If you’re thinking of buying your first smoker, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gone through all the different types of smokers, compiled the pros and cons of each, reviewed them all and settled on a list of what we think are the best beginner smokers for under $500.
There are many, many different types of smokers, with lots of different features. All this information can easily get overwhelming which is why we’ve broken down our guide into manageable chunks.
First, find out which type of smoker is best for you. Then head down to the reviews and see why we love the smokers we’ve chosen and pick the one that suits you best. Finally, read our tips and tricks and accessory section to make sure you get the most out of your new smoker.
Table of Contents
- Best Charcoal Smokers for Beginners
- Best Propane/Gas Smokers for Beginners
- Best Pellet Smokers for Beginners
- Best Electric Smokers for Beginners
- Best Kamado Smokers for Beginners
- Best Smoker Grills for Beginners
- What is Smoking Meat?
- What Type of Smoker Will Suit You?
- Essential Accessories
- Tips and Tricks
- Final Thoughts
Best Charcoal Smokers for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Weber Smokey Mountain
One of the first smokers you’re likely to hear about is the Weber Smokey Mountain. That is because Weber has created a truly brilliant smoker that is super simple to use and produces amazing BBQ. The Smokey Mountain has been one of the best water smokers for almost 40 years, being refined and improved upon ever since 1981.
It comes in three sizes, all of them sell for less than $500, so you have a great choice. They are all very similar in features and design. The main different is the size and amount of cooking area.
For a full rundown of the differences and more information on the Weber Smokey Mountain, check out our review.
As it’s one of the oldest and most popular smokers in the world, you already know that it’ll be ideal for first time smokers. Weber have designed it in such a way that keeps maintain the temperature very simple and hassle free. This is ideal for someone that wants the taste of charcoal smoking without the hassle that comes with something like an offset smoker.
It’s made from porcelain enameled steel which retains heat very well to make the temperature very consistent, which is exactly what you want if you’re going to be smoking a brisket or pork butt for hours at a time. It includes a water pan, made from the same high quality steel. The water pan helps keep the temperature down so you can maintain low and slow cooking
Other features include:
- Two nickel plated cooking grates.
- Two dampers to help you set the temperature and control air flow.
- Built in thermometer.
- Heat resistant nylon handle.
- A charcoal door on the front of the smoker to make adding charcoal easy and non-intrusive.
- Heat shield to protect whatever the Smokey Mountain is standing on.
- Silicon grommet for your temperature probes to go through.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is one of the best smokers you can buy. Both beginners and veterans can easily cook up some of the best tasting food possible with little knowledge or effort. It’s very well made, has many nice features and is even covered by a 10 year warranty. If you’re looking for one of the best smokers for the money then the Weber Smokey Mountain is just that.
Weber also do a huge range of accessories for the Smokey Mountain. Many of these accessories are cheap enough that you could buy multiple accessories and the largest Smokey Mountain and still have change leftover from $500. Click hereto see the range of accessories available.
#Our Top Choice: Pit Barrel Cooker
There isn’t really that many charcoal smokers out there that can give the Weber Smokey Mountain any serious competition. You’d usually have to spend a lot more to get such a simple yet effective smoker. But that all changed with the Pit Barrel Cooker.
The Pit Barrel Cooker takes the idea of an ‘ugly drum smoker’ and refines it into a brilliant product that you can buy, rather than build. It’s made up of a 30 gallon porcelain steel drum that’s made from 18-gauge steel and coated with porcelain enamel. This creates a very strong and durable container for your fire. It also help with heat retention and works very well. It doesn’t use a water pan so the heat has to be completely regulated by the drum itself. It does this very well and can easily hold temperatures for hours on end with no interruptions. This is perfect for the beginner because it allows you to set it and forget it.
Other features include:
- Included with the Pit Barrel Cooker are stainless steel grates, rods and hooks to allow you a range of cooking options without any need for accessories.
- Surprisingly portable as it’s lightweight and can be set up anywhere.
