Water pan smoking is a great method to cook ribs or other types of meat. Modern smokers need to learn how to use every tool at their disposal. Smokers have been using water pans for years, but few people understand their purpose or how to use one properly.

Let’s discuss the use of a water pan in smoker in an effective way!


Importance of water pan in smoker

WATER PAN SMOKER is used to make your outdoor grilling fun! But it is also a challenge. Grilling on an open fire can be tricky and requires a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it’s hard to get that smoky flavor, temperature control, and your food may seem to be either undercooked or overcooked.

So, here comes an awesome approach of a water pan in smoker and how water helps in perfect grilling session.

There are many ways to smoke meat now, depending on the type of grill you have: charcoal, pellet grills, gas smokers, and electric smokers. Surprisingly, a water pan is used for more than just catching drippings.

In fact, it has several other purposes — all related to humidity. When we talk about humidity, we’re talking about the amount of water vapor in the air.

Water requires more energy or more time to raise or lower its temperature. With a metal pan full of water around your smoker, the temperature is even, and there are no hot spots because heat is being radiated from the metal surface.

Water vapor surrounding the food absorbs moisture in the cooking environment and is more easily coated with smoke.

Water pan vs. drip pan

Although the water pan and drip pan may seem similar in function, they are not actuality. There is the slightest difference between the two.

A real cook knows it’s important to place a drip pan directly below food, where any oil or fat drippings will fall before making it to your coals. This can reduce flare-ups by catching these drips before they ever reach your fire and help your water pan work more efficiently.

The water pan sits on top of your heat source and helps the cooking process by spritzing your meat with moisture to prevent it from drying out.

Why to use water pan for smoking ribs/grilling breasts?

The water pan serves a few different functions in your smoker. It helps to keep the temperature of the meat constant, and it keeps your meat moist. Especially the charcoal pan absorbs heat and radiates it evenly across the rack. This smoking method is great for keeping the ribs and breasts moist and juicy.

Few benefits are mentioned below:

Why to use water pan for smoking ribs/grilling breasts?


Pan water is best for temperature control.

Water pans work to stabilize a smoker’s cooking temperature because the maximum temperature water can go is 100°C regardless of how high your smoker gets.

Target smoking temps are usually around 225°F. The water cools as it evaporates, which can also help reduce heat levels in a smoker as it evaporates. The same goes for when the temp starts dropping. Hot steam in the pan helps keep the air at the targeted temperature and helps stabilize the cooking temperature.


The water pans generate a lot of moisture, which helps provide a humid cooking environment. This moisture can cool the meat while it cooks, resulting in a slower process. Hence, the connective tissues and fat will have had more time to render and melt, making the meat juicy and flavorful.


Flare-ups are a nuisance for any pitmaster or grill enthusiast and can ruin a perfect cut of meat in seconds.

Fat or grease can cause flare-ups in charcoal grills or smokers by hitting flames and coals.

A water pan in a smoker or grill will help prevent this, as it is directly below the meat and above the coals. For example, on a Weber Smokey Mountain, the water pan is directly below the meat but above the coals. This will eliminate direct heat and flames from burning your meat and flare-ups caused by dripping fat, which would have hit the coals.


When moisture on the surface of your meat turns into tiny droplets of water, it creates a surface that smoke can easily stick to. Increased contact between the food and smoke will result in a deeper flavor and even help create the iconic smoke ring for barbecue.


Almost all electric smokers have much less airflow than charcoal or gas smokers, making meat more prone to drying out. Adding a water pan to the smoker helps reduce this by providing more humidity to the smoker’s environment.

How to use a water pan for different smokers?

Moving forward, let’s figure out what should be used on a water pan in different categories of smokers/grills.


In a vertical smoker, the water pan goes above the heat source. If you are using a charcoal/wood grill/smoker, the water pan in the charcoal grill should be placed above the coal area.


So, does having a water pan in a pellet smoker keep the meat moister? Yes, it does — but it’s not a hard and fast rule to use every time. You should try it once with the water pan and once without it and see what you prefer next time.


People usually get confused and ask: “where to place water pan in offset smoker?”

In my experience, the best place to put a water pan in your offset smoker is directly above the coals. Add an extra rack on top of them, and it will create the most steam to keep your meat incredibly moist. Filling a pan with water will produce more than enough radiant heat below your meat.

Read a full review article on offset smokers here

What is the smoker water pan replacement?

If you want to use something other than a water pan, then an aluminum pan is a perfect option; you’ll need one a bit bigger. A loaf pan is the perfect size for a charcoal grill and works as both a water pan and a drip pan.

So next time when someone asks you what to use for a water pan in smoker, share a link to this informative article with them because sharing is caring!


Here are answers to some questions that our readers frequently ask:

How does pit boss water pan work?

Answer: Using a water pan in the PBV3P1 Pit boss Pellet Smoker can render moist, well-cooked food, and it helps stabilize the smoker’s cooking temperature. This eliminates hot spots, enhances the flavor, and can keep the meat moist. All in all, this could make your Pit Boss smoker more efficient in terms of cooking and will also enhance your experience when cooking.

Is using electric smoker water pan a good idea?

Answer: Electric smokers like Char-Broil 17202004 do a good job maintaining temperature and humidity. However, if you’re doing a long smoke, like brisket or pork butt, you can add extra moisture with a water pan to increase the smokiness.

Can I add flavor in the water pan?

Answer: I recommend just using hot water for cooking. Some people like to put wine, beer, herbs, juice, and another flavoring in the water pan but honestly, it’s a “feel good” thing that doesn’t improve the taste of the food.

What is the best way to clean the smoker water pan?

Answer: Make sure you take out the drip pan from your smoker/BBQ. Scrape out all debris with a putty knife or scraper, and then rinse the pan in hot water using detergent. The tray should be replaced every two to four weeks.

We love to hear back from our readers, especially when they show care and share their experiences with other beings for good. Let us know your thoughts about smoker water pans and how you use them to get the maximum efficiency for your smoker!

Cheers to Grilling!

Rita Williams

Rita Williams

Hey, it’s me Rita! My love for BBQ began at an early age, learning the art of smoking meats from my dad in their small town in Texas. Weekends were filled with smoky aroma of brisket or ribs as family and friends gathered for backyard cookouts.

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