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How to Season Your New Electric Smoker



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So you’ve just unpacked your brand new electric smoker. You’re probably already salivating thinking about what you’re going to cook first.

While electric smokers offer great convenience, like all other smokers, they still need to be seasoned. So before you rip your new smoker out of the box, fire it up and throw in a pork butt, hold the phone and take a few minutes to read this guide.

Let’s have a look at why it is important to season your new smoker, how to do it, and how to make your first smoke in your electric smoker a success.

Why Do We Need to Season New Smokers?

Seasoning your smoker is as simple as doing a ‘dry run’. You fire up the smoker with no food inside. The smoke produced will leave a fine black coating on the inside of the unit.

Seasoning your smoker in this way should remove any residue, such as oil and dust, that may have been left over from the manufacturing process.

Some of these residual substances are likely to be petroleum based, or they may contain solvents. No doubt, you don’t want these hanging around in your cooker when it comes to preparing food. Not only are they potentially hazardous, but they also will make your food smell bad.

To be absolutely sure there is no residue left in the smoker for the first cook, some people like to wipe the cooker down with a sponge and some mild detergent before they season it. If you decide to wipe down the inside of your cooker before you season it, be sure not to scratch the surfaces.

Seasoning your smoker will also cure any paints or coatings on the inside your cooker, and help prevent rust from developing.

An additional benefit is that the thin layer of black smoke will enhance the smokey flavor imparted to your food. Over time this black coating will build up and the flavor should only get better!

Let’s have a closer look at how to season your new electric cooker.


How to season an electric smoker

In this step by step guide we will focus mainly on how to season a masterbuilt smoker, but the principles apply to most types of electric smoker.

Most new electric smokers will come with an instruction manual. Be sure to refer to the manual for specific instructions that may apply to your particular type of smoker.

This video from Masterbuilt does a good job of showing you basic way to cure your new smoker, but we go through a few extra steps that are worth doing.


Getting ready to season your smoker

  1. Ensure your cooker is assembled correctly Most smokers will need a little assembly out of the box. Even if your smoker comes mostly pre assembled, make sure all the screws are tight and the unit is secure.
  2. Wipe down your smoker – Using a damp sponge and some mild detergent, wipe down the interior surfaces of your cooker, including all trays and racks. Be careful not to scratch any surfaces. Wash off the soapy residue with water. Open up the smoker and let the unit air dry.
  3. Coat the inside of your smoker with cooking oil – Using either cooking oil spray, or a small amount of oil on a cloth, wipe down the inside of your cooker. The surfaces don’t need to be dripping with oil, just a light coating is ideal. There is no need to coat the chip tray, heating element, grease tray, and water tray with oil.
  4. Place all racks and trays back inside the smoker – Place the accessories back inside the smoker. When seasoning a Masterbuilt electric smokers, do not fill the water bowl with water.


Starting up your electric smoker for the first time

  1. Plug your smoker into a power outlet – It is recommended that you don’t use an extension cord when firing up your electric smoker. If you must use an extension lead, make sure the cord is heavy duty, and has an earth pin.
  2. Open up the top vent all the way – Make sure this vent stays fully open throughout the duration of the seasoning process.
  3. Set the smoker to 275°F, and the timer to 3 hours – For most Masterbuilt smokers, 275°F is the maximum temperature setting. Some makes of electric smoker, like the Bradley, for instance, can be seasoned at 250°F.


Adding Wood

Masterbuit recommends adding a load of chips when the timer has 45 minutes remaining. But if you ask around most seasoned owners do the following:

  1. Add 8-12 chips into the woodchip loader – While some people soak their chips, there really does not appear to be compelling reason to do so. Masterbuilt does not mention the need to soak your chips.
  2. After 20 minutes, add another 8-12 chips to the woodchip loader – By now there will be some ashes building up in the ashtray. These ashes will continue to produce smoke and season the smoker.
  3. After another 20 mins, add another load of woodchips into the loader – You can add a few more than 8-12 this time, but be careful not to overload the woodchip loader. After the third load, you can let the ashes which have built up in the ashtray do the rest of the work.
  4. Leave the smoker to “smoke” at 275°F until the 3 hours is up


Maintaining your electric smoker

Once the smoker is seasoned, there is no need to scrub the inside of your smoker. Every once in a while, you may want to gently wipe down the inside of the smoker to remove any loose ash. However, don’t remove the coating of black smoke.

If your smoker has a viewing window, clean it while the smoker is still warm by following these steps:

  1. Dampen a couple of paper towels, and scrunch them into balls.
  2. While the smoker is still warm (but not too hot – no trips to the ER please) dab the damp paper towel into the ash.
  3. Use this paper towel to wipe the viewing window. It will be all smudgy at this point, but that is ok
  4. Dampen some clean paper towels, and clean off the window.
  5. Once you have cleaned away all the ash residue, dry off the window with a fresh paper towel.


  • Other brands of smoker may require the water bowl be filled with water for seasoning. Refer to the manual of your smoker to check.
  • Never overload the woodchip loader with chips.


Advice for your first smoke on your new electric

Now that your smoker is seasoned and ready to go, here are some tips for your first smoke.

