Smoked meats have been a way to enjoy delicious meat for generations upon generations. Originally used as a way to preserve meat, this method, over time, became a great way to prepare and enjoy the flavor of the different meats.
Today, the market is filled with a wide range of smokers and thus is can be difficult to find the right one for a person’s specific needs. There are three basic types, upright, cabinet style and offset smokers, each one with their advantages and disadvantages but they all do one thing, smoke meat.
Getting to Know the Types
All three types follow the same basic concept. A fuel source provides heat and the heat cooks the meat and heats up wood chips, that in turn smoke and the smoke envelopes and penetrates the meat. The reason it was used as a preservative is that smoke inhibits the growth of bacteria allowing smoked meats to be stored longer.
In today’s world, it is because we enjoy the flavor, smoked meats have. All three types will smoke meat, the upright smokers, colloquially referred to as “robot” smokers are usually small and compact and do not require a large amount of space.
Many professional smokehouses, prefer the cabinet style because it can smoke a lot of food and it allows better access to the smokebox for heat control. Finally, there is the offset smoker which is a grill with a side firebox for smoke production. Typically called a combination grill/smoker, these have the advantage of versatility.
Going Digital: Automatic or Manual
As previously mentioned, many professionals prefer the cabinet style as they are considered the best of the three types. Cabinet style smokers are essentially a lower firebox with an upper cooking or smoking area.
Over the decades, smokers have added many features to bring smokers into the digital age. From digital thermometers to digitally controlled heat management and pellet feeds to remote control panels, depending on the desire, there is a smoke box that is as powerful as a small computer. In fact, they have a small computer in some.
The point of this computer controlled, digital smoke revolution is to reduce the amount of time it takes to monitor the smoke parameters so the meat comes out perfect each time. During the cooking process, smoke generation fuel is consumed and must be continually replaced to keep the level of smoke at the correct concentration.
In our modern world, few people have time to attend to the smoker over the long period it takes to properly smoke meat. So, the digital controllers help reduce that time needed. So if this is a concern, perhaps a digital smoker is the way to go over a manual smoker, that requires more attention.
Like grills, smokers have three main characteristics concerning heat. They are heat production, heat retention and heat distribution. Unlike grills, however, smokers really only concentrate on one characteristic and that is heat retention. Smoking meat takes place at lower temps than grilling and thus heat retention becomes the primary factor to consider.
The best smokers have double wall construction for retaining heat. They also have lower deck fire doors, where access to the heat production are is. By using this access instead of opening the cooking area, more heat is retained. This is another reason why cabinet smokers are preferred.
The cooking area can be accesses quickly and therefore less heat and smoke escapes. Since the smoke and the heat energy travel in an up direction, side openings are preferred. While heat is still lost, it is less than a top or upright smoker. That, and less of a chance of getting a ball of smoke in the fact when checking the food.
Some smokers have glass windows and while the window suffers a very small amount of heat loss, it does make it easier to directly monitor the food without opening the door. In effect, purchasing a smoker with a window is more of a personal preference than a technical detail.
There have been some studies that suggest that our attraction to smoked meats is due to it being practiced as a preservative technique for so much of human history. What ever the exact reason, there is little debate that smoked meats enhance the flavor of the individual meats and offer a delicious way to enjoy those flavors.
The reason why there are so many options on the market for smokers is due to the popularity of smoked meats. Smoking meat at home is easy and having a great smoker is a good way to enjoy your own smoked meats.
Upright, “robot” smokers are great for small homes and apartments, cabinet smokers are great for dedicated smoking and combination grill/smokers are great for those who enjoy having the option for smoking or grilling. Digital or not, having a smoker is a great way to gather friends and family and enjoy a tantalizing meal.