How Does an Electric Smoker Work?



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You may find yourself so close to bringing home a new electric smoker, but there’s something irking you in your head that’s making you unsure. You have probably heard arguments from charcoal smoker fans talking about electric smokers being inferior for not producing a smoke ring or not delivering the authentic taste of BBQ in the same way that charcoal smokers do.

Well, your fears are not unfounded, but most of those arguments arise from old-fashioned barbeque traditionalists. The fact is times change, and an electric smoker is a gift of advanced technology that allows you to enjoy outdoor smoking experience without having to burn charcoal.

So, how does an electric smoker work? These new-generation units use an electric heating rod instead of charcoal to produce heat, and wood chunks are added to the wood box to infuse a smoky flavor. You simply need to place the seasoned meat in the smoker and set the temperature to the desired level.

An electric smoker gives you ‘set-and-forget’ convenience, too, as there’s no need to stand by the cooking area and constantly monitor your food. With just a few basic components, the smokers are capable of smoking food by heating a cooking chamber. The hot air circulates within the chamber, cooking the food via convection.

5 Essential Parts Of An Electric Smoker

Similar to the propane gas smokers and charcoal smokers, electric smokers are aligned vertically with a cooking area at the top and a heat source at the bottom. A typical electric smoker is made up of the following components.

1. Heating Rods

Located at the bottom section of the smoker, the electric heating rods increase the inner temperature by heating the internal space. This helps slowly cook the meat.

2. Water Pan

There is a water pan situated just above the wood chip tray. This pan is filled with cold water before the smoking process starts to prevent the inner temperature from rising too quickly. As the water starts heating, it releases steam that helps in the convection method of cooking.

3. Wood Chip Tray

The electric heater is usually flanked by a wood chip tray where you can add hardwood chunks of different varieties (maple, mesquite, hickory, oak, cherry, or alder) to burn slowly and produce a smoky aroma. Once the smoking process is about a quarter of the way done, you may add a few cups of wood chunks, chips, or pellets to the firebox to meet your needs and preferences.

4. Grill Racks

Most models of electric smokers come with stainless steel grill racks, on which you can directly place your marinated meat. These also help in holding cast iron skillets in which you can roast food.

5. Vents and Dampers

The flames in an electric smoker are fueled by oxygen; hence, the temperature settings are regulated by increasing or decreasing the airflow. At the bottom end, there are heavy-duty dampers that can be opened to allow more air to gush into the device.

When more oxygen is fed into the device, the temperature increases automatically. To reduce the temperature, the vents located at the top are opened to allow the heat to escape. As less oxygen is present, the flame is reduced slowly to bring down the temperature inside of the smoker.

See Also: Charcoal Grill Vs Gas Grill

Steps In Which An Electric Smoker Works

If you dream of barbequing outdoors but charcoal or gas grills are just not your thing, an electric smoker will help you fulfill that desire of being the in-house BBQ chef. So, if you have a new electric smoker, here are a few things you need to do before you start cooking.

Step 1: Season it!

Just like any other grill or smoker, you need to first season or set up the device. If you are using an electric smoker for the first time, this will include running it empty for a few minutes to get rid of any odor, solvent residue, or dust particles. Here are the steps for seasoning correctly:

  • Start by rubbing the inner surfaces with cooking oil.
  • Set the temperature between 250°F to 275°F.
  • Let the smoker run while empty for 2-3 hours.
  • Turn it off, and allow it to cool down.

Remember that you will need to season your smoker when it is new. Some models do not require any seasoning, so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 2: Press the start button

Most electric smoker models come with a start button, yet a few will have a switch. The ‘Standby’ mode ensures that the smoker does not start heating until you program it. The latest models come with a digital control panel that helps you figure out the options (including the temperature range) easily.

Set the correct required temperature based on what you are trying to smoke. You simply need to set the panel and regulate the temperature, and this will ensure that you do not overcook or undercook your meat.