  • It is a good idea to start with cheaper cuts of meat that are not so fiddly
  • Pork butt, or a whole chicken are all good options for your first smoke.
  • Your first few smokes will always be a learning curve. Luckily electric smokers are very forgiving.
  • If you have also purchased a cold smoking attachment, you could try smoking cheese for your first time. Depending on your cooker, keeping the temperature down low enough to smoke cheese might be a little fiddly, but this will help you get to know your cooker. Cheese is also quick to smoke, relatively inexpensive, and delicious!
  • Keep the moisture level in mind. Placing a pan of water in the cooker will ensure that the meat you are smoking does not dry out. If your electric smoker comes with a water pan, use it. If it does not, you may be able to improvise with a small cake tin filled with water, or something similar.


You’ll also want to make sure you have all the equipment you need ready before the cook. This might include a couple of extra purchases.

A good quality meat thermometer (the one that comes with the smoker is usually a unreliable) is essential for anyone who plans to smoke. It will give you an accurate reading of where your meat is up to. And it will ensure you don’t poison your guests – especially if you are cooking chicken.


Wrapping it up
Unwrapping a new electric smoker and firing it up for the first time is an exciting experience (even if you are trying to play it cool.) You are likely brimming with ideas about what you would like to smoke.

So it can be a bit of a pain in the butt to learn that you need to season your smoker before you can start cooking. But seasoning your electric smoker is not a time consuming or complicated process. We hope that this article has helped you learn how quick and easy this vital step is.

Do you have an electric smoker, or are you thinking of getting one? Do you have any other questions about seasoning your smoker that we have not covered in this article, or any handy suggestions that you would like to share? Be sure to mention them in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share!

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How to Reheat Brisket (without making it dry)



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I love cooking brisket. Especially a whole packer style brisket.

The problem is that once my family (and dog) have eaten our full, there’s usually still a few pounds of meat leftover.

And if you’ve ever tried to reheat leftover brisket you’ve probably noticed that it tastes nothing like the delicious smoked brisket you were enjoying the day before.

If you’re sick of leathery leftover brisket, keep reading. In this guide you’ll learn the 3 best ways to reheat brisket as well as a few secrets the barbecue pro’s use to keep their brisket moist.

How to Store and Freeze your Brisket

How you freeze your brisket largely depends on the answer to the following question:

Do you slice your brisket before your after you freeze it? Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of both.

Slicing Before you Freeze


  • Slicing your brisket and freezing the slices so they can be reheated individually is very handy if you only need to reheat a couple of slices at a time.
  • Brisket slices will not take up as much room in your freezer as a whole brisket will.


  • If you’re not careful, you can be left with dried out brisket when you freeze it in slices.
  • Because the meat is sliced, there is more surface area that could be exposed to contamination. Maintain high hygiene standards, and put the slices into the freezer as soon as they are prepared to avoid this issue arising.

Slicing After you Freeze


  • The brisket will retain a lot of its moisture if it is frozen whole.
  • There is less chance of contamination as the exposed surface area is reduced.
  • Slicing a whole, reheated brisket looks “fresher” than serving up pre-sliced brisket.


  • Will take up more room in your freezer.
  • You will have to reheat it all in one go, and this will take longer then reheating slices.

How to keep your brisket as moist as possible

  • If you chose to slice before you freeze, let the brisket cool while sitting in its own juices. This will ensure it retains as much moisture as possible.
  • Freeze the slices on a flat sheet of baking paper initially. This will allow them to freeze separately. Once they are frozen, pop them in a ziplock bag. Now you will be able to take them out separately as you need them.
  • Malcom Reed of suggests letting the brisket rest, then separating the fat out of the cooking juices, leaving the quality au jus behind.
  • Then, after placing the whole brisket and the au jus into a foil food service pan, he vacuum packs the whole thing, pan and all, making reheating, with juices and all, a breeze.


The Best Ways to Reheat Brisket

There are a few ways you can reheat a brisket. Depending on how much time you have, or how you froze the brisket in the first place, the best way to reheat will differ.

A Word on Food Safety: It is important to check the temperature and not the clock when reheating. The internal temperature of the meat needs to reach 160°F for it to be safe to eat.

Similarly, when reheating a whole brisket in the oven or the smoker, make sure you have let it defrost properly first. This means letting it defrost for around two days in the fridge.

While you can also thaw meat in cold water baths, thawing in the fridge is the easiest way to thaw your meat without losing too much moisture, and without leaving your meat in the “danger zone” of 40-130°F.


1) Reheating Brisket in the Oven

If you have frozen your brisket whole, the oven is probably the quickest and easiest way to reheat your meat.

  • Preheat the oven to around 325°F.
  • Once the brisket has defrosted, and the oven has reached temperature, pop the brisket in the oven and cover it with foil. Two layers of foil is even better if you want to be sure that there are no holes in the foil. Holes in the foil will lead to dried out meat.
  • Your brisket should be ready in about an hour, once the internal temperature has hit
    160° F

When reheating in the oven, there is the tendency for the meat to dry out. To avoid this, either make sure the original cooking juices are still in the bottom of the cooking tray, or add some moisture.

One suggestion is to reduce two cups of apple cider or apple juice by half, add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite barbecue sauce and pour that mixture into the bottom of the pan. You can use this as a sauce once the brisket is reheated.


