Ready to take your smoker technique to the next level of awesome! Improve your wood cooking skills with these surefire tips and find out what your smoker can really do!
A quality electric smoker can bring your favorite, mouthwatering smoked recipes to life right before your eyes. Cooking with wood can be a challenging experience. With practice, you’ll grow more accustomed to the nuances of generating smoky flavor and savory smoked goodness in all your smoked recipes.
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10 Ways To Get More Out Of Your Electric Smoker
Even the BBQ experts here at Fire Food Chef didn’t start out as pitmasters. Years of practice making mistakes has given us insights we can now share with you.
Whether you prefer a Masterbuilt, Traeger, Green Mountain Grill or some other brand of electric smoker, these ten tips will help you really crank up your culinary skill!
1. Allocate Time For Preheating Your Smoker
Preheating your electric smoker is the most crucial step in the cooking process. On average, you should add 30 - 45 minutes of cooking time to any smoked recipe. This time allows your smoker to achieve the desired smoking temperature. If you skip this important step, your meat will either emerge undercooked, or you’ll end up over-smoking your meat because there’s not enough wood burning.
When you first take your electric smoker out of storage, the exterior and internal may be quite cold. Even in summer, your smoker could be several degrees below the ambient temperature if it’s been covered adequately and protected from the elements.
With your first tray of wood chips loaded, preheating will allow you to gauge how well the chips are burning before you add your meat. At 275 degrees fahrenheit, your wood chips should produce a steady, opaque-white smoke. After thirty minutes, you’ll have a better idea of whether you need to add more fuel, increase or lower the temperature.
2. Soaking Your Wood Chips Is Not Necessary
A common misconception among many BBQ and grilling enthusiasts is the practice of soaking wood chips before adding them to the smoker. The idea is that by soaking your wood chips before adding them to the smoker, they won’t burn too quickly. The added moisture, as it evaporates, can also add moisture to your meat.
If you search online for BBQ and smoked meat recipes, you’ll come across this advice several times. There are those who swear by this method, but does it actually help?
Wet Wood Is A Waste (EPA)
Do you soak wood on a campfire before burning it? Would you burn wet wood in your fireplace and expect a pleasant, fragrant odor? Wet wood, with its added moisture, is actually harmful to children, elderly, pregnant women, people with diabetes, asthma, and many others. Dry wood burns much cleaner than wet wood, and more efficiently.
Even wood chips that have been left outside and exposed to the elements can absorb additional moisture. The added moisture increases the time it takes for the wood to burn, forcing your electric smoker to work harder in order to achieve your desired cooking temperature.
3. Don’t Use Wood Pellets In Place Of Wood Chips
On appearance, there seems to be little if any difference between wood chips and wood pellets. Both are made of wood, both are used as cooking fuel. Wood pellets, however, are specifically designed for use in pellet grills. If you try to use wood pellets in your electric smoker, you may find yourself quite frustrated.
Wood pellets are highly condensed pellets of compressed sawdust and water. A specific ratio of water to sawdust allows wood pellets to burn efficiently while releasing moisture at a consistent rate. The airflow in a wood pellet grill ensures that heat, smoke and moisture are produced in sufficient quantities for smoking and cooking your meat.
As a result, wood pellets burn much more efficiently and much hotter than wood chips. If you use them in your electric smoker, maintaining a consistent cooking temperature will be much more difficult. You can certainly use wood chips in a pellet grill, but an electric smoker works best with natural hardwood chips only.
Pellets are not as flavorful as wood chips either. If you want your brisket or pulled pork to have that distinct wood-flavored aroma, wood chips or chunks are the way to go. Different types of wood (cherry, alder, mesquite, apple, hickory, etc) can further enhance the aroma and taste of your smoked meat.
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4. Get Rid Of The Wood Chip Tray, Seriously…
There’s no other way to infuse your meat with that distinct wood-fired taste and aroma than by using wood chips. Reloading the wood chip tray, however, can ruin your smoked recipe before it even really gets started.
Electric smoker models typically have a front door that must be opened in order to load your food. The wood tray usually sits under the lowest grate, above the heat source, and under the heat shield. It can be awkward to access half-way through a six hour recipe, but if you don’t refill the wood chip tray, you’ll run out of smoke before your food is ready.
For this reason, many BBQ lovers opt for a wood chip box instead, or a smoker box. A smoker box holds a large amount of wood chips, and can be used on a gas or charcoal grill as well.
A side-loading wood chip tray allows you to reload your smoker with wood chips without opening the smoker door. If you’re shopping around for a quality electric smoker, opt for models with a side loading wood tray.
5. Use The Ventilation To Manage Air Flow
The ventilation in your electric smoker is designed to facilitate air flow. With sufficient air supply, the wood in your smoker can burn steadily while maintaining a fairly consistent internal temperature.
Strong gusts of wind can either cause a sudden increase in heat, or result in a drastic drop in the internal temperature. This is why it’s recommended that you keep your smoker sheltered from prevailing winds.