The smoker walls are 100% insulated to ensure that the meat is thoroughly cooked. These smokers also come with an automatic shut-off feature that ensures you enjoy the perfect taste and texture without cooking the food improperly. You just need to adjust the settings based on your personal preferences.

Step 3: Now, add wood chips

The smoky flavor you can get from one of these electric devices is because they allow you to use wood chunks or chips during the cooking process. If you are an ardent lover of smoked food, the addition of smoking some wood will let you add a superior taste to your food. In a few models, there’s a wood tray located at the bottom of the device. Pull it out, add the chips of your choice, and slide it back into place.

Most manufacturers suggest that you use at least 600 grams of wood chips every 3 hours. This means you will need to keep track of both the time and how much you’ve added, and fill up the tray at frequent intervals. We strongly suggest that you only use good quality hardwoods because the softwood variety burns fast and produces unappetizing flavors.

Step 4: Next, preheat the smoker

After adding the wood chips, preheat the smoker to 200-225°F, which is the ideal temperature range. Adjust the settings from the control panel or with the knob, depending on the type of food you are cooking.

Take a small metal cup filled with water, and put it at the bottom of the smoker. This helps in maintaining the temperature and also keeps the meat moist. Keep checking regularly because the water may evaporate quickly in some cases, rendering the meat juiceless and dry. You may use apple juice, wine, or beer in the place of plain water to add extra flavor to the meat.

Step 5: Prepare the meat and set the smoker

Now, let’s address the most important part of the meat smoking process. Start by rubbing your pork shoulder, ribs, or brisket with spices. Marinade any delicate meats, like chicken and fish, the night before. If you want a mild flavor when cooking with the electric smoker, consider using an adjustable air dampener. For a robust taste, fully close the dampener.

Keep an eye on the smoke coming from your smoker to know when to add more wood chips. When you see the smoke slowing down or stopping, add another load to keep it going. There are some meats that can be smoked perfectly using just one tray of wood chips. If you over-smoke the food, the meat may yield unpleasant flavors.

Step 6: Put the meat in the chamber

Be careful because the smoking chamber is going to be hot by now. So, use a pair of tongs to carefully place the meat on the racks. Arrange it in a way to have any small items on the upper rack and bigger pieces on the lower rack. Most smokers include a large cooking area of nearly 700 to 1000 square inches.

Make heavy cuts on pork butts and ribs to let the heat penetrate into the meat. Double-check the unit to ensure that the door is properly locked to prevent the heat from escaping. You may need to open the door at times while cooking to check the meat if you wish, but this should not be done too often to avoid impacting the proper heat settings.

Wear a pair of barbecuing gloves to protect your hands against burns. Smoking meat requires a lot of patience, but the advantage of using an electric smoker is that you don’t need to constantly regulate the temperature. Many models come with a thermostat to keep a check on the internal temperature.

Step 7: Let the meat cool

When the food is thoroughly cooked, turn off the smoker, and open the door using the built-in handle. Remove the meat from the grilling rack, and place the hot food in a separate area. Let the meat cool, and serve it when it is still warm but not hot enough to burn anyone. You may also use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat for additional safety precautions.

Step 8: Clean the electric smoker

Just like in the case of a charcoal or gas grill, you must also clean an electric smoker after use to keep it in good condition for many years to come. After the smoker cools down completely, turn it completely off, and remove the power cord.

Although electric smokers don’t get as dirty as other grills, there may be still be some charred buildup of food waste that needs cleaning. Spend some time after each smoking session to clean the cooking grates and cast-iron pans. We suggest that you use a drip tray while smoking meat to avoid a significant mess.

