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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's is the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

BBQ_grill_grates

Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $269 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

How To Use Drip Pans And Water Pans, What To Put In Them And How To Clean Them

"Water is the driving force of all nature." Leonardo da Vinci

By Meathead Goldwyn

Let's begin by differentiating between a drip pan and a water pan. Sometimes they are the same thing, sometimes they are different. Drip pans go under the food. Water pans go over the heat source.

Drip pans

The purpose of a drip pan is to collect the flavorful juices that come off the meat for use in a sauce or stock, to keep them off the flame and prevent flareups, and to keep oil from coating the water in the water pan preventing evaporation.

If loaded with water, a drip pan can also absorb heat from fire below, reduce the grill temp, level off fluctuations, and add humidity to the cooking chamber (if it does not get a layer of oil on the surface). My Ultimate Turkey recipe is a good example of how to put a drip pan to use. The pan is filled with water, wine, herbs, carrots, onions, celery, and when you're done, you have a smoked turkey stock that becomes the base for the most incredible gravy. This will also work for beef, but in general, not for pork or lamb. Their drippings don't usually make good gravies or sauces.

When you use a drip pan, keep an eye on it so it doesn't dry out and burn all your precious gravy. Keep adding hot water so the liquid is always at least an inch or two deep. You can check often, it won't hurt.

Water pans

Some smokers, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, come with a water pan. Water pans are not for making gravy. In my articles on the best setups for different grills and smokers, I advocate using a water pan under the meat or over the fire. Here's why:

1) Water in the pan absorbs heat and never rises above 212°F. This helps you keep the temp down to 225°F, a temp I recommend you learn to hit with regularity (read my article on calibration).

2) Water helps stabilize the temp in the cooker and minimize fluctuations because water temp takes longer to rise and fall than air.

3) A water pan can block direct flame when you need to cook with indirect heat.

4) A water pan becomes a single radiating surface and evens out hot spots.

5) Water vapor mixes with combustion gasses to improve the flavor.

6) Water vapor condenses on the meat and makes it "sticky" allowing more smoke to adhere. This smoke enhances flavor and sodium nitrite in the smoke creates the smoke ring.

7) The pan can add humidity to the atmosphere in the cooker to help keep the oven from drying out your food. This can vary significantly depending on the design of the cooker. If you place a water pan a few inches below the meat in a pellet cooker, the water does not get very hot, and it will have little effect. In an offset or bullet smoker, with the water pan directly above the coals, it can make a significant difference in how much water evaporates from within the meat and how moist the meat will be. Also, if there is an oil slick on the water, it cannot evaporate.

8) The humidity keeps the meat moister and that slows cooking as the moist surface evaporates and cools the meat. This allows more time for connective tissues and fats to melt.

Try to use hot water. Cold water will cool your oven down a lot and should only be used if you are running hot and need to cool it down. And fill the pan to just below the lip so you don't have to keep opening the lid to refill. Put it above the hottest place in your cooker so more water will evaporate.

What goes in the water pan?

Pitmasters argue over what should go in the water pan. Not surprising since we argue about everything, even the meaning of the word barbecue. Some say beer, wine, apple juice, onions, spices, and herbs. Some folks like to put sand, dirt, gravel, or terra cotta in the water pan. What works best? There's a reason it is called a water pan.

No sand, gravel, etc.

Many weekend warriors like to put sand or gravel in their water pans. Solids do nothing for the humidity, or for the flavor. They may help stabilize temperature fluctuations, but they will not keep the temp down like water. Water will not go over 212°F. Sand and other solids will heat up to whatever the oven temp is. So if you have a charcoal bullet smoker or a gas smoker that tends to run hot, say 250°F, but you want to be at 225°F, then water will help you keep it down. Eventually the sand will warm to 250°F.

Drink the beer

Drink the beer. Drink the wine. Drink the juice. Put the spices on the meat. Just use hot water. Don't waste your money. Many of the compounds in these other liquids will not evaporate and even if they do, they just make no impact on flavor. You may be able to smell them, but the number of flavor molecules in beer, wine, or juice are so few that even if they were deposited on the surface, they would be spread out so thin you would never notice them. The flavors of the spice rub you put on the surface of the meat, the smoke, and the sauce you chose, are much much stronger and will mask any molecules of apple juice or whatever else is in the pan that might alight on the meat.

Enhancing humidity

The AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder says "If you want to increase humidity, and you do, fill the pan with those red lava rocks sold at garden stores, and then add the water, but don't cover the rocks. They are very porous so they act like sponges, and the large surface area pumps more moisture into the air. And don't let fat drip into the pan because it will quickly coat the surface and prevent evaporation."

Cleanup

If you line a water pan with foil, cleanup will be a lot easier. When you are done, you will have a pan full of smoky water and fat. Let the pan cool and the fat should solidify. If not, throw in some ice cubes. Then it is easy to peel off the fat and discard it in a garbage bag. Usually the flavor compounds remaining are weak and not worth saving. I discard the liquid in old milk bottles, or flush it down the toilet (be prepared to clean the toilet after). If you are using charcoal you could mix the drippings with ash and throw them out with the trash. Don't pour them on the lawn or garden. They will just attract critters.

This page was revised 5/20/2013


Please read this before posting a comment or question

Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help. Then please post your question on the appropriate page. Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, and accessories, edited by Meathead.

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