Should I use a water pan when smoking?

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Senior Cook
May 15, 2020
Prior Lake
I want to try smoking brisket in my char griller. My only worry is that my grill has cast iron grill grates and I worry that using water in the chamber could encourage them to rust. Also some smoker enthusiasts say to use sand in their water pan instead of water.

Or is water good for first time smokers as it makes the temperature more even with fewer temp spikes? Do I not need to worry about my grill grates rusting? What say all? (I don't wanna buy a dedicated smoker yet as I don't know if I'll like smoking so I want to try it first before I consider buying an actual smoker if that's necessary.)
I wouldn't worry about the CI grates. Use a wide flat pan to provide a greater surface area for the water. There will be some evaporation. If you're smoking for 12-15 hours you'll probably need to replenish the water.
I've been smoking meats for years, and I have not found a noticeable difference with or without a water pan. The only benefit I can see for a water pan would be for thermal mass, which would help you maintain a more stable temperature, if you are using a grill that wants to fluctuate a lot. You would want the biggest water pan you can fit. Sand or some firebricks would have the same effect.

I do use an apple juice and water "spritz" from time-to-time on brisket to keep my bark from drying out, and also use the "Texas Crutch," once my brisket hits about 160F internal. The Texas Crutch is wrapping the brisket in foil or butcher paper when you get to around 160F (you don't have to be exact). That helps the brisket finish cooking (usually faster) while keeping the meat moist.

Once my brisket is done (a skewer runs though it with almost no effort), I take it out of the smoker and let it rest (still wrapped) for a good amount of time -- I do at least an hour.

Full disclosure: I do use a dedicated smoker for long cooks, like brisket. Even that will fluctuate +/- 10 degrees over a long cook, but that's nothing to worry about.

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My DH uses a water pan and the snake method for the charcoal and wood for brisket. We tried the ATK/Cook's Country method for brisket a few years back and that's the only way we cook it now. Perfectly done and the juice just rolls out when you press on a cut edge
I suppose you just have to work out what works best for you and your smoker.
At least that gives you an excuse to do another brisket.

Personally, I don't really bother with a water pan anymore, but I generally do shorter smokes.
I use the smallest weber smoky mountain.
I have to say I am surprised how well it can keep the temperature as I live in a hot climate and use lump hardwood charcoal ;)

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