By Dan Domanko
There are thousands of patents for barbecue equipment. Generally, equipment used for barbecuing is referred to either as a smoker or a pit. Some equipment requires your full attention, others do all the work for you. For all intents and purposes, smokers and pits can be divvied up into three categories: stick burners, pellet smokers, and charcoal. Stick burners are exactly what they sound like. The user burns hard wood (sticks and logs) in the smoker to make heat and to flavour with smoke. Pellet smokers do almost the exact same thing, but the pellets of pressed hard wood dust and shavings burn or smolder to create heat and flavouring smoke. Charcoal is similar; but, the user burns previously-scorched wood (charcoal) as fuel. Each one of these categories can then be further broken down once more into four device styles:
Respect the ingredients, respect the tradition, and eat well my friends.
Offset smokers – a fire box on one side, an air-intake cooking chamber in the middle and a vent on the other side. Offsets use thermal drafts (heat rises) to draw smoke and heat from the fire box across the cooking chamber and out the vent. The user will feed the fire and adjust the air intake and vent to achieve the desired cooking temperature. Offset smokers come in all three fire categories and can be either manually operated or fully automated.
Reverse-flow pits – With exactly the same parts as an offset smoker, reverse flow pits draw smoke and heat under the cook chamber first, then double back across the cooking chamber to exit out the vent. In these units, the fire box and the vent are on the same side of the cook chamber. Like the offset, reverse flow pits can utilize all three fire categories and can be either manually operated or fully automated.
Direct-flow smokers – a fire box is located on the bottom of a straight cooking chamber with a vent at the top. Heat and smoke rise from the fire box through the cooking chamber and out the vent. These units are easy to operate and have been the typical design for electrically heated system.
Convection or Kamado smokers – egg-shaped smokers where the fire box is at the bottom of the cooking chamber with a vent at the top. These units have an internal design that facilitates a convection (re-circulating) tendency for the heat and smoke. Convection currents tend to “roll” the smoke and heat throughout the cooking chamber.
Despite the variety and configurations of these devices, one thing is constant: the burning of wood. Burning hard woods, to be precise. More on that in Barbecue 103: Wood and Spices.