Updated: Feb 3, 2021
The type of smoker isn’t as important as learning how to use your smoker. Choose what is in your price range and in what method you find interesting (offset, open pit, pellet, puck, direct heat, etc.). Some smokers are more demanding than others, while others do have opportunity to provide an enriched flavor profile.
One of the life experiences I've learned is every smoker has a personality, learn it. Each cut of meat has a personality, learn it.
Once you have the basics, then supplement with fancy gadgets if you like or stick to the old fashioned way.
Learn how to read your meat. Each animal is different, then again each cut from a given animal is different. A lean cut may require a bit more tender love and care. Where as a fatty (sometimes called a cheap cut) can be more forgiving. But then this can be debunked with a cut like the brisket. A fatty cut, but is one of the most challenging cuts to cook.
Once the meat is on, leave it alone. "If you’re a lookin’ you ain’t a cookin’". When you open the cooker, you drop the temperature. To properly BBQ, the meat needs stable temperature to allow the fat and connective tissue to properly break down. No peeking any more than one hour intervals, but we recommend two if you are maintaining proper temperature – now you might need to crack the lid to drop the temperature if you fired it up too hot. It's a balance.
Learn how to feed your fire. Feeding your fire, is the interval and amount of material to keep the fire going, at the temperature you are after.
When it comes to BBQ, we recommend to keep it simple. Learn the basics of the of fire triangle (or if you are also a motorhead, a carburetor) which teaches the principles of heat control. With trial and error, you'll learn what too little heat does compared to too much heat; and then what too much fuel does compared to little fuel. Too much fuel is one of the more common mistakes; this creates too much smoke and also brings with it soot and a nasty flavor.
Learn the smoke. Now most importantly, don’t choke you’re fire – this ain’t your grandpa’s lawn mower here! Too much raw fuel creates white smoke. This ain’t good. You want blue smoke. To help support blue smoke, a constant clean fuel (hot ambers/coals) is important. You can then add wood at an amount to maintain the blue. You can even have a separate fire pile to your smoker and add the ambers as required to keep a cleaner cook. Smoke will still kiss the meat, but small amounts of raw provide a little more of that pink ring.
You’re choice of fuel is essential, but not as important as the smoke it can provide. Hardwoods only. From my neck of the woods, we are almost only users of hickory. We like the flavor, but it's also a plentiful wood. Next to that, pecan is a close second. The goal here however is use what is locally available. In California, they use grapevines. Texas, mesquite. You get the picture.