For those people that love to eat outdoors either as a family or only for parties, a smoker is a great alternative to a BBQ, especially if you have what you consider to be the Best Smoker, perhaps one like my top pick the Smokin-It Model #1 Electric Smoker which can give you more variety than a BBQ grill. There are hundreds of different smokers available to buy but there are four main types, electric, pellet, charcoal and gas. Each of these different types has smokers that vary greatly in price and the types can also vary in price. If price was not a factor, perhaps you would choose my step-up pick the REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill – Featuring Smart Grill TechnologyTM but for those that have price as their biggest concern, the Old Smokey Electric Smoker is my budget pick.
Table of Contents
- Why Buy a Smoker?
- Electric Smokers
- Pellet Smokers
- Pellet Smokers
- Gas Smokers
- Criteria for Picks
- Top Pick
- Step-Up Pick
- Budget Pick
- Specialized Picks
- Competition Picks
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Buy a Smoker?
The idea of a smoker is to cook the food slower by using smoke rather than flame. By cooking your meat at temperatures between 225 and 275 degrees, it allows tough connective tissue in the meat to break down and the fats melt making the meat moist and tender. The smoker can also give meat that smoke flavor that so many people love. An added benefit of a smoker over a BBQ is that unlike with a BBQ, you do not have to stand over it watching the food; the smoker cooks it on its own without the need for supervision. Just how much work you have to put into smoking your food will very much depend on which type of smoker you buy. Any smoker is ideal for a family eating outside but some are large enough to cater to parties as well and so the size of smoker you buy should be one of your considerations. If you really like variety, some smokers have grills built into them and any smoker can also smoke vegetables as well as meats. Smoked foods are often favorites for many people but the amount of smoke flavor your smoker provides will once again be determined by the type of smoker you opt for.
Perhaps the beauty of an electric smoker is that you can enjoy the flavor of smoked meats without all the hassle associated with traditional smokers. There are advantages and disadvantages to using the different types of smokers but with electric smokers the advantages are thought by most people to outweigh the disadvantages. We will start with the advantages of an electric smoker over other, more traditional smokers. Firstly an electric smoker needs no supervision to ensure that the heat is adequate and remains constant, as you merely have to plug it in, set the timer and temperature control and then go about other business until it is time to eat. The next advantage is that there is not a lot of prepping to do as no charcoal or pellets need to be bought. A third advantage is that they are relatively safe compared with other types of smokers that rely on flames for their heat. Lastly electric smokers are relatively inexpensive, not only to buy but also to use as they need nothing other than an electrical source. The disadvantages of an electric smoker are that they are reliant on a mains electrical outlet and so cannot be used in the countryside and, as they are electric, there are many electrical components that could go wrong.
Pellet smokers are becoming increasingly popular as they do not need the same attention whilst smoking as charcoal smokers do but can provide a good smoked flavor. Like the electric smokers, the pellet smokers only need to have their temperature set and they can be left to do the rest. By turning on a pellet smoker you ignite the pellets which are automatically replenished by the smoker unit, maintaining the set temperature. Different varieties of pellets can be bought to provide different smoke flavors. The advantages of a pellet smoker are that they are easy and convenient to use and as the pellets are consistent in make-up, you know exactly what smoked flavor your meat will have and that flavor can rival the results of any charcoal smoker. The disadvantages of pellet smokers are that they are considerably larger than other smokers and so a decent amount of space is needed to use one and, in some areas, availability of pellets may be a problem during certain times of the year.
Charcoal smokers are the original smokers that have been around for years and so are the smokers that all other types try to emulate. Although the modern charcoal smokers are designed to provide accurate temperature control so they can be left unattended for periods of time, these are still the best type for those chefs that like to play a role in the smoking process, alternating the temperature as they deem fit for the best results. The advantages of a charcoal smoker are that they provide authentic smoke flavoring and the chef has more control on the outcome of that flavor. The disadvantages of a charcoal smoker are that they do need some attention whilst smoking and that they can reach very high temperatures, more suitable for a BBQ than a smoked experience. Most are relatively large and many of the better ones are quite expensive.
