10 Best Electric Smokers | March 2017
- insulated to hold in the heat
- convenient auto shutoff timer
- difficult to use pellet loader
- built-in meat probe thermometer
- consistent smoking temperatures
- interior light lets you see the food
- clear led display and easy controls
- beautiful exterior finish
- locking seal latches tight
- restaurant quality for the home
- rubber casters for mobility
- nsf certified for commercial use
- foam insulation retains heat well
- attractive and easy to use display
- adjustable side vents
- removable pan for infusing flavors
- large enough to feed huge crowds
- customizable air damper
- set and forget smoking
- stainless steel pan and grates
- can use any type of wood
Choosing Your Perfect Electric Smoker
Traditional smoke cooking means dutifully adding just the right amount of this or that wood and keeping the coals at the perfect heat to ensure foods are cooked safely while remaining moist and flavorful. It's a hands on process many cooks find daunting; others are unwilling to even try it. Thanks to technology, gone are the days when great smoked meat means hours spent tending a fire, not to mention years of experience. Modern electric smokers make the process of balancing heat, smoke, and timing almost effortless. And if you're willing to sacrifice a bit of the romantic charm (and a lot of the effort) that comes with a wood fired smoker in favor of amazing, reliable flavor, then an electric smoker is a smart move.
Once you have committed to buying an electric smoker, there are two primary considerations. As with many products, these considerations are price and size. You can buy a fine electric smoker for between $150 to $200 or you could spend well over $500 on a top of the line unit. The more cash you spend, the more cooking capacity you will get. But in fact many electric smokers are too large for some homes, so size can be as much of a liability as an asset.
There are excellent compact electric smokers that take up about three square feet of "real estate" and there are behemoths that measure well over two feet across and weigh in at nearly 100 pounds even before you add meat. Make sure you take into account where you will be putting your electric smoker, especially if you plan to move it around.
Most electric smokers use wood chip trays that are filled before the cooking session. Some units offer access to these trays during the smoking process without the need for opening the main door, and these are good options for the chef who plans for extra long smoking. If you want the benefits of a long smoke cooking session without the hassle of periodically adding fresh wood, then consider an electric smoker that can be programmed to automatically add wood. These digitally controlled options make the process of slowly smoking foods blissfully easy and essentially remove the potential for human error.
Even experienced cooks will grow to embrace the "hands off" approach electric smokers bring to smoke cooking when they taste the foods their minimal efforts produce.
Why Electric Smokers Are The Right Choice
Anyone who has used an electric smoker will admit that they are superior to wood fired smokers in several ways.
Ease of use is arguably the largest benefit an electric smoker affords its user. Even the basic process of igniting charcoals and/or hardwood can be a chore, and once the fire is lit, heat maintenance becomes a constant struggle. It's imperative that you not let the coals burn out entirely, ending the smoking process, and that you not let the heat grow too intense, overcooking your meats.
And even with a steadily smoldering smoke box, the maintenance of temperature control is a delicate dance with a standard smoker. With an electric smoker, however, the process of ignition is as easy as the flip of a switch, and maintaining a desired heat level is as easy as pushing a button or turning a dial.
If you are interested in cold smoking foods -- a process that imparts smoky flavor but does not actually cook a meat, perfect for preparing foods to be cooked later or for adding taste to already cooked meats -- then an electric smoker allows you to easily establish and maintain those lower temperatures perfect for the task. You can reliably cold smoke foods at or below 120 degrees F in your electric smoker, adding smoky aroma and taste but not affecting proteins or fats.
A Few Words On Marinades
The hours spent smoking a piece of meat are the end of a process, not the entire process itself. Making great smoked meats starts with picking great quality cuts of brisket, pork, turkey, and more. But the next step isn't putting the meat in the smoker, it's marinating that meat for hours, if not overnight or longer.
The general rule of thumb is to allow a piece of meat to marinate for about two hours per inch of thickness. So if you have a slender, tender piece of fillet mignon or a few pounded chicken breasts, a two hour marinating session should be fine. For thick pork chops or a robust roast beef, you need to give the meat at least four hours to soak up the flavors. And for larger food items, such as whole turkeys or full racks of ribs, you should let the mean marinate all day or over night.
You can buy plenty of great marinades from the store, or you can make them yourself. If you do make your own marinade, plan to use it all in short order, as it does not tend to keep well. (The ingredients separate over time, and marinades made with fresh herbs and spices are subject to spoiling.)
For an amazing, easy steak marinade, combine a half cup of red wine vinegar, a half cup of red table wine, and a half cup of oil (vegetable, grape, or safflower oil all work well) with a tablespoon of park, a tablespoon of dried mustard powder, a tablespoon of garlic powder, and a tablespoon of salt. Whisk away and then soak your meat for hours.
A tasty and basic brine great for poultry consists of just three ingredients: salt, sugar, and water. Mix a quarter cup of salt and a quarter cup of sugar (brown sugar works best) with three to four cups of water. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved and then submerge the turkey or chicken in the mixture and let it rest overnight.