Many of these units are similar to cook and hold ovens, and they offer many of the same features, from convection heating to humidified holding. Some are also larger units dedicated just to the low-and-slow cooking of traditional barbecue, while the other end of the spectrum finds tiny countertop drawers that blast your foods with chip smoke. Deciding which size is right for you will likely be the easiest choice, but there are other considerations that will be more important in getting the best model for your kitchen.
Be aware that purists in barbecue havens like the Carolinas and Texas may expect a more traditional cooking method. If you find yourself in one of those locations, defer to local cooking custom and opt for one of these units with cook-and-hold and humidity options. That will allow you to keep your meats smoky, hot, and moist until you're ready to serve.
Sizing Your Oven
Picking the unit you need in this type of equipment shouldn't just be dictated by the space you have available, but mainly by what and how much of it you want to smoke. The types available offer the ability to do everything from smoking a pork belly to make your own artisan bacon one slab at a time to cooking entire sides of beef for many hours.
- Low-volume operations.
- Portable applications.
- Preparing a limited number of special appetizers.
- Smoking a slab of bacon.
- Space-limited kitchens.
- Low- to medium-volume operations.
- Cooking and holding in one unit.
- Cooking a small number of pork shoulders, chickens, or ribs with a smoky taste.
- Medium- to high-volume operations.
- Cooking, then holding large amounts of food.
- Offering pork sandwiches or another menu staple.
- Smoking items that need to hang, including full sides of beef or pigs.
The Cook and Hold Option
One of the complications in preparing smoked foods has always been that the timing is hard to work out. Many items prepared in these units need to be cooked using the low and slow method popular in barbecue, which means low heat, high smoke, and a lot of time. That has sometimes meant a struggle holding it warm without burning it and trying to schedule the process so it begins during the work day, but ends right at meal time.
To deal with that, most units now come with a cook and hold function that automatically kicks on a warm holding cycle after the cooking is done. That allows you to keep your foods at temperatures that are both safe and pleasing for customers. And, since it's automatic, it means you save money on staff time not spent minding the smoker.
Some recipes will call for wet smoking foods and most items cooked in smoker ovens will need to be kept in humid air if you're the cook and hold function. In cooking, humidity helps further impart the smoke flavor, with the moisture carrying that essence into the food as it absorbs. Afterward, it keeps your foods from drying out, no matter how long you need to hold it.
Cold Smoking Capability
If you're planning to smoke items that don't need to be cooked, like cheeses and sashimi, you'll want a unit that offers cold smoking. That means the cabinet is filled with smoke, but the elements don't produce heat. This type of smoking can be done with items that hang or are laid in some type of pan.