- Comes fully assembled to save you the hassle of building the smoker.
- Can easily be used in very low ambient temperatures due to the layers of different materials that make up the drum.
- 240 square inches of cooking space.
- Sturdy, rustic handles made from horse shoes.
Overall, the Pit Barrel Cooker is a great option if you’re looking for a versatile, durable and very easy-to-use smoker. It’s incredibly easy to light and keep going as the Pit Barrel Cooker pretty much regulates itself. It looks good and is well built. You’d can’t really expect much more for a smoker at this price point.
I know what you’re thinking though. Should you buy this instead of the Weber Smokey Mountain? In my opinion, if you’re looking for a charcoal smoker as your first smoker, I would still go with the Weber. It does so many things right and if you end up investing in accessories or smoker thermometers (which we would highly recommend) then the Weber is perfect to be added to and will grow with you on your smoking journey. Not that this takes anything away from the Pit Barrel Cooker, as you’re still getting an incredible smoker at a brilliant price.
Best Propane/Gas Smokers for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Camp Chef 24 Inch Smoke Vault
In a world with so many similarly designed smokers, it’s nice when a company tries something new. Camp Chef have done just that with the Smoke Vault and have created a unique look smoker that we absolutely love. It’s based on a classic western safe, including a beefy handle and centered thermometer that mimics a classic dial combination lock. It’s a truly good looking smoker and we really appreciate that they tried something original rather than having the same old style we’ve all seen before.
But the Smoke Vault isn’t on this list just because it looks good. It’s also one of the best performing smokers you can buy. It comes in two different sizes. An 18 inch and a 24 inch. Both are very similar and share the same features, with the only difference being the difference in size. We’re going to look at the 24 inch today, but most of what we mention can be taken for the 18 inch as well.
The biggest worry when buying a propane smoker is the built quality. If it isn’t up to scratch, then it won’t retain the smoke and heat very well. A lot of the cheaper smokers suffer from this problem. The Smoke Vault retains its smoke and heat this very well. It’s built well and feels solid. When we used it, it was very consistent with its temperature and leaked barely any smoke. This is ideal for beginners as you won’t have to worry about temperature fluctuations and can let the smoker do all the work.
Other features include:
- Snap ignition for convenient, instant lighting.
- Two cooking racks, with space for four, so you get maximum flexibility in what you can cook.
- It also comes with a dedicated jerky rack which makes this perfect for smoking jerky.
- Temperature range of 50 – 500 °F. This is a very impressive range and allows you to smoke all types of meat at different rates.
- Three adjustable dampers so you can control the air flow and temperature easily.
- Heavy duty steel wood tray. This is perfect for larger chunks of wood.
The Smoke Vault is one of the best smokers under $500 (well under $500) because of its simplicity, ease-of-use and the results it produces. We highly recommend this as a first time smoker.
#Our Top Choice: Smoke Hollow 44 Inch Propane Gas Smoker
If you’re feeling confident with your cooking abilities and think you need more than what the Smoke Vault offers, then the Smoke Hollow 44 inch Propane Smoker is an excellent choice. This is one of the most feature rich smokers for the money. It boasts a huge 6.5 cubic feet of cooking area which can handle enough food for many, many people. Included with it are 7 Cooking Grids: 4-Standard Cooking Grids, 2-Jerky Grids, 1-Rib Rack and 1-Sausage Hanger. There is so much versatility with the Smoke Hollow that you’d never need another cooker again.
Other features include:
- Two doors, including one with a large viewing window. We always like viewing windows as there’s nothing better than being able to check on your food without having to open the door.
- Dual stainless steel burners that operate independently of each other to give you maximum control and optimal performance.
- Large porcelain coated water pan.
- Two porcelain coated wood chip pans with lids.
- Push Button Ignition.
- Easy Adjustable Smoke Stack.