Gas smokers are a favorite with many smoker enthusiasts as they can provide genuine smoked flavors whilst being almost as easy to use as electric smokers. With a gas smoker you add wood chips to their water pan and depending on what type of wood chips you add, you can get a different smoked flavor. Once started and the chips have been added, a gas smoker can be left to do the rest itself. The advantages of a gas smoker are that you can vary the smoked flavor and they are easy to use, almost fool proof, ensuring that your meat is never burnt. The disadvantages of a gas smoker are that the cheaper ones often do not produce enough heat to smoke your meats properly and many of the smokers are built with flimsy materials which can warp with higher temperatures.
Criteria for Picks
The criteria I used to make my picks were ease of use, both in setting up and cleaning afterwards, affordability, convenience and in no small part, ratings given in reviews. I did not consider ratings of one or two reviews; I only considered ratings which had maintained their high ranking over at least 50 reviews, ensuring that they were generally accepted as being as good as their rating.
Top Pick: Smokin-It Model #1 Electric Smoker
There are several things that appealed to me about my top pick for best smoker. The Smokin-It Model #1 Electric Smoker is of course electric which means it is easy to use but one of the advantages of this particular model is that it already comes assembled in its box and does not have lots of sensors and other electrics that could need constant replacements. It only has one electrical component that could give trouble; the inexpensive heating element. Although many other types of smokers can weigh as much as 500 to 1,000 lbs. and take up a lot of space, this only weighs in at 57 lbs. Even though this model is compact and relatively small, it is on 4 castors to make it even more manoeuvrable and convenient. Another great appealing quality is its value as it has unbeatable construction including stainless steel racks which means it is durable and will last a long time. It also has a cooking area of 12-1/2″ x 13-1/2″ x 17-1/4″ which means that you have space to easily cook 22 pounds of meat at temperatures ranging from 100 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Its insulation ensures that there is minimal loss of heat, making it efficient but unlike most other smokers; its insulation is fibre glass, which accounts for its comparative light weight compared to other smokers. Although there are no real disadvantages with this smoker, some people have mentioned that they would have preferred better temperature control.
Step-Up Pick: REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill – Featuring Smart Grill TechnologyTM
My step-up pick is the smoker that may have been my top pick if affordability had not been one of the criteria. My pick in this category is the REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill which includes technology that allows for precise temperature control and as it can provide a temperature range between 180 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be used to smoke, grill or even bake your favorite foods. Its expansive 19 x 34 inch cooking area can cater to most chefs’ needs, amateur or professional and has touch of a button temperature control to make any style of cooking easy. Although this smoker is large, it has wheels to make it very mobile and for more easily transporting further, those wheels come complete with brakes. This smoker uses wooden pellets and so any meat cooked on it has an authentic smoked flavor. Although this grill needs an initial set up, following the manual is easy and set up can usually be achieved within an hour. Its solid construction includes a 1/4 inch grill grate that can take the heaviest of cuts of meat. Not only is its use easy but with a 12 gauge drip pan, clean- up is also easy. Built to last, this smoker comes with a 6 year warranty, ensuring you can have hassle free outdoor dining for many years to come.
Budget Pick: Old Smokey Electric Smoker
The step-up pick was for those that can afford to buy the best regardless of price whilst my budget pick is for those that have affordability as their first concern. For those that have price as their biggest concern, the Old Smokey Electric Smoker is most people’s budget pick for best smoker. As an electric smoker this is easy to use and this particular model is perhaps ideal for beginners, especially if they do not want to spend too much learning how to produce the best smoked meats. As the top of the smoker seals when in use, it can cater to those that like to smoke their meats faster as there is no smoke loss. This has a large area to one side especially for smoking larger items such as hams, turkeys or pork shoulders. Although the smoker uses electric coils to provide the heat, it also uses wooden chips to provide the authentic smoked flavor. Although this model has a sturdy construction, it only measures 15.5″ X 15.5″ X 29″ and weighs only 20 lbs. Weighing so little this smoker does not have wheels but does has heat resistant handles to make moving it easy. The compact size does not prevent it from having 280 square inches of cooking space that is encased in aluminium so as not to rust. Designed with a flat top, the juices are allowed to drop back onto the meat, enhancing its flavor. With a thermostat to control the temperature, it is unlikely that you will find any type of smoker that offers this much efficiency for such a low price. Although some buyers have mentioned that this smoker is sometimes awkward to clean thoroughly, that is only to be expected with a smoker as compact as this.
