Smokers and Grills

How Do Electric Smokers Work?

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Technology never stops, in every aspect, and as electric smokers become more and more popular. As the smoker world evolves, you might want to. With everything coming up new you might wonder about the new advancements in technology. How do electric smokers even work? Do they work as well as the alternative?

Electric smokers function by having an electric current pass through a heating element at the base which slowly heats wood chips to cook the food of choice in the smoker. This differs from other types of smokers in several different ways, like air flow and temperature control.

Biochemically, meat smoked in an electric smoker is affected in the same way it is in a propane smoker or a solid-fuel smoker, but the differences in the processes can have huge effects on flavor and texture. For a more in-depth look into electric smokers and how they differ from their competitors, and the advantages and disadvantages of going electric, stick around; We’ll be taking a look at all of this throughout this pose.

How Do Electric Smokers Work?

Electricity passes through an element that sits at the very bottom of an electric smoker. The element is usually located just underneath the drip tray. Electricity passes through the high-resistance material that makes up the element, creating heat that travels upwards and through the wood chip pan.

As the wood chips heat, they begin to burn and create smoke. This hot smoke moves upwards, next to a water bath, also known as a water tray. The heat produces vaporized water or steam that also travels upwards. The heat cooks the food while the smoke and steam give it that distinct flavor without drying it.

Electricity passes through an element that sits at the very bottom of an electric smoker. The element is usually located just underneath the drip tray. Electricity passes through the high-resistance material that makes up the element, creating heat that travels upwards and through the wood chip pan.

As the wood chips heat, they begin to burn and create smoke. This hot smoke moves upwards, next to a water bath, also known as a water tray. The heat produces vaporized water or steam that also travels upwards. The heat cooks the food while the smoke and steam give it that distinct flavor without drying it.

The primary difference between electric smokers and other types of smokers is obviously the source of heat. The change in the source of heat can be pretty significant.

Obviously, you cannot control the heat a burning piece of charcoal produces, so you have to manipulate the heat by manipulating the amount of air allowed into the smoker. This gives the fire more or less fuel to burn. This is impactful in the benefits and drawbacks of electric smokers.

Upsides of Electric Smokers

The upsides to electric smokers are ease of use, affordability, and the ability to control the exact temperature of the smoker. With exception of being more environmentally friendly, those are the biggest upsides.

The complete control over temperature is a pretty huge advantage. As I stated before, a traditional, solid-fuel smoker, is heat regulated by air intake. This is an exceptionally unreliable way to regulate heat, so you will always run the risk of overcooking your meal, or being unable to repeat a dish exactly the way you want to.

Of course, easy regulation of temperature is fantastic for cold smoking things like cheese or salmon that don’t take well to being hot smoked. Cheese especially can suffer from being smoked over too hot of a fire. In an electric smoker at a low temperature it is a lot less likely to melt.

Plus, you don’t lose out on hot-smoke either, meaning that you can easily smoke whatever you want using an electric smoker.

Additionally, many solid-fuel smokers are oriented like a backyard grill, with the heat source at one end, so the contents inside heat unevenly. There are ways to address this, but that ends up increasing the cost, and you may have to modify your smoker yourself, the upright nature of electric smokers keeps this from being a problem.

That runs right into ease of use. With an electric smoker, you don’t have to worry about monitoring the temperature or opening the air intake just so. You just connect your smoker to power, set your temperature, and you’re good to go. It is the easiest method of smoking.

Some electric smokers can even connect to your smartphone through bluetooth, meaning that you can check on things like the temperature of the smoker from anywhere in your home and even adjust the settings on your smoker! If that isn’t convenient then I don’t know what is.

And if that isn’t enough, if your electric smoker has good enough temperature controls you can even let your meat smoke overnight while you sleep and have it all ready to cook in the morning. Most smokers can’t easily offer that to you, but many electric smokers can.

The ease comes at a lower price as well. You can find a good electric smoker for $200. If you are looking for a decent solid-fuel burning smoker, you’re looking at at least $500, and that is on the low end. Electric is far more affordable, and can be a great introduction to the world of smoking.

Downsides of Electric Smokers

One of the most significant downsides to using an electric smoker is that it doesn’t offer the depth of flavor that a solid-fuel smoker provides. This may sound like a tale spread by traditionalists to scorn those who try the easier method of smoking, but there is some legitimate scientific explanation for this.

To understand how it is different, we need to understand how solid-fuel smoker produces the unique, delicious flavor that it manages to create. Wood, charcoal, and pellet smokers all burn materials at the heat desired for cooking. When the fuel is burned at that heat, gasses from the different materials are produced, and those infuse the meat being smoked with the notable flavor.

