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What is the best kind of smoker to start out with?

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Question: What is the best kind of smoker to start out with?
Answer: Let me start out by describing the process I used the last time I prepared a brisket. It was a good sized brisket, around 14 pounds. I planned on serving it around 5pm on a Saturday, so Friday night, with the brisket set out to warm up from the refrigerator, I rubbed it down and started preparing the smoker. The meat went on about 9pm. I watched the fire and temperature for a couple of hours and went to bed. The alarm first went off at 3am. I checked the fire and the temperature. Mopped the brisket and added additional wood to the fire. Then back to bed. Around 8am I got up and repeated the process. By 2pm the brisket was tender and full of smoke flavor. I wrapped it in heavy foil and kept it warm until 5pm. Carved and served a great brisket.

If this sounds too extreme for you then you probably don't want a smoker that's going to get you up in the night to tend the fire. There are decent electric and gas smokers that hold temperatures without being watched. This will give you the ability to sleep through the night. If getting up at 3am doesn't sound all that bad then a good charcoal smoker might be what you are looking for. Remember that the closer you are to a real fire the more you have to watch over the process.

And then there is the price. If you really haven't done a lot of smoking you probably should sink a couple hundred or even thousand dollars into a smoker. There are good units called vertical water smokers that will cost you around $60 and you can make great barbecue on them. In fact a few competition grand prices have gone to people who used nothing more than a 650 smoker.

Once you have your smoker, play with it. Find out how it works and work out the best process for you. Smoking is not a science. It is an art and every great barbecue cook does things a little different. If you find that you have a real love for smoking you can always upgrade to a bigger and better smoker later. If on the other hand you find that it just isn't for you, well you are not out a lot of money.

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