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Smoking With Water Tray - Is It Necessary

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Happy Smoking Season All

I love being told what to do, and always follow orders happily. Getting vaccinated, working hard at school  and getting an EV are all working out really well for me 😊  But I am now starting to question the necessity of using the water pan for smaller cuts.

I can see why it would be handy if you're doing 4kg of pork overnight, but we brought the (Mac ProQ) smoker out of hibernation yesterday for a (upper) half leg of lamb and a chicken, which will keep us in meat for the week.
I put the meat in for the first 30 minutes (rising to 400F) without the water pan and with plenty of well-dried rosemary branches (I celebrate when a rosemary bush dies). I then ran it with the water pan another 2 hours, and then without the pan for the last 40 minutes, 350F declining to 280F. The meat has come out very smoky (I've just been gnawing on the lamb bone for breakfast) and moist.

I like the idea of the meat cooking directly over the charcoal and chips, like in a Mediterranean grill.

With the water pan I'm usually just over 250F, but I do use a lot of wood to heat 3 litres of water for 4+ hours. For smaller joints like this weekend (2kg each), surely I could use a lot less charcoal to keep around 260F? Is it possible to sit around 240F without the pan.

What does everyone else think? Water all the way? Half and half like above? Or fully without water?

[And if you're interested, I marinated the lamb overnight with Yotam's Shawarma recipe from his Jerusalem book, served with homemade pitta & cucumber & tomato (like Yotam told me to). Remainder diced and going into a spicy aubergine bake and as a pizza topping. ]

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I think a waterbowl necessity probably depends on your grill? The benefits I know are it helps keep the meat moist, temps stable and promotes a more smokey flavour(?)

As a bonus, you could keep the water since it will take on a smokey flavour and use it for other dishes in future cooks (chilli con carne or homemade bbq sauce etc). Freeze them into ice cubes and use them like stock cubes.

Its not very often I use water bowls since I use a kamado but always used one with my old offset. I never tried half and half though just fully or none but half and half is certainly an interesting approach👍

Alternatively I have heard of using sand but never tried this myself...although im sure extra fuel would be needed to heat it up just like water?

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I have the WSM I've always used water in pan as it's designed that way. I also boil my water first so there's no loss in energy in heating the water just maintaining it. 

I've been happy with my results. In my Kamado I don't find the need for water pan but I'm happy to experiment. 

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  • 1 month later...
On 3/6/2023 at 6:01 PM, Justin said:

Choices. I think design can be improved hence sand no refilling

I use sand, too, in my ProQ Frontier. I do need to empty it out and refill, as it's like a big block of burnt sand now (!), but when I originally used water, the constant topping-up was a pain.

Sand seems to work fine, however.

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Posted (edited)

I got rid of the water pan in my 14.5 WSM after a couple of cooks. PITB to clean-up.

I use a 4mm SS disc that sits on the waterpan tabs. I have an extended 8 inch fire-basket that can give me an 18+hr cook. I never have to think about refuelling using the larger basket.

I'll put a foil pan on top of the disc to catch any drippings, and bin it after the cook. I don't cook on the lower grate.

Edited by OrbandBullet
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I have a WSM and I use a Teracota saucer wrapped in foil, and then I put that in the water pan. This acts as a heat sink. If you sprinkle with a little water about 2 hours into a cook, that helps the moisture on the surface and attracts the smoke that you need. In short, I still don't bother with water in the pan, and I have not had dry meat. Again, if you don't want to bark, just a little spitting does the trick.

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