What effect has adding ceramic tile, sand, rocks, etc to smoker have?

Discussion in 'Propane Smokers' started by cabrego, Aug 13, 2012.

  1. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    Greetings all,

    I have been running my smoker consistently with a very large water pan filled with water to serve as my drip pan as well as my water pan.  I have noticed that it takes some time for the pit to come up to temp and uses much more fuel than when there is not a water pan.

    I have also noticed that with long over night smokes, if the water evaporates, the temp in the pit goes much higher than I would like.  My smoke shot up to 289 during my last brisket when the water pan evaporated.  I was thinking of ditching the water pan (since it is always humid in south Texas) and maybe adding some ceramic tiles to something similar to try to get better temp consistency.

    Can you share your experiences with this technique?
  2. pops6927

    pops6927 Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    A lot of people fill their pan with play sand, cheap and easily available to hold the temps.  Lay an aluminum pan on top of it to catch your drips.  I don't use that in my smokehouse above the flame, but use drippans to catch everything and change them out frequently.
  3. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    I wonder if that works better than water??
  4. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Cabrego, morning....   Propane makes water when it burns.... a product of combustion.... That may be enough moisture for you....  

    about the water pan....  converting water to steam takes a lot of BTU's..... once the water is gone, there is a lot of extra heat in the smoker.... try smoking without the water pan.... 

    Tiles will add extra thermal mass to the smoker for evening out the temp swings....  be careful to not block the air flow through the smoker... you can overheat the area under the plate and maybe warp something....    

  5. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    I have a GOSM and I dumped the water a long time ago, my pan stays filled with sand. 

    With water the temps were all over the place and like you said as it evaporated the temps would skyrocket. The sand holds the heat and will hold more heat. Water can only get to 212* so if you are smoking at say 230* the water is cooling off your chamber up and you have to use more heat to maintain 230*. Sand can hold that same 230* and help maintain the chamber temp.

    I smoked some pork and a brisket this past Saturday night. I fired it up at 7:00 and by 7:30 I had a constant 230*, when I put the meat in the temp dropped a little (which I expected) so I had to adjust the gas just a hair. After about 3 hours it was creeping back up so I turned it back down. At midnight it was at 233* and I went t bed, got up at 8:00 and it was at 237*. I was very happy! It burned until about 2:30 and I never adjusted it again. I could never have done that with water in the pan.

    Also I kept a log once to see how long a 4.7 gallon tank of propane would last. At average temps of 240* I quit counting after 42 hours! Again I don't think it would have lasted near that long with water!
  6. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    Thanks for the great advice.  I think I am going to experiment with sand next time.

    About how much sand should I use?  There is a built in water pan in my 44 inch smoke hollow, but it only holds about a quart or two of water.  so I don't even bother using that for water.  Would that be enough sand?  Or should I use something else?
  7. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    I think that pan will be fine, just fill it all the way up then cover in foil. 
  8. big lew bbq

    big lew bbq Meat Mopper

    I have a MES 30, and for me to get higher temps and more steady temps, I use the following Terracotta Bottom to a planter pot.  I fill it with sand and cover with foil and place closest to the heat source.  Here is a pic of the Terracotta Bottom I use.

    Hope this helps, If you don't want to use this and sand you can use a Pizza/Cooking stone or bricks.

    Big Lew BBQ
  9. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Disclaimer: This is, my experience with propane GOSM's

    Adding thermal mass will help in heat recovery time.

    I have used Granite and Cast Iron for thermal mass in the past.

    sand will add thermal mass but will not assist in stabalizing the temps at a near optimal smoking temp range as water would.

    The water will add thermal mass and help stabalize the temps at a near optimal smoking temp range.

    I use the water pan for regular smokes, the smoker is designed to use a water pan, it keeps temps stable and will reduce temp spikes.

    Do not add cold water, add hot water.

    The only time I do not use the water in the water pan is when making jerky.

    I use water in my pit as well to catch drippings.

    Many folks have different ways of doing things with great results, so you will need to experiment and find what works for you.
  10. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    I have used water quite a bit in the past and I always seem to have problem regulating temperature spikes, I don't like to continue adding water, and I do not want to have to mess with adding hot water on top of that. 