2) Reheating in your Smoker

Once the meat is thawed out, you may also choose to reheat it in your smoker.

Reheating in the smoker is much the same as reheating in the oven, only it will take longer.

Meathead Goldwyn, of suggests the following method in his guide to reheating leftovers

  • Heat your grill to 225°F
  • Use the 2-Zone cooking setup for reheating
  • Sit your foil-wrapped brisket in the indirect zone until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155°F
  • Unwrap the brisket and finish it off over the direct zone for around 5-10 minutes. Make sure you check that the internal temperature has reached 160°F before serving.

Keep an eye on your meat to make sure it does not burn when it is over direct heat.

If you are cooking on a gas grill, setting it to medium heat should be about right for reheating.


3) Using the Sous Vide Method to Reheat your Brisket

This method is great because you will never dry out or overcook  the brisket when reheating it this way. We have to give credit to for the idea to use sous vide to reheat brisket.

If you haven’t heard of sous vide before don’t worry. It sounds fancy, but sous vide is just another word for a water bath. It’s a pretty interesting method for cooking that’s been growing in popularity over the last few years.

Check out the video below if you’re interested to learn more.

The downside is that you need the right equipment for this method. It also isn’t the quickest way to reheat your brisket.

Here is a run down of how it works:

  • Meat is vacuum sealed in an air and water tight plastic wrap
  • Water temperature is between 110-175°F
  • Meat is left in the water bath until the internal temperature of the meat reaches the same temperature as the water bath.

For a whole brisket which is around 4 inches thick, this will take around five hours. For pre sliced brisket around two inches thick, it will only take two hours.

While there are very specialised thermometers out there to check the meats internal temperature when cooking or reheating this way, they are not commonly used outside of commercial kitchens.

For reheating brisket you can use the time suggestions in this guide


What About Boiling or Microwaving Leftover Brisket?

You may feel tempted to whack the brisket in the microwave, as it is an indisputably quick way to reheat food.

Trouble is, microwaving works by turning the water molecules into steam. Essentially the brisket will be steamed from the inside out.

This will leave you with dry, rubbery and downright horrible meat. Plain old waste of a brisket if you ask us.

How about boiling? Boiling a brisket that is wrapped in an airtight covering can have pretty good results. Similar to the sous vide method, the meat doesn’t dry out.

The trick is ascertaining the internal temperature of the meat, as you will still have to ensure that it has reached at least 160°F for it to be safe to eat. While there are sous vide cooking charts, they will not generally reach the water temperatures when boiling.

Thus, ensuring the meat has reached a safe internal temperature is a concern when boiling meat to reheat it.


What to do with your Leftover Brisket

If you are open to trying something different, there are countless ways you can use leftover brisket, and you can find a whole stack of them in this roundup of leftover brisket recipes.

But just to give you some inspiration, here are some of our favourite ideas:

  • Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie: Technically, the beef version of this recipe should be called cottage pie, but that is irrelevant. Using cut up chunks of your leftover brisket in this classic recipe not only yields delicious results, but also makes for a quick, easy and filling midweek meal.
  • Quesadillas or Tacos: If you have any tortillas laying around, the addition of leftover brisket is a match made in heaven. Keep it simple with cheese and sauce, or jazz it up with toppings such as pickled onions and avocado sauce.
  • Beef Stroganoff: Creamy, hearty and filling, beef stroganoff is a family classic. And if you have leftover brisket it is quick and easy to whip up too.


Wrapping It Up

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to reheating brisket. Brisket yields such a good amount of tasty meat that knowing how to freeze, reheat and reuse it means you can get the most out of this delicious cut.

What do you find is the most convenient way to freeze and reheat brisket? Or do you have any questions that were not covered in this post? Let us know in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share.

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Should You Cook Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?



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There are some topics in the world of barbecue that have never really been put to bed. Whether to cook your brisket fat side up or down is one of them.

If you are new to barbecuing, this may be a burning question that you have not been brave enough to ask out loud.

Or, it could be that there are so many conflicting opinions out there that you have given up on finding a straight answer.

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

What Is the Debate About?

Briskets have two distinct sides – one is covered in fat, and another is bare meat.

Aside from these two distinct sides, briskets are made up of two distinct muscles. The Point and the Flat. The pointed end tends to have a thicker covering of fat, while on the flat end the covering of fat is a little thinner.

Sometimes pitmasters will cut the brisket in half before they cook, but most times it’st best left whole.

But the real point of contention, is which way that fat should be facing. Up or down.


Why Cook Brisket Fat Side Up?

Advocates of cooking fat side up claim that the fat will “melt” into the meat, making it moist and juicy.

However, this is a myth.

The truth is that meat cannot absorb fat. Instead, the fat melts and runs off the meat into the drip pan, taking any seasoning you may have put on the meat with it.

To make matters worse, cooking fat side up won’t leave your brisket looking its best.The fat will not form a uniform bark like the bare meat would, leaving you with a not-so-appetizing looking brisket.

However cooking brisket fat side up is not a complete no no. If you use a horizontal offset smoker, or any other smoker wherein the heat comes from above, cooking fat side up is the way to go.

We will have a closer look at why under the section “Where is your heat coming from?”


Why Many Say Fat Side Down is Better

Most of the time, the fat side down team have got it right.

