Smoker Options & Best Practices

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by djtech2k, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. djtech2k

    djtech2k Fire Starter

    Ok, so I am not really a complete noob at smoking now, but definitely done consider myself a veteran yet :)  This is my second season of smoking.  I originally started with 2 junky smokers, 1 vertical $30 smoker and an older horizontal $100 Char-Something offset smoker.  I started to learn on those, but don't really feel like I ever learned truly how to control the heat properly.  It was always a struggle.

    So after my first trial season, I bought a MES 40 and AMNPS.  I have been using it for about a year and I like it a lot.  The only major concerns I have about using the MES are the temp is a little limited at 275 max, sometimes the AMNPS will stop smoking (so I have to check it regularly), and I do like the flavor of food cooked on real fire/smoke a little better.  Now in saying all of that, I will continue to use the MES a lot and still love it.  All the food I have cooked has been very good.

    Now I am thinking about buying a 2nd smoker.  This smoker I definitely want to burn with "real fire", no gas and no electric.  I would love to have something that is not difficult to keep burning and maintain temps.  I don't need anything huge in size, but am open to anything.  I had heavily been considering buying a WSM, and still am considering it, but I'm not sure.  I am not sure about whether to try to burn mainly wood or try something with charcoal.  Can you burn wood on the WSM or is it just charcoal?  As I remember when I started, the coals provided the heat and wood chunks on top just produced smoke.  When I did it then, any wood I put on the coals burned up quickly.  As you can see, I have concern about what to burn, how to burn it, and how to control/maintain it.  When I started with charcoal, I had to work on it every 30 mins.  I don't want to have to do that.

    I love watching things like BBQ Pitmasters   I see and read so much, but want to apply it at home.  I would consider anything, from WSM to pellet smokers, to anything else.  I want something that's produces good food on a real fire and that will not take all of my time to watch it when I smoke.

    I do not have a specific budget in mind, but cannot get crazy.  I would prefer to stay under $500, but would consider options up to the $1000 ballpark.

    Any advice or suggestions are appreciated!
  2. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    There are many methods of smoking/cooking and each will give a different result.
    If you want to play with fire and don't mind tending a pit, look into stick burner.
    I think the term "real fire" can be a feather ruffler.
    So with that said do you mean you want to cook with wood as opposed to charcoal/or lump or just not propane and electric?
    I like to refer to using a stick burner as "Pit Cooking", when I use my GOSM I like to refer to that as smoking.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2013
  3. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Djtek , welcome to our Family. Hope you enjopy it here and call it home for all your BBQ needs...

    As for a Smoker, I suggest the Horizon (sold at Bass Pro.) heavy to hold heat, needs few mods. to make it efficient and a Stickburner.  Now ,here is some reading that will help in Fire Management.

    Have fun and as always . . .
  4. demosthenes9

    demosthenes9 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Believe he lumped wood burning and charcoal together as "real fire", while electric and propane aren't.  Not even going to get into that debate  :)

    DJ, if you are choosing between a stick burner and a charcoal smoker, the charcoal one would require less babysitting IF you done correctly.  Basically, use the "Minion method" or something similar for your coals and spread the wood chunks throughout.
  5. roller

    roller Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member

    Have u checked out the UDS`s (  Ugly drum smokers ) they use charcoal or lump with wood chunks for smoke hold the temp real good with little babysitting...There is a section on them on here...
  6. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    This is a better pic of a kit.  [​IMG]
  7. djtech2k

    djtech2k Fire Starter

    Thanks for responses so far. 

    When I said "real fire" I basically meant not electric or gas because I already have a MES.  No offense intended either way, but I want  "burning" smoker, whether it be wood, pellets, and/or charcoal.

    So a UDS is a very similar setup to a WSM, right?  So whats the biggest difference between burning wood vs charcoal? 

    I have been looking at a lot of posts in here to gather info on different smokers.  What is the deal with pellet smokers?  I have never used one, but they seem to be a good combo of burning but controllable temps. 

    I see all sorts of smokers on the forums, some popular and some not.  I see everything from Rec Tec to WSM, to Traeger to Lang, etc.
  8. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Last edited: Jun 5, 2013
  9. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    DJ you don't need to apologize it's all good brother...Yes the UDS is similar type of cooker to a WSM but  typically a uds cooks directly over the fire with the drippings going into the fire box and adding additional flavor back to your meat.  Sometimes UDS folks will use a heat diverter to even out heat and catch some drippings from fatty meats like pork shoulders but they aren't necessary.   WSM uses a water pan between the fire and the meat but some WSM owners put sand in the water pan.

    As far as differences between charcoal and wood that's a little more complicated.  Stick burners produce some great flavor and great TBS but there is a learning curve. Cured wood is burned down to coals and there is no need to add wood chunks for smoke. 

    Lump is of course real wood but just burned in an oxygen free environment  and burns very clean, hot and produces minimal ash.  Using lump you'll want to add your wood chunks for what flavor smoke you'd like. 

    Charcoal briquettes (some all natural) some with binders like Kingsford Blue are fine also and give more consistent temps,produce the most ash and burn longer than lump. Some briquettes can have wood fibers combined with them like Kingsford mesquite  but typically you'll still add in your wood chunks when you use briquettes. 
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2013
  10. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    If you go with an Offset, you have the option of Lump, Charcoal and Wood as fuel.

    Cant say for sure but most folks are using Charcoal in a UDS.

    The biggest difference with cooking with wood, vs. charcoal hmmm...Less ash comes to mind, different flavor profiles.

