For the best in traditional barbecue, meat smokers do it like it's supposed to be done. Low temperature cooking for hours and hours is the way awesome barbecue is made. And that's just the way smokers are designed to cook. Low and slow.
Different smokers use different fuels. They can be fueled by wood, charcoal, electricity, liquid propane gas, or natural gas.
Wood fired smokers are commonly called pit smokers, or horizontal pit smokers. A small wood fire burns constantly, providing the heat and the smoke needed to create great tasting barbecue. The fire is in a separate chamber, away from the smoking food. Charcoal can be used as the main fuel in these wood smokers. But for smoke flavor, wood chips or chunks need to be added occasionally.
Charcoal smokers are either cylindrical or rectangular in shape and aligned vertically, with the charcoal at the bottom and the food at the top. A pan full of water is placed between the coals and the food, which gives these their common name...water smokers. Smoking wood is added to the charcoal for smoke.
There are a couple of different styles of electric smokers. Vertical smokers are very similar to the charcoal water smokers. Another is the box type electric smoker. Some of these are very basic, operating at a single preset temperature. In others, the temperature can be adjusted for cool or hot smoking.
Smokers that use gas as the heat source can be set up in a few different
configurations. The most common is the vertical gas water smoker.
Usually round in shape, the heat source is in the bottom, just under the
water pan. Above the pan are one or two racks for the food.
There are box-type propane smokers too. These have a front-opening door for access, which is more convenient than the round vertical type. A truly unique style of propane smoker is the Bradley Propane Smoker. This one uses a propane powered smoke generator, which requires Bradley wood bisquettes for producing the smoke. The smoke chamber is a simple steel frame covered with a collapsible,tent like cover. The nice thing about this smoker is that it's lightweight and very portable...great for picnics, fishing trips and camping out.
With a little ingenuity and the right materials, homemade smokers can be created. Make one as basic as a cardboard box smoker, or build a smoker out of a galvanized trash can. And you can always convert your gas or charcoal grill into a smoker, if you have the know-how.
The ideal temperature for smoking and barbecuing most meats is 225 degrees Fahrenheit. A little cooler or a little hotter is OK. Water smokers typically maintain a temperature of around 210F.
When adding wood for smoke in the gas, electric and charcoal smokers, use small amounts. In these smokers, the wood can smolder, creating a lot of smoke. And smoke from smoldering wood can impart a bitter taste to the food.
Spices, herbs, veggies and other flavorings can be added to the water pan of the water smokers to add a little flavor to the steam coming off of the water. Whether or not this adds flavor to the food is debatable, but it's common practice.
Most importantly, when barbecuing in meat smokers, make sure the thermometer on the smoker is working correctly. Use a meat thermometer of some type to check the food's internal temperature. Know how hot you're cookin' and how hot the food is, and the rest is easy.