Because the fat is on the bottom, when it melts it will not wash the seasoning away, and the bark retains all the flavors you added.

Additionally, the smoke produced as the fat hits the hot coals will add a great flavor to your meat.

In most cookers, the heat comes from underneath the meat. Fat acts as an insulator. So as your meat cooks it is protected from the intense heat of the fire by the fat that does not melt away. As a result, your meat doesn’t dry out.

Also, the top of the brisket will form a uniform bark, leaving you with a brisket which looks great.


Where’s your heat coming from?

We have touched on this already, but when deciding whether to cook your brisket fat side up or down the determining factor really is the origin of the heat for your cooker.

Most of the time, the heat comes from the bottom (like on a Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet Smoker), so fat side down is the way to go.

But there are exceptions.

For example, horizontal offset smokers send the heat in from above. In that case you want to use those insulative properties of the fat cap to shield the meat from the top. Thus, fat side up is the way to go.

So have a look at your cooker, determine where the heat is coming from and you are most of the way to working out which way to sit your brisket.

It is still a good idea to check that the unprotected side of the meat is not drying out. If it is, you can always wrap the brisket in foil or butchers paper roughly halfway through the cook.


What The Pros Say About Fat Up or Down

You can find experts who sit on both sides of this debate. But now that we know that it largely depends on the type of cooker you use, this makes sense.

For instance, Malcom Reed of ‘How To BBQ’ likes to cook his everyday ‘eating’ briskets fat side up.

He explains his reason why like this:

Malcom Reed, Easy Smoked Brisket Recipe

“At a contest I would cook brisket fat side down the entire time. But you have to remember with my competition briskets I’ve trimmed off most of the fat, and I’ve injected it with at least 16oz of liquid….

For this “Eating Brisket” we’re not worried about the extra fat or what it looks like after it’s cooked, so I’m going to cook it fat side up the entire time.

I want the final product to have a “beefy” flavor but not be enhanced or artificial. ”

We had a look at the smoker he used in the recipe, and it does appear to be a horizontal offset style smoker, so the direction from which the heat comes in has likely also had a role in this decision.

Similarly, Aaron Franklin, known for cooking a mean brisket, goes fat side up.

However, he also uses an smoker with a heat source from above. You can follow Aaron Franklin’s Brisket Guide here.

But the fat does have a flavor all of its own, and when it drips onto the coals it can impart that flavor to the meat. Meathead Goldwyn, of says:

“And what about the fat dripping into the fire and being resurrected as flavorful droplets mixed in with smoke? I save the fat cap and put it on the grate over the fire and let it drip away.”

Cooking your brisket fat side down will have a similar outcome, with the fat dripping directly onto the hot coals, and the resulting smoke flavoring your meat.

Wrapping It Up

So no, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question of fat up or fat down.But we have discovered some vital facts.

No, the fat will not penetrate your meat as it melts, but it will wash off your rub.
Yes, the smoke coming off the melted fat hitting the coals will flavor your meat.

And yes, the fat will act as an insulative barrier between the heat source and the meat, protecting it from drying out.

The long and short of it? Know your smoker, identify where the heat is coming from, and place the fat cap between the heat and the meat.

We hope you have found this article helpful. Do you have any additional questions or suggestions? Make sure you let us know in the comments section below. And if you did enjoy this article, be sure to share it!

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Everything you need to know about smoking wood



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Back in the day all barbecue was cooked with wood logs as the primary source of heat and smoke.

These days we love to over-complicate things.

Take a stroll through your barbecue store and you’ll be overwhelmed by choice. You need to pick from wood chunks, chips, pellets, discs and whole logs, and that’s before you even decide which of dozens of varieties of wood to use.

In your search for answers, you will come across plenty of conflicting information, from what woods must be matched with certain meats, to how to build a fire for smoking success, and everything in between.

In this guide to smoking wood we will cover just about everything you need to know about using wood for smoking. We’ll even debunk a few common myths that even veteran barbecue competitors fall for.

Smoking with wood overview

While you can burn just about anything to smoke your food (In Iceland they use dried sheep dung), wood is the most commonly used material.

There are two main ways you can use wood when you barbecue.

  1. As the main fuel source – The combustion of the wood produces heat, while also imparting a smokey flavor to your meat. Building a fire with logs in an offset smoker is an example of using wood as the fuel source. Pellet smokers are another example of using wood as both the fuel and the source of smoky flavor.
  2. As the source of smoke flavor – while using another fuel source such as gas or charcoal. Examples of this include placing a wood chips in an electric smoker, or adding some chunks of wood to your lit coals.

The wood you use to add smoke flavor to your meat comes in many shapes and sizes, such as chips, chunks, pellets or sawdust. The best way to use these different forms of wood will depend on your situation.

Many barbecue aficionados out there go to great lengths to match the flavor of the wood they burn to the dish they are cooking. However, knowing how and when to use wood in its different forms is a far more worthy time investment. Understanding when and how to use chips as opposed to chunks, for example, will reap far greater rewards than memorizing a list of meats that “go well with mesquite”.


A quick word on smoke

Smoke consists of around 100 compounds. Some of these compounds exist as solids, others as gases and still others exist as liquids such as oils.

