Electric Smokers: 14 Things You Should Know

Milton Greenaway

Electric smokers are a great way to cook food without spending a whole lot of time tending to it. You can get started cooking in less than an hour, and some models have built-in thermometers that let you know when your meat is done. If you’re interested in learning more about electric smokers, this FAQ guide will help you out!

Which rack to use in an electric smoker?

The good news is that with some smokers, there is no difference in cooking time. When this is the case, the top rack is easiest to use, but the bottom rack is great for cooking food where you need a little more height as you can plant the other shelves around it. 

However, a lot will depend on radiant heat. If the bottom rack is exposed to the coals or wood chips then it will cook faster, blocking the top shelves from radiant heat. 

If it isn’t exposed, then heat will gather under the cover and try to get out via the vents. Heat spots can vary depending on the electric smoker, so a little experimenting can be good. The water pan is important when coping with food volume and maintaining an even temperature. 

So, anything that takes longer such as brisket or shoulder should be placed on the bottom rack, with the likes of ribs and sausages that require less time to cook on the top. 

Electric smoker not getting hot enough

There are a variety of reasons why your electric smoker isn’t reaching the desired temperature. To safely cook meat, you’ll need to do a little troubleshooting to reach the usual 250 degrees F that most electric smokers work at. 

The easiest culprit can be the weather. If it is cold or windy where you are smoking, then be wary – wind can suck heat from the smoker, causing the temperature to drop and fluctuate as it tries to increase the internal temperature.

It could be the water pan. This slows down the heating process, so you may benefit from ditching the water and start smoking without it to raise the temperature.

Another common reason the electric smoker isn’t hot enough is because of the heating element. When this isn’t working as it should check for loose plugins to help get you back over 200 degrees F. 

Lastly, it could be down to the thermometer. Check with an oven thermometer and compare readings to see if yours is faulty. 

If none of this helps, then seek the help of a technician who may need to replace the heating element to get you smoking again.

Should I put water in an electric smoker?

Water can be a useful tool for controlling the temperature in your electric smoker when it’s done right. When it’s cold out, add hot water to help bring the internal temperature of the smoker up faster. Alternatively, adding cold water can help keep the temperature at your desired level.

Adding water adds humidity which is important for stopping the outer layer of the meat from drying out. 

So, use water when you want to control the temperature, or when you want to maintain a tasty moisture level.

When to add water to electric smoker

Water is something you can use to your advantage when smoking your meat. If you use water straight away, not only will it help generate heat, but it will prevent your meat from drying out, particularly on the outside. 

Use water anytime you need a steady and constant temperature for a long period, particularly low temperatures that are ideal for smoking meat. This is the same no matter what meat you are smoking so get those ribs, brisket, big bird, or pork shoulder just right and use a water pan.

So, there is never a particularly bad time to add water, and your best bet is to start things off with some in the pan.

Do you put the meat directly on the rack in an electric smoker?

When dealing with high temperatures and plenty of smoke you need to be extra careful. You can place the meat directly on the rack in an electric smoker, but wear a pair of specialist barbecuing gloves before you do as burns are common.

If you don’t want to use the racks, you can use cast iron skillets to hold the meat and place these on the racks.  

How long do you smoke meat in an electric smoker?

The cooking time depends on a few factors; what you are cooking, the size of the meat, and the temperature. 

For example, a brisket can take around 12 – 20 hours to cook at a temperature of 225 degrees F, whereas baby back pork ribs should need around 5 hours at the same temperature. 

Be sure to look up the weight of the meat, cut, and temperature needed before you get started to give you the best chance of smokey success.

Do you need wood chips for an electric smoker?

There are two options for creating that thick, aromatic smoke to flavor your meat – wood chips and wood pellets. Both are great options, although not every brand of electric smoker recommended pellets, so be sure to check or you risk voiding your warranty.

To get that lovely smoke, you do need to use one of the two, but electric smokers can be used as an outdoor oven. If you don’t want a smokey taste, it is possible to use it without chips or pellets but smokers aren’t as well insulated and are designed to work at low heats for long periods. 

This means you aren’t going to have an easy time making a cake, but cooking meat without the smoke is still an option. 

There are several alternatives for smoking food in an electric smoker, so wood chips aren’t essential. 

How do I control the temperature of my electric smoker?

You have a few options here for controlling the temperature, but let’s start with the damper, otherwise known as the vents. 

Flames are fuelled by oxygen, which means temperature settings are generally influenced by airflow. 

The intake dampers at the bottom of the smoker can be opened to their full capacity and allow more air to enter the unit. This will fuel the flames with more oxygen and increase the temperature. Alternatively, close it and you can reduce the temperature gradually. 

