We’ve gone through a lot of BBQ woods because we love smoking meat. Smoked meats have a lot going for them. Of course, at the top of the list is the wonderful taste that the smoking wood imparts to the flesh. Another aspect is the aroma. Yes, I know that the sense of smell and the sense of taste are closely aligned, but with the tantalizing drift of smoking wood escaping from wood smokers, you get to enjoy the smell for hours. Smoking meat also allows excess fat to drip away, and slow cooking on wood smokers allows connective tissues to dissolve, making cuts of meat tender and delicious. Our favorite smoked meats include pork shoulders, cured hams, pork ribs, pork loin, chicken, turkey, venison, beef ribs, and beef brisket. We've used several different BBQ woods, but pecan is our overall favorite.
You can find all sorts of meat smokers on the market, and you can even build your own. I know a couple of guys who’ve made some pretty impressive meat smokers from old refrigerators. Unless you’re pretty handy, though, it will be easier to just purchase a smoker from a reputable manufacturer.
There’s a wide range of meat smokers, and each types has its advantages and disadvantages. A very large smoker is good for those who enjoy smoking meat in large quantities, on a fairly regular basis. A smaller smoker is much more economical and convenient for the average backyard cook, however.
Different meat smokers use different types of wood, too. Some use wood pellets, some use wood chunks, and some use wood chips for smoking. Really large smokers might even use logs. Of course, there are also smokers that use charcoal, and wood chips or chunks can be added to the charcoal for more flavor. Most BBQ grills can also function as meat smokers, as long as they have tight-fitting lids.
Electric smokers are the easiest to use of all wood smokers. Really, there’s no contest. We’ve used several different types of smokers, and our favorites are electric smokers. They’re super easy to use, and we’ve found that the heat is more consistent. On the other hand, some true purists don’t like the electric versions. I suppose this is because the actual cooking process is accomplished mostly by electricity instead of wood.
Another disadvantage with an electric smoker is that it won’t be as portable as the traditional type. For instance, if you want to take a smoker along on a camping trip, it will be useless unless you have an electrical outlet handy.
Okay, so the main cooking power is electrical. Does that mean you won’t get that wonderful smoky taste and aroma? No, it doesn’t. I’ll bet if you ate some of our smoked meats and compared them with meats that were smoked on a “real” wood smoker, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In fact, unless the tradition smoker included a water pan, you might even like our meat better because it will be tender and juicy.
Best Electric Smokers
What’s the best electric smoker? If you ask twenty smoker experts, you might get ten or so different answers. The best electric smokers are the ones that combine ease of use, consistent heating, sufficient smokiness, and a water source for smoking meat with moist heat. As I’ve already mentioned, size is important, too. Be realistic when you’re thinking about how much meat you’ll actually be smoking at one time.
Price might also be an important element in your quest for the best electric smoker, but don’t confuse price with value. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t always mean it’s a better product. In fact, some of the ultra-expensive meat smokers have too many gadgets for my taste. I like to keep things simple and basic, and that includes smoking meat. I don’t want to have to read a complicated manual or do math equations just to cook a good meal. Trust me – meat smokers with lots of bells and whistles might look cool in the store or catalog, but if they’re difficult to use, you won’t be smoking meat as often as you think you will.
Some of the best electric smokers on the market are made by trusted companies like Masterbuilt, Bradley, Char-Broil, Cookshack, Cabela’s, Traeger, Smokehouse, and Weber, the maker of famous BBQ grills. Based on our experience, the best electric smokers are made by Brinkmann.
Best Electric Smokers:
Brinkmann Electric Smoker
We’re on our second Brinkmann electric smoker, and it’s awesome! It’s so easy to use that I don’t have to depend on hubby to operate it. Basically, all you have to do is fill the water pan, put some wood on the burner, plug it in, and let it heat up. Place the meat on, and you’re in business. Take a nap, prepare your side dishes, or watch a movie while the meat cooks. We usually check our meats just every few hours to see if more BBQ wood or liquid is needed.
Something more specific that we like about our Brinkmann electric smoker is that the temperature seems to be more consistent than it is with some other brands. Wind and outdoor cold don’t seem to affect it much, at all. Part of this must be because how the lid is designed.
You’ll also find that a Brinkmann electric smoker is tough, durable, and well made. Funny story here: We once had a pet bull that tangled with our Brinkmann, and even he and his horns and hooves couldn’t destroy it! Another good thing is that replacement parts are easy to find.
Brinkmann Electric Smoker:
Buy a Brinkmann electric smoker:
Wood Chips or Wood Chunks?
This is a huge debate. Are wood chunks better than wood chips for smoking? I think that mostly depends on what type of cooking you’re doing. If, for example, you’re smoking meat on a smoker that’s thick and heavy, you’ll be cooking for hours, and wood chunks will be a better choice. For smaller cuts that require less cooking time, wood chips for smoking will probably work fine. If you were to use smoker wood chips for several hours, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time adding more chips to your smoker.
What about soaking the chips or chunks? Ah, this is another hotly debated topic. The general consensus seems to be in favor of soaking smoker wood chips but not soaking wood chunks. How long should you soak smoker wood chips? Again, there’s no hard and fast correct answer. The longer you soak the wood, the more it will smoke. If you use hot water, more water will penetrate the wood because the pores will open more quickly.
