How to Use a Smoker from Scratch – Step-by-Step Explained
Every BBQ enthusiast knows that one of the best ways to cook a juicy piece of meat is using a smoker.
It’s all about the flavor, the juices it delivers, and the spices it highlights. When you use a smoker, you’re set to get the best meat.
But, getting the meat to cook the right way demands some work. While it seems fast and straightforward how to use a smoker, you may need to spend more time and effort than expected.
Don’t worry though. It is not rocket science either. As long as you follow the right steps and don’t go headfirst without knowing what to do – you’ll be safe and ready to enjoy your smoked meat.
For that, you may want to find out exactly what to do and how. The following steps will help you out from scratch:
How to Use a Smoker Step-by-Step
First off – Get a Smoker
Yes, you will have to choose a smoker first that offers everything you need.
This household equipment will help you create the juiciest meats you can think of, and cook them faster than any standard smoker.
You could say that a smoker is an exterior oven. But of course, the flavor always ends up being better.
Whatever you go for, make sure it is a smoker that you can get the most from. Here, you will find four major types to consider:
1. Charcoal Smoker
The first and most common type of smoker you’ll notice is the charcoal one. This type of smoker is excellent to get the most flavors out of your meat. It tends to deliver a unique taste to meats that no other kind of smoker can.
Also, charcoal smokers are easy to handle and usually don’t have any problem to fire up. On top of that, they are so popular that even a high-end model can be ultra-affordable.
Apart from being convenient and cheap, you may also find them a little problematic. When it comes to keeping the fire burning, you will have to maintain the flow of air, or it may burn out completely.
To make it even worse, charcoal usually leaves a mess behind, from the smokers to the burning chamber. This eventually makes the cleaning a little hard & inconvenient.
Luckily, most models nowadays are effortless to use and don’t require much work.
2. Pellet Smoker
It is a wood smoker that boasts an igniting rod in the middle. This rod helps to cook your food effectively from all sides.
However, the real advantage of a pellet smoker is that you can control the smoke and overall heat production with a simple switch or knob.
They are utterly practical, and may offer the chance to use whatever pellets you want. Most pellets are wooden, but others are from similar natural materials that fire up fast and burn slowly.
If you want proper flavor without leaving behind practicality – a pellet smoker is the option to go for.
Nevertheless, remember that they come with an internal fan and a smoking chamber. This could make the cleaning hard and the operation really noisy. On top of that, pellet smokers tend to be expensive.
3. Gas Smoker
After considering a pellet smoker, you may find a gas model the next probable contender. These are usually a little smaller than their competitors, as gas doesn’t need a burning chamber to work. Moreover, to make them even better, gas smokers are the healthiest of all.
You will also find that smokers tend to be fast to turn on and off, straightforward when controlling temperature, and demand little to no maintenance. However, they tend to be more expensive than others.
While the initial cost of a gas smoker won’t break your bank, the constant use of gas or propane may end up being too expensive. On top of that, the gas-burning cooking method won’t produce the same kind of flavor-producing smoke a charcoal or pellet model will do.
Overall, they are the most practical in every way – for their speed and ease of use. If that works for you – then a gas smoker should be your go-to choice.
4. Electric Smoker
To finish the different smoker options, it is critical to learn about the most efficient option. Here, you’ll find the electric smoker. From the installation (hooking it up to an outlet or just adding a battery) to the overall cleaning and operation – they are utterly convenient.
These smokers don’t use any kind of burning to produce heat. Instead, they use a heating element, infrared heating, and sometimes even induction. In all three options, the heating tends to be efficient and extra easy to control.
You won’t have to make much of an effort to make an electric smoker heat up, turn off, or cook at the right temperature. However, this comes at a huge disadvantage: it delivers no additional taste to the meats.
You will get fast and efficient heating but at the downside of lack of flavor that charcoal or pellet smokers offer.
Steps on How To Use
So those are the types of smokers you can pick. Following that, we’re going to help you use them (generally), so you can get the most out of your choice. So, keep reading.
• Step 1: Prepare the Smoker
For charcoal models, you will have to fill the firebox or chamber with the black coal. You may also use wood chippings or logs if needed. Moreover, if you have a pellet model, then pour them up the same way.
As for gas models, make sure the gas tank is open and sending gas through the tubes. For electric models, we recommend just setting up the temperatures before starting the heating.
When you have the smoker ready, then you can set it on and place the temperature high at about 400°F for a few minutes, then reduce it to 225°F when you're ready to start the cooking. This process will help you clean the residues of previous smoking, and prepare the grill for the smoking at the same time.
• Step 2: Set Up a Thermometer or Temp Probe
It doesn’t matter what type of smoker you have – it is necessary to set an external temperature controller to know the precise temperature of the smoker interior.
While some smoker may come with their built-in thermometers, these tend to be imprecise and often worthless. To prevent that, get your own.
This will help you keep the temperature at the right level. As you want it to be stable at 225°F, you’ll need a probe to make sure that it does.
