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I, like many people who enjoy barbecue, am fantatical about smoked meat, fish, vegetables, and—of course—wild game. The addiction starts with a good pork butt, and the next thing you know you’re smoking all your meals, seasonings, and even desserts. Of course, to produce good barbecue you need a good smoker that maintains a steady temperature and kicks out fragrant clouds of white smoke. With years of smoking experience on many types of smokers, I’ve assembled my top picks to help you choose the best smoker for your home. Here are my picks:
- Best For Beginners: Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker
- Best Offset: Royal Gourmet Offset Smoker
- Best Pellet: Trager Ironwood 885
- Best Propane: Cuisinart Propane Smoker
Best Smoker For Beginners: Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker
- Digital temperature display
- 30 inches tall
- 20.5 inches wide
- 19 inches deep
- Holds up to four racks of ribs or two turkeys
Why it Made the Cut
You can’t go wrong buying this smoker as your entry into barbecue. It will easily turn out great brisket and pulled pork without breaking the bank.
Pros and Cons
- Easy to use
- Easy to refill chip box
- Small chip box
- Sits low to the ground
This electric smoker is ideal for someone looking for an easy-to-use model. Simply set your temperature, fill the chip box, and wait for your barbecue to be ready. It maintains temperature and is well insulated. I recommend buying the additional leg kit, which raises the smoker up to an easier-to-use height. This model uses wood chips to produce smoke, and it has a convenient system for adding additional chips without opening the door. There’s a cylinder on the side that slides out. Just add chips to that cylinder, insert it back in, and rotate it to refill your smoker box. You’ll find that you need to refill the box about every two hours.
If you’re looking for the best smoker for beginners, the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker is an excellent choice. With this model and a bag of wood chips, you’ll be on your way to smoking delicious meats.
Best Offset Smoker: Royal Gourmet Offset Smoker
- Smoker and grill
- 30 inches wide
- Offset smoker
- Can use charcoal or wood
Why it Made the Cut
Offset smokers are the choice for professional barbequers, but the pro-grade models can be costly. The Royal Gourmet Offset Smoker is an affordable option that produces professional results.
Pros and Cons
- Large capacity
- Difficult to assemble
Offset smokers are so much fun to cook on and produce excellent barbecue. It’s also a flex to use an offset smoker because they take more skill to cook on than an electric model. This isn’t the product to buy if you want Bluetooth, or want a set-it-and-forget-it smoker. This is for someone who wants to relax with a cooler of beverages while they manage their fire box and enjoy the cooking process. There are a few mods that will take this from good to even better, like an upgraded thermometer and sealing the fire box door with high-temp gasket.
The Royal Gourmet Offset Smoker can be used as a charcoal grill or a wood smoker. For legit barbecue, feed the firebox with chunks of hardwood and for grilling fuel it with hardwood charcoal. That versatility and its excellent value make it a worthy addition to your backyard.
Best Pellet Smoker: Trager Ironwood 885
- Controllable from your phone
- Super smoke mode
- Grill and smoker
- 20-pound pellet hopper
Why it Made the Cut
Trager is the big name in pellet grills, and the Ironwood 885 is the model that perfectly balances size, features, and price.
Pros and Cons
- Easy to use
- Easy to clean
- A lot of useful features
Some days I want to cook barbecue without feeding a fire box all day. That’s where the electric pellet smokers shine. I can set it at my desired temp, and monitor the cook from my phone while I mow the lawn, practice archery, or play fetch with my dog. The Ironwood 885 is incredibly easy to use for smoking or grilling. You can also produce consistently perfect cooks because you can save custom settings. Other contributors to the consistency of the Ironwood 885 are that it holds temp exceptionally well and it uses convection to eliminate cold spots.
I use my Ironwood 885 for cooking quick weeknight meals and weekend barbecue feasts. It has quickly replaced my other smokers as my favorite, due to the flavors it produces and its ease of use.
Best Propane Smoker: Cuisinart Propane Smoker
- 46 inches tall
- 20 inches wide
- Porcelain enameled water/wood tray
- 40-inch hose regulator
Why it Made the Cut
The Cuisinart Vertical Propane Smoker is an affordable and easy-to-use smoker.
Pros and Cons
- Easy to assemble
- Sturdy construction
- Separate access door to smoker chips
- Needs an upgraded thermometer
- Takes time to learn how to regulate temperature
I used the Cuisinart Vertical 36-inch Propane Smoker for two years. It smoked everything from fish to wild game in summer to the depth of winter. I’ve since moved on to an Ironwood 885, but still use my propane smoker for hot smoking salmon.
