Choosing a good BBQ smoker

bbq smoker

When buying a new outdoor grill, the two biggest players are gas and charcoal, but electric, kamado and pellet grills are also fair game. Essentially you can think of a BBQ smoker as slow-cook version of a grill. Heat for charcoal smokers is provided by charcoal obviously. What is key in any case is to be sure to buy a model of BBQ able to give off the best possible flavour. It also needs to be easy to use too. To add to this, it helps also if it is easy to maintain.

To choose the best barbecue for you, it’s worth taking time to think through what you’ll be cooking, where, how often and for who. That way you can pick one that’s the right size. Make sure it also has all the features you need to fit your style of cooking and entertaining. You also need to think as to how it is going to sit in your garden. To add to this, have a good think of what foods you will most likely cook on it too.

For example, will you be cooking fish? steak? vegetables? all of this should be thought of in good detail to some degree. Also, will you be using the BBQ smoker grill all year round. You should for sure have a good think of this in terms of how you will be using the smoker week to week, month to month. Have some degree of consideration too as to how often you will be using the BBQ smoker too.

Buying a gas bbq

Convenient, efficient and ready-in-a-flash. Gas bbq grills get a bad rap but in reality, and for most people who simply want to cook outdoors with relative ease, they do the job, allowing you to get cooking with the flick of a switch. It is literally as easy as that. You can get cooking in no time at all and cook what ever you like too.

This pinpoint precision has its pitfalls, reducing the overall radiant heat (unless the lid is shut). Because they lack the even blanket of heat of a traditional charcoal barbecue, many gas barbecues try to compensate with added tech (lava rocks and ceramic plates etc). However you’ll still struggle with heat retention and find it difficult to build flavourful crusts on larger cuts. Further, gas burns cooler than charcoal, restricting the efficiency of the heat. You will be limited when it comes to indirect cooking and/or smoking. Imparting wood smoke will also be slightly more tricky, with soaked wood chips above the flames being your only real option.

The benefits of buying a charcoal bbq

Getting started is always more of an issue with charcoal but don’t feel like you need to resort to firelighters or lighter fluid (both of which will add an unpleasant petrol taste to your food). Invest in an affordable charcoal chimney, which allows you to light them with just a few sheets of newspaper, funneling oxygen up through the coals. Then it’s simply a case of pouring them onto the grill and you’ll be ready to cook in 20-30 minutes.

Versatility is really the key here with the consistent radiant heat helping you along the way. You can sear really hot and fast (quicker than gas), slow-cook large cuts (briskets, ribs etc) indirectly and place produce directly into the hot coals, though we’d recommend wrapping in foil. Indirect grilling, which is cooking slowly with the heat source to the side of the produce (the key to smoking), is also more viable thanks to the radiant heat. The simplicity and space of the grill will allow you to play with wood smoke, choosing whole pieces of hardwood, or chunks, as well as the more conventional chips.

It does come with some negatives though

Heat control is more of a struggle with live fire and it’ll take some care, intuition and plenty of practice. With time, you’ll be able to cook almost anything thanks to the radiant, high heat that charcoal provides. The charcoal itself doesn’t actually provide much in the way of extra smokiness (it’s 99% carbon, a fuel source, much like gas – see below) with the flavour in both cases coming from the drippings (oils, sugars, proteins) hitting the heat source and smoking up over the food.

However, you could argue that the area of heat is larger with coal, providing more space for dripping. Charcoal grills can be slightly restrictive in size. They can have smaller cooking areas and often no cooling shelves. Mix this with the slightly lengthier start time and tricky heat regulation (charcoal burns out and needs to be topped up in advance), and you’ll soon notice you’re spending more time managing the cook, rather than relaxing with your guests. With gas as an alternative, you flick it on and the rest almost literally will take care of itself.

How to best cook with charcoal

Almost as hotly debated as what works better, is the question – does ‘proper’ charcoal really make a difference? As explained above, charcoal barbecues allow you to cook with more versatility. They will allow you to build up great flavourful crusts. This is as well as cooking low-and-slow for hours (or even days). However, if you aren’t opting to use real wood for burning or smoking, then naturally-lit lumpwood charcoal imparts little to no extra flavour to what you’re coooking.

On the other hand, briquettes, made from compressed biomass including coal dust, leftover charcoal, paper and sawdust, are often laced with additives that help them burn, which can impart an unpleasant chemical hint to your food as it cooks. However, they are convenient, easy-to-find, quick to ignite and provide a long, consistent burn. With all this in mind, it’s helpful to buy the best quality charcoal you can afford. You can then tailor it to your cooking. Cheaper lumpwood will often be smaller and so will burn too quickly for anything other than burgers. Whereas more expensive charcoal (look for ‘restaurant grade’) will come in larger chunks. As a type, it is best for slow cooks BBQ smoker grills.

Furthermore, there is also an environmental consideration. Many of the larger charcoal producers are sourcing trees and biomass from all over the world often putting cost considerations above quality and ethical, renewable sourcing. This is particularly an issue with briquettes. There are a number of smaller UK companies making ethically sourced, homegrown charcoal. It is naturally slow-burning and easy to ignite, but expect it to be slightly more expensive. You can now buy this in more and more places, including farm shops and garden centres.

Overall, what you need to take into close consideration

If you want convenience and the ability to grill at a moment’s notice, gas is the way to go. You can also control the heat with a mere twist of a knob. And since most gas BBQ smoker grills have multiple burners, you can effortlessly create distinct areas of the grill where it’s hotter and cooler. This is very handy when you’re cooking multiple types of food all at once. Since there’s no charcoal burning, there’s no smoke. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get wonderful results from a gas grill. Food cooked in one just won’t have that campfire-kissed essence. All of this can make a huge difference as to how your food will be able to taste.


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