Wood smokers are used to cook large portions of meat for long periods of time at low heat. These cookers are what true bbq is all about. They consist of 3 parts: the fire box, the cooking chamber and the smoke chimney. When purchasing a wood smoker make sure you get one that is big enough to handle the amount of meat you want to cook. Many times people make the mistake of buying smokers that are far too small and this can become a frustrating mistake. Smokers themselves are usually quite large and weigh from 200 to 300 lbs. In most cases they are not very portable so place them somewhere where they will be easy to clean.
Wood smokers have their fire box to one side of the cooker. This is unique to these types of cookers because the heat is not directly under the meat. This indirect cooking method keeps the meat from searing and allows the smoke to penetrate the meat. There is usually a damper on the side of the firebox to control the air flow and thus the heat output. Another damper is usually located on the smoke chimney which allows you to restrict airflow. A good airflow is important in maintaining temperature when smoking meats. Many smokers utilize some type of water system for moisture within the cooking chamber. Some smokers have two cooking grates in the main chamber. Remember that the upper grate is usually 50 to 70 degrees hotter than the lower grate. If possible buy a smoker that has a thermometer for each grate. If not it can be drilled and installed.
One of the more popular items smoked today is the Boston butt. There are three cuts of meat from the whole shoulder used for smoking. One is the whole shoulder itself, the picnic shoulder (which is the whole shoulder minus the Boston butt section), and the Boston butt, the most popular cut. When smoking any of these cuts remember, patience is the key. Long periods of time at low temperature (200 to 220 degrees) work wonderfully. These cuts of meat work great with dry rubs. Apply the rub liberally about 1 hour before cooking. Expect to cook a Boston butt about 7-9 hours and shoulders about 14 hours. I usually wrap shoulders and butts in aluminum foil after they have cooked ½ of their cooking time. This helps retain moisture. Smoking is a great way to cook briskets, turkeys and chickens too.