Water pans, do you use them and why?

Discussion in 'Fish' started by smokeusum, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I too am a fan of having a dry smoke chamber. I haven't used the water pan in my gas smoker for years. It has been filled with sand and covered with foil. It provides better thermal mass than water (remember water will only heat to 212*). Having the thermal mass in my neck of the woods makes a huge difference when smoking during the winter, or when there is high winds. Really keeps the temp swings down. The first year I used the water pan and always had a harder time controlling the temps in inclement weather. Since I switched it out, I haven't had those issues, and I've never had a dry product. Well there was that Canadian Bacon, but blame there is on the operator not the dry smoke chamber!
  2. maple sticks

    maple sticks Smoking Fanatic

    I use a water pan in my 250 tank. It sits in the chamber a little below and to the side of the fire box. Purpose is to humidify the smokey air passing past it. My thought is what moisture the air picks up out of the water pan will keep it from picking off my meat. Other words I use it not to moisten the mead but keep the meat from being dried out with hot dry air. I go through one cup of water an hour during a smoke. Not much water but I feel it helps.
    smokeusum likes this.
  3. michael ark

    michael ark Master of the Pit

    Can't get more simpler than putting water in a pan. If I see temp start to climb it means the pans empty. Just add water it brings it right down.
    smokeusum, the duster and flynbyu2 like this.
  4. grinder

    grinder Smoke Blower

    I agree with this, completely. I started out using the water pan, as per the instructions. Tried adding different juices and ingredients, to infuse the meat with flavor. Several years ago I read about the sand theory, on this site and decided to give it a try. I didn't notice any difference in the flavor or moisture of the meat and didn't have to keep opening the smoker to add water.
  5. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Okay, I'm gonna weigh in.  I have an electric smoker, a WSM, and a CG w/ SFB.  I added a water pan to the CG to help with temp control.

    I have used the water pan in the WSM but recently switched to sand and everything went find.  I found one huge difference!  Way less clean up!  And since I can tend to the lazy side at times, I really like the less clean up part.  I also hate doing dishes!

    The water pan on the electric, I've used it and for clean up sake I'm gonna switch that to sand too!

    Everyone will have differing opinions on whether or not to use the water pan...choose your method and see what works for you and don't worry what someone else thinks  [​IMG]

    Hey, if your hubby likes your Que that's all the praise you need!

    Good luck,

  6. I am newbie so take from my experiences what you will...

    I have a NB with a SFB. I use an 8'x4' cake pan filled with water between the SFB (I made a heat shield that directs the heat down rather than horizontal) and the cooking chamber. I only use it on pork and beef smokes as I don't want them the meat to dry out too fast! I live at 6,200' and it's a lot dryer here than in most places, so in my experience, using this method creates a moister atmosphere for the smoking (and a messier smoker!). I have not tried the sand method, but I plan on it!

    I cannot say for certain it makes a huge difference as I've not smoked but a few BBR without the water pan and they do turn out awesome either way (using mopping every hour religiously). It was some advice I picked up on some BSR smoke on youtube...I tried and liked the results...even if they're anecdotal on nature!

  7. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Sorry, but from a purely scientific approach that statement is absolutely wrong. The air control is important to chip life but the water content of the wood is far more important smoke-wise in two ways; water content determines how hot the wood CAN burn until all the water is driven off. Lower temperatures produce more smoke. Drier wood produces significantly more heat and less smoke.

    Your system likely runs perfectly on dry wood, but it is far less efficient in smoke production per unit of wood. Trying to beat physics is a tough thing.

    I am a certified wood technologist by education, experience, and desire.
    smokeusum likes this.
  8. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    That may be, but cut open a chunk of wood after letting it soak overnight and see how much moisture is really there.  It doesn't penetrate past 1/16" into the wood, if that.  That water will evaporate in the high heat and will contribute nothing to the length or the quality of smoke.  Chips is a different story of course because they are very thin, but a 30 minute soak isn't enough to make a big difference - this is speaking from experience and experimentation.

  9. the duster

    the duster Fire Starter

    Art and Bill Let me see if I understand.  If I soak the wood longer it will burn longer but it will take more time to get to the thin blue smoke stage due to the water in the wood?  I think that is what I get from your comments.  I have neither experience nor professional training so I am very intrigued. 

    As for the water pan I use it as a heat baffle and I know most here have vertical units but would sand be good for an offset as a heat baffle? 

    Thanks all for your good info and this weekend will not get here soon enough for me to fire up the unit.  Thanks
  10. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Duster, if you are using logs or chunks just burn it dry, because unless you let it soak for weeks the moisture won't penetrate the wood.  I have actually cut open soaked wood.  Wet wood will flash off the moisture (steam) before it starts burning and making the TBS.  If you are using chips, go ahead and soak if you want, it will slow down the burning of the wood as Art stated and it may last longer.  

  11. smokeusum

    smokeusum Smoking Fanatic

    Bill!! Tell him about the sand!!! YES, YES, YES!! These guys taught me about the sand!!

    I made the switch this past weekend and WOW! What a difference!!! I usually fight to stay at temp, this past weekend I had to learn my unit all over again because it stayed at temp! It was nice not jumping up every five minutes to look and adjust the flame because it had dropped dangerously low!!
  12. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Your points are true under certain, very specific circumstances... There are huge differences between woods and how quickly the soak up water. Whiskey barrels are made of white oak, never red. Take a 6" long piece of red oak and try to blow through it from the end grain. If you are a cigarette smoker blow a little smoke through it. You will likely be shocked.

    White oak has a bunch of different stuff plugging those pores which are essentially the same size, just filled with gums, xanthins, tyloses, resins, and lots of other stuff. White oak was often used for building wooden boats for the same reason. I patented a process for drying those difficult hardwoods in the late '70s and it is still used on the west coast. I have spent tons of time looking at hardwoods' mechanical properties in relation to how they respond to water, though usually from the water loss side of things.

