With a wide price range and variety of smokers available, choosing a smoker is a matter of style, capacity, and budget.
This type is constructed in layers—a heat pan on the bottom, a water pan in the middle, and one or two grill grids in the next higher layers. A medium-sized bullet smoker can handle up to 50 pounds of food at a time and can cost as little as $30.
Vertical smokers, however, must be tended carefully because most models lack ventilation openings. There is only a small door for loading fuel and the lid. Learning to create updrafts in this type of smoker takes practice. Vertical smoking, though, has the hidden benefit that the layers of food baste each other from the top down. However, rotating the grids every so often from bottom to top is a good idea, although it's rather cumbersome.
Brinkmann, Weber (probably the best air-circulation controls), and Charbroil offer the widest selection of vertical wood/charcoal and electric smokers. Brinkmann offers a great trade-off in the wood vs. electric debate by offering an electric heat coil to convert a wood-burning bullet on the fly.
This type consists of a side firebox and a separate smoking chamber, and it's the type most often used by championship BBQ teams.
The main cost factor is the thickness of the steel used—the thicker the steel, the longer it will retain heat, the more easily the temperature is regulated, and the more efficiently it will cook. The side firebox makes it easier to add fuel and manage the heat and smoke. The firebox can also be used as a grill for direct cooking.
Expect to pay at least $150 or up to $1,500 or $2,000 for a top-of-the-line, heavy-duty smoker designed for home use. But just as some people buy restaurant-quality ovens and kitchenware, serious BBQ-ers buy competition-worthy smokers—and in that case, the sky's the limit!
There are also combination smokers—a side firebox and a vertical smoking chamber, or a side firebox with horizontal and vertical smoking chambers.
Carey Bringle, team captain of the Peg Leg Porker BBQ team, uses both horizontal and combination smokers. His combination smoker consists of a side firebox and a double-wide, side-by-side commercial refrigerator that he had custom-retrofitted to become a wood-fired, electronically heat-controlled smoker.
Brinkman and New Braunfels are probably the most widely available and span the consumer and commercial markets with models to meet the needs of both. Try a search engine and the following key words: smoker, wood, electric, price. You should find a wealth of resources, from mass-marketed brands to hand-crafted smokers (especially from companies in Texas).
Hardcore BBQ-ers wouldn't choose anything else, but it's also the high maintenance method. It takes time to know your smoker and how best to maximize its efficiency.
Only requires chips, pellets, or saw dust for smoking. The heat source is constant and temperature is most accurately regulated.
Combine a robust wood smoke with a sweet top note of a fruit wood or fresh herb—mesquite and apple; hickory and maple; pecan and apple or any fruit wood; oak and cherry or fresh rosemary; or alder and fresh dill.
The briskets we prepared for Aspen were smoked for us by Carey Bringle in Nashville in his retrofitted smoke box. Carey smoked them to our specifications over mesquite and apple wood for up to 20 hours. That's a lot of dedication. You can find the recipe here.
The briskets started out ranging from 9 to 13 pounds. We also sell a 1st-cut Wagyu brisket that weighs about 4 pounds. The main difference is that the whole brisket has a much denser fat cap and marbling. But if you smoke the 1st-cut brisket (or finish it in the oven), be sure to mop it with dedication and each bite will melt in your mouth.
The fact of the matter is that meat takes on most of the smoke during the first 3 to 4 hours. After that it's mostly a matter of cooking low-and-slow until the meat is done.
In lieu of an actual smoker, you can adapt a Weber kettle as a stand-in smoker. That way, you can smoke the meat for the first 3 to 4 hours, then finish it in a roasting pan in your oven and still have a good smoky flavor.
Build the fire on one side of the kettle. On the other side, put a foil drip pan in the bottom. Place the meat on the grill grid over the drip pan. Soak apple and mesquite chips in water for at least 30 minutes before using them. Distribute 3/4 to 1 cup of chips on the hot coals every 15 to 30 minutes, or as you see the smoke begin to thin out. Or get a smoking box for this purpose—a metal box that holds wood chips for smoking and can be found in most stores that sell grill accessories.
When transferring to the oven, double-wrap the brisket in foil (that is: make a crisscross of two pieces of foil large enough to cover the entire brisket. Place the brisket in the middle of the crisscross and fold in the sides—tight at the bottom, loose at the top. This way you can continue to mop the brisket as it cooks, about once every 25 to 30 minutes for a whole brisket or 15 to 20 minutes for a 1st-cut brisket. With the double-wrapped foil, you should be able to capture most of the mop sauce and cooking juices that accumulate in the bottom, which can be the basis of a highly flavorful BBQ dipping sauce.
If you are smoking the brisket over mesquite and apple wood or finishing it in the oven (at 200° to 225°F), you should allow about 1 hour of cooking time per pound of brisket. An internal temperature of 190° to 195°F will get you the fall-apart, juicy texture everyone marvelled at in Aspen.
Absolutely! Here are some of our favorites:
And here are a few additional recipes you can try:
(Sockeye is best in season)