When To Use Water In Your Smoker

Water, smoke & fire together

You might not think, or even believe, water, smoke and heat or fire work very well together. Well, you would be wrong. Actually they are very synergetic.

The use of water in your smoker is primarily used in longer term cooking situations where the meat will be in the smoker for hours…not minutes.

The water provides 3 primary functions in your smoker:

Adds moisture, through water vapor, to the cooking chamber as it begins to heat up (assuming you are not actually boiling the water which would be steam). This moisture prevents the meat from drying out in the dry, hot heat of the fire alone.

This moisture, or water vapor, picks up small partials of smoke while traveling in and around the inside of your smoker. When this water vapor touches the meat inside the smoker, it imparts a little moisture to the meat as well as adds the smoke that it picked up on the way from the water pan to the meat, thus adding additional smoke flavours to the meat.

Thirdly, the water tends to act as a ballast on the temperature if properly set up. Say your fire is fairly well contained below the water pan and not much additional heat can get around it. Water can only go to 212°F and thus your cooking chamber will not climb much higher. Sure there could be some radiant heat, but the water acts as a limit on how hot the smoker will reach.

Checking Temperature Of Your Fire

How hot is hot?

Want to determine the temperature of the fire in your barbecue pit or grill and don’t have a thermometer around? There is a general way to test the approximate temperature of the fire using your hands. Yep, your hands.

Ok, we don’t want to stick our hands in the fire, but they are useful in determining the temperature. First of all, let’s determine the temperature ranges we are talking about:

Hot fire – Over 400°
Medium-hot fire – About 375° to 400°
Medium fire – About 375° to 375°
Low fire – About 300° to 350°

Ok, not all folks have the same tolerance to pain as others. So, that is why we are using the “About” language. When testing the temperatures, you will need to hold your open palm at the cooking level of your grates (you might move the grates to another location to perform this procedure).

Hot fire – You will only be able to hold the palm of your hand over the fire for about 2 seconds.

Medium-hot fire – You should be able to hold the palm of your hand over the fire for about 3 seconds.

Medium fire – You should be able to hold the palm of your hand over the fire for about 4 seconds.

Low fire – You should be able to hold the palm of your hand over the fire for about 5 seconds.

So, if you can count up to 5 and can stand the heat….you should have a fairly good idea of the temperature of your fire.

Don’t Add Sauce Too Early

Most sauces contain sugars and/or tomatoes products
Our dads were often not all that sophisticated when it came to outdoor cooking. They would take the meat that their wives had purchased at the butcher shop/grocery store and throw it on the grill without seasoning it very much. That was followed in short order with a thick coat of barbecue sauce.

We’ve all cooked something on the stove with a sugar base and found we had a black mess when we turned our heads for just a second. Sugar moves real quickly from done to caramelised to burned.

The same is true for tomatoes. They burn easily and then you have a mess.

What is the remedy? Simple. For the flavour, season with some dry rubs that don’t contain sugar in the mix (remember, sugar burns). Look at your labels and verify there is no sugar added. Then, after the meat has been cooked or almost cooked, move it to a cooler spot on the grill, add the sauce, and then allow it to finish cooking when it is not directly over the heat/fire.

Don’t over sauce or you won’t taste the meat!

Avoid The Sugars

Learn how sugars will affect your results

Sugars: White sugar, brown sugar, honey, syrups, jellies and many more. Sugars have a very low burning point and cooking over an open fire simply spells trouble for sugars. Some people will use sugar very sparingly with their dry rubs when barbecuing – not over direct heat – to help caramelise the outer crust of the meat for appearance. It is not enough to give it a burned taste. If you really love some sweetness with the meat, use your sugars to make a glaze and add that AFTER you have removed the meat from the grill. All the wonderful flavours will be present without the burned taste.

Loraine Warburton

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