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How To Choose the Best BBQ Smoker

Choose a BBQ Smoker

What kind of equipment do you need to get started with BBQ Smoking? There are a number of choices available at your local hardware mega-store. Each has pros and cons, but with practice, they can all provide good results.

The offset, barrel smoker (under $200) offers versatility and a huge space for cooking. A fire is built in a separate chamber, outside of the main cooking area and the hot smoke passes across the food in the cooking chamber and out via a chimney. If you build a fire in the main cooking chamber, you can also use this smoker as a charcoal grill. This kind of smoker requires a lot of babysitting to produce good results.



Electric smokers ($300 and up) are
shunned by professional pit-masters, but are much more practical for home cooks. Load the chamber with food, add wood to the smoker tray and turn it on. Temperatures are kept constant by a thermostat. The only two downsides are the price, and needing an electrical socket where you cook.


Propane smokers (under $200) are similar to electric smokers. A smoker tray holds the wood that will provide smoke, but instead of an electric heater, a propane burner is used. You won’t need an electrical socket, but you’ll be trading it for a propane
tank. Also, you need to control the temperature manually.


Bullet smokers (from $40 to $400) are an interesting breed. A charcoal fire is built at the bottom of the smoker and wood chips are thrown on to generate smoke. A water pan rests between the fire and the food, to temper the heat and add moisture.


A plain old kettle grill (about $100) can also be used for smoking, but you get the smallest amount of cooking space. Lit coals are placed on one side of the cooking chamber and the food is placed on the other side. Wood chips are tossed on the coals periodically. This setup works best for foods that require less cooking time, since maintaining low temperatures for long periods of time can be difficult.


If all you have is a gas grill, all is not lost. Turn on the burners on only one side of the grill and place the food over the un-lit side. You can use a foil packet of wood chips placed over the lit burners to generate the smoke you need.

Regardless of what you use to smoke your food, temperature control is key for consistent results. If your smoker has a thermostat, just set it and forget it. There are digital thermometers that allow you to place a probe inside your smoking chamber to monitor the temperature - more expensive models have remote readouts, so you can monitor temperatures from indoors. Your smoker may come with a thermometer built into the hood, but these are rarely accurate.  When all else fails, poke a digital instant-read thermometer through a vent hole. Unless a recipe says otherwise, you’ll want to keep the temperature between 200° and 225° F. Adjustments to the air-inlet and vents will allow you to raise or lower the temperature - more air equals more heat, less air equals less heat. Don’t close the vents all the way or you will smother your fire.

To create the smoke that bathes your food, you’re going to need wood to burn. The same hardware stores where you buy a smoker will have a variety of choices.  The most common woods for smoking are hickory and mesquite, but apple, cherry and pecan are often available. Hickory is the best all-purpose wood. Mesquite has a very strong flavor and it’s very easy to over smoke your food with it, so I avoid it. The fruit woods are very nice for smoked poultry. Wood is available in either chunks or chips and the smoker manufacturer will suggest which one is best for your smoker.

NOTE: Don’t buy a smoker that uses wood pellets or pucks to generate smoke. They are made from sawdust held together with nonkosher
gelatin. Rather, use wood chips made from chopping large chunks of wood.  I’ve smoked burgers, chickens, whole turkeys, and ribs. I’ve even been known to smoke vegetables now and then - aioli made with smoke-roasted garlic is divine. Starting with easier recipes such as Beer Can Chicken, you can work your way up to the more involved recipes, such as Barbecued Brisket.

Good barbecue is a skill worth perfecting.

As seen in Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller Magazine – (Bitayavon Summer 2012) – Subscribe Now.