A specialized cooker for the professional and the backyard gourmet is charcoal smokers. Smoking is the process by which meat or fish is slow cooked at lower temperatures (around 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit) with the addition of some sort of wood that gives the food item a distinctive taste, look and feel. Smoking food was originally a way to preserve food as the smoke tends to dry out the water in the food item. Smoke adds flavor as well as tenderizes meats. This is why some tougher cuts of meats, like a brisket, do very well when cooked ‘low and slow’.
In order to smoke meat you need to be able to regulate the heat keeping it constant temperature for the entire cooking time. The time itself may be from an hour to a full day for larger, tougher cuts. Smoking fish may even take days if you smoke at a very low temperature.
A more consistent end product is achieved by using a well designed smoker.
Types of Charcoal Smokers
The low end charcoal smokers are the bullet type smokers such as the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. These cookers are designed simply yet remain reliable both in execution and build. The charcoal goes in the bottom of the cooker, a pan of water can be placed above it both to deliver moisture and keep the temperature in check. There is a vent at the bottom and one in the lid which regulates airflow and hence the temperature of the fire. The more air or fuel for the fire the hotter your fire will be. Most of these smokers have two or three grates in them to be able to layer food items and cook more at once. There is a large door to be able to add more charcoal as you continue to smoke.
The offset smoker is a grill has a box, outside of the grill area, where wood is burnt. This offset cooking draws the smoke and heat over the grill area. This provides offset smoking where the heat source is not directly under the food item.
There are accessories that you can purchase to be able to turn a regular grill into a smoker. I use a Big Green Egg or Kamado style cooker for all my outdoor cooking. Big Green Egg has a kiln plate setter that fits over the fire box to give you offset cooking. There are fan units that you can purchase to fit the kamado or the bullet smokers that will regulate the temperature of your grill so you do not have to constantly watch the smoker. Twenty hours is a long time to cook. The fan allows the user to set and forget.
Commercial smokers are large, custom made and expensive. The commercial smokers deliver consistent product in large quanities.
You do not have to spend a lot of money in order to be able to smoke food items at home. Alton Brown from the Food Network built a smoker with a couple of terracotta pots. Buying commercial charcoal smokers are a good investment especially if you are new to this type of cooking.