It’s a question that many pit boss smokers have, “should I use a water pan in my smoker?” If you haven’t yet come to a conclusion on this issue, hopefully, we can help. We’re going to go over the benefits of using a water pan and how it will benefit your smoking experience.
Why Use A Water Pan In A Pit Boss Smoker?
Using a water pan in the Pit Boss smoker helps stabilize the smoker’s cooking temperature ensuring the food cooks evenly, eliminates hot spots, enhances the flavor and keeps the meat moist, and improves the overall performance of your smoker.
If you’re new to smoking foods, you’ve likely never used a water pan and may not understand the concept. In this article, we’ll share everything we’ve learned about using a water pan and how we used it when we cooked our first Boston Butt.
Spritzing Vs Water Pan Vs. Drip Pan
Before we get into why you would want to use one, it’s important to understand the different terms floating around on the smoking community forums.
Spritzing also referred to as mopping meat involves using a spray bottle filled with liquid to spray the top of the meat, to help keep it moist. It is used on long slow cooks and prevents the bark from overcooking and gives the meat a deeper and more visible smoke ring.
A water pan is placed inside the pellet grill beside the meat. many people, myself included will use an aluminum foil pan you can purchase for less than a dollar at your local Walmart and fill it with a liquid of your choice, more on what to fill it with below.
A drip pan is used to help keep the meat moist and collect any juices that come off the meat that can later be used for making sauces or stock. The pan needs to be placed directly under the meat, to work as a drip pan.
The Pit Boss pellet grill utilizes a galvanized steel bucket to catch the grease.
What Does A Water Pan Do In A Pit Boss?
According to this video, there are several scientific reasons to use a water pan in a pellet smoker. If you don’t want to watch the entire video, I’ve summarized what he talks about in the video below.
According to the MadScientist BBQ video above, the chemical components cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin are primarily carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
When those components are burned, they produce carbon dioxide and water vapor. So, even though the water pellets don’t have any water or moisture, they will still produce water.
Even propane grills experience this and you may have noticed condensation of water on the metal surface during the cold weather.
When a water pan is placed very close to the meat, it creates more moisture in the cooking chamber preventing the food from becoming dry or burnt.
Think of it as using a humidifier in your home. A humidifier adds moisture to the home environment to prevent dry skin.
Better Smoke Flavor
As mentioned above, water begins to boil and evaporate when it reaches 212°F/100°C. During this process, the water condenses on the meat, causing it to mix with the seasonings on the meat, making the meat “sticky” from the moisture.
The moisture makes it easy for the smoke particles from the smoke and pellet flavor to stick to the meat, resulting in a much more smoky flavor.
Flavorful Bark and Visible Smoke Ring
The evaporation of water is what creates a beautiful bark on meat. As the water evaporates it causes the fat on the meat to liquefy with the right seasonings such as salt, sugar and etc resulting in a thicker more visible bark.
The more scientific reasoning is known as the Maillard Reaction.
When the salt in the seasoning penetrates past the surface of the meat, it creates the beautiful pink smoke ring so many people love seeing on their brisket and other meats.
Do You Need to Use A Water Pan In A Pit Boss Pellet Grill?
No, there is no rule stating that you need to use a water pan inside the Pit Boss smoker. That said, using a water pan is not any more work than using a smoker without one.
Once you put the water pan in the smoker, you close the lid and let the meat smoke like normal.
When Should You Use A Water Pan?
The best time to use a water pan is for long slow cooks. For example, if you’re cooking a brisket, the cooking time will vary from 13-16 hours, depending on the size of the brisket.
You don’t have to worry about using a water pan for fast cooks, as the meat won’t be on the grill long enough to experience the effects of the water pan.
What to Use for a Water Pan In A Smoker?
Any pan that won’t melt during the cooking process is fine. Opt for a shallow pan with a flat surface area so it can provide enough moisture to the cook chamber.
Using a pan that is too deep and doesn’t have enough water will prevent the moisture from escaping the pan.
What Goes Inside the Water Pan?
Water is the only thing that should go in the water. You can also use hot water to help save the grill time and energy from having to heat it up. As mentioned above, the grill uses more energy while the water is heating up, as it has to cook and heat the water at the same time.
Therefore, starting with hot water helps improve the efficiency of the cook.
Many BBQers myself included have used different liquids such as apple juice, beer, or other tasty liquids.
It’s totally fine to experiment with different liquids, it’s not necessary to go out and buy something specifically to use in the water pan. The water pan itself doesn’t provide any flavor to the meat, instead, the liquid is used to create a moist cooking environment that helps the smokiness from the grill create more flavorful meat.
If you flavor your meat with apple juice or etc, then use a spray bottle to spritz the meat every 30-60 minutes. It will not only add the “sticky” effect to the meat like the water pan does, but the juice will infuse into the meat as well resulting in another layer of flavor.
Where to Put A Water Pain In the Pit Boss Smoker?
Where to place the water pan will depend on what type of pellet grill you have. If you’re using a vertical smoker, you’ll want to place the pan next to the meat.
Make sure the pan doesn’t touch any part of the meat. I recommend putting it on the same cooking rack as the meat. If you put it on the top rack, it may spill when you open the lid.
As long as the water pan is inside the grill, it will provide the extra moisture to keep the meat moist.
Does Using A Water Pan Use More Energy?
According to Mad Scientist BBQ, water absorbs a certain amount of energy from the grill to heat up to 212°F before it begins to evaporate.
Meaning the smoker has to use more energy to cook the wood and heat the water simultaneously, therefore, it will require more wood than cooking without water, and makes the fire less efficient.
The benefit is that using a water pan absorbs the energy from the molecules prevents the meat from burning. It accomplishes this by creating an ideal temperature in the chamber.
What to Do With The Water After the Cook?
Depending on the type of pan you used, you may have to wash the pan after using it or just throw it away. This is why I purchase the small foil pans to use, I don’t have to worry about the clean-up process.
After I’m done using the pan, I empty out the water and recycle the pan.
After the cook, discard any leftover water by throwing it on the ground, down the sink, flushing it down the toilet, or using it for your plants.
It doesn’t matter how you discard it. Unlike a drip pan, it won’t have any fat in it and a lot of it will have evaporated during the cooking process.
If you’ve used one of your favorite pans (which I don’t recommend) you’ll want to wash it off as it will have remnants from the smoke. Making it hard to get clean, depending on how long it sat in the smoker.
If you are looking for an easy way to maintain a consistent cooking temperature and prevent the meat from drying out, using a water pan might be worth considering.
Water pans can also improve the flavor of your meat by adding moisture as it cooks.
Is it worth it? Well, the next time you use the Pit Boss for a long slow cook, pick up a small aluminum foil pan from Walmart and give it a try, and you’ll see why so many backyard smokers recommend it!