Over the past few years, I’ve finally become what can fairly be called a competent smoker of meats. My big secret? A digital meat thermometer. And a wireless smart digital meat thermometer, at that — I use one that monitors both the internal temperature of the meat as well as the ambient temperature in the smoker, so I know when to add heat or when to cool things down in there. For indeed with too much heat, you’ll ruin your smoked meats. Low and slow, as the old smoker wisdom goes — that’s low heat and lots of time committed to the smoking session.
With a great piece of meat — like the massive Prime Rib Roast from Market House I smoked last week — a meat thermometer, and some patience, smoking foods is the absolute best way to tease out every bit of flavor that meat has to offer.
Also, having a great meat smoker helps. We’ll get there in a minute.
Just to cover the basics, when we talk about smoking foods, we’re talking about cooking meat using wood — often also mixed with charcoal, gas flame heat, wood pellets, or another medium — to impart a flavor that just can’t be achieved with charcoal, gas, or even an open fire alone.
Traeger Ironwood Series 650 Pellet Grill
Ironically, a Traeger Ironwood grill is both an ideal smoker for a novice smoke chef and for the experienced smoker. The former is true because the smoker uses digital controls to regulate heat and automatically feeds in wood pellets as needed; the latter is true because this massive piece of hardware can accommodate five racks of ribs or eight whole chickens at the same time, so the cook who’s cooking for a small army (or huge family) is in luck. Pellet grills use wood pellets fed from a hopper to create smoke and heat, with an electric burner to ignite the flame. Oh, and you can control the grill remotely from an app on your phone.
Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Drum Smoker
The Bronco Drum Smoker from Oklahoma Joe’s can be used as a barrel smoker or as a more traditional charcoal grill, depending on where you place the charcoal basket. And when you have said basket lowered to the bottom of the barrel and laden with its full capacity of eight pounds of charcoal and wood chips, it can smoke continually for up to 10 hours. If you have a few large pieces of meat, like pork butt or turkey, and you want to let them slow cook without disturbance, this is a fine smoker for you.
Big Green Egg MiniMax
Big Green Egg makes multiple different sizes of their unique green cooking machines; I’m focusing on the MiniMax because that’s the one I have myself (and that I love because it’s small enough to take car camping). Big Green Egg grills are made with extra thick ceramic walls that trap in heat, so just a bit of charcoal and wood chips allow for longer smoking sessions. Airflow controls at the top and bottom of the MiniMax make it easy to regulate the internal temperature, which a thermometer set into the upper lid makes it easy to track. Its smaller size is limiting if you’re planning to cook for a number of people, but it’s ideal when slow smoking a single rack of ribs, one turkey, or a couple of roasts.
Classic Pit Barrel Cooker
The Pit Barrel Cooker Co.’s Classic Pit Barrel Cooker is proof that sometimes, simple is best. This is simply a big old 18-gauge steel barrel (with a porcelain coating inside), a rack and some hanging hooks for your meats, and a large charcoal basket at the bottom. You position the foodstuffs how you’d like — racks of ribs hung vertically to maximize space or roasts laid flat on the grate, for example — light up the coals and wood, and let the large chamber fill with smoky goodness. The longer the cooking takes, the more flavor there will be to savor. As Pit Barrel Co. founder Noah Glanville, a combat-tested retired Navy corpsman, explains it: “We designed the Pit Barrel Cooker to combine the best qualities of smokers, slow cookers, and grills all in a single product … Our hook and hang cooking style allows the food to hang down into the cooking chamber for a nice even and consistent heat, while the charcoal and wood smoke combines with dripping juices to make a flavorful smoke fog that is equally satisfying with meat, vegetables, pizza, you name it.”
Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Digital Smoker
If you’re looking to go big, then how do 721 quarterbacked inches of cooking surface sound? That’s what you’ll get when you have all four shelves of the Masterbuilt 20078715 30-Inch Electric Digital Smoker in place. This smoker uses an 800-watt heating element to create plenty of heat and a wood chip loading system that is fed through a side compartment, so you never need to open the door and let out heat and drop the temperature during a cooking session. It has a clear LCD screen that lets you track and manage heat, and considering it can handle up to 80 pounds of food at once, it’s a great price depending on where you get it.