Monday, August 16, 2010

BBQ Smoker Types Explained with Buying Guide for Each

For those of us wanting to get a BBQ Smoker, there are so many out there, it is virtually impossible to just walk into a store or pick one out online without doing a lot of research beforehand.  I am writing this to help eliminate as much of the work as possible and give you breakdowns of the various types of BBQ Smoker, how to use them, and some great suggestions of ones that you can even buy online by clicking on the links I provide for them.  How's that for some one stop shopping?  

Now, if you would like to learn how to create a smoker from your regular charcoal or gas grill and not have to spend the extra money on any of these BBQ smokers, then you might want to check out my Creating a BBQ Smoker from a Normal Charcoal or Gas Grill.


Offset Smokers

One of my deepest regrets when we moved back home from Ohio is that we left my offset smoker behind. With a 26 foot truck packed from wall to wall and top to bottom, there simply was no room for it.  That didn't make it any less painful.  I used that thing to smoke everything from brisket to pork butt to fish to vegetables.  Simply put, I loved that darn thing.  We had picked it up on sale from Meijer for well under half price, and it included a grill cover and cast iron smoker box.  It was the last one available and apparently was a discontinued model, but it worked perfectly fine for me all the times I used it.

Enough of my trip down memory lane.  Offset smokers are what most people think of when they think of a smoker.  Basically offset smokers contain 2 chambers separated by a sliding door or vent.  The main chamber is where the meats are place and can be used as a normal charcoal grill when not smoking.  The offset chamber is where it can be set up for use as a smoker, by placing your charcoals and soaked wood into the chamber, closing the lid and opening the vent or door.  The more the vent is opened, the smokier the main chamber will get.  The water pan can be placed anywhere inside the main chamber, as there is no direct heat at all within that chamber.

As much as I believe you can make a great BBQ smoker from a normal charcoal grill, offset smokers and many of the other smokers have a built in advantage over a grill.  By having different chambers for the smoke and the food, you can add more briquets or wood to the smoking chamber without having to open the main chamber where the food is cooking. This prevents any heat or humidity from escaping from the main chamber while adding fuel.  In addition, offset smokers have a much great ability to control temperature and smoke than a normal charcoal grill.

Personally my favorite type of smoker, possibly because of the fact that I had one for a long period of time, but mainly because they work exceptionally well.  As the most popular BBQ smoker setup, millions of people can't be wrong! I have a few of my favorite offset smokers below in case you are leaning towards going with this setup.

My Favorite Offset Smokers!

Char Broil Offset Smoker American Gourmet Deluxe Grill Char Broil Offset Smoker American Gourmet Deluxe Grill
The Char Broil American Gourmet Deluxe Offset Smoker represents a great option for the smoker enthusiast with the space to cook for large groups and get togethers. The offset fire box allows for classic indirect cooking thgough the transmission of smoke, flavor, and low heat, through the cooking chamber. The cooking chamber is covered by a 670 sq. in. porcelain wire cooking grate and 355 sq. in chrome wire swingaway rack. There is a simple door for easy ash removal as well as a convenient front shelf.
Price: $169.99
List Price: $169.99
Brinkmann 805-2101-S Pitmaster Deluxe Smoke 'N Pit Brinkmann 805-2101-S Pitmaster Deluxe Smoke 'N Pit
Built for long-lasting durability, the Smoke ‘N Pit is constructed from heavy-gauge steel with tubular legs, a welded body, and a rust-resistant finish. With over 750 square inches of cooking area between the two chambers, it holds 100 pounds of food and 10 pounds of fuel in the firebox. A damper on the smokestack and an adjustable firebox air vent give you precise control over heat, smoke, and circulation. The unit comes with porcelain-coated, adjustable grates that fit both chambers and are easy to clean. Brinkmann also includes sturdy, heat-resistant wooden handles, a large wooden shelf for platters and utensils, and a recipe book for smoke cooking. A metal rack below adds stability and provides a place to stash wood and briquettes.
Price: $269.99
List Price: $250.00
Landmann 590135 Black Dog 42XT BBQ Charcoal Grill and Smoker, 506-Square Inch, Black Landmann 590135 Black Dog 42XT BBQ Charcoal Grill and Smoker, 506-Square Inch, Black
When nothing but the biggest and best will do! The Landman Black Dog 42 provides 761 square inches of cooking surface between both chambers, including a huge 506 square inches in the main chamber. Has a full 12 inches of range for the grill adjustment, and a removable ash tray for easy clean up. Large doors allow for easy access to smoking and cooking chambers. When you have the attitude of "Go Big or Go Home!", this is the smoker for you!
Price: $591.98
List Price: $591.98

Bullet BBQ Smokers

Wonder why its called a bullet smoker?
Wonder why its called a bullet smoker?

