Wood/ charcoal smokers, as opposed to grills or water smokers are used to cook large portions of briskets, pork shoulders & butts, slabs of ribs, pork loins and turkeys. We should point out that when outdoor cooking these types of meat are generally referred to as "Smoking", what is actually being done is actually "Barbecuing".
The smoker has several components
1) the Fire Box,
2) the Cooking Chamber and
3) the Smoke Chimney
They all work together to produce the correct smoking environment in order to produce the best-tasting meat possible. Smokers are rather large, usually weighing 50-100kg they are not very portable and require much longer cooking times to turn out a finished product.
If you are considering the purchase of a smoker, we suggest one large enough to handle a good sized party. It's frustrating not to have enough room to cook everything you want to cook. A large smoker also assures you will have sufficient room for your normal cookouts.
The Fire Box
The fire box sits to one side of the smoker. Its placement is unique because the heat is not situated directly under the meat. This indirect cooking method keeps the meat from experiencing the direct searing heat from below the meat's surface which requires frequent turning which requires more cooking time because of releasing of the heat due to frequent opening of the lid . We think you get the picture.
There is usually a baffle located between the fire box and the cooking area. This baffle deflects the heat and smoke downward under the meat. The fire box usually has a lid of its own on top which may be lifted thus allowing for grilling when desired.
Don't forget the top of the fire box. It is an excellent location for a pot of beans, coffee pot or any other item needing to be heated or cooked while at the same time remaining smoke-free. Exercise care however, the temperature is extremely hot at this location.
The cooking chamber allows smoke to be circulated over, under and around the meat thus introducing a smoky flavour to the meat being barbecued.
The cooking chamber should be large enough to handle all of the barbecuing necessary for a large party. What would be a large party? While everything is relative, usually 2 turkeys, 2 to 3 briskets and/or 8 to 12 chickens would qualify.
The chamber of the smoker generally has at least 2 cooking surfaces. The main surface is located in the middle [from
top to bottom], at the widest portion of the cooking chamber. It is here, in this lower portion of the cooking chamber, that most of the cooking is accomplished.
There is usually a second cooking level located above the main surface which is ideal for potatoes, ribs, bread, etc. The temperature at this second, or upper, level is about 10 to 21C HOTTER that at the primary level.
On smokers utilising a water system, the bottom of the cooking chamber [below the main cooking surface] is filled with water. The introduction of water to the cooking chamber provides a water smoker effect.
The chimney is usually located at the opposite end of the smoker, away from the fire box. This location allows for the smoke to exit after passing over and around the meat being barbecued. Some of the chimneys are located at the top of the cooking chamber, this is not the best place,and others, as with the water smoking system, are located lower, near the water line, thus keeping the moisture in the cooking chamber.
We trust the above offers an explanation of the method and manner in which smoke-cookers operate. In order to fully understand, we suggest you go find one and take a good look at each of the portions of the cooker.
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