You may be thinking, “You said that electric smokers heat wood chips to create their flavor,” and you would be right, that is exactly how electric smokers flavor their meat. The problem is, the heat of the smoker isn’t coming from the wood, it’s coming from the heating element. The gasses from a solid-fuel smoker are only produced in that way at certain temperatures.

The heating element in an electric smoker doesn’t require oxygen, so there is very little air intake on that kind of smoker. This lack of air keeps the wood chips from burning very hot, which keeps them from reaching the temperatures necessary to create the correct flavor.

In addition to the major problem of flavor, electric smokers won’t be able to get a smoke ring, for the same reasons that the flavor will be sub-par by comparison. They also, again due to the issue of air flow, will have a difficult time getting any sort of crispy crust on the meats smoked in them.

Another downside of an electric smoker is that it isn’t really portable at all. Because wherever it goes it needs to be plugged in, you can’t really take it to the part unless you have some kind of portable battey, and any friends’ houses you bring it to will need to have a free outlet for it.

It also can’t really be left outside. Because of their vulnerability to rain, electric smokers are largely kitchen appliances. This means that not only do you need to store your smoker outside, but you also can’t even really use it outside, which can suck a bit of the fun out of an electric smoker.

Thermoworks Thermapen ONE

However, if you just want to make delicious smoked meat for your family, I wouldn’t worry about these things too much. You can certainly enjoy an electric smoker with your family and friends in your home without any of these problems getting in the way.

There is also the issue of thermometers. Electric smokers have infamously bad thermometers right out of the box, so you may need to buy a new one once you have the smoker in your home. While you will certainly be able to find plenty of uses for a meat thermometer around your home, you might not want to spend money on one when you’ve already bought a whole smoker so recently.

Is It Better Environmentally?

Of course smoking can be bad for the environment especially if you’re using a gas or coal fueled smoker. The question of whether you can ever personally burn enough of these things to have any effect on the environment compared to the megacoroprations that to 90% of the world’s pollution is one that someone else should probably answer.

However, coal and natural gas both release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they burn. In the case of gasses like propane, there can be even more different chemicals released into the air.

Insofar as powering your electric smoker doesn’t involve burning either coal or natural gas, it is more environmentally friendly.

Unfortunately, if you live in the United States, most electricity is produced in power plants that burn either coal or natural gas anyways, so the amount of pullution you save from being sent into the atmosphere may not actually be very big at all.

On the other hand, electric smokers use hardly any electricity at all. It has been estimated that it would only cost about twenty-five cents a month to have one running 24/7.

I’m not sure what the rate is for most power plants when it comes to killowat hours to pollutents released, but if you’re using that small of an amount of electricity you aren’t likely to be doing much to hurt the atmosphere.

Obviously, this is probably way better than burning a lump of coal when it comes to your carbon footprint. Ultimately, it is still better if you have access to renewable or nuclear power to use that, but it is still a real improvement over anything else. But how does the electric smoker stand when it comes to recyclability?

Disposing of large appliances can be difficult, and this is as true for different kinds of smokers as it is for anything else. Fortunately, most kinds of smokers can be recycled once they’ve ended their life cycle. This includes electric smokers!

So under some circumstances electric smokers are a lot better for the environment, but most of the time they aren’t materially different from any other smoker.

How Much Do Electric Smokers Cost?

the upfront costs of an electric counter is comparatively quite low, and even the relatively cheap ones tend to be fairly nice. However, I would certainly suggest that you spring for one that’s at least toward the middle of the market.

They tend to start around two-hundred dollars for an especially cheap model, and they go up to a bit over a thousand for a model that doubles as an electric grill. I would look for a good electric in the range between thre-hundred and six-hundred dollars.

As mentioned earlier, the cost of actually running the smoker is pretty low. They only need a tiny amount of electricity to do their job quite well, especially if they’re a smaller model. However, there is another part to the cost of fuel: wood chips.

Like anything good in this world, wood chips have a fairly wide range of prices. At a hardware store, wood chips can cost between three and fifteen dollars for a couple pounds depending on the quality of the wood. You can also order huge boxes of wood chips online, although they might be more for decoration than smoking.

Either way, you don’t need a huge amount of wood chips to run the smoker long enough to smoke meat, meaning that it costs less than a dollar each time you use your electric smoker to smoke food. That’s a pretty great deal compared to a charcoal smoker!

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