Are you thinking about buying a smoker? While most grills feature a similar design consisting of a grate over a heat source, smokers do not. There are several different types of smokers, each of which uses a different method to slow-cook foods by exposing them to smoke. In this guide, you'll learn more about the most common types of smokers and how they work.
Also known as a vertical smoker, a bullet smoker is a cylindrical-shaped smoker that features a water bowl or pan between the cooking grate and the fire. The purpose of the water bowl or pan is to regulate the bullet smoker's internal temperature while also protecting foods from drying out. With their large and vertical design, bullet smokers can accommodate a bowl or pan of water. The bowl or pan water is placed directly above the fire and below the cooking grate. The fire will essentially vaporize the water above it, and your food will absorb some of this steam so that it doesn't dry out.
While the primary purpose of the water bowl or pan is to release moisture vapor into the bullet smoker, it also catches fat drippings from meat. When smoking beef, pork or other fatty types of meat, the fat will drip down through the grate. The water bowl or pan prevents the liquefied fat from reaching the fire -- something that could otherwise cause a flare-up.
Another common type of smoker is a drum smoker. Drum smokers live up to their namesake by featuring a steel drum construction. They are made by adding grates and hooks, as well as other components, to the inside of a large steel drum. Once fitted with these components, the drum can be used to smoke meats and veggies.
Drum smokers have been around for over a half-century, but they've become increasingly popular over the past few years. They are attractive, compact and offer stable cooking temperatures. The only downside is that they have a small cooking grate. While you can cook large cuts of meat vertically in a drum smoker by hanging them on hooks, you can't easily cook large cuts of meat horizontally because of the drum smoker's small grate.
We can't talk about common types of smokers without mentioning offset smokers. Offset smokers feature a similar design as a traditional charcoal grill but with an added compartment on the side. Known as a firebox, the additional compartment is "offset" from the main compartment.
How does an offset smoker work exactly? They contain two compartments: the main compartment and the offset compartment or firebox. The main compartment is where you place your meats and veggies. It contains a large horizontal cooking grate in a spacious interior. The firebox, on the other hand, is where you place your fuel. You can add charcoal, smoking chunks, cooking wood or any combination thereof to the firebox. Once lit, both heat and smoke will travel from the firebox to the offset smoker's main compartment where your meats and veggies are located.
Many pitmasters prefer offset smokers because they offer an ideal environment in which to smoke meats and veggies over an extended period. The secret to smoking delicious foods is to use indirect heat with a flavorful fuel source, such as smoking chunks. If you expose your food to direct heat, it may cook too quickly. An offset smoker prevents this from happening by separating your food from the fire.
Perhaps the most versatile type of smoker is an all-in-one smoker. All-in-one smokers, such as the Primo XL 400 All-In-One, do more than just smoking. They support a variety of cooking methods, such as grilling, baking, roasting and, of course, smoking. With an all-in-one smoker, you aren't restricted to smoking your food. You can use any of the aforementioned cooking methods, allowing for an unparalleled level of versatility.
Drum smokers, bullet smokers and many other types of smokers only support a single cooking method: smoking. If you want to grill hamburgers, you'll have to purchase a separate grill. If you want to bake chicken, you'll have to use the oven in your kitchen. Alternatively, though, you could purchase an all-in-one smoker. It's a smart investment that will open the doors to a world of new culinary activities. At the same, an all-in-one smoker eliminates the need for multiple cooking devices.
Primo makes some of the industry's finest all-in-one smokers. Some of their notable features include the following:
- Ceramic construction that's strong, durable and resistant to corrosion
- Top damper vent made of cast iron
- Folding side tables
- Porcelain-coated cooking grates
- Exterior thermometer display that measures the smoker's internal temperature
- Ash removal tool
- Grate lifter tool
- Locking casters
A pellet smoker is a type of smoker that uses wood pellets for fuel. They feature a hopper in which you pour wood pellets. The wood pellets travel into a heating chamber where they are vaporized. As the pellets vaporize, they produce smoke that fills the inside of the pellet smoker.
There are also electric smokers that cook meats and veggies using electricity. Electric smokers feature a heating element that's connected to a power outlet. As the heating element warms up, it will cause the wood chunks or pellets to smoke. You don't actually light the wood chunks or pellets. Rather, the heating element eliminates the need for an actual fire by creating an alternative source of heat.
Electric smokers are easy to use, but unfortunately they don't offer the same delicious flavor as other traditional smokers. While electric smokers still use wood chunks or pellets, they produce less flavor because of their lower cooking temperatures. Since electric smokers don't actually use a fire, less smoke is released from the wood chunks or pellets.
Which Type of Smoker Should I Choose?
As you can see, there are several different types of smokers, including bullet, drum, offset, all-in-one, pellet and electric. Each type of smoker uses a different method to cook food with smoke. Because they all rely on smoke to cook food, you should choose a smoker that supports high-quality smoking chunks.
Pellet and electric smokers are typically at the bottom of the smoker totem pole. Pellet smokers only support pellets, which aren't as effective as high-quality smoking chunks. The wood pellets are comprised of sawdust held together with a food-safe binder. They'll still produce smoke when heated, but they won't offer the same flavorful and clean smoke as high-quality smoking chunks.
While you can usually use smoking chunks in them, electric smokers also suffer from lackluster flavor. The problem with electric smokers is that they don't actually burn the smoking chunks or pellets. Rather, they create just enough heat -- using electricity -- to release smoke from the chunks or pellets. Without combustion occurring, the smoke isn't clean or as flavorful as it should be. For these reasons, you should probably avoid pellet and electric smokers. Instead, choose a different type of smoker, such as an offset or all-in-one smoker.
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