How Do Electric Smokers Work – Getting to Know the Basics

Since the past few years, electric smokers have gained popularity among barbecue lovers globally. Whether it’s a small family event or a large gathering at your work or elsewhere, electric smokers serve the purpose well.

But how do electric smokers work? What’s the secret behind the smoky flavor of the meat cut that you get each time you smoke your meat in it? What is the basic working mechanism of an electric smoker?

In this read, we’ll walk you through the basics of an electric smoker.

What is an Electric Smoker?

Are you new to the barbecue game? No worries, we got you covered. Let’s start with the basic definition – An electric smoker is a type of outdoor cooking appliance that is used to smoke food. 

These food items may include all sorts of meat such as pork, chicken, fish, beef, etc. The basic difference between an electric smoker and a traditional smoker is the primary heating source. Traditional smokers usually run on wood or charcoal, whereas an electric smoker uses electric rods that provide adequate heating temperature to smoke food.

Whether or not you consider yourself tech-savvy, you can get your hands on some pretty cool electric smokers. These stainless steel designed, remote-controlled, digital smokers give you optimum performance and reliability at competitive prices.

What are the Basic Components?

Electric smokers are designed to provide uniform heating to the entire piece of meat or any other food item that you may use it for. To achieve this, these machines use the following basic components:

Electric Rods

One of the most important parts of an electric smoker is its heating source – the electric rods. These rods are located at the bottom of the appliance and when powered on, they turn hot (just like in an oven) in order to provide the required heating temperature.

Wood Chip Tray

Also known as the ‘firebox’, this part combines with the heating source that results in a smoky flavor of your favorite meat cut. Wood chip trays are available in various types (such as apple or cherry), that blend in really well to the rest of your spices to give the ultimate flavor and aroma.

Stainless Steel Food Racks

These racks hold your food item while it is being smoked in the appliance. It can hold small or large meat cuts, however, using a skillet for smaller meat cuts is usually a better idea.

Water Pan

A water pan is usually located right below the wood chip tray, and its primary purpose is to maintain adequate internal temperature of the device. When filled with cold water, it helps in keeping the device’s temperature up to a required level until the water heats itself and produces steam – resulting in convection cooking.

Convection cooking is a process where hot air (steam) is moved by a heating source to provide the required amount of heat for the food, in this case a meat cut.

Temperature Control Devices

Electric smokers come with built-in thermostat and rheostat control devices that make sure internal temperatures do not exceed the required level at any point. When the temperature reaches a certain point, the electric circuit breaks that helps in maintaining the temperature inside the chamber.

Digital Display

To make life easier for you, the modern-day electric smokers come with all the bells and whistles to make food smoking real easy and fun. Depending on the type of electric smoker you go for, you will see a push-button, a rotating dial or an interactive touch display to control the cooking appliance.

Working Mechanism of an Electric Smoker

After deciding on your favorite meat cut, just place it inside the chamber of your electric smoker.

Once plugged in and powered on, the electric rods at the bottom of your smoker will start to produce heat. This heat will be used by the wood chip tray or the firebox in which you have your meat cut placed. 

As the required level of heating temperature is achieved inside the cooking chamber, the pan filled with wood chips will begin to burn and create smoke. This smoke travels upwards along with the water tray, resulting in production of steam that also moves upwards. The heat helps in cooking the meat, while the smoke results in adding the subtle, smoky flavor to your favorite meat cut.

One important part of the whole process is the fact that the inside chamber of an electric smoker is completely sealed. This aids in providing adequate heating and smoking while the food is inside the chamber, until the desired tenderness and smoky flavors are achieved.

This mechanism is quite similar to that of a toaster oven.

What to Look For When Buying  an Electric Smoker?

Here are the two most important factors that you need to keep in mind before spending your bucks on an electric smoker:

The Size of the Chamber

Regardless of all the other fancy options that you see on an electric smoker, always make sure it has a decent overall size and nothing overly compact, with a reduced size of chamber. The bigger the chamber inside, the more space you’ll get to place your food on the tray.

Additionally, a lot of models have heat rods placed all over the inside of the chamber, instead of just at the bottom. The larger the chamber, the more uniform smoke and heat will be provided to all the food racks inside.

Wood Chip Variety

Make sure the electric smoker allows you to experiment with different wood chips, something that greatly enhances the final flavor that you get from your smoked food. Most electric smokers have a large wood chip tray that can easily hold around 5 cups of your preferred wood chips. 

Using different kinds of wood chips such as oak, hickory, maple or pecan, you can innovate with the subtle flavors of the meat cut along with your favorite spices or vegetables.

Our Final Word on Electric Smokers

Just like with any other electrical appliance out there, electric smokers come with their own pros and cons. For many, the underlying question could be, how do electric smokers work? Apart from their working mechanism, the major deal breaker could be the electricity cost.

Since it requires electricity to run, electric smokers may not be considered energy-efficient in general. If you’re smoking a not-too-hard meat cut, the appliance will have to run for 2-3 hours to achieve the perfect smoky flavor and tenderness.

However, the energy inefficiency of electric smokers is usually overlooked as they are more reliable, compact and hassle-free in terms of usage as compared to other traditional smokers. So if you’re out there wondering whether you should go for an electric smoker or not, just find the best smoker and go for it!