Digital Smoking 101

If you love monitoring your cooks, tending the fire and managing smoke levels, you probably prefer a traditional offset smoker. But if you just want delicious smoky food at home without all the work, a digital electric smoker is the way to go. Electric smokers monitor and regulate the temperature during the long smoking process, freeing you up to do other things while you wait. All you have to do is season your food and set the time & temperature.

Setting up Your Smoker for the First Use

Before you use it for the first time, you need to season your electric smoker. Seasoning means running the smoker with no food inside to burn off dust, odors and residue from the manufacturing process. Rub all interior surfaces, including the racks, with cooking oil. Then, plug the smoker in and turn it on. Press the power button to put your smoker in standby mode. Program your target time and temperature settings and it will begin to preheat. Set the temperature between 250 and 275°F and the time for 2 to 3 hours.

When it’s done, unplug and turn off the smoker. Open the door and allow it to cool off completely before touching or handling any of its components. Wipe everything down with a soft, wet cloth.

Generally, you only need to season your smoker once, before its first use. After that, repeated use will help preserve the protective oil layer on the interior surface.

HOT TIP: Different smokers have different seasoning requirements. Check your user manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations.

How do you use an electric smoker?

Your digital smoker features a control panel with up and down arrows to increase or decrease the temperature. Set the temperature and allow up to 30 to 45 minutes for your smoker to preheat. For most meats, 200–225°F is considered the ideal smoking temperature.

Once preheated, fill the water pan with hot water and slide it into its designated slot or place it at the bottom of the smoking chamber. You can fill the pan with apple juice, wine, beer or other liquid to change the flavor. In addition to flavoring the meat, the steam generated as the liquid evaporates keeps it moist too.

HOT TIP: Using hot water instead of cold or room temperature water keeps the smoker from losing heat.

Slide the smoker box out and loosely fill it with wood chips. Always use 100% natural food-grade, hardwood chips in your smoker. On most models, the smoker box is located on the lower right side of the smoker. It holds enough chips for the average smoke session, about 3 to 5 hours. For longer cooks, you may need to replenish It.

What makes an electric smoker smoke?

Smoke in an electric smoker is generated by wood chips that are ignited by a heating element, a metal rod that heats up when the smoker is powered on.

Can I just add water and wood chips before preheating?

Smoke in an electric smoker is generated by wood chips that are ignited by a heating element, a metal rod that heats up when the smoker is powered on.

Tips for Smoking Meat

Before you smoke meat, season it for flavor with a dry rub or marinade. Coat heavier, more robust cuts like ribs, brisket and pork shoulders with an even layer of spices just before loading into the smoker. When smoking more delicate meats like chicken, fish and chops, plan ahead and marinate overnight.

 HOT TIP: Although seasoning isn’t required, it enhances the natural flavor of your meat. Experiment with different rubs and marinades to find your favorite flavors.

Do you put meat directly on the rack in an electric smoker?

Once seasoned, place your meat directly on the racks inside the smoking chamber. Since the racks will be hot, use a long-handled spatula or tongs to transfer the meat safely. Heavy cuts of meat like pork butts, shoulders and rib racks may need to be loaded using your hands. Protect yourself from burns with heat-resistant gloves. Load everything quickly to ensure minimal heat and smoke loss, leaving the door open for as short a time as possible. Arrange meat with larger cuts on the wide lower racks and smaller cuts on the upper racks. Close and lock the door to prevent it from opening when you don’t want it to.

HOT TIP: Always open and close the door on your smoker using the handle. The metal around the door can get extremely hot.

Smoke food for 2 to 8 hours, depending on the recipe and type of meat you’re smoking. Resist the urge to open the smoker to check on your food. Only open to add liquid to the water pan or wood chips to the smoker box.

How often do I add wood chips to my electric smoker?

A good way to know whether you need more wood or water is to watch the smoke. When the smoke stops, refill the water cup to the top and load more wood chips into the smoker box, if needed. Since the majority of the smoke infusion occurs at the beginning of the smoke before the outer crust is formed, you may not need to add more wood chips. Over-smoking meat can give it a burnt or sooty taste.

Use an instant-read thermometer to determine doneness based on internal temperatures. When your food is fully cooked, turn off the smoker and unplug it. Unlock the door and carefully remove your food from the chamber. Set it on a tray or cutting board, allowing meat to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. 

Clean Your Electric Smoker After Each and Every Use

For the best smoked flavor from your digital electric smoker, clean it every time you use it.

1

When you’re finished cooking, turn it off and unplug the smoker to make sure there’s no electricity running to it. Allow it to cool completely before you begin cleaning it.

2

Remove the racks, water pan and smoker box. Set them aside to clean separately.

3

Use a damp paper towel to brush out any large food particles and lingering fat residue out of the open smoker.

4

Scrub the inside of the smoking chamber thoroughly with soapy water using a sponge or brush to clean greasy residue. Be sure to clean the inside of the door and all 3 walls, as well as the floor and ceiling. 

5

Once it's scrubbed, use a clean damp cloth to clear away the soap solution. You can also spritz it with clean water in a spray bottle. If your smoker has an exposed heating element inside, avoid spraying it directly.

HOT TIP: Add a small amount of apple cider vinegar to your spray bottle to cut through stubborn spots.

6

Scrub the racks with the soapy water, using the sponge or brush and rinse.

7

Empty and rinse out the water pan and smoker box, drying everything with paper towels.

8

Dry the smoking chamber thoroughly with a clean rag or paper towels. Wipe all surfaces to pick up as much standing water as possible. Then, leave the smoker door open for the remaining moisture to evaporate. 

Once the interior is completely dry, your digital electric smoker is ready for the next time.

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