Smokers, accessories have seeped into market

July 24, 1996|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A decade ago, shopping for a home smoker was like "looking for a poker game in the Vatican," Bill and Cheryl Jamison write in "Sublime Smoke." Lately, it's more like finding bingo in a church basement. The burgeoning interest in home-smoking has been matched by an array of equipment, from pans to pits.

According to Donna Myers of the Barbecue Industry Association, the most common type of smoker for home use is the water smoker, an upright, dome-topped cylinder.

There are three basic types, each waist-high and cylindrical: charcoal, gas and electric. All are simple to use, efficient and roomy, providing ample space for up to 50 pounds of food. They look nearly identical, except charcoal models have a door in front for loading coals. Most water smokers can also be used as a grill.

Chunks of wood and a pan of water are added at cooking time, providing smoke and a moist environment for the slow, low-temperature cooking that smoking requires.

The more expensive electric and gas smokers provide steady heat and a lack of involvement that can be a boon for some.

Charcoal-fueled models, which start at less than $40, fluctuate in temperature, much as a charcoal grill does, building up to a peak temperature, then dropping rapidly. Though these smokers cost less, the cost of charcoal will add up over time, the Jamisons write.

Specialized cookers combine multiple outdoor cooking functions -- smoking, baking and grilling. For the smoke-addicted, custom-built barbecue pits can cost thousands of dollars.

Smoke can come indoors too. Stove-top smokers, which look like lasagna pans with steel lids, are increasingly popular. Relatively inexpensive, they can be used to smoke most anything. They don't set off smoke detectors but do impart a smoky essence to food. The smallest handful of soaked wood chips or sawdust are put into the bottom, followed by a drip tray and a rack to hold food.

Some 78 percent of American homes have outdoor grills, and with a few adjustments and a cover, they can be used for smoking. Here's how:

Spread 20 to 25 briquettes in a single layer on one side of the lower grate and light them.

Once briquettes are covered with gray ash, sprinkle soaked wood chips on top.

Fill a metal loaf pan with water and place it next to the briquettes. Arrange food directly above the water pan on the upper grate, as far from the charcoal as possible.

Position the cover so the vent is over the food. Insert a candy or deep-fry thermometer into the vent so the probe dangles inside the grill.

Maintain a steady temperature of 225 degrees. Check at least every hour, adding more charcoal and soaked wood as necessary.

Gas grills are difficult to regulate to a sufficiently low temperature for smoking -- they start at 300 degrees. However, experimentation, using a cast-iron smoker box (sold at some hardware and specialty stores or through Grill Lovers Catalog), and only one burner turned to the lowest temperature, usually provides good results.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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