Water or NO water?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by pinelogpigs, Jan 29, 2016.

  1. I smoke with a MB 44" propane smoker and I've noticed some of you don't use water or liquid in your pan. Can someone explain the pros and cons of using liquid?
  2. tropics

    tropics Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Addition of water to the pan makes your smoker into a steamer.Smoke sticks to dry meat better 

  3. crankybuzzard

    crankybuzzard Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Another reason some use water in the pan is for heat retention to assist in getting the temp back up quickly after you open the door.  Some folks fill the pan with sand and then cover the sand filled pan with foil.
  4. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    I guess I'm in the minority, but I use water in the water pan, but I also have a layer of lava rocks on the bottom of the pan. I think the steam keeps the meat moist & I don't notice any reduction in smoke flavor.

  5. I was trying to figure out where to place my smoke tube.Last smoke it burned really quick (2 hrs). I thought if i didn't have water I could put it in the water pan. I'll just have to come up with some type of shield to make it last longer.
  6. mfreel

    mfreel Smoking Fanatic

    I never use water in my MES 30s or 40s
  7. vegasrc1

    vegasrc1 Fire Starter

    What I noticed with my offset smoker is water helps by keeping the heat down and does make a lot of steam. I use aluminum to catch drippings and I still need a bucket on my drain to catch the water/moisture from the water pan. It does seem to keep meat a little more moist. Only down is moisture might prevent the smoke from penetrating the meat. I might try some ribs this weekend without water OR foil.
  8. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I prefer a dry pit. All I do is foil the water pan for easy clean up. Quite often I put the tube in the water pan when using my gas smoker.

  9. usaftrevor87

    usaftrevor87 Smoke Blower

    I don't think this is entirely accurate. ThiS is not to knock on you or anything, so please don't take it that way. And Without getting into the specifics of chemical bonding, smoke sticks better to wet surfaces, meat, metal, whatever. This is why people spritz their meat when smoking.
  10. tropics

    tropics Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    No prob comes down to what you prefer as some have stated dry.

  11. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    I am constantly looking for sites that show the results of scientific tests. I just found one site that contains the results or various tests relating to moisture in a smoker, and the way the articles are written makes it sound reasonably authoritative. Here is a link to one of three articles I just read:

    Importance of Humidity and Surface Moisture in Smoke Retention

    This is a long article, but here are the summary statements, all of which agree with things I have read elsewhere:
    • Get the smoker smoking before adding meat, and make sure the meat is cold from the fridge.
    • Keep the meat moist with a cold spray (if the smoker is well sealed) or a mop (if its not). If the surface dries out between applications, it may be hard to re-moisten. Just enough to keep it moist- too much, and you will wash off the smoke flavor.
    • A proper water tray will keep the humidity high and the surface moist. The humidity also helps other combustion products agglomerate and deposit as flavor particle bombs.
    • A rough surface (e.g a rub with coarse herbs) will trap more gas and particles than a smooth surface.
    • A smoker with little airflow, like some electrics, create a larger stagnant bubble of air protecting the meat from smoke. Rapid, random air movement breaks up the bubble. For example, as strong convection fan.
    • By the time the meat's internal temperature reaches 150F, you will have incorporated plenty of flavor and even developed a smoke ring- ok to finish off in foil or a conventional oven. Just please, please don't boil your meat into submission- keep the oven's temperature under 250F.
    You really should read the article to see why the author comes up with these conclusions. There is some real science involved. Pretty much everything I have read that is based on science says that surface moisture, whether from spraying, moisture escaping from the meat, or from moisture coming from a water tray, all contribute to increased smoke absorption.

    I also have just read articles at several other sites that describe that historically, before we had electric and pellet smokers that can thermostatically control smoker temps, the water tray was used to keep the smoker temps from changing too quickly so the pitmaster had time to react before things got out of hand.

    Based on this article, plus two others from the same site, I plan to continue to put a cup or two of hot water in the tray to provide moisture during the early stages of the smoke, before the meat is creating its own moisture through sweating, and to spray the meat once an hour until a bark starts to build up. The one tip I got from this site that I had not seen before is that you might get better results starting with a really cold cut of meat, right out of the fridge because the cold helps condense the moisture in the smoker, and that condensate attracts more smoke.

    If you scroll down this page to the "Barbecue & Grilling" sections, there are several other really fascinating (well, they are to me) articles:

    Barbecue and Grilling
  12. westby

    westby Smoking Fanatic

    Acts as a heat sink and keeps temps stable.  This is not needed in all smokers.  Some are plenty stable, not not have run-away temps and do not need the heat sink.  I think electrics and pellet grills are two examples where water isn't necessary as a heat sink.  Many people put sand in their water pans, which acts as a heat sink also (and helps the smoker recover quicker).

    Also helps add moisture and can improve smoke adhesion / absorption (not necessary either).

    If you do use liquid in your pan, I strongly recommend water only.  Juice, beer, wine really don't help much (except leave a hell of a mess after the water evaporates).  If you want to impart flavor of juices or other liquids, I recommend spritzing with them instead.
  13. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    That's pretty interesting stuff! Myron Mixon uses a water smoker.

