Do you need a water pan when smoking brisket? Absolutely!

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 11, 2022

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Smoking brisket is a delicious and tender way to cook beef. But do you need a water pan when you make smoked brisket?

Do you need a water pan when smoking brisket? Absolutely!

The answer is yes, you do! The water pan helps to regulate the temperature of your smoker, ensuring that your brisket cooks evenly and comes out perfectly juicy every time. Without a water pan, your smoker may be susceptible to temperature fluctuations that could dry out your brisket or make it tough.

Smoking is a low and slow cooking process and to cook the brisket, you need a steady low temperature for many hours.

Anytime you’re smoking meat, it’s best to use a water pan.

So if you’re planning on smoking a brisket, be sure to use a water pan for the best results. I’m sharing how to use your water pan to get amazing flavors when cooking brisket with your smoker.

Water pan for smoking brisket: yes or no?

The water pan is necessary when smoking brisket regardless if you use a pellet smoker, offset smoker, electric smoker, the big green egg, etc.

It’s about the role of the water, not the type of smoker you use for the cooking process.

Here’s why you need a water pan when smoking brisket:

  1. The water pan helps to regulate the temperature of your smoker, ensuring that your brisket cooks evenly and comes out perfectly juicy every time. For the best brisket, you need a steady cooking temperature.
  2. A water pan can also help to keep your smoker clean, by catching any dripping fat or juices from your meat. This is if you place the water pan under the cooking grate.
  3. Adding moisture to the smoking process can help to ensure that your brisket stays nice and moist, rather than drying out. The point of cooking smoked brisket is to make it tasty and using a water pan makes the meat moister so you don’t end up with very tough, chewy meat.
  4. Finally, a water pan can help to create a stronger smoky flavor in your meat, by creating a sticky surface on the brisket. This allows the smoke flavors from wood chips (these woods are best for brisket) to aromatize the meat.

You’ll notice a nice bark formed on your brisket if you allow moisture in the cooking chamber.

Without a water pan, your smoker may be susceptible to temperature fluctuations that could dry out your brisket or make it tough.

Keep in mind the brisket requires a constant cooking temperature.

So, while you may be tempted to skip the water pan when smoking brisket, trust me – it’s worth the extra effort!

How the water pan helps you smoke better brisket

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the factors that make using a water pan when smoking brisket such a good idea.

Regulating the temperature

Water helps you keep the air temperature below 225°F, which is the perfect constant temperature to maintain when cooking with indirect heat.

If you’re using a vertical smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain, the water tray is directly over the charcoal and even though you end up with hot water in the pan, the temperature will not exceed that 212°F boiling point.

The same goes for the kettle smoker too – there will be no boiling water because the water pan is at a distance or alongside charcoal.

This means that the laws of physics do not allow the water to reach its boiling point because water cools as soon as it evaporates.

This phenomenon is called evaporative cooling and it means that the water in the pan will help to regulate the temperature of your smoker, ensuring that your brisket cooks evenly and comes out perfectly juicy every time.

Having a water tray will stabilize the temperature inside the smoker and cooking chamber.

A steady temperature means fewer fluctuations since the water’s temperature is slower to rise and fall compared to air.

Eliminating hot spots

When having to cook with direct heat, having a water pan helps block out a strong flame.

A water pan is transformed into a single radiating surface that eliminates hot spots during the smoking process.

To increase the flavor, water vapor is mixed with combustion gases. This doesn’t have a negative effect on clean smoke.

Go for the smoke ring

If you want the perfect smoke ring on your brisket, the water pun is absolutely necessary.

Water vapor condenses on the brisket and creates an absorbent layer on the meat, allowing more smoke to bind to it.

The smoke ring is created by sodium nitrite in the smoke, which enhances the flavor. After all, who doesn’t want amazing smoke flavor for their brisket?!

Retain moisture

Water keeps humidity inside the cooking chamber and ensures the meat’s surface remains moist.

This slows down the smoking session and makes the brisket more tender because the connective tissue and fast side can melt.

The water pan can make your brisket more moist and juicy if you use an electric smoker.

The problem with electric smokers is that they have less air movement happening because of a lack of combustion.

A water pan will provide much-needed moisture in the cooking chamber.

Another way to make sure your brisket stays moist is to wrap the meat when smoking (here’s how)

Do you add hot or cold water to the water pan?

Make an effort to use hot water when adding the water tray to the smoker.

Traditionally, people used cold water. However, because of the time and energy required to heat the cold water in your grill or smoker, I recommend using hot water.

Coldwater will quickly cool your smoker and brisket temperature and should only be used if it is overheating and you need to cool it down.

