With the constant advancement in technology, especially in the world of grilling and smoking meats, who wouldn’t want to use pellet smokers? I am guilty of using one because pellet smokers make my life much easier and give me the result I want. However, many consider using one to be cheating.
When it comes to competition, the use of pellet smokers is technically not cheating if the rules allow it. However, using a pellet smoker would be cheating if it is a prerequisite to manage fire throughout the smoking process.
What is Considered Cheating When Smoking Meat?
There has been a lot of debate about whether or not using a pellet smoker is cheating. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with using pellet smokers. Who wouldn’t want to make their lives easier?
Many people, especially the purist pitmasters, consider using pellet smokers to be cheating because of the ability to control the temperature. But I can’t really blame them for thinking that way. Besides, traditional smoking is an art and requires a lot of practice, patience, and skills.
When it comes to smoking meat during competitions, cheating will still boil down on the rules. If it was clearly stated that using pellet smokers is not allowed and you still insist on using one, that’s cheating.
If the rules fail to mention the use of pellet smokers but it was clear that managing the fire during the whole smoking process is required and you use a pellet smoker, then that’s also cheating.
Why? Because with pellet smokers, you don’t have to monitor the fire and temperature, unlike with traditional smokers.
The worst type of cheating would be buying ready-to-eat smoked meat and claiming it to be yours.
What Types of Smokers are Typically Used in Competitions?
When it comes to competition, the kind of smoker you use can help you win or lose if you are not careful. If you are planning to join one, here are some of the most common smokers used in competitions.
1. Offset Smoker
Offset smokers or stick burners are the closest to traditional smokers. They have lesser components and gadgets, with most of them having only three sections. These are the smoking chamber, firebox, and smokestack.
The temperature is controlled using two damper vents that can be found on the stack and firebox. Offset smokers use firewood splits and logs as fuel, but you can also use charcoal. However, don’t expect to get the same BBQ flavour that you’ll get on firewood.
2. Gravity Smokers
Gravity smokers look similar to a fridge but with a charcoal chute on its side. This smoker uses charcoal as its fuel. Gravity smokers have a temperature control monitor and a fan. The temperature is set using a control panel, and the fan can be found on the ball valve.
It works by loading a hotbed of charcoals in the chute, then adding fresh charcoal next. More charcoal will drop from above as the hotbed of charcoals keeps burning.
3. Pellet Smokers
Pellet smokers can be in vertical or horizontal forms. This kind of smoker uses wood pellets as fuel. Compared to the two smokers mentioned above, the pellet smoker is the most convenient since you don’t have to monitor it. As soon as you set it, you can leave it alone.
The control panel will do all the work and thinking for you. This is one of the reasons why some people call it cheating when you use pellet smokers in competitions, as there is minimal to no room for mistake.
How to Choose a Smoker
There are different types of smokers, and choosing the right one can be tricky. Whether you want to join a competition or something to use on your grilling sessions with the family, choosing the right one isn’t easy.
One of the things to consider when choosing a grill or smoker is your skill level. While it may sound tempting to buy the ones that professionals or purists use, it may not be a good idea for beginners.
Professionals, especially the purist pitmasters, prefer using traditional smokers or at least the closest they can find, like stick burners. Offset smokers or stick burners may be difficult to use as they need constant attention and monitoring.
Since low and slow smoking is a must, go for a smoker with exceptional insulation. This is particularly helpful when smoking during cold weather. Aside from the good insulation, check for any seals as you don’t want the smoke to escape.
Smoker with gaps will affect the flavour of the meat. Felt gaskets, fibreglass, thick-gauge metal, and ceramics are some of the best insulators on smokers.
With the advances in technology, many smokers today don’t only use charcoal or wood. Now, there are grillers that use electricity, wood pellets, and gas as fuel. Each kind of fuel has its considerations and benefits.
For instance, using an electric smoker is much easier than using charcoal smokers as you don’t have to worry about temperature control. However, smokers that use wood as fuel can offer a better smoky taste when it comes to flavour.
Temperature and Airflow
Maintaining a steady temperature is one of the keys to achieving a good barbeque. For beginners, regulating the perfect temperature can be challenging, but as long as you understand how the temperature control system of the smoker works, then you’ll be good to go.
Airflow is also important as it helps in maintaining the right temperature. Most smokers have vents or damper systems so that the airflow can be adjusted. When choosing a smoker, find where the dampers are located and ensure that they are easy to operate, accessible, and made of high-quality materials.
How To Become an Expert in Smoking Meat
1. Choose the Right Smoker
For beginners, it’s best to use the entry-level ones and then as you get more experienced, you can replace them with a more complicated one. Ceramic unit and pellet smokers are great options. However, if you are aspiring to become a pitmaster, then offset smokers will help you achieve that goal.
2. Use Quality Meats
Learn how to identify fresh and high-quality meats. No matter how great the smoker is or how flavourful the rub and sauce is, if the meat is not fresh or it’s of lower quality, you won’t achieve a perfectly smoked meat. Knowing the different cuts of meat is also essential.
Not all cuts are the same, and some parts are more tender than other cuts. Knowing the different cuts of meat will let you know how long you should cook the meat.
There are different ways to prepare meat for smoking. But basically, you need to learn how to keep your meat tender and juicy. There are several ways to do this such as letting your meat sit at room temperature before smoking, rubbing it with salt, etc. Your rub and sauce can also play an important role in the success of your smoked meat.
4. Right Wood
When using pellet smokers, you can find different wood flavours. Some of the most popular wood pellet flavours are cherry, apple, hickory, and mesquite. Some also mix and match to create their unique smoky flavour. For offset smokers, you can use any log that is available in your area. You can find hardwoods in most hardware stores.
Smoking meat takes a long time to cook so you have to be patient. When using traditional smokers, you need to check the pit at least every 20 minutes. You can set a timer so you don’t forget to feed the fire if you have other things to do while smoking. For pellet smokers, you can set and leave them. One of the great features of a pellet smoker is being automated. You don’t need to add pellets every now and then.
Some competition cooks use pellet smokers. Pellet systems have been penetrating the world of barbecue competitions for the past decade. Pellet cookers are very easy to use during competitions because you do not need to watch the temperature all the time compared to other grills. Thus, making the competition cooks more relaxed during the event.
Pellet smokers are worth buying because they offer a lot of advantages compared to other smokers or grills. The smoky taste of wood pellets is very distinctive, and they give less pungent smoke compared to other grills.
Pellet smokers can provide a natural flavour for barbecues. They are also very convenient and easy to use. They have easy controls and you can start, set, and leave it while you wait for a perfectly smoked meat.
Pellet smokers also take less time to heat up compared to other grills. They usually take only 10 minutes to heat up. Pellet smokers may be a bit more expensive than other types of smokers, but they are made of tough materials and can last for many years, so they appear to be much cheaper in the long run.