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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
CarlP and JR the Damcowfarmer asked what kind of electric smoker I use, so I'm going to answer that question. I'll try to be brief, but I have some passion around the topic of smoking meat, so there's no telling where this will end up or how long the post will be.

First, let me make clear that what I'm not interested in is a pissing match or arguments from narrow-minded fans of charcoal, wood, electric and propane smokers. I can and have made good pulled pork, pork ribs and brisket with all these sources. Just like one rifle isn't best at everything, neither is one heating source. I think JR and Carl are interested in electric because charcoal and wood take a lot more tending to maintain a smoker temp that's anywhere near what you'd call steady. Going electric makes that a good deal easier.

I've grilled steaks, burgers, chops, chicken, sausages and such over charcoal for years. This is high heat and short cooking times, and probably 70% of my outdoor-cooked meat is still done that way. It's fast. It's tasty.

When I got interested in smoking, I talked with a lot of folks. My first 15-20 smokes I used charcoal in a pan in the very bottom of a "bullet smoker." Above the coals sat a water pan, and above that pan I had two grids to hold the meat. So, I had to learn how much coal to use, how much water to use, how to try and get the right temp and how to add more hot coals. The last isn't easy because while my bullet smoker had a little hinged door at the bottom, it wasn't very large and the water pan partially blocked it. You can smoke with that method, but it's a pain in the ass.

At this point, someone -- my brother? -- offered me an electric bullet smoker that he bought years before and just never got the hang of. It was basically identical to my charcoal bullet except it had a 1500W electric element in the bottom, under the water pan. This isn't the model I have, but it's close enough for this explanation. Mine doesn't have the variable controller, just a one-speed element.



What I learned pretty fast was that the designer of my one-speed electric smoker was pretty dang sharp. You can put a half-gallon or so of water in the water pan, load the grids up with meat, plug that baby in and it will settle out right around 225 degrees within an hour or so and will maintain that temp without a lot of fuss. For smoke, I put wood chips in a little steel smoker box or I wrap wood chips in aluminum foil and poke holes in it. The wood holder then gets laid atop or alongside the electric element and can be refilled via the lower door in the smoker. I can use this smoker even in 30 and 40 degree temps by simply loading it up and then draping an old beach towel or two over the top and sides. Works well and I'm totally comfortable going off and leaving this rig running for 2-3 hours. As long as it has water in the pan and the circuit breaker doesn't trip, it's gonna hold about the right temp.

One more thing about these bullet smokers: If you watch the side of the road in the spring, you can pick these up for free! And in the future when you need an extra grid or your water pan rusts out: Free replacement parts! People buy these things or get them as gifts, they set them in the garage, and finally put them out as junk after 5-6 years. If you have to buy the electric element, those can be had for maybe $30. If you don't like doing the yard sale thing yourself, put in an order with Skruske.

So, if my electric bullet was working, why was I interested in adding a digital box-type smoker? Well, for one thing my electric is really built to run at 225 degrees (give or take). When I make venison summer sausage, most formulas call for you to smoke for an hour or so at maybe 125 degrees, then an hour or two at 150, then maybe bump up to 225 until you hit a certain internal temp on the sausage. You can do this in your kitchen oven, but then you have no smoke. So, for that reason and others, on Black Friday last November I bought a digital electric at Academy for $97 plus tax. There's a photo below and you can read about it here.



If you click the link above and read the user reviews, you'll learn there have been "issues" with the electronics in this unit. I suspect this is true of a lot of this type cooker. My controller died after about three cooks. I called the manufacturer and after a 20-30 minute wait I got a very pleasant, very competent customer service rep. She talked me through removing some access plates and unhooking the power leads to the "brain." I left it unhooked about 30 minutes, reconnected everything, and it fired right up. Kind of a reboot, I guess. I'm hoping this is the only problem I have, but who knows.

I wanted the cheapest digital smoker I could find because (1) I'm cheap, (2) electronic things break and I'd rather break a $100 smoker rather than a $400 smoker, and (3) money saved on the smoker could be routed to the gun/reloading fund. Also, while the glass window in front seems like a nice feature, I figured it would just smoke up real fast and it's subject to getting broken. My goal in going digital is so I DON'T HAVE TO watch the meat, not so that I CAN WATCH IT, right?

Now, take the money you saved buying a cheap smoker (either an electric bullet or the digital) and put that money into a good remote thermometer. Bullet smokers and others of that type most all have a basic spring thermometer built into the lid. They're crap, pretty much worthless. Good smoking is all about temperature control and since you guys are shooters and reloaders, you understand about precision and controlling the variables. Over the years, I've bought at least 6-8 remote thermometers in the $40-$60 range. Some would work for 6 months, others would work for maybe 2-3 years. But they all had proprietary probes and most of those cheap probes would fry and die if your temp ever spiked to the 300 degree range. Just not very durable. So, about two years ago I sprang for a Thermoworks Smoke dual-probe unit. You put one probe in the meat, one probe hanging free in the smoker, and then those are what you pay attention to. Best $99 I've spent in ages. The unit is sturdy, probes are durable and replaceable, and the company has a stellar reputation.


