How to Use An Electric Smoker: Step by step guide

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 23, 2021

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Gone are the days when you had to tend coals or deal with the intricacies of working with propane to get your smoker fired up.

With an electric smoker, you’ll spend way more time marinating the meat and putting it through skewers than you will turning it on.

However, just because it’s easy to switch on doesn’t mean that an electric smoker won’t deliver the same smoky flavor and tender texture that you’d expect from its predecessors.

Read our guide how to use an electric smoker for further more info


In fact, some best electric smokers come with cutting edge features that you won’t find on any other cooking device, such as the ability to set the temperature once and forget it through temperature control settings.

Of course, there’s a bit more complexity to using an electric smoker than that which is why we’ve prepared this guide on how to use an electric smoker so that you can get the most out of your purchase.

How to use an electric smoker

When you’re cooking with your electric smoker, you’re using a low-heat, slow cook, convection oven. How it works is that the hot air surrounds the meat (or other foods), and it heats up the internal temperature of the food while adding a smoky flavor.

The heat is provided by a hot metallic rod. These devices are easier to use than traditional pellet or offset smokers because you simply set the temperature, and then you can go about your day.

You will need to occasionally add more water and flavored wood chips but only once every few hours.

Here is a step-by-step guide on using an electric smoker:

  1. Turn on the smoker by plugging it into an electrical outlet and turn the ignition on. Use the smoker’s instruction manual to check how to do it best because each smoker model varies.
  2. Fill the water tray with water (hot water in the winter). You can add some herbs if you want extra flavor.
  3. Add wood chips to the wood chip tray or wood chip loader. Close the loader.
  4. Some smokers also have a small tray under the grates where you can store wood chips if you don’t have a separate storage solution. Residue from the wood loader can accumulate there but don’t worry; this only enhances the smoky flavor. Don’t empty this tray; let the wood bits add flavor.
  5. Now it’s time to add the food. Marinated meats, seafood, cheese, and vegetables can now be added straight to the grates or in cast-iron pans. Position the food well, lock the grill and make sure to secure the lock.
  6. Look for the temperature gauge and the timer settings. Depending on your food, you should set the ideal temperature and time to cook.
  7. Once smoking is well underway; you may have to adjust the vents and dampers. The airflow regulates the temperature, so keep an eye on it; even if you are a distance, don’t leave the smoker unattended for too long.
  8. After the food is smoked and finished, clean the smoker to remove residue and grime.

Check out this short video in which a woman demonstrated how to use the Masterbuilt electric smoker in 5 easy steps. It’s short and easy to understand and follow along to:

How Does an Electric Smoker Work?

Sometimes the easiest way to learn how something works is to figure out why it does what it does. It’s also important to find out how the mechanisms work so that you can use them efficiently.

This is why we’re going to start by going over the various components that make up an electric smoker. This part of the guide will help you understand how each component works so that you can use it properly.

An electric smoker is typically made up of the following five components, which are essential to its function:

  • Smoker body
  • Drip tray
  • Water bowl
  • Digital controller pad
  • Wood chip bowl with lid

What to Know About Your Smoker Body

The smoker body is basically the engine of the whole thing and its construction will make or break your electric smoker. That’s because the smoker body determines the way the meat is cooked based on its level of insulation.

A good quality electric smoker should be able to trap the smoke and heat inside when it’s closed to help cook the meat or vegetables through.

Bad quality smokers have a tendency to burn food on the outside while it’s unevenly cooked on the inside. Imagine taking all that time to flavor your meat or vegetables in preparation for the smoker, only to have an anti-climax like that.

Needless to say, the quality of the smoker body is an important consideration to make when you’re shopping for an electric smoker.

An indication of a good quality electric smoker body is one that makes it easy for you to use the wood chip bowl. The last thing you want is a smoker body that requires you to go through the main door in order to do this, so look out for this feature.

Make sure to read through the label to see if the manufacturer has written “fully insulated”, as that will let you know whether or not the unit is insulted.

How Do You Use an Electric Smoker?

How do i use my electric smoker is one of the first questions that comes to the mind of many people. It’s understandable that the first thing you’ll want to do when you get your smoker is to start using it.

