While looking around on SMF I see the use of the water/drip pan being used while smoking sausage in the MES. The first batch of sausage I smoked I left the pan in without water and the sausage above the pan did not smoke well. The second batch I removed the pan and all the sausage took smoke great. Is there a reason to leave the pan in?
? water pan smoking sauage
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The pan diffuses the smoke and heat, roiling it around in the smoker and evening things out. Put water in it, and you get 2 benefits: temp stability and moisture to keep things from drying out. Put extra goodies in the water, and some say you will add flavor to your final product.
Were your 2 smokes comparable in time, smoke generation, cook temps, etc? There are a lot of reasons why those 2 batches came out differently.