In this article we will give you everything you need to know about barbecues, grills and smokers. It’s for barbecue beginners, first venturing into the vast world of barbecuing, as well as seasoned experts that are looking to switch from grilling to smoking: this is a great place to start!
Is there anything more satisfying than cooking outside, standing over the flames of a barbecue and grilling your dinner just the way you like it?
For previous generations, barbecuing was merely about lighting a fire and flipping a burger or two. Now, there are so many different products on the market and techniques that it can become confusing at the best of times.
The simple gas vs coal argument has long been replaced by more complicated ones, like whether a vertical offset smoker or vertical water smoker can provide you with optimal flavor.
That’s why we are here to break it down for you. After all, barbecuing is about more than just food. It’s a whole process. It is a ritual to be enjoyed. So, it’s important you get the right info to give you maximum enjoyment every time you grill.
What types of grills are there?
While there are many different ways to classify barbecue models, we will make it simple by splitting them into gas grills, charcoal grills, electric grills, and smokers.
A gas grill tends to be the most common type of grill found in backyards. They can be run on propane, or natural gas.
A gas grill is ideal if you want to use it regularly and are short on time. Unlike the barbecuing methods that require a more primitive, fire-building preparation, you just need to turn your grill on, light it and wait a few minutes for the heat to be sufficient.
Some models come with a side burner that allows for you to cook with pots and pans. This is especially useful if you want to cock a side of beans, for example, without having to run back and forth from the kitchen.
The big drawback is in the flavor. Traditionalists and connoisseurs may complain about the lack of ‘real’ smoky flavor, although this comes down to personal flavor preference.
There is a huge price range, depending on what kind of grill you want. If you want a grilling surface that’s easy to clean with a wire brush and distributes heat for highly consistent cooking, then stainless steel bars are a good option.
A charcoal grill features a space to build your own fire with charcoal briquettes. After lighting up, it may take 20 – 30 minutes for the flames to die down and the coals to be glowing nice with a nice, consistent heat on which to cook.
Barbecue purists wouldn’t have it any other way, since being outdoors and building a fire on which to cook is all part of the fun. Also, the charcoal has an authentically tasteful effect on the meat.
This is perfect if you are a traditionalist when it comes to grilling. Also, if you are more of a weekend-griller and have sufficient time on your hands to prepare everything. Also, since burning charcoal creates a higher temperature than gas, you can easily sear your meat.
If you want to get out and barbecue every single day, then you’d probably be better off with a gas option. Apart from setting up coals and preheating, you also have to come back later to clean up and get rid of the ash.
While the traditional Weber style grill is still very popular, charcoal grills come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can even buy disposable barbecues, if you’re planning on taking a trip and want something small and portable for one night only.
If you want to avoid both gas and charcoal, then an electric grill may be your grill. These tend to be safer, easier to use and much less maintenance than the other options. A drip tray will catch any runoff juices and you can control the temperature with precision and ease.
The main disadvantages are that you have to have a source of electricity and you miss out on an authentic BBQ taste since you’re not cooking on fire.
A smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance that can maintain quite a low cooking temperature for a long period of time. Essentially, it produces and contains smoke, allowing the meat to absorb it.
There are a few different options of smokers out there. Here are the basic types you need to think about:
Vertical water smokers tend to be cheaper than other types of smoker and are therefore the most popular. To get an idea of how they work, imagine there are three levels:
- The bottom level contains the heat source, whether it’s charcoal, gas, or an electrical heater.
- The central level is required to control the temperature. A water pan is used here to deflect the heat from the source, while encouraging a moist environment that prevents heat from drying out.
- The top level is the smoking chamber. This is where you’re going to put the meat and allow it to cook.
A vertical water smoker is perfect if you want to try out a smoker without parting ways with too much cash. It’s quite small, efficient to run, meaning it’s quite cheap to actually use it.
The only major disadvantage is that you lose a lot of heat when opening the lid – which you then have to recover. You also have limited control over the temperature, once in use. While it’s the perfect solution to start out with, if you want to take your cooking to the next level and feed more mouths, then you’re going to need something bigger and better.
Offset smokers have two main sections. The larger, main chamber is a grated, metal barrel box and smokestack. Attached on one side is a firebox with a door and adjustable vent. Heat and smoke leave the firebox via a small hole and into the smokestack of the main chamber. It’s difficult to tell if a model is good until you fire it up.
Offset smokers are better suited for more serious folk, or if you’re willing to pay a bit more than with other model types.
While there are cheaper models on the market, you need to make sure they’re well manufactured. Otherwise, stick with the vertical water smoker.