    I think I will try to fill my water pan with sand and see how that goes.  Now where to find a tiny bit of sand, maybe the pet store....
  11. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    Hardware store, play sand for a kids sandbox. about $3.00 a bag.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
  12. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    just bought some sand the other day at home depot.  3 bucks for 50lbs- I hope I got enough [​IMG]

    I will be smoking a prime brisket in a couple of days!!
  13. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Cabrego, afternoon.....  be sure to rinse it well......  you never know where it's been or who stopped in to use it......   Dave
  14. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Also keep in mind if you use sand or any similar thermal mass then you have to heat that thermal mass from ambient temperature every time.... meaning it will take more time and fuel to bring up to temp. With water you have the ability to pre-heat the water either on the stove or via hot tap water, thus bringing your chamber up to temp faster and using less fuel.

    I personally use water, and have had no issues, but by all means do try your own experiment and see what works best for you.
  15. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    I guess it is not going to hurt to rinse it thanks for the reminder.
    I used water too, but I never preheated it (too much hassle for me).  The only problem I have had is when it evaporates the temp shoots up in the pit, but this is mainly an issue with smokes lasting longer than 6 hours.
  16. I was thinking about exactly the same point when I came upon your post.  But the reality is that you are heating up the water either way, whether with the NG from the stove or the LPG in the cooker.  I ran out of water a couple of times while cooking a brisket this past weekend [​IMG], so it's off to the home store for sand for me!!
  17. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I really for the life of me can not figure out why so many folks do not like to use water and have problems using water.

    Maybe I am of the few.

    Folks say water is messy... but  I would rather clean up spilled greasy water than spilled greasy sand, but then of course we should not be spilling it anyway lol.

    "My water evaporates"... it's supposed to, believe it or not  this is a benefit to using water over sand.

    The original poster said that he had temp spikes because the water ran out, well, fill it back up.

    Folks have no problem opening the door to mop or add wood so add some water.

    It was also mentioned that the temps will increase dramatically when the water runs out, this I have not experienced any significant temp spikes when the water has run dry.

    There's also the point made that it uses more fuel, this may be true but nothing to write home about.. in my experience anyway, but to be fair I only run with no water on jerky.

    There was a comment that "I get temp spikes with water", this I am having a hard time understanding, water actually does the opposite.

    "Preheating water is a hassle"... you don't need to heat it up on a stove, keep your water on top of the smoker in a heat safe container, or use hot tap water!

    Here is a post I have on my website.

    Reasons I use water in the water pan:
    • Directions say to use water
    • Water will help keep the food moist by reducing evaporation from the surface of the meat but will not add moisture.
    • Water will help even out temps and help maintain an optimal smoking temp.
    • Water acts as a heat sink, assisting in heat recovery
    • Moisture in the smoker will help in forming a smoke ring, if you're into that kind of thing.
    • Ease of cleanup
    • Works as a heat deflector and drip pan.
    This isn't meant to ruffle any feathers, I am just trying to understand it a bit more.

    Now with all that said, we are all here to help each other and I think you should try sand to see if that works better for you. but please post your results.

    And to try and better understand this myself, I will be doing some smokes on my GOSM using sand again, because it seems like most folks prefer the sand, who knows maybe I'll convert!
  18. cabrego

    cabrego Smoke Blower

    I am glad you are passionate about using a water pan and it has worked well for you.  In my experience it is a bit of trouble to fill the water pan up, especially when you are running a long over night smoke and you would like to get some sleep, especially if it requires elevating the water temperature to near boiling.  

    And yes my water has run out while I was asleep which is why I believe the temp did rise from 230 to 260 in my propane smoker.  

    For me I am looking for a low maintenance setup that allows my smoker to go as long as possible without my attention and on long smokes water just doesn't meat that criteria.

    Sand is not ideal either, it is potentially more messy than water but it is ok to try different stuff. 

    Tell me how much you like water when you put a 14lb packer brisket in the smoker at 230 degrees at 12 a.m going low and slow with no mop, flip, or crutch :)
  19. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    My water pan holds a gallon of water and lasts quite a long time, I can see why you want to ditch the water for another media. , Done brisket with water no problems.

    I have no problems with a long smoke have sat out all night clocking over 24 hours don't sleep cooking on my pit or GOSM

    But I would like to experiment with other media I would like to try the pea gravel as suggested by a member here.
  20. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    I sleep like a baby with my GOSM running all night long. I have really seen much more consistent temps since I switched to sand in the pan, it will hold 230* all night and all day and I have never spilled it or made a mess, in fact I haven't even moved the pan in months, I keep it covered in foil and use a disposable foil pan on top of it to catch all the drippings.

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