Although these two did not make my top pick, they are considered to be good and may appeal to certain buyers as each of them have features that cannot be found on most other smokers. The first is especially good for hosting a small outdoor party whilst the second may appeal to the would-be professional.
Specialty Pick: Bradley 4 Rack Digital Smoker
With a size of 17″ x 14″ x 31″ and a timer that can allow for up to 8 hours cooking at temperatures of up to 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the Bradley 4 Rack Digital Smoker is an ideal smoker for use at parties. Not only is it electric and so can be left to cook by itself but it also has a connection for a back-up generator if necessary and so the party will go on, no matter what. This smoker is ready to face any weather conditions with an epoxy coating that will withstand the colds of winter as well as the heat of the summer. Not only does this smoker allow for the cooking time to be set but also has a control for temperature and an amount of smoke setting, so you can enjoy the party without any worries on how the cooking is going. This is a very popular smoker. This is neither the cheapest or most expensive smoker you will find and neither is it the smallest or largest smoker available but it is reasonably priced and large enough to handle small parties with ease. With the ability to reach higher temperatures than most smokers, it not only means that meats can be cooked quicker but even if you want a slow cook, it will reach the required temperature quicker. One concern has been expressed with this smoker and that is that it will cut off after 8 hours but that is considered a minor detail as most people set faster cooking times than that.
Specialty Pick: Camp Chef PG24 Pellet Grill and Smoker
The Camp Chef PG24 Pellet Grill and Smoker has a range of features usually only found on more expensive smokers. To start with it can maintain temperatures that range from as low as 150 degrees for slow cooking or as high as 500 degrees for BBQ style cooking. It has a digital dual thermostat system that displays not only the temperature in the chamber but thanks to a food probe, also displays the temperature of the meat. These thermostats also allow for pellets to be automatically fed in as and when required, taking the guess work out of the cooking. Although designed as a smoker for use in the home, it did have the amateur chef in mind. This smoker is heavier than many at a weight of 128 pounds but that isn’t perhaps bad considering that it has 560 Cubic Inches of cooking surface and an extra-large pellet hopper to ensure that you do not need to worry about refilling it whilst cooking. As it is larger than some other smokers, the designers provided it with a flat back for easier positioning where it was needed. Other features include a unique ash collection tray which makes clean-up considerably easier. As well as having an electric ignition switch for convenience, it also has a power outage by-pass which although may not be needed too often, goes to show the manufacturers tried to think of everything.
There are dozens of different smokers available to buy and although I have shown my particular favorites, it possibly would not be fair to not show you at least some of the competition as many of the smokers available are good for their own reasons.
Smoke Hollow 30162E Electric Smoker
The Smoke Hollow 30162E Electric Smoker is a popular choice by those that like outdoor eating but do not want to spend thousands of dollars to do so. This is a relatively cheap smoker and it is also compact, making it ideal for family use. With only a height of 38 inches and a width of 18 inches this smoker is smaller than most but it hasn’t sacrificed cooking space to be so as it still allows a cooking area of 16″X14″X30″. This smoker has shown itself to be of strong design and efficient in use. One of this smoker’s features that make it popular is its ease to clean. Many electric smokers have electrical components which can be positioned in places where they are hard to clean but Smoke Hollow 30162E Electric Smoker has many removable parts, specifically allowing for an easy clean-up.
MasterBuilt Electric Smoker
The MasterBuilt Electric Smoker has as one of its most popular features a remote control. Although this smoker has a window through which you can observe the meat to see how it is doing, with the remote control and displays showing you the relevant temperatures of the chamber and thanks to a probe, the meat, you do not even need to be close to the window to see how things are doing and making adjustments as necessary. Although this smoker may be considered by some as being heavy at 72 pounds, as the weight is due to its strong and long lasting construction, most think of the weight as an asset. This smoker has a 900 square inch cooking space and some quality racks and is easy to use but, although for the most part it is easy to clean, some people have complained that the window is not as easy to clean as the rest.
