I have been an avid barbecue smoker enthusiast for a number of years now for many years before that are very keen griller.
During my grilling days (and rightly or wrongly) I ve always been a charcoal enthusiast. I am not sure that it has anything to do with the purists approach to grilling but more to do with the fact that we all know that boys like to play with fire.
So when it came to buying my first smoker I have to say that my attraction was always going to be to charcoal smoker and in the end my buying decision was to purchase a Big Green Egg. Yes, an expensive choice and yes I was caught by the marketing blurb which incidentally is pretty much true and since my purchase I have been very happy. Happy that is from the chef s point of view but I was still be a little restless about building my own home made smoker.
The cheapest and easiest type of smoker to build on your own is a barrel smoker. If you re lucky you don t even have to pay for the barrel so they are just a few items of furniture such as cooking grates that you need to install before you start of the cookout. Well that s what I thought until I started to cook and I found one fundamental difference and in the way that a gas smoker worked, compared to my charcoal model.
In order to a explain I need to go back to the Big Green Egg.
The ignition of my charcoal smoker would be successful with the opening of the bottom vents at the top draft in order to create an airflow. That would fuel the fire and so provide heat. Once I had reached a temperature of about 300 Fahrenheit I would prepare the smoker for my meat or fish in the smoke chamber, close the lid and concentrate on the upper and lower events. It didn t take me long to work out that if the bottom vent was open by half an inch and the top was open by a quarter of an inch then this will produce a constant temperature of 225 Fahrenheit, the perfect environment for long slow hot smoking. Without further attention I could leave the Egg for a number of hours and relax in the knowledge that my settings were providing just enough air to the system to maintain a fire and the ideal temperature.
My barrel smoker however was going to be fuelled by gas. Quite simply a gas burner with a frying pan on top in which I placed my wood chips, it s not rocket science but it works in a completely different way to a charcoal smoker.
Firstly the heat is generation is pure and simple from the burner, not radiating from the frying pan as I suspected it might be. So what I call the basic temperature control is made by varying the intensity of the burner and the fine tuning comes from the top vent. In the case of charcoal opening the top vent increases the draft which fuels the fire and so increases in temperature, with the gas smoker however the opposite applies. Open the top further and quite simply the heat escapes and so the temperature in the smoke chamber lowers.
Having mastered the technique I m pleasantly surprised how flexible and easy it is to maintain temperature control in my home made barrel smoker. Certainly it is going to be worthy of further experimentation and hopefully it will start me on the way to cold smoking too.