Whether you’re a novice cook just starting out on your smoking journey or a seasoned pitmaster, having the essential smoking accessories can make the difference between a great smoked meal and a not-so-great one. Here’s an overview of the essential tools needed to smoke meat in a smoker.
If you are looking for hot and fast tools then head over to our guide on essential grilling tools.
- Heat: Charcoal
- Fire and Chimney Starter
- Wood Flavor: Chips, Chunks, Splits, or Pellets
- Wood Pellets
- Remote Probe Thermometers
- Heat Resistant Gloves
- Drip Pans
- Long Tongs
- Rib Rack
- Smoker Box
- Butcher Paper or Aluminum Foil
- Basting Brush
- Grill Brush For Cleaning
- Grab Your Essential Smoking Accessories
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To start, you will need a smoker. There are various types of smokers: kamado smokers like Big Green Egg, offset smokers, drum smokers, and pellet smokers, just to name a few. Your choice of smoker will depend on your preference, budget, and available space. But budget, and how much time you have to manage heat and smoke, are among the biggest factors to consider.
Each type of smoker has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose one that suits your specific needs and lifestyle.
Skip to wood if you are using a pellet grill.
Charcoal, or more specifically lump charcoal, is the main way you heat your smoker for low and slow cooking. Having a good quality charcoal maintains consistent heat and adds some flavor.
Our favorite lump charcoal brands:
We do not use charcoal briquettes as we find most have an unnatural flavor when lit and burn. But if you like briquettes for the consistent size be sure you buy briquettes without lighter fluid.
Fire and Chimney Starter
In order to get the heat lit – you need to start the fire. You can splurge on a glorified hairdryer or go as simple with a charcoal chimney starter or even tumbleweed fire starters.
Charcoal Chimney Starter
A chimney starter is an essential tool for charcoal smokers. It allows you to start your charcoal quickly (often less than 20 minutes) and evenly without the use of lighter fluid, which can affect the taste of your meat.
Related Article: How to use a charcoal chimney starter.
Tumbleweed fire starters are so simple yet so many people aren’t aware they exist out there. These are bound tightly with wax and can get your charcoal lit quickly without any adverse chemical reaction.
Wood Flavor: Chips, Chunks, Splits, or Pellets
Essential smoking accessories must include wood which adds the smoke flavor versus the charcoal for heat (and slight smoke).
Next on the list are wood chips, chunks, or pellets. These are essential for producing the smoke that gives meat its distinctive flavor. The type of wood you choose can vary based on the flavor profile you’re aiming for. For example, applewood offers a sweet, mild flavor, while hickory provides a stronger, more robust flavor.
Wood chips aren’t used that often, instead we opt for wood chunks. But they are great for smoking on a gas grill, or if supplementing certain pellet grills that have mods for adding wood smoke like the Camp Chef Woodwind Pro.
Note: You do NOT need to soak wood chips, it smolders and the smoke flavor is not as clean as just burning them dry.
If you have a small offset smoker, kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, barrel cookers, or really any another other moderate sized smoker then wood chunks are the way to go. You can source locally at most big box stores or specialty BBQ stores.
Wood splits are basically logs like you use in your fireplace. You can easily source locally (be sure it’s a hard wood). You can also buy them online or at local BBQ supply stores where they often have bark removed. These are best for offset smokers, pizza ovens, and open fire pit cooking.
Be sure to size your splits so that your fire box is big enough to fit the logs as they combust.
Online Cooking Wood Retailers
Cutting Edge Firewood delivers many options of chunks and splits right to your doorstep. They include tumbleweed fire starters in every order and offer 8-inch and 16-inch options. The larger your fire box (like our Yoder trailer) the larger you want the splits. The chunks are large and burn well for kamado style grills.
Unlike charcoal grills, pellet grills burn pre-made pellets that are sized just right for a pellet grill. Make sure they are food grade (not heating pellets).
Some manufacturers use wood oil or use an oak base in pellets and only have a fraction of the wood that is printed on the bag. So look for 100% cherry or 100% alder (or whatever flavor you like) if you are looking for a pure wood flavor.
You can also buy premixed pellet blends that provide different flavor profiles. They even have pellets of charcoal. We like the Cooking Pellets brand that is found online at their website, Amazon, or Home Depot.
Any inventory of essential smoker accessories must include thermometers. And there are two styles you should have – Instant Read and remote thermometers that broadcast the ongoing temperatures. After the fuel, this is the most important tool set to have.
Instant Read Thermometers
You can use instant read thermometers to measure the temperature throughout the cooking process like with smoked brisket. Consider a good quality instant read thermometer so you don’t have to continually replace it. Our favorite all around is the Thermoworks Thermapen One.
Our favorite budget thermometer (under $35) is the Thermoworks ThermoPop. When buying an instant read thermometer, be sure to read the reviews. Many will fail within 2 or 3 years, so be sure to invest in the right one for your budget and needs.
