Getting a BBQ smoker can be a bit troublesome for a lot of people and that is because there are dozens of brands to consider, with all of them having smokers that come with a wide range of features. Because of that, it’s not uncommon for people who want to get a smoker to scratch their head in the process not knowing which one to buy.
However, in order to take out the guesswork from selecting the best smoker for your needs, we’ve come up with this short guide that examines the main types on the market today and lets you know how they work and the features to consider when getting one.
When people think of smokers in general, they usually think about offset smokers. This type of smoker contains two chambers that are separated either by a vent or a sliding door, with the main chamber being where the meats are placed to be cooked.
An offset smoker can also be used as a regular charcoal grill when you don’t plan to smoke anything. In order to start smoking meat, you need to place your soaked wood and charcoal into the offset chamber, close the lid and then open the door or vent.
If you want to control the smoke in the main chamber, you’ll need to open or close the vent appropriately. Since there’s no heat in the main chamber, you can place the water pain anywhere inside it.
While there are many types of smokers out there that can help you cook delicious meats, offset smokers have a definitive advantage over the rest by featuring separate chambers for the food and the smoke.
This means you can easily add more wood or briquettes at any given time without having to worry about opening the main chamber where your meat is cooking.
As a result, you won’t need to worry about humidity or heat escaping from the chamber when adding more fuel. On top of that, you can control temperature a lot more effectively with offset smokers compared to their charcoal counterparts for instance.
How to choose the best offset smoker:
- There are quite a few factors you should consider prior to buying an offset smoker, as following:
- Build quality is very important, so the smoker needs to be made at least from heavy gauge steel. It also needs to have a wheeled base that’s stable during use and has to feel and look substantial as well.
- Check the craftsmanship, especially the welds: these need to look strong and well executed. Insulated handles are a must in order to avoid injury when using the smoker.
- The lids on the cooking chamber need to seal well. Check the seal between the 2 chambers as well and make sure it’s tight.
- Consider the options, which can include a trailer, bottom or front shelves, a warming box, racks for smoking jerky, a counterweight on the cooking chamber lid, but also removable charcoal racks or drawers and additional grill grates.
- Check the warranty and make sure it’s in line with the price (for instance, getting a $1,000 offset smoker that comes with a1 year warranty is not recommended).
Wood Burning Smokers
If you’re a traditionalist, then you’ll certainly point to this type of smoker to be the best you can get.
However, even though these were the first type of wood smokers to come out, it doesn’t make them the best. If that were to be true, then we’d all be using PCs that take up an entire floor and are a thousand times less powerful than the average laptop today.
If you want to make sure that your food has that nice smokiness flavor to it, then it’s a no brainer that you should go for an all wood smoker. So instead of using charcoal, you’ll need to use wood to create smoke, but also heat.
It’s true that it does take a lot of practice in order to achieve your desired results with these smokers, but once you get it right, you’ll be amazed of what it can do to your foods.
It’s very important that you do not oversmoke the meats and that the wood also burns clean.
How to choose the best wood burning smoker:
If you want to get a wood burning smoker, it’s very important that you consider the following things:
- First of all, think about the foods you’d like to cook. For instance, garlic bread, vegetables, fish fillets, chicken breasts, but also chops and steaks only require a strong heat source and a grill grate. If you want to cook dense vegetables though, but also loin roast, beef tenderloin, prime ribs, whole chickens, ribs, etc, then you’ll need a grill with a high lid, easy temperature control and lots of grate space.
- Factor in whether you need options such as insulated covers for grilling in cold weather, thermometers, custom work tables, warming grates, side tables, cast iron grill grates, IR burners for high temp searing, etc.
- Portability should be considered if you’re a vacation property owner, camper or tailgater. The same goes for ease of setup.
- If you don’t have a large backyard or patio, then you do need to carefully consider the size of your smoker.
- Lastly, make sure the grill is solidly built from heavy gauge still. This way, you’ll have the peace of mind that you can use it for many years to come without being forced to replace it in just a few years or earlier.
Charcoal Burning Smokers
While it’s true that a charcoal smoker is very affordable and provides great flavor to your foods, it is not superior in this regard to an all wood smoker.
Since we’re talking about a charcoal smoker, you need to carefully monitor the temperature and add charcoal, but also make adjustments in order to ensure the temperature is kept constant. To do that, you can use a special method that we’re going to talk about in more detail.