With the intake damper a quarter to halfway open, you can maintain low and medium temperatures

Another way of regulating temperature in an electric smoker is to keep the water pan full. From here, water absorbs heat but you may need to refill it every 3 to 4 hours depending on the size of the pan and the smoker. Switch between hot and cold water to raise and decrease the temperature. 

Avoid the temptation to grab a look at the meat as it cooks. Opening the smoker will cause the temperature to drop, and it will have to work a bit harder to bring it back up to the optimal level again. 

Remember that the temperature of your electric smoker is going to fluctuate slightly during cooking but use the above to cook that meat the way you like it.

Is the electric smoker vent open or closed?

Those vents are there for a reason, and the intake damper at the bottom will play a big part in regulating the temperature. The wider it is open, the more airflow which fuels the flames and increases the temperature. 

As a general rule, leave the vent fully open when applying smoke to the meat and leave it quarter to halfway open to cook and smoke when you have found a consistent temperature.

When you have finished smoking the meat, you may want to close the vent and raise the internal temperature to finish the cooking process.

Can you use an electric smoker in the garage?

Electric smokers are seriously versatile, they can cook everything from a steak to a brisket that can take up to the best part of a day, but using one in a garage isn’t recommended. 

An electric smoker can cause smoke damage and ventilation is key to safe cooking. It will be difficult to remove the smell once you have finished smoking, and because you will not have the same ventilated area as you would if you were cooking outdoors, it is not as safe for you and your family. 

The bigger the garage, the safer it can be as more air can circulate but some are specially made for indoor use. Even when using an indoor electric smoker in a garage, you need to have a method for ventilating the smoke to get the carbon monoxide outside.

If you are unsure if your electric smoker is suitable for use in a garage, then it is best to stick to using it outside. 

How to get a smoke ring in an electric smoker

A smoke ring will make you the talk of the grill when slicing the meat but it is the thing of legend for some barbeque lovers who are yet to achieve it. 

Yes, it looks great, but there is questionable evidence to suggest it has any impact on the flavor of the meat. Still, you can influence the way smoke burns into the meat and make a smoke ring more of a possibility. 

For example, the higher the humidity, the more moist the surface of the meat will be. This is better for creating smoke rings. You want a decent amount of oxygen in there so the fuel isn’t smoldering, and more nitric oxide from water-soaked chips. Lower combustion temperatures (when fuel bursts into flames) can create a better smoke ring. 

Remove the fat on top so the smoke doesn’t have to travel to get to the meat and keep it moist by spraying the surface. This will also delay any back from forming until later which is better for forming smoke rings.

Cook at low temperatures for longer. This will allow the smoke to penetrate the surface of the meat and create a smoke ring. 

Keep meat in the fridge until it is time to cook. The low temperature will create more time for the smoke to get into your meat during the cooking process. This helps with the pink color before it’s too late.

Remember that it is trickier to get a smoke ring when using an electric smoker because of the low oxygen levels and high combustion temperature. It’s a challenge, but not impossible. 

How much electricity does a smoker use?

Most electric smokers are not overly expensive to run. You’ll find that they use a similar amount of energy to other cooking methods. An average electric smoker will use around 800 watts per hour, but of course, some will use more, and less than this.

It’s all down to the strength of the element and will vary depending on the brand and model of the smoker. It should cost less than $2 to run an 800-watt smoker for 8 hours a day in most parts, but prices can vary depending on where you live. 

A lot of the time, it works out similar to running propane but again, there are several factors at play including the length of smoking and the temperature it is working at before you can accurately say how much electricity a smoker uses. 

Can you use aluminum foil in an electric smoker?

In terms of safety, using aluminum foil is fine to use in an electric smoker. Use it to wrap meat but be sure to not block the flow of air to the meat and that it doesn’t touch the sides of the unit which can cause it to burn.

It is best to not start the smoke with foil, as this is an integral part of the smoking process that allows the flavor to soak into the meat. Otherwise, be sure to allow the juices to drip into the tray and leave room for the smoke to circulate the meat and you should be fine.

Introduce foil later in the smoking process and you will increase your chances of perfectly smoked meat.

Can you put charcoal in an electric smoker?

Yes, you can add charcoal to an electric smoker. Most units have a tray that is used to hold and burn wood chips, but charcoal can be added there as well. 

The whole point of using an electric smoker is to add flavor and this can be done in many ways. The benefit of using wood chips is that you can change the flavor by using different hardwood. 

This will suit different types of meat but charcoal can add an intense smoke that many will love, it just depends on what you’re cooking.