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tips for BBQ | The secrets for low and slow barbecue ribs, pulled pork, brisket and more

Smoker & Grill Recommendations

Quit worrying about your heat and worry about your meat. - Rusty

The key components to a good smoker are heat control, and more importantly sustainment, chamber access, and keeping moisture in the cooking chamber. I'll explain each of these in detail so you can make a more knowledgeable choice for any new purchase. I'll also direct you to a good source for mod'ing the el cheapo you may have just bought while you were shopping for lumber and drywall. And if you are in the market to purchase a quality grill, I'll even recommend my favorite and you can quit worrying about fussing w/ your heat and start worrying about the meat.

First, if you are buying a new smoker you need not only worry about quality - you should probably also determine a few of your personal requirements:

  1. How many people are you regularly going to be cooking for?
  2. What is your skill level?
  3. What's your budget?
  4. What style of smoker do you like? What about fuel: pellets? gas? charcoal?

And if you aren't already you should get more familiar with the different types of smokers and the pro's and con's of each. The different types are offset smokers (sometimes called offset firebox smokers), cabinet style, bullet style and pellet smokers.

Heat Control/Sustainment

Traeger Digital Thermostat Now this is a biggie! You will be opening your smoker from time to time to check the temps, apply a mop, or restock your wood chips. So being able to maintain a consistent temperature is a definite necessity. Most heat loss will either be through very, very, cheap/thin metal or through poorly fitting components. Unless you're an engineer or a welder you may want to avoid these cheaper smokers.

For flow control propane and offset smokers will have dampeners that allow you to control the air-flow to the fire and speed of air exchange. Both also can be stoked up easily w/ more fuel. Another option that some higher-end smokers have is a digital thermostat. Consider this the Ron Popeil-style of smoker; just set it and smoke it.

Chamber Access

Bullet-style Smoker Access to the meat may not be a deal-breaker, but keep in mind over the lifetime of your grill you will need to continually get at your meat, your fuel box and your water tray (if so equipped). Having awkward access will make wielding tongs, hot meat, and a lid all at the same time an impossibility. And pulling the lid off of a bullet-style smoker and finding a sanitary place to put it whilst you work may be a handful (I'm not a big fan of seeing it put on the ground and then placed back over the meat). Like I said, not a deal-breaker, but something to keep in mind - you still need space!

Moisture Control

One of my criteria for a good backyard smoker is to have decent moisture control. You don't want every hunk of meat you toss on that new meat-enator 5000 to be so dry and robbed of juices that you can't keep the crowds around long enough to enjoy the encore. Most moisture control is handled via a good venting system. Excess smoke in the chamber can cause whatever moisture is in the wood to build up as condensation if not properly allowed to vent. Some smokers will employ a water pan to help control moisture. Another down-side to smokers with cheap, thin-walled designs is that you will be robbed of a lot of moisture as the heat and smoke nearly have a direct path out.


Traeger Texas-style smoker Now, my personal favorite for barbecue smokers is the pellet smoker. A few years ago I decided I needed a little more room than what my bullet smoker had to offer. I haven't regretted the decision! After looking around for the good part of a day my father and I found a fireplace/stove store that actually gave out loaners for the weekend. They obviously know what they're doing. I guarantee that every time they send it out the door they sell one.

Traeger wood pellet grills can come with a digital thermostat that does a fantastic job of keeping the temperature right where you set it! I've also loved the different options you have for wood pellets. All in all, it does a great job in my smoker criteria listed above. Size-wise there are several different models, but I think the Texas Style model is size right for any enthusiast or newcomer. The barrel-shape on this type of smoker is well sealed and fits a rack of ribs well front-to-back. A good friend of mine always jokes that anyone who ever tastes something from it ends up buying one - not quite true but I'm sure he's probably not far off.

If you aren't in the market for a new one then I'd recommend picking up someone's bullet smoker. The Weber Smokey Mountain is the typical favorite. They can be had for fairly cheap and easy to get to know. If you already have an offset firebox smoker then I'd recommend checking out some how to modify your offset smoker.

Last Updated: May 1, 2011

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