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My favorite way to cook in the backyard is with my smoker. I prefer an electric smoker because it’s quick and easy, but there are other options. I’ve written two smoker cookbooks and it’s something I’m passionate about sharing. Learn my tips for using a smoker for cooking out all year long. It’s part of my Grilling 101 Summer series!
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There are a lot of grilling recipes in books and on the internet, but they often don’t tell you exactly how to grill or how to use the equipment. I’ve put together this 9-week summer series, How to Grill, to help teach you what you need to know to get out there and use your grills, smokers, and how to perfectly cook your meats, veggies, and fruits. This post focuses on how to use a smoker (which really isn’t grilling at all). We have tons of family and friends who are always asking, “how do I use a smoker?” It’s easier than you might think! Keep reading…..
Types of BBQ Smokers
Smoking vs Grilling
Smoking is much different from grilling. Smoking requires a low heat with a much longer cooking time to be successful. The meat is also further away from the heat source than it is in grilling. Typically, grilling is fast with high heat (over 400F). When smoking, temperatures are usually only around 200-275F. For large cuts of meat, plan for about 1 to 1.5 hours of smoking for each pound of meat. Cooking times vary based on the exact temperature and the type of smoker.
Electric vs Charcoal
We’ve used both types of smokers over the years. While some people swear by a charcoal smoker, it takes a lot of patience and attention….it was perfect for us when we didn’t have kids and could just sit around watching our meat cook. However, for the last ten years or so we’ve used only electric smokers and I have to tell you we prefer it. The taste is pretty much the same because you are infusing your meat with the flavors of the wood chips, not necessarily the charcoal.
How to Use a Smoker
Become Your Own PitMaster
Hubbyman is usually the pitmaster in our house! He loves getting outside and cooking meat (I think I’ve heard him grunt a few times like Tim Allen). Besides reading this post, it’s a good idea to get a couple of really good cookbooks that focus on smoking (consider this one or this one). Both of these books are great for beginner smokers or those just looking for some new recipes.
Pecan, cherry, mesquite, and hickory woods are often used in smokers. Soak wood chips for about 30 minutes, drain, and place in the smoker according to your smoker’s guidelines. Adding wood chips often through out the cooking time will impart a wonderful, deep flavor.
We love smoking so much that when we were buying trees for our yard, we made sure to buy trees that we could use the wood for smoking. We bought a mesquite tree and dry out the clippings for use in our smoker.
Mesquite and hickory are great all-purpose woods while pecan is excellent with beef and cherry is perfect with pork. Really, feel free to change it with what you find at the store and what ever you like.
Tips for Perfect BBQ in a Smoker
-Only turn the meat one or two times during the cooking cycle.
-Keep the door closed as much as possible so that heat doesn’t escape and extend the cooking time.
-Monitor the temperature of the smoker, adding more coals or adjusting the temperature during the cooking process.
-Keep the water pan 3/4 full. You can also add spices, seasonings or marinades to the water pan to add flavor.
-When you cut into to the meat you might noticed a red ring around the outside of the meat. This is the smoke ring and highly desirable….it doesn’t mean the meat isn’t cooked. A thermometer will help you know the meat is cooked to the proper temperature.
-Only use dry rubs for the majority of the cooking time. Add any liquid marinades or sauces during the last 30 minutes otherwise they will burn.
Isn’t she such a well loved smoker?
6 Easy Steps for Smoking Meat
- Apply dry rub or wet rub to the meat and let it marinate in the refrigerator overnight. If using a wet rub, pat meat dry before adding to the smoker.
- Light charcoal and let the fire burn down or preheat your electric smoker. Once the fire is burned down (charcoal only) and smoker is hot, add a handful of your wood chips. Use the vents on your smoker to stabilize the temperate around 225 to 250 degrees.
- If using a water smoker, add hot water to the water pan. Add herbs and spices for additional flavoring during the cooking process.
- Place items to be smoked in the smoker, with room around the meat. If using a water smoker, place the meat over the water pan so that any drippings will fall into pan.
- Maintain the smoker at a temperature between 225 to 250F. You will probably need to add charcoal if smoking more than 4 hours. Wood chips can be added every 45 minutes to 2 hours. You will also need to turn the meat every 2 to 3 hours.
- During the final 30 of smoking, apply your favorite barbecue sauce.
Smoking Meat Temperature Guidelines*
|Meat||Smoking Temp||Time to Complete||Finished Temp||Wood Chips|
|Brisket||225°F||1.5 hrs/pound||190° (sliced)
|Beef Ribs||225°F||3-4 hrs||175°||Pecan|
|Pork Butt||225°F||1.5 hrs/pound||180° (sliced)
|Whole Chicken||250°F||4 hrs||165°||Mesquite|
|Whole Turkey ~12lbs||240°F||6.5 hrs||165°||Mesquite, Hickory|
– bone in
|240°F||4-6 hrs||165°||Mesquite, Hickory|
|Breakfast Sausage||230°F||3 hrs||160°||any|
|Baby Back Ribs||225-240°F||5-6 hrs||Tender*||Cherry, Hickory|
|Smoked Potatoes||225°F||2 – 2.5 hrs||N/A||any|
*These are just guidelines to get you started. Experiment with different woods
and always use a thermometer to check for doneness.
