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Choosing an Outdoor Smoker

Posted on 31 March 2011

By Danni Duggan for Landscape Network

One way that homeowners are increasing the usable square footage of their existing homes is by building outdoor kitchens. While these kitchens may only be used during part of the year in Denver, those months that they are in use are extra special. Building an outdoor kitchen allows you to both double up on amenities that already exist inside the home (think refrigerators, gas burners, and sinks), as well as expand your appliance collection and cooking method options. Whether you decide to tackle the creation of your outdoor kitchen yourself, or consult the experts, one item to consider adding is an outdoor smoker.

Smokers use indirect heat to cook food. A gas or charcoal barbecue, cooking at low heat, still cooks at too-high a temperature to allow food to develop a smoke ring and that signature deep smoke flavor. With a barbecue, you need to monitor the cooking temperature constantly, and each time you open the lid, all that valuable smoke escapes. While grills certainly have their place, smokers they are not. More and more outdoor kitchens are incorporating both a barbecue and a smoker.

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers have emerged in recent years as one of the easiest options on the market. You can purchase different types of wood pellets that store in a “hopper” attached to the smoker. These pellets are then automatically fed via an auger to the smoker chamber. Many models of smokers have digital thermometers attached to them, so the smoker regulates the speed at which the pellets are fed in order to maintain your selected temperature. The better a smoker maintains its selected temperature, the less you need to fiddle with it or worse, open the lid and allow the smoke to escape. Pellet smokers come in a variety of sizes, but most will take up a sizable horizontal foot print. Planning for their space and their access to an electrical outlet is essential when designing your perfect outdoor kitchen.

Water Smokers

Water smokers can often be inexpensive options for someone who wants to try smoking food but has not fully committed to “the lifestyle.” These smokers are typically vertical, which helps them fit nicely into an already-appointed outdoor kitchen that did not previously plan for a smoker. The fire element (logs, charcoal, etc.) sits at the bottom, and there is a tray of water between the fire element and the food. This water tray provides moisture and protects the food from direct heat of the fire. Although these types of smokers can be purchased for very little money, it is important to note that the lower-cost options are often made of thinner material. Maintaining a proper smoking temperature (about 225 to 250 degrees) during the colder Denver months will be difficult with a smoker made of thin, inexpensive material. Electrical and propane versions of these smokers can help with temperature maintenance problems.

Whether you opt for a large smoker or a small one, adding a smoker to your outdoor kitchen provides ample opportunity to explore a cooking technique that cannot be done indoors. Be warned, however, that once your neighbors get a whiff of what you are cooking up, your outdoor kitchen may soon require an added outdoor dining room to accommodate the unexpected drop-in guests.

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