Taking the first step toward smoking your own meat can feel daunting — trust us, we know. With so many different smoker options, it can be hard to know which smoker is best for you. Fortunately, we’re here to help you understand the basics and find you the best smoker for your needs.
Different Styles of Smokers
First and foremost, it is important to understand the different types of smokers. Smokers are differentiated primarily by fuel type and by design. The five types of smokers are electric, gas (propane), charcoal, pellet, and offset.
Electric smokers are often cited as the go-to smoker for the first-time or entry-level smoker. They are unmatched in terms of temperature control, simply requiring you to set a temperature and forget it.
This “set it and forget it” style of smoking is great for those just starting out or for those that might not have the time or flexibility to closely monitor a slow cook for hours. Electric smokers can also often be used in places where propane or charcoal smokers cannot be used or are not allowed.
That said, electric smokers do come with some drawbacks, namely the fact that they require a power source, whether that is a built-in outlet in your backyard kitchen or an extension cord running to the nearest power supply. In addition, electric smokers don’t provide the same depth of flavor as other smoker options.
|Electric Smokers – Pros and Cons|
Another of the “set it and forget it” style of smokers, propane (or gas) smokers offer many of the same benefits as electric smokers and as such are another great option for beginners.
Similar to an electric smoker, the use of propane allows for great temperature control when compared to a charcoal, pellet, or offset smoker. Because they combine the ease of an electric smoker while still providing a little more flexibility, propane smokers tend to be popular among those with a little experience around a grill or smoker.
Propane smokers also come with their own drawbacks, mainly centered around the use of propane. You’ll want to ensure a full tank before you start (and keep a spare on hand, just in case). The smell of the propane itself can be a turn off for some, as it can linger in meat.
|Gas/Propane Smokers – Pros and Cons|
The classic and, in the opinion of many, best, type of smoker is the charcoal smoker. Charcoal smokers are very hands on but generally provide the best and smokiest flavor compared to other smokers.
The hands-on nature of charcoal smokers is great for those that are looking to get involved and stay involved. From lighting the coals with your chimney to establishing and maintaining the right temperature, you’ll experience the low and slow smoking process from start to finish. As mentioned above, charcoal smokers tend to imbue the best flavors while also generally working quicker than other smoker types (though this isn’t always a benefit).
That same hands-on nature that many consider to be a positive can also be a negative for someone not willing to or able to monitor the smoker from start to finish. Without constant attention, your smoke can get away from you, and as such, charcoal smokers can be less forgiving, especially for beginners. Additionally, while basic charcoal can be relatively affordable, some of the higher quality options can prove costly and add up quickly.
|Charcoal Smokers – Pros and Cons|
Newer compared to the other types of smokers, pellet smokers fall between the “set it and forget it” electric/propane smokers and hands-on nature of charcoal smokers. Because they combine the ease of the former while achieving flavor like the latter, pellet smokers have become immensely popular with beginners and smoker veterans, alike.
Pellet smokers are typically electronic, meaning they require a power source, but also that they offer the high degree of temperature control found on traditional electric smokers. At the same time, pellet smokers burn small wood pellets that are designed specifically to burn and imbue your meat with strong and delicious smoke flavors. Different pellets provide different flavors, allowing great variety and options.
The most obvious downside to the pellet smoker is the price tag. Even mid-level pellet smokers tend to cost more than a great quality charcoal or electric smoker. The power supply requirement is there, again, as well. Pellet smokers also tend to have internal machinery — namely an auger to feed the pellets to the smoker — that can break down and require expensive fixes or replacements.
|Pellet Smokers – Pros and Cons|
The offset smoker is perhaps the most iconic and widely recognized style of smoker. Its large, heavy duty presence is about as recognizable as anything when it comes to smoking meat. While it is easy to look at an offset smoker and envision it in your backyard, they are exceptionally difficult to master compared to other smokers.
Offset smokers are named such because of the small, offset firebox, typically on the side and a bit below the main smoking chamber. Like charcoal smokers, offset smokers — which can burn wood or charcoal – require constant attention to maintain perfect temperatures. There is nothing “set it and forget it” about an offset smoker.
Given their size (typically larger than other smokers), offset smokers can handle a lot of meat at once. They are also versatile — they’re able to double as a grill when not used for smoking. They are heavy and difficult to transport, but also durable.