  14. Very interesting. Sounds to me like we should use water in the beginning and spray or mop after the meat starts to cook NO water. All good info, I was just trying to make my ST last longer. That's why this site is so good, you never know what you'll learn.
  15. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    I did find one more post at that science site I linked to before. This one explains, I think, why most people in this forum say that you don't need to add water to the water tray in your electric smoker, while a handful of people say just the opposite.

    They are probably both right, and also both wrong, but not at the same time.

    Here's the article that leads me to that paradoxical conclusion:

    Dry as A Bone

    The author provides a lot of science about the effects of humidity on cooking times, smoke absorption, and water lost from the food.

    Bottom line, humidity is generally a good thing.

    But, how to get that humidity? And is the water tray the only option?

    Well, he goes through a lot of thermodynamics and basic science to explain what it takes, under different conditions, to create and maintain humidity in an oven, in an offset smoker, and in an electric smoker. For the electric smoker, his bottom line comes out in this sentence:

    "The electric smoker is very humid. They are typically  2-4 cu ft in volume and exchange air 3 times an hour. So they require 3 cu ft *3 changes/hr *0.1 oz/cu ft= 1 oz/hour water evaporation.  Much more reasonable. A 12 lb brisket will lose 25% of its initial weight during a 10 hour cook, or around 5 oz./hour. So the meat juices alone will keep the smoker air moist."

    So, if you are smoking at "high" temperature (225 and above) AND you are cooking a big hunk of meat, then the water pan is not needed once the meat has reached the temperature where it is exuding moisture.

    For food without much moisture, like salmon, or something with almost no moisture, like nuts, a little water in the pan may still be a good thing.

    So, I am coming back to a post I read last fall, just after I first got my MES, where the recommendation was, when smoking a big hunk of meat, to put just enough water in the tray to provide moisture for the first 1-2 hours of the smoke (just a cup or two), and then let it go dry.
  16. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    johnmeyer, this was posted in a thread I did a couple years ago, good info. Glad to see it brought up again. 

    Understanding Smoke Management - updated 12/08/14


  17. paul6

    paul6 Meat Mopper SMF Premier Member

    Here is where I will Respectively disagree , I have used both beer and bourbon mixed with water in the pan on large cuts of meat and achieved the results I was looking for . With that said my ME is more of a toy and I prefer my offset stick burner without any liquid only mopping and spritzing .
  18. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    I just joined the forum in November, so I didn't see that post. I just read it all, and it is fantastic! Thanks for the link.

    I also read a few of the articles you linked to, and was fascinated with the additional information about smoke and particularly creosote. I got enough of that "numbing tingling" feeling from my first smokes that I almost went to the doctor because I lost my sense of taste for over a week. Not pleasant. I still don't think I've got my MES figured out because I'm still not happy with the smoke taste. It may simply be that an electric isn't capable of producing good smoke, even with the AMNPS, or it may be that I need to try the mailbox mod to cool and condense the smoke.

    One idea I got today, while reading articles, waiting for my jerky, and then my salmon, and then my almonds to finish (12 hours of smoking today) was to filter the smoke from a mailbox mod. In that article I linked to (and that you linked to) the author describes the difference between TBS, TWS, creosote, etc., and points out that most of the nastier smoke products produce relatively large particles. He then somewhat jokingly suggests using an electrostatic precipitator to filter out those large particles.

    Well, I thought, I actually have one of those sitting in the attic, and two more in our furnace, with various parts lying around from all the repairs I've done on them over the years (they are not reliable). I could actually put this between the mailbox mod and the MES ...

    I then came to my senses and realized that would be a really dumb idea ...

    ... but ...

    What about Filtrete? This is the 3M material used in high-end disposable furnace filters. They're $10/filter instead of $2/filter for a normal cheap filter. Filtrete is capable of filtering particles between 0.3 and 1.0 microns. According to that article TWS consists of particles several microns in size and these therefore could be filtered. Creosote is even larger.

    So, could I insert Filtrete between a mailbox mod and the smoker, and achieve a "more civilized" smoke?

    I'd need to devise some holder for the Filtrete, and I expect the filter would have to be replaced after every use. Air passes through it pretty freely, so I don't think it would "back up" the smoke. The only issue is heat, but I think that the mailbox mod, along with a few feet of duct, would produce smoke that would be cool by the time it reached the filter.

    I'll keep thinking about this ...
  19. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    BTW, back to the original question: water or no water?

    Today, after I did my jerky and then my salmon, I ended up the day doing smoked almonds at 225 degrees for two hours. I doubled the recipe and so ended up with two full shelves in my MES. The top shelf results were the same as I've gotten before, but the almonds on the bottom shelf burned.


    Well, in retrospect it is pretty obvious to me: I didn't put any water in the tray, and I didn't put anything else in it either. The heat from the heating element radiated directly up through the empty water holder and "nuked" my bottom tray of almonds.

    Moral of the story: if you put things in either of the bottom two tray positions in the MES, and you are smoking at "normal" 225 temperatures or above, put something in that water tray. I suppose I could simply put some water in it and then float some aluminum foil on the top to keep it from evaporating. I wouldn't fold the edges over the top because that would cause the water to drip out into the bottom of the MES.
  20. My smoke vault instructions say to use the tray, so i am going to start out doing so. Now, let me premise that by saying i am an absolute newbie. Trying my first smoke today if the weather holds out. So i may be wrong. But since that is what the directions say, that is how i am going to start.

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