A charcoal or wood smoker is a great addition to your outdoor kitchen. Slow cooking food takes it to a higher level of flavor and satisfaction.
If you’re not familiar with how charcoal or wood smokers work or you’re not convinced yet that you need one, stay tuned. Here are 17 benefits of adding one to your cooking repertoire.
In This Article, We’ll Explore:
What is a BBQ Smoker?
A BBQ smoker cooks food at low temperatures surrounded by smoke. Burning wood or charcoal creates heat and smoke to cook the food at around 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
BBQ smokers come in many sizes, shapes, cooking capabilities, but overall, they work the same way. Food cooks low and slow for tender, juicy results.
How do BBQ Smokers Work?
BBQ smokers include an extensive amount of options from size, shape, price range, fuel type, and more. However, all BBQ smokers have one thing in common. They all use the same general principles to achieve mouthwatering results.
When you understand the science behind how BBQ smokers work, you’ll truly appreciate the benefits of including one in your outdoor space.
You can read a more in depth guide in my article How Does A Smoker Work?
You Start with a Heat Source
One thing all BBQ smokers have in common is that they start with heat. This might be a no-brainer, but we can’t overlook the basics.
Depending on the design of your smoker, the fuel chamber might be directly under the cooking chamber for vertical smokers or in a separate compartment altogether if you have an offset smoker.
By separating the burning fuel from the cooking chamber, convective heat, rather than direct heat, cooks the food. Because the heat is not direct, it is less intense, and it takes longer for the food to cook.
Next, you’ll Need a Source of Smoke
Apart from the heat, you also need to incorporate smoke to get that distinct flavor. When you use a charcoal or wood smoker, smoke is just a bi-product of the fuel you’re already burning.
Remember that food will absorb the distinct flavor of whatever kind of wood you choose to burn, so use that to your advantage.
Wood chips work well for quick, strong bursts of smoke, but larger chunks will last longer and provide more consistent smoke.
Even though it’s popular to soak your wood chips ahead of time to create more smoke, you should know that it tends to slow down smoking in the long run.
And Finally, you Need a Source of Humidity
While soaking your wood chips in water isn’t necessarily the best plan, water is the secret ingredient to a juicy, tender cut. It’s just important to use it the right way.
Ideally, a water pan kept in the cooking chamber is the best way to go. Keeping the air around your meat humid is key to keeping it from drying out from the hot air passing over it for hours.
Water also condenses the surface of the meat, so that smoky flavor sticks to it better.
Here’s where you get to be creative. Swap water out for liquor, fruit juice, or vinegar to not only add humidity but add another depth of flavor to your meat.
Now on to the benefits!
Charcoal & Wood Smokers Produce Great Flavor
Smoke infuses flavor into the meat, but it does something more. As the smoke circulates, it transfers and caramelizes sugars that burn off the hardwood and passes them onto your food.
Charcoal & Wood Smokers Make for more Tender BBQ
A charcoal or wood smoker can make even the toughest meat fall apart. Exposure to the low level of heat for hours on end breaks down the meat’s connective tissues resulting in cuts that are soft as butter.
No excessive sawing or chewing is needed for this meal. Your jaw and forearms will thank you.
Charcoal & Wood Smokers Give you Juicier BBQ
Much of the flavor of meat comes from fat. As you slow cook your meat, the fat is rendered, and gelatin and collagen are broken down into oily juices.
These juices not only add more flavor to your meat, but they better absorb the smoke and any rubs or sauces you use and distribute the flavor throughout the meat.
The juices from the fat also keep the meat moist and tender, so you have a meal you’re proud to share rather than a dried-out slab.
You Get more Diverse Flavors with Charcoal & Wood Smokers
There’s no limit to the flavors you can achieve with charcoal and wood smokers. Switching up the kind of cooking wood you choose, experimenting with liquid injections, or creating a new sauce or rub recipe results in meat that’s anything but boring.
Mixing and matching these techniques gives you never-ending flavor profiles.
You have a Big Range of Flavorful Hardwood Choices
Each hardwood has a different flavor profile that is otherwise lost unless you use a charcoal or wood smoker. While you can add rubs and sauces to any meat, you won’t experience the same flavor if you use a gas grill.