The Minion Method involves lighting a certain amount of charcoal in the chimney, yet keep in mind that this depends on many factors, such as wind speed, precipitation and outside temperature. If it’s a warm, sunny day outside, go for twenty charcoal briquettes.
For a windy or cool day, twenty to forty briquettes should be enough, while for cold, rainy days, use between forty and sixty briquettes. The remaining full bag of charcoal should then be dumped into the smoker.
When the charcoal can be dumped form the chimney, dispose of it onto the unlit charcoal you put there just minutes ago. Make sure the pan is filled with enough water and then place your meats there. For controlling the temperature, configure the bottom vents accordingly.
By doing so, you’ll be able to create burn times of up to eighteen hours with no or very little user interaction. Overall, this method is great for those who want to cook for more than 6h and the good news is that it has no negative effects on the smokiness or taste of the meat.
How to choose the best charcoal smoker:
- Get a smoker with good temperature control. This depends on a few factors though, including practice, thermometers, ability to adjust the distance between the food and the coals, the dampers and the lid.
- You need to get a smoker with a lid that fits tightly on the smoker.
- It’s very important for the smoker to have a minimum of 2 dampers, including an exhaust and an intake.
- The smoker needs to absolutely have a digital thermometer, since internal temperature is paramount to the way the finished product is going to taste. While you may think they are a bit pricey, these are going to pay for themselves really fast.
- Make sure the grill allows for two-zone cooking.
- To keep the temperature inside the grill under control, it needs to allow for easy access to the charcoal.
Gas burning smokers are usually quite easy to use and portable, but the thing is that you do need to make sure that you don’t run out of gas before your food is cooked.
What makes these smokers special is the fact that setting the right temperature is just a piece of cake and you can just set and forget it until your meat is cooked. You can also add wood chips to the barbecue pan and if you want to add more, then you can easily add extra woo chunks or chips by opening the access door.
Overall, gas burning smokers are very simple to use, can help you cook delicious foods and are also easy to maintain.
How to choose the best gas smoker:
- Gas grills are great if you want to cook hot dogs and burgers, but if you would like to roast something or cook a whole turkey or chicken, then you need to get a grill with a rotisserie burner.
- Check the grill’s BTU as well, which is going to tell you how much gas the model uses and the amount of heat it can produce. Keep in mind that more BTU doesn’t equal better cooking or faster preheating.
- Get a grill that’s stable. The way to test how stable the model you plan on getting is, you need to push it from several angles and see whether it tips or not. Don’t forget to also check the shelves, lid, firebox and the car for sharp angles. Also, try to grip the handle: it’s very important that your fingers or knuckles aren’t too close to the lid or else you’ll get burned.
As the name implies, an electric barbecue smoker relies on electricity in order to run, so there’s no other fuel source you need to consider to use it. Because of that, you can use this type of grill anywhere you have an electric outlet.
To create smoke, wood chunks or chips are placed near the heating element. Depending on the model you get, some of them may come with exact temperature controls, while others may not.
It’s not a big deal, because you do need to buy a high quality thermometer anyway. What’s best about gas grills is that you can never screw up, yet the meat won’t taste as great as if you would use a wood based or charcoal grill.
How to choose the best electric smoker:
- You need to get a gas grill with thick seals, insulation and metal. This way, the heat will be evenly distributed around the cooking chamber and radiated back. Steel smokers are highly recommended in this regard.
- Durability, workmanship and materials are paramount to being happy with your decision. Go for a unit that comes with a paint that’s both rustproof and waterproof and make sure the grill also has big latches and hinges.
- The grill needs to be able to distribute heat evenly.
- Can you get your grill to 500F degrees for caramelizing or sizzling sauces?
- Get a grill with a damper on the chimney and one on the firebox. They have to create a tight seal and be easy to operate and reach.
- Does the grill come with a cover, tool hooks and tools? It’s very important to also get a grill that you can leave uncovered without having to worry about it rusting over time.
- Depending on the model you get, it may be very useful to get one that features built-in tables. These can come in handy when wanting to put mitts, cutting boards, sauces and tools on.
- Check the warranty the grill comes with and don’t forget to research the dealer’s reputation as well.
- The grill needs to be both pet and child safe. Check to see if the handles are cool when using the grill and make sure the wheels can also be locked.
- Check the grill’s footprint. It’s important to have plenty of space around it in order to prevent setting something on fire by accident.