Barbeque season is well and truly upon us. So, it’s the perfect time to think about when and where to use your electric smoker. If your smoker has been gathering dust in the garage all year, I challenge you to set it up and give it a try.
It’s much easier than you think to smoke restaurant-quality cuts of meat. Half the battle is making sure your smoker is optimally positioned and that’s what this article will help you with.
Where Is The Best Place To Use An Electric Smoker
The best place to use an electric smoker is on a patio with a level surface, that is at least ten feet away from your home’s exterior.
Garden trees are great at providing wind coverage. They can be very useful provided your smoker is a safe distance away from any overhanging branches. The same applies to roofed shelters like awnings. You can operate your electric smoker underneath a roof or awning but there must be plenty of clearance on all sides and lots of ventilation.
Don’t forget, you’ll need a long extension cord to power your smoker. The longer your cord, the further away you can position the appliance from your home.
Why Location Is The Secret To Better Smoking
You might be asking yourself why I’m dedicating so much time to where to use an electric smoker and not how to use one. Truthfully, I’ve seen people spend a lot of money on meat smokers and then neglect them because their location doesn’t feel intuitive.
They get placed behind heavy deck furniture or gardening tools and it feels like a mission just to reach them. It’s a shame because smoking is an excellent hobby that can quickly turn into an all-consuming passion.
The second reason is your safety. Accidental fires are rare because smoking is not about cooking on open flames.
However, like all wood burners, electric smokers emit carbon monoxide so proper ventilation is essential. Never use a smoker indoors unless the manufacturer explicitly states it is safe to do so.
Best Places To Use Electric Smoker
1 – Patio
Patios are wonderful locations for electric smokers as they’re typically very flat and level. They’re also difficult to damage.
Even if stray embers escape the cooker and land on the ground, which does happen sometimes, they’re not going to harm the concrete, brick or flagstones.
Because patios are level, you’re going to get lots of air circulating beneath and around your smoker. This is great for heat regulation and cooking efficiency.
One thing to keep an eye on is the smoker’s distance from your home’s exterior. Positioning an electric smoker on a patio normally means placing it close to the house.
This is handy for hooking it up to power sockets, but you must make sure it isn’t too close to the walls, doors, sidings or patio furniture.
2 – Deck
Smoking out on your home’s deck can be just as safe and comfortable as smoking out on a patio. The difference is most decks are made of wood.
Again, provided the surface is reasonably flat and level, this shouldn’t be a problem. There is a slightly increased risk of damage to a deck if embers fall on the wood.
Thankfully, the risk of fires remains very low if you’re operating the smoker correctly.
You can buy heat protective mats for electric smokers which protect the surface of the wood from scorch marks.
They’re not essential for safe smoking but if you’re concerned about embers, these mats are inexpensive and widely available. Don’t forget, the same rules apply when it comes to proximity from your house and furniture.
3 – Grass Surfaces
It’s generally safe to use an electric meat smoker on grass. The biggest risk in this scenario is positioning the smoker on an uneven surface which causes it to wobble and fall over.
It does present a fire risk, but it’s easily avoided by choosing a flat, level spot without grassy bumps or humps. Do not position your smoker on a slope or incline that could make it unstable.
If it tips and ignites the grass, well, things could escalate quickly.
Even on a level surface, expect scorch marks and superficial damage to the grass. You’ll probably see some black marks appear underneath the appliance.
These won’t disappear until you stop using the smoker in that particular spot but they’re nothing to worry about. Don’t use your smoker out on the lawn if you’re concerned about this.
4 – Garage
This is a weird one because, personally, I wouldn’t recommend electric smoking inside a garage. However, I do understand some people are short on outdoor space or live in a rainy climate and lack the shelter for wet weather smoking.
If, for any reason, you’re considering setting up your meat smoker in the garage, I implore you to take the following precautions.
First, there must be plenty of ventilation. I mean, lots of ventilation. You need to have your garage door wide open and any windows as well if you’ve got them.
Even with the door and windows open, position the appliance as close to the outdoors and open air as possible. I strongly advise the use of a plug-in fan (maybe two) to help the fresh air circulate and direct carbon monoxide outside.
