Don't know how to use a smoker? When you buy a used meat smoker at a garage sale, the instruction manual is usually missing. And even if it's not, many smoker manuals contain at best, sketchy instructions.
So to fill in the missing information, this page provides the basic nuts-and-bolts information for using the two most common types of water smokers - vertical charcoal smokers and vertical electric smokers.
Vertical electric smokers, also known as electric water smokers, are simple and straightforward. The electric element lies in the base of the smoker, usually on a bed of lava rock. The center section, which comprises most of the smoke chamber, sits on the base. The lid fits on top of the center section.
With the less expensive models, there's typically no temperature control. I have a Brinkmann Gourmet electric smoker, and found that when the weather is pleasant, the smoke chamber temperature runs in the 210-240 degree range. The smoker temperature can be adversely affected by wind and the ambient outdoor temperature.
Step by step instructions for using a vertical electric smoker.
Using a charcoal water smoker is more involved, since you'll be working with burning charcoal briquettes, but much is the same as when using an electric smoker.
Less expensive vertical charcoal smokers have no lower vent adjustment for temperature control, so use less or more charcoal for lower or higher cooking temperatures. It's an imperfect system, but with careful attention, these smokers do a fair job.
My charcoal smoker of choice is the Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker. Even though more it's expensive, it's well made and provides precise temperature control. A single filling of charcoal can last for 10 or more hours.
Using charcoal water smokers:
Experiment with different types of smoker wood for different flavors. Hickory, apple, cherry and mesquite are easily found, but don't be afraid to try other woods. Oak, both white and red are great for smoking beef. Pear is mild and well suited for poultry and fish. And even well cured black walnut (one of my favorites) has its place as a smoker wood.
Low or no smoke production is one of the most common problems encountered when using electric smokers. The design of the smoker and the cooking temperature both have an impact on how well the wood chips smoke.
Common fixes for these problems include:
There have been other problems noted when using Masterbuilt smokers, one of them being occasional blasts of smoke puffing out from around the wood chip insertion tube.
A common misunderstanding about the SmokeHouse line of Little Chief and Big Chief smokers is that they can be used to fully cook smoked meats. With a maximum temperature of 170˚-180˚, these smokers are perfect for smoking fish and making jerky, but because of the low smoker temperature it's not recommended that they be used for smoking meats like pork, beef or poultry.
Little Chief and Big Chief smokers can be used to add smoke flavor to meats, by using them to apply smoke for an hour or so. Afterwards the meat must be transferred to an oven or a grill to finish cooking.
There is some confusion as to whether or not to fill the water pan with water when smoking some foods, and when smoking ribs. Usually it's best to use use water, or some other liquid, in smoker water pans in most cases, though there are times when it's better to smoke with a dry water pan.
If you use an electric smoker that has an exposed element that rests on a bed of lava rock, can you place a wood chip container directly on the element without causing damage?
Horizontal pit smokers are one of the few smoker types that use burning wood to provide both heat and smoke. To produce clean smoke that doesn't make the food bitter, maintaining the fire so that it burns correctly is a technique that must be learned.
If you have no meat smoker, but you do have a grill, you'll still be able to smoke foods. Both gas grills and charcoal grills can be easily set up to add some appetizing, smoky flavor to meats, fish and poultry.
Smokers get kind of grungy inside after several uses. Does a smoker have to be cleaned after every use or does the layer of smoke residue inside the smoker improve the flavor of smoked food?
The smoker grates should be cleaned regularly. Is there a correct procedure that must be followed to safely clean porcelain-coated cooking grates?
If you've ever considered building your own smoker, there are some general rules to know, like the correct firebox to cooking-chamber size ratio needed for the best results.
And to smoke cheese, or to cold smoke salmon you'll need to have a way to produce cool smoke. This simple method requires only a clean can and a new soldering iron.
No matter what type of smoker you have, it's always nice to have the actual user manual for your specific smoker. These include instructions for using your smoker, plus you'll often find out where to purchase replacement parts. Many also include sections with recipes and cooking tips.
Learning how to use a smoker isn't that difficult. As long as you pay attention and use common sense safety practices, you'll be enjoying smoked foods for a long time!