The exact makeup of the smoke you make on your barbecue will depend on the wood you have used, the temperature of combustion, the amount of available oxygen and the humidity.

Two of the gases that you might like to take note of are syringol and guiacol. Syringol is the gas that is responsible for the smokey aroma, while guiacol is the gas we can thank for the distinctive smokey flavor. These gases are only present in trace amounts, but they do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of creating that trademark barbecue smell and flavor.

Let’s have a closer look at what is going on in the combustion process, in the hopes of understanding how and why smoke is produced. Wood goes through four stages as it combusts.

1) Dehydration – This is what is happening to the wood up to about 500°F. Dehydration takes place before the wood actually catches alight, so at this point the wood has to be exposed to heat from an external source, such as from lit kindling, or a match. By the time this stage is complete, any moisture within the log will have evaporated and the wood is left completely dry.

2) Gasification and pyrolysis – This stage takes place when the wood is between 500 and 700°F. Compounds within the wood start to change at this point. Some of these compounds become flammable gasses, so if these gases are exposed to a flame, they will ignite (at this point the wood itself is not igniting independently of these gases). So in everyday terms, this is the point at which it appears as if the wood “catches fire”.

3) Burning – Once the temperature gets to 700-1000°F, the real action takes place. The wood itself is in flames, and gases important to the barbeque cooking process are released. Once such gas is nitric oxide, the gas responsible for the formation of the smoke ring.

The best temperature range, as far as producing tasty smoke is concerned, is between 650-750°F. As the fire gets hotter, the compounds that are being broken down become bitter, and some can even be hazardous.

As gases are released from the fuel, they ignite as they combine with oxygen and are exposed to significant enough heat. If gases escape without burning, smoke is formed.

4) Charcoal Formation – Once the temperature gets above 1000°F, many organic compounds are burned off and charcoal is left behind. Not much smoke is produced while the charcoal burns.



How long should you produce smoke when cooking?

There is an idea floating around out there that meat stops taking on smoke after a certain point, and there is no reason to continue creating smoke beyond that point. However, this is not the case. The meat itself will take on smoke as long as you serve smoke up to it.

What does change is the environment inside the cooker and the surface of the meat.

  • Smoke will stick to the surface of the meat readily if it is cool and moist.
  • Naturally, as the cook progresses, the surface of the meat will dry out and warm up.
  • This can be overcome by basting and spritzing throughout the cook. Just keep in mind that if you go overboard with the spritzing, you could wash off any rubs or sauces you may have applied.

Another thing to keep in mind is that coals will not produce as much smoke as wood, so if you want more smoke later on in the cook, you will need to add more wood to the fire.

Keep in mind, however, that just because meat can keep on taking smoke doesn’t mean it should. You don’t want your meat to taste like a lump of coal. There is such a thing as meat that tastes “too smokey”.


How to add wood to your smoker

Generally speaking, a small, hot fire burning at a steady rate will produce the best smoke. Avoid the temptation to build something resembling a bonfire in your smoker. Lighting up all your fuel in one go will not yield good results.

How much wood you should add to the fire, and when you should throw it on will also depend on the type of smoker you are using, and whether wood is your primary heat source or not.

If you smoke on a Weber Smoker Mountain for instance, wood is not the primary heat source. In this case 2-4 fist sized chunks of wood should be enough to create the right amount of smoke.

If you are using an offset smoker, wood is the primary heat source. We cover what type of wood to use in an offset smoker further on in this guide.

Building a fire in an offset is a topic for another day. This helpful video from T-Roy Cooks to give you a good overview.

If wood is not the primary heat source, many pitmasters find that adding the wood chunks to the coals once they are hot, and the meat and thermometers are all set up, is the easiest way to start producing smoke. To ensure that you start getting good smoke right away, make sure the wood is touching the hot coals.

Some pitmasters bury the wood chunks in the unlit coals, whereas others layer coals and wood chips and then light the coals using the minion method.


Matching wood ‘flavor profile’ with what you’re cooking

Judging by the number of guides and charts out there which outline the flavor profiles of different wood types and what meat it should be matched with, you would be forgiven for thinking that this kind of knowledge is imperative to pulling off a successful barbecue.

What if I told you that the evidence points to the shocking fact that this obsession with wood flavors may actually be a little over the top.

In actual fact, where the tree grew is more likely to impact the flavor profile of the smoke than the type of tree it is. Meathead Goldwyn of refers to data from the Forest Encyclopedia Network when he makes this interesting statement:

Meathead Goldwyn, What You Need to Know About Wood, Smoke, And Combustion

“Smoke flavor is influenced more by the climate and soil in which they are grown than the species of wood.

This is very important to note, especially when you are caught up in the game of deciding which wood to use for flavor.

This means that the differences between hickory grown in Arkansas and hickory grown in New York may be greater than the differences between hickory and pecan grown side by side.”

Indeed, many budding pitmasters obsess over what type of wood they are smoking with rather than the more important factor of where it was grown. Steven Raichlen in his book “Project Smoke” reminds us of yet another important point to keep in mind that may be overlooked at times.


“The wood variety matters less than how you burn it. And while each wood variety produces smoke with a slightly different color and flavor, if your new to smoking, the major hardwoods (hickory, oak, apple, cherry and maple) all work equally well.”