There are even certain hardwoods that pair well with specific types and cuts of meat. For example, oak brings out the best in lamb, beef, brisket, and sausages, while maple is ideal for poultry, pork, or game foul.
So if you have a specific cut you want to smoke, research which hardwoods will bring out their best flavor profile.
You will be Able to Feed the Masses
Smokers come in all sizes, but the large ones are perfect for events such as family reunions, graduations, or even weddings.
Competition-level and commercial size BBQ smokers can cook up to 700 pounds of brisket at a time. That will really feed a crowd!
They Require Minimal Training
It takes a little more practice than an electric or gas smoker, but anyone can learn to smoke with charcoal or wood. In time you can become a Pitmaster too!
Charcoal & Wood Smokers Keep it Natural
When you want your heat source to be 100% natural, charcoal and wood smokers are the way to go. Your food and the fuel you use to cook it with both come directly from the earth without any interference from a lab or factory.
There are Health Benefits of Eating Smoked Food
When you’re in the habit of eating smoked food, you’ll be more likely to eat food that is high in protein and amino acids.
For example, smoked fish is high in essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for lowering blood pressure and preventing plaque build-up in arteries.
Other smoked meats, such as many cuts of beef, are high in iron. Iron is an essential mineral in your red blood cells and having enough is vital to your immune system function.
Another advantage of smoking meat vs. other cooking methods is that it doesn’t require any additional fats, oils, or sugary sauces, making it a low-fat, lower-calorie option.
Deep-fried fish or chicken, for example, is high in trans fats that can cause dangerous diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
On the other hand, the only fats present when you cook in a smoker are those naturally occurring in the meat. But even that fat is limited as it drips off during the cooking process.
But what about carcinogens? Can smoking your food be dangerous for your health? According to one study, the number of carcinogens found in smoked meat depends on the wood used to smoke the meat.
Hickory, for example, has fewer carcinogens than beech wood. So be careful when choosing your wood type and make sure you trust its source to keep the risk of carcinogens low.
Charcoal is Cheap & Readily Available
Charcoal is affordable and easy to find. You can buy it at most grocery stores, hardware stores, and gas stations.
It’s also easy to store as long as you have a dry area. There’s no need to worry about it leaking or exploding like you do gas. Plus, since there’s no expiration date on charcoal, it has a long shelf life.
They are more Mobile than Electric or Gas Smokers
Unlike electric smokers, you can move your wood or charcoal smoker anywhere on your property. You can use it on your patio or in the middle of your yard. Whatever suits you best. There’s no need to find a wall outlet or install gas lines to use your wood smoker.
You can even take it to other outdoor gatherings, cook-offs, or campouts without having to worry about electrical hookups.
They Typically Cost Less than Electric & Gas Smokers
Wood smokers might take a little longer to master, but the upfront cost is much cheaper. You can find a reasonably priced wood smoker for around $100. Electric smokers will put you out nearly double and start at $200.
If you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to invest too much in a smoker, or if you’re on a tight budget, charcoal and wood smokers are the way to go.
There are Fewer Parts to Break than on an Electric Smoker
Charcoal and wood smokers have very few parts making them easy to maintain and cheap to fix.
Meanwhile, electric smokers have hundreds of moving mechanisms, and if any of them break, localizing the problem and finding a replacement can be a real headache.
They Come in all Shapes & Sizes to Fit Everyone’s Needs
Not all charcoal and wood smokers are created equally. They come in several styles and sizes, so you can buy the one that fits your cooking style and outdoor space the best.
Below is a description of the main types of charcoal and wood smokers to choose from.
If you have limited space, bullet smokers or vertical water smokers are perfect. They have a small footprint and don’t have any mechanical or electrical parts making them versatile and easy to maintain.
Bullet smokers are perfect if you only plan on cooking for small groups.
Kamado grills are more expensive but built to last. What makes them different from other smokers is that you can use them for slow-cooking BBQ or grilling over direct heat. You can even cook pizza in them!
The ceramic material of this type of smoker is great at maintaining temperature over a long period – perfect for low and slow consistent cooking.
