Planning on using a smoker for your next family get-together? Despite their impressive multipurpose ability, smokers are surprisingly user-friendly. These do-it-all cookers have become fast favorites among award-winning chefs and amateurs alike, and that’s because they’re remarkably easy to master. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t mean they’re foolproof.
Learning how to use a pellet grill or smoker is, like anything, all about trial and error. Still, smart pitmasters know that learning from other chefs’ mistakes can save them a lot of headache and hassle, not to mention a few bad meals. Here are some of the key mistakes to avoid when you start using a smoker, pellet grill or kamado grill.
Using a Smoker: 10 Mistakes To Avoid
1. Smoking with Wet Pellets
As you’ll learn from the rest of this article, pellets are arguably one of the most crucial components of a good smoke session. Bad pellets can ruin an otherwise great meal, so make sure to pay attention to them. One of the biggest pellet mistakes new smokers make is using wet or damp pellets. When your pellets are wet, they lose their ability to smoke and can clog up the auger and damage the smoker.
2. Not Storing Your Pellets Properly
In the same vein, make sure you’re storing your pellets properly, so they don’t get wet. Keep them in any cool, dry area, such as the pantry or a closet inside the house. Avoid storing them in damp basements, garages and sheds, as this can cause them to absorb moisture and attract bugs.
Not only do wet pellets perform badly in your smoker, but they can also be a hospitable place for the growth of gross mold and mildew. Though this doesn’t hurt anything since you’re lighting the pellets on fire, it may not be appetizing. Keeping them dry is key!
3. Not Cleaning the Grill Enough
Not cleaning the smoker often enough is a common mistake that can cause problems. Those who don’t regularly vacuum out the dust out of the bottom of the hopper or the ash in the bottom of the burn pot will definitely have issues with their grill performing well. Regularly scraping the grill with a grill brush will also help ensure better flavor.
4. Not Using Enough Pellets
As you get more comfortable with your specific smoker, you’ll learn how many pellets it burns through in an hour. If you’re doing a long, slow cook, you need to make sure you’ve got the hopper stocked with enough pellets so it doesn’t stop midway through and leave you with a half-cooked brisket after eight hours. On average, a pellet grill will use about .5 to 2.5 pounds of pellets per hour, depending on the smoke setting.
5. Ignoring Weather and Wind
Let’s not forget that some smoking sessions last for hours or even days, so there’s a good chance your smoker will see lots of different types of weather. But it’s important that you pay attention to the forecast, especially if you live in an area with high winds. Wind can disrupt the natural airflow of your smoker, which can cause temperatures to plummet. Make sure to choose a grill with dual-wall construction to combat this.
Extreme weather and ambient temperature can also cause problems with maintaining temps. If it’s 100 degrees out, it will be difficult for a grill to maintain low temperatures. In extremely cold weather, your grill has to work harder, forcing it to burn more fuel. You can certainly smoke in the rain, wind and snow, just make sure to keep an eye on temperatures and adjust accordingly. Oh, and invest in some all-weather gear while you’re at it!
6. Not Paying Attention to Internal Temp
Don’t obsess over it, but keep your eye on your food’s internal temperature throughout the day. When smoking meats, you may notice temperature stalls, meaning the internal temp lingers at a certain number for hours, barely rising. This happens because the moisture that evaporates from the meat begins to cool it down (just like when we sweat), which prevents it from getting hotter. In these cases, you must crank up the heat to help food move beyond the stall. It pays to invest in a smoker with Wi-Fi so you can monitor temps and start or stop the grill remotely.
7. Not Making Foil the MVP
There’s a reason why award-winning pitmasters buy foil by the commercial roll. These guys know that foil is the unsung hero of a good smoking session, and it can do so much to keep things clean and enhance flavor. Use foil to wrap your heat deflector, drip pan and even the interior of the grill to ensure easy cleanup. You can wrap meat in foil to dampen the flavor of smoke if you don’t want it to be overpowering (this technique is known as the Texas crutch).
8. Skipping the Resting Period
Any meat connoisseur will tell you that, no matter how hungry you may be, skipping the resting period is not worth the few minutes saved. The resting period is crucial for keeping those flavorful juices sealed into the meat and cutting into it too soon could cause them all to run out. Without those tasty juices, you’re left with a drier, less tender and less flavorful piece of meat.
9. Using the Same Kind of Pellets or Charcoal Every Time
If you’ve already experimented with different charcoal or pellet types and know which flavors you like, no need to go on a wild goose chase for something new. But if you’ve just smoked with one type of hardwood or charcoal, you’re missing out on a whole new world of flavoring opportunities!
Smoking pellets are made from different hardwoods, including hickory, apple, cherry and mesquite, that bring different flavor profiles. If you’re using a charcoal smoker, you can also experiment with various charcoal types. Pellet grill users may also want to try charcoal pellets to spice things up and change the flavor.
10. Not Taking Full Advantage of the Smoker
Smokers can do a lot more than cook brisket, ribs and pork shoulder (but God knows we love that, too). From smoked salt for margaritas to full-flavored veggies, there are thousands of pellet smoker recipes you should try. One of the most common mistakes new smoker owners make is not taking full advantage of everything a smoker can do.
Using a smoker needs practice and know-how. Sure, there are a lot of mistakes you can make when getting to know your smoker, but don’t let that deter you. For the most part, novice smokers get the hang of things relatively quickly, and a few mishaps here and there don’t slow them down. Knowing these common mistakes will help ensure that you start off on the right foot and are smoking up mouthwatering meals in no time.