It may seem like a stupid question, but the fight between electric, charcoal and gas has been going strong for years. Traditional, flavorful charcoal lost out to quick and easy gas, which then lost out to ultra quick and easy electric.
Once the cooking medium was settled on, though, there arose the question of which model is the best. So, for men and their exasperated families everywhere, the following is a comprehensive, and fairly short, buyers guide to electric smokers.
There are seven key things to look for in an electric smoker. They are, in no particular order: capacity, power requirements, durability, temperature control, quality seals, maintenance and price.
Each stands alone, but is also tied into its brethren, so each should be taken into careful consideration.
Nobody wants to prepare the Christmas ham with care just to find out that it does not fit in the smoker. Though not disastrous, this could certainly put a crimp in the cook’s holiday spirit. When going to buy an electric smoker, one should keep in mind what they are planning to use it for.
Obviously, the more food one wishes to smoke, the larger the smoker needs to be. In contrast, small smokers are ideal for those who only wish to smoke small amounts, or only plan to use the machine once in a while. Standard measurement for these things is in cubic feet. For those of us who do not excel in spatial awareness, it it may be a good idea to get a ruler so we know what we are looking at.
Consider how often you smoke meat, how often you entertain large parties, and how much meat each person will eat (we’ve experimented and found that 1.5lbs/.68kg of meat per person is plenty and leaves lot’s of leftovers).
It makes sense, when speaking of an appliance, that we would look at power requirements. High efficiency, energy saving washers, dryers, and dishwashers are all the rage with electricity prices being higher than ever before, and there is no reason to exclude our outdoor appliances.
Somewhere on the box, or in the manual, will be the machine’s specifications. Energy usage should be one of the things listed. Cooking elements in electric smokers typically range from around five hundred watts up to one thousand plus.
Sure, you want to have enough power to smoke the meal of your dreams, but is it worth the cost of having to hire an electrician to run new wiring so that you won’t trip breakers and blow fuses every time you want to barbeque ribs?
Durability is important in anything one wishes to use more than once. Quality of the materials, as well as the quality of the welds which hold it all together, and sturdiness of the various parts are all part of a durability check.
Just as if you were buying anything else, it is perfectly appropriate to go over the machine before you buy it, looking for weak spots or places where something just doesn’t seem right. For instance, if you live in a place where the weather is often inclement, it may be a good idea to make sure the actual smoker portion is covered well, and not exposed to rain or snow.
Buying a cheaper model may not be cheaper in the long run, since you may find that it is necessary to replace the model sooner than it would have been had you bought the slightly more expensive version. The absolute top of quality in electric smokers is Masterbuilt Smoker. Masterbuilt smokers are made with heavy duty materials and better insulation to satisfy the most discriminating smoker enthusiast.
As any cook knows, temperature control is essential.
If you are smoking at temperatures above 200 degrees, you are baking… not smoking. The mantra for smoking meat is “Slow and Low”.
A low, stable temperature will help with the meat being cooked in an estimable amount of time, as well as preventing burning. A good thermostat is essential to the success of any smoker.
Note: Be sure to closely monitor both the interior of the smoking unit, as well as the internal temperature of the meat you are smoking. This is essential to ensure that you are smoking your meat to a safe temperature without over-cooking.
Seals are important in keeping the smoke in the machine. If the seals are poor quality, or downright crappy, the smoke will escape, and your meat will not have the classic smoky flavor you were likely looking forward to.
Seals should be cushy and durable, not dry, cracked or broken. Make sure that whatever smoker you purchase has replaceable seals that you can order from the company if and when necessary.
Maintenance and Cleaning
We’ve all had that miracle piece of cooking equipment that did its job wonderfully and we adored it…until it came time to clean it.
Maintenance is extremely important in anything that food is being cooked in, and part of maintenance is cleaning. Models should be fairly easy to clean, any shelves need to be able to come out of the machine so the inside can be washed easily. Seals should be fairly easy to get to in order to grease or replace them, as should any small parts like latches and thermostats.
The all-important consideration of most families. The right price to pay for an electric smoker depends upon how much you have to spend. Prices range from about $169 and go up from there.
When it comes to electric smokers, however, it’s very common to get what you pay for. The cheaper the smoker, the less use you will typically get out of it… while the more expensive models will hold up for years, and have excellent warranties that cover any manufacturing defects.
When buying something like an electric smoker, it is always a good idea to know what you are looking at. With that in mind, remember to look for capacity, power requirements, durability, temperature control, quality seals, maintenance, and price before choosing the right smoker for you.