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The basics of smokers so you know what to look for

Smokers come in even a wider range of styles, shapes and sizes. Basically a smoker is like a grill but the heat source is away from the food. If can be way down below like in a vertical water smoker or it can be off to the side like in an offset horizontal smoker. Either way a smoker is designed to keep the heat under wraps. Smokers cook at temperatures around 200 to 250 degrees F. This low and slow cooking method is the secret of true barbecue. Like grills smokers can be gas fires, charcoal burning or electric. Pretty much the same rules apply. Electric is the easiest, but the least authentic while charcoal (or hardwood for real authenticity) is harder to handle but produces better food.

Smokers can be small and cheap units that while challenging to control can still produce fantastic barbecue. Legend says that several major barbecue championships have been won by guys using smokers than cost less than $50. Of course you can also get the large full function barbecue rigs that ride on a trailer and cost thousands of dollars. Smokers are usually metal chambers with a side firebox. They have controllable vents and smoke stacks to let you decide on the temperature and quantity of the smoke. I really have to suggest that if you are new to true barbecue that you start small. Not everyone is up to tending fires for 20 hours to get that perfect pork shoulder.

There are also electric smokers than look like small refrigerators, use wood chips for smoke and are heated by an electrical heating element. These give you great convenience and can produce really great barbecue, but again you pay for all that. These units can be large enough to cook for a small army (or a restaurant) or small enough to handle a family's occasional needs. One of the great things about electric smokers is that you can lower the temperature to cold smoke. Cold smoking is what gives you things like smoked salmon. You can also make jerky in these units easily and without tending a fire for several days.

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