Water pan question

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by bud1955, Feb 4, 2012.

  1. I have another unusual question.  (I guess I just am not very smart.) I have read alot on the use of water pans.  Use, don't use, water, play sand, cover the play sand, don't cover.

      I understand the idea of thermal mass and such. I do not know alot about it (like an engineer does), but I do understand it.

    The question is:   Why not use water and then cover it?  You can still use another drip pan.

    I would think the cover would slow down evporation and would not need to be filled up again. (Unsure about this idea, would have to experiment with it.)

    So, is this a valid question or not?

  2. rbranstner

    rbranstner Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Yea I would think if you cover the water pan  it wouldn't evaporate as quickly. But a lot of times people are using the water pan to introduce moisture into their smoker so if it was covered they may not get what they are looking for.
  3. Hey Bud1955, you have an interesting question but here's my take on it.  If you did use a water pan but seal it enough so that no steam could escape, you're basically creating a potential bomb.  When water takes on heat (i.e. energy) that energy either has to be stored or transformed.  When water boils the heat energy from the charcoal, LP or electric unit is being transformed into the water.  As water gives off steam, that energy is again, being transformed. The Law Of Energy Conservation states, energy can not be created or destroyed...but it can be transformed.  Energy has a weird habit of no liking to be stored in certain circumstances - thus my reference to the steam bomb above. Typically every event of storing energy has a maximum..... OK, enough with the Physics lesson.. .LOL

    With reference to the sand, I do think it makes a much better thermal mass for storing heat (energy) and I've quit using water... except for smoking sausage.  But I still us a water pan full of sand for the thermal mass when smoking sausage, but use a disposable aluminum pan above the water pan filled with sand that holds water.

    Just my VH $0.02.

  4. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I would think that the water boiling under the foil would just lift the foil up & the grease would spill into the fire. Sand is the easiest & cleanup is a breeze.
  5. duanes

    duanes Smoke Blower SMF Premier Member

    Using water affects smoker temperature in two important ways.  The first is as discussed above in that it acts as a heat sink (like sand, stones, any other heat absorbing material).  Any of which help even out temperature fluctuations, especially when opening/closing smokers.

    The second effect has to do with evaporation wherein evaporation dampens the overall rise in temperature within the smoker.  I don't know the exact science behind this, but you can easily prove it by the experiment I did awhile back.  Add several large roaster foil pans full of water to a propane smoker and run on high.  After several hours running, you will see that the maximum temperature that the smoker can reach will be significantly less than running the smoker with the stock water pan (or no pan).  My result was maximum 252 degrees with pans, over 400 with no pans.  Of course, over time, without refilling the pans, the effect of evaporation will diminish until all of the water evaporates.

    Sand or other material is less maintenance than checking and adding water and has, in my opinion, the most impact on even operating temperatures.  That said, for an inexpensive charcoal water smoker (i.e., Brinkmann) using water will have the added benefits of the evaporation.  Of course, you have to make sure it doesn't go dry (my lesson with a few ruined ribs years ago).  I have a 40lb, concrete heat sink in my GOSM mounted above the stock water pan and I use both.

    As to any real impact water has on keeping meat moist, I personally don't think the effects are of any real significance.  Meathead (Craig Goldwyn) of amazingribs.com has several very interesting articles discussing evaporation and moisture retention in smoked foods.
  6. davidhef88

    davidhef88 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I heat my sand filled water pan in the oven at 250 to obtain my desired chamber temp quicker. 
  7. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    If you want Water to Boil faster...Cover it!...Cover it with Foil and you get the Jiffy Pop Effect...JJ 
  8. sprky

    sprky Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Interesting question. However i agree if ya cover the water pan its going to puff up and eventually split. I use sand in my water pan, I get better recovery time and better temps, i filled it 3/4 full and covered it with foil to create a small drip pan. 
  9. Some of this I so do not understand (or just worry about too much).  I get the part about needing a thermal mass to even out the temp spikes.  I understand needing to cover the sand to keep out the drips from above to keep the sand usable.  However putting in another pan that is empty, I just do not get.  Won't it get too hot and then warp, cause a spike or whatever?  Or useing a cheap foil pan, but I worry that it will melt, burn or whatever and ruin the food.  Am I worrying for nothing???

     I thought that using water in the pan with foil over it and a vent or two in that cover would keep every thing moist, safe, clean and/or whatever.  I just do not know.....


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