Barbecuing with The Smoker
For the purist, or for the person that has the luxury of
possessing more than one piece of barbecuing
equipment, there is nothing quite like having a good
smoker.

To me the smoker seems to require a little more work, a
touch more finesse, maybe even a bit of artistry to master.
Certainly we have seen our share of artists bring their
unique and beautiful creations out of these hulking,
smoking steel containers!   

The smoker can be a grill, but we don't find a grill to be an
effective smoker. And a ceramic cooker can smoke, and
grill, and even bake, but if your love is in the smoking, and
you don't mind the extra work required to do it with these
units, a reliable smoker may be the ticket for you. There
also some good economical choices of smokers on the
market that allow you to produce great barbecue without
spending a ton of money on the cooker. Having said that
we are going to include some additional comments about
the ceramic cookers, because they are a great smoker too.

We believe that there are some advantages in the smoker.
Some are apparent, while others are more subtle and take
longer to figure out.

Since this is only our opinion, though many of you may
share it, we are going to take a stab at shedding some
light on some of the things we love about a smoker.

Share the smoking passion?
Drop us a line and let us
know what it is that keeps you stoking the coals on
weekends.
What we love about smoking

When size matters - does it ever not? Whether you are going with a
small green egg that you can take to the tailgate, or a behemoth wheeled
smoker you are towing to the competition cook off, the size of your
equipment is important. It is hard to find more smoking space than you
can with a smoker.

The small Big Green Egg is said to be able to smoke one rack of ribs -
perfect for a tailgate with one or two buddies when you have enough of
the correct sides and appetizers to go along with them. The XL Big Green
Egg has 462 square inches of grill space, and the company states that
you can cook 14 racks of ribs in vertical position. We say "the company
states" not because we doubt it, but just because we have never done it
ourselves. That is an impressive number of ribs for sure.

But even the little "old reliable" smoker pictured above has pretty decent
capacity. This unit has 6 shelves, one of which we dedicate to a water
bowl, leaving 5 racks that are about 15 x 15 = 225 square inches each,
resulting in a total of 1125 square inches of grill space.

Packed to the gills, with the ribs flat, that gives you room to smoke
between 8 and 11 racks of ribs. This we have done, much to our
neighbors delight.

Now, if we were to get some additional vertical racking, and essentially
turn the ribs on their sides, we estimate (never tried, perhaps this will
give us reason to!) you could smoke about 5 racks per shelf, for a grand
total of 25 racks of ribs, and still have a shelf for the water bowl. We don't
have that many neighbors!

So we could do one rack of ribs or maybe up to 25, although we must
admit, the smoker pictured here is highly immobile - no one in their right
mind is going to throw it on board for a tailgate.

And you can easily see how that large capacity extends to the larger
smokers. The big wheeled units can produce massive amounts of
smoking, and if you were to add vertical racking to them, you may be able
to have the biggest party you've ever had.
A smokin' good time!
It's the journey, not the destination - well at least not entirely. We're not
going to sit here and say that there is not a huge amount of satisfaction
that comes from digging into a batch of ribs or a Boston butt at the end of
a long smoke. There definitely is.

However, there is something to be said for the frequent monitoring
required by some smokers. For sure you don't want to fire it up, put on
the meat, and walk away for hours on end.

Let's face it - if you can walk away from your smoker for several hours -
there are many things you could do. You could drop a few lines in the
local pond and see if you can catch tomorrow's dinner. You could stretch
out in the hammock and take a long nap. You could even go to the local
building supply store and chart your next tool purchase.

But let's talk about the things that you may be more likely to do with those
hours away from the smoker. You could mow the yard, shop for furniture,
go to the neighbor's kid's birthday party at the local token game store,
potty train the 3-year old....you get the picture. There could very easily be a
downside to all that time away that you can afford now that you don't have
to be there.

If the threat doesn't bother you, then a ceramic cooker may be the ticket
for you. You can load them up with good lump charcoal, get the
temperature right, put on the meat and walk away for a LONG time if
need be = 24 hours or more in some cases.

But if you want a shot at turning the smoking into an event in itself, you
may want an 'attention hog' smoker.

That is: frequent attention to the coals and wood that you may be burning,
adjusting the vents, checking the water bowl - things you may have to do
every hour to hour and a half. Invite the guys, turn it into a social
gathering, and still have more than enough time to throw a few footballs
or catch the race on TV while you're doing it.
The Art - this follows close behind the "journey". With many smokers, in
our experience, there are several adjustments and decisions that need
to be made during the course of a smoke. Master them and you become
something of an artist at work, producing a masterpiece each time, while
your mere mortal buddies only have success with the hot dogs and
hamburgers. They will ask you for tips, as you what your secret is, and all
you have to say is ' I don't know, I have a few rules and then I just play it
the way I see it each time'.

In all seriousness though, there are several moves that need to be done,
and some judgement calls that must be made, during the process, so
learning how to do that - and getting the result of great food every time -
is something of an art. It won't make you head chef at the Ritz, but that is
probably not what you're after anyhow.
The mobility - A lot of smokers have a novel trait that lends to their
mobility - wheels. Some just allow you to move it to a different place on
the deck or patio, and that may be all you need.

But it sure is nice to have a little bigger wheels if you want to pull it
around front of the house, into the cul de sac, for a block party.

Or maybe you want to throw it into the back of the pickup to take it to your
Mom's for smoking the Thanksgiving turkey. The wheels help get it
there, and most smokers are far lighter and therefore easier to lift, than
a gas grill or especially a ceramic cooker.

As you work your way up the size-line, you will start to see larger
smokers - and grills to be honest - that have wheels capable of being
on the road, hitched to your vehicle of choice, ready to roll at a moments
notice. And no need to mention the mobility of the competition sized rigs
- they travel hundreds of miles for an event on their own trailers.
The grill - like we mentioned above, a smoker can also be a grill - a
great charcoal grill! First, make sure you use your favorite lump
charcoal - it burns hotter than the pressed briquettes, and you need
that higher temp to grill a good steak.

Just get the coals started - we like to use a charcoal chimney - and
then when they have reached the mostly white stage, spread them
out in the fire box or surface. We then like to close the door of our
smoker to let the temperature rise a bit.

Then open it back up and throw on the steaks. Depending on what
you are cooking, you can also add a little wood to smoke it up just a
tad - we love doing skirt steak with a nice rub, marinated on top of
that with a little fresh garlic, Worcestershire, and olive oil, and then
add a couple of chunks of mesquite for an out of this world flavor.
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