The Cuisinart is a fantastic smoker for a variety of applications, and the propane fuel source has several benefits. My favorite thing about propane smokers is that they can smoke a ton of meat on a single tank. They can also be positioned anywhere, unlike an electric smoker that needs to be near an outdoor outlet. They’re also easier to manage than a wood or charcoal smoker. One negative of a propane smoker is that it can be difficult to run it at low temperatures, especially during summer. In summer, or when smoking fish at 180 degrees, I found that the best way to regulate temperature is to turn the knob down all the way and then use the propane regulator to bring the temperature down even more. Keep in mind, it takes some finessing to get the flame low without it going out. Another tip for using this model is to invest in a Bluetooth thermometer because the built-in thermometer isn’t very accurate.
If a propane smoker meets your needs, then the Cuisinart is an excellent option. It provides consistent temperature, solid construction, and enough space to smoke meat for a large party.
Spending a couple of hours in the backyard tending to your smoker is a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Add the results of a delicious meal at the end, and it’s easy to see why smokers have become so popular.
Evaluating the Best Smokers
Smokers need to put out plumes of smoke, maintain an exact cooking temperature, and be easy to use. They’re simple cooking implements, but if they don’t meet those very specific requirements, they won’t produce quality barbecue. I’ve been fortunate to cook on and enjoy barbecue cooked on a lot of different smokers. I used that experience to evaluate the best smokers on the below criteria:
- Temperature stability (Is it easy to maintain the desired temperature?)
- Efficiency (Does it use a lot of fuel?) (Does it have cold spots or leak smoke?)
- Size (How much meat can the smoker cook at once?)
- Features (Does it have WiFi or an accurate thermometer?)
How to Choose a Smoker
Smoking involves cooking meat at a very low temperature for a long time over some kind of aromatic wood that produces smoke, which infuses the meat and gives it a delicious taste. It can be as easy or difficult as you wish to make it, and that factor should be considered when choosing a smoker.
There are basically four major types of smokers:
- Electric smokers are the simplest. You fill the wood chip pan, plug in, set the temperature, and wait. The heating element inside contacts the pan, resulting in smoke.
- Charcoal smokers burn charcoal, heating the wood chip pan and resulting in smoke.
- Pellet smokers work by feeding wood pellets onto a combustion surface. You can regulate the feed, and some have fans to help circulate the smoke.
- Propane/gas smokers use gas to provide the flame used to burn the wood and provide heat and smoke.
Let’s take a look at some factors to consider when choosing the best smoker for you.
Electric smokers are great for beginners because of their simplicity. Basically, all you do to smoke meat in them is prep the meat, fill the wood chip pan, turn on the smoker, set the temperature, and push the “Go” button—occasionally add some more wood chips to the chip pan, and wait for your feast. They don’t produce temperatures as high as other smoker types, which can be a factor in cold temperatures, but they’re easy to use.
Humans have been smoking meat since fire was discovered. And many still enjoy using the traditional method of smoking with charcoal smokers. They create hot, long-lasting fires and plenty of smoke.
On the downside, the temperature can be difficult to regulate, and they will need to be cleaned. But they use the authentic method of smoking, and you won’t have to worry about not producing enough heat.
Because pellet smokers burn wood pellets, they can achieve higher temperatures than electric smokers. They also can be used as grills, giving you two cooking implements for your money. Because the feeder regulates the amount of wood pellets being fed into the combustion area, you have the precision of an electric smoker along with the heat and authenticity of a traditional model.
Like charcoal and pellet smokers, propane smokers can get up to a much higher temperature than most electric smokers. The temperature can be easily regulated, and there’s no need to feed the fire. While some gas smokers are made to hook up to the natural gas from your home, most run on propane.
Important questions to ask when shopping for a new smoker.
In general, a simple electric smoker is the easiest to use and most suitable for beginners. It has fewer moving parts, requires little interaction once set up, and creates less of a mess than pellet or gas smokers.
In modern smokers, yes, smoking meat actually cooks it. However, since it is cooked at a very low temperature on a smoker, it can take large cuts of meat a very long time to get to the internal temperature you want.
If you like to see a smile come over the faces of your family members every time you start gathering up your smoking equipment, then it is definitely worth it. There is a lot of satisfaction with making a wonderful smoked creation, and in tweaking rub and marinade recipes to try to make each batch of ribs or pork butt even better than the last.
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