This article is packed with useful electric smoker tips and tidbits to help you enjoy your purchase to the fullest.
From maintenance to wood chip management, and what you can do other than standard smoking, this handy reference guide will help you love your electric smoker even more.
I figure if you’re reading this, you probably fall into one of three categories:
Either you’ve recently bought an electric smoker, and you want to max out on its usefulness. Or, you’re thinking about buying an electric smoker, and you want to learn all about them. Or, you’ve ordered an electric smoker, and you’re trying to keep yourself busy until it shows up!
Whatever your story is, this article will benefit you. Here, in no particular order, are t nine top tips to make the most of your electric smoker.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- 1 1. Regularly Clean Your Smoker
- 2 2. Season Your Smoker Before Its First Use
- 3 3. Don’t Overdo It With the Smoke
- 4 4. Temperature Swings Happen — But They Can Be Controlled
- 5 5. Open Your Vent All the Way
- 6 6. Leave Your Wood Chips Dry
- 7 7. Wrap Your Racks with Foil for Quick and Easy Clean Up
- 8 8. Your Smoker Can Double as an Outdoor Oven (Maybe)
- 9 9. Try Cold Smoking for Something New
- 10 Final Thoughts on Electric Smoker Tips
1. Regularly Clean Your Smoker
While you do want a seasoned smoker (more on that in Tip #2), you don’t want a dirty smoker.
Many outdoor cooks believe (and there are numerous online “experts” to back them up) that residue build-up on grates adds “extra flavor.” Here’s a tip for you: filth does not equal flavor.
What you’re looking at isn’t true seasoning, it’s burnt, caked-on old food. If you’ve ever accidentally bitten down on a bit of this stuff, you know it tastes bitter and acrid. Not what you want to add to your prized brisket.
Not only does it ruin the flavor, but it also spoils the presentation, leaving nasty black flecks on your food.
Clean your grates as per the manufacturer’s instructions. That may involve a scraping with a quality grill brush or paddle scraper, a wipe-down with a grill cleaner, or even a trip to the dishwasher.
And our recommendation is to clean your electric smoker out thoroughly once every 3 to 5 uses or so, depending on how long it’s used, what is smoked for how long, and how there is in the way of drippings and grease generated.
2. Season Your Smoker Before Its First Use
Even though electric smokers are basically plug-and-play, you still need to season yours before you pop in that first rack of ribs. I know you’re champing at the bit, but this is a necessary step.
First off, you have no idea what kind of chemical residue was left behind by the manufacturer. There could be cleaning fluids, solvents, or any number or other non-edible compounds in there.
Running the smoker empty burns off all that nastiness, making it safe for use.
That first run also coats and seals the inside your smoker, making it operate more efficiently. That layer of smoke also enhances the overall smokiness added to your food. And that’s what we’re after, isn’t it?
We have a dedicated article that you can follow, for a step-by-step process for seasoning your new electric smoker.
3. Don’t Overdo It With the Smoke
Some people think there’s no such thing as too much smoke. That’s a matter of personal preference, but I tend to disagree. However, you won’t know until you know if you catch my meaning.
When you first start smoking food, go easy with the smoke. One tray of pellets or chips is almost always plenty for infusing a noticeable but not overwhelming amount of smoke to your food.
In fact, you might even want to start with less and then try adding more on subsequent cooks until you’ve hit your personal sweet spot.
Remember, some wood types deliver stronger flavor than others; the amount that’s right for, say, maple, won’t necessarily be right for mesquite.
4. Temperature Swings Happen — But They Can Be Controlled
It happens with all smokers — temperatures yoyoing over and under the target — but electrics are especially well-known for it, particularly at the start of cooks (while the temperature tends to settle after a few initial swings.) Here’s what happens:
You set a target temperature of, for example, 225F. Once the internal sensor registers 225, thermostat shuts off the heating element. But, the temperature will continue to rise thanks to residual heat and a lag in timing. Before you know it, you’re up to as much as 240F.
Eventually, the temperature will drop back below 225F, at which point thermostat fires up the element once more. But, again, it’s a bit late to the party, and the temperature will drop below the target for a while.
Your average temperature over the duration of the cook will be spot on, but it won’t be consistent throughout.
Usually, thanks to ‘clever electronics’ in the digital controllers, the temperature will eventually settle. And the swings are often only prominent at the start of cooks. Here is something you can do to minimize this.
To beat the swing, when you start to cook, simply set your target temp 10F below what you actually want it. For our example, that would be 215F.
When it inevitably shoots past 215 and reaches 225 to 230F, at that point, you reset your target to 225 F. This will significantly reduce the size of the swing, the smoker will settle on your target temperature more quickly, and your food will cook more quickly and evenly.
5. Open Your Vent All the Way
Vents on charcoal or wood smokers are meant for adjusting airflow to control the temperature. On an electric smoker, they’re there solely to let the smoke out.
Leaving the vent (or vents) fully open keeps the smoke inside from getting stale. It also reduces the accumulation of creosote, the tar-like substance that gums up all smokers and grills. A bit of it is good for flavor, but too much of it tastes awful.
