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May 12, 2008 08:40 AM


Years back I used to have an electric water smoker. I loved making smoked chicken. Easy to make and then freeze and keep on hand. Ultimately the one I had rusted out and I have never replaced it. I'm getting a yearning for some smoked chicken. I'd like to buy one that's sturdier and good at low temperatures. I've seen the Brinkman Online but now I've also read a little about the Masterbuilt and the Cookshack models. Rather than barrel looking smokers, they resemble refrigerators. Has anyone had experience with these or other electric smokers? What are your thoughts, recommendations, ideas? Can they stay outside on a deck? (I live in NYC so the winters can be harsh.)

Thanks for your advice!

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  1. I'm going to lose some Chowhound cred here, but I recommend them highly. Let's cut to the chase.

    With an electric, you won't get much of a "smoke ring". Thing is, a smoke ring has no taste. With a good electric, you will get precise temperature control, extreme ease of use, cold smoke possibilities, and safety. Yes, you can use an electric on a deck. Since there's no open flame, you can also sidestep the rules of many landlords and condo and co-op boards.

    Does an electric produce inferior smoked foods? I don't think so. You won't be able to precisely duplicate the secret recipes and techniques of a favourite pit master who hot smokes over oak logs in an open pit. However, you will be able to develop techniques of your own. It's all about the meat, the wood, the seasonings, the temperature, and the timing. Since you don't plan on competing with, say, Blue Smoke or Arthur Bryant's, who cares what supplies the heat?

    Unless you plan to do primarily cold smoking, the shape makes no difference at all. To cold smoke with a wood or charcoal HEAT source, an offset barrel is best. However, my fridge-shaped electric is quite capable of cold smoke (though this isn't its strongest suit).

    My smoker is a Centro, a Canadian house brand that appears identical in every respect to the Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse. Since the electronics sit right on top, you MUST keep it covered when not in use and I wouldn't run it in the rain. Masterbuilt does not have a cover that fits this model, but Cookshack conveniently does. It's extremely easy to use and to clean and it holds a temperature within about 2 degrees F over a wide temperature range. Since I've only had it for one season, I can't comment about durability, but the performance has been great.

    I know several Cookshack users, all of whom rave about their units. They have a good reputation for durability, an unknown with my smoker, but they perform pretty much the same. The higher end Cookshacks have some convenience features, such as temperature probes, but I just stick my Polder remote thermometer probe through the vent on top. I feel that the Cookshacks are trickier to use than the Masterbuilt/Centro, but it isn't really a big deal. Cookshack is MUCH more expensive (I paid under $200). I thought the Cookshacks cost too much, though did get myself the Cookshack cover for my Centro.

    I do NOT recommend Bradley. They seem to combine electric convenience and control with offset smoke, but I keep hearing about major reliability and durability issues. Also, you are locked in to using Bradley's proprietary smoke producing pucks, which come in a limited variety of wood types and are not necessarily available at the time and place you need them. You can use pretty much anything to produce smoke in a Masterbuilt or a Cookshack.

    4 Replies
    1. re: embee

      KingsKetz, maybe this article will be of some help to you:

      embee, the article mentions that electric smokers do not produce a crispy skin on poultry, nor a good crusty bark on ribs. Do you find this to be true? I'm planning on buying a smoker for this summer and I'm currently leaning towards the WSM.

      1. re: spiffy_dude

        Stick with the WSM. I bought mine in '95 and continue to use it in competitions to this day. I have a friend with a brinkman electric, he likes it a lot. The barbecue is good, if not great. I just don't think you can beat the WSM.

        I can get consistant 225 - 250 temps for 10 hours or more using about 15lbs of charcoal.

        For chicken, I use higher temps. Probably 300 - 325 which produces crispier skin. I don't think electric can go that high.

        1. re: chileheadmike

          Nice one chileheadmike!

          I own a BGE, a Bradley Smoker and and Weber gas BBQ.

          I love my smoker and will smoke a varierty of meats on it. However I have always chosen a to use my Weber to crisp up any meats (turkey and chicken in particular after smoking them).

