Top 5 Things To Consider In A Charcoal Smoker

So I’ve been thinking about getting a smoker for our front garden that we’ve just done up. But having had a quick shop around on the internet it’s not a small investment so it looks like I’m going to need to do some research.

What’s a charcoal smoker? Well, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes but in general they’re for smoking things like fish, turkey, beef etc. The smoke from the charcoal cooks the meat, or indeed vegetables, very slowly resulting in tenderness and flavor.

They work by slowly burning charcoal and “hot smoking” the food. A water container, sitting above or beside the charcoal heats up and evaporates in order to keep the food moist.

Wait, turkeys? What, are you sure? Yes folks, you can get a whole darn turkey in one of these things.

But I’m not planning on doing any turkeys. Probably more like smoked haddock and hams, cooked “low and slow” for maximum flavor. Here in Scotland where I live we have a thing called an Arbroath Smokie which is a haddock slowly smoked and cooked and I’m keen to try to replicate it. I think they use beech and oak instead of charcoal but I’m sure I could just substitute wood for charcoal (couldn’t I? Please correct me if I’m wrong in the comments).

I didn’t really know where to start researching in order to find the best charcoal smoker so here’s what I’ve learned, to save you the hassle of spending an evening on Google.

Top 5 Things To Consider When Buying A Smoker

5. Heavy gauge steel or good insulation

Good insulation is an important factor for easy temperature control so make sure your smoker is going to be well built from a good insulating material like heavy steel. It’s important to have a good seal as well to keep the temperature from fluctuating.

4. Vertical or horizontal?

Yup, you can get either a traditional horizontal style like a normal barbecue or a “bullet” design. A vertical model will have the charcoal fire directly below the food whilst the horizontal one will have the charcoal offset to the side. The offset design means food can be cooked more slowly, in theory resulting in a more tender meat. Of course, a horizontal one will take up more room. Apparently cheap offset models are a big no-no! They might look impressive but I’ve read that the performance sucks. If you’re going for offset, be prepared to go expensive.

3. Stainless steel hardware to resist corrosion

Since there’s a lot of steam (from the water bath) and indeed smoke(!) the smoker is presumably going to take a lot of corrosive abuse.

2. Will it fit in your garden?

If you can go for a large one then do so because you’ll probably end up wanting to upgrade once you’ve caught the bug. Having said that, the vertical ones will obviously be more space efficient and I think I’ll be going for one of those.

1. Ability to control the temperature

This usually means you’ll want to have a thermostat in your smoker. The temperature is highly fluctulant in these things so it can be difficult to control the cooking process. So you’re probably going to have to invest in a good thermometer (or thermostat)

My initial look at what’s on offer for my budget (which isn’t that big) looks promising. Looks like I’ll definitely have to invest in an extra thermometer though. Please comment below if you’ve got more expertise on charcoal smokers and feel free to point out anything else to consider.

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