    Charcoal will give you extremely long consistent burns, for wood you will need to learn fire management and burning wood can vary from cook to cook, charcoal is easier, wood is more fun...from my experience.

    I prefer to cook offset, with verticals, everything is stacked over top of each other and directly above the heat source, on an offset (1 shelf) everything sits side by side.

    I also smoke on a GOSM Propane model and love that as well.

    Appetizers, cheese, BB Bacon, Fish, chicken, turkey, beans all are done on the GOSM.

    Butts, Picnics, Ribs, Turkey, Chicken, Beans, Chili are done on the pit.

    If you want the option to burn wood as fuel, the choice is obvious.

    Good luck on whatever you decide and keep us posted.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  11. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Absolutely correct

    I just got a little worried we wore gonna have a repeat as to the "Real Barbecue "debate.[​IMG]
  12. djtech2k

    djtech2k Fire Starter

    Thanks all.

    I am really looking at every option because this will  be my 2nd smoker and possibly the primary one.  I really like my MES, but I don't ever do long smokes like overnight because I worry about the AMNPS burning out.  Plus, it kind of makes me feel like I am cheating at times because its electric.  My smokes have always been good and everyone enjoys them, so the MES will never go away.

    I just want a real "burning" smoker and one that offers me more flexibility, like higher temps.

    So, the WSM has a million reviews and most good.  I am considering it, but I am pushing it to the side because I have heard a lot about it.  I had an old junky offset smoker that I learned with, but struggled keeping temps consistent or keeping the fire going.  I had to tend the fire every 30 mins.  That was bad when I smoked something for 8+ hours lol.

    So what about pellet smokers?  On paper, it sounds like a good solution....burning pellets are wood, plus temp control can be done much easier on some smokers.  Does anyone here have any experience with pellet smokers or have any suggestions for one?

    By all means, please keep all the suggestions or opinions coming.  Smoking has become one of my favorite things to do.  I just want to do more of it!
  13. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Nothing wrong with pellet smokers but if temp control is a biggy to you then an ATC (automatic temp controller)  on a WSM/UDS will do as good or better then a pellet smoker will do.  Heck i'm using my WSM mini right now and it's keeping rock solid temps with no controller.  You've just had experience with cheaper'll be in for a treat with a WSM or drum.  
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  14. djtech2k

    djtech2k Fire Starter


    I have not spoken to anyone with a pellet smoker, so that's why I have been asking about it. 

    So what kind of cost would a good ATC cost and how does it work?  Is that the fan thing that blows air on the fire?  Does it require mods?

    So as of now, WSM and the UDS are the 2 recommendations.  The WSM is definitely still on my list, but I am still looking other good alternatives.  Is there a good single site that has a bunch of various smokers to compare?
  15. djtech2k

    djtech2k Fire Starter

    Also, I have a question about how pellet smokers work.  Is it simply that you load it with pellets, light it, and go?  For example, do the pellets provide the heat and the smoke or do you do something else to provide the smoke?
  16. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Auto Temp Controllers run from $200 or so and up....  they are made for SFB smokers, webers, UDS, you name it... anything that burns charcoal, lump or regular firewood....   a fan blows on the fire, temp is read and the fan speeds up or slows down.... as far as I know...
    Pellet smokers like RecTec have ATC built into them....  adjusts the auger feed and air supply and control the temp....  I think they need smoker grade pellets... I don't think you should use home heating pellets in them...  They sound pretty cool, reading the literature.... 
  17. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    That is not correct on the cost range of the ATC's.   I have a BBQGuru PartyQ that is $ 129 and works for smaller pits, battery operated and portable.  It's a smaller  5 cfm fan but works on a smaller offset i run, kettle, and my UDS great.

    I also have a PitMaster IQ that costs $ 140, it works awesome and has multi speed 15 cfm fan and can handle small to larger pits.

    Both temp controllers depending on what you're cooking will keep your pit w/ in 0-10 degrees plus or minus easily and that's using lump....tighter ranges with KB
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2013
  18. Lets start by saying i own a MES. IMHO if you want something that cooks like a MES but burns something. You don't have to tend to it. My suggestion is BEG or one of the other knock offs. You can get a knock off for $500. Light it dial it in and go to bed. needs no mods. works great right out of the box. very easy learning curve. Will smoke low and slow. or 750 deg.

    I also have a UDS that will hold temp for  a long time hands off.

    The WSM also works great.

    Happy smoken.

  19. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    FWI, morning.....  Sorry I erred.... I chose the manufacturer,s web site to quote.....

    controller $115... Least expensive model... 

    adapter and fan for your specific smoker. $92.....  small universal model

    Extra long temp probe  $6...    

    $213 to start....  plus shipping and taxes, (if applicable as long as we are trying to be very accurate)

    The above was the least expensive complete unit on the manufacturers website.... 

    I suppose other places sell for less.....  

    I suppose I could have searched the web for the lowest price available....  

    Choosing the manufacturer, I thought, was the best option for answering the members question....

    Thanks you for pointing out a less expensive option.... 
  20. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Yea Dave there are many different options that people should know about if they want something less expensive and that works well. If $ is an issue and you want a quality pit with better temp control than an oven THERE ARE PLENTY OF OPTIONS.  Many folks don't need an ATC to control multiple pits such as the Digi Q or Cyber Q (although they are nice!)      The other thing that's important to remember is inclement weather...there was a member that had his Guru ruined by the rain, most controllers have the separate components that you mentioned while others like the PitMaster IQ 110 is in a single unit and can be made rather weather proof.

    This box saved my ATC with in the first week i had it.  


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