A smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance, similar to a grill. What makes a smoker different is that it can maintain low cooking temperatures for longer periods of time while simultaneously producing smoke and holding it so that the food can absorb it. A good smoker can do all of this efficiently while taking up the same amount of space a regular barbecue would.
There are many ways to smoke your food because there are several different kinds of smokers and smoker-grills available on the market. You get to choose between charcoal smokers, wood smokers, electric smokers, gas smokers, and pellet smokers. Each type comes with certain advantages and disadvantages. We will cover each type of smokers in this article and present you with some of our top picks.
Ultimately, it is up to you to choose what kind of barbecue would you like to smoke and how much time and effort are you willing to put into it.
The Different Types of Smokers
What You’ll Like
The main reason why so many people love electric smokers is that you can just set it and then forget it. And, that’s it! There is no lighting charcoal, no cleaning up the messy ashes, or checking the fuel supply frequently. With electric smokers, everything is automatic. You just put the food in, turn the smoker on, and then you can snooze in your lounge chair or spend time with your family. Or, even better, you can turn the smoker on before you go to work and then come back to a tender, smoky, juicy meal.
Another great thing about electric smokers is that it also uses wood chips. About two to four ounces of wood is needed to give your meat that authentic smoky flavor. In addition, there is a heating element that produces smoke, not an open flame, making it perfectly safe to leave this type of smoker without supervision.
Electric smokers are an excellent choice for everyone who is looking for their first smoker, or for those who just want the convenience of an electric unit. Smoking food the traditional way does involve a lot of time and effort and it can take up to an entire day to prepare and use the traditional smoker and get the meat done right. So, if you want to smoke food without putting in too much effort, an electric smoker is the way to go. Oh, did we mention that you can get affordable electric smokers for an affordable price? Yes, that’s right!
What You’ll Dislike
So far, getting an electric smoker might seem like a great choice. But, don’t make up your mind before you get to see some setbacks. First of all-weather. Since these smokers use electricity, wet weather will be your greatest enemy. Simply put, electricity and water are not a good combination and even a slight drizzle can cause these smokers to trip a GFCI or throw a breaker.
In addition, when the temperature drops outside, a cheap electric smoker will have a hard time maintaining the desired temperature. The heating elements can produce only so much heat and electric smokers are not meant to be used as high heat generators but for low and slow cooking.
Top Electric Smoker – Masterbuilt 40 Inch Electric Smoker
- Digital panel and rf Remote controls on/off, temperature, time, and light; monitors internal meat temperature
- Four chrome-coated smoking racks
- Patented side wood chip loading system - add chips without opening the smoker door
- Integrated thermostat temperature control for even, consistent smoking
- Full viewing window
The Masterbuilt 40 Inch Electric Smoker is the perfect choice for smoking food in the comfort of your backyard. The smoker features an excellent 1,200-watt unit and can reach a temperature of 350 °F. In addition, the model comes with a built-in meat probe that will read the internal temperature of the meat precisely.
This Masterbuilt smoker comes with a cooking space of 975 square inches which is enough to smoke 24 burgers, two whole turkeys, and four pork butts all at once. This means that you can throw a party, invite all your neighbors, and still be able to feed all those people without putting in too much time and effort. The inside of the unit features four adjustable chrome-coated racks that will allow you to separate all different types of meat and vegetables and also easily clean them.
What you’ll also love about this unit is that it is fully insulated and will prevent any smoke from leaking out. It features a removable drip pan and a water bowl that will make the cleaning process easy. Last, but not least, there are small plastic wheels that will allow you to move the smoker around easily.
To learn more, read our ultimate guide to the best electric smokers here.
Gas & Propane Smokers
What You’ll Like
Propane smokers are very similar to electric smokers and are an excellent choice for people who want to combine speed, convenience, and an affordable cost. If you decide to go for a gas/propane smoker, you will reap all the benefits of a set-it-and-forget-it smoker. In addition, using these smokers is very easy; they come with push-button ignition and very straightforward temperature controls.
These smokers use either propane tanks or natural gas as their heat source. As a result, you will get more control over the heat and you’ll also be able to reach high temperatures, fast. Gas smokers are the closest you’ll get to charcoal smokers in terms of the way they cook food and the results you’ll get.
The beauty of owning a gas smoker lies in the fact that you’ll never have to worry about power outlets. Also, they are very easy to use; if anything breaks down, repairs are not much of a hassle. When compared to electric smokers, gas/propane units are usually cheaper.
What You’ll Dislike
The cheaper units usually have some drawbacks and will require you to babysit them so you could prevent the unit from getting too hot. In addition, gas smokers are usually not that well insulated, and cold weather will affect the inside temperature and your cooking time.
When compared to electric units which come with many bells and whistles, gas and propane smokers are quite a low tech, so you shouldn’t expect features like Bluetooth or WiFi connection. Also, these smokers lack a thermostat but they do come with a bimetal thermometer which can be used to gauge temperature.
Also, make sure to always have a backup propane tank nearby because if you run out of gas you may inadvertently ruin your meat.
Top Propane Smoker – Smoke Hollow 44-Inch 2-Door Propane Gas Smoker
- 6.5 cubic feet of cooking area capacity to easily handle enough food for largest gatherings
- 7 cooking grids: 4-standard cooking grids, 2-jerky grids, 1-rib rack 1-sausage Hanger
- Dual door design with tempered glass viewing window.2 porcelain coated wood chip pans with lids.Temperature gauge.Easy adjustable smoke stack
- Dual stainless Steel burners Operated independently operated for optimum performance and temperature control
- Large porcelain coated water pan.Handles on the side for easy carry
Some propane smokers can be quite limiting in terms of the range of temperatures they can hit. But, with this Smoke Hollow propane smoker, you’ll never have to worry about temperature. The unit features dual gas burners that ensure precise control of the temperature inside the unit. If you want to reach a high temperature just turn on both burners. But, if you plan to smoke foods such as cheese, you can just leave only one burner on and maintain a steady, low temperature.
