Food Smoking Tips

What is a BBQ smoker?

A BBQ smoker is a device used to slow cook food, which is very popular with our American cousins. It involves using the indirect cooking method with the addition of smoke. This is unlike grilling (also incorrectly called barbecuing) which is cooking food directly over charcoal or wood. In a vertical smoker a water bowl sits between the fire and the food creating a barrier between the fire and the food. The benefit of using a BBQ smoker is that you are cooking your meat at a much lower temperature i.e. around 200F and for very long periods of time (up to 16 hours) which tenderises the meat, making it fall apart, tender and moist. The meat is usually marinaded for 24 hours before cooking using a brine or dry rub. Smoke is provided by wrapping wood chips in aluminium foil and placing them directly on the fire. Examples of BBQ'd food are pulled pork and brisket. Needless to say a BBQ smoker can be used to grill meat by rearranging the fire basket and grill so the meat is directly above the coals.

What is a cold smoker?

A cold smoker is made up a container for the smoke and a device for producing a continuous flow of cold smoke and is a process to cure meat and especially fish like cold smoked Salmon

What is Hot Food Smoking?

Hot food smoking is cooking meat or fish using indirect heat and introducing smoke to enhance the flavour. Smoke is produced by smoldering wood chips in a pouch made out of aluminium foil or a smoke box and placing it directly in the fire. Hot smoking can be done in a kettle BBQ, hooded BBQ or Gas BBQ, however BBQ smoker will produce the best results. Hot smoking is a long, slow cooking process at around temps. 100 C. Pork shoulder is best cooked for 12 hours or more and brisket 16 hours or longer. The Americans call it Low & Slow cooking. Hot smoking fish like Salmon is slightly different in that you up the temperature and cook for 20 - 30 minutes.

What is Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking is exposing food to cold smoke to cure or add a smoke flavour. When curing the fish is salted or placed brine prior to exposing to cold smoke smoke. It is an exacting process which will require a good understanding of the principles involved including food safety. Today cold smoking / curing is mainly done on a commercial scale or to add a smoke flavour to foods without curing. These days enthusiasts tend to add cold smoke and then freeze or refrigerate. Popular items to cold smoke are: fish, cheese, bacon, pastrami, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic etc. For more information we have prepared a video on how to cold smoke Salmon.

Is a Food Smoker meant to be Air Tight?

Food smokers are NOT designed to be air tight, this is because heat and smoke are continuously generated - air is drawn in through the bottom vents to fuel the fire and is expelled out the top vent. Spent smoke also exits through the top vent. If you close the top vent the fire will go out due to oxygen starvation and this is when smoke will attempt to exit through any crack rather than the top vent.

What are the benefits of smoking versus traditional BBQ?

Barbecuing is very much a hands on exercise that requires careful timing so that cooking takes place when the fire is just right, not too hot or cold. The food will need to be constantly watched so it doesn't burn and moved around so that the bigger pieces of meat are above the hottest part of the fire. Smoking on the other hand is a leisurely process, you make the fire add meat and then leave it alone. With food smoking you will need to start a number of hours before as it is a longer process, typically anything from 3 - 16 hours depending on what you are smoking. Due to the long cooking times it is not uncommon to start the cooking process the night before as some smokers like the Frontier will last for up to 8 hours on one charge of charcoal briquettes.

What food can I smoke?

All types of meat including Chicken, Joints, Ribs, Brisket, Pork, Fish, Cheese, Garlic,Pepper, Salt, Paprika and vegetables.

What creates the smoke?

Wood chips or wood chunks are used to produce smoke. You will need a container to hold the wood chips or make a pouch out of aluminium foil, add a handful of chips and prick a few small hole on on the top to alow the smoke to escape. Place the pouch directly on the fire. Make 6 or so at a time. You will need no more than 2 - 4 of smoke per smoking session, so if you smoking a brisket for 16 hours, you will need smoke for about a quarter of the time. There are no hard and fast rules so experiment to suit your own preferences.

Can I use my existing barbecue to smoke food?

Yes, but it must have a hood and big enough so the meat does not sit directly above the fire (indirect cooking). A gas BBQ with a hood will also work. Light up to 2 burners and place a metal container filled with wood chips above one of the burners - place your meat on opposite side above an unlit burner.

