If you’re really serious about smoking then you may be considering, or have already invested in a smoker oven. In this article we will be giving you an overview of what a smoker oven is, how it works and how to choose one that is right for you.
Unlike drum smokers and regular grills, the smoker oven is a serious piece of kit. It’s generally best suited to a restaurant, individuals who run their own catering businesses, or anyone that has a lot of mouths to feed.
What users of smoker ovens particularly enjoy is that you get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you get to enjoy food that’s been smoked. On the other hand, you get the computer controls, which means you can set things to how you like them and let technology take over and do the rest.
What Is A Smoker Oven?
When you first look at a smoker oven, it actually looks more like a piece of kitchen equipment than a smoker. It is, essentially a thick, heavily insulated box that also has an electrical heating element down below and a place where you can insert woodchips. The woodchips are heated up, causing an intense smoke and heat that gets trapped within the oven. Eventually, when the meat is cooked it will have retained a delicious smoky flavor.
How Does A Smoker Oven Work?
The smoking process begins with the heater that’s located at the bottom of the unit. You have to turn this on and your smoker will begin to go to work for you.
Above the heater is the box to insert your woodchips. The way smoking works is that you don’t want an intense and quick period of burning. Rather, you want a nice, consistent level of smoking for a relatively long period.
The wood chips, when the temperature is sufficiently hot, will start to let off smoke and heat. However, since the oven container that houses everything is well insulated, there won’t be a clear flow of oxygen to allow the woodchips to be ‘on fire’. Therefore, the heat and consistency of smoke within the unit can be controlled.
When the smoker oven reaches the desired temperature, you can load the meat (or whatever it is you plan on cooking) onto the shelves or racks and allow to be smoked. Depending on how much woodchips you’ve inserted into the unit, you may have to top them up from time to time.
Hopefully, your smoker oven will have a decent drip tray installed, in order to catch oil and grease and allow it to run-off. One of the good things about smoking, especially at lower temperatures is that meat doesn’t tend to lose too much moisture if melting temperatures of animal fats aren’t reached.
One of the best things about smoker ovens (apart from their size and cooking capacity) is the computer system. Other grills and smokers largely require you to make a judgment call about temperature, and many items get overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
The smoker oven allows you to set your time and temperature, or follow a program. For example, you can set a cooking temperature of say 220 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 104 degrees Celsius) for two hours, followed by 30 minutes at a holding temperature at say 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius). The thermostat will ensure an even temperature.
The smoker oven is great if you’re juggling many tasks at once. You can set your time and leave your meat to cook while you get to work on veggies, or take care of any other pressing matters you might have – or even take a nap.
Most smoker ovens also come with a meat probe that you can control from the computer system. This makes sure your food is always sufficiently cooked and you have the peace of mind it is 100% healthy enough to be served.
You can even try cold smoking with the unit. This is where the temperature is kept to around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) or lower, adding a highly distinctive smoke flavor to your meat without cooking it too much at all. Food like salmon and salami tend to be ideal for cold smoking, although there are many other items you can try.
Choosing Your Smoke?
While the untrained palette and inexperienced chef may think that all smoke is the same, they’re wrong. A big part of the smoking game comes from choosing what flavor of smoke you want to use. After all, if you’ve made the life-enhancing investment of acquiring your very own smoker oven, isn’t it worth making the effort to ensure your meat is cooked just the way you like it, and to experiment with the smoke flavor profiles that are on offer?
Before you decide on which woodchips to use, it’s important to point out that smoker ovens do not work well with woodchips made from resinous wood. Examples of this include treated plywood or pine. Only stick with the real deal. If you’re new to the smoker scene or you’ve never used woodchips before then here are a few examples of what does work well with a smoker oven:
- Hickory woodchips are especially good if you’re cooking ribs or pork. They tend to lead to quite an intense smoky-bacon-like flavor.
- Cherry woodchips are very popular and are a good all-rounder. Use these if you like to mix up the type of food you cook, or if a smoking session sees you cooking many different items. What’s interesting is that if you use this wood to cook chicken, it somewhat darkens the skin.
- Mesquite is another very popular option. This wood works especially well with beef, as the flavor is nice and earthy. In addition, there are many smokers who also like to use these woodchips with vegetables.
