Smoked food is absolutely delicious, but using a smoker can be intimidating for novices. Enter electric smokers, a simplified way to get smoky flavor into meat and vegetables. But if you’ve never used one you might be wondering: How do electric smokers work, anyway?
What is an electric smoker?
An electric smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance that smokes food, including meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. Unlike other smokers which burn propane, wood, or charcoal for fuel, an electric smoker uses hot electric rods (like an oven) as its heating source. For more information on what makes electric smokers unique, check out 10 Advantages of Using an Electric Smoker.
How do electric smokers work?
An electric smoker isn’t extremely different from an oven or toaster oven. Its electric rods heat up a cooking chamber where food is heated by circulating air, creating a convection effect. Food is placed on trays or racks inside the smoker where it’s heated to the desired doneness. Finally, wood chips are placed in a compartment where they’re burned by the electric heat, creating smoke to flavor the food.
Components of an electric smoker
Your typical electric smoker has a pretty simple construction. Generally it will consist of a cooking chamber containing an electric heating element and grill racks to place the food being smoked on. There’s also a water pan, which prevents the internal temperature from getting too hot and creates steam to aid in cooking. Lastly but perhaps most importantly is a wood chip tray, or firebox, where wood chips or wood chunks are placed.
When asking “How do electric smokers work,” this is really the heart of the answer. At the bottom of the smoker is a one or more electric heating rods that heat the space and slowly cook the food inside the chamber.
Firebox or wood chip tray
The firebox, or wood chip tray, produces all the smokey aroma and flavor. Wood chips or chunks go here and combine with the heat from the heating element to produce flavorful smoke. A variety of types of wood chips are available to lend different flavors to food, including hickory, apple and cherry. This delicious smoke is why electric smokers are a healthy choice, but also a major reason electric smokers shouldn’t be used indoors.
Most electric smokers have a water pan situated below the wood chip tray. Fill the water pan with cold water and this prevents the device’s internal temperature from rising too quickly. Then as the water heats, it emits steam, which in turn aids in convection cooking. (Side note: While electric smokers contain a water pan, you should be careful when getting an electric smoker wet due to the electric components.)
Similar to a grill, an electric smoker contains stainless steel racks to place food on. Place food like steak or chicken breasts directly on the rack. However, smaller items like cut vegetables can be cooked in a cast iron skillet placed on a rack.
Thermostat and rheostat
Most electric smokers have both a thermostat and a rheostat. This allows the smoker to maintain a steady internal temperature, which helps food cook evenly. When the temperature exceeds what the user has set, the circuit is broken so that the temperature inside the smoker decreases. Unlike other types of smokers, an electric smoker gives you excellent control over the cooking temperature of your food. The even cooking is also enhanced by the fact that the walls of the device are well-insulated.
Control panel or temperature setting
Many popular electric smokers feature an intuitive push-button digital control panel. This will include temperature settings that in most cases range from 100 to 275 degrees F. A number of modern smokers will have a 24-hour timer with an automatic shutoff. No more overcooked or burnt food with this feature!
Ready to buy your first electric smoker?
A good electric smoker will have ample space inside for your fish, ham, chicken, sausage or jerky. To get that irresistible smoky taste, all you have to do is to fill the wood chip tray with your favorite wood. To start shopping for your electric smoker, check out our roundup of the best electric smoker reviews.