How Do Electric Smokers Work – The Science Behind It

How Do Electric Smokers Work - The Science Behind It

All smokers work by dispersing heat and smoke inside a cooking chamber. However, different types of smokers create heat in different ways. Offset smokers use charcoal and wood to generate smoke and heat, while pellet grills use wood pellets. Electric smokers only use electricity, which powers a heating element on the smoker’s bottom. 

Electric smokers still use wood chips to create smoke, but they don’t burn with an actual flame. Charcoal and wood produce more combustion gases, and they give the meat a more intense smoky wood flavor. However, many people prefer electric smokers because of their convenience and ease of use. 


Components of an Electric Smoker

An electric smoker has several essential parts. These include a heating element, a tray for wood chips, a water pan, various food racks, and vents. Electric smokers are arranged vertically, with the heating element down below and the shelves for food on top. 

  • The heating element 

The heating element is on the bottom of the smoker and is powered by electricity. For this reason, you always need to plug in an electric smoker. The heating element ignites the wood chips right on top, and this creates heat and smoke.

  • Food racks

These racks are located above the heating element. The number of racks depends on the type of smoker. Hot air rises, so naturally, smoke starts filling up the whole cooking chamber above, slowly cooking the food on the racks. 

  • The wood chip tray

This tray is right next to the heating element. The close proximity means the element starts burning the wood chips, producing smoke. There are many flavors when it comes to wood chips, and you can experiment to find the ones you like best. It’s also possible to mix different kinds to produce exotic aromas. 

  • A water pan 

Some smokers have a water pan in addition to the wood chip tray, creating some water vapor and moisture. This moisture prevents your food from getting too dry. The water placed in the pan is initially cold, which prevents the smoker’s temperature from rising too quickly. 

  • Dampers and vents 

These components are usually on the bottom, sides, or top of the smoker. They allow air to flow in and out. It’s essential to deliver oxygen to burning wood chips and provide a hot air escape to regulate the temperature. 


How an Electric Smoker Works

An electric smoker works in a very similar way to that of offset or charcoal smokers, except it produces heat using electricity. Because there’s almost no combustion, except for the burning of wood chips, an electric smoker is much easier to clean

Essentially, the heating element on the bottom of the smoker starts raising the wood chips’ temperature until they produce smoke. Simultaneously, the water in the pan turns to vapor, which moisturizes the food on the racks. 

The heat and smoke created by the heating element circulate thanks to the thermodynamics principle of convection. The dampers and vents allow fresh oxygen to flow in and excess warmth to escape. 


What is the Convection Effect?

The convection effect sounds highly scientific, but it’s pretty simple. It’s a physics principle that has to do with how fluids and gases move and interact with heat. 

When you heat gas, like the air in an electric smoker, the air particles increase in energy and start moving faster. When they move more quickly, they spread out, and the air becomes less dense. As a result, the air of lesser density rises, leaving room for heavier air to take its place. That heavier air will become hot and eventually rise as well. This movement creates a circular current of air

When you first turn on a smoker, the air near the heating element increases in temperature and energy. Because of this, the air will become less dense and start rising. Colder air with a higher density will then take its place right by the heating element, and in turn, it will increase in temperature as well. This dynamic between hot and cold air, or light and heavy air, creates airflow inside the smoker. 

Eventually, all the air inside the smoker will start getting hotter, so we need vents and dampers to release some heat. Otherwise, the temperature would continue rising indefinitely.


Understanding Smoke

All smokers use heat and smoke for cooking food and giving it a distinctive smoky flavor. However, not all smoke has the same qualities. Depending on how we create smoke, it has a certain degree of intensity.

For example, the smoke created by burning wood logs or charcoal has specific compounds that give it a powerful aroma. In contrast, an electric heating element produces no smoke at all. There are some wood chips in an electric smoker right on top of the heating element, which the element ignites, causing minimal smoke. However, this smoke has a lighter quality than that produced by charcoal or wood logs. 

Most people find electric smokers do not give the food the same intense smoky flavor as offset smokers or charcoal smokers. The difference is subjective, and many people don’t mind a milder flavor on their smoked foods


Tips For Using an Electric Smoker

There are three top tips to keep in mind when using an electric smoker. 

  • Make sure you have enough time 

Smoking takes place at low temperatures over an extended period. Therefore, when you plan on smoking ribs or any type of food, make sure you plan enough time in your day. For example, it takes at least a couple of hours to smoke ribs. 

  • Cook foods at the proper temperature

A common mistake beginners make is failing to learn the correct temperatures for smoking specific foods. You should smoke red meats at around 225ºF to 250°F while smoking turkey or ham at around 275°F. 

  • Clean your smoker regularly

You shouldn’t allow grease or food residue to build upon the grates of your smoker. After every use, give the grates a quick brush with some water and a bit of dishwashing soap. 


Enjoy Using Your Electric Smoker

An electric smoker won’t give the food the intense aroma of charcoal-fueled smokers, but it’s a convenient and easy-to-use alternative. Many people love the set-and-forget digital controls of electric smokers, in addition to how reliable they are thanks to the self-regulating thermostat. You can be sure that your smoked ribs will come out perfectly cooked every single time. 

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