While many people may not realize it, drip pans and water pans are very different and have two very different purposes when it comes to smoking meats.
Although they can occasionally be used for the same purpose, water pans generally go above the heat source to provide moisture and drip pans are found beneath the food to collect drippings.
It is very important for sanitary reasons as well as ensuring your meat tastes it’s best that you keep your drip pans and water pans clean!
The last thing you want is to cook a deliciously smoked pork butt and discover that your dirty drip pan has tainted the flavor!
How To Clean Your Drip Pan (FYI This May Not Be Fun)
In many cases, you will simply use a drip pan to keep your electric smoker clean, but you can also use them to collect drippings that can be used for cooking, to prevent flare-ups of heat, and to prevent oils from falling into the water pan which could inhibit evaporation.
If you add water to your drip pan, it can help increase the humidity and stabilize the temperature of the smoker as well.
One of the best uses for a drip pan is to make gravy or stock. To do this, you’ll want to add some water, herbs, vegetables, and other ingredients to the drip pan and allow all the delicious juices from your meat to drip into it.
My favourite stock all starts with cooking a spatchcock chicken. Keep an eye on it to make sure you don’t lose too much water during the smoking process and you’ll find yourself with an amazing gravy at the end.
Why Do You Need To Use A Water Pan You Ask?
Many smokers that you can buy come with a water pan, so you don’t have to worry about going out and buying one separately or improvising.
The best place to put a water pan is above the fire, so the heat can cause the water to evaporate. You should also avoid placing the water pan beneath the meat as the greasy drippings can coat the water and prevent evaporation.
One of the main purposes of the water pan is to keep the air temperature in the smoker around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. For most things that you’ll be smoking, this is the ideal cooking temperature, and so you should do your best to keep your smoker at this temperature during the smoking process. A water pan makes this much easier.
A water pan will also help to reduce the fluctuations in temperature because the temperature of water changes more slowly than that of the air.
Some other benefits to using a water pan include: being able to cook with indirect heat, improving the flavor of meats, keeping food from getting dried out, and slowing the cooking process to allow more fats and connective tissues to melt.
Need to Know What Goes in The Water Pan?
First of all, you want to make sure that the water you put in the water pan is hot, not cold. If you add cold water, it will cool down the smoker too much and could cause a significant drop in temperature.
The amount of water you put in is also important. To avoid opening the smoker more than necessary to add extra water, fill the water pan as much as you can, then place it in the hottest spot in the smoker.
Although there’s a lot of debate about what should go into a water pan, the truth is that the only thing you really should put into the water pan is water.
Some people argue that adding wine, beer, or herbs and spices will help add more flavor to the meat. However, the truth is that most of those won’t evaporate to add flavor and you’ll just end up wasting some good beer that you could drink instead.
One thing that you can add to water pans to increase the humidity is to add red lava rocks. You can find these at most garden stores.
All you have to do is fill the pan with the lava rocks, then add water without completely covering the rocks. The rocks will act as sponges to increase the surface area of the water which will enhance the humidity in the smoker.
How To Clean Drink Pan (Yep More Cleaning)
The most important thing to keep in mind while cleaning either the drip pan or the water pan is that you don’t want to simply dump it in your yard.
This is particularly important with the drip pan if you just used it to collect drippings from a really greasy recipe such as bacon jerky. If you do throw this in your yard, it’s going to attract all kinds of unwanted pests from insects to larger animals.
To make cleanup easier, we recommend lining both pans with aluminium foil. This way, it will be a lot easier to get everything out at the end without having to put a lot of time and elbow grease into cleaning out the pans. Alternatively, you could also use disposable pans which cuts the cleanup time down even more since all you have to do is throw them away.
To remove the fat from the pan, allow it to cool until the fat solidifies. Sometimes, you may need to add some ice cubes to the pan to get it to cool down enough for the grease to become solid fats. Cleaning the pan will be much easier if you remove the fats first, which you can easily peel off or remove once cooled and simply throw them away.
Then, all that you’ll have left to deal with is the remaining water. To throw it away, pour it into old milk bottles or even cleaning bottles then put it in your regular trash.
You can also carefully pour it into the toilet and simply flush it away, though you’ll have to clean your toilet after this since the bits of food can make the inside of the toilet bowl dirty.
When cooking for anyone, especially friends and family, you want to ensure you're using clean equipment.
The bottom line is, if you don't clean your smoker right you might be putting your guests or family at risk.
If you are in need of a new smoker because you have let the cleaning and maintenance of yours get away on you, check out my electric smoker reviews.
Personally, I would never want to risk my family and friends health. Plus I love cooking too much to be shafted from my king of the smoker throne!