Simply put a barbecue smoker (BBQ) is a piece of cooking equipment used to ‘smoke’ food in a ‘smoky’, low temperature environment. Barbecue smokers create both heat and smoke, that cook and flavour (smoked) food.
Used correctly a barbecue smoker will maintain a ‘stable’ low smoking temperature environment for many hours, while producing smoke and ‘encapsulating smoke’ around the food placed in the ‘smoker’, for ‘absorption’ into the food, providing a smoky taste. Foods normally smoked in a barbecue smoker are meat and or fish.
Technically, any piece of cooking equipment that can hold a ‘low temperature’ for several hours and that can create ‘smoke’ is a smoker. Smokers can use a wide variety of fuels for smoking they include, wood, electricity, (electric smokers need to have ‘wood’ added to the firebox to produce smoke though) gas, charcoal, and pellets.
Smoking food in a barbecue smoker, is not BBQ ‘grilling’. BBQ Grilling is when one is cooking food directly over charcoal or wood.
Vertical Water Smokers
These barbeque smokers are generally acknowledged as the most popular amongst the smoker fraternity, similar to the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker the same as the one shown below in the video.
Vertical water smokers have 3 main parts, the heat source, which is located at the bottom of the smoker, the water pan which is just above the firebox and the smoking chamber at the top where the meat or food is placed.
With a different design completely to vertical water smokers, offset smokers comprises of only 2 parts. These being the main cooking chamber where you place the food on the top of the grates. The second part is the firebox (heat source)
Offset smokers utilise ‘metal plates’ below the food racks with various size holes across their surface to “offset” the direct heat drawn from the heat source. This evenly distributes the heat inside the ‘cooking’ chamber.
Check out the video below.
Pellet Grill Smoker
You can get pellet grill smokers like the Pit Boss PB700FB wood fired pellet grill through Amazon. Pellet grills use ‘wood pellets’ as fuel, which are all-natural hardwood sawdust, compacted and extruded into small 5-6mm round pieces. Pellet grills look remarkably like offset smokers, with the exception that is they use ‘wood pellets’ in lieu of charcoal briquettes or chopped wood as the fuel.
How do Barbecue Smokers Work?
Vertical Water Smoker
A vertical water smoker (often called a bullet smoker) works by igniting fuel in the firebox (charcoal, wood etc..) at the bottom of the smoker. Vents in the firebox control the amount of ‘airflow’ entering the firebox which in turn lets the fuel burn hotter or cooler. Heat from the firebox ‘heats’ a water reservoir, which is located just above the firebox.
The water reservoir helps to regulate and distribute the ‘cooking’ heat evenly from the fire, as its possible to get hotspots, especially if you are adding logs to the charcoal in the firebox.
The water reservoir also provides moisture to the smoker, so the food does not dry out.
Above the water reservoir there are normally 2 x grates where your food is placed in what is normally called a ‘second’ stacker. This stacker also has a ‘controllable’ vent to help regulate temperature.
Generally larger than vertical smokers but consisting of 2 parts (no water reservoir).
The 1st part is a ‘firebox’ to one side of the ‘smoking chamber’. This is where the fuel and smoke ‘wood’ are added, and the ‘airflow’ regulated in a similar manner as the vertical smoker via air vent/damper.
The large chamber adjoining the ‘firebox’ to the side, is the 2nd part and called the ‘smoke’ chamber. This chamber will have several racks for placing of the food. A smoke stack with a ‘airflow’ regulation vent, sits on top of this chamber.
Food is cooked/smoked by drawing heat and smoke from the firebox across the smoking chamber, the amount of heat and smoke is regulated by the smokestack.
When using a pellet grill, pellets are fed through a ‘hopper’ and ‘auger’ system into the firebox or ‘pellet box’.
These pellets are then ignited by a small electrical element initially; A small fan provides the fire’s airflow instead of the normal vents on other types of smokers and thus its controls the temperature automatically.
Pellet regulation, temperature, and fan are all controlled via a ‘control box’ attached to or is part of the pellet smoker/grill.
Smoke can be introduced in the same way as the other smokers by adding smoke wood or chips to the firebox/pellet box. It is also possible to ‘grill’ and smoke with a pellet grill.
What is The Best Smoker For a Beginner?
If you are new to ‘smoking’ you will want to ensure good results as soon as possible no doubt. For the beginner, the vertical water smoker or bullet smoker is probable the easiest of the wood smokers to start your journey into smoking.
The biggest advantage of the ‘vertical smoker’ over the ‘offset smoker’ for arguments sake, is a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality. Once you have your fire set and smoke wood thrown into the fire box, the advantages of the smokers ‘water pan’ to help regulate the temperature and evenly distribute the heat and moisture are ideal for the beginner.
Offset smokers are much more hands on for the beginner, with regular adjustment needed of things like the temperature of the smoke chamber, the drying out of the food, and ensuring even temperatures across the whole of the chamber can become problematic for the beginner.
Can I use my BBQ as a Smoker?
The simple answer is ‘yes’ you can use your BBQ as a ‘smoker’ providing it has a lid or cover similar to this Weber Compact Charcoal BBQ or this Cosmo Grill Gas Barbeque. However, for ‘good smoke’ you will need to add a small smoker box or smoker tube into your BBQ, this can be purchased from somebody like Amazon. This ‘smoker box’ is filled with ‘wood chips’ of your choice and will create the ‘smoke’ needed for flavor. Alternatively, you can place ‘smoke wood chip’ directly on the coals.
You will also need to have a water pan, placed in the BBQ to help regulate the temperature a little.
Either way your BBQ grill can be utilised as a smoker, but nothing will beat or taste like ‘smoked food’ from a purpose-built smoker.
The video below will give you some idea of what is required to turn your grille into a smoker.
Hopefully you have found our information above informative? Armed with this knowledge you can set off on you journey of discovery into barbecue smokers.
Which ever method of ‘smoking’ you may choose to smoke your food its great fun to experiment with different ‘smoke woods’ for the particular ‘smoky’ flavor you like with your food.
As far as foods go, meat like pork and beef joints are great favourites, along with racks of rib’s. However, try smoking a whole chicken or turkey you maybe surprised at the outcome. Fish is another great favourite as well as cheese or nuts all make great food stuff’s to smoke on your barbecue smoker.
Check out our FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) section for other answers on barbecue smokers.