It is important to note that most smokers won’t offer the chance to install a temp probe or extra thermometer. To get over that, we recommend opening a small hole on the door of the chamber. It should be large enough for the probe to enter.
We recommend making a plug for that hole as well. Doing this will help you keep check of the temperature without preventing the smoke or heat from getting out – which is something you don’t want to happen.
• Step 3: Keep the Temperature Consistent
After you’ve successfully installed the smoker, turned it on, and made sure the temperature is right – you will have to keep it that way.
For electric and gas models, this process can be a piece of cake. You won't have to do much more than setting up the knobs, and that's it. If the temperature tends to differ, then you may need to turn the knob again to fix it.
But, for charcoal and pellet models, this could be a little harder. Especially if you’re cooking on a smoker using charcoal or wooden logs, then you’ll have to stabilize the temperature between 255°F and 250°F. This will help you prevent the heat from minimizing, and reduce the smoke that it creates.
To do this, you should add lit coals to the mix, hit the fan or blow some air, and try to increase the heat. If you need to take it down, get some coals out of the chamber, and that should be enough.
Whatever you do, it is crucial to keep the temperature stable for at least 10 minutes before you can place the meat on the smoker. This amount of time could be more than you expect, but it is critical if you want to smoke it effectively.
• Step 4: Add Smoking Coal or Wood Chunks
The smoking coal and the wood chunk are two types of fuel for grills that produce smoke. They are additional to the typical coal or wood chips, as they not only help to add some heat to the firebox, but also to create the smoke.
It is highly recommended to use wood over charcoal if you want the best flavor. Wood tends to offer a much more pleasant smell and taste, especially if we’re talking about hardwoods, nut-woods, or fruit-woods.
As for charcoal, you may find some unique options that offer specific smells or flavors that mix with the meat. Be aware that charcoal is not as effective when creating smoke, and the taste is usually not as strong as wood is.
• Step 5: Place the Meat on the Smoker
Once you’ve set the smoker to start creating smoke, then you can add the meat into the equation.
Remember, the temperature should be consistent at 225°F up to 250°F. This will start creating the smoke and create the ideal heat inside for cooking the meat while getting the entire flavor from the smoke.
After you place the meat inside, close the lid and let it cook. We recommend letting it cook for at least an hour per pound. You shouldn't open the cover for anything.
Once you’re close to finishing or after an hour smoking the meat, then you can take a look (but fast). But, if you’re going the extra mile – then you can follow up with the next step.
• Step 6: Try to Moist the Smoker (Optional Step)
While electric and gas models are not ideal for this, you will find it extra useful for charcoal and pellet smokers.
Adding moisture helps to increase the juiciness of the meat while also providing a plus in flavor and smell – exceptionally if you moist it up with the right spices.
For this, you can follow two methods: the first one focuses on adding a metal pan below the smoker with spices or any seasoning. The pot will heat up and boil the water, which eventually transfers its properties to the meat.
Otherwise, you may follow up by spraying some flavored water over the meat before it ends up cooking. This water will fall onto the wood pellets or charcoal, which eventually creates a smoke. And, if you use fruit juice like apple or orange, you can add an even better flavor (if sprayed over the meats).
This extra moisture goes directly into the meat, which improves the taste and the smell.
• Step 7: Control the Smoke and Heat
By now, you are already smoking the meat and waiting for it to end up tasty and juicy. But for that, it is vital to keep the temperature controlled and the smoke flowing through.
For this, you should open the lid only after one hour and check with the thermometer. This should be fast unless you’re adding the moisture in the previous step.
If the temperature is too low, then you should continue by adding more airflow and turning the temp knob accordingly.
Even if you’ve already added some water pan or sprayed the meat, you can do it again here. This will add the touch of extra amazingness that you need.
• Step 8: Wait & Wait (Until It’s Done)
No one said that cooking your meats with a smoker is fast, or easy, or super entertaining. In fact, you will probably find it all the opposite.
Luckily, you can always do something else while it cooks, especially if you have other things to do like making a salad, creating an additional seasoning or sauce, and so on.
But, whatever you do in this waiting time, try not to open the lid – no matter what’s happening. This will help you prevent loss of heat and smoke, which could eventually harm the whole cooking process.
To pass the time doing something productive here, we recommend preparing the smoking water (the pan below the smoker), a fruit juice, or unique spiced water mix. Try to follow what you like and love tasting so that you can get the most out of your piece.
After several minutes up to an hour, the meat will be ready so that you can take it out. Once here, you can proceed to open the lid, smell the head first, and consume.
Now, Serve the Meat and Enjoy!
To start eating the meat and getting its entire flavor and smell into your mouth, we recommend letting it cool for at least 1 minute up to 5 minutes. You’ll want it to be decently cooled down but also hot enough to add the extra spiciness.
Still, it’s all your choice. Serve to your liking, look, or make the right seasoning and start eating.
After that, you can finish up by cleaning the grill (not the best experience but utterly necessary).
However you proceed, always remember to enjoy. That's what a smoker is for.