What’s your favorite foods to smoke??
Pick up one of my outdoor cooking books on Amazon or in your local Barnes & Noble. Smoke it Like a Pit Master and Smoke it Like a TEXAS Pit Master!
Want to know more? Check out the other posts in this series:
How to Grill: Using a Gas Grill
How to Grill: Using a Smoker
How to Grill: Using a Charcoal Grill
How to Grill Chicken
How to Grill Steak
How to Grill Seafood
How to Grill Pork
How to Grill Vegetables
How to Grill Fruit
How to Clean Your Grill
Original Post: 5/23/13, Updated 4/23/18
Thanks for a complete guide and i agree with you that electric smoker is better than charcoal smoker.
Mohit Batra says
Very Useful tips. Exactly what I was looking for! Thank you.
Awesome Tips. I will try this out at weekend to treat my friends.
have you got a cover for your smoker?
Wendy O'Neal says
I have a cover for mine, it actually came with it…but I hardly use it. lol w-
Gerry the Meat Smoker King says
Great post!! Love the recipes Wendy! I did check out your smoked turkey one too!! Delicious!! Love smoking meat! There is nothing better in the world!
A tip for hot climates where the temp doesn’t cycle on so much and smolder the wood fully. Use the masterbuilt cold smoking attachment for constant smoke. It slips right into the wood feeder.
Smoked foods take on a distinct flavor, usually of the wood used during the cooking process. That is what I like about smoked meat
Keith | BBQ Smoker Bites says
Great guide! Like that you gave times as well as temps, think you really need them both.
Hi ! Loved the recipes in here!! could you also give out a recipe with smoked turkey. Thanks!
Wendy O'Neal says
Hi Sarah, I have a delicious smoked turkey in my cookbook, Smoke It Like A Pit Master. Enjoy. w-
Chicken, chicken and chicken 😀
I recently got a Charbroil electric smoker and I’m loving it. I used to use 2 zone cooking in my propane grill and this is so much better. Thanks for this amazing guide, I’m going to keep it handy next time I get my cook on!
I’d also note that you can use your grill as a smoker, if set up the right way. That is convenient for many people.
Wendy O'Neal says
Yes, very true. We do it all the time. w-
J Smith says
Love my Masterbuilt. We started out with the 30″ which was great for just family use but with a huge extended family I found that we needed a bit more space so upgraded to the 40″ smoker. Best decision I ever made. The window is handy too as I like watching the progress without having to open the smoker!
Terry Blackwell says
My Favorite smoker! Awesome temp control. Very easy to use as a beginner or more advanced. Holds a ton of meat. Great investment. I made the mistake of replacing the first one I had (killed it after about 4 years of use) with a different brand. Big mistake. Glad to have my Masterbuilt back!
The methods of outdoor cooking are covered so well here, and the settings are even better! Lovely.
this is a wonderful explanation to grill while using smoker to cook food. smoker is a best way to preserve food originality.
Do you also have any recipes using the smoker?
I believe this is one of the most under-estimated way of cooking the meat. I prefer it second to the grill
Bob Smith says
I can’t tell you how much flack I get for using electric smokers from all of my friends! They are all the traditional smoker types who love to use the old fashioned charcoal smokers. At least someone agrees with me about electric smokers, but good article and I like that you went step by step explaining how to smoke.I have always wanted to try and smoke nuts, I have heard about it but I have never actually tried it myself. Has anyone smoked nuts before? I feel like they would be wonderful smoked!
Wendy O'Neal says
Hi Bob! Thanks for the comment! Yes, we have smoked almonds and they are amazing and super simple too! You must try it this weekend.
Daniel Fletcher says
That’s a very comprehensive guide to using a smoker, thank you for the effort you put in. I am a big fan of electric smokers and turkey and fish are my favorites meat to cook, to follow the tradition of my fellow commenters.
Brisket and fish.
Dawn Reid says
A Pork Roast.
takisha a. says
i would like to know how to smoke pork butt.
susan smoaks says
i would love to learn to cook my husband’s favorite baby back ribs
Lesley F says
mary clay says
how to smoke a brisket
Christine Uniejewski says
Smoked Pork to make pulled pork sandwiches….sausage, turkey, chicken would all be great too!
patti keil says
I would love to try turkey breast and fish!
I love ribs smoked – they take a long time, but well worth it!
deana c says
I would love to know how to smoke fish
My husband wants one so bad….he would smoke alot of game
Stephanie Larison says
Chicken and fish here.
Chicken and turkey
I would love to learn how to smoke chicken.
angela cunningham says
ribs and chicken
Blake Kaplan says
I would love to know how to smoke a brisket
tc jolly says
Fish, fish, and more fish. We love smoked fish!
Tammilee Tillison says
We would love to learn to smoke any meats. I think my Husband would go crazy for this.
shannon Baas says
Adelina R. says
YUM! I love the taste of smoked meat. My brother made pulled pork by smoking a pork butt in the Weber charcoal grill because we don’t own a smoker (I would love love love to own one though)! Anyway, smoked turkey sounds great too. So, that would be the first thing I would try.