Smokers Vs. Conventional Barbecues – Which is Best?We’re all familiar with the traditional barbecue where food is cooked on a grill above hot coals.But if you’re looking for something a bit different, both in terms of the cooking process andtaste, you might want to consider a smoker.Smokers are becoming increasingly popular with several models available. Producing adistinctive ‘smoked’ taste, the textures and flavours created by smoking are quite different toconventional barbecues. Smokers are particularly good for smoking food such as cheese, a widevariety of fish, certain cuts of beef, bacon, ham and sausages.If you are weighing up whether to invest in a conventional barbecue or a smoker, we’vehighlighted some of the advantages and disadvantages of smokers below. But first, let’s look atexactly what smoking is and how smokers work.What is smoking?Smoking is a cooking technique used for flavouring, cooking or preserving food in smoke. Thesmoke is usually created by burning wood and traditionally smoking was done by farmers andhuntsmen in a specially designed building known as a ‘smokehouse’. Smoking provided apractical way to preserve meat and fish in the days before refrigeration.There are two main methods for smoking food – ‘cold smoking’ and ‘hot smoking’.Cold smoking is carried out at temperatures below 100⁰F and does not cook food but gives it asmoky flavour. This technique is used for giving food a smoked flavour before cooking it usinganother method such as baking, grilling or roasting.Hot smoking provides heat and smoke to both flavour and cook the food at the same time withtemperatures of around 165⁰F to 185⁰F. Once smoked using this method, the food is ready toeat.What is a Food Smoker?For most of us it wouldn’t be practical to build a full-size smokehouse in our back garden butfortunately, we can get the smokehouse experience albeit on a smaller scale, using a domesticsmoker. A smoker is a unit used for cooking food in a smoky atmosphere. Unlike a traditionalbarbecue which is designed to let the smoke escape, a smoker has a lid which traps the smokewhere it used to flavour and cook the food.The smoking process varies slightly from model to model but generally the smoke is createdusing wood chips or wood pellets and a smoke generator. Different flavours can be achieved byusing different types of wood pellet – for example maple or hickory.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a smokerWhether you choose a smoker or a barbecue will depend upon your own personal taste andhow often you like to enjoy smoked food. Here are some things to think about:Advantages of a smokerVersatility: Although the primary function of smokers is to smoke food, many can be adaptedto cook in other ways such as grilling, roasting and steaming. So you may find that investing in asmoker provides you with everything you would want from a traditional BBQ but with theadded convenience of being able to smoke food easily too.Ease of use: If you’d prefer to be chatting to your guests, or relaxing in the sun rather thanslaving over a hot barbecue, then a smoker might be a good option. Once you’ve got theprocess under way, you can leave your smoker to get on with cooking the food without havingto constantly tend to it.Texture: Food cooked in a smoker is often tenderer than food cooked on a barbecue. This isdue to the slow process by which the meat is cooked. Because the food isn’t at risk of burning,it’s also likely to be more succulent.Health: When smoking food you don’t need to add oil to prevent it sticking to the grill, so youcan cook without adding additional fat to the food.Disadvantages of a smokerCost: Traditional BBQs come in all different shapes and sizes and if you’re on a budget it’spossible to pick one up cheaply. Smokers are more specialised and therefore tend to be moreexpensive.Time: Smoking food takes time and so if you are in a hurry or want fast results then a smokerprobably isn’t the right choice for you.Taste: Some people find that food cooked in a smoker can take on a bitter or chemical taste.This often occurs when the smoker is new and can be overcome by ‘curing’ the smoker beforeyou use it for cooking. This means letting it smoke without any food the first time you use it.Smoked food isn’t to everyone’s taste, so investing in a smoker is a good idea if you and yourfamily love smoked food but if you are planning to use it for entertaining, you may find thatsome of your guests would prefer traditional barbecue flavours.
Alternative to a smokerIf you want to experience the taste of smoked food from time to time without investing in asmoker, you can recreate the smoking technique on a traditional barbecue as long as it has alid. The smoky taste won’t be as distinctive as using a smoker but you can still get good results.This method creates a smoky atmosphere within the barbeque using wood chips. First soak alarge handful of wood chips in water for 30 minutes and then drain. Next take a large square oftinfoil and place the wood chips in the centre. Create a pouch by folding the tinfoil over thewood chips. Next punch around 10 small holes into the pouch to allow the smoke to escape.Put the tinfoil pouch onto the barbecue above the hot coals and wait for the wood to startsmoking. Once this happens you can place your food onto the grill rack and close the lid to trapthe smoke.