When I got my first pellet smoker, I was worried about my meat becoming dry. I have been hearing a lot of stories about how pellet smokers can dry the meat out, and to satisfy my curiosity I needed to find out myself whether it’s just a myth or a fact. Here’s what I learned about pellet smokers and ending up with dry meat.
When used the right way, pellet smokers will not cause the meat to dry out. Using the correct temperature and cooking the meat at the recommended time will give the best results. Similar to other types of smokers and grills, any meat that is cooked at the wrong cooking temperature or is overcooked can make the meat dry.
Aside from temperature and cooking time, the type of meat is also a factor to consider.
How Does A Pellet Smoker Work?
A pellet smoker is a type of grill or smoker that uses wood pellets as fuel. The wood pellets are loaded into the hopper that is located just above the cooking chamber. The hopper is responsible for dispensing more pellets when fuel starts to run low.
The auger will push the pellets into the chute directly to the chamber. Wood pellets are then burned in the firepot or burn pot below the cooking chamber. The meat is placed on the grill grates close to the upper portion of the chamber.
Pellet smokers work by warming up the cooking chamber and as the air circulates, it heats the food through convection. As the pellet smoker produces smoke, the induction fan will blow the smoke above and surround the meat. The smoke will cook the meat evenly on all sides even without flipping. However, when searing or cooking at high temperatures, flipping the meat may be necessary.
Airflow controls the temperature of pellet smokers. Heavy-duty fans located at the bottom of the smoker will suck air underneath the cooking chamber. It is the part where oxygen is absorbed by the burning pellets. To lower the temperature, the top lid of the smoker can be opened to allow heat to escape.
Can The Type Of Fuel Affect Moisture Content?
The type of fuel can somehow affect the moisture content of meat. For instance, propane smokers or grills will produce juicier meat. This is because as propane is combusted, it builds more moisture or a large amount of water.
This is why most people used to cooking meat on a propane grill who switched to using pellet smokers find their meat a bit dry. While pellet smoker technically doesn’t dry out the meat, it seems like propane grills make it easier for food to keep its moisture while cooking.
If propane grills provide better moisture content, electric smokers or grills tend to produce the driest meat. When using an electric smoker, it is best to use a water pan to keep the meat from getting dry. The reason why electric smokers can dry out the meat the most is that there is no combustion, thus they don’t produce extra moisture.
Now, let’s talk about charcoal and pellets since both are made of wood. While most may think that these two types of fuel will provide the same level of moisture content having wood as their raw material, they still provide a different result. This is because the production process is different.
Charcoal is the end product of burned wood with low oxygen content. Since a large amount of volatiles was burnt off, the remaining moisture on charcoal is less than 1%. Using charcoal as fuel may offer the same results as an electric smoker. This is why most pitmasters use a water pan to prevent the meat from drying out when using charcoal on a smoker.
Wood pellets, on the other hand, are made of compressed wood and no combustion was done in the process. However, wood pellets normally lose around 15% of moisture in the process because they need to be dried out. But compared to charcoal, there is still more moisture left in the wood pellets.
While it seems like propane grillers provide more moisture during combustion among the different types of fuels, there is still a chance of meat drying up when meat is not cooked properly. Again, there are several factors to consider to keep meat from drying out whether you are using pellet, electric, charcoal, or propane griller.
How To Prevent Meat Getting Dry In A Pellet Smoker
If you are worried about your meat ending up dry when cooking in a pellet smoker, there are some ways to prevent it from happening. Here are some tricks that I learned from my years of experience cooking with a pellet smoker.
Use A Water Pan
Normally, I use a water pan when cooking meat at low temperatures. I noticed that it helps the meat retain more moisture compared to not using one. I simply place a pan or tray with water under the meat. The steam from the water pan keeps the meat moist while it cooks for hours.
I prefer using water pans on poultry meat as they can easily dry out when cooked for a long time. To add flavour to my meat, I experiment with different kinds of liquid such as chicken stock or beer.
Sometimes I also like using aluminium foil while smoking meat on my pellet smoker. I wrap the aluminium foil in the grill grates so it catches the extra meat juices. As the collected juices evaporate, it adds moisture to the meat. Another way to use aluminium foil is by placing the meat in any cookware and covering it with foil. Doing this will marinate the meat while it cooks. Basically, using aluminium foil while smoking meat will collect the meat juices to marinate or evaporate as the meat cooks into the pellet smoker.
Use A Cast Iron Pan
The idea behind cooking with a cast iron pan is almost similar to using aluminium foil. It will catch the fats and meat juices while the meat is marinated and soaked with the juice. This will prevent the meat juices from dripping out of the meat.
Avoid Using Extremely High Temperature
When smoking meat, you don’t need to use very high temperatures. It is ideal to use low temperatures and smoke the meat for several hours. However, be careful how long you leave the meat on the pellet smoker, as leaving it for a very long time may cause the meat to dry out. This is especially true for lean meat such as turkey or chicken.
Before smoking meat, it’s best to marinate it for at least 24 hours. This will prevent the meat from getting dry in the pellet smoker. You can use your preferred marinate but I usually like to add vinegar for a distinct flavour.
Aside from that, the acidic properties of vinegar do not only help keep my meat moist but tender as well. Brining will also work. It is almost similar to marinating, however, it is usually a combination of salt and water only. There is also no need to brine the meat for 24 hours, an hour or two should be enough.
Allow The Meat To Rest
One common mistake that most people do is slicing the meat right after it got out of the smoker. Doing this will not give the meat enough time to reabsorb the meat juices that are usually concentrated in the centre of the meat.
If you cut the meat immediately without allowing it to sit for a few minutes, the juices will only escape leaving you with dry meat. Once you have removed the meat from the pellet smoker, allow it to sit at room temperature.
You don’t necessarily have to wait for 10 to 15 minutes; 3 to 5 minutes will do. You only need to give the meat enough time to evenly reabsorb the juices.
Know Your Meat
Not all meat should be cooked using the same temperature and length of time. Some meat such as chicken dries out easily, thus you can’t use the same level of temperature and cooking time when smoking turkey and briskets.
Smoking meat at a lower temperature over extended periods can make your meat softer. This method is called rendering and it is a very important process to make your meat juicier and tastier. Heating meat for a longer period of time at a lower temperature will make the collagen breaks down and soak up water. The fats in the meat will then melt into the fibres, making it very soft and tender.
Smoking meat for too long can dry out or burn your meat. Make sure that you have the right temperature when smoking your meat especially if you want to smoke it a little longer. Too much smoke will make your meat come out heavy and create an unpleasant flavour. Just remember to put your smoker in lower temperature if you want to cook your meat longer to make them tender and juicier.