Water Pan In Smoker: Benefits, Limitations, and How to Use

by | Jan 17, 2023 | Barbecue, Smoker | 0 comments

According to me, one main problem with smoking brisket portions or other hard meat items is that when you put it on a flame for too long, the meat eventually dries out and can become too dry or slightly bitter. Now, most of us look for a juicy and soft texture when it comes to smoked meat! But how to achieve that? 

A good way to avoid your smoker from sucking up all the moisture from your meat is to use a water pan inside. Getting a good water pan for your stainless steel grill will not prevent your food from drying out, but also helps you achieve a better flavor for your meat.

In this guide, I have covered everything you need to know about water pans.

What Is a Water Pan?

A water pan is basically a tray or a flat bowl that you can use to control the moisture inside a smoker so that whatever meat is cooking does not dry up. You can place the water pan on top of the tray or the grill to keep the temperature moist and not exceed the water’s boiling point (212 Degrees Fahrenheit). 

A lot of people confuse and even use water pans for drip pans, but the latter is kept under the food to catch the drippings away or catch the grease that keeps melting from the heat. 

On the other hand, the purpose of the water pan is mainly to retain the moisture inside your smoker and give your meat a better flavor.

Benefits of Using a Water Pan In Your Smoker

Water pans allow the slow cooking of meat by retaining water in the smoker so that it ends up juicy and tender. Apart from preventing the meat from becoming dry from the smoke, using a water pan also has other benefits. 

  1. Keeps Meat Away From Direct Heat

One major problem that many beginners face when smoking meat is that it ends up too dry and bitter by being too close to the flame and being kept over the coals. 

Now,  keep in mind that it isn’t completely unavoidable. But keeping a water pan in between the heat source and the meat will definitely help. It will keep tar and grease away from the meat and you won’t have to worry about the coal burning your food!

  1. Helps Generate Moisture

Water pans not only capture the moisture to retain its levels inside a smoker, but it also helps generate moisture in general. When the surrounding area is humid, you get a layer of condensation on the surface of the meat that makes it easier for smoke to stick on. 

  1. Can Bring Out Real Smoked Flavor In Electric Smokers

A lot of grilled meat enthusiasts always talk about how electric grills and smokers aren’t as authentic as the traditional grill. 

Though the process is the same, only experienced smoked meat chefs will notice the difference in savoriness, which mainly comes from exposure to the air outside.

Since there is limited air inside an electric smoker, the meat gets dry faster. Hence, adding a water pan at the end can help build up humidity inside the smoker and retain the water to help cook the meat slowly. 

  1. Keeps Temperature In Check

The ideal temperature for smoking meat is around 225 Degrees Fahrenheit, which is slightly above the boiling temperature of the water. So, when the water evaporates, the heat from the fire is balanced out and your smoker remains around the ideal smoking temperature!

Limitations of Using a Water Pan In Smoker

Though water pans are great and will certainly make your brisket portions or prime ribs taste better, I don’t recommend them for all kinds of meat dishes! They only come into play when you need to cook something for a long time and at a low flame as it is mainly used to keep water locked in a drying surrounding. 

Therefore, it is the best for cooking meat that requires some moisture, like poultry or chicken. So in my opinion, it is ideal for grilling, but not so much for making pounds of beef brisket portions. 

How to Use a Water Pan In a Smoker?

Using a water pan in a smoker is pretty simple – just keep it directly on top of the source of the heat. It is best to use a water pan when you are going to cook over a small flame for a long period of time at a low temperature. It is best for meat recipes like brisket portions or ribs. 

All you have to do is add water to fill the pan halfway and then place it where necessary. Note that you change the water every 2-3 hours to ensure the slow cooking of the meat. Sometimes, smokers even have a personal water pan that you can use directly. If that is not the case, the following is how to use different types of water pans. 

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers, wherein there are layers of grills to keep meat on, can easily adjust a water pan directly over the grill where you have kept the source of heat. 

Keep the last burner lit, while you use the rest of the grates above as places to keep meat. This ensures that the smoke goes directly toward the meat and smokes it well. 

Offset Smoker

An offset smoker means that the food is kept separate from the source of the heat, so you will not be able to keep it directly on top of the grill. 

Therefore, it is better to keep the pan in the grill, in the middle of the fire box, and the meat. In this way, it can keep the flames away from the meat. 

Vertical Smoker

Similar to electric smokers, vertical ones also have lots of levels with cooking grates that you can keep the heat on. 

The water pan should be placed at the lowest place right above the source of heat so that the smoke travels up the other racks and smokes it properly. 

Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills have a traditional setup, and it can be difficult to work it out, so you will have to opt for two-sided cooking. 

To do this, you will have to put the charcoal and wood on one side and the water pan on the other. 

The water pan should be kept over the grill on the charcoal and the meat should be kept on the wood for smoking. 

Should You Use a Water Pan? juice

If you are looking to cook tender meat portions, full of juice, and don’t have any idea about how much the temperature should be, I highly suggest that you use a water pan. There is no problem with food cooking slowly as long as it is cooked well, and a water pan will certainly be helpful in terms of safety as well. 

Water pans are best used when you have to cook something slowly over a long period of time since it helps retain moisture and cook slowly. So, if you want to fry a piece of meat like steak, which will require heat over a short period, water pans might not be ideal. 

Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Water Pan

The following are a few tips you might want to follow and be careful of when using a water pan in a smoker or cooker. 

  • You might wonder if flavoring the water in the pan will do anything for the meat, but it will not. Though it will smell great, the purpose of the water in the water pan is to mainly retain moisture, so it does not help change the taste. 
  • Try not to add cold water to the water pan as it can lower the temperature. Instead, use boiling or normal water. 
  • Never fill the water to the brim and always keep on checking on it once it is in the smoker to be on the safe side. 

How to Clean a Water Pan?

Grilling and smoking meat is a messy business. The worst part about it is how difficult it is to clean all the utensils! 

Trust me, you will be changing your water pan quite often during the process, and it will go through a lot while sitting at the bottom of your smoker. 

Hence, it is important to maintain its cleanliness if you are going to use it so often. If you are going to use the water pan a lot, I recommend wrapping it in aluminum foil to avoid a lot of cleaning in the future. Following are a few steps you can take to clean a water pan. 

Step 1: First, allow the water pan to cool down so that the grease solidifies. It is much easier to wash them off when cold, so you can even use some ice to turn the grease into fat. 

Step 2: Once cooled down, you can remove the fats with your hand or rub them away using a cloth. 

Step 3: Throw away the used water and then wash the water pan as you would with any other utensil. 

Related Questions

Should I Put A Pan Of Water In My Electric Smoker? 

Putting a water pan in an electric smoker is certainly encouraged to maintain the moisture inside and keep the meat from becoming dry and bitter. 

How Often Do You Fill A Water Pan In A Smoker?

The water in a water pan should be changed every 3 to 4 hours so that the meat is cooked properly. In the beginning, make sure it is filled halfway and then keep changing it every few hours. 

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has helped you understand the benefits that a water pan brings to your barbecue grills and brisket portion roasts.

As a self-proclaimed roasting chef, I have noticed a massive difference while using a water pan. So, if you want to enhance your skills at smoking meat, get yourself a water pan today!




Colin has been grilling, smoking, and barbecuing in his yard for as long as he remembers.  His favorite dish is pork belly smoked on his favorite offset smoker. Read more about Colin here.


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