Remote Probe Thermometers
When cooking low and slow, don’t leave the internal temperature to chance or time. Use a digital thermometer that can measure the temperature of both the cooking chamber AND the actual meat you are cooking. They come in many sizes, from measuring two zones – and up to six. Some even include access to apps that will record your cooking experience on your mobile device.
Our favorite is the Smoke unit from Thermoworks. This simple two channel unit has a hand held receiver and is perfect for the basic smoker. You can also opt for the Smoke X unit which measures up to 4 zones and an app feature.
Another good option is the Fireboard 2 Drive. It has a clean look, is accurate, and has a great app feature. The downside to the Fireboard is the need to keep it charged with a USB-C charger versus the longer lasting batteries of the smoke units.
Heat Resistant Gloves
Safety should always be a priority when smoking meat, and that’s where heat-resistant gloves come in handy. These gloves are designed to withstand high temperatures (look for a rating over 900 degrees F) and offer protection when you’re handling hot meat, hot wood chunks, or adjusting hot grates.
We recommend leather versus the plastic versions, as the plastic wears out easier over time and still conducts some heat if you are holding anything for a long period of time.
Our go-to heat resistant gloves are available on Amazon.
Some may not deem this as essential smoker accessories, but we do because it prevents grease fires and makes clean up that much easier.
Drip pans are necessary to catch the fat and juices that fall off the meat while it’s being smoked. This prevents flare-ups and keeps your smoker clean. It’s especially helpful with offset smokers or kamado style grills. Pellet grills tend to have the drip pan built into the smoker.
You don’t need anything fancy other than a simple aluminum foil throw away pan. Or you can go to a restaurant supply store and buy hotel pans at a size that fits your smoker. You can also add water to them to add humidity to your smoker.
Long-handled tongs are essential smoker accessories (and grilling) for flipping and moving your meat around the smoker without getting too close to the heat source (and not the cheap ones that will bend). You need sturdy tongs, ideally two, that will hold the largest of prime ribs or briskets.
Our favorite (and one that we still use after 11 years) are the Weber 18-inch long tongs. They grip is solid and they also come in a set. And yes, food is always better after you have clicked them twice.
A rib rack is a useful tool for maximizing your smoker’s capacity. It allows you to smoke multiple racks of ribs at the same time, promoting even cooking and saving valuable space in your smoker.
Choose a rib rack that will fit your particular smoker. The narrower the rack the easier to fit the ribs. Our go-to holds 5 racks and fits most smokers.
If you’re using a gas grill for smoking, a smoker box can be a useful addition. This small metal box holds your wood chips and allows smoke to escape, effectively turning your grill into a smoker. They can be steel or cast iron. Just place them over your direct heat source and they will combust. Then replace the spent chips with fresh wood chips.
Did we mention not to bother soaking them? Because it’s worth repeating. Cast iron will last longer than aluminum or stainless steel but are more expensive. Which is right for you?
- The Occasional – If you are the type of person who smokes a couple of times a year then the stainless steel is right for you. It won’t rust out and will last you a few years if taken care of.
- The Enthusiast – If you are out smoking low and slow a couple of times a month then invest in the cast iron smoker box. It will last for years when getting hit with the high heat versus the stainless steel which will eventually rust out and warp due to constant heat.
Related Article: How to smoke on a gas grill.
Butcher Paper or Aluminum Foil
Butcher paper or aluminum foil is used in the ‘Texas Crutch’ method to wrap meat, like brisket or pork shoulder, during smoking. This helps to prevent the meat from drying out and can also speed up the cooking process.
What is nice about butcher paper is that it still has a slightly porous feature that will still allow air and smoke to move into the meat versus foil, which will essentially cut off any airflow in or out. Opt for the 18-inch paper if you plan to do smoked brisket or smoked pork shoulder. It avoids the need for two sheets for most cooks.
A silicone basting brush is useful for applying sauces and marinades to your meat while it’s smoking, helping to keep it moist and flavorful. Paintbrush style basters wear out faster and don’t clean as well.
Alternatively if you spritz (spray liquid through a spray bottle) then a good food safe spray bottle (one that has not had any cleaning or similar chemicals used in it) is important to spritz the meat.
Grill Brush For Cleaning
Last but not least, a good grill brush is essential for keeping your smoker clean. Regular cleaning after each use helps prevent the buildup of grease and food residues, prolonging the life of your smoker.
We avoid anything with metal in the small chance it breaks off (ending in your food) or rusts over time. Our favorite grill brush is the Grill Rescue. Opt for the version with the scraper. You use water on the brush to help with grease and steam clean warm grates. Over time you can replace the head if it gets too worn. (Ours is still with the original head 3-years later)
Grab Your Essential Smoking Accessories
There are thousands of other products out there. But we find that the tools we have highlighted are those we use regularly to make the cooking experience safer, easier, and more accurate to put the best food out there and why we label them as essential smoker accessories.
Properly smoking meat involves more than just a smoker and some meat. It requires an array of essential tools and accessories that work together to ensure you achieve that perfect smoke. With these tools in your arsenal, you’re well on your way to becoming a master of smoked meats.
Did we miss any? What are your favorite tools for smoking meat?
Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.
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