The only reason to close the vent on an electric smoker is to hold in the heat after all the wood chips are spent, and the smoke has dissipated, and you want to build up the temperature a bit to get the job done. Especially useful on a cold day when your smoker is working hard to keep up.
6. Leave Your Wood Chips Dry
This one is a bit controversial. I can’t count how many sites swear by soaking your wood chips in water before use to slow down the burn and increase the smoke.
Please don’t do it.
Wet chips are cold chips, and your smoker will have to work overtime to compensate for their cooling effect on the ambient temperature.
Furthermore, what looks like big fluffy clouds of delicious smoke is actually just steam escaping from your soggy chips. If you’ve ever had a hot shower, you know that steam has zero flavor.
So, while wet chips may last longer than dry ones, they’ll have no other positive effects on your smoke session. We have a guide here on how to use wood chips for smoking. Give it a quick once over, then come back. I’ll wait.
7. Wrap Your Racks with Foil for Quick and Easy Clean Up
Sometimes the simplest tips and tricks are the best. Cleaning anything sucks, so it’s worth an extra effort to minimize the time lost to menial tasks. Since, as we covered in Tip #1, clean racks are vital to enjoying delicious smoked food, what if you could prevent them from ever getting dirty?
Cover your racks with heavy-duty aluminum foil before you switch on the smoker and change it for fresh foil for every session. Your racks will look like new forever, and you’ll barely ever have to wash them.
Your food will benefit from being turned over regularly so that the bottom is exposed to smoke if you do wrap your grates, but it’s a mild inconvenience compared to hard scouring.
8. Your Smoker Can Double as an Outdoor Oven (Maybe)
Not every electric smoker can get as hot as a conventional oven. But if yours does, however, why not take advantage and use it just like you would your kitchen oven?
Why would you bother? Well, this is one my favorite electric smoker tips, as I only have a single oven. Need to cook meat at 355 F and roast potatoes at 425 F? Put the meat in the electric smoker.
Also, well, any excuse to get outside on a beautiful day is a good one! Plus, it’s a perfect way to keep your kitchen from overheating on a hot day when company comes.
Or, use it as a second oven when you need to cook multiple items at different temperatures. You can even use it as a warming oven to keep cooked food at the perfect serving temperature until your guests are ready.
Just remember not to add wood chips if you don’t want smoke infused into your food, then your electric smoker really is just an oven replacement.
9. Try Cold Smoking for Something New
Did you know your electric smoker can double as a cold smoker?
The sealed cabinet is the perfect environment for cold smoking, and some manufacturers make cold smoke generators designed especially for their smokers.
Cold smoking happens at temperatures as low as 90F, far below what the smoker can do on its own. In a nutshell, you leave the heating element off, and the generator blows smoke and a small amount of heat into the cook chamber.
Even if your maker doesn’t have a purpose-built cold smoker attachment, you can buy a 3rd-party unit to get the job done.
To review some of the best on the market, and learn more about cold smoking, hop over to this article on the best cold smoke generators.
Final Thoughts on Electric Smoker Tips
Owning an electric smoker is a lot of fun. Hopefully, with these tips and tricks for electric smokers in mind, it’ll be even more fun for years to come. And if you’re still on the fence about buying one, maybe a few of these tips will open your eyes to the possibilities of owning an electric smoker provides.
Got a tip I missed? Send it along in the comments below, and maybe I’ll add it to a future article!
And if you have questions about smokers, electric or otherwise, just ask. Of course, you might find the answers elsewhere on the site, so poke around and see what you turn up.
Thanks for your visit, and go ahead and share the link to this and any other article freely. Someday, maybe between us, we can make mediocre barbecue become just an unpleasant distant memory! 🙂
Thank you for your article. It was very informative. I have a couple of questions for you.
I bought a Masterbuilt electric smoker and I have been smoking for the past few weeks. I have had pretty good results, but I’m still struggling with a couple of things.
The first is the quality of the smoke. I bought different types of wood chips and experimented with all them. However, the smoke flavor in the meat is sometimes a little harsh, bitter, almost overwhelming. I would like to have a clean, light wood flavor, that complements the meat without overpowering it. But I don’t seem to be able to achieve it yet. I did everything you suggested- kept the vent open, used less (and only dry) wood, etc, but I have not achieved optimal results yet. What am I doing wrong? Is there a difference in quality between wood chips of different brands? Can wood chips go bad? Do you add the wood chips before or after putting the meat in the smoker? Is the first smoke that comes out of the wood (when it is still black) more bitter than the smoke that comes out of the chips when they turn white?
The second thing that I have not been able to achieve is the bark. I smoked parts of brisket (the whole thing is too big for us), beef ribs, etc, again with decent results, but I have never seen the ‘bark’. How do I get that? I read somewhere that you need to keep the meat wet, spraying it with a mixture of water/vinegar every hour. Is that true?
Thank you very much in advance for any suggestions you can provide!
Sorry for the late reply, I took time off over the Christmas period.
