Smoker water pans – Why use a water pan in a smoker?

It might sound a bit odd to use water in a smoker, when water put’s out the fire, I get the hesitation. But there is more than one reason why water pan in smokers has some great benefits that work. Some smokers even come with a smoker water pan as new.

I hear you, yours didn’t come with one. So should you add one?

Well that depends, just to point out they aren’t always required or necessary but we will go through all the facts when smoking with a water pan and why go through the extra effort. First, we should explain what a smoker’s water pan actually does.

What does a water pan in a smoker do?

A water pan in the smoker helps to keep the smoker to the lowest smoking temperatures usually set. Let me explain.

Normally when smoking for a long period of time you might aim to keep the smoker at 225 Degrees Fahrenheit which is usually the lowest you’d want. A smoker’s water pan full of water boiling away will help maintain the temperature in smokers where it is difficult to keep to those lower smoking temperatures.

A Water pan in a smoker will work at high temperatures like 250 degrees Fahrenheit, but the added benefit of a water smoker pan starts to get diluted the higher up the temperature range you go. The higher the heat temperature you go the faster the water boils and the less effect it can have.

Smoker water pan temperature facts

Water boils at 212 Degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), fact. When water boils it evaporates and cools.

With water placed in a smoker water pan, this ‘cooler’ rising water steam helps to keep the temperatures lower inside the cooking chamber.

The Hotter Smokey air mixes with the moist cooler air from the water pan stopping the temperatures from rising further allowing you to hold lower temperatures for longer.

A smoker water pans main job is to hold the temperatures lower however there are some added benefits to the flavor of the BBQ.

Why water pan a smoker?

For extra flavor!

Another added benefit I mentioned was the ability to add extra flavor. This is the reason you should consider why water pan in a smoker if helping regulate temperatures doesn’t float your boat. Here’s how it works.

During the first few hours of smoking, a tough bark is formed on the outer layer of the meat. Once formed it is very difficult for smoke to then penetrate the meat and add extra flavor but with a water pan, this is a different scenario altogether.

The water vapor circulating in the smoker will be absorbed and soften the bark on the meat. This is the same reason the bark softens when wrapping the meat with the Texas crutch method. This means the smoke has a chance of penetrating the meat further, adding more flavor.

Just water in a water smoker pan?

The thought may have now crossed your mind that you could try switching up water for something with a bit more flavor.

Well, you would be correct in thinking it’s not just water that can be used in a smoker water pan. Many amateur and pro grillers depending on the meat, like to add apple juice, beer, wine, and all different concoctions of liquid. These added flavors can have a big impact on the taste of the meat.

Apple juice in a water pan compliments just about every cut of meat, but really sings when used specifically with pork shoulder/pork butt and pork ribs.

How to use a smoker water pan

Water pans are extremely easy to use. It is essential to ensure your smoker has been preheated before adding meat when using cold water in a water pan. This is because the heat from the charcoal needs to heat the cold water in the tray before the smoker will start to rise in temperature. To speed this process up you’ve guessed it, start with hot water.

Regardless of your style of BBQ smoker, a water pan should be filled with around 2 liters of water or liquid of choice.

When using a kettle-style BBQ water pans work best when used with indirect smoking via the minion or snake method. With the charcoal set to one side, the water plan is placed next to the charcoal on the same level. The meat is placed on the grate above the water plan, which means the water also acts as a drip tray, making the BBQ easier to clean after.

Some smokers like bullet-style/ugly drum smokers will come with a water pan, these water pans are placed directly above charcoal on a shelf. The smoker water pan can also act as a diffuser to separate the cooking area from the charcoal. A diffuser helps keep the direct rising heat from reaching just the bottom of the meat for an even smoke.