Cold weather smoking.

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by elkaddict, Oct 23, 2012.

  1. I have a bradley digital smoker and have a question about how to get and keep the temp up in cold weather.

    As i live in Saskatchewan Canada it regularly gets to minus 20 celcius and as soon as you open the door its like starting all over again also is there a method to increase the insulation on the smoker ie blanket ect.

    It takes a long time at these temps.

    Or is there a better smoker for this type of enviroment I realy like not having to baby sit the smoker with the auto temp control and wood feed. 
  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    You could try to insulate it more by adding to the outer shell with double foil-backed sheet, and possibly increase your BTU output with an additional heater element mod (which, if your not careful will void the warranty). Be sure to protect from the wind and precipitation as much as possible...that's a biggy for killing smoker temps. Growing up in S/W North Dakota, I can tell you that your -20* C/-4*F is a mild winter's day. We used to get -30* F days/-40*F nights for about 6 weeks beginning in late December.

    I understand your wishes to have a set & forget smoker, but electric heated just may not get it done in the winter in Canada. I don't recall how many watts the heater element is in the Bradley, but it seems to me that they're a bit on the lighter side, relying mostly on insulation to hold what they can build for just doesn't work well in colder climates, unfortunately. If it were around the 1,200-1,500 watt range, you'd stand a lot better chance for success in cold weather. Also, try methods which reduce the need for smoke chamber cabinet door openings...sometimes it's not easy, but the less time the door is open the better off you'll be. If the smoker is taking more than 30 minutes to get up to stable temp, it probably won't hold that temp if ambient conditions turn for the worse, and it will probably struggle for hours to get back to temp if you throw a full load of cold meat into it.

    I have propane rigs for cold weather smoking, and I wouldn't have it any other way. They do need to be checked periodically, but once you get the temp dialed in, if ambient conditions don't change, neither will chamber temps. You can pretty much tell as afternoon temps drop that you'll need to bump the burner valve a crack, and then again about 4 hours later, and back it off in the morning (on all-night smokes such as beef brisket or pork butt/picnic). Any decent propane smoker (and most cheapo's) will get you well above low & slow smoking temps in mid-winter without even breaking a sweat. My Smoke Vault 24 can usually push about 350*F above ambient (sometimes closer to 400*F), and my old 3405-GW GOSM can get pretty close to that as well. Mid-summer I can crank them to around 450*F for cleaning/seasoning if I want to. I've had -30F winter nights here in recent years, and was still able to push a 225-250*F smoke chamber temp and had more dial to go on the burner, so it didn't even worry me that I'd have trouble holding temps hot enough for large beef or pork cuts.

    For more stable temps in a propane smoker, I use pea gravel in the water pan instead of water, and a foil liner on the gravel to catch drippings so my gravel stays like a charm. If I want a bit of added humidity at the start of the smoke for improved smoke reaction, I just add a bit of water to the foil liner and let it slowly evaporate...1 quart will last for hours depending on my set-up and which smoker I'm running. I started doing that in a charcoal vertical smoker last spring and loved the results so much that I now run all my vertical smokers that way.

    Anyway, for the money (much less cost than most every electric smoker, barring the ECBs) propane smokers have a lot to offer in versatility and cold weather performance...I like to cook with charcoal, but sometimes I just need a break from tending the fire, or I need a little more umph when mother nature is on the prowl...propane gives me both.

    If you're considering insulation, you may want to browse through the electric, propane and charcoal smoker forums to get some ideas what others are doing, but I'm betting the electric forums is where you'll find the most. I've never considered insulating any of mine, otherwise I'd know a few good threads to direct you to.

    woodcutter likes this.
  3. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Last edited: Oct 24, 2012
  4. deltadude

    deltadude Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    You have 3 choices:

    1. get more BTU of heat inside your smoking chamber for quicker recovery.  You can do this by adding an auxiliary heating element, for faster recovery.  It would be a 2 stage setup, only coming on when inside temp drops 15 or 20 deg below set point.

    2. setup your smoker in a protected area, like a garage or insulated enclosure.  May require venting the exhaust but your recovery should be a lot faster.  If a garage isn't available, you could build an enclosure and heat the inside with a cheap kerosene heater.

    3. buy another smoker that can overcome the heat recovery issues due to low outside ambient.

    Do a google there is one or two examples of some enclosures SMF members have built for low ambient areas.
  5. You can also go to your local welding supply shop and get one of their thermal welding blankets to wrap around the Bradley.  Guys have used these in cold temps to help their smokers maintain heat.  You can cut it to fit around the door and vent and use bungy style cords or clamps to secure it around the outside of your smoker.  These blankets do not cost that much and are quite effective.
  6. donr

    donr Smoking Fanatic

    If you increase your "thermal" mass inside the smoker it will recover quicker.  Cast Iron is good for that (Pan or dutch over filled with sand would be even better).  You also could use a sealed vessel of water (Not sure exactly how to do that off the top of my head).  I would heat up whatever you use inside in the oven or water on the stove. though.

    The welding blankets are a good idea.

    I built a "house" to go around my Charbroil Vertical Electric out of foil faced foam board insulation & some 2x2's.  It keeps the wind off, reflects radiant heat as well.  
  7. rbacci

    rbacci Fire Starter

    Hi guys, I want thank you for your input and ideas. I'm using my MES today for the first time and it's cold here in Northern IL and suppose to get colder by the end of the day, 0 degrees and 30 mph wind. I used cardboard to keep the wind and snow off the top and right now it's up to temp and smoking. Wish me luck

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