I have the Masterbuilt 30 electric smoker, put my wood chips in once the smoker is up to temp, and have to refill about every 45 minutes. I’ve not found it to be bitter, or overwhelming. Compared to the smoky flavor I get from my Weber Smoky Mountain or my kamados, the smoky flavor from my electric smoker is less pronounced and more subtle. In fact, I MUCH prefer the taste I get from these charcoal smokers, finding the complexity and strength of flavor from the charcoal and wood smoke combined to be more satisfying to my tastes. The smoke flavor from my electric is less and more subtle.
Can wood chips ‘go bad’? Well, they can rot like any wood. But if they look fine, then they almost certainly are.
Is there a difference in brands? When it comes to wood, the exact species of tree can change flavor, as well as the soil and climate they are grown in, and how long the wood has been seasoned, and the moisture content when it is burned.
Have you tried the more subtle woods such as apple, cherry, alder perhaps? And only use a small amount to start with to see how it goes?
It might just be that you do not like the smoky flavor of food, as not all people do (I don’t know if you’ve had and enjoyed smoked meats before? Or if this is your first time trying?)
Regarding getting a good bark, check out our article on the same: How to get a good BBQ bark.
We just got an electric smoker! We smoked ribs yesterday. The rack that was closest to the bottom came out perfect!! The rack of ribs above came out tough (still good flavor). Any suggestions or tips? Thanks!!
Did you cook them both to ‘feel’, and not a time or temp? Different racks of ribs can be ready at different times, for example some at 193F, some at 199F, depending on their fat content, marbling, bone thickness, the animal they came from, how trimmed they are, moisture content and more. You never really know until they have been cooked, and you perform tests for tenderness.
It might also be that there’s a ‘temperature gradient’ across the height of your smoker, with the bottom nearest the heat source being hotter than the racks above it, so the lower rack of ribs may have been cooked at a slightly higher temp. This is something you have to check with a digital thermometer while it’s running. If there is, you can swap the food around during the cook, or simply cook the food on the upper racks for slightly longer.
I don’t have an oven it broke. When using my electric smoker as an oven can I use cookie sheets or a roasting pan?
Hi Debbie. Sure you can, yes. It is exactly like an oven, no difference. They both cook by indirect convection heat, no difference at all (except for the smoke!) If you can hit the same temperatures you would in your oven, you can cook exactly the same things, the same way.
I am a novice but want to buy a smoker. My husband is telling me a Traeger is the best for our needs. I don’t know. Are there smokers with grills for barbecuing too? You know, that can do both? He wants a meat thermometer with it to tell us when meat is done. We have a patio to place it on. Don’t need to smoke a ton of meat but don’t want it to be too small either. What would you suggest?
There are soooo many different types of grills and smokers available, with no one type right for everybody. I suggest looking at the ‘equipment’ category, found in the site menu, and browsing through the different articles to see what most are good for. My types of smokers article is a good starting point.
I’ve had bad luck with digital electric smokers. Even though I get excellent products out of them, the electronics are a joke. I first purchased a Masterbuilt from Cabela’s –3 years later, I had a number of areas where the finish was lifting/bubbling secondary to rust; more importantly, the electronic/digital control panel simply stopped working. Irritated with Masterbuilt, I replaced it with a Dyna-Glo. While the finish on that one held up well, the electronics/digital controls had fried within 2 years. I called Dyna-Glo to order a replacement digital control panel and was told they were out of stock and likely wouldn’t be available until after the grilling/smoking season. Bottom line is that, while I like to smoke and have been able to turn out some really tasty grub, I’m tired of spending $200-300 for a smoker I need to replace every 2-3 years.
I live in a condo in rainy Oregon with very limited covered storage. HOA restrictions do not allow me to use a charcoal fired smoker. I always keep the smokers covered with a product specific cover when not in use and allow the smoker to cool before covering it up to hold down humidity gathering under the cover.
I’m now considering sinking substantial funds into something like one of the Pit Boss combo units, but am afraid I’m right back into the cycle of lasting 2-3 years only to find out that replacement parts aren’t available.
Thus, a series of questions:
1. Is there any brand of digital electric smoker with hardier digital controls?
2. Would it help to pull off the digital control panel at the end of the season and store it indoors?
3. Am I stuck looking for an analog unit?
Any help would be appreciated!
If you want something better and more substantial that will last many years, it requires spending a fair bit more money I’m afraid. Something like a cookshack unit (from cookshack.com, or a SmokinTex unit (from Smokintex.myshopify.com). I’m about to add these as top picks in my electric smoker review article.
Hello… thank you so much for taking the time to share these wonderful tips with us. Just purchased my first smoker and looking forward to making great things. I have a Masterbuilt 30 inch analog smoker which the heating element is at the bottom… if I cook meats directly on the rack and the juice drips down on the heating element will it cause problems? I feel like I know the answer and cook so much, grill etc I should know this but for some reason this is making me a bit nervous.. thank you
The heating element is covered, and most grease will simply drip onto it, and run off into the grease collection tray at the rear. So yes, it’s not an issue and you can do as you are planning.