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Old 10-01-2007, 03:48 PM   #1
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Electric vs. Charcoal Smoker?

I was at Lowe's and saw the Brinkmann Gourmet Electric Smoker Grill. I am intrigued by this. On some level, it seems like cheating, but it also seems a heck of a lot easier than monitoring charcoal heat all day long. Has anyone ever used one? What are the tradeoffs with using one of these instead of a charcoal smoker?

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Old 10-01-2007, 04:00 PM   #2
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Iíve never used one, but have been very tempted to get one. As long as it has a temperature control so that you can set it to the desired temp, then an electric smoker is super easy.

You simply put a smoke box on the element, and add wood chips every so often. Itís not much different than using an oven, except you get wood smoke. Technically, you shouldn't be able to tell a difference between a charcoal smoker and an electric smoker, especially if you only add pre-lit coals to your fire. About the only downside to one is you donít get the bragging rights of having fiddled with charcoal and a ďreal fireĒ all day long!

Just make sure the thermostat will allow you to set the internal temp to a desired point (225 being optimal). The only real downside I would imagine with an electric smoker is one that didnít monitor the temp of the chamber properly and would turn the element on for too long and allow the heat to get too high. In that case, youíve have to keep an eye on it constantly to monitor the temp and unplug the unit if necessary.....and if you are going to go through that, you may as well use charcoal!
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Old 10-01-2007, 07:36 PM   #3
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Where to begin ..... I've used a Brinkman 'coal fired water smoker for about 20 years - so I'm not knocking their product. It has what IMHO is a design flaw ... there is no way to adjust air flow to control the temp like on smokers made by other mfgs ... but I fixed that by adding my own dampers, and put in a real thermometer in place of the low-med-hot guage that came with it. There used to be a Brinkman User's blog somewhere - we all had the same complaints and we were all happy after we modified our smokers.

The electric version has a 1500 Watt element - no thermostat, no other controls - you plug it in to turn it on ... you unplug it to turn it off. The only place I have been able to find any reference to the temperature it produces is cooking.com - they claim a max of 350ļF ... but I somehow doubt that (Brinkman doesn't even make a temp claim in their manual sp I don't know where cooking.com got their number). And, the average life expectancy for the heating element seems to be about 2-3 years for moderate useage according to people who have them and have been using them for years ... I don't know if that means number of times used per year or based on number of hours used.

The only other negative comments I have seen are from a few people who claim it does't get hot enough to get their food over 145ļF ... but I think this is because they don't understand the differences between wet-heat and dry-heat smoking.

But, the main thing to think about is that this is a water smoker, a moist heat environment - and it's not the same critter as a dry-heat smoker. I think the folks who had trouble getting their meat up to temp simply didn't understand the differences.

THE DOWN SIDE: a water smoker takes longer to cook ... 2-4 times as long.

THE UP SIDE: You put boiling water in the water pan and the heat source below keeps it steaming ... the steam mixes with the smoke, and this constantly bastes the meat - so you get really good smoke flavor without drying out the meat. I've also heard of people adding things like wine and herbs to the water ...

With the electric model you wouldn't have to worry about adding more coals - but you will still need to add more boiling water from time to time.

And, I have sometimes just lined the water pan with foil to catch the drippings, skipped the water, and dry-smoked.

The only really bad experience I have ever had, where I had to give up and finish something in the oven, was one Thanksgiving when I lived in Golden, CO ... I was determined to have a smoked turkey - and it wasn't even close after 18 hours. Of course, the high temp that day was about 14ļF and we had around 20-inches of snow on the ground. Ever try smoking a turkey in a freezer???

The only advice I can give you is to understand what you're getting and what you want it to do. If it fits your needs I think you would be happy with it.
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Old 10-01-2007, 07:59 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael in FtW View Post
THE DOWN SIDE: a water smoker takes longer to cook ... 2-4 times as long.
Hi Michael! I donít know about this one. I mean 225 is 225 whether it be in a dry or water smoke. Heat is heat. For example, ribs, typically 4 hours for me at 225 or so. Iíve done them in both types of smokers and the oven, and no matter the tool, itís always 3.5 to 4 hours for ribs just the way I like Ďem.