The Smoke Hollow does have a couple of small problems. Like a lot of gas smokers, it leaks a bit of smoke. This is easily correctable with some simple gasketto seal up any leaks. If just want to get smoking and don’t want to have to worry about making little mods to your smoker, then this might not be for you. But you get all of this for less than $400, which is very good value for money. This would be idea for someone that needs to cook up a lot of food regularly that doesn’t want to deal with the inconsistencies of charcoal. You’ll lose a little of the classic BBQ taste when using propane smoker but at this price you’re going to struggle to match the cooking space that the Smoke Hollow offers.
Best Pellet Smokers for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
The Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Smoker is a fantastic little smoker that has some nice features that many of the higher end smokers lack. For example, the Davey Crockett is fully portable by being small and having well designed legs that can fold up to be used as handles for transport. It is also fully tailgate ready with the design of the legs allowing it to be a perfect fit for most trucks. The Davy Crockett also has a WiFi systems that allows you to monitor the grill from your phone or tablet. Initially we thought this was a bit gimmicky but the ease of use and ability to check on what’s cooking from anywhere has won us over.
Being a pellet grill means that this is truly a set it and forget it smoker that allows you to free go off and leave the grill to smoke all day long. It maintains its temperature very well for a smoker that is so cheap and even offers 5 degree increments to the desired temperature. This kind of precision is usually only available on much more expensive models.
Other features include:
- Advanced touch pad controller with an integrated meat thermometer that makes checking the internal meat temperature as easy as flicking a switch.
- Included adaptors so you can run it from a standard outlet or a 12V battery or cigarette lighter.
- 219 square inch cooking area.
This is an ideal beginner smoker because it will do everything for you whilst giving you a lot of options and flexibility. The fact that it’s portable is just the icing on the cake. Being portable comes with its downsides though. With only 219 square inches of cooking space you’re not going to be able to realistically feed a family from this. It’s definitely more suited to one or two people when out camping. If you’re looking to get into pellet smoking then this is one of the best pellet smokers for the money.
#Our Top Choice: REC TEC Mini
Out of Stock
The full sized REC TEC is one of our favorite smokers available today. The mini version is almost as good as it’s big brother but just lacks the quality that makes the full sized one so good. This is still a great smoker though, and if you’re willing to spend all of the $500 from our budget then you’ll get yourself a very nice grill.
Firstly, it has the same styling as the full sized REC TEC, with the bull horn handles and bright red lid. We think it looks great, and is great to see REC TEC getting a bit adventurous with their styling.
This is fully portable and folds up in on itself so you can wheel it around like a suitcase. Being portable doesn’t mean it can’t feed a crowd of people though. It can easily fit a whole turkey or several racks of ribs under the lid. As it’s a pellet grill it will cook them to perfection. The temperature controller on the REC TEC mini keeps the temperature very steady and it will rarely go above 5 degrees out from the desired temp.
Other features include:
- Good temperature range of 180°F to 600°F in 5° increments. This means that it can get hot enough to be used as a grill as well as a smoker.
- 15lbs pellet capacity allows for roughly 12 hours of smoking without having to refill.
- Heats up very fast. Some people have got theirs to temperature in around four minutes!
For a smoker that doesn’t use any charcoal we were very impressed with the taste of the food. You would only be able to tell the difference if both examples of food were in front of you at once. It gives a great, smoky flavor and we even got a nice smoke ring. The best thing about this (and pellet smokers in general) is just how easy it was to use. All you have to do is set the desired temperature and how long you want it to say on for using our times and temperature chart. It does the rest. Pellet smokers are the best way to get authentic BBQ with next to no effort and the REC TEC mini is the best at this price range.
Best Electric Smokers for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Masterbuilt 20070910 30 Inch Electric Smoker
The Masterbuilt 30 inch electric smoker is one of the most popular electric smokers on the market, and for good reason. For under $150 it makes a great entry point for someone looking to get into smoking meat. It uses an electric heating element and a digital controller to allow you to set the temperature and then it does all the hard work. There’s no worrying about maintaining charcoal, all you have to do is periodically top up the wood chip tray with your favorite wood chips and that’s it.
