BBQ Smokers

A great variation on the barbeque grill is a smoker. Smokers cook meat by enclosing it in a container that produces medium temperature smoke, hence the name. That heat from the smoke cooks the meal while various components of the vapor add flavor.

Like grills, smokers come in a wide variety of types: charcoal, gas, electric, and even brick oven. In every case, the basic goal is the same: produce an even heat that slow-cooks the meat while filling it with delightful aromas.

Most are in the form of a metal cylinder that allows meat to be laid out on a grill or rotated on a spit. Many designs have some form of controlling the heat using so-called dampers. One popular method is to use a water basin that cools the smoke on contact. The water will absorb some smoke, but also release some. As the smoke whirls through the chamber by convection, it’s cooled then makes contact with the meat again.

To some extent an ordinary barbeque grill with a lid performs the same function, but a smoker takes the idea to its limit. In a smoker, the fumes themselves are essential to the process. Different types of charcoal and/or wood are used to add extra flavor. Cherry, hickory, alder and mesquite are popular choices. Each has a distinctive aroma and provides the meat with a unique flavor.

Smokers are intended to be used with advance planning, though. Preparing the smoke with just the right ingredients takes time. Slow cooking meat in a smoker can take as long as a day. You don’t fire one of these up an hour before you want dinner.

Often placed on a rotating spit, a good chunk of beef will be turned for hours, but not basted or sauced, letting the smoke do all the work. A fine crust forms on the exterior that makes for an eating episode that adds a physical sensation to the taste experience.

While most smokers are made of metal, often cast iron, a great variation is the brick oven style.

The brick used in a smoker can be clay or even concrete block. Special composites are common these days, since materials science has even improved barbecuing. But whichever specific material is used, these smokers still have a hot basin and a flue to convey the smoke to a chamber where the meat cooks.

Brick oven smokers provide a well-controlled temperature and very even flow of smoke past the meat. They can be built to hold very large amounts. In a good brick-oven smoker you could slow roast a side of beef that would feed an entire neighborhood.