Smoking in an indoor garage is only safe if you can do these things. If you cannot, it presents too much of a risk to your health and I strongly discourage it.
Even if you meet all of these requirements, the risk of damage to the structure is much greater in an enclosed space. It should only be considered if there’s no suitable outdoor option.
5 – Public Space
Unless you’re a commercial cook, you probably don’t need to think about the suitability of smoking in public spaces. There are some exceptions, neighborhood cookouts in parks and such, so I’ll provide a few safety tips.
The first is to always check permissions with your local authority before setting up a smoker in a public space. Some states have very strict rules on where these appliances can be used.
The first step is to check whether it’s legal to smoke outside of your property. The second is to check the legality of the heavy-duty power cables you’ll need to operate an appliance in an open area.
If smoking is permitted, you’ll need to be close enough to a building with sockets or have access to a portable generator.
Where Not To Use Electric Smoker
1 – Indoors
There are some specific types of electric meat smoker which can be safely used indoors but they are relatively rare. The majority of commercially available smokers are not intended for indoor use and may put your health at risk if used in an enclosed environment.
You should never try to operate an electric smoker inside your home unless you are 100% sure the manufacturer has approved it.
The risk is not fires as some presume. The danger comes from lack of ventilation and the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning which can be fatal.
It’s the reason all wood burners (including disposable grills) must be used outdoors.
2 – In The Rain
As with smoking in a garage, it’s technically incorrect to say it’s always unsafe to smoke outdoors in rainy weather. It’s inadvisable but I think common sense and good judgment are valuable tools.
A light drizzle isn’t going to put your backyard cookout at risk especially if your meat has already been smoking for hours.
Provided any power cables and control boxes are sufficiently protected, I don’t think a short shower needs to end your fun.
High-quality electric smokers have gaskets and weatherproof resins to protect them from the rain. With that being said, anything heavier than a light, short shower is likely to cause problems.
If it is raining heavily and there is no overhead protection for the smoker, I advise against cooking outdoors. If you’re already hours deep into a serious smoke when a downpour hits, you’ll need to make a judgment call.
Light to medium rain may be tolerated if the electrical points are covered. Sustained heavy rain might put a stop to your whole project. Say it with me now, awnings are a gift for homes in variable climates.
3 – Poorly Ventilated Garage
I think it’s important to come back to the idea of using an electric meat smoker in a garage. I want to be truthful so I’m not saying it can’t ever be done.
It’s far from an ideal solution but garages come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. You may have a large space with a high ceiling and lots of ventilation. I’ll leave you to decide if your garage is a safe option.
Here are some things to consider:
- The Total Area Of The Space – The bigger the garage, the more air can circulate and the safer it is to use a smoker.
- Ventilation Options – At a minimum, the garage door should be completely open, and the smoker positioned as close to it as possible. Any windows should be left fully open. Doors leading from the garage into the house are not suitable ventilation options because strong odors are likely to permeate the home. Consider this when identifying your ventilation sources.
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors – I strongly recommend you install a carbon monoxide detector close to where you’ll be spending the most time while you use the smoker. These detectors are lifesavers. CO poisoning can progress quickly and because it causes confusion, you may not realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Install a detector.
- The Lingering Smell – Even if your garage is huge and all the windows and doors are open, smoky odors are inevitable. Don’t smoke meat in your garage unless you’re prepared to accept a strong smell that may linger for days or even weeks. Long-time smoking enthusiasts tend not to mind these odors. It’s a tolerable consequence of the cooking process for many of them. Ask yourself if you feel the same before smoking in your garage.
Will An Electric Smoker Work In Cold Weather
The biggest obstacle to smoking in cold weather is not causing damage to the appliance. It’s uncontrolled heat loss. Provided all of the safety requirements we’ve already discussed are fulfilled, adequate ventilation, an even surface, and minimal rain, even frigid snowy conditions shouldn’t pose a risk to the machine itself.
It does make the cooking process harder because heat loss is accelerated, and temperature control is key to a successful smoke in one of these metal monsters.