    Suggesting water will only soak in 1/16" in 30 minutes is frankly wrong, even with white oak though. Overnight is obviously very different. The biggest mistake you are making though is assuming you see water penetration. Rather than splitting and looking for a colorless bit of water, just weigh it before and after soaking... Different woods will soak up water at different rates, but red and white oak are actually pretty close to opposite ends of that spectrum. Cottonwood is actually used a lot in coastal AK to smoke with... try a piece of it dry if you want to see wood that will flat soak in some water!

    As the water evaporates it takes a lot of heat with it, cooling the wood that is left behind (adiabatic cooling) without changing the amount of heat in the system. Smoke is a function of incomplete combustion. The hotter the burning temperature the more complete the combustion will be. Charcoal is simply wood with the water and lighter ends of the total fuel package burned off to produce higher heat. It is what allowed man to melt iron...

    Have to run to a meeting, maybe more later...
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2013
    humdinger likes this.
  13. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    The temperature you run your fire at will determine how fast wet wood will dry and start to smoke. The amount of water in the wood will determine how hot the actual "burning front" can get. If you run a cool fire the water will evaporate and cool the burn more effectively. The smoke "window" will probably not be as long... Run it too hot and the wood will surface dry faster and start smoking sooner. The wood will burn slightly cooler, but the extra heat will reduce the cooling effect and allow a hotter burning front, therefore less smoke per unit of wood. Get the temperature right and the wood will burn at a relatively uniform rate, produce lots of smoke, and last longer.

    Dry wood will burn faster and hotter, produce less smoke, and require more tending.

    The total heat equation inside the smoker is surprisingly complex and the nature of burning wood, which is a very erratic fuel source, in small controlled burns makes it difficult to make errorless blanket statements. Water (steam) venting from your smoker carries a tremendous amount of heat with it. But things like atmospheric pressure, ambient temperature, relative humidity, and many other variables each bring their own correction factor for calculating burn rates.

    Wet wood produces more smoke than dry under typical smoker conditions. Wet wood burns longer under typical smoker conditions. Wet wood will add heat to the smoker for a longer period of time and at a more consistent rate under typical smoker conditions. Those are facts brought to use by Physics. You may find exceptions, but those are symptoms of a marginal smoker set-up.
    the duster likes this.
  14. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

     Right you are Alicia!!  I switched to sand a few months ago and have been enjoying the switch!  Good steady heat from a mass that doesn't evaporate gives you a much more steady temperature in the smoker.

    Good luck,

  15. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member


    You da man!!!  I can see we will make very good use of your specific talents on this site.  [​IMG]

    Great scientific explanation on the physics of burning wood!  Most of the science we get here has to do with meat's reaction to burning wood.

    I don't want to highjack this thread (tho I think we already did) but would you consider providing some scientific information regarding the best smoking woods, and any other wood information you would like to share?  I think that would make a great thread!!!!


  16. the duster

    the duster Fire Starter

    Hey Bill, this would be a great separate thread.  Just with what Art has shared has given me many ideas of how I may want to alter the way I smoke.  What would a caveman think to hear us talking about properties of wood to cook and maximizing burn times and such?  When all they had was this method and it was put the meat on fire when crispy eat :)
  17. smokeusum

    smokeusum Smoking Fanatic

    Lol, that's because they forgot low and slow -- fire to caveman is like microwave to modern man!

    It's really is amazing how multi-faceted the art of smoking is; we like to think we re-claiming a lost art but we are truly creating a new art based on old school ideas combined with new scientific research!
  18. humdinger

    humdinger Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    For long smokes, like Butts I like to use a hybrid approach. Like Maple Sitcks says above,  "my thought is what moisture the air picks up out of the water pan will keep it from picking off my meat. Other words I use it not to moisten the meat, but keep the meat from being dried out with hot dry air."

    In a more arid setting, the moisture will evaporate out of the meat faster as it cooks than it would in a humid setting (think of sweat on your skin during a humid summer day vs. a dry summer day). I totally agree that sand/pebbles are a better heat sink (temp stabilizer) than water, but I use water to make the chamber more humid for longer cooks where there is higher risk of drying out the meat.

    For pork butts, I use the water pan from the start of the cook to help retain moisture in the meat as it cooks. After reading here on SMF that the "stall" is caused by the meat wanting to "sweat", I then realized that 165F was the temp to pull (or not refill) the water pan, thus making my chamber more arid, and therefore speeding up the sweat evaporation off the meat. (in other words, speed up the stall without foiling)

    I did a totally dry chamber smoke last fall and had a small, but noticeable dryness of the final product throughout. That's hardly a fair sample size so I might try again, but not for any group functions. Also, both of my smokers have a second door for water/wood pans and I believe that has a huge effect on my preference since I can add wood/water without opening cook chamber. Something to consider for the future.

    Lastly, for the record, I never add flavorings to the water. With the exception of maybe strong vinegars, I feel that any flavors infused as steam into the meat would be too insignificant to be worthwhile. Just marinade! [​IMG]
  19. pastorgadget

    pastorgadget Smoke Blower

    IMHO the water pan basic function is as a heat sink. I will try soon using  sand in my pan to see if it works as well as reported by many in the forums. Many complain that they do not get the bark they want but I have not had any problem with bark on my smokes.  The arguement that using a water pan adds moisture and adds to the stall just does not add up. We use foil to get through a stall faster, which keeps moisture around the outside of the meat. The 150-160 stall has to do with evaporation of moisture but on the inside of the meat not the outside.  Moister from a water pan does not penetrate that deep. 

    Just my 2 cents
  20. If you say so!!!!!!



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