Smoker grills, offset barrel smokers, horizontal smokers, or pipe smokers give you complete control over the smoking process. Smoker grills may appeal to you because of their “easier dialing into lower temperature ranges,” allowing for “longer, slower, gentler cooking over a much longer period.” That slow and low method is responsible for tender and dreamy meat.
When you get your hands on a smoker grill, you’ll be surprised at how much better it is suited to making barbecue, especially when compared to a kettle grill. A smoker grill is designed to smoke meat in a long, horizontal chamber that sits alongside the heat source rather than directly above it; this makes adjusting the heat and replenishing the fuel much easier because you don’t have to move the food out of the way to add coals or wood to the heat source. The firebox attached to one side of the cooking chamber feeds smoke into the cooking chamber, which gives the meat its rich flavor, melting tenderness, and crispy bark on the outside.
But there’s no getting around that a smoker grill is more complicated than a kettle grill and only produces great results if you use it correctly. Follow these simple instructions, give your smoker grill a few practice runs to calibrate it and accurately nail temperatures. You’ll be ready to smoke meat like a pro, whether you’ve chosen a basic offset smoker or a more expensive “reverse flow” offset smoker with more even heat.
These simple tips will help you fall head over heels in love with your smoker grill.
Here are Tips to Use your Smoker BBQ
Setup and Preparation
Smokers generate heat by circulating a steady heat stream through a smoking chamber. The heat combines with a small amount of water to form steam, which gradually cooks the meat for a tender and flavorful finish.
The setup will differ depending on the type of smoker grill you own. Before the first use, always follow the manufacturer’s assembly and placement instructions. It’s best to place your smoker on a level, flat surface. Make sure it’s at least ten feet away from your house, so the heat doesn’t damage the siding. Avoid windy areas to make lighting the wood or charcoal easier.
New smokers should be seasoned or cured to remove lingering manufacturing materials such as paints and solvents. Clean the interior and wipe it down with light cooking oil. Then, run the smoker through its entire cooking cycle.
Tip: Because different styles and models require different startup methods, always refer to your instruction manual to understand how to start the smoker properly.
Install Two Temperature Probes
You’ll need to monitor the temperature to keep your grill stable at 225°F. Most built-in smoker grill thermometers are low-quality and notoriously inaccurate because they only measure the temperature at the top of the grill rather than where the food is. That’s why Meathead Goldwyn, a grilling enthusiast and legendary barbecue expert and author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, recommends purchasing not one but two digital air probes, which function as “oven” thermometers, accurately tracking temperature fluctuations as coals burn down, airflow is adjusted, and fuel is added.
Because the temperature inside smoker grills can vary greatly from end to end (the side closest to the firebox is usually hotter), Goldwyn recommends drilling a small hole in the door at each end of the cooking chamber, as close to where the food will be as possible, so that the probes can be inserted without lifting the lid. Goldwyn recommends mounting two of these thermometers with 4-inch stems to gauge temperature with this installation kit if you want to save money. They’ll give you a good idea of the temperature, but only digital thermometers can provide accurate results over time.
Light a Chimney Starter with Charcoal
Light up your smoker grill when your meat is ready to cook (pro tip: cold meat absorbs smoke better than room temperature meat). Begin by lighting a full load of charcoal in a chimney starter until it ashes over (this will take about 15 minutes). We prefer to use wood to supplement coals, adding flavor rather than being the primary fuel source. Wood fires are difficult to manage in a smoker grill and can easily contaminate the meat with too much smoke, creosote, soot, or ash.
After Opening the Intake and Chimney Baffles, Add Lit Coals
Because oxygen is one of the fuels used by your smoker to generate heat, controlling the intake of oxygen through the grill’s vents is a simple way to control the temperature of your grill. Most smoker grills have both an “intake baffle” (near the firebox) and a “chimney baffle” (near the chimney). Set both baffles to open before adding the fuel fully—we will adjust the intake baffle later after the smoker has heated up.
Fill the firebox with coals and wait until the smoker grill reaches your desired temperature (usually between 225°F and 250°F) before adding the meat to the smoker. Keep the smoker and firebox doors as close as possible, as opening them causes temperature fluctuations and allows heat (and smoke) to escape. When the temperature probes indicate that the smoker has reached the desired temperature, add the meat and close the door again.
Maintain your Temperature
To begin controlling the heat, adjust the intake baffle, as this baffle controls the flow of oxygen to the coals (and thus has the greatest effect on cooking temperature). To a certain extent, the chimney baffle controls the smoke and temperature differential in the cooking chamber.
Close the intake baffle halfway or more, for now, gradually adjusting it “until the temp stabilizes in the 225-250°F range on the hot side of the smoker,” writes Goldwyn. As the cooking continues, the temperature will drop as the coals burn out. As needed, replenish with fully lit coals from the chimney starter.
