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Water Pan in Pellet Smoker: Yes or No?

Each time I put a water pan when using a charcoal smoker and grill, it makes a big difference on the meat. But when it comes to pellet smokers, I was not sure if using a water pan could give me the same result. So, I did some experiments to see if pellet smokers require a water pan as well.

A water pan is unnecessary when using a pellet smoker to smoke meat since pellet smokers are designed differently from traditional charcoal smokers or gas units. Unlike traditional grillers and smokers, where putting a water pan is a must to produce great results, pellet smokers can enhance smoke flavour, eliminate heat spots, and maintain a steady temperature without the help of a water pan.

Even though a water pan is not needed for pellet smokers, some experts still recommend using one. 

Why You Don’t Need a Water Pan in a Pellet Smoker

There are a lot of differences between a pellet smoker and a traditional smoker and griller. Pellet smokers are designed to smoke and perform differently. For instance, pellet smokers are specifically designed to produce great tasting meat by enhancing its smokey taste and juicy meat. 

Pellet smokers can maintain a constant temperature by automatically adjusting the induction fan. As long as the pellet smoker has a dependable burner and good insulation, there is no need to worry about maintaining a steady temperature. 

Since pellet smokers are carefully designed to radiate, hold, and circulate heat effectively, there is a smaller chance of producing heat spots. When it comes to meat flavour, pellet smokers only use 100% wood pellets as fuel, and this means they can provide a strong smokey flavour during the smoking process.

And did I forget to mention, there’s a wide variety of wood pellets available to choose from? These wood pellets can also be mixed and matched depending on the desired flavour you want in your meat. 

Can you still use a water pan on your pellet smoker, though? Well, it all depends on you. The great thing about grilling and smoking is that it can be done in so many different ways, so there is no one correct process to do it. Personally, I don’t use a water pan on my pellet smoker.

As I said earlier, I tried experimenting by smoking the same type of meat and temperature first with a water pan and then without. There’s not much of a difference when it comes to meat moisture and flavour. 

Why Use a Water Pan in a Smoker?

There are many reasons why people use water pans in their smokers, particularly the traditional ones. However, the two main reasons are: the vaporised water can add moisture to the environment, and, it keeps the air temperature closer to the desired temperature. 

Other Reasons Why:

Eliminate Heat Spots

When smoking, placing a water pan can help eliminate heat spots by radiating the heat evenly in the grill. A water pan is particularly helpful when using a gas grill since they typically have cold and hot spots. 

Enhances the Smokey Flavour

When the water starts heating up, the vapour flows around the smoker and blends with the smoke. This process helps keep the meat moist and at the same time, improves the smokey flavour. The smokey moisture sticks to the meat as it wraps around it and penetrates it. 

Acts as a Drip Pan

Another advantage of using a water pan is it can also act as a drip pan. This is the only reason why I sometimes use a water pan in my pellet smoker. It helps prevent the coals from getting damp due to the meat juices and prevents flare-ups. 

When to Use a Water Pan

Again, for pellet smokers, a water pan is not necessary. However, if you are planning to smoke a big chunk of brisket, it’s understandable if you want to use one. Keep in mind that when adding a water pan to a pellet smoker, the meat temperature may be a bit lower because of the evaporative cooling. However, one advantage of this is since the cooking time is longer, it can help make the meat juicier and more tender as the connective tissues break down.

Typically, barbeque enthusiasts use water pans when smoking or grilling using an electric smoker, gas smoker, or charcoal smoker. These types of smokers can dry out the meat and may not produce desired smokey flavour. Also, some smokers use other liquids on their water pan, like beer, apple juice, or wine. I haven’t tried this, but some claim that these liquids can offer aromatic compounds and give new flavours to the meat.

In case you decide to use one, the water pan should be placed directly underneath the meat for traditional smokers. But when using pellet grills, it can be placed anywhere on the smoker, even beside the meat.

How to Keep Meat Juicy While Smoking

Since one of the reasons why people use water pans when smoking is to keep the meat juicy, it is not the only option. There are other ways to smoke meat without drying it out. While pellet smokers normally provide outstanding results, especially on the juiciness of the meat, the tips below will also be helpful for newbie pellet smoker users. 

Meat Matters

Not all meats are created equal. Some are naturally tender while others can be tough as rock. For this reason, it pays to know your meat. The kind of marinade, cooking time, preparation, and even wood pairings will all depend on the type of meat you have. For instance, your preparation and cooking time for a set of baby back ribs will be different when smoking a large-sized brisket.

Dry Rub with Salt

It is no secret that applying a dry rub to meat before smoking produces incredible results. The dry rub adds a delicious flavour to the meat and mixes well with the taste of smoke. Dry rubs can be a mixture of any herbs and spices. However, to keep the meat moist, never leave out the salt from the mix. Adding salt does not only make the meat tastier; it also help holds moisture in while smoking.

Spray Meat While Smoking 

Going back to the first tip, not all meats are the same. Some meats are leaner while others have more fat content. To keep lean meats from drying out while smoking, spraying them with some fat and moisture from time to time during smoking can help retain moisture. While water can do the trick, there are also other things to try. You can use apple juice if you want your meat to be a bit sweeter, or you can mix your marinade or dry rub ingredients to the water. Butter is also a great option since it is loaded with fat.

Let the Meat Rest

One common mistake most people make is slicing the meat as soon as it gets out of the smoker. Doing this will only make the juices spill out instead of being redistributed and absorbed by the meat. When this happens, you will be left with a dry chunk of smoked meat. Letting the meat rest for about 30 minutes before slicing will make it juicier and help enhance the overall taste.

Keep the Lid Closed

Okay, I get it, you may be tempted to open the lid from time to time to check if the meat is cooking right. While this is okay with a regular barbeque grill, smokers do not work that way. It is important to keep the lid closed because if you keep opening it, the heat will be released, which means more cooking time for you and a strong possibility of getting dry meat. So, how often should you check on your meat? At least an hour after you start smoking and about an hour before your meat should be done cooking.

Related Questions

Can you smoke without water pan?

You don’t really need a water pan in a pellet smoker. But some people use a water pan to keep the meat moist and juicy, but it is not really required. Pellet smokers have temperature control, insulation and great wood flavour, so adding a water pan is really up to you.

However, if you choose to smoke without water on other grills or smokers, make sure that you do not leave your meat unattended because cooking without water creates faster smokes and might burn your meat quickly.

Do I need to keep water in my smoker?

Keeping water can help balance out any possible heat spots in your smoker and can help distribute heat more evenly. It helps stabilise the temperature because water temperature takes longer to rise and drop than any other material.

Should I use water when smoking fish?

When smoking fish, it is essential to add water. No matter what type of smoker you have, never forget to add water. Depending on the kind of smoker you’ll be using, most smokers have a water pan located just above the source of heat and should be filled with water. Forgetting this step will result in dry fish.

David Frangos
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