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18.5 Inch
The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18.5 Inch has always been popular but since it has been made with extra-large doors in order to make placing and removing charcoal easier, that popularity has grown. Weber, who has dozens of recipes on their web page, continues to provide their customers with better products than they expect and this smoker is no exception. With 481 square inches of cooking space, thermometer and heat resistant handles, provides users with the ability to cook meats in the traditional way with excellently smoked meats. His smoker is easy to assemble in about 15 minutes yet has a durable construction, one that will last. It has spring loaded doors to ensure no smoke escapes and a price that is reasonable.
Smoke Hollow 44241G2 Vertical LP Gas Smoker
The Smoke Hollow 44241G2 Vertical LP Gas Smoker is a smoker that can provide a large amount of meat with a minimum of fuss. It is a relatively large smoker and so can its 44 x 24 x 16 inch cooking space is ideal for when friends drop by. It has a porcelain coated chip pans in order to enhance the smoked flavor and twin burners to help maintain appropriate temperatures whilst cooking. Although the smoker is equipped with deluxe handles for easier mobility, most users prefer not to move it regularly as it weighs 100 lbs. but that weight reflects its strong and durable construction. Most users think it provides good value for money and perhaps one of the reasons for that is that it comes with all that you will need regardless of what you want to cook; two cooking grids, two jerky racks, one rib rack and one sausage hanger. It also has two cabinet style doors for easy locating and retrieval of the meats.
Char-Broil Big Easy – TRU Infrared Smoker, Roaster and Grill
The Char-Broil Big Easy – TRU Infrared Smoker, Roaster and Grill is perhaps unlike any other smoker you may see as it uses infrared heat to cook your meat, instead of heating the air around the meat to cook it. By cooking the meat in this fashion, there are no worries about the dry air surrounding the meat, causing it to lose taste or texture. An added advantage of this method of cooking is that the meat reaches its required cooking temperature more quickly than it would with other methods. Although small enough to be portable, this smoker is still large enough to cook a 16 pound Turkey or whatever else you want as it has 15 different temperature settings ranging from as low as 125 degrees, to as high as 525 degrees Fahrenheit. It is perhaps this combination of portability and diversity that makes this so well loved. This is one of today’s most popular choices or smoking at home. This smoker takes the guesswork out of cooking by having an internal thermometer which measures the actual heat of the meat and an automatic shut off if the meat gets too hot. With affordability, portability, diversity and fail safe cooking, this smoker should probably be at least considered by any budding outdoor chef.
Frequently Asked Questions
Probably the most frequently asked question is which is the best type of smokers?
The answer to that is difficult as all the different types are excellent in their own way and so it is very much a case of personal preference. For instance, the electric and gas smokers may offer the most convenient and easiest ways to smoke your meat but the charcoal smoker, as it is the most authentic, probably also offers the most authentic taste.
The other frequently asked question is how big a smoker do you need?
This is not a question that depends so much on what you intend to cook but how many you intend to cook for but remember smoking takes time and so you will probably only have time to cook once and so choosing one a little bigger than you think you may need, is always a wise decision.
With such a large variety of good smokers available to buy you are spoilt for choice but there are three factors that you should always consider before you even start looking at the different ones available. First you must decide what size smoker you need; do you just need one for family outdoor eating or do you intend to host outdoor parties? When considering the size you want, you will also have to consider as to whether you will be keeping it in just one place or whether you will need to keep moving it. Secondly you will have to consider if you want a smoker where you can just place the food inside, select the appropriate settings and leave it or, are you prepared to spend time supervising the process in order to obtain a more authentic taste. This is probably the decision which will help you decide which type o smoker you want, electric, pellet, charcoal or gas. Lastly of course you will have to consider what price you are prepared to pay or your smoker. With prices that range from just over one hundred dollars to ones that cost ten times that, whatever price range you do decide, there are so many different ones available, that you will still have several to choose from.