Chapter 4: Smoking Equipment and Supplies

Chapter 4 from Jeff. Two in one day. I’m a little behind.  Smoked 8 racks of ribs yesterday. The house still reeks of smoke. Yum.  From: http://www.smoking-meat.com

Smoking Equipment and Supplies

Today we are going to talk about equipment.. things that you will need in order to get the most our of this experience. As with any hobby, there are expenses involved and with smoking meat your largest expense will be for the actual smoking unit. Then there are gadgets which will help you along the way with some of them being fairly necessary and others just nice to have.

Along the way, you will find that the cost of meat will most likely be offset by how often you now eat at home versus eating at a restaurant.

Smokers

Smokers come in all shapes and sizes and depending on how much you are able to spend, may be really easy to use or may require you to do a lot of babysitting.  

As with most things, you usually get what you pay for. A lot of folks start out with something like a cheap upright Brinkmann water smoker and while these work just fine they will require you to work a whole lot as well to turn out a good product.

There are also other considerations such as how often you will be cooking, how many people you will be feeding and what type of fuel you would like to use.

You have lots of options..no doubt so give it some thought, do the research and then go shopping whether it’s online at Amazon.com, at Craigslist, going to yard sales or Lowes & Home Depot, you will want to find yourself a good deal on a smoker.

You may already have a smoker and if so, you are a step ahead in the right direction.

Charcoal Smokers

This is my recommended type of smoker for folks just starting out. They are fairly inexpensive to buy and operate and will teach you the basics of smoking without causing you to go in debt while you are figuring out if this is something you want to do as a hobby.

I think the Brinkmann Water smoker also called the “ECB” for El Cheapo Brinkmann is probably the most popular unit for new smokers. You can buy them new for around $59 or so and may even be able to find a used one for next to nothing at a garage sale or on Craigslist.

I must warn you that this smoker will require a few mods in order to make it work like a smoker should.. these mods can be found on my website at http://www.smoking-meat.com/modify-brinkmann-ecb-smoker.html

Among charcoal smokers there is also the horizontal offset style of smoker which has a larger cooking area with a firebox that is slightly lower and to the side of the cooking chamber.

This style of smoker is really nice and in some cases can also use small splits of wood for fuel as well as charcoal but like the “ECB” it is not a perfect setup and you will find that it is hotter on the firebox end and will require placing the meat on the cooler end away from the heat and/or doing some mods to remedy this.

A good starter unit of this type is the Brinkmann Smoke n’ Pit and starts at around $150 or so depending on which model you get.

Gas/Propane Smokers

If you are looking to smoke meat but don’t want to spend a lot of time tending a fire then you may be a good candidate for a gas smoker. Gas smokers are usually fueled by propane or natural gas and in my opinion can do a really good job of smoking up some really tasty morsels of food.

Your gas smoker will either attach to a portable bottle or it may be able to attach to a main line so that you are always connected to your fuel source. Most gas smokers will have a clicker that will spark to light the burner once the gas is turned on.

There will be a box that holds chips or chunks right above the burner. There may also be a water pan above the burner to add some moisture to the air and creates a nice barrier between the heat and the food.

The trick is to make sure that your unit will easily hold a temperature of around 225° even in colder weather. If not then you may need a different burner and the manufacturer may be able to help you with this.

The most popular type of gas smoker has to be the ones made by Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain which comes in several different sizes but I highly recommend the larger one called the Big Block if you can find it.

A company by the name of Smoky Hollow also makes gas smokers but I have not used this brand.

Note: just a good piece of information, a small tank of propane will last about 30 hours.

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers are also a great way to smoke meat without having to spend a lot of time tending a fire. The heat comes from an electric element much like the one in your electric oven.

The most basic of electric smokers is simply a round bullet styled smoker with a heating element on the bottom, a water pan above the heating element. The grates are above the water pan. Smoke is introduced by placing chunks of wood around the element at the bottom of the smoker.

A good example of this type of smoker would be the Brinkmann electric water smoker. Most people refer to this smoker as the “Red One” due to it’s bright red color.

Another type of electric smoker is a cabinet styled electric smoker which usually has insulated walls, and in many cases will have a control module which allows you to set the temperature and in some cases a countdown timer.