The Masterbuilt is pretty well built, considering the price. It isn’t as sturdy or as solid as some of the more expensive smokers but you can’t complain at this price point. The finish is okay, it does feel a little cheap and a bit rough around the edges but you won’t find any better for such little money. It’s fairly well insulated and maintains its heat well, leaking a little smoke here and there but not enough for it to ruin your food. What the Masterbuilt has going for it is it’s huge cooking area. It has 730 square inches of cooking space! That’s over double the cooking area of the REC TEC mini at about a quarter of the price!
Other features include:
- Thermostat temperature control for even cooking to 275°F (135°C)
- Convenient side loading wood chips so you don’t have to open the door and disrupt the temperature.
- Removable drip pan to make cleaning up easy.
- Top air damper for simple control over airflow.
We highly recommend the Masterbuilt 20070910 30 Inch Electric Smoker and think that it’s one of the best entry level smokers that money can buy. It requires very little knowledge, effort or time to get some very respectable results. But the best thing is how accessible it makes smoking. If you’ve literally come across smoking today and are looking to try your hand at it, the Masterbuilt is easy and simple enough to get great results with very little effort.
#Our Top Choice: Smoke Hollow 26 Inch Electric Smoker
If you’re looking for an electric smoker that’s even cheaper than the Masterbuilt then Smoke Hollow has you covered. Their 26 inch electric smoker has enough cooking space to fit two whole turkeys and usually sells for around $120. It has two chrome plated cooking grids which are adjustable to different heights to allow several different things to be smoked at once. Included is a porcelain wood chip tray and a porcelain water pan so you have everything needed to start smoking.
The entire smoker is well made and feels sturdy for the price. Obviously, there will be features missing that will be available on more expensive options, and it’s quite small for an electric smoker. It still has more cooking space than the Davy Crocket pellet smoker at 336 square inches, but if you’re looking for something a bit bigger then this might not be for you.
Other features include:
- Fully adjustable temperature control with a max temperature of 325°F (163°C)
- Side handles and a cool-touch spring wire door handle so you don’t even need gloves.
- Full range heat indicator
It does have a few small problems though. Replacing the wood chips is a little tricky as there isn’t an easy access panel or door. Also, it does leak smoke and sometimes even the juices so a quick seal with some gasket or some form of sealant might be needed.
Despite the small problems this is still a solid smoker. If you’re on a strict budget and are looking for the most cost efficient way of starting smoking meat, then this might be your best choice.
Best Kamado Smokers for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Char-Griller Akorn Jr.
If you’re interested in testing the waters with a Kamado Grill (which you should be, because they’re incredible) but don’t want to spend much money, then the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. is a perfect option.
The Akorn Jr. is a triple-walled insulated, steel built Kamado that is the cheapest Kamado on the market, usually sitting around $100-$150, depending on where you’re buying from. It uses 22-gauge steel to be able to maintain cooking temperatures ranging from 200°F (93°C) – 700°F (371°C). This is a perfect range if you’re looking for smoking and grilling possibilities. The steel has a powder coated exterior and a porcelain coated interior finish.
Other features include:
- 14” diameter caste iron cooking grate. That’s 154 square inches of cooking space.
- Two adjustable dampers, one at the top and one at the bottom to give you a good amount of control over air flow and temperature.
- Stainless heat gauge.
- Ash disposal pan to make cleaning up simple and easy.
- Convenient handles to allow full portability for camping or tailgating.
As an introductory Kamado, the Akorn Jr. is about as good as you’ll ever get. It’s very cheap but is well made and durable. We wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking to put on a family feast as it’s far too small. It’s only really suitable for one or two people. But, if you’re testing the Kamado waters, or looking for a great, portable Kamado for use away from home then this is perfect.