I like water smokers because the water pan ďcatchesĒ that first influx of heat. Once the water is to temp (212 degrees) excess heat is funneled to the cooking chamber. The steam helps with smoke basting as well. But, Iíve not noticed a time differential between a dry pit and a water smoker.

As for smoking in the snow, Iíd do it too! However, since the walls are thin, conduction is in favor of the heat leaving your chamber to the less heat dense air. Iíve grilled in ankle deep snow (rare here in Alabama), but smoking is trickyÖ..yet Iíve seen some guys do it but it required an insulating blanket! But that guy was determined!

As for Brinkman coal cookers, they are notorious for needing a mod. But, once modíed, they work as well as other smokers and for half the price. Not bad at all if you donít mind tweaking Ďem! And I donít!
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Old 10-03-2007, 05:34 PM   #5
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Point well noted, keltin .... even if I was trying to smoke on a gas grill I would put a pan of water on the lava rocks.

Mom was bugging me about something and so I lost my train of thought and didn't complete it - I should have said that I had read somewhere that electric water smokers take longer to cook ... but I have no experience with them so I don't know if it is true or not - of if that had been posted by someone who bought one and didn't know what they were doing.

FYI: Mom is 86 and frequently reminds me of what it was like raising four children through their "terrible two's" stage.
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Old 10-06-2007, 06:47 AM   #6
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Technically, you shouldn't be able to tell a difference between a charcoal smoker and an electric smoker, especially if you only add pre-lit coals to your fire.
False. The charcoal does produce reactions that aren't present if you don't use it. Many electric users can't make a smoke ring unless they throw a little charcoal in there. Strange but true and definitely "tell-a-ble" .

I used an ECB with an electric element for several years before I went charcoal. While you can get very good results with an ECB, there's certainly a significant difference in flavor and texture between the two.
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Old 10-06-2007, 06:55 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by keltin View Post
Heat is heat.
Heat is not heat. The medium for the heat has a tremendous impact in how the food cooks because of the medium's thermal capacity and thermal conductivity.

e.g. do you think something would tast the same cooked in an oven at 250o, pressure cooked in water at 250o or cooked in oil (confit) at 250o? Each would finish in a different amount of time and have a different flavor.

Added humidity in the cooking chamber will certainly affect the cooking process.

BTW, when I first got my ECB I didn't know it was a water smoker and smoked stuff dry in there. I finally read online how you're supposed to use em and added the water pan - stuff came out differently fer sure. Some better, some worse interestingly enough. e.g. we liked the salmon better without the water, meat better with.
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Old 10-06-2007, 09:51 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beerco View Post
False. The charcoal does produce reactions that aren't present if you don't use it. Many electric users can't make a smoke ring unless they throw a little charcoal in there. Strange but true and definitely "tell-a-ble" .

I used an ECB with an electric element for several years before I went charcoal. While you can get very good results with an ECB, there's certainly a significant difference in flavor and texture between the two.
False. You can easily get a smoke ring if smoke is present. Charcoal heat is not required. A smoke ring is a function of the smoke permeating the meat, and has nothing to do with charcoal. Iíve seen great smoke rings from commercial electric smokers as well as from homemade electric trash can smokers.

You can get a smoke ring from anything that uses smoke as it cooks the food. It is simply a function of smoke being present relative to time and exposure. Even the table-top smokers and the classic style indoor smokers can produce a smoke ring.

The smoke ring is caused by nitric acid building up and absorbed by the surface of meat. This nitric acid is formed when nitrogen dioxide from the smoldering wood smoke mixes with moisture in the meat. It is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat and has nothing at all to do with your heat source.

How can you possibly think that charcoal is adding anything to this process? Charcoal is simply a fuel. A source of heat. It doesnít add anything to the equation.

Nothing personal, but misinformation is a very bad thing. Please learn the difference. If you havenít been able to get a smoke ring except with charcoal, then Iíd venture to say you have not been using enough wood smoke for enough time in an electric smoker, and the smoke ring you did get with charcoal was coal smoke from the briquettes which is not a desirable smoke ring or flavor.
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Old 10-06-2007, 10:30 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beerco View Post
Heat is not heat. The medium for the heat has a tremendous impact in how the food cooks because of the medium's thermal capacity and thermal conductivity.

e.g. do you think something would tast the same cooked in an oven at 250o, pressure cooked in water at 250o or cooked in oil (confit) at 250o? Each would finish in a different amount of time and have a different flavor.