However, there are a few steps that you need to take in preparation. For example, it’s highly recommended that you cure or season the smoker first before you start cooking on it.

Curing or seasoning your smoker basically means cleaning it. Now, you might be wondering why you’d have to clean it if it’s new. The answer lies in the manufacturing process behind it.

Keep in mind that most products go through various stages during the manufacturing process where they’re touched by different hands. There are also a lot of chemicals involved that you may not be aware of, not to mention the dust that it accumulates over time.

This means that by the time you receive your smoker it’s not in a sanitary condition. If you use it without giving it a good clean, all of that accumulated dirt and chemicals will end up on your meat, leaving it with a less than savory taste and aroma.

There’s also no telling what it’ll do to your health either, so it’s best to be on the safe side and cure your smoker before you use it.

The best part is that you won’t have to cure your smoker often after that first time. In fact, the only other time you’ll have to clean your smoker is when you plan on switching between different types of meat, and of course after every cookout.

Tips How To Use An Electric Smoker

Preparing meat for smoking is very easy and straightforward.

Preparing the Meat

The preparation process will depend on the type of meat that you’re working with. For example, pork butt is a simple enough meal for most people to make on an electric smoker or even portable smokers like these.

If you don’t eat pork then you can start with turkey, although it requires very high temperatures to cook through with, which might necessitate a larger smoker than what you have as a beginner.

The best way to prepare any meat is to start by trimming the fat to help preserve the meat’s natural juices. Once that’s done you can season your meet and put on your favorite brand of BBQ rub.

Be sure to find out how much time the meat should stay on the smoker for so that you don’t over or under cook it.

Preparing Your Smoker

The only way to get that authentic smoky flavor from an electric smoker is to use wood chips. If this is your first time using a smoker then you might have a hard time figuring out how the chips work.

Getting wood chips is the easy part because you can buy them online or at your local grocery store. For the best results, opt for hickory or cedar chips to get that smoked wooden flavor. Other types of wood chips that you can use include plum, cherry, and Adler.

Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the wood chips because your smoker will need at least 4 cups for every 4 hours or so of cooking.

The last thing you want is smoked turkey or beef done on a smoker without wood chips. Your food will not turn out the same.

However, not all electric smokers have a wood chip tray, which is why we’ve got an electric smoker how to on how you can use your smoker without wood chips.

Preheating Your Smoker for Cooking

The average electric smoker needs at least 30 to 45 minutes in order to heat up properly. That’s the amount of time that you need to wait before you can start cooking with it.

The key to starting up your electric smoker successfully is to put in a cup of wood chips onto the chip tray. Next, switch the smoker on and put it on the preheat setting.

If your smoker runs out of smoke during the preheating phase, just add more chips until it has the right amount of smoke coming out of it.

Most people recommend adding a cup of wood chips every hour. As soon as your electric smoker is done with the preheating stage you can set the temperature to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and start cooking.

Add Wood Chips and Water to the Pan

Once you’re done heating up your smoker, make sure to pour water into the water bowl before you start cooking the meat. Wait until the smoke subsides before adding ½ cup of water.

This step is important because it’ll add moisture and a soft texture to your meat.

This is also a good time to add more chips in order to fuel the smoke, preferably a cup or so.   

While you might be tempted to increase the temperature of your smoker after you add the chips, this might not be a good idea. The chips alone are enough to increase the temperature.

Clean and Eat

The best time to clean your electric smoker is right after taking out your last piece of meat. That way you won’t have to deal with any build-up of dirt that you’ll have to scrub off later.

Just wait until your electric smoker is nice and cool before you clean it so you don’t burn your hands.

Some people prefer to let the smoker cool while they eat so that it’s ready to clean when they’re done. This is a good strategy because it means you can enjoy your food immediately after it comes out of the smoker.

However, if you’re one of those people that like to enjoy a siesta after cooking and eating, then it’s best to clean your electric smoker before you eat so that you can enjoy your food and nap guilt-free.

Keeping your electric smoker clean will not only save you the time and energy it takes to clean off stubborn messes, but it will also extend its lifespan.

It will also help eliminate any debris that might be left over so that it’s clean and ready for you to use the next time you need it.

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.