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Do's and Don'ts of water pans.

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

hi everyone,

Just wondering if I can get some advice on water pans.

I have a reverse flow smoker and over the weekend I cooked a boston but.

I am running the smoker at 230 and early on the water pans boil dry.

Meat turned out good but I was wondering if everyone else has their water pans boil dry or wether they keep filling them up or what they do? I was thinking about setting up a big pan inside so that you could fill it from the outside not to keep opening the lid but I thought perhaps it would become to humid? Any thoughts?

Kind regards


post #2 of 15


Ditch the water pan.



post #3 of 15
Morning Benny,
I am by no means an expert , but I have smoked a fair bit and read a ton on this subject ....so I will venture to say that it's ok to let your water pan run dry after a while.
Lots of folks go for what they call a "wet to dry" atmosphere in the smoker to aid in bark formation.
Check out the search bar for more on this.
Now , I cook on a WSM so my experience is based on this cooker.....having said that , I have been convinced that the water in the pan functions primarily as a heat sink and does not , in fact , add moisture to the meat. Depending on whether you share that belief you may choose to keep water in the pan throughout the cook. Just my 2 cents. grilling_smilie.gif
post #4 of 15

I have used a propane powered vertical Char-Broil smoker a couple of times.  The water pan/wood pan sits just above the burner.


In this particular model, low runs about 260 with water in the pan, 325 when the water pan dries out.  I have learned a trick that helps me run at 230, but the problem is still there.  The process of evaporating the water cools down the cooking chamber.  If I put cold water back into the pan, I get a huge temp. swing until the water heats up.

I put a rack above the air outlet that will preheat a pot full of water for the next pan fill up.  


It is possible to set something up to automatically fill the pan up when the level goes down a certain amount.  It is identical in principle to AquaGlobes or a self filling pet water bowl.  


On my electric model I fill the water pan with pea gravel to act as a heat sink to even out the temp. swings as the coil cycles on & off.  Once the gravel gets hot it's pretty steady.



post #5 of 15

After fighting huge temp swings when the water pan boiled dry I filled it with sand and never looked back. I notice no difference in the final product using sand, and my chamber temps are much more stable now.

post #6 of 15
I used six paver bricks slightly spread out on my last cook in place of the water pan. It held temperature so much better, but took a long time for the bricks to come to temp. This is in a propane smoker by the way.
post #7 of 15

There are as many opinions on water pan usage as there are Rub recipes. I too follow the Wet/Dry method with good results. In my MES 2 Cups of water lasts about 2 hours so on a 4 hour Rib cook at 275*F, they are in a moist environment half the time. I add the same with Butts. The water last a little longer at 225*F giving about 3 hours of moisture then I go dry the rest of the cook. Myron Mixons smokers and some other quality built smokers hold about 3 Gallons of water in their pans and are marketed as Water Smokers. The environment is very moist and has a steaming effect on the meat at higher temps. Considering that if water made " that big a difference " then every commercial and home Oven would have built in water pans. So there really is no definitive answer...JJ

post #8 of 15

I have no idea about any other smoker other than my MES 40 with window in door. I used to put Apple juice in the pan, and found that no taste was added. Then I just put water in the pan and found no benefit from that.

For years now I just cover my water pan with foil, and leave it in the smoker empty, because the owners manual says not to smoke without the pan in place.

I don't see a need to put sand in mine either, because I don't have to open my door, due to being able to look through the window, and I don't spritz anything. Also it doesn't take my MES 40 long to get back to my setting after opening the door to foil the meat I'm smoking.


Just my 2 Piasters.




post #9 of 15
Water pans aren't necessary unless you have an electric and want to use the wet/dry method. In many smokers all that is needed is a medium such as a clay pot or heat diffuser of some kind. Electric is a dry heat and propane is a moist heat.. Meats are mostly water so moisture isn't an issue. Wood or charcoal cookers don't need water pans either unless you want low and slow and can't achieve those temps through air control,*** this method will burn more fuel. ***

With regards to windows or peaking there isn't need for either, let your pit temp and meat temp be your eyes.. as well as the color of your smoke.
post #10 of 15

I don't! For years I messed with water in the pan, even rigged up an automatic  gravity feed filler. Then about eight years ago I started smoking with a dry smoke chamber and haven't looked back. No more temp swings and no more worrying about having to fill the water pan. My pan is filled with sand and foiled. Helps maintain the temp when its 2 below zero or windy or rainy or all the above outside!

post #11 of 15

After reading a lot on the subject, which is about all I can go on since I'm just starting out smoking.....I use water in the water pan for most everything, except chickens and fatties which are a foiled only pan. For other meats, I do a wet/dry method.


Anyway.. to me...it's called a water pan for a reason and not a sand/brick or anything else pan. I reserve to change my opinion after a get a few years of doing it my way.

post #12 of 15

I use sand in the water pan of my small home smoker and nothing in my large pull behinds. I usually cook everything hot and fast and never have a dry piece of meat. Plus, butts have enough fat in them they shouldn't ever dry out.

post #13 of 15

I use a clay saucer wrapped in foil placed in the foil wrapped pan in my WSM. (I used to not even wrap the pan)  I find the bark formation is much better on butts and opening the vents to turn up the heat for chicken gets the crispy skin I like.  I've also found it is more fuel efficient this way.  I get nice long low n slow cooks out of a load of lump.

post #14 of 15

I have tried foiled pan with water, foiled pan with a heat sink. In my case an 8 lb cobble stone foiled and I have found that it all depends. I do agree that when the water pan is full of water it is harder to control temps, but if your smoker runs hot, water in the pan will keep the temps down. 


I don't believe water in the pan adds any moisture to the meat as previously stated, so most of the time when I am using charcoal I just use the foiled cobble and foiled pan with no water. When I use propane, I like to have some water and the heat sink in the pan as my propane tends to run a little hot. 


I would say, whatever works best for you is the right answer! Happy Smokin'

post #15 of 15
I have to agree with The Mule on ths one: Ditch the water pan. I have cooked literally hundreds of pounds of meat on my offset over the past few months, have never used a water pan of any sort, and have never had a dry pice of meat. On my larger cuts (brisket, pork shoulders, etc) I will wrap them at the end for a high heat finish which helps keep them moist but there's just something about a paoched brisket that just doesn't sound appealing to me :-)

My .02 and getting change back,
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