My final recommendation is that you go visit Smoking Meat Forums. They're a good bunch and these forums have been operating long enough that it would take at least a year to read the backlog of existing posts. They have scores of sub-forums, so you can go here and read just about Electric Smokers, for example. I don't post there real often because I can usually answer whatever question I have just by searching previous threads.

That's all I've got for now, guys. Charlie and other guys who have electric box smokers can chime in. He's been using his at least a year or two longer than me. And I'm pretty sure the smoker George got within the past year is an electric box and he seems to LOVE IT.

Carpman
 

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We've used them all. Thought I was going to hell for buying an electric. Won't go back to anything but electric now. We use our local mesquite that's water soaked a few days ahead of time for the smoke. Have never used water in the pan. Might try apple juice for beginners. Orange juice is killer for brisket. We even pour some of the orange juice directly on the brisket. I guess you live and learn but the electric does a much better job considering it's far easier to get and keep a steady temperature. I'm sold on 'em. Now for grillin', a mesquite fire is mighty hard to beat. Just had some large 1" thick pork chops that went over the fire this evening. Problem has always been that I cook just enough. I need to double the order from now on cause I could certainly snack on one right now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thought I was going to hell for buying an electric. Won't go back to anything but electric now.
My only concern about electric, Trapper, is that it doesn't work worth a darn when there's a power outage. Have you used one of the purpose-built propane units? If yes, what are your observations? I've monkeyed with it a little, but only by jerry-rigging a propane burner from a turkey fryer so that I could set a bullet smoker atop it. Seems to me temp control should be pretty good.
 

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Thanks KF, I need to buy a cheapo Electric model and give it a go. I have read customer reviews on some those Masterbuilt ? I think, and seems they had a lot of problems with the electric controllers.
 

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Thanks Mike

That’s some good information. I’ve made a lot of good stuff over the years with the 2 charcoal smokers I’ve had but the electric really appeals to me now. The charcoal was nice when I had my camp with no electric source but that’s long gone now and as long as I keep paying that monthly bill, I should have a steady electric supply at the house.

JR-Two guys at work bought Masterbuilt smokers at A Bass Pro Black Friday sale and they are pleased with them.

I’m kind of a tightwad so I might troll the local roads and try to come up with something this Spring.

Thanks again Mike
 

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My only concern about electric, Trapper, is that it doesn't work worth a darn when there's a power outage. Have you used one of the purpose-built propane units? If yes, what are your observations? I've monkeyed with it a little, but only by jerry-rigging a propane burner from a turkey fryer so that I could set a bullet smoker atop it. Seems to me temp control should be pretty good.
Couldnt have said it better KF, I like fire but electric makes it easy and the portable generator makes it work anytime.....had to finish some off last fall with the generator.
 

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no me Mike. I have never used electric. I've used charcoal bullet, upright cabinets and side firebox wood smokers. I now have an electric pellet smoker/grill. Totally different animal. I consider it the cat's meow. Goes from 150º-500º at the push of a button.

But I agree with some of your points. 1...if you're lookin' your NOT cookin'. Don't need fancy windows. 2. You can make good smoke with ANY heat source if you learn how to control the heat. Alton brown demonstrated with a hot plate in a cardboard and/or wooden boxes at least a few times in his shows. 3 Buy a good thermometer/probe.

As for smoke, I highly recommend A-Mazen Products.

https://www.amazenproducts.com/category_s/12.htm
 

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Add a Sous Vide to your cooking arsenal and it'll change your BBQ for ever.

I have a propane box smoker and use chunks of wood from my uncle Mike's farm and dad's fruit trees. I'll smoke a shoulder/butt in oak or cherry for 4 or 5 hours and put it in the Sous Vide for 20-25 hours at 152° it comes out tender and flavorful. Beef short ribs or baby backs at 152° for 15-20 hours a short 3 hours in the fridge then 2-3 hours in smoke to bring them back up to temp and turn that already rendered fat into bark.
 

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small master built box smoker

it's easy to use and fun!
there is a learning curve witch i guess is the case with any smoker.
1. go 10-15 degrees over recommended internal temp ..might just be my taste tho ?
2.always use water pan
3. olive oil everything ...well ok not burger...and btw smoked burgers are one of my favorite things

after a 1 1/2 year's of use.
stored outside covered
inside paint peeled off.
i've had the temp controller apart 3 times to sand contacts.
 

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i have the old bullet charcoal smoker and it worked fine for short smokes, like smoking salmon for 1 hour etc. I bought a Master built at a pawn shop, still in the wrapper for about $75, and 2 years later, the digital display is fragmented, will have to get a new one, or do what KF did and get the updated thermometer. Mike thanks a lot for the info and the thread. I love smoked pork bacon that I make at home, and 3 years ago, I salt cured and smoked a whole deer, broke down in separate muscle groups, it was dang tasty.
 

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Sous Vide

Douglas, You are the first person I know who has used a SouVide. I first heard of it on a radio program last year. I’ve read about it and have seen it on YouTube but have never tasted the results firsthand.
 