When it comes to the wood, getting this right is like art within an art. Here are some further tips and ideas for you to play around with:
- If you notice that your smoky flavor comes with a hint of bitterness, then there’s a great way to get rid of this. Simply take out your woodchips the night before you’re set to cook and leave them soaked in water all night long. What this does help to achieve is that the moisture aids the process of evenly distributing the smoke throughout the whole of the container. Some smokers will even take this a step further. They soak their woodchips in alcoholic drinks, such as beer or port wine. This can enhance the flavor even further, especially if you know what flavors pair well with each other.
- Try mixing woodchips. This is where you can get creative and try a few different experiments. Eventually, you may fall upon your signature blend that gives your food a distinct and unique flavor.
- If you want a full-on, intense smoke flavor, then you want to have around two hours of smoking time. Most cooks like to do things this way when cooking meat items such as beef brisket, pulled pork, or lamb. For a medium-level smoke flavor, aim for around an hour of smoking time. This level of smoke is especially effective for chicken breast, turkey, and some types of fish such as salmon.
- Finally, if you want to give your food a hint of smokiness to the flavor then you shouldn’t need any more than 30 minutes of smoking time in the smoker oven. Foods such as delicate fish or cheese absorb smoke relatively quickly in comparison to many other foods.
Further tips and what you need to be careful with when using a smoker oven
Always read the manufacturer’s instructions before installing and using. If you buy a brand new smoker oven, you may be over-eager to get smoking. Try and resist this temptation and ensure you know exactly how to use it properly and safely. If you have any doubts then contact the manufacturer directly and ask for their advice.
It’s highly advisable that you only use the unit outdoors, however, it needs to be protected from the harsher elements of nature. A smoker oven produces so much smoke and carbon monoxide that it should only be used outdoors. This is unless there is a special ventilation system.
On the other hand, the smoker oven is a highly sophisticated and expensive unit containing electrical circuitry. Therefore, it’s best to ensure it doesn’t get exposed to the raw elements throughout the year. The optimal place to use a smoker oven is in an outdoor position that is relatively well sheltered. Remember that it uses electricity, so you’re going to have to be able to plug it into the mains.
Then, when you’ve finished using it and it’s been cleaned up properly, a garage is a great place to store it to avoid any potential damage that can be caused by the rain and wind.
Make sure meat is cooked. Always use the probe to ensure your meat has reached the necessary temperature. If your smoker oven doesn’t have a probe, then purchase a cooking thermometer beforehand in order to probe the meat.
As a general guide:
- For chicken and fish, it’s recommended that internal temperature is reached of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) for it to be safe enough to eat.
- For beef, pork, and ham, it’s recommended that internal temperature is reached of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) for it to be safe enough to eat.
Remember to clean your smoker after every time you use it. Obviously, allow it to cool down sufficiently first to risk burning yourself. Take out any racks or trays and wash them separately. Check your manufacturer’s instructions, but it may be best to avoid using abrasive chemicals in the cleaning process.
Also, inspect the oven before each use. If you forgot to clean it last time out, then now is the time to do so. Don’t heat or begin cooking if it hasn’t been sufficiently cleaned. Have a good look on the inside and keep an eye out for any food remains, oil, or grease that has been left over.
Make sure you clean these and get rid of them. If, for example, you try and use the smoker and it already has a buildup of grease from previous uses, the grease will turn rancid and burn, giving the meat a very undesirable hint of flavor. Also, assess if there are any visible signs of damage to the unit. If there is, repair it before further use, or get it fixed by a third party.
Some units don’t get hot on the outside. However, it’s best to be aware of the heat risks when cooking. Ensure any young children in the area are well-supervised and ensure you use appropriate instruments such as heat-resistant oven mitts and tongs when you open the door and need to touch anything on the inside.
When you’re loading up your food onto the shelves or racks, it’s best to try and not allow items to be touching one another. This is because you want the entire surface area of your meat to be fully exposed to the heat and smoke. Therefore, try and make sure there is at least a small gap between each of the items. Good organization is essential here. If you’re adding raw meat when something is already cooking, it’s important to put it on the bottom shelf so that no juice runs down onto the food which is already partially cooked.
A final word
Remember that a smoker oven is quite a significant investment. Treat it like you would treat any heavy duty appliance. If you take good care of it, it can last for a lifetime and will consistently give you a good meal (or banquet). Keep it stored under cover, in a space such as in a garage where it won’t be exposed to rain and harsh weather.
With the combination of real woodchips, and the computer control system, you really do get the best of both worlds with an oven smoker.