Believing that certain types of wood can impart different flavors is mostly wishful thinking. The tables and graphics look nice, but it’s mostly companies copying the same information off each other to create nice looking graphics for marketing.

The bottom line is, learning the techniques behind creating good smoke is going to pay higher dividends than tirelessly matching specific woods with specific meats.


Which types of wood are best to smoke with

Your choice of wood is slightly more important if you use an ‘old school’ style wood burning smoker.

Most pitmasters these days use charcoal, electric or gas as their primary heat source and simply add wood chunks or chips for the flavor.

In this video Aaron Franklin runs through what wood characteristics he looks for for an ‘optimal smoke’.

The main points you need to consider:

  • If the wood has been left to dry out for around 6 months, it is just right for using on your barbecue. This is because there is still enough moisture in the wood to create smoke, without being too sappy.
  • Store bought woods are likely kiln dried, which means they will burn hot and fast. This may prove challenging when trying to control the temperature and length of your cook.
  • Another advantage of using wood with some moisture remaining in it is that the wood will burn slower at a lower heat. Clearly, this is good news if you aim to cook ‘low and slow’.

Even though most evidence says that the belief different types of wood produce different flavors is mostly barbecue myth, there are some general rules of thumb that seem to hold true.

  • Oak – Burns slow and even, has a mild flavor, and is generally a good wood for smoking.
  • Hickory – Also good for smoking, with a stronger flavor than oak.
  • Pecan – With a stronger, smoky and sweet flavor, this wood is better for shorter smokes. If used for longer smokes, the flavor can become overpowering.
  • Mesquite – Strong flavored wood, which burns hot and fast, and produces a lot of smoke. Best used for grilling, or to burn down as coals.
  • Fruit woods – Mild in flavor, and can be used green.


Types of wood you should never smoke with

There are also some types of wood you should definitely not smoke with which we have listed below.

Aspen Locust Mangrove
Cedar Osage Orange Lamburnun
Cyprus Pine Tambootie
Elderberry Redwood (Conifer) Yew
Elm Spruce Poisonous Walnut (other walnut wood is fine)
Eucalyptus Sweet gum Fir
Sycamore Hemlock Tamarack
Liquidambar Oleander

  • You should never use wood that has been painted, stained or treated in any way. You also should not use lumbar scraps, or bits of wood from old pellets, as there is no way of knowing what type of wood it is, or what chemicals it has been exposed to.
  • Avoid old wood that is covered in mold or fungus. Molds and fungi can contain toxins that, when released in the smoke and coated on your food, could make you or your guests ill.
  • Avoid softwoods. You may have deduced this when reading through our list of woods not to use. Softwoods are not a good idea because they are sappy, and contain terpenes. These can leave your meat tasting odd. Worse still, some people feel ill after eating meat smoked using these kinds of wood.


Tips to help generate a ‘smoke ring’

The smoke ring is caused when smoke from burning fuel hits your meat and reacts with the myoglobin to fix the ping / red color. While it doesn’t change the flavor, it’s still highly desirable and a sign of an expert pit master.

  • Use cold meat to start with, and keep the meat moist throughout the cook. You can accomplish this by spritzing (using plain old H2O is fine) and keeping the atmosphere humid by putting a water pan in your cooker. This will help the smoke stick to the surface of your meat.
  • Use a spice rub. Not only will it add to the flavor of your meat, but it will encourage more smoke to stick.
  • Add your wood early, when the meat is still cool. This is when meat takes up most smoke flavor without you having to intervene. One word of caution, while you want to get the wood on as early as possible, wait until the fire is hot and the coals have stopped smoking before you add the wood.


Wood controversies people love to obsess about

Soaking wood

Conventional wisdom tells us that wood should be soaked before smoking it. The idea is that soaking the wood will slow down the burn, and provide more consistent heat. We’ve even seen people suggest soaking wood chips in beer, wine or fruit juice to add “more complexity”.

We found this suggestion from the LA times especially laughable.

“The liquid will infuse the chips with flavour as they soak, giving the food more depth and dimension as it smokes. Try adding a little apple juice for light and fruity notes, perhaps a little red wine to add some spice notes. A touch of rum added to the soaking liquid can lend a nice hint of caramel when smoking something delicate.”

Let’s put this idea to bed for good. When in doubt I like to consult the experts, and if they all agree then there tends to be a good reason.

Malcom Reed, Dry Wood vs Soaked Wood

“People argue with me that “Soaked wood burns longer”, this statement may be true, but the smoke produced is not clean. The high moisture content keeps the combustion level of the wood down and the steam carries impurities of the wood with it.

So even though you might be increasing your burn times, your actually killing the taste of your ‘que because those impurities your steaming your meat with build-up on the outside and can give it a creosote taste”

Soaking your wood could adversely affect the quality of the smoke that is produced. The smoke you want is thin and blue. Soaked wood produces white, billowy smoke.

If you’re still not convinced, Meathead Goldwyn of conducted an experiment to see how much water actually gets absorbed by the wood.

Meathead Goldwyn, Myth: Soak Your Wood First

“I began by weighing two handsful of wood chips, and two handsful of wood chunks on a digital scale. Both bags were labeled “apple”.