Added humidity in the cooking chamber will certainly affect the cooking process.

BTW, when I first got my ECB I didn't know it was a water smoker and smoked stuff dry in there. I finally read online how you're supposed to use em and added the water pan - stuff came out differently fer sure. Some better, some worse interestingly enough. e.g. we liked the salmon better without the water, meat better with.
You are incorrect.

Yes, heat is heat. 250 degree is 250 degrees. How you transfer the heat is a different matter. You are confusing a relative measure of energy, temperature, with the transfer of thermal energy. First, thermal energy always flows from a greater concentration to a lower concentration, i.e. from the hot source to the cold spot. Thermal dynamics shows us that there are three ways to transfer energy: conduction, convection, and radiation. Simply put:

Conduction Ė direct contact with the heat source
Convection Ė heat moves through a medium such as a gas or liquid
Radiation Ė energy is transferred in the form of electromagnetic radiation

Once you have a grasp on that, you must also consider thermal conductivity, heat capacitance, and absorbance.

In a water smoker, as is being discussed here, steam is to be considered. The steam, water heated to 212 degrees, will rise toward the meat (convection) and cool when it touches the meat (conduction). This will baste the meat and also impart more smoke particles to the meat. This allows for more smoke permeation and often a moister product. BUT, that steam is only 212 degrees which is considerably cooler than the surrounding air which is the primary medium for thermal energy transfer!

So, the steam will do very little to the total cooking time since the primary medium of thermal energy transfer is still going to be convection through air. The meat is not submerged in water! Water DOES have a higher thermal conductivity than air, but again, in a water smoker, you are NOT submerging the meat in water, and thus the primary means of transfer is the airÖ..and this will be the same in a water smoker or an dry smoker.

Further, air and steam have the same thermal conductivity rating, with steam having a slightly higher thermal capacity. Water on the other hand has a dramatically higher thermal conductance, even higher than oil. Thus water, and that means submerging the food IN water, is the fastest medium of thermal transfer. But again, in a water smoker, you are not submerging the meat, and only steam is present, and steam has the SAME thermal conductivity as air. Also, in a water smoker there isnít that much steam present. It is not a steam cooker, but instead relies on air as the primary medium of thermal transfer. Same as a dry smoker.

As for pressure cookers, water boils at 212 degrees at sea level, and sea level is considered the standard measure of barometric pressure for relative measurements. In a pressure cooker, you change the pressure of the cooking vessel, and as the pressure increases, the boiling point of the water increases. This allows for a higher cooking temperature before water turns to steam. As stated, water has an extremely high thermal conductance, but steam has a very low thermal conductance. Naturally, if you raise the boiling point of water, it will hold MORE heat before turning to steam, and because of its high thermal conductance will transfer this heat more quickly to the food.

Again, nothing personal, but misinformation is a very bad thing.
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Old 10-06-2007, 10:57 AM   #10
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A smoke ring is a function of the smoke permeating the meat, and has nothing to do with charcoal.

Nothing personal, but misinformation is a very bad thing.
Hmmm..

Smoke Ring in Barbeque Meats

"When a smoke ring develops in barbecue meats it is not because smoke has penetrated and colored the muscle, but rather because gases in the smoke interact with the pigment myoglobin. "

THE SMOKE RING (although he looks like he's got some facts wrong).

Myth of the Smoke Ring - Barebecue and Grilling - Zimbio

"This is because it has nothing to do with taste or quality of smoke. It is no more then just a chemical reaction between nitrates and the food. Basically what happens when you are smoking with a traditional smoker, with wood and/or charcoal, you are producing a lot more nitrates then you do with an electric smoker,"

etc. etc. etc. just google it you'll find dozens of sites consistent with the facts.

I didn't say it was impossible to get a smoke ring with an electric smoker. I said: "Many electric users can't make a smoke ring unless they throw a little charcoal in there". I would say that given enough wood chips in there you may get one as well but would probably have an over-smoked BBQ. One of the articles states that gassers are o.k. at rings too.

BTW, putting food on cold helps with the ring too.

Oh, and please stop missinforming the interent
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