FAQ OF THE INTERNET BBQ LIST
- [Do I really need a thermometer in my smoker?]
Unless you're one of the real pro's out there, you need a thermometer. Even if you have one of those Brinkmann "COLD-IDEAL-HOT" indicators, you need to know what temperature it's really indicating. Also, if you have a thermometer that's not at grill level, you need to know how close it reads to an accurate thermometer placed at the grill level so you can use your installed thermometer as a guide.
You have a lot of choices here. Thermometers range from $3 home oven types to $30 or more dial indicator or digital remote reading units. You'll have to decide what's best for you. Here's some information to help you make that choice:
- Oven Thermometer
These $3 or so units will work fine. You can get them at K-Mart, WalMart, Roses or stores that carry kitchen accessories. Sit it on the grill and smoke away. The two big drawbacks are, 1) you have to raise the lid to check the temperature (and that causes heat loss) and 2) you have to clean the face of it just about every time you use it use because the smoke will totally coat the face. Also, over time, the smoke products can muck up the spring mechanism (through the small holes in the back) so plan on buying a new one after a few years, depending on the amount of use.
- Built-in Thermometer
These dial indicator thermometers are available for about $30. Brinkmann and New Braunfels make them to fit the threaded hole in the cooking chamber lid. They have a range of about 50 to 500F. The element (probe) is inside the smoke chamber and the dial is outside so you don't have to open the unit to check the temperature and the face and mechanism don't see the smoke. The only problem may be the placement of the thermometer. On the Brinkmann SnP Pro and the NBBD and Hondo units, the thermometer is 4 to 8 inches above the grill level so the indicated temperature may read as much as 60F higher than the grill temperature. Several other instrument companies also make dial indicator thermometers and some are available on the Internet.
- Remote-Reading Thermometer
Sunbeam and Polder both make very nice remote-reading thermometers for about $30. Service Merchandise carries the Sunbeam and both should be available at better kitchen stores. You can buy the Polder unit over the Internet from Cunningham Gas products. These electronic units have a 4 or 5 inch probe which can be placed in the smoker. A metal braid shielded wire runs from the probe to an LCD readout placed outside the chamber. The probe can be positioned anywhere within the smoker to obtain a fast and accurate temperature indication. These units are excellent for 'calibrating' your installed dial indicator thermometer because it shows the difference between the grill level and the dial indicator location.
Some folks have reported that a candy thermometer, poked through the center of a cork that fits a hole into the cook chamber works fine. There are probably lots of alternate solutions.
- [Which digital thermometer is best, Sunbeam or Polder?]
I received my Polder digital thermometers from Jeff today - they appear to be really nice units. Since I also have 2 Sunbeams, I thought the list members may be interested in my first impressions.
I was a little worried when I first unpacked the Polders, put in the battery and then plugged in the probe--display continued to read "LO F no matter what I did--I even switched probes with a Sunbeam--still no reading. When I removed and replaced the battery with the probe connected, the unit initialized and read fine.
The Polder appears to be built and designed better than the Sunbeam - I like the swing-up display on the magnetic base. The disadvantage is that the battery and circuitry are in the magnetic base and could be damaged by prolonged attachment to hot surfaces. I melted the magnetic base on one of my Sunbeams by leaving it on the cast iron cooker door when I had a hot fire.
Functionally, both units are very similar. The Sunbeam does have a clock function. The timer on both units continues to run after time elapses. On the Sunbeam the alarm sounds for one minute and the display shows elapsed time. The Polder alarm keeps sounding until reset. You can also set seconds on the Sunbeam. The probes appear to be identical and are interchangeable - therefore I would expect the same immersion problems. I use mine in liquids all of the time and just avoid immersing the top of the probe where the wire enters.
Both units are excellent values and extremely handy and functional.
I have the Perfect Temp by Charcoal Companion, and as far as I can tell, it's identical to the Polder in every way except for brand name. I bought mine from the Barbecue Store on the Internet. It works just great!
I've got both the Polder and the Charcoal Companion (don't know if that's a Sunbeam or not) and I can't tell a bit of difference other than the Charcoal Companion has different printed instructions, like maybe Polder sells the thermometers to the company and then they print their own instructions (and the Polders are white while the CCs are black). Even came with the same brand of battery (El Cheapo Hong Kong Industrial Grade Alkaline, guaranteed to last nearly 2.3 minutes). Probes are the same length, display is identical down to the size and placement of numbers. They were also priced identically - $29.95.
6.1.1 Pros and cons of thermometers
The old-timers on the List don't use thermometers and say they are not needed. Beginners seem to want and need them. Seems that once you're an old-hand at barbecue, then you can tell the temperature by the color of the smoke, the smell of the pit or by some extra-sensory thing. But until you get to that point, a thermometer somewhere in the pit is an absolute necessity.
6.1.2 Where should I measure the temperature?
- [Just where do I stick it?]
Editor--A summary of several posts--
Remember, the important place to measure the temperature in the pit is at the meat. This is also not the easiest place to measure the temperature. Most pits come with a thermometer in the lid, whether it's a bullet smoker or an off-set-firebox smoker. The temperature measured at this point, in the lid, will be 50-70F higher than at the meat cooking rack. If your pit has upper and lower racks, the top rack will be 20-50F higher than the lower rack. None of these things is a big problem once you learn your pit. For the beginner, we suggest that you equip your pit with a good analog thermometer in the dome or lid. A candy thermometer works well (you need a range of about 150F to 350F). Use this thermometer to monitor and control the temperature inside your pit. A digital meat thermometer that you can poke into the meat is well worth the investment of $20-$30. Once you understand the temperature profiles within your pit, then you can stop using the digital thermometer and rely on the one in the dome. Also remember that in your horizontal smoker (SnP Pro, NBBD, Klose, OKJ's, etc.) the temperature at the meat rack will be highest near the firebox and coolest at the opposite end. You can take advantage of this by starting your meat near the firebox and moving it farther away after the first hour or so.