An example of this type of smoker would be the Masterbuilt smoker or “MES” as it is called by its’ owners.

This type of smoker will have an electric element in the bottom, a chip/pellet tray just above the element and a water pan that adds moisture to the environment and acts as a barrier between the element and the food.

The “MES” may also have a special chute on the side of the smoker that allows you to add chips or pellets without opening the door of the smoker.

The electric smokers I have mentioned thus far are great in the sense that you don’t have to tend a fire but you do have to babysit the smoker by needing to add chips and/or pellets every 20-30 minutes.

There are electric smokers that have an automatic feeder which deliver wood in the form of pellets or biscuits. This is really nice in that you can truly set it and forget it even go to bed and let the smoker cook on its own knowing that the smoker is doing it’s job.

One such smoker is the Traeger which delivers pellets via an auger feeder. If you are interested in this type of smoker you should check it out at http://www.traegergrills.com or find a local Traeger dealer in your area to give you a demonstration of the unit.

The Bradley smoker is a unit which also has an automatic feeder but instead of pellets, uses special biscuits made of wood to provide smoke for hours on end while you sleep, work or just relax. To find out more about the Bradley line of smokers, go to http://www.bradleysmoker.com.

Wood Smokers

I want to touch on wood smokers but not go too much in depth. There are so many kinds of wood smoker that there is just no way to cover all of them or even recommend one. There are some similarities among most wood smokers in that most of them are of the horizontal offset type with a firebox at one end and a larger area that holds the meat.

A fire is built in the firebox using splits of wood and once the smoker reaches its’ target temperature, meat is placed on the grate for cooking/smoking. There is also a chimney at one end of the smoker to allow the smoke to exit once it has kissed the meat.

My custom wood smoker is actually mounted on a 16 foot trailer with a wood box on the end for hauling wood and other supplies.

As many wood smoker owners will tell you, there is a definite difference in taste that you get from a wood smoker that just cannot be matched by other types of smoker. As a wood smoker owner, I can attest that this is true.

If I am entertaining or I really want to impress with my cooking then the wood smoker is what I use. I have been using it long enough that I know exactly what to do to make it maintain the temperature that I like and to impart just the perfect amount of smokiness to the meat.

It is a true joy to use and I recommend that everyone have a wood fired smoker if it is within you budget to do so. You will enjoy it beyond words.

One of my favorite manufactured wood smokers are made by Lang and are known as “reverse flow” which just means that the heat/smoke travels from the firebox and all the way underneath the smoker grates before being able to come up into the smoker on the opposite side from the firebox end.

For more information on Lang smokers, go to http://www.pigroast.com.

Fire Starters

I covered several different types of fire starters, namely charcoal chimneys in chapter two and I won’t reiterate those except to say that the Weber version of the charcoal chimney is the best one in my opinion. It is bigger and seems to be a little stouter than the others I have seen.

These can be purchased at Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon.com, Ace Hardware and similar other stores online and offline.

Gloves & Aprons

I highly recommend some hand and body protection when you are cooking outdoors. I have some silicone gloves that I like to use when flipping meat or removing meat from the grate to bring it into the house. It sure saves my hands from getting burnt and that is worth it’s weight in gold.

Weber makes some gloves that go all the way up to the elbows and are extremely heat resistant which works well when dealing with fire and hot coals.

These gloves and many other types as well can be found at Amazon.com or at stores such as Lowes, Home Depot or Ace Hardware.

Aprons are a great way to keep grease, food, hot sparks and other such particles from getting on your clothing. Some aprons also have pockets which are great for holding tools, spices, etc. handy until you need them.

There are many aprons to be found online at Amazon.com with the ones made by Weber being my favorite.

Cooking Utensils

Out of all the tools that I have for cooking, my tongs are what I tend to use the most. I like a set of tongs that is tough enough to be able to lift a 10 pound brisket. They must be able to close all the way and be easy to clean.

I also recommend a good set of knives, a heavy duty spatula, a set of extra long stainless steel skewers and a good brush for cleaning the grates on your smoker and/or grill.

Many of these items can be found as barbecue tool kits which may be the best way to order them if you are unsure what you need.

Wood Splits, Chunks and Chips

Where to find wood can be a bit of a challenge depending on where you live so I am going to give you a few tips that have worked for me. You may find yourself needing to get a little creative as well.