While the idea of an offset smoker can be easy to understand, they are exceptionally difficult to master, and are not recommended for someone brand new to smoking. Getting the temperature right and maintaining it requires practice and near non-stop attention.
|Pellet Smokers – Pros and Cons|
Our List of Best Smokers for You
Having looked at the different types of smokers, how they differ from each other, and what each’s strengths and weaknesses are, you should be able to better determine which smoker is best for you. If you need some specific recommendations, we’re happy to reveal our list of best smokers for you.
Best Electric Smoker — Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker
When it comes to electric smokers, you’re sure to find a Masterbuilt atop most lists. With its affordable price tag, simplistic design, and built-in digital control panel, the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker is an excellent choice for beginners and experienced smokers who may be looking for another smoking option.
We’ve made this pick especially because electric smokers are often the starting post for most people. There’s no need to spend a lot of money if you know you’ll move onto something bigger in the future.
The smoker isn’t large, but it’s not small, either, capable of holding up to two turkeys, four racks of ribs, or six chickens at a time. The Masterbuilt also features a patented wood chip loading system, allowing you to add chips without opening the smoker itself.
An added benefit of Masterbuilt is its wide range of accessories, affording you options to adjust, add on, or alter your smoker once you’ve grown comfortable with it.
Best Gas/Propane Smoker — Lynx Sonoma Smart Smoker
A strong option for the outdoor chef that wants it all, the Lynx Sonoma Smart Smoker isn’t cheap – but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option.
The Sonoma Smart Smoker has a temperature range of 160-135 degrees, and a large, 1000 square inch cooking surface. That’s large enough for 6 baby back ribs!
This unit can be used separately, or as a built-in unit in your outdoor kitchen.
Additionally, the Lynx Sonoma Smart Smoker is incredibly sturdy in its construction. While you can rely on it to be heavy-duty, this also means you won’t be moving this smoker around very much, if at all.
Best Charcoal Smoker — Weber Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker
A nearly unanimous choice for new and experienced smokers alike, the Weber Smokey Mountain is our pick for best charcoal smoker.
The Weber Smokey Mountain comes in three sizes – 14-inch, 18-inch, and 22-inch. For someone just getting started and planning on cooking for smaller groups, we recommend the 14-inch option. While it may appear slim, the smoker features two racks, providing for 286 square inches of total grilling area in the smaller, 14-inch model and up to 726 square inches in the 22-inch model.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is also incredibly durable, built to last, and surprisingly easy to clean for a charcoal grill.
Best Pellet Smoker —Twin Eagles 36’’ Wood Fired Pellet Grill & Smoker
The Twin Eagles Wood Fired Pellet Grill & Smoker isn’t for the faint of heart. Designed for serious grilling and smoking enthusiasts, Twin Eagles’ offering in this space is an absolute unit: built in the USA out of all 304-grade stainless steel, it’ll last a long, long time.
This combo pellet grill/smoker can hit temperatures of up to 725 degrees – or you can keep things low and slow, at 140 degrees. The versatility and control offered here is unmatched in virtually any other pellet grill. When we say the best pellet smoker, we mean it.
Best Lump Charcoal Smoker — Big Green Egg
We cannot leave out The Big Green Egg when talking about smokers. These high quality ceramic eggs will be your new best friend. The versatility in this product is unmatched. It Smokes, Grills, Bakes and Sears. Plus nothing holds heat better than ceramic.
Are The Big Green Eggs worth the investment? Absolutely! Lifetime warranty coupled with outstanding customer support (since 1974), we feel the Egg is the Best overall Smoker.
Best Offset Smoker — Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker
If, even after understanding the difficulties associated with an offset smoker as a beginner, you’re still set on this type of smoker, then the Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker is the way to go.
The incredibly heavy-duty Dyna-Glo features a steel body with heavy gauge porcelain and enameled steel wood chip box while still checking in at a relatively light and manageable 57 pounds. It features 784 square inches of total smoking area and includes six adjustable smoking grates, great for cooking different sized meats at the same time or experimenting from cook to cook.
The Dyna-Glo’s vertical design is another added benefit for beginners, optimizing indirect heat flow. It also includes a built-in thermometer — helpful for beginners learning the ins and outs of offset smoking.
Looking to Add a New Grill Along with your Smoker?
Are you looking at upgrading your entire grilling and smoking set up? Now that you’ve picked out your first smoker, take a look at upgrading your grill with our list of 2020’s Best New Top of the Line Grills.
At the BBQ Depot we pride ourselves on our vast knowledge and experience when it comes to choosing a grill that will last. We’ve been selling and repairing grills for decades and we know which ones can be relied on and which ones cannot. Let’s make this the summer you finally buy the grill you’ve always wanted.
Contact us today with any questions and we’ll help you find the reliable grill you’re looking for.