A water pan can provide an important but subtle difference to your barbecue. Besides, it’s pretty much essential if you’re smoking on a charcoal grill as it doubles as a drip pan, keeping the meat juices away from the smoking coals.
But, in an electric smoker there is no open fire that the juices could drip on to, so there’s no disrupting the smoking. So, do you really need to use a water pan in an electric smoker?
Here we go through what a water pan actually does, if you need to use it in an electric smoker, and when it is actually required.
What Is The Purpose Of A Water Pan
Mankind has been smoking meat using charcoal for ages and ages. From the get go they found that it’s crucial to place a water pan below the grill, separating the meat from the charcoal to prevent temperature fluctuations for an overall better cook.
But, in more recent times smoking meat can be done on more than just charcoal, with the introduction of top-notch pellet grills, gas smokers, and electric smokers. Interestingly, aside from acting as a drip pan, the water pan actually has several other uses, all relating to humidity.
In fact, using a water pan in your smoker will help maintain even temperatures, eliminate heat spots, and enhance the smokiness of your meat.
Without going too sciencey, water requires more energy or more time to raise or lower its temperature. In this way, the water pan maintains even temperatures by becoming an anchor, letting you hit that 225°F sweet spot without wild fluctuations.
The water pan also radiates its heat around the grill, which eliminates any heat spots your smoker might have had, helping you get an even cook.
Lastly, by adding more water vapor to the smoking environment the smoke is more easily absorbed in the air and eventually envelopes the meat inside the cooking chamber.
Should You Use A Water Pan In An Electric Smoker?
Aside from doubling as a drip pan, a water pan will help with keeping even temperatures and a humid environment.
But, an electric smoker is rather unique in the way it’s designed and it performs quite differently. Since the temperature is entirely controlled by electricity and the wood chips to supplying the smoke, electric smokers are already amazing at holding steady temperatures. Plus, there is no open flame that’s drying out the conditions, so electric smokers remain more humid.
So, is a water pan really needed in an electric smoker?
Well, if your electric smoker doesn’t come with a drip pan and it drains the dripping juices by simply catching them then you do not need to use a water pan in your electric smoker.
Further to this, even if your electric smoker does come with a drip pan and it relies on it to catch the juices, you don’t need to fill it with water. In this case you are simply using the drip pan for its intended function, and not using a water pan.
Electric smokers do a reasonable job at staying on temperature and the humidity inside the smoker remains consistent for the most part so you don’t need to use water in an electric smoker.
However, if you are doing a particularly long smoke you can use a water pan to add extra moisture in the unit and to increase the smokiness — like using a water pan for smoking brisket.
My tip would be to try it once with, and once without a water pan and see which you prefer, it’s your barbecue after all!
See more details on how to get the most smoke out of your electric smoker.
When You Need To Use A Water Pan In Electric Smoker
Water pans, in their traditional use in charcoal grills are there to act as a drip pan, as well as to increase the humidity in the smoker to help the meat stay moist.
Electric smokers control the temperature exceedingly well, and don’t have an open flame eating the oxygen and drying out the air. So, electric smokers don’t always need a water pan, as it’s benefits aren’t felt as fully as in a charcoal smoker for example.
A similar debate can be had with using a water pan in a pellet smoker too!
But, the only time you absolutely need to use a water pan in an electric smoker is if the unit comes with one for the purpose of catching the drippings at the bottom. In this instance it’s up to you if you want to add water to the pan, but it is essential you use one to avoid the juices going everywhere!
Where To Place A Water Pan In An Electric Smoker?
If your electric smoker calls for the use of a water pan, then it should always go at the very bottom of the unit, or it’s designated slot. Some electric smokers, like a Masterbuilt electric smoker or Dyna Glo, usually have enough room at the bottom of the unit for you to slot in the drip pan.
Some digital electric smokers may come with their own drip pan and a special place in the bottom of your unit to place it too. Sometimes it sits to one side and the other side slopes down to drain it.
If your electric smoker needs a drip pan but no designated slot, then you can place it in either directly under the meat itself, or at the very bottom of the unit. Both placements will serve to collect the dripping juices.
How Much Water To Add To A Water Pan
If you do choose to use a water pan for added humidity and temperature consistency you can fill the water pan up depending on your needs. The fuller the water pan is, the more energy it will take to raise or lower the temperature, and the more moisture will go into the air (within reason).
So it’s really up to you. But, generally half full is plenty!
If your electric smoker doesn’t require a drip pan, then it’s absolutely not necessary to add a water pan. But, if your electric smoker does need a drip pan in order to collect the drippings, then it’s best you use one.
If you are doing a particularly long smoke, or you’re in a very dry climate with low humidity, you can use a water pan, it’s completely up to you and your barbecue style. Either way, if I’m invited I’ll be eating it!