#Our Top Choice: Pit Boss 71220 Kamado
We have a confession to make. The Pit Boss will be very difficult to find for under $500. The truth is, there are very few Kamados that are worth your money under $500. This is cheapest quality ceramic Kamado grill, rather than the layered steel grills that populate most of the budget kamado market. Being ceramic, you get the highest amount of heat retention, which makes cooking easy and effective. Ceramic also help with the efficiency of the fuel. If you run this on lump charcoal then you’ll be getting one of the most efficient smokers on the list.
The build quality of the Pit Boss is generally very good. The ceramic core is very sturdy and has a great finish on the inside and out. It features stainless steel bolts and hinges which means it won’t rust in many of the important weak points. It also features two very nice bamboo shelves which are solid and very convenient when cooking. They both fold down to add extra practicality and easy movement.
Other features include:
- Dual stainless-steel cooking grates provide a huge 567 square inches of cooking area over two tiers.
- Top cast iron damper which gives a good amount of control over the air flow and temperature regulation.
- Ability to add charcoal without removing the grates. This is a big problem for a lot of cheaper charcoal smokers but the Pit Boss deals with it well.
- Easy ash removal tool and cover.
- Cast iron firebox grate.
If you’re set on a quality Kamado but want to keep the price down as much as you can. Then this is a fantastic compromise. It’s not perfect, there are a few quality issues with a few of the fittings and the tables take some work to install. We think that these issues are small enough to be completely outweighed by the positive though. You’re getting a quality ceramic egg that has incredible heat retention, no rust and very easy heat regulation. Along with the benefits that all Kamados have, specifically the huge versatility. As a beginner, this will be a great smoker to pick up, it’s super easy to use and is flexible enough to be used as your main outdoor cooker, not just a dedicated smoker.
If you’re in the market for something a little better, albeit more expensive, then we highly recommend the Kamado Joe. Check out our review/buying guide for the Kamado Joe.
Best Smoker Grills for Beginners
#Our Best Choice: Weber Kettle
The Weber Kettle is one of the best selling and most popular grills ever made. It comes in a range of many sizes and colors, but we’ll look at the 22 inch model as that’s one of the most popular.
With a 22 inch diameter steel cooking grate it gives it a cooking area of 363 square inches. It has an aluminum bowl for catching ash and heat resistant nylon handles for safe removal of the lid. The build quality is fantastic and the performance matches. There are multiple vents to allow a very versatile cooking system and two grill levels to change the heat that the food is subjected to.
Other features include:
- Two wheels that make for easy movement.
- Hinged cooking grate makes it easy to add charcoal.
- Aluminized steel One-Touch cleaning system makes clean up hassle-free.
You won’t get a better standard budget grill than the Weber Kettle, but what makes it exceptional is that you can do so much with it. The fact that you can easily change it into a proper smoker that does a very respectable job at smoking is brilliant.
Here’s how to smoke with a Weber Kettle from the team over at Weber.
If you’re looking for a great entry level smoker then this might be for you. With the fairly simple mods you get a very respectable smoker that can rival the results of some of the dedicated smokers on the list. It will take a little effort to successfully smoke on a Weber Kettle, so if you’re looking for an effortless way to smoke then this might not be it. But if you own a Weber Kettle already it may be worth trying out the mods to get yourself smoking on it before investing in a dedicated smoker. Either way, the Weber Kettle is a great choice for beginners who want a taste of low and slow BBQ whilst not looking to spend much.
What is Smoking Meat?
Real BBQ, the type of BBQ that you associate with the Southern states of the USA, is smoked low and slow. This is where you cook a piece of meat for hours on end (sometimes up to 24 hours) at very low temperatures (usually around 225°F) using indirect heat and smoke. This makes the meat incredibly tender, juicy and full of so much flavor from the smoke that you’ll be blown away the first time you taste it.
What Type of Smoker Will Suit You?
Different types of smokers will suit different people. If you’re looking for the easiest way to get smoked meat you’re not going to want a charcoal smoker as it might be a bit too much hassle for you. But if you want a true taste of the low and slow smokiness then a charcoal will be much better than an electric or propane smoker. We’ll give you all the information you need to choose the ideal smoker type for you below.
