Smoking is a low-heat form of convection cooking which works best with temperatures from 225F – 275F. Most outdoor smoking is done in a charcoal or wood pellet smoker and the meat is surrounded by hot smoky air which gives it a delicious smoky flavor. However, there is an alternative to charcoal and wood and that is an electric smoker. Some barbecue chefs won’t look at an electric smoker because it doesn’t take much work to smoke the meat and they enjoy the challenges of charcoal smoking in particular. However, yes, electric smokers are easier to use, but is this a negative? You can still get a rich smoky flavor by adding wood chunks to the mix.
Table of Contents
What is an Electric Smoker?
Electric smokers consist of a cooking chamber, an electric heating element, grill racks, a water pan, and a wood chip tray. They are usually very sturdy and are made from cast iron or stainless steel. They are also much easier to clean than a charcoal smoker is.
Electric smokers are vertical in shape, with the cooking space on the top and the heating rods at the bottom. The electric heater has a wood chip tray on top of it. About a quarter of the way into your cooking time is when you add your wood. You can choose from a selection of hardwoods like oak, mesquite, and hickory to get the flavor you want. You can even mix and match the flavors if you want to get your own personalized taste.
The water pan sits on top of the wood chip tray. Filling this with cold water stops the temperature rising too much. It creates steam which is helpful in convection cooking.
Most electric smokers have stainless steel grill racks that are strong and durable. Mostly they are removable so if you want to smoke something large like a brisket or pork shoulder you should be able to do this with ease.
Electric smokers have dampers and vents which help to control the airflow inside the smoker. Dampers at the bottom allow air to enter, which increases the temperature. Vents at the top allow the air to escape. Leaving the vents open stops the air inside the smoker from becoming stale and ruining the taste of your food. It also helps to reduce the amount of creosote produced, which can make your food taste awful.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Electric Smoker
The first thing you should do when you purchase your electric smoker is to season it. During the manufacturing process, it is possible that some sort of residue will be left on the grill racks.
Seasoning is not difficult. All you have to do is cover the grill racks with cooking oil and heat for three hours at a temperature of 275F. In the last hour, add some wood chips to produce some smoke so that it’s ready for use.
- Invest in at least one temperature probe. Generally, electric smokers do come with a built-in thermostat, but these can be unreliable and way out with the temperature reading. A probe that connects to your cell phone by either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is a good option. You can keep an eye on your smoking process without having to stand over the smoker all the time. Getting a system that has two probes is a good idea as you can then measure the air temperature with one probe and the temperature of the meat with the other.
- It is important to smoke your food at the right temperature. Ribs, brisket, pork butt, and pork shoulder need a low temperature of 225F, while chicken and turkey cope with higher temperatures around 275F.
- To give your meat a better taste, you should put on a dry rub or a marinade. This will blend well with the smoky flavor which you can get with experimenting with different hardwoods. Beef smokes well with all flavors except for apple. Pork shoulder and pork wood also work with nearly everything except for mesquite and oak. Try out apple as apple sauce is a traditional accompaniment to pork. Chicken suits everything apart from oak and maple. Fish works well with mesquite, alder, and oak, and vegetables are tasty when smoked with hickory, pecan, or maple. You can try to mix and matching the flavors and seeing what woods go well together.
- Something particularly important when smoking is having the time to do it. It’s not like grilling a steak which can be done in less than 10 minutes. With smoking, you need many hours, even more than with a charcoal smoker. You will need a few hours for a rack of ribs, but if you want to cook a ham or a turkey, you will be looking at a full day of smoking. If you are cooking brisket you will have to smoke it for 75 minutes per pound and remember that a brisket weighs around 15 pounds. However, this is the only way to get tender meat with a smoky flavor.
- It is important to keep your smoker clean as you don’t want old food which has stuck to the grill racks to mix with the new food as this can cause contamination. It won’t taste that good either. However electric smokers do burn much more cleanly than charcoal smokers. After cooking, you can clean your grates with a grill brush or wipe them down with a grill cleaner. Most grill grates can be put in the dishwasher. Take the ash out of the wood chip tray and empty any remaining water from the water pan. Most electric smokers will have a drip pan which will collect any juices from the meat that are dropped. This helps to keep your smoker clean but be sure to empty the drip pan after the cooking is finished.
It is a good idea to do a thorough clean of your smoker at least every 3 – 5 uses, but this doesn’t mean that you should not do a light cleaning after every use.
- You also need to make sure that you have enough cooking space. It is better to have a grill which is a little too large, rather than one which doesn’t have enough space to cook what you want. As most electric smokers are vertical, they can double your cooking space or even triple it. You can get wide electric smokers as well and they are suitable for cooking large pieces of meat like brisket and pork butt without having to cut them in half. However, if you want an electric smoker to go camping or tailgating with, you can get smaller ones which are perfect. They work off the car battery.
- Another important thing to realize is that the temperature range will vary, but swings are only prominent at the start of the smoking process. To avoid the temperature going up too high, set it at 10F below the ideal smoking temperature. When it reaches this temperature, you can turn it up to the ideal temperature. This helps to reduce the swing and the smoker will settle on the temperature that you want.
- If you don’t want to be cleaning your grates every time you use the smoker, you can wrap them in aluminum foil. Then all you have to do is remove the foil and throw it away. The grates will look as good as new.
- Some people wet their wood chips, but this is not a good idea with an electric smoker. It is better to keep them dry otherwise the smoker will have to work overtime to compensate for the cooling effect. It will be more difficult to keep the temperature that you want.
- Why not try out cold smoking? You can cold smoke any number of ingredients like cheese, sausages, and even whiskey. Unusual foods which can be smoked include hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, and olive oil. The great thing with cold-smoked products is that they can last for months without even being refrigerated. Many manufacturers make cold smoke generators for their electric smokers. To cold smoke, you must have the heating element switched off while the generator creates the smoke and doesn’t let the heat go over 90F.
- Your smoker can double up as an outdoor oven because most smokers can reach slightly higher temperatures, 355F for meat, and 425F for potatoes and similar vegetables like squash and carrots. If you are holding a big gathering this will come in especially useful if you combine it with cooking in your oven in the kitchen. You will be able to cook different foods at different temperatures. The only thing to remember is not to add wood chips if you don’t want your food tasting smoky.
As you can see your electric smoker is very versatile and there is so much you can do to enhance the flavor of your food. Just remember to keep your temperature low, add wood chips, and clean your smoker often.