Using Your Water Pan to Get the Best Results
Hot Smoking is the most common method for cooking authentic American Style BBQ, and is generally split into a couple of temperature ranges referred to as either low ’n slow or hot ’n fast.
American barbecue started as a way to get great results from cheaper cuts of meat like brisket and pork shoulder. Often thought to be tough, fatty and undesirable, these cuts are tender, full of flavour and unctuous when cooked at a low temperature 95 - 120°C (220 - 250°F), for several hours. This renders and softens the fat, and breaks down the connective tissue/collagens, leaving you with incredible results.
Traditionally this was achieved by constant tending of a fire in a large brick pit or offset smoker by a Pitmaster. BBQ smokers like the ProQ smoker range make this style of cooking much more accessible for the home user.
Hot & fast BBQ is a much more modern method which allows very similar results to be achieved in a lot less time. Stemming from the BBQ competition circuit and often used in catering operations, this technique can be great when time is short. Whether or not you think the results are better, worse or just the same, it’s well worth trying to see what you prefer.
Whilst not as hot as a typical indoor oven, hot & fast is still quite a lot hotter than typical BBQ, and is usually done in the 135 – 175°C (275 – 350°F) range. This can improve things like crispy skin and pork crackling as well as shortening cook time, but as you’re cooking at a higher temperature the window when your meat is perfect is smaller, and you may need to keep a closer eye on your BBQ temperature particularly when getting used to cooking like this.
We recommend starting out with the low’n slow method, and using water in the pan to get an idea of how you set up your fire, get up to temperature and how often you need to do things like topping up the fire. Once you have learnt and understood how to control your BBQ Smoker, it’s easier to move on to hot’n fast cooking.
USING WATER IN THE WATER PAN
Water makes the whole cooking process really simple, and will pretty much control your temperature for you. This method is fool proof and allows you to get a feel for your BBQ, how it works, and how to manage your fire without having to worry too much about burnt food. Water also creates a humid environment within the cook chamber helping smoke adhere to the surface of the meat and enhancing the smoky flavour.
Here is how to set up your smoker for low’n slow using water in the pan:
- Make sure your fire is set up right, light 3-4 big handfuls of lumpwood charcoal or briquettes, put them in the middle of the charcoal basket and then fill the basket up with unlit coal and add a couple of wood chunks for flavour
- Open all your vents, both lid and base, the smoker is designed around this setup and should happily sit at 95 - 120°C/220 - 250°F as long as there is water in the pan and the fire is running
- Fill the water pan ¾ of the way up with hot water from the tap or the kettle, and place it the first stacker with a grill above it
- Put your food on the grill, add another stacker with a 2nd grill if needed and put your lid on.
As long as you have a healthy fire with sufficient fuel and at least an inch of water in the pan, your smoker should sit happily in the low’n slow temperature range
Tips for using water in the pan:
- Lining the water pan with foil before filling will make clean up easier and will protect your pan from getting too grimy – you may want to cook in it at some point.
- Start with hot water in your water pan, this will reduce warm up time
- Only fill your water pan 2/3 – 3/4 full, this will make it easier and safer to handle
- Put the water pan in the first stacker before moving the stacker onto the base to avoid spilling water into the fire
- Check the water level every 3-4 hours, and top up with hot water when required
- BBQ controllers don’t work well with water, the water and the fan will fight against each other, rather try one of the dry deflector methods below.
USING DRY DEFLECTOR METHODS
Dry deflector methods are simple to set up but might require a little more attention as it’s possible for the temperature to overshoot and ruin your food. The temperature is controlled using the vents to regulate airflow to the fire, open the vents to raise the temperature, close them down to lower it. One of the main upsides of these methods is that you don’t have to worry about the water evaporating from the pan, and you can achieve a greater range of temperatures - they can be used for both hot’n fast or low’n slow. There are a variety of options for what to put into the water pan (if anything), and it really comes down to personal preference, so try a couple out and see what works for you.
This is the following method we recommend starting with:
- Light 2-3 big handfuls of lumpwood charcoal or briquettes, put them in the middle of the charcoal basket and then fill the basket up with unlit coal and add a couple of wood chunks for flavour
- Add your first stacker with the water pan in, set up in one of the configurations below, then add a grill
- Put your food on the grill, add another stacker with a 2nd grill if needed and put your lid on
- As a broad rule, start with all 4 vents half open, and wait for your smoker temperature to settle, then adjust to your desired temperature
All these methods work similarly, but you may find slight differences in results:
EMPTY/DRY WATER PAN:
Take an empty, dry, clean water pan and cover over with heavy duty aluminium foil – this helps a lot with clean up and stops drips from burning onto the pan.
A dry deflector without a heat sink allows you to change the temperature of your cook rapidly, as there is no heat sink to cool down/warm up, however it does also mean the temperature can fluctuate quickly and you’ll need to keep a close eye on your temperature.
Carefully measure the inside diameter of your water pan, and buy a terracotta plant pot base that fits just inside the rim, you can cover this in foil to make it easier to clean up and just wipe the fat off after each cook – replace the foil once it gets too grimy.
Line your pan in the inside with strong aluminium foil, and fill half way with clean sand, ideally play sand but a washed builders sand will also work, foil over the sand to help with clean up.
Take 2-3 heating bricks and cover them in foil, then put them into the base of your water pan, cover the top of the pan with some more foil and you’re good to go. Be careful when sourcing heating bricks like the ones in night storage heaters – if they were manufactured/sold before 1974, they may contain asbestos.
We don’t recommend lava rocks due to the scratching they can cause to the porcelain coating of your water pan, however, if you do use these, we’d recommend lining the pan using a foil tray to protect it.
TIPS FOR USING DRY DEFLECTORS:
- Spritz your meat with water, or fruit juice to introduce moisture to the meat cook chamber, this can be done as often as every half hour
- Adjust your vents slowly, a little tweak can have a big effect. Once you set your vents wait 15-20 minutes to see a true adjusted temperature
- Use extra wide turkey foil – this is usually a bit thicker and will cover the pan in one sheet.
- Soak up fat left on top of the foil after each cook, burning fat doesn’t smell great and if it builds up too much this can cause a fat fire.