Barbecued food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The taste of smoked food is a pleasure to be enjoyed, hard to forget, and hard to replicate without the proper equipment.
Once you’ve tasted smoked food, it’s natural to want to do it yourself at home, but where to start?
There’s so many options when it comes to outdoor smoking equipment, from gas grills to pellet smokers and log burners to electric smokers, that it can be hard to know where to begin.
Hopefully this article will clarify some things for you and help you decide the best way forward to get into the smoked meat scene by focusing on possibly the best and easiest outdoor smokers available:
Pellet grills and smokers.
What Are Pellet Smokers?
Pellet smokers are also called pellet grills by many, but these are essentially the same thing, so don’t get confused by these interchangeable terms.
Pellet smokers are a combination of a wood smoker with the ease of use of an indoor oven.
They consist of a cooking chamber, with a hopper on the side that holds wooden pellets burned for heat and smoke.
The pellets are funneled into the cooking chamber via a tube also known as an auger. There is also a fan attached to the cooking chamber that circulates heat and smoke around the food.
A digital controller allows you to control the amount of pellets entering the cooking chamber and the amount of air let in, which gives you, as the chef, a great amount of control over the temperature.
As you can control the temperature so well, and the temperature range of a pellet smoker can be as low as 180 F and upwards of 600 F, many types of cooking can be carried out within a pellet smoker. From high heat grilling to low n slow smoking, and even baking or roasting.
The wooden pellets that are used as the heat source within a pellet smoker impart a lovely flavor. Many different ‘flavors’ of pellets are available, with popular varieties being oak, hickory, maple, pecan, and mesquite, although many more are available.
Aren’t Electric Smokers Easier to Use than Pellet Grills?
Electric smokers are probably the biggest competition to pellet smokers in terms of smoking food, but what exactly are they?
Electric smokers look like a small, vertical metal cupboard, with racks inside for placing the food on.
Electric smokers use electricity as their power source, and an electrical element heats up the smoker. They are well insulated, and the heat circulates well.
There is usually a bowl of wood chips at the bottom of the smoker, and it is this that is heated by electricity until it is smoking gently, and this is what flavors the food.
Electric smokers are plain simple and easy to set the temperature on, and once set, can be left to cook the food until it’s done, with no further input required from the chef.
What Are Traditional Smokers?
Traditional smokers are often the offset type. Offset smokers are a barrel shape, with the heat source off to one side - offset from the main cooking chamber.
A firebox is filled with wood logs, ignited, and the fire feeds heat and smoke into the cooking chamber to envelop and cook the food, drenching it in great smoky flavors.
These types of smokers have been around for years, and are starting to slowly improve in their construction. But they are a real challenge to operate and cook with effectively.
You need to learn how to start, manage, and control a log fire accurately, to produce just the right amount of heat and smoke to cook at your desired temperature.
This takes real skill, and you need an investment of time to learn it over many cooks.
This is why pellet grills are so highly recommended instead. They are so much easier to use with their digital temperature controllers. Push some buttons, set a temp, and off it goes with no further input from you.
Which Is Better?
Let’s have a look at some comparisons between the two.
Electric smokers do have a bowl of smoldering wood chips to smoke the food, but there will be hardly any flavour from this, meaning, while you will have cooked food at the end, it will be very bland.
Electric smokers and traditional smokers only have one purpose - to smoke your food. Whereas the pellet smoker can smoke your food, and do many other things, as we have already discussed.
Both electric smokers and pellet smokers can be left to their own devices once you have the temperature set correctly, so they don’t need a lot of babysitting. A traditional smoker, on the other hand, needs a lot of attention.
In a traditional smoker, the heat and amount of smoke can vary considerably, so it will need a lot of attention from you to effectively perform its job. However, the traditional smoker does impart that wonderful, woody flavor into food, a pellet smoker does just as good a job as a traditional smoker though.
Due to the temperature fluctuations and gradient with the heat all coming from one side, food cooked within a traditional smoker can be very inconsistent, with one side being overcooked. The other is undercooked, and to prevent this, you need to attend to and turn your food while cooking continually.
Image source: Pexels.com
Having looked at the three different types of smokers, it would seem that pellet smokers are the best, especially if you are a beginner to the world of food smoking. There are several reasons for this conclusion.
It is very easy to control a pellet smoker’s temperature, unlike a traditional smoker which needs almost constant monitoring to ensure it remains at the right temperature and level of smoke to cook the food effectively.
A pellet smoker can be used as a smoker, but also as a grill and as an oven. This means it is far better value for money than an electric or traditional smoker as you essentially get several pieces of equipment for the price of one.
You can change the taste of the smoke infusing your food by buying different types of wood pellet, or even blending different flavours together to get exactly the taste that you want infused into your cooking.
Pellet smokers will last you a lifetime if you look after them properly, meaning that you can cook for your family and friends for years, and be proud of the food you are producing.