When smoking meat in your electric smoker, keep the smokestack open, to allow for smoke to escape and reduce the build-up of creosote. Creosote, a byproduct of burnt wood, can be harmful if consumed in excess .
Too much creosote will also leave your food tasting acrid and burnt, rather than savory and flavorful. If the wood chips burn too rapidly or the temperature is too high, excessive amounts of creosote can form, layering your meat with an unwelcome, overpowering burnt wood flavor.
6. Don’t Oversmoke
One of the most common mistakes amateur grillers make is adding too much wood and increasing the temperature midway through the smoking process. You notice the level of smoke has fallen, so you open the smoker and add more chips. The fresh new wood chips need time to smolder, so many people think it’s a good idea to turn up the temperature at this point.
Unfortunately, this is actually counterproductive. By adding too much wood, you end up with a layer of ash and burnt wood chips on the bottom of the wood tray. These continue to burn, adding creosote to the new wood chips. Since they’re so densely packed and separated from the flame by a layer of burnt wood and ash, the new wood takes longer to produce a smolder.
Wood chips should smolder, not burn or burst into flames. The flames don’t cook your food. It’s the heat radiating from the heat shield that cooks your meat. Just like an oven, the convection heat inside the cooking chamber is what actually cooks your food. The wood merely imparts an additional flavor and aroma.
Load enough wood chips into your tray or smoke box for the required cooking time. When you need to reload, don’t raise the temperature. Simply empty the tray of any ash, refill and load. Some electric smokers have a lever or handle for dumping ash, which makes reloading super easy and quick to do.
7. Low And Slow Is What Smokers Do Best
Unlike baked goods and seared meats, smoked meat recipes require a low and slow cooking method. Plan to smoke your brisket, whole turkey, salmon or cheese slowly over several hours at lower than usual temperatures.
While temperatures above 400 degrees fahrenheit are typical for grilling burgers or searing a steak, the average smoking temperature for meat is anywhere between 165 - 225 degrees fahrenheit.
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Most meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees fahrenheit to be considered safe . If you purchase a quality instant read meat thermometer, many of them include a meat thermometer chart to guide you during the cooking process.
Smoking is a long process that can take anywhere from four to twelve hours or more. The size, thickness, and fat content of your meat will all impact the length of time it takes to smoke. At 225 degrees fahrenheit, for example, a large, 20 pound whole turkey could require about ten hours of smoking or more.
Always check the recipe to ensure you’ve allocated sufficient time for prepping, curing, and smoking your meat, as well as preheating your electric smoker. The top brands often include a timer as part of the digital control pad, for a truly ‘set it and forget it’ type of cooking experience.
8. Finish Chicken In The Oven For Crispy Skin
It’s so easy to ruin a whole chicken, quarter leg, or an entire batch of chicken wings by overcooking the skin at high temperatures. Done right, the skin should provide a thin, crispy outer layer that seals in the natural juices and oils in your chicken.
Exposing chicken skin to high heat or direct flame will quickly rob the skin of moisture and crispiness. In a smoker, the maximum temperature isn’t nearly hot enough to produce the crispy outer layer you want. For the best results, remove the chicken from your smoker ten minutes before the cooking time expires. With your oven preheated to 450 degrees fahrenheit, transfer your chicken for the remaining ten minutes.
9. Use Quality Grill Mats To Make Clean Up Easier
While many BBQ grillers and competition smokers wrap their grates in foil, there’s an even easier way to protect your cooking grates. Grill mats are designed for cooking on gas or charcoal grills, but they work just as well in an electric smoker.
Made of highly heat resistant, food-grade, PTFE-free material, a grill mat can be cut and shaped to the size or form you need. You place the grill mat over the grate, and your food directly on to the mat. There are non-stick surfaces you can purchase, but greasing your grill mat before adding your meat is always a good idea.
The maximum temperature for using grill mats is 500˚F, in compliance with FDA regulations . With your grill mats in place, you don’t have to worry as much about food morsels falling through the grates. Flare ups are reduced, but the juices can sometimes form a pool on the grill mat that leaks and drips uncontrollably, causing more splatter inside the cooking chamber.
10. Use A Cold Smoke Attachment Or Kit For Cold Smoking
Only the most dedicated, die-hard BBQ enthusiasts and pitmasters are willing to fire up their electric smoker in subzero temperatures. Cold smoking, however, doesn’t refer to smoking in the cold, but rather, to the low temperatures used for smoking.
At an average temperature of 145 degrees fahrenheit, you can cold smoke deli meats, cheeses, fruits, and a wide range of cured meats. The process of cold smoking requires you to isolate the food from the heat source, while directing smoke and heat into the cooking chamber.
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To cold smoke with your electric smoker, all you need is a cold smoke kit or cold smoke attachment. Traeger, Masterbuilt, Camp Chef and many other leading brands all make cold smoke kits that can be purchased separately and attached to your smoker when read.