Does adding seasonings or fruit to the water add to the flavor when smoking?

(Mims, Fl.)

We've put various powders and seasonings to our water bowl in the smoker, but are not sure it makes a difference. Are we wasting our time?


The short answer is yes, you are wasting your time. The wood smoke is a very powerful flavour and together with a rub, marinade or sauce on the meat then you are going to completely overpower any seasoning or flavour in the water bowl.

The water bath creates a humid environment which is important in the formation of the pink smoke ring which develops through gaseous nitrogen oxide dissolving on the moist flesh of raw or lightly cooked meat. A chemical reaction takes place between myoglobin in the meat and the dissolved nitrogen oxide.

Moisture on the meat dissolves the nitrogen oxide and making it easier to penetrate the meat and so help the development of the smoke ring.

Back to your question about adding flavour. If anything you'd be better adding soaked herbs onto the coals like you do the wood chips. To prevent them from scorching, wrap the soaked herb sprigs in foil, puncture the foil and throw the foil packet onto the coals.

In some recipes though I have used fruit juice in the water bath rather than water but when I've done this it has always been when not using smoke. The fruit juice adds a very subtle flavor but it is still really easy to overpower it with even just a little bit of smoke.

Having said that, see my smoker water bath tip about using the remnants of the water bowl for making gravy or sauce. If this is your target then there’s no harm in adding the herbs and spices early because they’ll then have a greater opportunity to influence the flavour.

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Smoker Water Pan

by Jason
(Las Vegas, NV)

How do I get the most out of my smoker water pan?

Is it not cool to put barbecue sauce (or any other kind of sauce) on meat that's cooked in the smoker? My smoker came with a water/marinade pan. Do you have any suggestions for what to put in the pan? I tried a mixture of Fresca, tequila, and olive oil, but it didn't appear to affect the flavor of the meat much. Should I just stick to putting water in that pan?


As I said in the question above, the original reason for the smoker water pan was to provide humidity during the cooking process to aid the development of the smoke ring and also to keep everything moist when doing a large hunk of meat with the cookout time being longer than most.

You can as you suggest use it as a marinade bowl. Marinades have the added advantage of tenderizing the meat and because of the tenderization process I think that marinades are more suited to grilling rather than smoking. For some great marinade suggestions click here. Marinades don't need long to work and the science behind this will be explained.

The one you suggest sounds interesting and I’d be tempted to try it on either lamb or pork.

If however smoking is the way you want to go then the best way to add flavor to your meat is through a rub, sauce or mop and you can afford to be much more aggressive with your flavor combinations.

What’s the difference?

A rub is a mix of herbs and spices that you literally rub onto the meat. The benefit of a rub is that it’s dry so you can make up a batch and store in an airtight container.

A sauce is typically added to your finished article. Of course BBQ is the tradition but as in all cooking there’s so much more such as a citrus sauce with fish.

A mop is in essence a thick baste. Regular basting is a great way to add flavor and keep the meat moist. It only called a mop because of the method of application, what started out as being spooned or brushed over developed into literally a small mop.

The next way that you can use the smoker water pan is to catch the drips from the food and the mop and use these drips to make a gravy.

Finally, I do sometimes fill the water pan with other things but generally when I'm cooking indirectly (but not smoking) such as fruit juice. It adds a subtle flavor, nothing more, but there are some exceptions to the rule as well such as the use of orange juice in this smoked chicken salad recipe.

So in summary, the bottom line is that you might get some subtle impact by adding fluids other than water to your pan but generally most of the flavor is going to come from the rub, sauce and smoke. Given this conclusion, it might be best just to keep the smoker water pan (when smoking) for water.

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