          Where Ribs are concerned I rarely bother to use the smoker and just put them on the BGE, get my temp to about 240 get some wet wood chips in there and leave that sucker alone for about 4 or 5 hours and get a great product everty time. I think the rubs or marinades that one uses is equally important in he determination of th result. I have had to play with my basic combo of kosher sault and brown sugar to get the appropriate balance and texture; but very happy with how it goes.

          I have never had any real problem wih my Bradley ( have had it for about 6 years now); though the red switch to push the briquettes forward will get stuck sometimes; likely a function of me keeping it outside, even though its covered most of the time when not in use.

        2. re: spiffy_dude

          Thanks for that great site link!

          My smoker is identical to the MBES unit that he gave the the Hot Stuff award, and his comments pretty well mirror my experience. His Cookshack comments also seem spot on. So let's assume that Meathead's information is likely to be reliable. That said, I wouldn't go near the Bradley. I hate to slam a Canadian company, but I've heard too often that the puck feeders break, the smoke generators fail, and the quality just isn't there. The pucks are expensive and the internet isn't much help when you need a supply RIGHT NOW.

          I think it comes down to whether smoked food is something you enjoy or is an absolute passion, and also on how much effort, and money, you are willing to expend.

          What you can buy already prepared ain't trivial either. Living in Toronto Canada, there's little BBQ available that's worth eating. Even my less successful efforts with the smoker (which I use for Jewish style deli meats as well as for southern style BBQ) tend to be better than anything I can buy anywhere in the Toronto area.

          I don't buy into a "one tool for everything" setup. People I know who own one tell me that the Big Green Egg (charcoal) can do just that: everything from high intensity sear, to roasting and baking, to low and slow. An electric smoker can't do everything perfectly, and I don't even try.

          I can run a reliable maximum smoker temperature of 275. That's not enough to produce crispy chicken skin. I can make wonderful smoked chicken, but I'm not usually aiming for crispy skin when I smoke a chicken in my smoker. To get crispy skin requires some extra work. I'd use a much lower temperature to minimize drying and I'd separate the skin of an air chilled chicken (I believe more easily obtainable in Canada than in the US) from the meat. Then I'd give it some grill time at the end to crisp it up. That said, I'm more likely to use a rotisserie in front of an infra red burner, plus wood chips, in a closed natural gas grill.

          The ribs I smoke are beef bones and, yes, I can get a crusty bark, or a soft succulence, by manipulating the rub, the time, and the temp, and by using liquid - or not. But I'm willing to use the grill to help the process. You typically can't do that in a competition, but I'm not in one. It takes a few minutes on the grill to produce a great crust if one hasn't developed on its own - big deal after hours of smoking.

          The briskets and pastramis produced by this machine are extremely good. I run the smoker at about 190 for these items.

          My experience with smoke rings is that they don't contribute much, if anything, to taste. In a cured meat, the cure overwhelms any smoke ring contribution completely. In an uncured meat, there might be a slight nitrite aspect added to the taste. I'm not convinced this isn't a placebo effect, since I can't identify the presence or absence of a smoke ring in a blind (literally - with eyes closed) tasting. I intend to try Meathead's suggestion of adding some charcoal to the wood box and we'll see what happens.

      2. I have an Old Smokey, and it makes some tasty chicken. I recommend it. I keep it in the basement over the winter, so I can't speak to weather invincibility.

        That said, I disagree with those who dismiss the smoke ring out of hand. Cooking with a "real" smoker also results in different flavor and texture to the meat. I don't think the pros use 'em because they're "cool"!

        11 Replies
        1. re: wrenhunter

          There's no question that cooking with live burning logs, or even hardwood charcoal, generates different combustion products than cooking with heat produced by electricity (or, I would argue, by gas) along with a small amount of smoking wood. These factors certainly do affect the taste and texture of the finished product. The issue, to me, is whether or not I find the finished product delicious. I have no difficulty creating delicious smoked food with an electric smoker. I had a charcoal smoker for about 15 years and seldom bothered to use it. The electric I can use on a whim.