Horizontal Offset Smoker
Traditionally, offset smokers were made with recycled propane tanks and other scrap metals. A tank or barrel is set sideways on a stand, and doors are cut from it and replaced with hinges.
Handles, cooking grates, a smokestack, and a firebox are then added to complete the smoker.
They are affordable, starting at around $100, but it’s worth spending a little extra for a smoker with thicker metal and a tighter seal, so heat and smoke don’t escape.
Drum smokers are the simplest design you’ll find.
A drum or barrel is set on end. A basket with charcoal and wood chunks is then placed at the bottom. About a foot above the fuel sits the grate. The barrel is then topped off with a lid.
If you want to build your own smoker, this is a very easy design to follow. It’s also compact and easy to use.
Cabinet or Box Smoker
These are a lot like bullet smokers but come in different shapes. Smoke travels through them the same as a bullet smoker or a drum smoker – vertically.
Doors on the front of the smoker allow you to access the cooking chamber and fuel chamber separately so you can add more charcoal without cooling down your meat.
You can find cabinet smokers in different sizes, and they won’t take up much room on your patio.
Gravity Feed Smoker
These look a lot like cabinet smokers, but they work differently. Charcoal or wood is not placed below the cooking chamber but is instead stored in a vertical chute on the side. As charcoal burns, more drops into the firebox from the chute.
These smokers are well-insulated and very durable.
A pig smoker or cooker is the way to go if you plan on feeding a crowd. The large rectangular smoker is designed to cook an entire pig, but it can also be used for other meats.
Charcoal sits at the bottom of the smoker, and a heat diffuser divides the flame from the cooking grates. This feature can easily be adjusted so that you can use it as a grill as well.
If you already own a kettle grill (think Weber), you can easily create a smoker using the two-zone cooking method.
Put all your charcoal on one side, add some wood chips on top, and put on the lid. Adding a disposable pan with water on the other side will give you the humidity you need for those tender and juicy cuts.
You can Easily Build your own Charcoal or Wood Smoker
Smokers can cost thousands of dollars depending on the model you choose. You can skip the high price tag and make your own if you’re the DIY type.
You can make a smoker out of things you already have hanging around your house. Maybe it’s something you’ve been meaning to haul off to the dump.
There’s no need to get fancy. Work with what you’ve got! Some things you can use to build your own wood or charcoal smoker include:
- Gas tanks
- Propane tanks
- Flower pots
- Filing cabinets
- Wood pallets
- Metal trash cans
- Scrap wood
- Foil baking pans
Start with what you have on hand, then build around it. Just remember you’ll want to make sure you include a fuel chamber, food chamber, lid, vents, and a way to add humidity. You can easily find plans for DYI smokers with a simple online search.
You Get a Bigger Sense of Pride when Cooking on a Charcoal Smoker
Cooking on a charcoal smoker takes time to learn and a lot of practice to master. As you get better at it and your popularity as a pitmaster grows, you’ll want to pass your experience and knowledge on to the next generation.
Make smoking meat a tradition that can be shared with your friends and family for years to come.
Mastering a Charcoal or Wood Smoker is a Fun Hobby!
Cooking on a charcoal or wood smoker is more than just bragging rights. It can be a fun and relaxing hobby. As you hone in on your smoking skills, cooking will become less of a chore and more of an art.
With time you’ll master Managing Airflow, steadying temperature, and perfecting timing on your meat cuts.
You’ll also enjoy experimenting with different cuts of meat, spices, wood types, and techniques making your meals unique and exciting.
Best of all, cooking on your wood or charcoal smoker brings people together. You’ll help create memories that will last forever.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Charcoal and Wood Smokers
Charcoal and wood smokers give a distinctive flavor to your meals that can’t be achieved with gas or other cooking methods. The possibilities for changing and evolving those flavors are endless.
A charcoal or wood smoker is the perfect addition to your outdoor kitchen. You’ll enjoy more tender and juicy meat, healthier meals, and the option to cook for large groups. They are also cheaper than electric smoker options and are more convenient to use.
You won’t want to spend another weekend without one. So, what are you waiting for? Get smokin’!
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