Tips To Make The Most Out Of Your Electric Smoker

  • Most smokers will come with a built-in thermostat, but it may be of a lower quality than something you can buy separately. We suggest that you invest in a good quality digital thermometer for better results.
  • When you start a smoker for the first time, give it enough time to get adjusted to the desired temperature before you place any meat into it.
  • Try some simple food items for the first time using it to get a hang of the settings before trying any complicated recipes. Even if you make a few mistakes with an easier dish, it will be more forgiving.
  • No matter which brand or model of smoker you get, always read the product’s manual and manufacturer’s instructions, and follow any provided instructions closely.
  • Clean the smoker after every use by removing the removable parts, spraying them with cleaner, and washing them thoroughly. The outer stainless-steel body can also be cleaned to look shiny.
  • Smokers are designed to slow cook meat at a lower temperature than a gas grill or charcoal grill. To attain the best flavor and texture, it may take several hours to perfectly smoke a rack of ribs. It may take an entire day to smoke a whole turkey.
  • Use different types of hardwood to enhance the flavor of different types of meat and veggies. Chicken tastes best when smoked with maple or oak. Fish goes best with oak, alder, or mesquite; and veggies taste best when smoked using pecan, hickory, or maple.
  • We suggest that you get an electric smoker with a large cooking space so that you can prepare your meat with precision. A tall, vertical smoker can almost double your cooking space, while a wider smoker can help you smoke larger pieces of meat together.

4 Reasons Why You Should Get An Electric Smoker

1. They are perfect for beginners

If you are a beginner at smoking meats, an electric smoker can take the guesswork out of barbequing and make it much less intimidating. If you have used an electric oven before, you can perfectly use an electric smoker, too.

2. They provide great value for the money

Electric smokers are one of the most affordable smokers out there, not just in terms of price but also the long-term value that they provide. Just like pellet grills, they give you set-and-forget convenience for easy use and minimal frustration.

3. They are easy to operate

Most of the aspects of using an electric smoker are automated, so you are spared the need to light the charcoal, manually control the airflow, or learn about the nuances of temperature spikes. As the unit is so easy to run, you have plenty of time to yourself to focus on the brines, sauces, and salads to serve as sides.

4. They can be used in areas with a fire ban

In some states, certain areas may impose a fire ban during the summer months, so using a charcoal grill or gas grill is out of the question. Fortunately, you may still use an electric smoker in such places. Also, if you live in an apartment, using a charcoal grill may not be allowed, but you can host summer parties using an electric smoker with no fuss.

3 Reasons to Not Get an Electric Smoker

1. They lack smoke rings

Smoke rings are the rings of pink coloration just under the crust or edge of the meat. These occur when chemicals released during the process of combustion react with the chemicals present in the meat. This coloration is lacking when you use an electric smoker because no matter how much you add regarding wood chips or pellets, the temperature in which the wood smolders does not get high enough to cause these rings to form.

2. They are not portable

As electric smokers need a power outlet to run, taking them to the woods for camping is not a feasible option. The units are slightly bulky, and you will need a power source nearby to install them on your deck or patio. So, all the benefits and the convenience associated with electric smokers comes with a few compromises.

3. A breakdown can be expensive

Unlike a traditional backyard grill that you can troubleshoot and repair by yourself to some extent, the breakdown of an electrical smoker can be more expensive. These products are much more intricate and technical than traditional smokers, so you will need a professional technician every time you need to repair them.

Does the lack of smoke rings impact the taste?

No, it does not impact the taste. The smoke rings are formed when the nitrogen oxide released by the combustion of woods reacts with the moist surface of the meat. They look pretty impressive, but they do not impact the taste or flavor of the meat in any way.

Do electric smokers consume a lot of power?

No, most of the electric smoker models use about 800 watts per hour, so you may use the product without having to worry about high electricity bills. The thick steel body of the smoker absorbs heat and redistributes it evenly within the heating chamber.

What makes an electric smoker suitable for different types of meat?

The unique and intuitive design of these units is such that the racks are adjusted in a way to suit many different types of meat. The inner cooking area is also comparatively spacious, so this enables you to smoke different varieties of meat at once.

See Also: How Does a Smokeless Grill Work?

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