You may also hear the box smokers going by one of its alternative names: vault smoker, cabinet smoker, and block smoker. It’s essentially a single box, with a heat source at the bottom and a chamber for cooking at the top.
Like with the offset, if you want to use a box, you should be serious about using it and be willing to invest in a more expensive model. This is because many of the cheaper versions don’t have the engineering and build quality. They lack the insulation needed and are unable to capture and retain the heat inside the vault.
A box smoker may be more suited to a catering company that wants to invest in something consistent that can produce a lot of meat.
Drum smokers are also known as Ugly Drum Smoker (or UDS). They’ve grown in popularity as they’re quite easy to operate and many versions offer an affordable do-it-yourself project. A lot of models are portable.
The mechanics are simple. There is a steel drum with a firebox at the bottom and a cooking rack on top. You can adjust the temperature by maneuvering the vents that are contained in the lid and base. Your food is cooked directly by the burning charcoal.
One problem is that the system lacks a water pan. Therefore, food can dry out pretty easily while cooking. One way around this, however, is to wrap your food in tin foil to avoid losing too much of the moisture.
A smoker oven is a serious piece of equipment and resembles an oven, more than a smoker. A smoker oven is a highly insulated vault, with an electric heating element below that causes wood chips in an above pan to smolder. Once you’ve placed your meat on the racks above, you can control the temperature using the oven’s computer controls.
Like with the box smoker, you get what you pay for, and it may be much more suited to a catering company or a restaurant than the average casual griller.
If you are intent on owning a box smoker and aren’t afraid to put up the cash, then this will allow you to combine the experience of barbecuing outdoors, while utilizing technology. You don’t have to build any charcoal fires, so operating this smoker can be a relatively low maintenance affair.
These were initially modified from ancient Japanese rice cookers after US servicemen arrived in Japan after the Second World War and wanted a way to enjoy their grilling. After gaining popularity in the 70s, more and more people started to catch on and noticed that the charcoal burning Kamado grill was actually perfect for smoking.
All you have to do is make a modification, by blocking the direct heat with a special plat. Then, by altering the air vents, the temperature is consistent and low enough to provide an optimum smoking environment.
Kamado grills are usually very durable. They are also very versatile. One day you can crank up the heat and cooking on a charcoal grill and the very next day you can turn it into a smoker and create an entirely different meal experience.
The only disadvantage is that they take up quite a lot of space. The Kamado grill is better if you have plenty of space in your yard, and if you have enough cash to spare, since they are relatively expensive as well.
6. Pellet Grills
Another solution for the serious barbecue connoisseur is the pellet grill. Unlike other models, they utilize wood pellets as fuel. The pellets are made from natural hardwood sawdust, which is compacted into small round pieces. They make great fuel for grilling, since the heat output tends to be very consistent, producing a delicious, light smoky flavor.
Like with the smoker oven, the pellet grills are relatively easy to operate, since you can use the computer control system. Some of the more sophisticated models even allow you to set specific temperatures for cooking and utilize meat probes that reduce the heat to a holding temperature after the meat is cooked.
The use of hard-wood pellets give meat an amazing flavor that some individuals claim is far tastier than when cooked with charcoal.
In order to operate a pellet grill, you have to fill a hopper with wood pellets. An auger, which is like a corkscrew, is then turned by a variable low-speed motor. This will draw the pellets into an internal firepot. This is where the pellets burn, generating sufficiently high temperatures that yield smoke.
Pellet grills are serious business and therefore you can expect to pay a lot of money for one.
Since the mechanisms used in the build aren’t static, you can have problems with motor failure, or auger jams that can disrupt your cooking and cost you more money with repair bills. Unlike the Kamado grills, they aren’t anything special when it comes to grilling, so stick to this model if you’re more interested in smoking. Also, they aren’t mass-produced, so the build process hasn’t been perfected.
So, there you have it. A wide variety of options for any up and coming barbecue enthusiast to ponder. Other than the type of model, there are other issues to consider, such as the design and look. You can buy a brick model, that may fit in with the landscape of your garden.
But in our opinion, if you’re just starting out, then a simple charcoal grill, or drum smoker could be your best option.
As you get more serious about grilling your meat and want to look at investing in a better piece of equipment then don’t rush. Talk to your friends if they have a particular model (and get them to invite you over when they’re grilling, of course).
The most important thing is to find the best model that suits both your tastes and your lifestyle. After all, the entire process of barbecuing should be every bit as enjoyable as the taste of the meal you share with family and friends at the end of it all.