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meat smokingMeat smoking is becoming more common, but with such large range of meat smokers to choose from, how do you know what meat smoker to buy?

There’s gas smokers, electric smokers, pellet smokers, ceramic smokers, offset smoker, vertical-bullet smokers and the list goes on.

Meat smokers which operate using gas or electricity require minimal effort compared to a charcoal smoker which is more labour intensive. Simply load with either wood chips or pellets into the meat smoker to generate the smoke and the heat will remain constant as long as it is connected to either gas or electricity.

Meat smokers which use charcoal as their heat source such as ceramic, offset or bullet smokers require more effort to maintain a constant heat temperature and smoke. Cooking with charcoal however, will produce a more authentic result.

Below is a more thorough explanation on how each different style of meat smoker works which will help make your decision on what meat smoker to buy a little easier.

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Gas Smokers

View our full range of Gas Smokers here

Pros:

  • Simple to use
  • Set & forget

Cons: 

  • Lacking authentic experience
  • Restricted with larger cuts of meat

Features:

These have an ignition and a heat control knob to adjust the flame. They are simple to use and the temperature is controlled like a normal gas BBQ or oven. On the front, they also have a temperature gauge so you can monitor the internal temperature of your smoker. While gas smokers are usually narrow, they have multiple racks at varying heights so they are great for cooking smaller cuts of meat or hanging sausages because of the height.

Door Smoker woodchipwater traysAt the bottom of the smoker, a wood chip bowl sits on top of the gas burner. It’s the heat from the burner that heats up the chips or the pellets in the bowl and in turn, they start to smoulder and smoke.  Above the wood chip bowl there is a water pan which has 2 main functions. By putting water in the water pan it helps regulate the temperature of the meat smoker. It also catches all the drips from the meat that’s cooking and stops the fat from dripping on top of the gas burner.

Overall, a gas smoker is a great entry level unit. They are easy to set-up and will just attach to a normal gas bottle….just make sure you have plenty of gas in the bottle for those long cooks! The racks inside the smoker can be removed if you don’t want to use them or are cooking large turkeys where you need the extra height. The height also allows you to hang your sausages. The downside is that you will be limited if you’re trying to cook a large brisket (6kgs+) as you’ll probably struggle to fit it in long ways.

The good thing with a gas smoker is that if after an hour or so of smoking you’re happy with the amount of smoke your meat has, you can choose at any time not to top up the wood chips or pellets and just use the smoker to continue cooking, rather than smoking.

 

Electric Smokers

View our full range of Electric Meat Smokers here

HK0514 Electric Element 500x500 Pros:

  • Simple to use
  • Set & forget

Cons: 

  • Lacking authentic experience
  • Restricted with larger cuts of meat
  • More expensive to run

Features:

These smokers can be plugged into a normal 240v power point and away you go. They are very similar to gas smokers, except you never have to worry about running out of gas part way through a cook.

Electric meat smokers will have an on/off switch and some models also have an adjustable temperature control so you can moderate the amount of heat generated through the electric element. Similar to the gas smokers, they have the adjustable racks. The height makes them great for hanging sausages, but you might be restricted with the width and the depth. Again, if you wanted to fit a really large brisket, you might struggle, but you’d certainly be able to fit heaps of chicken, ribs, fish, pork belly and smaller briskets.

P1090230At the bottom of the smoker, a wood chip bowl which sits on top of the electric element and as the wood chips or wood pellets heat up from the electric element, they start to smoulder.

Similar to the gas meat smokers, they have a water bowl which catches all the drips from the meat which will protect your electric element. The water bowl also helps regulate the temperature or allows you to add apple juice, wine and different flavours to your smoke.

Electric smokers are a great entry level unit if you want to keep things simple. Plug them in, turn them on, put each chips in, and you can walk away for few hours and know that when you come back, your smoker temperature will remain consistent. You can choose at any time not to top up the wood chips or pellets if you think your meat has had enough smoking time. The smoker can then be used just like an oven.

 

Bisquette Smokers

View our full range of Bisquette Smokers here

Pros:

  • Simple to use
  • Set & forget

Cons: 

  • Lacking authentic experience
  • Restricted with larger cuts of meat
  • The cost of bisquettes can get expensive

 

Features: 

BTAP24.jpgThese are similar to an electric smoker, however instead of using wood chips or pellets, they use custom made bisquettes, similar to ice hockey pucks. It’s pretty cool how these smokers work as the bisquettes are auto fed into the smoker every 20 minutes to ensure you always get a nice clean smoke. Some die-hard smokers believe that if you allow your wood chips or pellets to burn all the way through to dust, you can get an acrid flavour in your meat. 

So the way this works is that every 20 minutes a bisquette is auto-fed down a chute, onto what I can only describe as similar to a mini conveyer belt and onto a heating element. The bisquette will heat up and smoulder for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, another bisquette is auto-fed through and pushes the smouldering bisquette into a bowl of water where it gets extinguished.

Similar to the gas and electric smokers, if you decided that your meat was smoky enough, you can decide not to feed any more bisquettes through the smoker and the meat will continue to cook like an oven with the electric element.

Overall, bisquette smokers are a set and forget style smoker. By filling the chute with bisquettes, you can 

firebox title=The reason this meat smoker gets its name is because the fire/heat is in a separate chamber than the meat. It’s indirect cooking if you like.

You light your charcoal and wood chunks in the fire box and you put your meat in the cooking chamber. The heat will primarily come from the charcoal, however, it’s the wood chunks that will provide the smoke. To draw the heat and smoke through the smoker, there are air vents on the fire box which suck in the oxygen and there is a chimney in the cooking chamber which allows the allows the air to escape.  Obviously, fire needs oxygen to burn so the more open the vent is, the more fire that will be generated in the fire box and the hotter the temperature is going to be. The heat and smoke from the fire box gets drawn from the fire box through a hole which connects the fire box chamber and the cooking chamber.

My favourite thing about cooking in offset smoker is the huge cooking area available. Some cooking chambers are large enough to fit whole pigs in if you wanted to. Another reason why I would recommend an offset smoker as the meat smoker to buy is because it doubles up as a charcoal BBQ.

copy One of the disadvantages of cooking in an offset smoker is that typically you’re going to get hot spots closer to where the firebox is but most offset smoker will have plates which disburse the heat evenly.  

So to wrap up, an offset smoker is great if you need a good size grilling area, if you want that authentic charcoal smoky flavour and you’re the kind of person who loves being involved in the cooking process. I wouldn’t recommend an offset smoker to someone who likes to set and forget. It will be stressful and you will run out of patience. You need to keep on top of heat management as it’s a manual process. There’s no gas or electric element in an offset smoker  so the only way to maintain your temperature is by starting your fire and adding more charcoal and wood periodically. If that’s not for you, maybe consider a pellet grill as it’s essentially an offset smoker which is automated, but in my purist opinion, the flavour isn’t quite the same.

P1080490P1080490pulled pork 

So there you have it. The quick rundown of the seven most common types of smokers currently found in the Australian market. Hopefully, this helps you determine what meat smoker to buy that will suit your cooking style the best.  Check out at the below video which gives a bit more information about the features I mentioned above.

 

 

If you already have a meat smoker and need a hand getting started, you might like to check out the following resources:

Downloadable smoking recipes

Beginners guide to meat smoking

How to choose smoking wood

Getting started with a meat smoker

 

Check out more delicious smoking recipes and How to guides
Want to take your barbecuing to the next level? Why not consider attending one of our BBQ Masterclasses It's an action packed day including all you can eat BBQ. 

 

  Rhiannon Peterson   By: Rhiannon Peterson

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