Smoker Water Pans – When and How to Use Them

The majority of people mistakenly believe that water and smoke have no connection when cooking, however this couldn’t be further from the reality. The best option for slow and low barbecue sessions at home is typically a water pan. Although adding water to the smoker will work, controlling the temperature will be easier with a water pan.

Everything you need to know about a smoker’s water pan is covered here.

Benefits of Using a Water Pan

Several reasons would make you want to use a water pan. Below we discuss some;

1. It Helps to Stabilize the Temperature

Craig Goldwin elaborates how a water pan ensures there is a stable temperature in the meat grill. Stable temperatures occur because air takes a shorter time than water to fall or gain a temperature rise.

Therefore, water can send the heat to the grill after it comes up to the temperature. If the grill becomes too hot, water absorbs the extra heat.
Remember, water is the best solvent to use if you want a low temperature. This is possible because of the evaporative cooling process. Water starts to evaporate after heating, and this releases the vapor into the air.

Water temperatures do not exceed 211 degrees before evaporation. This maintains an even temperature in the chamber.

2. It Helps to Keep Temperatures Even in the Smoker

Another advantage of using water during smoking is that it acts as a heat sink. It also maintains an even temperature in the chamber. You can try to put a water pan close to a heat source, and you will realize a balanced temperature.  Water removes any hot spots in the chamber and also ensures an even heat distribution, mostly during indirect cooking.

You will also have a lesser fluctuation rate in your smoker. This is because it takes a longer time for water to have a rise and fall in temperature. The temperatures will also be more stable.

3. It Minimizes Flames and Direct Heat

Smokers like Weber Smokey have pans that are beneath the meat and slightly above the coal. This stops the direct heat from burning the food.

It also prevents any flare-ups from occurring. These flare-ups happen after fat drips into the coal.

4. Water Ensures a Better Cooking Environment

A tiny backyard grill has a heat source that is close to the meat. Water pans ensure air remains moist in the chamber. It also prevents the food from overcooking or drying.

If you have ever put a pot on the fire and left it, then you have probably found it with less water on returning. This occurs because water evaporates when it gets to its boiling point. It also sends water vapor to the atmosphere. This water vapor is called humidity, and in a smoker, it serves the following purposes;

• It condenses to the food
• It combines with chemicals in the smoke to improve the meat’s flavor
• It helps to form a bark

5. Water Provides a Better Smoke Flavor

Water on the pan evaporates and condenses on the cooler side of the meat when the heat reaches the grill. After condensation, water mixes with the meat surface making it sticky. This makes smoke flavor and particles stick to the meat, leading to an improved taste.

6. A Water Pan Acts as an Indirect Heating Surface

The best way to make an excellent BBQ is by using indirect heat. Most smokers have their sources of heat located in the side, a distance from the chamber. This feature makes the heat source indirect with minimal modifications.

Advanced smokers, like popular bullets, have their heat sources at the bottom. This specification needs you to deflect the heat for low cooking.

What Is the Right Place for the Water Pan?


The primary factor to consider before you choose where to put your water pan is the cooker type. It would help if you also contemplated whether you have enough space to host it. A water pan helps to create an even heat distribution. So, it would be great to put it below the meat and above the charcoal.

Suppose you have a smaller kettle or an offset cooker; you might find it challenging to put it beneath the food. If this is the case, you can place it on the grate. Water pans are beneficial if you use a gas grill because you can create an indirect heating zone.

If your burner has more than one grill, you might consider turning one on and closing the rest. You should put the food on the cold side and put the pan beneath it. By so doing, the water will heat up and create even heat below the food.

When Should You Use a Water Pan?

Whenever you want to cook at a low, steady, and constant temperature for a long time, a water pan is the best solution. The food in question does not matter, may it be brisket or pork ribs. You will also enjoy using a water pan if you use low temperatures while cooking.

When Should you Not Use a Water Pan?

A water pan has a minimal effect when you use high heat for a short duration, like during grilling. The water boils and later evaporates if you burn a steak over high temperatures.

If you are roasting a turkey or any other poultry with skin, you can use a moist environment to smoothen the skin – of which not so many people are a fan of. A bit of crispy skin is usually considered more ideal.

What to Put in the Water Pan?

Water is the best solvent to use in a water pan. However, it would be great to use hot water. This is because it will take longer for your smoker to get the right temperature if you use cold water. A lot of time will be taken to heat the water and air in the grill.

Some people prefer to use apple juice and other flavored liquids in the pans.  Even though these liquids bring about a pleasant smell to the meat, they are not necessary. The main reason you put water in the pan is not to flavor the meat but to provide a moist environment. Water also ensures an even temperature.

It is advisable to put the fluids in a spray bottle suppose you want to use a flavor. Spritz your foods with them at hourly intervals. This move will make the food more sticky and introduce a new layer to the meat.

How to Clean the Water Pan After Use?

You must clean your water pan after use to make sure it is ready for the next session. Also, you should know how to cope with the water after cooking. Cleaning the water pan is essential, especially if it was beneath the food and if the fat was dripping.

Below are some water disposal methods you can try;

• Draining it down a sink
• Flushing it in the toilet
• Pouring on the garden
• Throwing it away using a watertight bag.

You can dispose of the water in the garden if it is clear with no fats. Water with a small fat amount can be disposed of in the drain or toilet.

However, it would help to let it cool first to make the fat stick on the surface for easy cleaning. Avoid disposing of, directly in the sink; otherwise, you will experience a blockage in no time.

Suppose you cook using charcoal, then you should consider a garbage bucket. Dumping the contents in a garbage bucket is the best way to clean after cooking.


A water pan is an item mostly used when cooking meat, and it has several benefits. Some include; a better bark, increased flavor, and a well-stabilized temperature during the cooking session. These lead to a better end result.

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