Then I soaked them in room temp water for 12 hours, took them out, shook off much of the surface water, patted the exterior lightly with paper towels and weighed them to see just how much was actually absorbed.

Large chunks gained about 3% by weight and small chips about 6%. That’s not much.”

Certainly not enough of a difference to warrant calling off your barbecue plans because you forgot to soak your chunks.

While some pitmasters still claim soaking chips is worth it, most agree that soaking chunks isn’t. Ultimately, you may need to experiment yourself to make a call on this one. But don’t lose any sleep over it.


Should you use green or seasoned wood

Many will advise you to use wood that has been dried, arguing that too much sap will produce pungent smoke and can burn irregularly. Also, the flavors that excessively sappy wood produces can be unexpected, and not in a good way.

On the other hand, some moisture in the wood can help the wood burn slower, which can make temperature control a little easier. And if you are after a stronger smokey flavor, the extra smoke that comes off the moisture in the wood isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It really comes down to what taste you are after.


Should you leave the bark on or bark off

Many pitmasters take the bark off the wood, claiming it will affect the flavor and the way the wood burns. Others leave it on and report no ill effects. Of course, each piece of wood will have differing amounts of bark, so sometimes this decision needs to be made on a case by case basis.


Blending woods to create unique flavor combinations

People get hung up on what type of wood they use to smoke, so you can imagine the angst that ensues when the suggestion of mixing woods is brought up.

To keep things simple when you are starting out, it might be a good idea to stick with on type of wood and get a feel for the flavor each type of wood exhibits. Once you have an idea of what to expect from each variety, mix it up. Enjoy experimenting, and you might just come up with something that really works well for you.


Where to buy wood

Of course, in an ideal world, we would all have a supply of free, perfectly aged wood at our disposal. But for most of us, this isn’t the case and we will have to purchase our wood.

BBQ stores: Your local BBQ store is a good place to start. Wood is likely to be sold by weight or volume in pre-packed bags. If your local BBQ store sources wood locally, you might even be able to save on shipping costs. While hickory and mesquite can be purchased at most hardware stores, specialty BBQ stores are also likely to stock alder, apple, cherry, oak, and pecan as well.


Amazon: You will find a wide variety of smoking wood chunks and chips on Amazon, which will come pre packaged, much like you would get from a BBQ store. There is likely to be a minimum weight you will have to purchase. Make sure you have enough room to store the amount of wood you purchase. Just keep an eye on shipping costs before you buy, as shipping can often cost as much as the wood itself.

If you don’t go through a lot of wood then the wood chunks by Weber are a decent option. You can get a 3.5lb bag of apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite or pecan.

Weber-Stephen Products 17139 Apple Wood Chunks, 350 cu. in. (0.006 cubic meter)

  • Subtle Sweet flavor
  • Chunk size pieces
  • Four pound bag
  • 350 cu. in. (0.006 m^3) sized bag

It’s worth shopping around though, especially if you want to stock up. This 10lb bag is a good option if you want a good sppply.


Wood suppliers: Aside from wood suppliers you may already know of in your local area (search “wood supplier + your area in Google), you can find suppliers using this list If you find a good supplier, you should be able to access more specific wood types, and the supplier may even be able to give you more information about how old the wood is and where it comes from.


11 Tips for smoking with wood

The following tips should give you a good quick guide to using wood on your barbecue. Our suggestions have been thoroughly tested and backed up by experts, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment.

If you want to try soaking your wood chips in craft beer first, by all means go ahead. Part of the fun of learning about barbecue is experimenting with all the different methods.

  1. Get your smoke from wood – This may seem obvious. However, if your charcoal is smoking, don’t assume that the smoke coming from it is just as good as smoke from wood. Remember that tasty smoke comes from wood. And don’t worry if your smoking wood catches alight. The thin, clean smoke from burning wood is better than fluffy white smoke from incomplete combustion.
  2. Store your logs outside – In order for your wood to dry out a little, outside is the ideal place for it to be stored. Keep in mind that you should store your wood up off the ground. This will stop your wood from becoming damp, getting moldy or rotting out completely.
  3. Consider the size of your chunks – The longer you want to cook, the bigger your wood chunks should be. For short cooks such as chicken or fish, wood chips or pellets are ideal. For a longer cook, wood chunks anywhere between the size of a golf ball and a baseball will produce consistent smoke for longer.
  4. Don’t use wood that smells bad – If your wood smells musty, don’t assume that the smell will burn off. It won’t, and the flavor of your cook will be affected. Remember that moldy wood is also not safe to burn due to the toxins that certain molds release.
  5. Learn to control the oxygen – A layer of gray soot all over your meat is not the result of good smoke, but rather the result of burning coals with insufficient oxygen. The good news is that this soot can be washed off your meat, and you can try again. Before putting the meat back in the cooker, make sure you have got your oxygen flow right. Another tip is to get rid of ash in the fire, as this can smother the coals and lead to a sooty outcome.
  6. Practice makes perfect – If you are new to this, don’t underestimate the wisdom of a couple of “dry runs” without food. This way you will learn to control the temperature of your barbecue, how to light it and when to add more wood to get the smoke you are after.
  7. Invest in good thermometers – If you read the section on how smoke is formed, you likely picked up that the temperature has a lot to do with the type of smoke you are getting, let alone knowing where your meat is up to as far as the cooking goes. This is not something you can guess. A good digital thermometer will tell you exactly what is going on in there, and armed with this knowledge you will be able to react accordingly.
  8. Keep your cooker clean – Black, sticky residue will not add a good taste to your barbecue. In fact, the smoke that billows off this substance will most likely be full of creosote. Also, grease that drips off dirty grates into the fire will make some nasty smoke.
  9. Trust your senses – Your barbecue should smell good, and by that I don’t mean like a burnoff. The smell of the meat and the spices you have used should be distinctive, and the smell of the smoke should be sweet.
  10. Cook indirectly for longer cooks – Cooking indirectly means the heat source is in a chamber separate to where your food sits, like in an offset cooker. If you cook indirectly there is no chance of the moisture or fat from the meat dripping onto the fire. For shorter cooks, this isn’t such an issue. But when cooking low and slow, cooking indirectly is best.
  11. Drain and dry unused soaked chips – If you decide that soaking your chips is worth the effort, then make sure you drain off and dry out any soaked chips that you do not use. Otherwise you will soak the flavor right out of the chips before you get a chance to smoke them.