Charcoal is the fuel to use in a smoker if you’re looking to get that classic smoky flavor and get a great smoke ring. It’s a classic fuel that has been around for as long as smoking has. A lot of charcoal smokers also use wood chunks to give an extra layer of flavor to the meat.
Charcoal smokers come in all shapes and sizes. Vertical smokers regularly use water pans to help regulate the temperatures and keep the meat moist. Kamado grills use charcoal, but they’re something a bit special and we’ll get to those later. Offset smokers are the classic smokers that are regularly used in competitions or at events. Cheap offsets will be nothing but trouble for beginners so we’ll ignore these for now. If you’d like to know more about offsets then check out our best offset smoker page.
Charcoal is a great fuel for smoking, but may require more attention than propane or electric smokers. You’re likely to get the best results with charcoal but that comes at the price of the effort put in. If you’re willing to put in the effort you’ll be rewarded with some of the best tasting BBQ you’ve ever had.
Pros of Charcoal Smokers
- You will get the best tasting barbecue with a charcoal smoker. The smoke from the charcoal and wood chunks, if you use them, will give the most authentic tasting food you can get.
- Charcoal is versatile and generally cheaper than other fuels.
- Can set it and forget quite easily. The use of an automatic temperature controller will make this even easier.
Cons of Charcoal Smokers
- Charcoal takes a little more work to start and maintain.
- There will generally be more mess and potentially dangerous clean up if you haven’t let the ashes cool down properly.
- Some places simple don’t allow you to use charcoal grills or smokers.
Gas smokers are convenient and simple to use smokers that offer great value for money. They’re a great choice for beginners and are relatively pain free, offering a great “set it and forget it” option.
They typically resemble metal boxes on legs that can look like lockers or vaults. A lot of gas smokers use this simple design as it offers up so much potential cooking space and is easy to use. There is usually a gas burner in the bottom of the box and a tray for wood chips above that.
Pros of Gas Smokers
- One of the best things about propane smokers is that they are relatively inexpensive. Even the higher end models will likely set you back less than $400. You can get decent quality at prices as low as $150 but will get a better build and more cooking space the more you pay. These are similarly priced to electric smokers.
- Gas smokers allow you to set it and forget it. If you’re looking for hassle free smoking then gas smokers are one of the most cost effective and time efficient ways of getting great tasting BBQ.
- Propane smokers generally have a very small footprint. This means they are a great option if you’re lacking outdoor space.
- Gas smokers are technically portable. As they run off propane bottles they can be taken anyway that you can physically carry them.
- Temperatures are generally very easy to maintain. There will be a lot less labor involved with a gas smoker compared to a charcoal one. Most of them also feature push button ignition, which means you can be up and running in a matter of seconds.
- Propane burns very clean. This means you’re unlikely to get any nasty soot deposits on your food.
Cons of Gas Smokers
- You won’t get quite the same smoky taste that you do with a proper charcoal smoker.
- As propane smokers are generally quite cheap, some models lack the insulation and build quality of some of the more premium types of smokers. This means they sometimes leak smoke and heat and can make the cook uneven.
- At some point your gas will run out and you’ll have to go to the store to buy more. This can be a massive pain if you haven’t thought about it and don’t have more in storage.
- Due to the small footprint of some gas smokers the cooking chamber can be a bit thin. This means that you might struggle to fit in certain cuts of meat.
A pellet smoker is a normal smoker that is heated by using small, high energy wood pellets. They generally have a digital controller built into them that monitors the temperature inside the grill and then automatically feeds pellets into the fire pot to keep the smoker at the desired temperature. The reason these grills are have become popular is because they offer the classic wood smoked flavor without the inconvenience of having to spend ages tending to the grill. They make great beginner smokers because they require next to no experience or knowledge but can produce amazing food.
