Can anyone recommend a good brand? Like for smoking turkeys, hams, etc.? Thanks!
We've been using a Brinkmann electric smoker for years. We used to have a charcoal smoker, but it was a pain dealing with the coals. The results are just as good with electric. The flavor depends on your choice of wood chips.
We smoke turkeys and prime rib at Christmas time. They are delicious.
The Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is considered the best of the charcoal burning water smokers, also referred to as bullet type or R2D2. It's also the most expensive, around $200. It's main advantage are air vents exactly like those on the Weber kettle grills that allow good control of the temperature. It also has a grate for the coals which allow air circulation and an area for ashes to fall through so the fire doesn't suffocate. It will hold a temp for 6-8 hours on a load of charcoal. IÂve included a link to a web site that demonstrates its versatility.
If it's just turkeys and hams you want to smoke, you might consider a Weber kettle grill which you can get with a 22 inch cooking area as compared to the 18.5 inch cooking area of the WSM.
An electric smoker will work fine in the summertime or in climates like Florida but will not be able to maintain a temperature much above 150 in a windy area or when it's cold outside. It's certainly not anywhere near hot enough to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving in Chicago most years!
Oak Hill, Virginia
Here is a link that might be useful: The Virtual Smokey Mountain Web Page
DaiseyMay, the real question is: How often will you use it? And are you going to use it just to flavor meat, or actually cook it, or preserve it?
For the typical home cook, who might smoke a turkey or ham once or twice a year, a separate smoker is, IMO, a waste of money. You can use virtually any grill to smoke meats.
The trick is to use indirect heat, and work low and slow. Which is all a smoker really does in the first place. So give some thought to what your real needs are before buying any smoker.
>The flavor depends on your choice of wood chips. One of the great myths of all time is that the source of the smoke determines the flavor. I guarantee that in a blind taste test, everything else being equal, you will not taste any difference between, say, mesquite and hickory.
I once challanged a chef who was very loud about mesquite being the best wood for smoking. He prepped two sides of salmon the same way. I then smoked them, using mesquite in one smoker and apple in another (only cuz I had a lot of it available). He was forced to admit that he couldn't tell the difference between the two.
You can use any hardwood as your smoke source, or even corncobs. The only thing you don't want to use are softwoods, because their creosote content is so high it actually condenses on the food. This not only makes the food taste bad, it's dangerous from a health standpoint.
What determines the flavor of smoked foods is the brine/rub/natural essential oils of what is being smoked, and how much time the item spends in the smoke.
Ideally, food should stand in smoke for about a half hour, then rest for a half hour. By alternating that way you assure the maximum smoke flavor is absorbed.
The perennial question of whether gas or charcoal is better is really irrelevant to smoking. I'm a charcoal kind of guy, by choice. But the fact is, when smoking you are working at such a low heat to begin with, that it doesn't matter. In theory, charcoal contributes to the smoky flavor. But as somebody once said, In theory, theory and reality are the same. In reality, they're not.
>It's certainly not anywhere near hot enough to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving in Chicago most years! Hmmmmmmm? I spent the ten longest years of my life living 65 miles northwest of the loop, and had no trouble running a home-built smoker, with an electric heat source, all winter long. Food came out just fine. Granted, the smoker ran in an unheated garage, so was somewhat protected. But water would freeze, out there, so it got pretty cold.
If youÂd used an oak to hickory comparison, I might reluctantly agree some wouldnÂt be able to taste a difference. But sorry, mesquite is VERY discernible especially when compared to apple, a very mild flavored wood! Cherry wood is another easily distinguished smoke flavor that wouldnÂt be confused by most folks with other woods orÂ corn cobs!!
Low and slow cooking is done primarily to tenderize tough cuts of meat. Turkey isnÂt tough and like other tender meats actually benefits from being cooked quicker at higher temperaturesÂ And that doesnÂt mean you canÂt add smoke flavor while cooking at 350 degrees.
Without knowing a little more about the construction of your home-built smoker, IÂm not sure you can really compare it to the tin can Char-Broil or BrinkmanÂs sold at Home Depot. And using it in a sheltered garage is significantly different from one sitting out in the back yard! Most H2O smokers are constructed out of thin metal without any insulation and the electric models usually use a 1500 watt heating element. Fine to smoke cheese, jerky, cured sausage or ham but trust me, itÂs just not powerful enough to keep approximately 4 cubic feet of un-insulated space hot enough to cook a turkey on a blustery Chicago day!!
I've had the Brinkmann type smokers, both electric and charcoal. I do find the charcoal gives a more intense flavor, which may or may not be what you want. As mentioned, they can be a tad fussy--but they aren't THAT fussy. It ain't rocket science.
The electric ones do have one huge advantage: simplicity. Load the racks, add some wood chips and plug it in. Check on it every few hours at most. Lots of tasty food (six chickens, for instance) with little effort.
Know, though, that they draw a LOT of current--1600 or 1800 watts, I think. The efficiency of the heating element can be greatly compromised by using an extension cord, so if you aren't near the socket the performance may suffer. And if anything else is on that circuit, don't be surprised if it trips the breaker.
When I had my house rewired I had the electrician run a circuit that could handle two of those smokers at once. I can now cook for more people than I would want to be at my house. (Hmm, that sounded funny...)
If I were to buy one today, I'd probably go with the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.
And to put my $.02 in, I do find that mesquite is a flavor which can be overpowering. For my chickens I usually use hickory, or pecan if I can find it, or even pecan shells work fine. (A Texan friend of mine will only use pecan when smoking meats, and he makes the best brisket I have ever eaten.) I used to live near an apple orchard, and apple wood makes an awfully fine smoking wood. I got it for free just by picking up fallen branches.