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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.
Best Smoker Reviews For the Money (2021)
1. Best Offset Smoker
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.
Why Choose an Offset Smoker?
Offset smokers are the classic, and what a lot of people think about when they picture a smoker. They’re simple, usually fairly cheap, and work well.
What We Liked
- Offset smokers are easy to understand. You build the fire in one side of the smoker, and then you control air intake via the chimney. More oxygen equals a hotter fire, less oxygen cools things down.
- Every factor of the smoking process is under your direct control, giving you limitless freedom to make whatever you want, however you want with a simple process. Offset smokers have been exceedingly popular for decades for this reason, providing a cheap and highly effective way for anybody to get into smoking and making their own barbeque.
- Unlike more complicated variants of smoker, an offset model can even be home made with a fairly minimal knowledge of welding techniques, taking the DIY aspect of this type of grill even further.
What We Didn’t Like
- While it’s easy to learn the basics of offset smoking, it’s difficult to master them as well. Of all the types of smokers, offset smokers require the most know-how, skill, and experience to get the most out of it. They also require a lot of tender loving care when you’re using them.
- If you want to use an offset smoker, be prepared to spend most of your day JUST smoking meat. There are gadgets (like automatic temperature controllers) that can help alleviate this, but ultimately when using an offset smoker your attention is going to need to be on the smoker at almost all times.
- Offset smokers tend to be harder to clean than other variants as well, due to more natural smoke buildup inside
How to choose the top offset smoker:
There are quite a few factors you should consider prior to buying an offset smoker, as following:
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.3The lids on the cooking chamber need to seal well.
- 3. Check the seal between the 2 chambers as well and make sure it’s tight.
- 4. 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.
- 5. 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).
2. Best Pellet Smoker
Our runnIf you’re a traditionalist, then you’ll certainly point to this type of smoker to be the best you can get.
The SmokePro DLX and Z Grills are certainly great products, 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. If you have the time you can check out our Best Pellet Reviews here.
Why Choose a Pellet Smoker?
Pellet grills and smokers in general produce good results, without a lot of hassle; just be prepared to deal with their quirks.
What We Liked
- Pellets grills and smokers are easy to use, with a wide variety of applications. They use real wood pellets, usually made by hand by the manufacturer themselves, and provide a lot of delicious smokey wood flavor that you simply cannot get from burning charcoal.
- Pellet grills and smokers are typically electronic by default to at least a certain extent. This provides automatic temperature control capabilities right out of the box.
- It’s also imminently “scalable”. What I mean by this is that there exists a wide range of pellet smokers out there to fit pretty much any budget, from the ultra high end pellet smokers top of the line manufacturers like Traeger provide, to the fairly low expense (though still often more expensive than a typical offset smoker) and overall more simplistic models that manufacturers like Camp Chef or ZGrills make.
- You have a lot of freedom to choose your own level of advancement in a pellet smoker that a lot of grill types lack. There are a host of quality of life improvements and features that can be bought, along with advancements in the ability of the pellet smoker itself to function, with the only limits being your own budget.
- The results produced are, as expected, often phenomenal, and with relatively little effort on your part compared to other methods.
What We Didn’t Like
- As you might expect from the talk above, pellet grills and smokers tend to be exceptionally expensive by the standards of a grill.
- They can also be difficult to maintain, especially with the more advanced models. Pellet smokers often have an auger system that automatically feeds pellets from the hopper into the grill to keep the fire at the perfect temperature. This is the cause of pellet smokers being easier to get good results out of by default, but is a bit of a double edged sword; it provides a pretty conspicuous point of failure for the whole ordeal. If the auger jams or breaks, in the short term your meat is likely ruined (over or undercooking) and in the longer term you’ll likely have a hassle getting it repaired, either in term sof work if doing it yourself, or in money if hiring a professional.
- Also, the more hands off nature of pellet grills and smokers might not appeal to some who care more about the artistry of smoking than the results alone.
How to choose the top pellet smoker:
If you want to get a wood burning smoker, it’s very important that you consider the following things:
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.
- 3. 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.
- 4. 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.
- 5. 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.
3. Best Charcoal Smoker
While it’s true that a charcoal grill 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 grill and 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.
Why Choose a Charcoal Smoker?
Charcoal smokers are sort of the catchall for “any manual smoker that’s not an offset smoker”, and as a result come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. This makes them the most varied type of smoker out there…and the most inconsistent.
What We Liked
- Charcoal smokers have an advantage in using charcoal as the primary fuel source, which is cheap and plentiful. They also are compatible with burning raw wood either as a primary fuel source or just as a bit for extra flavor, making them versatile in what materials are usable to them.