Get the gear

Particularly if you plan on using wood as your primary fuel source, you will need a bit of gear to make your life easier. Here are a few products we recommend.

Firewood rack – It’s a good idea to store you wood off the ground it from rotting. Check out our article on wood racks if you would like a complete run down on the benefits of using a wood rack. We really like the Woodhaven range, as they are sturdy, and come with a lifetime structural warranty.

The Woodhaven 8 Foot Firewood Log Rack with Cover

  • Simple assembly!
  • Black, baked on powder coat finish, the best finish and environmentally friendly.
  • Proudly made in the U.S.A.
  • Our own cover design, covers the top 12″ of the wood, and automatically adjusts for the amount of wood in the rack.
  • Arc welded end sections, try finding another rack this strong!

Another great feature of Woodhaven racks is that they come with a cover to protect your wood from the elements. The clever design also means that the cover moves down as your pile becomes smaller.

We recommend the smaller 3 foot rack if you’re not turning out a lot of barbecue. It will hold ⅛ cord of wood and is about half the price of the larger Woodhaven rack.

Axe – A reliable axe and a great swing are important if you plan on buying larger logs and then splitting them into chunks. Friskars have a range of axes. For taller people, the 36 inch axe is designed for maximum efficiency. Weighing 5.85 pounds, this axe comes with a lifetime warranty.

Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe, 36-Inch

  • Ideal for taller users splitting medium- to large-sized logs
  • Designed for maximum efficiency to give you more one-strike splits
  • Perfected balance and power-to-weight ratio increases swing speed to multiply power, much like an aluminum baseball bat
  • Advanced bevel convex blade geometry adds power and makes the blade easier to remove from wood
  • Lifetime warranty. Item weight: 5.85 pounds

If you have split wood before, you likely understand the frustration of getting the blade stuck in the wood. Friskars have designed an axe head that is shaped to avoid this from happening so much, as well as adding power and efficiency to the blow.

Metal scoop – Cleaning out the ash in your smoker is very important to keep your oxygen flow healthy, and your smoke sweet. A metal scoop will help you get the job done.

The Grabbin Ash Pan is an example of a quality metal scoop. Made in the USA out of heavy grade steel, this scoop will be around for a while. It has an ergonomically designed handle, which will make a task that could become tedious a little more comfortable.

Grabbin Ash Pan – BBQ Grill/Smoker Cleaning Tool

  • Clean your bbq grill, smoker, or firebox easily in seconds with no mess!
  • Heavy gauge steel? construction with welded seams and handle – Made in the USA
  • Curved radius bottom that is effective on most grills or smokers
  • Unique handle design that promotes a natural wrist motion while removing ash
  • Durable powder coated black matte finish

The scoop itself is large, meaning you can get the job done quicker, and the closed sides mean you don’t lose half of the debris you just collected over the scoop’s edges.

The curved bottom works particularly well for cylindrical shaped cookers. While this item is not an absolute necessity, cleaning out the ash from your cooker is. A sturdy, well designed scoop is going to make this job a lot more enjoyable than if you use a scrap of cardboard you reclaimed from your trash.

Leather work gloves – It is easy to forget how much grief a simple blister can cause. It’s easy to avoid if you don a pair of gloves. Besides, when it is cold out, a thick pair of gloves will keep your hands warm too.

Gloves don’t need to be fancy, just well sewn and sturdy. These leather work gloves are perfect for the job. These gloves are made from 100% cowhide, have a reinforced palm area and a handy drawstring so you can pull them in at the wrist to fit.

Keep in mind that if leather gloves seem a little stiff at first, wear them in for a while and they will soften up.


Wrapping it up

We have covered a lot in this article! While wood is integral to barbecue, it need not be something that intimidates a new (or not so new) pitmaster. After grasping some of the basics about how wood burns, the role of smoke, and what types of wood are out there, all that is left to do is practice and have fun!

Do you have any more questions that we have not covered in this post? Or do you have any further tips and tricks that you would like to share with us? Please be sure to comment below. And if you found this article helpful, please be sure to share!

The post Everything you need to know about smoking wood appeared first on Smoked BBQ Source.



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