of ways you can modify your cheaper unit to get the results of a smoker worth 5 or 6 times its value, but I will go into more detail on this at a later date. There are plenty of places jumping on the bandwagon and selling upright and offset smokers which is great for anybody looking to get going as you can go to your local Range or garden centre and pick up a fairly functional unit for under £100 like I did.
So to bust some serious amounts of jargon and give you two easy to digest recommendation I will explain it as best I can! So if you are asking yourself, what should I buy? why? how do I decide? Hopefully this will help you come to a decision and get you started.
Upright smoker/ Water smoker
So I haven’t actually got one of these (at the moment) but it’s on order and I am well versed enough in how to use one so bare with me. These smokers rely more of providing a levelled environment for your food with a steam element that should keep your food moist throughout the cooking process while still giving it a great platform for the smoke to penetrate the food.
Construction: Usually these smokers consist of two levels of cooking grates, a level for a water pan and then finally at the bottom your coal basket. Sometimes they will have hooks in the lid if they are big enough to hang meat from and utilise the space better.
Function: Lighting the coals/ wood chunks in the basket will heat up the water pan and create steam that will engulf the food and add an element of moisture not present in all smoker types, so a great option for those worried about drying their food out. A temperature gauge is usually located at the tip of the lid for central heat reading and an air flow valve at the bottom of the unit, aligned with the coal basket.
Beginner rating 0/5:
Old faithful. I have been using my offset smoker for just over a year now and it has been an interesting learning curve but I can now get some brilliant results from this pit and it is literally my prized possession. Controlling and managing your fire is paramount in an offset as it is in any smoker but get it wrong and you will have a lot of wasted food. It is all about creating a levelled heat that can spread across the chamber gradually rather than a huge blast at 300+ degrees that just dies a death really quickly, which can be challenging to begin with but aside from this, it is a great way to get started.
Construction: A large main chamber for cooking with one or two grills, lined up next to a fire box and a chimney at opposite ends of the cooking chamber. Airflow valves will be located on the fire box as well as a cap on top of the chimney to allow you to control the heat via the air through flow. A temp gauge is more often than not located further towards the chimney rather than in the middle of the actual cooking chamber, which pissed me right off so I added another one pretty easily (£15 from Ebay delivered) and now I get much better readings. Usually you will have a good solid frame with two legs and a few wheels to help you in moving the unit around.
Function: Adding your pre lit coals to your fire box and closing the door will provide you with a good enclosed cooking environment, this will gently smoke and caress your food with indirect heat from one side, so rotation meat during a cook can be essential for good results. Closing and opening your valves to adjust the temperature is also essential as I alluded to above. In its purest form it is pretty straight forward in its function really! Sometimes a water pan can be added near the entrance of the firebox but I have found this isn’t as effective as in an upright smoker. Lining the bottom of the unit with foil is advised for simplifying cleaning up any excess fat.
Beginner rating 0/5:
Hopefully, this makes it a little bit easier to understand WHAT you are actually looking at when shopping for your pit. In the next part I will cover what kit you need to get started, then how to actually use an offset smoker in more detail and how to manage your fire to get the best results… so make sure you subscribe and keep your ear to the ground. Next chapter will be up next week!