Smoking meat is slow cooking at low temperatures with small wisps of thin blue smoke, which allow the natural juices of the meat to break down the tougher tissues until it’s falling apart tender.
Any smoker can produce a great smoked meat and BBQ if you follow a few simple rules! It doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve been using a very inexpensive Masterbuilt electric smoker for some time now and I can tell you one thing:
Before you get started you need a few things at a minimum to smoke meat. This is the table of contents for this guide, and you can skip ahead by clicking on the links.
- Wood chips, chunks, pellets, or logs
- Accessories, like thermometers, gloves, knives, and miscellaneous utensils
Types of Smokers
There are a plethora of smokers available on the market, so how do you decide which one is right for you? This isn’t a simple question, and finding the answer can be difficult and frustrating.
There are a few questions you might want to ask yourself before heading down this path.
- Do you prefer a set it and get it approach, or do you want to tend to a smoker for sometimes up to 12-14 hours at a time?
- Do you want your fuel source to be pellets, propane, wood, charcoal, or electricity?
- Do you have the resources you need readily available? Is there a nearby cooking pellet distributor? What about a propane exchange program nearby? Can you easily source the right type of wood that you would need to smoke meat?
- What size smoker do you need? What kind of capacity do you require?
There are many ways to categorize smokers, so we will start with a basic way of doing it:
Vertical smokers can really be separated into two main classes, bullet type water smokers and vertical cabinet smokers. Each type has their own pros and cons. I have outlined a basic description so that you can make the right decision.
Bullet Type Water Smokers
These smokers resemble R2D2, the lovable droid from Star Wars. These are generally budget friendly smokers, and there are a lot of different manufacturers of these devices. Most of the ones on the lower end are built with cheaper materials and require significant modifications to perform at their best. There are various fuel sources that these types of smokers use, including charcoal, electric, propane, and a combination of various sources. If you have limited space, you don’t want to make a big investment in a smoker, and don’t mind dealing with some of their idiosyncrasies, these can be a great beginner’s smoker. Prices can range anywhere from $40 – $200+.
|Masterbuilt||Charcoal Bullet Smoker||Charcoal||2||30 lbs.|
|Weber||Smokey Mountain||Charcoal||2||50 lbs.|
|Dyna-Glo||Compact Charcoal Bullet Smoker||Charcoal||2||30 lbs.|
|Char-Broil||The Big Easy TRU||Propane||1-2||25 lbs.|
Vertical Cabinet Smokers
A vertical cabinet smoker can generally hold more meat, and is easier to access than the bullet type smokers. They generally have two or four doors, and a large cooking chamber. They can be powered by various types of fuel. The cheaper ones don’t do well in windy conditions, as the metal is very thin and the heat is leeched off by the wind. Look for vertical smokers with thick gauge steel.
|Smoke Hollow||D4015B w/ Bluetooth||Electric||4||70 lbs.|
|Smoke Hollow||3016DEWS||Electric||4||70 lbs.|
|Bradley||Digital||Wood Pucks||4||65 lbs.|
These are usually referred to as stick burners, or offset smokers. They are generally not great beginner’s smokers, as they can range in price from $200 – $4000+! They are difficult to manage, and generally require an expert level of BBQ to knowledge to properly tune and prevent hot spots. They are usually fueled by charcoal or pure wood, and are not very efficient. When used by a master pit master, they produce some of the best smoked meat on the planet. Most of the lower end horizontal smokers require significant modifications to get even airflow and manage the heat properly.
|Char-Broil||American Gourmet||Charcoal and Wood||N/A||80 lbs.|
|Oklahoma Joe's||Highland||Charcoal and Wood||N/A||80 lbs.|
|Char-Griller||Smokin' Pro||Charcoal and Wood||N/A||80 lbs.|
|Dyna-Glow||Signature||Charcoal and Wood||N/A||80 lbs.|
|Best Choice||SKY2553||Charcoal and Wood||N/A||80 lbs.|
What is the best smoker for a beginner?
In my mind, there are 3 smokers that any beginner should be able to make great BBQ with. I have chosen 1 electric smoker, 1 charcoal smoker, and 1 horizontal smoker.
Masterbuilt 30″ Electric Smoker
This smoker won by top billing as the best electric smoker.
This is my #1 recommended smoker for a beginner or a seasoned pro. If you just want to make good BBQ and get quick and easy, consistent results, this is the smoker for you.
Weber Smokey Mountain Vertical Charcoal Smoker
This is one of the best selling smokers of all time, and for good reason.
This smoker has a large capacity, and because it uses a combination of wood and charcoal, it produces a good smoke profile. Managing the fuel can be a little difficult, but learning how to master your smoker is part of the fun.
Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Horizontal Smoker
This is the smoker that I keep coming back to. Once you make some cheap modifications, like sealing the doors, and adding a water pan, it produces consistent results with great smoke flavor. It is made out of thick gauge steel, and isn’t susceptible to changes in weather or rain. It can also be used as a grill, so it is a perfect multi-tasker.
Best Woods For Smoking
Most hardwoods and fruitwoods are great for smoking. Some fruit trees, like the mango tree, should not be used. If you stick to the more traditional woods, like oak, alder, cherry, apple, hickory, and mesquite, you’ll do fine. This chart should help you make the right decision.
Types of Wood
Alder Wood Chips
Alder wood chips are known for cooking fish and poultry
Light with a
Apple Wood Chips
Apple chips are great for beef,
Dense wood with a sweet smoky flavor. Tastes great mixed or alone
Cherry Wood Chips
Cherry chips are great for beef, pork, or salmon
Grape Wood Chips
Grape wood chips taste great with chicken or other poultry
Sweet berry flavor great mixed with apple wood chips
Hickory Wood Chips
Hickory is a versatile wood chip great for smoking all
Hickory is the most popular smoking wood with a bold
Maple Wood Chips
Great for smoking steak, cheese,
Mild and sweet flavor. Easy to mix with any wood, especially hickory and apple
Mesquite Wood Chips
Mulberry Wood Chipsfont>
Mulberry chips are taste great with ham and chicken
Sweet and berry finish with a gourmet taste
Oak Wood Chips
A dense wood that burns long and slow. Oak chips can be paired with any type of wood
Peach Wood Chips
A great wood spice to try with different type recipes
A rare soft wood that has a sweet
Persimmon Wood Chips
Strong Pine flavor with a smooth finish that is not too smoky
Pear Wood Chips
A subtle yet sweet flavor that is great paired with Apple wood chips
Pecan Wood Chips
Great paired with all types of meats
Plum Wood Chips
Walnut Wood Chips
Where do we get wood for smoking? Don’t go out to the local lumberyard that’s not what we want it’s probably full of chemicals. Unless you have a log burner (most people don’t) we want small chucks of wood no bigger than the palm of your hand or wood chips similar to what you might put around your garden shrubs. (But don’t use this type). They can be purchased at most department store chains in the BBQ section (not the landscape section) or online. You can also make your own.
Making a Fire
Do NOT use charcoal fluid. It’s easier than you might think if you have the right tools. I suggest you get a charcoal chimney. What’s a charcoal chimney? A chimney is an open ended can similar to a coffee can with a small shelf in it to hold coals and newspaper.
Starting Your Charcoal
- First take two sheets of newspaper, roll it loosely the long way and place it in the bottom of the chimney
can. Leave the center open!
- Next fill the can with coals. I use about 10 or 12 of them. It’s good to keep track of how many you used so you can easily duplicate the process for you perfect smoke!
- Finally light the newspaper from the holes in the bottom of the chimney in several places. Once it’s lit it’ll burn hot and fast so Set the chimney on something that won’t catch fire and wait. When all the coals start to turn gray all over they’re ready. This will take about 10 minutes.
- While you wait for the coals to get hot, add some fresh coals to your smoker about 15 of them in for a Bullet smoker and mix in some wood chips or chunks. When the coals in the chimney are all gray dump it on top of the unlit coals in your smoker.
- When the coals burn down and your temperature starts dropping just add more fresh coals. Again make a note of how many you used and this will make it real easy next time!
In my Weber Smokey Mountain, it seems to work out to about a 10ºF increase in temperature for each briquette added to the fire. That’s a good starting point but your results may vary depending on the type of smoker you use, outside temperatures, winds and things like that. They all affect temperature!
Best BBQ Accessories and Utensils
There are a few essentials that every outdoor cook needs. They are vital to your success as you become a BBQ pitmaster.
- Monitor the temperature of the smoker
- Monitor the temperature of the food
Consistency in the smoker is what allows you to produce great food. If there are big fluctuations in heat and smoke, the food will not always come out how you expect it!
My recommendation is the Maverick ET-733. It it wireless, has great range, and most importantly, it is accurate!
My recommendation is the Arres BBQ Glove set. It includes a nice pair of claws, which will allow you to grip and shred meat, quickly and efficiently!
You also need a good pair of tongs, a BBQ cleaning brush, and a BBQ basting brush. Not much else is needed, and you probably have everything you need already.
That is really all there is to it! You are now well on your way to becoming a BBQ pitmaster. If you have any questions on comments, let me know!