Pros of Pellet Smokers
- Pellet smokers are some of the most versatile pieces of BBQ equipment you can buy. They can barbecue, smoke, roast, braise, bake and sort of grill. They generally have a large temperature range, going from around 175°F (79°C) to 500°F (260°C).
- All pellet smokers, like gas grills and smokers will pre heat fast. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.
- A pellet smoker will deliver a very consistent flavor. Using the digital temperature setting will keep the temperature at the perfect level every time.
- Being able to set the temperature, usually very precisely, gives you the ability to cook the meat exactly right with very little effort.
- Pellet smokers are a great example of ‘set it and forget it’. You don’t have to stand around and babysit the grill all day. You just set your temperature, choose your favourite flavor of wood pellets and leave it to do all the hard work.
- Different flavors of pellets give you so many more options with no extra effort. You can get a range of flavors such as apple, cherry, maple, hickory, pecan and bourbon. The pellets can be changed over or mixed up to give you a huge potential canvas of flavors that are waiting to be tried and experimented with.
Cons of Pellet Smokers
- Pellet smokers are dependent on electricity, limiting their portability unless you have access to a generator or inverter.
- Pellet smokers are relative expensive. We think the price is always justified but they tend to be more of a premium product. You’ll struggle to get a pellet smoker for the same price as a propane smoker or an electric smoker.
- You generally don’t get a proper grilling experience from a pellet grill. The higher end ones can grill just fine, but some of the cheaper smokers struggle to leave the grill marks or sear the meat.
- As with anything, the addition of digital technology and extra moving parts increases the likelihood of failure. This is something that charcoal grills are not encumbered by.
- Wood pellets can disintegrate if exposed to moisture and must be kept dry.
Electric smokers are a relatively new addition to the smoking family and allow many more people to start smoking, but you might be wondering how they work if they don’t have any live flames. Unlike traditional BBQ smokers, electric smokers work by regulating the flow of electricity to a heating element rather than the flow of air to a flame. This means they are much more controllable and can make great smokers for beginners.
Pros of Electric Smokers
- Electric smokers are mostly ‘set it and forget it’, meaning if you want you can set it up and forget about it until you’re done.
- They require lot less set up and there’s no messing around with charcoal or wood pellets.
- If you live somewhere that doesn’t allow cooking with charcoal then an electric smoker is a great alternative.
- Potential to smoke many other types of food such as fish and you can even make jerky with an electric smoker and can also be used as a cold smoker for cheeses.
Cons of Electric Smokers
- Will usually only go up to a certain temperature. This probably won’t be a massive problem for most people but to have the option to get to higher temperatures is always nice.
- Electric smokers won’t leave the ideal pink smoke ring in the meat that BBQ enthusiasts crave. This isn’t a huge deal for the everyday cook but if you’re looking for the very best quality BBQ then electric smokers might not be for you.
- You’ll need a power outlet so if you’re planning to BBQ in the middle of a field or at an event, then make sure you have access to power first.
Kamado grills (or Kamado smokers) are based on traditional Chinese and Indian cookers and look like giant eggs or oval urns. They’re very versatile, being able to grill, smoke, roast and even bake pizzas as good as traditional wood fired pizza ovens. The best Kamado Grills are made from ceramics or refractory materials and some from steel. All these materials are incredibly good insulators of heat that can store and radiate heat energy effectively, making them incredibly good all-round cookers. If you’re looking for an outdoor cooker that’s a master of all trades, then a Kamado grill is ideal.
Pros of Kamado Smokers
- Being such great conductors of heat, Kamados can radiate heat so evenly that they basically regulate and hold their temperatures without any input. This is ideal if you’re looking for a set it and forget type smoker or if you live in colder climates where you want to cook outdoors during the winter.
- Generally, most Kamados will have a very high build quality. Ceramic or steel will last a very long time and as there are very few moving parts and no reliance on technology they will be one of the most reliable grills you can buy.
- Their versatility is second to none. With some very simple accessories you can be cooking in almost any way you can think of.
