Learning your Smoker

April 6, 2011 by  

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By Kevin Bevington

There are many types of smoker you can buy, which include many shapes and sizes. When you’re purchasing a smoker there are only a few things that you really need to keep in mind.

1.            How many people do you need to feed?

2.            How much money do you want to spend?

3.            How much work you want to do?

Just like you see on TV you can actually build a smoker for very little money however, you’re not going to want to use a very low quality smoker to cook for many people. If you plan on cooking professionally as a caterer or as a competitor, you will want to buy a smoker that will allow you to cook a lot of food at one time. If you’re looking to cook in your backyard perhaps for just your family or a few close friends a smaller cooker would be your best bet.

What most people don’t understand is a large cooker will cook at a different temperature than a small cooker. What this means is, the cooking temperature is relative to the environment your cooking in. This may be a difficult to understand at first, but it is a concept you will need to grasp, if you plan on cooking in different environments. Let’s give an example, if I tell you that you should cook that brisket at 250 degrees for 10 hours. You can’t assume that statement to be correct, unless the following variables are exact.

1.            You would need to be using the same cooker

2.            You would need to be cooking the same piece of meat.

It’s impossible to match the first variable (unless you borrowed my smoker, but it’s possible to be close), or the second variable (unless you stole my piece of meat). Since we are talking about smokers right now, let’s start with the first variable. If you cooked that brisket in a 250 gallon tank/offset smoker, and I was using a bullet style smoker, it’s very likely using the cooking method I suggested, you would not want to cook at 250 degrees, you may want to cook at 220 to 225 degrees, or even a little less. And this is the reason why. That brisket (of equal size and weight) will have far less influence on the air immediately surrounding it, in your big tank smoker, than in my bullet style smoker. We have a huge difference in the volume of air in both environments. However, if you were cooking 10 briskets of that size and weight, you may want to now increase your cooking temperature to what I recommended using my bullet style smoker.

Still puzzled? Let’s look at this a different way, and compare it to volumes of water. If you take an ice cube and put it into a gallon of 80 degree water, and then take another ice cube and put it into a swimming pool of 80 degree water, will the ice cubes melt in the same amount of time? Of course not, the ice cube in the swimming pool will melt very quickly compared to the ice cube in the gallon of water, and why is that? Both environments are not equal, the ice cube in the 80 degree swimming pool has less influence on the water immediately surrounding it, compared to the ice cube in the gallon of 80 degree water. The same thing happens in the smoker, and just like water movement in the swimming pool, air movement in the smoker also has great influence on this. So, cooking temperatures and cooking times given in recipes, should be used as a guide, and not gospel.  You need to understand, and learn to use the cooker you are using, and there is no substitute for that.

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One Response to “Learning your Smoker”

  1. CarbonThief on September 24th, 2011 1:48 pm

    Nice analogy with the ice cube in the gallon vs the pool. If you have a thermometer for both the internal meat temp and the internal chamber temp, would this help to learn what temps are best to cook, or irrelevant?

    Thanks again!

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