Smoker Oven Buyers' Guide
Commercial smokers are able to add a rich smoky flavor to foods such as meat, fish, cheese, and even fruits and vegetables without the high time and labor demands of an outdoor barbecue pit. There are a wide variety of sizes and styles of smokers available, so you can find the right equipment for your commercial kitchen.
Smoker ovens are available in sizes as small as portable countertop models and as large as floor models with enough interior space to smoke an entire lamb or suckling pig. Keep in mind the products you will be smoking and the volume of your foodservice operation when you are considering smokers.
Portable countertop units are only available in electric models, with a pull-out tray under the food rack to contain wood chips. If a portable smoker is not large enough for what you need, you may consider an undercounter or half-size smoker oven. Many half-size models are also stackable, which lets you expand within the same footprint if your smoker capacity needs to be increased in the future.
Floor models come equipped with racks, skewers, or hooks. Racks allow you to cook brisket, pork shoulder, fish, cheese, or jerky, and can also be used for duck or chicken. Duck and chicken can also be smoked on small hooks, along with large turkeys. Large, heavy-duty hooks are needed to smoke a whole suckling pig or lamb. For large tenderloin strips or racks of ribs, skewers are the best option. Some foods can work on either a hook or rack, but keep in mind that the hook allows more fat to drip off, producing a leaner and potentially drier product. If you will only be using one of these cooking methods, make sure you purchase a smoker oven that supports it. Some commercial smokers are convertible between multiple methods.
Heat and Smoke
A smoker oven will be powered by either gas or electricity. While the hookups your kitchen has available will play a large part in this decision, the uses you plan for your smoker should also play a role. Gas smokers are operated by manual gas valves, meaning you personally must select the heat level. Electric models may support the use of programmable recipes, which allow you to adjust the settings so that the smoker oven changes over to a holding function once the food is cooked for a certain amount of time or to a certain temperature as determined by a probe inserted in the food.
Another aspect to consider is how the smoke is produced. Some smoker models rely solely on the smoke produced by fat drippings, while others use sawdust or wood chips. Some are convertible between the two methods, but may require additional parts to use wood for smoking. Some manufacturers even include sample bags of various wood types to help you find the type you want to use on a regular basis. Cherry, hickory, apple, and maple are the most popular varieties, but mesquite, oak, pecan, alder, cherry, and plum are also available.
Commercial smoker ovens have a variety of additional options available. Some versions are able to double as a grill. Others have settings for cold smoking, enabling you to smoke items such as cheese and sashimi without cooking them.
Many commercial smoker ovens have a water pan to help keep food moist while it cooks. Some electric models instead use a water inlet to create steam with a control that allows you to set different humidity levels for cooking and holding.
Smokers with a hold function will include a smoke timer and will switch to holding either by a set time or, if the model includes a probe, when the meat reaches a certain temperature. This smoke timer can also be used to turn off the smoke partway through the cooking process, if only a light smoke flavor is desired. Some of the units with temperature probes will automatically save temperature readings at certain intervals to make HACCP record keeping simple.
Because of the long times that large cuts of meat sometimes need to cook in a smoker, some models include a lock on the unit's door to prevent the food inside from being tampered with while it's unattended. Window doors are also an available option on some models.