Last Updated on November 21, 2022
Knowing how to use a vertical smoker is imperative to achieving succulent and deliciously flavored food.
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Vertical smokers are a great choice for those who have limited space in their backyard and want to use less fuel whilst smoking,
but to get the best experience possible you will need to know the types of smokers and the different fuels they use.
In this article, we will take you through a simple guide that will help you achieve this.
Vertical smokers are sometimes referred to as bullet smokers or water smokers, they are distinctive due to their compact shape and size, speedy heat-up times, and consistent cooking performance.
They are also very popular with beginners thanks to their easy functionality.
These units look and feel much like your standard kitchen oven, yet they allow you to enjoy outdoor cooking and achieve deliciously smoky barbecue flavors.
Cooking food on low heat for a long period of time ensures that meat, fish, and veg stay succulent and juicy.
Setting up Your Vertical Water Smoker
No matter what fuel type your vertical smoker uses, they all have a very similar setup. The heat source is always at the bottom, with the cooking racks located above on parallel shelves.
Prepare The Fuel
To use your vertical smoker you first need to prepare the fuel, either by connecting the unit to a propane gas canister, to an electrical supply or by arranging your unlit charcoal briquettes in a pyramid formation at the bottom of your unit.
You can also use a separate charcoal chimney to light a selection of charcoal briquettes first, which you can then add to the main stack. This method aids the heat-up time and is great for heat retention.
Prepare The Wood Chips / Chunks
Adding wood chips or chunks to your smoker will create the clean, delicious smoke that will flavor your cuts of meat.
If you are using a gas or electric smoker you will need to place your wood chips in a smoker box or wood tray. The wood tray keeps them contained and prevents them from catching alight and producing bitter smoke.
A smoker box encourages the wood chips to smolder rather than combust and it also makes cleaning up much easier after your smoking session too!
Simply fill the smoker box with your choice of wood chips and place it on the grate directly above the heat source at the bottom of the vertical design. Soaking your wood chips will prolong their life further since wet wood chips burn more slowly than when dry.
If you are using a charcoal smoker then you can add wood chunks to your charcoal stack at the base of the unit. We recommend soaking the chunks in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use so that they smolder rather than ignite on the coals.
Soaking the chunks in flavored water adds an extra dimension to the taste profile!
Prepare The Water Pan
The water pan sits above the heat source in a vertical smoker and it acts as a temperature regulator whilst also adding moisture to your cooking.
To prepare the water pan, you simply need to fill it to about 3-quarters full with cold water and slide the pan into position. Adding herbs, spices, and juices to the liquid also intensifies the flavor profile.
Lighting Your Vertical Smoker
To light gas or an electric vertical smoker, all you need to do is switch on the fuel supply and the flames will ignite in the base of the unit. It really is as easy as pressing the ‘on’ button on the electric power display or twisting the gas nozzle to light the gas burners.
Lighting your charcoal fire can be a little more complicated. As we mentioned earlier, a great option is to use a charcoal chimney starter to light and preheat a small selection of coal briquettes.
You simply fill the chimney starter with briquettes, add a little lighter fluid, and drop a match into the container. The coals will heat up and turn grayish-white.
Once they are nice and hot, simply pour them into the center of the burn basket and ensure that the cold briquettes are surrounding them on the outskirts of the basket. Heat will travel from the center out gradually.
Adding Food to Your Smoker
Leave your smoker to heat up, until the internal temperature reaches the desired temperature to commence cooking. Most cuts of meat smoke at around 245 degrees Fahrenheit and the cooking time will depend on the size of the cut and the type of meat.
The hot spot in a vertical smoker is at the bottom, so place heavy meats on the lower racks, and lighter meats up top.
The amount of food that you can fit in your smoker will depend on the number of racks and the total cooking surface inside your unit.
Always add meat cold and place it directly onto the cooking racks.
Cold meat absorbs smoky flavor much better than room temperature meat will, and the grill grates mean that juices and drippings can fall down into the drip tray and water pan where their flavor can be incorporated back into the steam and smoke.
Monitoring Your Smoker
The wonderful thing about vertical smokers is that they are largely self-sufficient, and they can be left for hours at a time to slowly smoke your meat without you having to lift a finger.
There is usually a glass window on the front of the cooking chamber through which you can monitor the cooking process, and you can also check the smoker temperature by looking at the external thermometer.
It is important to keep a consistent temperature throughout the smoking process and you can adjust the internal temperature by opening and closing the vents at the top and bottom of the unit.
Opening the vents allows more oxygen to fan the flames, thus increasing the temperature. Whereas closing the vents causes the flames to dwindle and the temperature to reduce.
You can use a meat thermometer to check that your meat is cooked all the way through at the end of the designated cook time.
Different Types of Vertical Smokers
There are three main types of vertical water smokers: electric smokers, gas smokers, and charcoal smokers.
Each type of smoker has its benefits and drawbacks, and the design that is best for you will depend on your own personal preference.
Gas Smoker – Gas vertical smokers are very fast to heat up and are easy to clean since they don’t produce ash or charcoal debris. However, some beginners find connecting the gas to a propane smoker a little difficult,
and the fact that the gas runs out can also be inconvenient and embarrassing if you’re in the middle of cooking for your friends and family so, you need to keep a spare gas tank handy.
Charcoal Smoker – Charcoal smokers offer an authentic smoking experience, and the use of wood chunks creates a delicious smoky flavor. However, coals take longer to heat up and produce lots of ash to clean after each use.
Electric Smokers – Electric smokers are simple and easy to ignite, and they don’t produce any messy ash or debris.
They also don’t run out of fuel or need topping up (like charcoal and gas smokers) and are therefore very low maintenance. However, some users find that they lack the authenticity and fun of other types of smokers.
And there you have it! Once your meat is cooked through, all that is left for you to do is serve it up and enjoy the delicious and succulent results.
We recommend that you clean your smoker’s drip tray, water pan, and wood tray at the end of each use and that you give your vertical smoker a deep clean once every 4 to 5 uses. Happy smoking!