You know the saying: "Where's there's smoke, there's water." Wait, that's not right. Unless of course you're talking about the BBQ innovation called a water smoker. Using water during the smoking process isn't usually the first thing you think of when you've got smoking meat on the brain, but there are many advantages to using a water smoker over a traditional smoker or an offset smoker.
Water smokers are also known as bullet smokers because of their domed elongated bullet shape. They may a look a little tricky to use but it's really not that complicated. There are three main sections.
First, the firebox, or fire chamber, is the bottom section. It looks like a metal bowl with a grate on top to place the charcoal or wood for the smoky goodness, much like a pellet grill.
On top of the fire chamber is the water chamber. It's like a big cylinder shaped "belly" with an access door in the front for adding more charcoal or wood during the smoking process. It also holds a deep water bowl or water pan. The water pan helps move the smoke coming up from the firebox. Plus, all that additional moisture keeps your meat tender.
The top of the water smoker is called the cook chamber. That delicious brisket you've been dreaming about will sit on a wire grate under the dome of the bullet shaped water smoker. The moisture and smoke will rise up from the bottom heat source of this vertical smoker to do do the cooking.
Keep in mind that the actual cooking space of the cooking grates is smaller than a horizontal smoker. So if you cook for an army, a water smoker may not be your top choice.
Get Your Charcoal Water Smoker Smoking
Decide on your charcoal or wood chips you'll be using, fill your fire chamber, and start heating. If you're using natural lump charcoal, leave that handy access door open for a few minutes to let the fresh air get the fire going. If you're using briquettes, pre-light them in a chimney starter so that chemical smell doesn't get anywhere near your meat.
While the charcoal is heating, fill up your water pan. You can even flavor that water with beer or wine. Drop some fragrant onions, garlic, or herbs in there if you like. Moisture travels and the flavors will too. Make sure to add hot water to an already hot water smoker. If you add cold, there will be a temperature fluctuation.
Place your grill/smoker rack above the water pan and place your seasoned meat smack center of the grate in the cooking chamber. Congratulations! You are now a pitmaster.
Pros & Cons
Water smokers are great for those who are "real estate challenged". Translation: you have a very small deck, patio, or porch space. They're only about twenty inches in diameter, similar in size to those kettle grills everyone has but don't seem to use very often.
The standard cooking temperature for traditional BBQ smoking is between 225 and 250 degrees. The water smoker's bullet shaped design makes regulating that temperature easier for a few reasons. That handy access door makes adding wood chips, smaller wood chunks, or charcoal safe and easy. Many better models of smokers have a built-in thermometer on the lid for more exact temperature control, so there's no need to use an oven thermometer over your inferno of delicious meat. Some have a built-in irrigation system to keep the water pan at the necessary minimum of two inches of liquid.
You can add ice or cold water to the water pan to bring the temperature gauge down quickly, and use the top and bottom vents to control the heat too. Open vents for a hotter fire and close them to calm it down.
Most smoker models weigh no more than fifty pounds, so they're easy to clean with a grill brush and garden hose!
3 Great Water Smokers on Amazon
Only weighing 24 pounds, this is the smallest in the Weber series. Great for easy travel and fewer mouths to feed. The main grilling area is 143 square inches and it's easy to assemble with idiot proof instructions.
With two cooking racks, with 36-inches of height each, it's big enough to hold a five pound BBQ chicken. This charcoal grill does double duty as a water smoker.
The built-in thermometer and adjustable air vent make temperature control easier. It's also easy to break down and reassemble to bring on weekend camping trips. It's a more expensive model but it's lifetime guaranteed.
This model doesn't exactly match what we've described in this article, but for a propane fan, this is a great water smoker purchase. Looking more like a small bank safe than an upright bullet, it works on the same principles, but with more bells and whistles. There are four racks, upping your cooking space! A stainless steel burner and push button ignition do take some of the caveman grunting out of the experience.
- Use heavy duty aluminum foil to line the water pan. it will catch the cooking fat drippings and give you one less metal pan to clean.
- As fun as it might be, never toss charcoal of wood chunks onto an already smoking fire. Ash will fly up and land on your food. Yuck. Use grilling tongs to place them gently.
- Hang a hook near your grilling area to hang the lid when you're checking the food. That way you won't have to put it on the ground and trip over it.
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