You can order wood chips and chunks online, or you can find them at many outdoor stores and department stores. Of course, you can always gather your own BBQ woods, too, which is what we often do now. We’ve sort of fallen in love with pecan wood for smoking, so it’s become our go-to BBQ wood. Maybe that’s due to our southern heritage. It might also be because we get free pecan wood.
Different types of BBQ woods can make a surprising difference in the taste of smoked meats. You might have to try several different types of wood for smoking before you find your favorite. It’s also very likely that you’ll prefer different BBQ woods for different types of meat. For example, I think orange wood is wonderful for smoking poultry and pork, but I don’t like it as well for smoking meat like beef or venison. On the other hand, you might think that orange-smoked beef is the greatest thing since sliced bread! There really is no right or wrong with your choice of BBQ woods. Please keep that in mind when you view the following table.
BBQ Woods - Suggestions
|Beef and Venison||Pork||Poultry|
How to Use an Electric Smoker
I can provide with some tips on how to use an electric smoker – especially for a Brinkmann electric smoker or some other brand of bullet-type electric smokers. If you’re an experienced smoker, you probably have your own way of doing things and might not agree with me on every point. In fact, you most likely have your own guide for how to use an electric smoker. I’m just sharing what has worked well for us over the years.
This is how to use an electric smoker for larger cuts of meat, like a turkey, Boston butt, or pork loin. First, decide on which type of wood for smoking you’re going to use. I strongly suggest chunks or large twigs. We soak pecan twigs for about two hours – sometimes in water, sometimes in other liquids, like wine, beer, or apple juice or other fruit juices. Some cooks don’t soak their wood at all, so it’s up to you.
When the wood is ready, place it on the burner, located in the bottom of the smoker. Our Brinkmann electric smoker has a little door you’ll need to open to get to the burner.
Next, remove the smoker lid and grill or grills to gain access to the water pan. Fill the pan with water, beer, apple juice, wine, cherry juice, pineapple juice, etc. You might want to add small amounts of other seasoning liquids like vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, or Dale’s seasoning. We sometimes add herbs to the liquid in the water pan, too.
When the water pan has been filled, replace the bottom grill grate. Close the smoker and plug it in. When it’s hot and smoking, place on the meat. Whether you place it fat side up or fat side down is another matter of opinion. We like to place the fat side up, but lots of folks don’t. I like to smoke a turkey breast side down, but hubby likes to turn it breast side up. This brings up another point. If you’re going to be smoking meat that’s lean with meat that has more fat content, place the leaner meat on the bottom grill and the fattier meat on the top grill. As the fat melts from the meat on top, the leaner meat on bottom will benefit from this constant basting. In this case, I place a turkey breast side up.
Now, close the lid to the grill and wait. Check your smoker in three or four hours. If more water needs to be added to the water pan, do it. You might also need to add more wood chips, chunks, or twigs. Don’t overdo this! As wonderful as all that smoky flavor and smell are, you can get too much of a good thing. It’s better not to have enough than to have too much.
Judge your cooking more by the internal temperature of the meat than by the hours of required cooking. Use the suggested cooking time in your recipes as a guide only. Smoking meat isn’t an exact science, and moist heat is pretty forgiving. Remember, a meat thermometer is your pal.
When the meat has reached the recommended internal temperature, remove it from the smoker. Cover it with foil and let it stand at room temperature for fifteen minutes or so before carving. Use a spatula to keep prying hands and nibblers away. If you like the flavor of your smoked meats, you might want to stick with the BBQ woods you used. If not, try a different type of wood for smoking. Even if you were happy with your results, it’s still fun to experiment with different rubs, marinades, sauces, glazes, and BBQ woods!
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on May 27, 2012:
I'm afraid I'd have a case of Domestic Combution if I tried smoking meats myself. I have a knack for I Love Lucy moments at times. Several years ago, I thought it would be way cool to do some Mesquite grilling (heck, we have that stuff lying all over half the pastures here). So I got some Mesquite chips and put them in the grill with the charcoal & some chicken. Within a few minutes, I had flames coming out of the grill. I didn't know you had to soak the wood chips. Duh!
Maybe I can get a friend to help me avoid self-dwstrction and try this -it sure sounds good. You are such an expert on so many cooking things!
Dianna Mendez on May 27, 2012:
We use our smoker every week and I love the taste it gives our food. Your photos do it justice! Your chart on the woods is a great piece of information that I will have to use for next trip to the market.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 27, 2012:
You alread know, Holle, that BBQ meat is my weakness. But as far as the correct woods to be used in said creation, I have been woefully uneducated. So thank you for this edifying hub with its wonderful tips on the selection of appropriate woods. Who knew? :)
Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on May 27, 2012:
Habee, I was hoping you would also give some instructions on how to smoke meat in your oven. I know it can be done but don't know how. I want to try my hand at smoking but can't afford a smoker just yet. Thanks for the wonderful tips on smoking.
wynnestudios from Phoenix, AZ on May 27, 2012:
Okay, I am now officially drooling. I have never smoked a meat before but would love to try sometime. I hardly even grill but I love to cook, so I need to expand my knowledge. Thanks for sharing.
Danson Wachira from Nairobi, Kenya on May 26, 2012:
I have never tried an electric smoker, all i knew is that those beef ribs should be smoked using a wood smoker. Your hub said it all and am tempted to try an electric one. This is a great article.
daisynicolas from Alaska on May 26, 2012:
I haven't tried smoking, but I am able to "digest" your 'smoking' hub easily. Valuable instructions and your photos are superbly delicious.