- They are also, as mentioned, very variable in their shapes and sizes. You can really choose a charcoal smoker that specialize sin pretty much any purpose and get good results.
- Much like offset smokers, charcoal smokers are also cheap and fairly easy to make yourself with a bit of welding skill, making them another excellent option for people on a tight budget.
- Charcoal smokers often tend to leave the “smokiest” taste in their meat, since so many of them have some variant of a vertical shape, with the smoke constantly rising directly over and properly enveloping the meat inside, where an offset smoker more gently kisses the flesh with smoke.
What We Didn’t Like
- Charcoal smokers don’t tend to get as good of a result as offset smokers, since there’s a lot less wiggle room in interior design for them. The outsides have a variety of shapes, and interiors may swap things around a bit, but ultimately the function of a charcoal smoker is going to be the same: smoke goes up from the bottom of the smoking chamber directly into the meat, then leaves via the chimney. Whether the smoker is kettle shaped, squared like a safe, a vertical cylinder, or any other shape, that basic rule doesn’t change.
- As a result, charcoal smokers tend to cook meat faster than most other smoker types. This is great for quick smoking, but terrible for going “low and slow” as a lot of advanced barbeque types would want.
How to choose the top charcoal smoker:
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.
- 3. 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.
- 4. Make sure the grill allows for two-zone cooking.
- 5. To keep the temperature inside the grill under control, it needs to allow for easy access to the charcoal.
4. Best Propane Grill
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.
Why Choose a Propane Smoker & Grill?
Propane smokers represent something of a middle ground between pellet smokers and electric smokers in terms of the ease of use to final results ratio.
What We Liked
- The biggest advantage of a propane smoker is how easy it is to use relative to any of the smokers that involve burning wood or charcoal. You can meticulously control the temperature of a propane grill just by turning a few knobs and it makes it easy to hit that absolutely perfect smoking temperature for either fast or slow smoking.
- Buying propane (or using natural gas if your home is set up for it) can also be cheaper than keeping yourself stocked in charcoal (the high quality stuff can be surprisingly expensive) or wood, and provides a more consistent, unwavering heat. Replacing propane tanks is also very simple.
- Cleanup in general is far less of an ordeal in a propane smoker, since there is overall less smoke.
What We Didn’t Like
- Propane smokers don’t provide a lot of flavor on their own. You can get around this by buying flavor cubes or chips of wood and putting them in a pouch, but the cost can add up fast, and you have to replace the chips a lot during long smoking sessions; sometimes up to 3 or 4 times per use of the smoker.
- This means that while the smoker is easy to use and adjust, the results are often less than stellar unless you essentially nullify one of the advantages a propane smoker has in the first place.
- This issue is compounded by the smell of propane, which can really get in your nose and linger the meat. Your sense of smell is a vital component of taste, and the taste of “smokiness” in particular is something ENTIRELY provided by your nose. It’s quite easy to produce meat that tastes faintly of a harsh chemical, which is undesirable to say the least.
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.
- 3. 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.
5. Best Electric Smoker
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.
Why Choose an Electric Smoker?
Electric smokers are sort of the “final evolution” of the smoker, at least for now. They have a variety of ups and downs to consider before buying one.
What we liked
- Electric smokers, much like propane smokers, are exceptionally easy to use most of the time. They often come with proper temperature controls, so setting one up is almost exactly like using an oven. In terms of ease of use, the electric smoker cannot be beat.
- The results are also pretty nice, though rely on the same tricks as a propane grill, using an electric heating element and water with wood chips to produce smoke. Unlike a propane smoker, however, there is no risk of there being a harsh chemical-y taste or smell left on your meat.
- Electric smokers also come in at a very reasonable price compared to some other models. While typically more expensive than an offset or charcoal smoker, they’re also typically a lot less expensive than high end pellet grills or propane smokers, making them excellent mid budget options.
- Electric smokers being so hands off is great for beginners learning the ropes of smoking.
What we didn’t like
- There are two main things that hold electric smokers back. The first is that they’re electric. This makes them inherently home based devices. They’re far less portable than even propane smokers, since all other smokers rely on a power source you can more easily bring with you: fire, whether it’s produced by charcoal, wood, or gas.
- Electric smokers are also a bit more limited in the tricks you can employ and recipe changes you can make to really spice up your barbeque. They’re exceptionally consistent devices, which is both good and bad.
How to choose the top electric smoker:
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.
- 3. The grill needs to be able to distribute heat evenly.
- 4. Can you get your grill to 500F degrees for caramelizing or sizzling sauces?
- 5. 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.
- 6. 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.
- 7. 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.
- 8. Check the warranty the grill comes with and don’t forget to research the dealer’s reputation as well.
- 9. 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.
- 10. 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.