This form of cooking is commonly referred to as "Low and Slow", LOW because you are cooking at temperatures between 200°F - 250°F (95°C - 120°C). By cooking at these lower temperatures, it's fairly obvious that it will take a bit longer to cook the food, hence the SLOW. This is the main contributing factor that enables you to cook just about any cut of meat that will result in a succulent and tender meal.
Firstly, the ProQ™ Ranger, Frontier and Excel 20 are designed to be used primarily for "hot smoking", but can be used for other methods of outdoor cooking with ease (we'll cover these further on). Think of your ProQ™ as an outdoor oven (some people even bake on them) and you'll be fine.
Water smokers are efficient, one full basket of good quality charcoal, will give you around 8 hours of cooking time, so there's not a lot of fiddling, other than to toss a few bits of wood on every now and then for smokey flavour, so sit back and enjoy.
Use a good quality Lump-wood or charcoal briquette, avoid using the instant lighting stuff, as these are impregnated with chemicals and as you are cooking in a closed environment, the chemicals may be transferred onto your food. In the UK, we've found that it's best to use briquettes, or restaurant grade charcoal, the USA and Canada have a much wider variety to choose from and generally the quality is excellent, to see which brand to use in the USA or Canada go to the Naked Whiz Website. You can light your charcoal directly in the charcoal basket/pan, or you can use a charcoal chimney starter (an excellent tool that makes starting a fire easy).
The amount of charcoal to use for each cook will depend on what's cooking, but if you find that you're running out of fire during a cooking session, don't panic, as the ProQ's unique design makes refilling a breeze.
Next up is the water pan, the real secret to this way of cooking. The pan acts as a buffer between the fire and the food and the liquid within helps regulate the temperature inside the unit, by absorbing and then slowly releasing the heat from the fire.To start with, remember to use warm water in the water pan, as this will bring the unit up to the desired cooking temperature quickly. Topping up of the water pan can be done through one of the access doors, using a watering can.
In some cases such as when cooking poultry to get the skin crispy you may want to run the unit at higher temperatures (350°F/ 180°C), this is achieved by cooking with a dry water pan, but be warned that by doing this it will be trickier to stabilize the temperature, so keep an eye on it. - Anoter tip is to foil the pan so it's easier to clean.
The most important part and as such it is essential that you choose good quality meat to start with, if you're in the UK or Ireland, there's a great site that lists the top 3500 award winning regional producers and suppliers in the UK and Ireland.
We are friends of Local Food Advisor, visit the site to find your local food supplier
Preparation is equally important and this is where you get to to put your signature on the dish, by using blends of spices and herbs (Rubs) or Marinades (often injected deep into the meat by means of a marinade injector) to enhance flavours. Food should be completely defrosted and will absorb the smoke better if it is at room temperature when it's put on to cook.
Food is placed on the cooking grates above the water pan (near the middle if possible, as hot air comes up around the sides) where it will rest, while absorbing the wonderful smokey flavours produced by the wood chips or chunks that are placed directly onto the charcoal. For a list of the woods used for food smoking, follow this link.
Once the food is on, put the lid on, remembering to open the vent on the lid and adjust the vents in the base (not possible on the Amigo model, but it will naturally run at around 250°F) until the unit runs at the desired temperature of between 200°F - 250°F (95°C - 120°C).
Use wood chips, chunks or dust, as you would a spice, to add flavour to the food. A word of caution to those of you not yet addicted to smoking (food that is), start with a small amount of wood for smoke, as you may end up getting too much smoke flavour for your taste.
One thing you will notice about smoked food, is that the smoke causes the flesh to turn pink (this is known as the "Smoke Ring"), which makes it quite difficult for the novice to determine whether or not the food is cooked. The best and most accurate way of testing this is by using a good quality probe thermometer which will measure the internal temperature of the food being cooked, a list of the desired internal temperatures and a guide to cooking times can be found here.
If you're looking for inspiration on what to cook, we suggest looking at our Recipe page.