To Add Flavor, Add Wood Chunks
We prefer large chunks of wood to chips because they smoke more slowly and consistently. You want the wood chunks to smoke and burn near the fire, not directly in the hottest part. Goldwyn says you only need a chunk or two per cooking cycle to infuse wood-smoke into your meat. Hardwoods, fruitwoods, and nut woods designed specifically for smoking burn the best and deliver the most flavor. There’s no need to soak the wood chunks before adding them to the coals, according to Goldwyn, because wood hardly absorbs any water at all, and the moisture could dampen the burning coals.
Add Water to the Smoke
Adding moisture to the smoke (and the meat) aids in absorbing that delicious smoky flavor. You can accomplish this in two ways: First, position a metal rack over the coals in the firebox and add a water pan to the grate, which will aid in humidifying the smoke entering the grilling chamber. Second, in the later stages of cooking, when the meat may appear dry, spritz it with a bit of water or apple juice to help it absorb smoke and stay juicy (but don’t overdo it—you may wash away the existing smoke coating).
Give it Some Time
Real barbecue takes time, so set aside several hours—up to 24 hours for whole pigs and other large cuts—to slow-smoke your meat until it’s tender. Regarding barbecue, you don’t want medium-rare beef; you want that tender, crazy-moist texture all the way through. Chicken is technically done at 165°F, but you may want to cook your legs longer to get them super tender. Inside the meat, [collagen] turns to gelatin around 180°F, exactly what you need for that perfectly soft texture. You could cook brisket at temperatures as high as 195°F or 200°F.
Understanding Smoker Styles
Most people prefer to cook large cuts of meat in a smoker because they are designed to cook at lower temperatures for longer periods. This imparts a rich flavor to the food and makes meats juicier and more tender. Brisket, ribs, and shoulder are popular choices, but we can also use a smoker for cooking poultry, hot dogs, and sausages.
Electric, propane, charcoal, and wood pellet smokers are all available. While charcoal or wood pellets provide a richer flavor, electric or propane smokers heat up faster and allow for greater temperature control.
Vertical smokers are among the most common kinds of smokers. Depending on how many racks are included, these stand straight up and make it easy to fit a variety of foods inside. It is relatively simple to learn how to use a vertical smoker. Because they can hold more food, use them for larger groups of people cooking.
Barrel smokers, also known as offset smokers, are a versatile and frequently less expensive smoker type. They are available in both vertical and horizontal orientations, as well as a variety of sizes to meet your barbecue needs. Install a grill grate over the smoker box to add the versatility of direct heat.
Regardless of the smoker, only turn the food a few times while cooking. If you check on it too frequently, it will lose valuable heat and smoke.
Tips and Techniques for Smoking
Only charcoal smokers can provide that rich chargrilled flavor, while wood pellet smokers naturally infuse smoky flavors into your food. However, if the cleanliness and convenience of gas or electric smokers appeal to you, there are a few steps you can take to try to match the flavors produced by naturally fueled smokers:
- Mix herbs and spices into the water pan for extra flavor, and place the meat over the water pan, so the drippings fall in.
- The longer the cooking time, the more food you add to the smoker.
- Always cook your food with the smoker lid closed.
- Resist the urge to open the lid while cooking. Cooking time should be increased by 15 to 20 minutes each time the lid is removed.
- The performance of your smoker will be affected by external temperatures and altitude, and cooking times should be adjusted accordingly.
- Learn how to use a smoker with wood chips by experimenting with different temperatures, chip types, and new foods to see what works best for you. Note the ingredients, combinations, and outcomes so you can try them again later.
How can you Maintain your Smoker?
As with regular grills, clean the smoker grates with a wire brush and water after each use. While it’s beneficial to keep flavors in your BBQ smoker, grease and debris can accumulate in the bottom over time. It would help if you cleaned this out after each smoker used it to prevent fires and protect your health.
Scrape the grease from the bottom of the smoker while wearing gloves.
Wipe the bottom and sides of the smoker with a paper towel, then apply a thin layer of vegetable oil around the bottom to prevent rust.
You can use the same vegetable oil trick outside the smoker, as smokers’ external paint may flake off faster than standard grills due to their longer cooking times.
Which Wood should I Use in my Smoker?
Specialized smoker-friendly wood chips and chunks — which we also sell — will produce the best results. Store-bought woods are frequently kiln-dried, presenting a more difficult difficulty curve in temperature and cook-time control. We should avoid softwoods because the terpenes in their sap will ruin the flavor of your meat (and some people feel poorly after ingesting it). Aside from that, use common sense: never use wood that has grown mold, fungus, or wood that has been exposed to paint or chemicals.
How Much Wood should I Use in my Smoker on Average?
Wood will be the primary heat source in an offset smoker, so expect to use a fair amount of it to get the magic going. Leave the bonfires at your local summer camp for all other smokers. A handful or two of wood chips (or a few wood chunks) layered atop your fuel source will generally be enough to enhance the flavor palate of your meat.
Using a smoker grill takes patience, but it’s a rewarding endeavor for any barbecue enthusiast. Whether you’re learning how to use an electric smoker or a charcoal smoker for the first time or a seasoned grill master looking to upgrade your setup, shop our extensive selection and have your online orders delivered. Specify when, where, and how.