Like we've said before, you've got to put some heat to the meat and experiment with your pit to get good at doing barbecue. Nothing beats experience. A whole chicken costs about $5 and is a good way to begin working with your pit. You're not going to go bankrupt if you ruin a few chickens and chances are you won't ruin any. See Section 10.3.3 on how to prepare the chicken before it goes into the pit.
- [What kinds of tools are handy for barbecuing?]
- RIB RACKS
If you have a small bullet water smoker, you might want to consider a rib rack. These racks allow you to stand a rack or slab of ribs on edge, instead of laying them flat, thus freeing up valuable grill space. They are available at barbecue stores, some home centers, better kitchen stores and restaurant supply houses.
A set of long barbecue tongs are indispensable for picking up meats, especially ribs, when they are repositioned to account for uneven temperatures in the smoker or when you're ready to pull them off and chow down. They are also useful for messing with the fire and for adding chunks of wood or charcoal to the firebox. A large fork or spatula is also handy for checking doneness and transferring the cooked meat to a serving platter or to a roasting pan for covered cooking.
- SPRAY BOTTLE
Nope, not for putting our grease fires! A spray bottle is ideal for applying thin mops, such as apple juice, beer or soda, which do not contain ingredients that would stop up the sprayer nozzle.
- DRIP PANS
These accessories come in many shapes, sizes and materials. The bottom line is that a drip pan, placed under the meat, can help keep your cleanup requirements to a minimum. Instead of washing out the smoke chamber, you simply clean out the drip pan. For even easier cleanup, line the pan with aluminum foil and just fold up and throw away the foil after smoking.
- COOKING PANS
A nice aluminum, stainless steel or porcelain roasting pan is a handy smoking item but be aware, it'll turn black over time!. Many folks like to finish their product in a covered pan, either in the smoker or in the oven. A shallow roasting pan, covered with aluminum foil, works great for this purpose.
- WATERING CAN or FUNNEL
Many of the bullet water smokers have horrible access to the water pan. Refilling the water pan can be dangerous and difficult. A long, flexible funnel or a gardener's watering can makes replenishing the water pan a breeze.
- CHIMNEY STARTER
This is one of the most indispensable items for anyone using lump charcoal or briquettes. They are available at home centers (Lowe's, Home Depot, HQ, etc.) for $4 to $10. Basically, it is an open metal cylinder with a grate near one end. You fill it with fuel which sits on the grate, crumple up newspaper underneath the grating and light it. In 15 - 30 minutes, you are ready to pour the contents into your firebox or firepan and get to smoking.
A standard insulated chest or food/drink cooler, size determined by your needs, is an invaluable tool for barbecuing. Often, the meat, particularly brisket, is removed from the smoker, wrapped in several layers of foil, and placed in a cooler. This 'resting' period continues the cooking process (without you having to tend the pit and burn fuel) and tenderizes the meat further while holding in heat. A brisket can be safely kept in a cooler if it's wrapped in towels for additional insulation for 6-7 hours prior to serving. Remember, meat must be kept at a temperature above 140F for safe storage.
- BEER HOLDER
Self explanatory. You or anything else that keeps your beer handy and cool while you slave over the smoker.
- BASTING BRUSH or MOP
You should have one of each. Both should have long handles. A mop is used for thinner sauces and a basting brush for thicker ones and for honey, butter and oils. These are available in barbecue stores, kitchen shops, supermarkets and discount stores. They are available from $2 to $9.
- WATER CAN
Some people who have off-set firebox smokers like to have some added humidity to the smoke, just like the bullet smoker people get. To accomplish this, an old coffee can (paint burned off) set in the firebox will do the trick. Alternatively, a small loaf pan, filled with water and set in the smoke chamber in front of the firebox opening has basically the same effect.
- FOOD GLOVES
When handling the meat, particularly after smoking, a nice pair of rubber gloves is handy. Helps keep the meat clean and also helps keep from burning your hands if the meat is too hot.
- CHICKEN RACK
A chicken rack is available at barbecue stores, better kitchen stores and at some home centers. Some consist of a pan with a center cone attached to the pan while others are fabricated from a wire frame. In either case, the chicken sits upright. On the cone type, the hot air and smoke can get to the inside of the bird as well as the outside. It is also supposed to save some space if you have a small cooking surface, depending on the size of the rack's footprint.
This item is available only at specialty kitchen stores and kitchen item suppliers. It consists of a row of tiny blades (as few as 9 or as many as 36) which are used to tenderize the meat. This tool is plunged into the meat many times and it cuts the fibers. Probably not an item required for the backyard chef.
If you smoke in a cold climate, you might consider insulating your smoke chamber. Brinkmann makes a "Smoking Jacket" for some of its smokers. A water heater blanket may work just as well but be sure there are no combustible materials adjacent to the chamber. A piping system insulation manufacturer would also have a suitable product. WARNING: IF YOU INSULATE, MAKE CERTAIN THAT THE MATERIAL IS ENCLOSED AND CANNOT ESCAPE ONTO YOUR FOOD AND THAT IT WILL WITHSTAND THE TEMPERATURES YOU EXPECT ON YOUR UNIT.
- CHIP BOX
These small metal boxes are designed to hold wood chips. The box is placed on a bed of coals or just above an electric or gas element and produces smoke.
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BBQ FAQ Rev 1.0 ©1997 William W. Wight. All rights reserved.