Bullet BBQ smokers are also known as Vertical Water Smokers because a pan of water sits between the heat source at the bottom of the "bullet", and the food at the middle and top of the "bullet".   They could easily be confused for a trash can by the lesser informed.  Don't make that mistake. Oscar could never make the kind of barbecue you can make in this BBQ smoker! In addition, there is something called the "Minion method" used with these types of BBQ smokers that can just about put you on autopilot over a long cooking session.  I will discuss the "Minion method" in greater detail below.  In addition, bullet BBQ smokers allow you to not have to soak wood chunks in water before cooking because they are able to maintain their temperatures well for a long period of time. 

There are four types of Bullet BBQ smokers: gas, electric, charcoal and wood. We will explore each of these types in greater detail below.

Wood Burning Bullet BBQ Smoker:

Traditionalists will point to the wood burning bullet BBQ smoker as being the original and best.  However, just because something came first, doesn't mean its the best.  After all, if this held true, we would all still be driving Model T's and using personal computers that took up an entire house that were 1/1000th as powerful as a laptop is today.  

One thing that is clear to many people is that the best smokiness flavor you can get is through an all wood smoker. This means instead of using charcoal for the heat and only pieces or chunks of wood for the smoke, you use the wood to create both heat and smoke.  This type of BBQ smoker takes a lot of practice to get right, both for keeping a constant temperature and for getting the right amount of smoke. You need to make sure the wood burns clean and that you don't oversmoke the meats, which will leave a bitter taste.  

Charcoal Burning Bullet BBQ Smoker:

Charcoal versions of this BBQ smoker are affordable and provide great flavor as well, although most will agree not quite as much as an all wood smoker. As with a charcoal grill, you will need to monitor the temperature throughout the cooking process and make adjustments or add charcoal to it to maintain the temperature you want.   

There is, however, a method created by a man name Jim Minion using one of these type of BBQ smokers, that can give you exceptional temperature control and long cooking times, and could be ideal for those wanting to cook overnight but not stay up all night, or even for those people that want to get that great slow-smoked flavor, but not spend all day doing it.  Of course, you are now asking, "What the heck is the Minion Method, and how do I use it?" Easy there young grasshopper.  I am going to tell you, just please stay calm.   

The Minion Method consists of lighting a set amount of charcoal in a chimney, which can depend on many things including temperature outside, precipitation, and wind speed.  20 charcoal briquets are good for warm, sunny days, 20-40 briquets recommended for cool days or days that are windy or rainy, and 40-60 briquets are recommended for cold days.  Take the remainder of the full bag of charcoal, and dump it into the bullet BBQ smoker.  Once the charcoal is ready to be dumped from the chimney, dump it onto the unlit charcoal that you just put in there.  Fill the pan with water, put your meats in there, and set your bottom vents to control the temperature. The unlit charcoals gradually become lit by the charcoals on top and help maintain a constant temperature, which can create burn times up to 18 hours with little or no user interaction. If the temperature starts to drop, just tap on the base of the BBQ smoker and it will help dislodge any ashes covering the lit coals and provide more heat. 

This is ideal for those who are planning on cooking for more than 6 hours, and this method does not have any ill effects on the taste or smokiness of the finished product, although many snooty old-timers turn up their noses on anyone adding anything to their BBQ smoker other than fully lit charcoal briquets. The fact that this technique is used by many competition winners apparently goes unnoticed by them.  

Gas Burning BBQ Smoker: 
A gas burning BBQ Smoker is something like a store bought Mix CD playing at a party instead of a DJ.  It sounds pretty good, but it just isn't the same.  Same thing with a gas burning BBQ Smoker.  It's portable, easy to use, and can travel with you no matter where you go.  All you have to do is make sure you don't run out of gas before the food is finished.  You are able to simply set the temperature right where you want it and basically leave it alone until the meat is done. Wood chips are added to the BBQ smoker pan and you are able to open the access door if you need to add additional wood ships or chunks. 

Electric BBQ Smoker: 
An electric BBQ Smoker relies on no fuel source, instead relying on the old power cord.  It can be used anywhere there is an electric outlet. Wood chips or chunks are placed near the heating element for smoke.  Some units have exact temperature controls, but others do not.  That really is not overly important, since you should have a good thermometer to use anyway.  Probably the easiest of all the Bullet BBQ Smoker models to use, it is pretty hard to screw up using these, but personally, the meat doesn't taste as well as using a charcoal or wood based BBQ smoker.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all of the information! My brother-in-law smoked the most amazing pork and I cannot wait to try it out on my own!