It will operate but be prepared to apply all of your most impressive pitmaster skills. I fire up my electric smoker after heavy snowfall once or twice a year.
I stay close by to nurse the wood chips and check the temperature of my meat every hour to ensure it doesn’t fall below safe eating levels.
It’s perfectly fine to use an electric smoker in cold temperatures. It just requires a little more concentration.
Smoking In Cold Weather
- You will need to check on the temperature of your smoking meats every 2-3 hours to ensure they are cooking correctly. Careful monitoring is extra important in cold weather conditions because the appliance will lose more heat to its surroundings. You may need to add more water and/or wood chips to the pan to help it maintain an optimal temperature.
- Ideally, you should be checking the smoker’s internal temperature with a digital thermometer. Almost all modern smokers are sold with integrated temperature devices. However, if yours is an older appliance and you need to carry out manual checks by opening the door, remember to add 20 minutes to the smoke every time the door is opened. Keep checking on your food but do it strategically. Time your checks so that the door is open to the cold as little as possible.
- Placing your smoker in a partially sheltered area or behind a natural windbreak is an effective way to minimize the impact of cold weather conditions. Even a modest line of shrubs or trees can help to take the force out of chill winds and reduce the speed at which an electric smoker loses heat. Just be wary of its proximity to overhanging branches in case stray embers escape and take to the air.
- You could buy an insulation jacket for your electric smoker to wear in cold weather. These jackets are widely available and function just like furnace insulators or water heater blankets. They fit over the smoker’s cooking compartment and significantly reduce the rate at which heat is lost to its surroundings. Always remember to keep the smoker’s vents clear during use.
Cold Weather Electric Smoking Checklist
If the temperature outside is colder than usual and/or you’ve had recent snowfalls in your local area, think carefully about whether the conditions are right for smoking.
It’s not about safety. Smoking in the snow isn’t any more dangerous than smoking meat in the summer. It’s just harder to do well. Ask yourself whether it’s worth the extra effort.
If it is, here’s a checklist you can use to get prepared:
- Check the weather forecast before you start. It’s extremely difficult to smoke in heavy rain or snow. I wouldn’t attempt it. Even if it’s freezing outside, it’s important to have a relatively dry sky. Too much water is going to make checking temperatures and refilling pans much tougher than it needs to be.
- If it’s very windy out, consider relocating your smoker to an area with some natural windbreaks.
- If you have an insulator jacket for your smoker, don’t forget to use it.
- Give the smoker some extra time to preheat. It will take longer in cold weather conditions. Wait at least ten minutes before you put any wood chips, pellets or sawdust in the appliance.
- Use a heavy-duty weatherproof extension cord to ensure safety if it has recently rained or is threatening to do so. You must keep water out of your cables and control panel.
- Be strategic with your food checks. You may need to check the meat more often to ensure it’s hot and cooking correctly. However, you should think carefully about when and how to do this to minimize heat loss.
Helpful Tips To Know Where To Use Electric Smoker
- Never use an electric meat smoker indoors unless the manufacturer explicitly states it is safe to do so. The majority of meat smokers are not suitable for indoor use. You could put your health in jeopardy.
- Always operate an electric smoker outdoors whenever possible. The only exception is if you have a very large space such as a garage with a door that can be opened to the width of one whole wall. You must keep the door and any windows fully opened and always be aware of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Check with your local authority before operating an electric smoker in a public space of any kind. Some states have strict laws on their use.
- The ideal place to use an electric smoker is outdoors on a flat patio or deck. The appliance should be positioned at least ten feet from your home’s exterior.
Learning where and how to use an electric smoker is a process. Anybody can turn an oven on and fill it with food. It takes time, skill and patience to produce perfectly smoked meat.
I don’t mind admitting that it took me a few tries to feel confident using my smoker. I had more than a few disasters. And I ruined some expensive cuts of meat. But I paid attention to my mistakes and made sure to do things differently next time.
Hopefully, this article will help you learn the basics and start your own meat smoking journey. Where and how to position your appliance might not be the most exciting part of the process but it is the foundation.