          Competitions are something else again. The BBQ place that wins the most competitions in this part of the world (Camp 31) produces BBQ that doesn't taste as good - to me - as my own. But I could never win a competition because it's just too much bother for me to follow all the competition rules. I love this line from the site: "Competitions sanctioned by the two largest sanctioning bodies, the Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis in May, do not permit electric cookers. They're too easy!"

          A smoke ring is usually a requirement in any serious competition. It's not about being "cool". When I started smoking stuff seriously (not all that long ago), I was distressed to discover that a smoke ring rarely formed, even after 16 hours of serious smoke. But taste testing seemed to demonstrate that the impact of the smoke ring itself was minimal, and possibly even psychological. Given the lack of decent BBQ for sale in these parts, I'm pretty pleased with what I've been able to produce. However, I do plan to add some charcoal to my wood and see if (1) I get a pronounced smoke ring and (2) there's a serious impact on the taste.

          As to chicken, I feel the main issue is the temperature. Most of the smoked chicken I've eaten throughout North America had rubbery skin if not given some time on a hot grill.

          1. re: embee

            You guys are great - thanks for all these responses and access to some articles I've never found. I'm more of a person in the school of enjoying bbq and less a serious contender. I'm pretty undermanding I guess except that the equipment be reliable. Who knows, with a new smoker I may turn into something else as I experiment more. My experience thus far has been pretty limited but I thank my southern friend again and again who first introduced me to smoked chicken. It's a true pleasure and I'm open to more!


            1. re: embee


              A smoke ring adds a very nice look to the meat as well which is also important in a competition but less important in your kitchen.
              While they say you eat with your eyes, you don't taste with them and taste is ultimately what matters.

              FTR, I have a Charbroil Silver Smoker (See attached photo)


              1. re: Davwud

                nice smoker, mine is almost the same, but with the fire box on the opposite side.

                I am not a fan of electric smokers(I hated the one I had, inconsistant heat, and the product they produce was terrible in my humble opinion), I had one when I was an apartment dweller, but as soon as I bought a house a real smoker was one of my first purchases for my deck.

                1. re: swsidejim

                  The metal is a bit on the thin side but it does a real nice job otherwise.
                  I put some bricks in the bottom of the cooking area to help hold heat.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    I have had mine 3+ years, and so far so good

              2. re: embee

                KCBS Judges are no longer allowed to consider the smoke ring with evaluating a piece of meat. This has been the case for several years. I've never competed or judged a MIM contest so I don't know their rules. I am a KCBS cerified judge and I do cook in KCBS comps about twice a year. Meat is judged on appearance, taste, and texture. All three are weighted with taste being weighted the most.

                1. re: chileheadmike

                  "Meat is judged on appearance, taste, and texture"
                  Is smoke ring not part of apearance??


                  1. re: Davwud

                    Smoke ring used to be part of the apperance score, but it can be enhanced with nitrites. KCBS dropped smoke ring from appeance a few years ago.

                2. re: embee

                  So, I just have to know, WHY does a smoke ring form in a traditional smoker but not an electric. They both use low heat, they both use wood for the smoke. Is it the addition of charcoal as the source of the heat? I always thought the smoke ring came from wood smoke.

                  1. re: sbp

                    I've been rolling it around in my brain too. I was under the impression that it's a result of protien reacting with smoke.


              3. I can recommend the Meco electric smoker. Used one for years. The thermostat can
                be unplugged in a second for storage. I leave the rest of the unit out doors all winter
                long. It is particularly good at long slow smoking like 18 hours at 190 for a big brisket.
                I have a old saddle blanket which I use to cover it when it is cold and windy.

                1. Cookshack is by far one of the best. There is a knock off by SmokinTex that is a little cheaper but the metal is not as high a quality as the stainless used in the Cookshack.

                  1. I've got the Cookshack FEC100 that's leftover from my days in the BBQ business (my friend and business partner was the pitmaster). For home use, it's a beast but rocks the house. I keep it in the garage and roll it out whenever I want to use it.

                    All stainless construction means it can take a beating but I'd check with Cookshack about the electronics - though I'm sure they have a cover that you can use.

                    Cookshacks are definitely pricey but worth every penny.