If you have a small smoker then finding chunks and chips of wood in not that difficult as they are sold at most places that sell smokers and grills. The type of wood may be quite limited so you may have to resort to just hickory and mesquite. If you are wanting more exotic woods, you may be able to find these online by doing a search in Google.com or by going to amazon.com.

If you are looking for splits then I suggest looking in the classifieds section of your local newspaper or even on craigslist.com for folks who sell wood by the load and some will even deliver and stack it for you if you are willing to pay for this service.

We have a local hearth and fireplace store that sells loads of wood but you have to pick it up at the store. The good thing is that you can find oak, pecan, apple and various other types of wood depending on what they happen to have in stock.

For those who want to get creative, if you have a chain saw you can run an ad in the paper that you are looking for downed trees of a certain variety and that you will remove and cleanup the area at no cost. This should land you some phone calls if you are not too picky about what you are looking for and with a few hours of work, you could be rolling down the road toward your home with a load of wood for the smoker and nothing out of your pocket other than a little fuel for the chain saw.

Regardless of where you get your wood, if it is larger cuts such as logs or splits, I recommend letting it sit in the dry for at least 4-6 months before using it to allow it to dry out. You may be able to tell how dry it is by the weight and/or by noticing any cracks in the ends of the wood.

Dry wood is considerably lighter in weight that green wood and will usually have spider-like cracks at the ends of the pieces starting in the center and going outwards. Just some signs of dryer wood.

If you can’t tell, then dry it out a little before using it to prevent creosote formation in your smoker.

Thermometers

I know some folks who absolutely refuse to use a thermometer during cooking and this is fine if you are so inclined but I feel it is much safer and wiser to know the temperature of the meat rather than guess at it.

When smoking at low temperatures, a few degrees can mean the difference between perfect and “OK” and to me that really matters.

My recommended type of thermometers for smoking meat is the instant read digital probe meat thermometers. These are units which have a monitor attached to a probe. The probe stays in the meat during cooking and the monitor tells you the temperature of the meat. This allows you to know at all times at what stage the meat is and you will be able to better estimate when it is done and be able to remove it a the precise moment that it reaches the right temperature.

Nowadays you can find wired and wireless models alike depending on your budget. The wired models have a metal braided cord that runs from the probe to the monitor and easily sits in the door jamb of your smoker or can be run through a vent or other opening in the smoker.

The wireless models also have a braided metal wire that runs from the inside of the smoker at the probe to the outside but instead of attaching to the monitor, it attaches to a sending unit. The monitor can be taken with you into the house or shop or even sit on your bedside table while you sleep and will readout the temperature of the smoker and/or the meat via a wireless signal. Really nice!!

I personally own about six of these thermometers and have had great success with them for the most part. There are some things that you must know to keep your thermometers and probes working for a long time. Never let the probe touch metal objects.. this tends to short them out and they just stop working. You can purchase extra probes but why do that unless you have to?

To prevent the probes from touching metal, I leave them inserted in the meat at all times or if I am using the probe to show me the ambient temperature of the smoker, I stick the probe through a small potato and set the potato on the grate. This holds the probe up and away from the metal grate. You might even want to eat the potato when you are done.. smoky and delicious in my opinion.

These thermometers can be purchased almost anywhere that sells utensils and cooking supplies. I have seen them at Lowes, Home Depot, local hardware stores such as Ace, Wal-mart, and many other fine establishments. You can also order them online at amazon.com if you can’t find them locally.

Racks and Holders

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of tools that have been created for holding meats and vegetables in the smoker or on the grill while they cook. Some of my favorites include the racks for holding ribs upright in the smoker. This allows you to double or even triple the amount of ribs that you can fit into the smoker.

There are also holders made especially for making beer can chicken. The device holds a can of beer or other liquid and even has a pan attached for catching the juices in some cases.

Everyone who spends any time at the forum (smokingmeatforums.com) knows that we are big on ABT’s which are basically jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese, meat, and other fillings and then wrapped in bacon. There are now holders made especially for holding the peppers upright while they cook.

I have seen holders and racks for chicken wings, chicken legs, turkey drumsticks, etc. which are also nice tools to have on hand.

None of these items are things that you must have but they are things that are very nice to have and can make your cooking so much easier.

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