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Smokers - Electric vs Charcoal


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#1 Lyle

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 08:06 AM

Yes, I did a search. And I did read almost every post. But I still need help. At least in style.

I've my eyes set on a bullet smoker. Not so much because I don't have the space for a side box, but I doubt I'll be smoking more than one large piece of meat at a time. It's more economic than anything.

While looking through my local hardware store's sale page, I see a Brinkmann "Smoke N Grill" for half the price of the Brinkmann Electric version of what seems to be the same product. Please tell me if I'm wrong about the following conclusions.

*The electric is easier to maintain.

*The electric provides the same smokey flavor and can cook meat at the same pace as the wood-burning bullet.

*The electric can achieve lower smoking temperatures than the wood-burning model, thusly allowing one to more effectively smoke fish.

*This must be why the electric is so expensive. Well, that and the element.

So, If I were to purchase a bullet, would the electric be the better choice disregarding all grilling ability of the product? Or, would I be better off just spending more and getting a side-box smoker/grill? Is there a difference in the final product between a side-box and a bullet?

Eh, too many questions. But...this is probably the best place to ask.

Edit: The relatively hands-off feature of the electric would I think be beneficial. Unless, of course, that adversely affects the taste of the product.

Edited by Lyle, 03 June 2004 - 08:10 AM.

Rice pie is nice.

#2 jmcgrath

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 09:29 AM

The advantage of the "side box" usually referred to as an offset is cooking area. An offset is a lot more labor intensive and has a higher learning curve.

There are bullets and there are bullets. Most people consider the Weber Smoky Mountain aka WSM to be the best in class. It retails for around $180. The very cheap bullets have no means of temperature control. Avoid them. The same goes for an electric bullet without a thermostat control. Look for a bullet with adjustable vents on both top and bottom if you go the charcoal route. I've never used an electric bullet, but have heard they can not keep up with winter time temperatures.

You can cold smoke fish in a charcoal bullet. You need to minimize the amount of fuel, and keep the vents throttled down. It's easiest during the Winter.

A thermostaticaly controlled electric bullet is your simplist to use option. However, barbecue purists sneer at them. :angry:

Jim

#3 bigwino

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 11:33 AM

You might also consider a gas smoker. I bought one from Costco and have had good success so far with smoking chickens and turkey breasts. I also did a tasty pulled pork.

The challenge for me has been maintaining good smoke production and a low temp. I would imagine the electric one would have the same problem.

#4 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 11:58 AM

What jmcgrath said. I have had an offset and now have a WSM. I think I am in love with the WSM. Once I get it going with a full load of charcoal, it will perk along at the ideal temperature for at least 12 hours with little tending. I might have to add some water is about all. The off-set did a fine job but really did require more tending. There are two shelves in the WSM and it holds all that I typically need to do.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#5 Lyle

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:35 PM

Thanks all. I am, in this case, then leaning towards the Weber. I did a bit of research and found it affordable enough if I care for it, unlike I tend to for my cheap grills.

One more question: I could not find any major feature differences between the WSM and some slightly less expensive varieties. I suppose I just need to get hands-on with several models. What sets the WSM apart from the other bullets?
Rice pie is nice.

#6 Lyle

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:43 PM

Oh, jmcgrath, I never even considered the fact than an electric would not have a variable heat source. I'd be very disappointed indeed to come home with one without a theromostat. Thanks.
Rice pie is nice.

#7 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:46 PM

I went with the WSM basis what I had read here and the experience of these folks. Having discussed this with other folks, I think the critical point is that the WSM has three bottom vents that can be set to regulate the temperature and since they are equidistant around the bottom, you can adjust for wind direction. That is what I would look for in an alternative brand. The baked on enamel coating of the WSM is really superior. What is inexplicable to me is that it doesn't have a thermometer in the top. That site has suggestions for mounting one or putting one in the top vent, which is what I do.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#8 jmcgrath

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:50 PM

One more question: I could not find any major feature differences between the WSM and some slightly less expensive varieties.  I suppose I just need to get hands-on with several models.  What sets the WSM apart from the other bullets?

There is probably not much difference. For a long time, there were just cheap, annoying bullets and the Weber, so many of us ended up with Webers. There is a web site dedicated to cooking with a WSM.

Jim

#9 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:51 PM

*cross post*

You're it!
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#10 jmcgrath

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 12:59 PM

I might have to add some water is about all.

You can replace the Weber water pan with a Brinkman charcoal pan for greater capacity. I guess cross posts are against the rules so you will have to find your own source.

Jim

#11 Lyle

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 01:26 PM

The enamil on the WSM sounds very useful in the winter. Thanks again for the info. I think what I'm going to do this weekend is go to a high-end grill retailer and investigate their bullets. I'll pick one, despite my immediately found WSM bias, and report back. Then I'll look for the bargain. It's too bad on-line and catalogue shopping can't offer the same experience as that of hands-on shopping. All your comments have been very hlpful and I'll let you know soon enough what I've decided on and why I made that decision.