- The food quality is amazing. Some of the best chicken and ribs we’ve tasted were cooked on a Kamado. Also, we’ve used one as a makeshift tandoor oven and cooked some incredible naan bread.
Cons of Kamado Smokers
- As the walls are so good at retaining heat they generally take a long time to heat up to the optimal temperature. Once they’re there they’ll stay there for a long time. If you overshoot your optimal temperature you’re going to have a bad time.
- Ceramic is a very brittle material and as Kamados are very heavy it’s quite easy to crack one if you’re having trouble moving it. The steel ones don’t have this problem but are susceptible to rust.
- To really make the most of a Kamado you’ll need some accessories, add this to the price of a quality Kamado and you’re looking at quite an expenditure. This of course is all relative, you’re getting a high quality piece of equipment that has multiple uses and should last a lifetime.
This category is for grills that can be adapted to be used as smokers. You may already own a grill or you might be able to pick one up cheap and convert it into a decent smoker with a few mods. This will depend on the grill you have but there are a lot of mods all over the internet for most grills.
Pros of Smoker Grills
- You can potentially get a very good smoker for barely any money.
- If you have a charcoal grill then you’ll get the classic charcoal BBQ taste.
- Smoker grills give you the best of both worlds. You’ll have a grill and a smoker.
Cons of Smoker Grills
- Will take some work to get the grill working as a smoker. Some grills are relatively easy to convert but you might be faced with a lot of work.
- It’s very likely that your makeshift smoker grill will not work as well as a dedicated smoker. This will impact smoking times and will affect the results. It might not be best for beginners to do this if you’ve got no experience in smoking meat.
We have a full post dedicated to the best accessories for smoking, so if you want to know more we’d recommend reading that.
If you want the quick answer then read on.
The most essential accessory, hands down, is a good digital thermometer. At the very least we’d recommend picking up a good instant read thermometer. A good instant read thermometer will be perfect for all cooking and will give you a quick reading of whatever meat you stick it in.
If you’re thinking of taking smoking a little more seriously, or just want the best possible results, then we highly recommend buying a good dual probe digital thermometer. These are perfect for measuring the temperature of the insides of the meat and the temperature in the smoker. You can also get many models that will wirelessly transmit the data to you whilst you’re doing something else. For a complete guide to smoker thermometers check out our post on them.
Using charcoal can sometimes be a bit of a chore, especially starting the fire in the first place. We’d recommend using a chimney starter to get you going. They’re super easy to use and work amazingly well.
You’ll also need a good knife to help you cut up your meat. Read through our list of the best carving and slicing knives to give you an idea of what will make your life easiest.
Tips and Tricks
Don’t try something too difficult as your first smoke. We don’t think trying a brisket as a first timer is a good idea. We’d recommend a pork butt as the first thing you smoke. They are relatively easy and quite forgiving. Not to mention, if you follow our guide to smoking a pork butt it will be incredibly tasty as well. Use this to get some experience under your belt and learn the ins and outs of your smoker.
If you’re using charcoal as you’re fuel, we’d recommend using lump charcoal over briquettes. For a full explanation as to why lump charcoal is best, read our lump charcoal vs briquettes guide here.
Make sure you have a good understanding of the temperatures at which different cuts of meat are done at by using our smoking times and temperatures charts.
Don’t keep opening the door to check on your food! You want a nice consistent smoker temperature and if you keep checking on it then it’ll ruin the consistency. Trust your thermometer and only open the door when the thermometer reads the desired temperature.
Stock up on different types of wood and BBQ rubs so you can experiment with different flavor combinations. Experimenting is one of the best parts of smoking as there are so many wonderful flavors that mix and match brilliantly.
That’s about it. Smoking is such a fantastic way to cook outdoors. It produces amazing food and is a great way to spend a lazy Sunday.
For more on outdoor cooking check out these posts: Best Pizza Oven
We hope this has given you a good idea of what smoker would be best for you. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or queries.