Where do I put the water bowl?

Water bowls are supplied with most vertical smokers and sit between fire basket and the two upper grills. You can put herbs, beer, wine, brandy, cider in the bowl. They have a dual purpose: to increase the humidity which keeps the food nice and moist and succulent and to provide a barrier between the fire and the food. The water bowl does not have to have water in it - without water meat will be browner and not as moist.

Why Smoke your food?

Smoking enhances food with rich natural flavours. Since mankind started using fire to cook their food they have always enjoyed the unique flavour created by smoke. Slow cooking is done at about 100C for 3 - 16 hours and this makes the meat tender and very tasty. It's all about flavour and tender, fall apt meat.

Do I have to use specially prepared wood?

Yes, you will need to source wood that has not been treated as these chemicals will normally contain toxins that can be harmful. Best to buy wood chips from a specialist supplier. Most supermarket and DIY stores stock wood chips. Avoid wood if you don't know the source or the type of wood for example Willow has harmful toxins.

Do woods give off different flavours?

Yes each type of wood e.g. Oak and Apple each have their own unique flavour, these flavours suit specific meat types (please see Smoking Wood Flavour Chart at the bottom of the page). Hickory is the strongest flavour. You can also create your own blends of wood chips or wood dust.

What is water smoking?

Water smoking is using bowl of water to raise the humidity, resulting in moist, tasty and succulent food. If you BBQ or smoker does not have a water bowl you can substitute with metal bowl half filled with water and placed above the fire. The water bowl in a vertical BBQ smoker also helps to regulate the temperature inside the smoker.

What temperature should I smoke food at?

Temperatures are lower than those used to BBQ and vary according to what meat or fish you are cooking - please see temperature chart at the bottom of this page.

How much smoke do I need to cook?

You can produce smoke for the whole duration of the cook, however the meat will take on most of the smoked wood flavour in the first 2 hours. It is all down your individual preferences, most common would be one hour of smoke in the begining and another at the end.

Do I need special charcoal for food smoking?

Use only the best quality charcoal briquettes. Also consider coconut shell briquettes which burn long and hot - eco friendly option too, otherwise Big K Restaurant Grade Briquettes Charcoal which you can purchase on the internet.

Smoking Temperature Chart

Smoking Temperature Chart

Cold Smoking Temperatures

Food safety is a very big subject, some of it is common sense, but always wise to abreast with the latest do's and don'ts. It is vital that when smoking fish the ambient temperature must be between 12 and 28 degrees Centigrade . When brining your fish the room temperature should be less than 12 degrees Centigrade and fish should be kept refridgerated between 0 and 5 degrees Centigrade before and after smoking.

Wood Flavour Types

Wood Type

Wood Smoking Characteristics


Alder has a delicate hint of sweetness. Great for pork, fish, chicken and wild fowl.


Almond has a sweetish smoke flavour. Good with all meats.


Apple has a mild fruity flavour with a touch of sweetness. Good with chicken and pork.


Ash burns quite fast with a distinctive flavour and slightly sweet. Use with fish and red meats.


Birch is a medium hard wood with a hint of maple. Good with chicken and pork.


Cherry is one of the most popular wood for food smoking. Use with chicken, pork or beef.


Grapevines produce a rich and fruity smoke. Best with chicken, red meats, game and lamb.


Hickory has a sweet and strongish bacon flavour. Good with pork, ham and beef.


Maple has a smokey mellow and slightly sweet flavour. Best pork, poultry and cheese.


Mesquite has a strong earthy flavour and burns very hot. Use with beef, fish, chicken and game.


Mulberry has a sweet smell, bit like apple. Good with pork, ham poultry and game birds.


Oak produces a lovely smoked colour and light flavour. Use with beef, chicken, pork, fish, game & wild fowl.


Orange has a tangy citrus smoke and leaves a lovely golden colour. Use with chicken, pork, fish & game.


Pear has a subtle smoke flavour, a bit like apple. Great for chicken and pork.


Pecan is like hickory, but milder with a nutty taste. Use with beef, chicken, pork and cheese.


Plum has subtle smoke flavour. Great with chicken, turkey, pork and fish.


Walnut produces a heavy smoke - best mixed with lighter woods like apple and pear. Use with red meat

For More information contact For Food Smokers on 01483 550694 –