Fill the pan slightly below the rim of the pan so you don’t have to continue opening the lid to replenish. Place it above your cooker’s hottest spot to allow more water to evaporate.

Also read: How Long To Smoke A Brisket Per Pound For Best Results

Water tray vs drip pan

Many people are confused about the term “water pan” or “water tray” for the smoker. This is different from the smoker drip tray or drip pan.

In some cases, they are the same thing because people use the drip pan as a water pan or vice versa if they don’t need a water pan for a short grilling session.

But these both refer to a small tray or pan that goes inside the smoker.

The water pan is what you put the water in while smoking. You leave the water pans in the smoker for a few hours or the whole cook time.

The water tray is usually placed over the heat source whereas the drip pan must be placed under the smoking brisket to catch fatty drippings during a slow cook.

Does the drip pan regulate internal temperature?

No, the drip pan does not help regulate the internal temperature of the smoker.

The water pan helps to regulate the temperature of your smoker, ensuring that your brisket cooks evenly and comes out perfectly juicy every time.

The drip pan is placed underneath the meat to catch any drips or juices that may fall while the meat is cooking.

This prevents the juices from making the smoke taste bitter and keeps your smoker clean.

Where should you place the water pan in the smoker?

If this is going to be your first brisket using a water bowl, you should take note of the advice about where to place the water pan for best results.

After all, you want to regulate temperature properly to ensure your meat turns out perfect.

The water pan should be placed in the smoker so that it is directly beneath the brisket. This will help to evenly distribute the heat, ensuring that your brisket cooks evenly.

Popular smokers like the Weber smokey mountain are sold with a water pan.

Not all smokers come with a water pan so you might need to get your own. A simple aluminum foil tray works perfectly.

Just make sure that it is large enough to catch any drips from the brisket.

The type of cooker you have and the amount of space you have to situate your water pan will be the most important factors in determining where to put it.

A water pan, as we’ve already mentioned, aids in the creation of radiant, even heat, so placing it right beneath the food and above your charcoal is perfect.

It may be tough to place directly under the brisket if you have a smaller Weber kettle or are using an offset smoker.

In this situation, you might put it between the food and the heat source on your cooking grate.

A water pan will come in handy if you’re using a gas grill to create a two-zone indirect heating area.

You can turn one burner on and leave the other(s) off if you have a standard two- or three-burner grill. With a water pan underneath, place your meat on the “cold” side.

This allows the water in the pan to heat up, resulting in even heat beneath your food.

Can you add things to the water pan for flavor?

There’s really no need to add anything besides hot water to the water tray.

However, many pitmasters prefer to flavor the water because it can add additional flavors to the brisket.

In their water pans, many individuals like to use beer, apple juice, and other aromatic or pleasant liquids.

Some of the popular additions to the water pan when smoking brisket include hot sauce, garlic, herbs, apple cider, beer, and apple juice or apple cider vinegar.

These liquids will create a very pleasant scent as you sit there on the patio waiting for the brisket to cook.

But, honestly, the liquid will have little impact on flavor because the purpose of the water pan is to provide a wet cooking environment with an equal cooking temperature, not to flavor the meat.

If you want to flavor your meat with beer or apple juice, I recommend putting it in a spray bottle and spritzing it on every couple of hours or making a tasty beer mop for the brisket.

Smoking brisket vs grilling brisket

When it comes to smoking meat, there are two schools of thought when it comes to using a water pan.

Some people swear by them, while others say they don’t make a difference. So, which is it? Do you need a water pan when smoking brisket?

The answer is yes and no. It all depends on your personal preference and cooking style.

For smoking brisket, you need a water pan, for grilling brisket, you don’t.

If you like to cook your meat low and slow, then a water pan is a great way to help regulate the temperature of your smoker.

The water pan will catch any drips from the meat, which can prevent the temperature from fluctuating too much.

This is especially important if you’re cooking in a smoker that doesn’t have built-in temperature control.

However, if you prefer to cook your meat hot and fast, then you probably don’t need a water pan. The extra moisture from the water pan can actually make your meat tougher and harder to sear.

So, if you’re looking for a beautiful crust on your brisket, it’s best to skip the water pan.

Takeaway

By absorbing some of the heat from the smoker, the water pan prevents the temperature from fluctuating too much, which can cause your brisket to dry out or become tough.

Additionally, the water vapor that is created helps to keep the meat moist, resulting in a more flavorful and tender final product.

Once you try cooking brisket without a water pan, you’ll realize how much the moist juiciness is missing.

For a true Texas brisket, you need juicy meat, with lots of earthy and savory smoky aromas and a nice smoke ring and the water pan can help you achieve this!

Got your brisket done and keeping it for the next day? Here’s the Best Way to Reheat Brisket

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.