7 Best Propane Smokers | March 2017
- matchless snap-ignition
- recipes and prep ideas included
- smaller capacity than most smokers
- dual burner system
- 3 standard grates and 1 rib rack
- burners may not heat evenly
- push-button ignition
- stainless steel burner
- 3 style options available
- convenient heat-saving drawers
- rust-resistant cast brass burner
- porcelain-coated steel water pan
Savory Foods Made Easy: The Propane Smoker
There are few foods that can match smoked meats in terms of savory, sumptuous flavor. The process of slowly smoking a meat renders it tender in texture and rich in taste, along with cooking time, temperature, and the wood used to create the smoke. Great smoked meals start with the selection of high quality meats (and vegetables, as well) but are truly made thanks to a good smoker controlled by a skilled chef.
Traditionally, smoking foods meant a hands-on cooking process: the management of the internal temperature of a barbecue smoker heated by coals or wood fire means constant monitoring of the thermometer and feeding of charcoal and/or hardwood when the temperature drops too low, or stoking and breaking up coals when the heat rises too high. With a propane smoker, however, much of the work is handled for you. A good propane smoker can maintain a precise heat setting and can create the constant smoke you want to prepare full, flavorful foods. In many cases, all you need to do is set the desired heat, then periodically check on and feed the unit's wood and water pans to keep your smoking session under control.
When it comes to choosing the right propane smoker, size is the main factor. Some propane smokers offer relatively little cooking surface, with between 550 and 600 square inches of cooking space available, while larger units may boast as much as three times that area. With more size comes a bigger price tag, of course, so balance your budget against the amount of food you want to prepare at one time.
Any good propane smoker will share a few similar features, and it's worth mentioning those as a baseline before discussing differences you will find between units. Unlike the process of igniting the coals or hardwood that fuel a traditional smoker, lighting a propane smoker should be as easy as pushing a button or turning a dial. Look for a propane smoker with an easy ignition system; you should never have to worry about using a match or a lighter.
Also make sure any propane smoker you are considering has at least two damper valves/vents, ideally with one located on a side and another on the unit's top. Should you need to reduce the heat or vent smoke from the unit but not wish to fully open the smoking chamber -- thereby dramatically reducing the temperature and smokiness -- these features are essential. Look for a unit with separate access to the wood chip and water trays. Many propane smokers have smaller doors that allow access to these two critical features, though some necessitate the opening of the main chamber. If you plan on multiple hour smoking sessions, separate doors are key; if you smoke foods for shorter periods of time, you can get by without them.
Finally, make sure the propane smoke you consider has a prominent and reliable thermometer on its face. While you won't need to do much to change the temperature you have set for your smoker, you still owe it to your foodstuffs to monitor the heat and make sure the unit is working properly.
Smoked Foods: Beyond The Meat
When most people think of smoked foods, they think of meat, and with good reason: smoked meat is delectable. But if you already own a propane smoker, or if you're in the market for one but want to know for what you could use in it beyond meat, there are plenty of great smoked eats that are decidedly vegetarian friendly.
One of the first categories of "other smoked foods" will seem obvious after a moment's thought: nuts. Think of the classic lyrics "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" from The Christmas Song for credence. But there's no need to roast those chestnuts over a fire when you have a smoker. So too can you enjoy other slowly smoked nuts such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and more. Try smoking walnuts over pecan wood or pecans over hickory for a subtle, savory blend of flavors.
Many vegetables are commonly grilled but less commonly smoked. Try smoking tomatoes, peppers, onions, and more for ten or fifteen minutes at moderate temperatures (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit) to add a hint of smokey flavor to salads, soups, and other dishes in which you use these and other veggies.
Some fruits, too, can unleash new and complex flavors when smoked. Stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines are particularly tasty when prepared with smoke. Just cut the fruit into pitted halves or quarters then smoke them for about a half hour at 200 degrees, flipping the fruit once during the process. Then enjoy them as-is, with cream, or bake the fruit into an amazing, savory pie.
A Word Or Two On Woods For Smoking
Just as the whiskey aficionado will proclaim that making fine Scotch or bourbon depends as much on the water used as on the grains or aging barrels, so too will the devotee of smoked meats tell you that the chosen wood plays an essential role in the making of a great smoked food.
For a basic smoky flavor that will add plenty of character to a meat but that will not impart a distinct flavor and won't alter the base taste of the food, try oak chips as your wood of choice. Oak is a great choice for extra long, slow smoking sessions where a more pungent wood could overpower the meat's taste.
On the other hand, if a big, bold smoked scent and taste is called for, choose mesquite wood, the standard bearer wood for many recipes and chefs. Mesquite is a great smoking wood on its own, as it imparts flavor quickly, or it can be blended with other woods to create a subtle complexity of taste.
The wood from various fruiting trees, such as cherry wood, apple, and even plum trees can impart a flavor too subtle for some bold meats (such as many extra salty bacon cuts) but perfect for often milder meats like fish, turkey, or pork chops.
And then of course the classics like hickory and pecan woods impart that rich nuttiness you will savor in red meats like brisket and beef ribs. They also go well with pulled pork and non-white fish.