Oh, and I need to check out that website in depth. Thanks again.
Rice pie is nice.

#12 fiftydollars

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:35 PM

I might have to add some water is about all.

You can replace the Weber water pan with a Brinkman charcoal pan for greater capacity. I guess cross posts are against the rules so you will have to find your own source.

Jim

Jim,

Please elaborate on the water pan swap. I have a WSM and one of my dreams is to be able to go longer than a few hours without having to add water.
Where do I get the brinkman pan?
Is it the water pan or the charcoal pan?

Thanks.

#13 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:37 PM

I don't see Jim hanging around so I will chime in. I got mine at a sporting goods store here in Houston that has a lot of BBQ and cookout equipment. (Academy, Houston) I would think that any large store that carries Brinkman would have them. And, yes, it is the water pan. Look on the Virtual Bullet web site for a full discussion about replacing the pan.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#14 sacre_bleu

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:38 PM

I'm an incorrigible WSM pimp. Let me say that right up front.

But I didn't get that way overnight. I've seen the alternatives, and tried to use most of them.

I'll admit that there are electrics that will do the job, and are a breeze to control. But they're more expensive.

The side-firebox logburning rigs make excellent product in the right hands. But they require veteran operators and eternal vigilance, due to heat fluctuations, indifferent air-control engineering and variable log characteristics.

Brinkman water smokers are cheap, but you get what you pay for. You'll go nuts trying to control the temps.

The WSM was the cheapest, most stable way to get pulled pork and brisket (with the help of the Virtual Weber Bullet site). I smoke right through the Buffalo winter under my garage overhang.

Just keep it out of the rain (or buy the cover) and it'll last decades with minimal care. A meat thermometer through a cork stuck in an air vent gives you dome temps, a $20 wire-probe thermometer for internals. A charcoal chimney. Charcoal (Kingsford for me). Wood chunks. Water.

Meat. A match.

Go!

Edited by sacre_bleu, 03 June 2004 - 02:39 PM.


#15 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:43 PM

Brinkman water smokers are cheap, but you get what you pay for. You'll go nuts trying to control the temps.

Just out of curiosity... Why are the Brinkman's more difficult to control? Is it the bottom vent design?
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#16 sacre_bleu

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:47 PM

Just out of curiosity... Why are the Brinkman's more difficult to control? Is it the bottom vent design?


The model may have been updated, but the last one I used, some seven years ago, had no bottom control at all. Just a charcoal fire pan that was open all the way around. In other words, this was like a WSM without the borttom segment of the "capsule" and the legs attatched to the middle tube.

The designers apparently thought "heat rises" would be enough engineering to get it done.

It wasn't.

#17 jmcgrath

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:49 PM

You can replace the Weber water pan with a Brinkman charcoal pan for greater capacity.  I guess cross posts are against the rules so you will have to find your own source.

Jim,

Please elaborate on the water pan swap. I have a WSM and one of my dreams is to be able to go longer than a few hours without having to add water.
Where do I get the brinkman pan?
Is it the water pan or the charcoal pan?

Thanks.

Contrary to what Fifi just said, it is the Brinkman charcoal pan that replaces the Weber water pan. You can order it here. Scroll down about two thirds of the page. Item #812-0002-0

Jim

#18 fifi

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 03:09 PM

AH! Good thing we have Jim around here! I just realized my mistake. I remember now that I made that mistake and had to go back to the store and swap it out. I think they may have had the wrong part number on the site at the time and I reported it. I am not sure about that. Confusion reigned.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#19 Lyle

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 03:15 PM

Just keep it out of the rain (or buy the cover) and it'll last decades with minimal care. A meat thermometer through a cork stuck in an air vent gives you dome temps, a $20 wire-probe thermometer for internals. A charcoal chimney. Charcoal (Kingsford for me). Wood chunks. Water.

Meat. A match.

Go!

You've just written the shortest, best directions I've read for smoking meat. Except for the dome control, and the dome itself, I'm there. That and the Brinkmann-Weber uber-hybrid.

Yes, I must get a cover. Considering there seems to be a sort of a "support group" for WSM owners that may be the best for my virginal self.
Rice pie is nice.

#20 fiftydollars

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 03:24 PM

You can replace the Weber water pan with a Brinkman charcoal pan for greater capacity.  I guess cross posts are against the rules so you will have to find your own source.

Jim,

Please elaborate on the water pan swap. I have a WSM and one of my dreams is to be able to go longer than a few hours without having to add water.
Where do I get the brinkman pan?
Is it the water pan or the charcoal pan?

Thanks.

Contrary to what Fifi just said, it is the Brinkman charcoal pan that replaces the Weber water pan. You can order it here. Scroll down about two thirds of the page. Item #812-0002-0

Jim

Jim,

Aw shucks! That pan looks like you’ve made my dreams come true!
Now that's a water pan! Even if it is a charcoal pan...