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I won't overwhelm the smoking thread with Sous Vide info, I'll start a new thread later today. I have used one for a couple years now and would have a hard time going back.
 

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Have you used one of the purpose-built propane units?
When my little brother worked for the gas company, he built a propane powered smoker. He used it once and then it went away. The meat ended up with a propane flavor. I imagine that it makes a difference how it's vented but his home made design added the wrong flavor to the meat. We sometimes still use the old smoker that uses wood. We sit on a world of mesquite and oak so the wood is a case of just going and getting it. Occasionally we come across an ol' hickory that died that we use too. WE get a lot of our "smoking wood" from our hunt for good looking wood for knife scales. You end up with a lot of short pieces which works out great for the smoker. WE just throw it in a 3 gallon plastic bucket, fill with water and put the lid on it about 3 days ahead of the smoking day. Never have an issue with it going to flame, just smoke. If you haven't tried it yet, shrimp is right up there with having sex. You'll need to smoke a bunch though as it goes quick. If you have access to harvesting oysters, they're another one that's close to sex. Even folks that won't touch an oyster normally loves them fresh off of the smoker. The electric smokers though are the way to go. Just set the heat, add whatever to the liquid bowl(usually apple juice for us), add the smoking chips, add the meat, and forget it for the next 8-20 hours, depending on how thick the meat. A brisket on the smoker for 8 hours followed up by about 2 hours on the grill is heavenly. We use butter and orange juice to keep the meat wet when in the grill.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
no me Mike. I have never used electric. I've used charcoal bullet, upright cabinets and side firebox wood smokers. I now have an electric pellet smoker/grill. Totally different animal. I consider it the cat's meow. Goes from 150º-500º at the push of a button.

But I agree with some of your points. 1...if you're lookin' your NOT cookin'. Don't need fancy windows. 2. You can make good smoke with ANY heat source if you learn how to control the heat. Alton brown demonstrated with a hot plate in a cardboard and/or wooden boxes at least a few times in his shows. 3 Buy a good thermometer/probe.

As for smoke, I highly recommend A-Mazen Products.

https://www.amazenproducts.com/category_s/12.htm
So, Charlie, as we say in the country, "learn me something." In those pellet smokers, what produces the heat? At one point I thought they primarily used an electric element and the pellets were mostly for the smoke. Then I looked at one that carried the pellets via electric auger into a "firebox" where a variable speed fan blew on the pellets to create both heat and smoke. There was no electric element, the heat came from the pellets. I'm guessing that's what you have, which is why you would say it's not an electric smoker, although you do have to plug it in. Is that how yours operates? And is that also why you like the Amazen smoke tube, because your pellets are burning pretty hot and not producing as much smoke as you'd like?

Carpman
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Add a Sous Vide to your cooking arsenal and it'll change your BBQ for ever.

I have a propane box smoker and use chunks of wood from my uncle Mike's farm and dad's fruit trees. I'll smoke a shoulder/butt in oak or cherry for 4 or 5 hours and put it in the Sous Vide for 20-25 hours at 152° it comes out tender and flavorful. Beef short ribs or baby backs at 152° for 15-20 hours a short 3 hours in the fridge then 2-3 hours in smoke to bring them back up to temp and turn that already rendered fat into bark.
Greyfox knows I like to cook and he's been telling me for over a year that I need to give sous vide a try. Like you, he swears it'll rock my world. I can sort of understand that being true because basically is just a wet version of "low and slow," right?
 

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So, Charlie, as we say in the country, "learn me something." In those pellet smokers, what produces the heat? At one point I thought they primarily used an electric element and the pellets were mostly for the smoke. Then I looked at one that carried the pellets via electric auger into a "firebox" where a variable speed fan blew on the pellets to create both heat and smoke. There was no electric element, the heat came from the pellets. I'm guessing that's what you have, which is why you would say it's not an electric smoker, although you do have to plug it in. Is that how yours operates? And is that also why you like the Amazen smoke tube, because your pellets are burning pretty hot and not producing as much smoke as you'd like?

Carpman
You got it! The pellets are like pellet stove pellets, but they are food grade, no petroleum binders. You can get various "wood" types but they don't produce quite the smokiness of a stick burner. The Amazen smokers use either sawdust or pellets that smolder. I have both and throw one inside the pellet grill when I want a bit more smoke.

I also use the Amazen smokers by themselves to cold smoke. I'll do salmon on the smoker, with the burner off with the Amazen smoker inside for a few hours, then light off the smoker to finish. Also, I throw the Amazen smoker into an old charcoal table top grill with cheese. Makes awesome smoked cheese, but you can't do it in ambient temps over about 60° or you'll melt the cheese. You could also do it inside a cardboard, metal or wood box for the matter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I mentioned earlier that you can usually pick up free "bullet" smokers when people put them out for trash pickup, or you can find them cheap on Craigslist or the Facebook Marketplace. Here's one in the Louisville area that neither Damcowfarmer nor Skruske found. It's electric and could likely be bought for $15-$20.

 
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