Thanks again!

#21 jmcgrath

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 09:01 PM

Jim,

Aw shucks! That pan looks like you’ve made my dreams come true!
Now that's a water pan! Even if it is a charcoal pan...

Thanks again!

I should have mentioned that shipping and handling will about double your cost if you order online. If you can find one locally, do so.

Jim

#22 david6340

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Posted 08 July 2004 - 06:53 PM

I long have loved to BBQ on my Weber Genesis but now have decided to go one step farther and purchase a smoker. There is a lobby for electric smokers such as Bradley and charcoal smokers like the Weber Smoky Mountain. Could anybody share their thoughts on either of these ways to smoke?

#23 NulloModo

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Posted 08 July 2004 - 07:59 PM

From what I have heard, the good electrics will make every bit as good a piece of BBQ as the charcoal based ones, and do so in a much more tightly controlled and convenient environment. I think the only downside is the comparitively very high price.

FWIW, I smoked for the first time on a barrel with sidebox style charcoal smoker recently, widely said to be one of the more difficult types to use. While it required supervision and occasional feeding, the process was not overly tedious, and the meat came out quite well. Such a device will hold more than most electrics, dduble as a good charcoal grill, and sells for around $150.
He don't mix meat and dairy,
He don't eat humble pie,
So sing a miserere
And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

#24 fifi

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Posted 08 July 2004 - 08:08 PM

I have had the side firebox style and the WSM. I am now a solid fan of the WSM because I am basically lazy.

Electric, I don't know about. This is totally irrational but electric smokers just somehow seem... um... WRONG. But then, I am a Texan. :raz:
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#25 gperls

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 03:33 AM

I bought a Meco Electric Smoker, based on Cook's Illustrated recommendation, for $80 this year. I've smoked on it a few times so far. So far, it's done very well for me. It holds it's temperature rock solid, with very little fiddling. It's easy to add additional soaked wood chunks to. It has two grates for food. I chose electric cause I knew I wouldn't use a charcoal smoker that you had to stand over alot (I put a whole brisket in to cook overnight while I slept).

#26 karma police

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 07:05 AM

While on this topic, does anyone have any experience with smoker/charcoal grill combo units?

#27 david6340

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 08:47 AM

Linda,
You mentioned you are a fan of the WSM. Is it easy to use? Also a newbie question; does a lot of smoke come out of it while smoking to the point that it would disturb the neighbors or activities in the general area? I wanted to keep it on my deck (Cement floor) for convienence and am concerned that we could not sit on the deck while smoking. Thanks in advance!

#28 bobmac

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 08:57 AM

I had a hand-me-down Redi-Smoker (electric) that I was very happy with (less fussing with heat control) until the heating element bit the dust. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them on the web to replace it for some reason, so I tossed it. Only then did I find I had book-marked their site last year. D'oh!
"Last week Uncle Vinnie came over from Sicily and we took him to the Olive Garden. The next day the family car exploded."
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#29 fifi

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 09:37 AM

Linda,
You mentioned you are a fan of the WSM. Is it easy to use? Also a newbie question; does a lot of smoke come out of it while smoking to the point that it would disturb the neighbors or activities in the general area? I wanted to keep it on my deck (Cement floor) for convienence and am concerned that we could not sit on the deck while smoking. Thanks in advance!

Once you get the hang of the Minion Method (found here) of lighting the thing, get your bottom vents adjusted, the thing just goes on its merry way. That web site is awesome.

The apartment where I am temporarily living is masonry and has a sprinkler system so we can have grills and smokers. As far as smoke coming out... well... I don't know what to say about that. I mean... you are smoking for chrissakes. Most of my neighbors go yum.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#30 col klink

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:06 AM

While on this topic, does anyone have any experience with smoker/charcoal grill combo units?

I have the Smokin' Pro from Chargriller and I swear by it. Though only rarely have I used it for actual grilling. I prefer to smoke in mine with hardwood logs -- it makes far less of a mess than charcoal. What doesn't burn you can burn again and the ashes are good for your garden unlike whatever the hell is left over from burning coals. But you can easily do both, though grilling is far easier than smoking.

To give you an idea of what you have to do to smoke with both a bullet and the above smoker, read my Smoking Meat at Home course. I also talk about how to use a standard Weber kettle for smoking.

For the best flavor versus expenditure of energy, the buttet is your best. Though you can't really grill with it on a consistant basis.

As for electrical smokers, there's just no "love" in what you smoke. In real BBQ, you can taste the "love". The Smokin' Pro has it, the bullet has it and electric smokers for the most part don't. <insert appropriate "love" joke here>.

Of course, I do have to admit the possibility that the meat I've tried that's been smoked in an electric was just in the wrong hands and that in the right hands could be just as good. Though experience would lead me to believe otherwise.