This Smoke Hollow model comes with two flavoring pans so that you can use different flavors of wood chips and burn them one at a time. This way, you will make sure that your smoker doesn’t run out of flavoring for six hours.
Talking of wood chips, constantly opening and closing the cooking chamber so you could replace wood chips can have a negative effect on the food you’re trying to smoke and result in dry and flavorless meat. How did Smoke Hollow deal with this issue? By including a dual door access system. If you want to refill the wood chips, you can just open a separate door located on the bottom of the unit. This way, you won’t lose any heat or smoke and your food will come out perfect every time.
To learn more, read our guide to the best propane smokers.
What You’ll Like
Even though electric and gas/propane smokers do a great job, a true smoking aficionado will notice the difference in taste when compared to the traditional stick burner. However, pellet smoker will allow you to go one step further and get as close to that traditional wood-smoked taste as it gets. And, the best part is that pellet smokers are as easy to use as the previous two.
Yes, this means that we’ve just added one more set-and-forget type of smoker to our list. The beauty of pellet smokers lies in the fact that it is so easy for these units to maintain a steady temperature. These smokers use an auger system that feeds compressed wood pellets into a little stove of a sort. This process of feeding pellets to the smoker is controlled by the thermostat which prompts the auger to drop more pellets in. So, in terms of ease of use, pellet smokers are as convenient as electric and propane smokers.
We briefly mentioned the taste… What makes pellet smokers better than the previous two types? Well, the fact that 100% of the heat used to cook your food comes from wood. So you can say the food you produce was smoked over 100% hardwood.
What You’ll Dislike
The biggest con of pellet smokers is the price. Almost every other type of smoker has a few budget units which cost around $100. However, the smallest pellet units tend to cost around $600. But, don’t let the cost discourage you. All these units are high-quality, do an amazing job in smoking food, and will last you for many years.
Even though you will spend quite a sum on a pellet smoker, this doesn’t mean that its parts won’t break. Sometimes, the auger mechanism can fail or get jammed, which is nothing dramatic but it should be pointed out. Luckily, the majority of these smokers are covered with warranties that will make the repairs simple and affordable or even free.
Top Pellet Smoker – Traeger Pro Series 575
- Never use gas or charcoal again: cooking with wood just tastes better. Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill as the ultimate way to achieve wood-fired taste
- Connected home technology: Built-in WiFIRE connects your grill to home WiFi and the Traeger app allows the user to control the grill from anywhere. Change temperature, set timers, monitor pellet levels and more.
- Versatile barbecue cooking: hot and fast, or low and slow, the Traeger Pro 575 pellet grill offers 6-in-1 versatility to grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ all on the same grill.
- Easy and predictable: The Pro 575 offers consistency you can trust, allowing you to craft amazing wood-fired creations time and time again with the ease of s Set-It and Forget-It
- Perfect size for family cooking: enjoy 575 sq in of grilling space that can accommodate all the burgers, chicken, ribs, steak, fish, vegetables, or desserts that you can handle
Traeger Pro Series 575 pellet smoker is everything you need to fulfill your smoking needs. The reason why so many users love it is that it is big enough to host a cookout comes with many amazing features and is relatively affordable when you consider everything.
Even though pellet smokers are relatively easy to use, starting them can be a real hassle sometimes because you have to load the wood chips and then spend some time adjusting the temperature or even adjusting it during cooking. Traeger made this process as simple as possible; just add the pellets, set the temperature, and that’s it! The smoker heats up very fast and can reach 230°F in less than 10 minutes. The only thing you have to do is make sure you don’t run out of pellets.
And, to be frank, cooking has never been easier. With WiFi capabilities, you can control your smoker from anywhere with Traeger’s smartphone app. And running out of pellets during cooking is almost impossible with this smoker – it features a 20-pound hopper which is enough for 40 hours of smoking food without any refills.
To learn more, read our guide to the best pellet smokers.
What You’ll Love
Charcoal smokers are the most popular option for backyard chefs who love to play with fire and get a top-notch taste. Electric, pellet, and gas smokers can’t hold a candle to the flavor that is produced with charcoal. It is the best and most authentic flavor you’ll get. From heavy flavors to light, subtle licks of smoke, you can control just what flavor you like, and how much of it you want when using a charcoal smoker.
Another great benefit of charcoal smokers is that you can use them as grills, just make sure to place the grates in the right place. In addition, you can always move the heat source around if you notice that, for example, your steaks are cooking faster than the potatoes.
Also, charcoal smokers use the least expensive fuel, unlike some other types of smokers. In addition, they don’t require electricity at all so you can use them at any time, anywhere. Did we mention that you can get charcoal smokers at an affordable price?
What You’ll Dislike
The biggest problem with charcoal smokers is that they require more nursing than other types of smokers. You will have to monitor and adjust the fuel and air supply to maintain the desired temperature. Don’t be surprised if the temperature yo-yos up and down frequently, making it harder for you to estimate when your food will be cooked. This may take some practice and a few burned meals, but you’ll get used to it quickly.
Keep in mind that using charcoal as a fuel can get a bit messy. There is going to be leftover charcoal and ash everywhere and you will have to clean that up. Sadly, this is a universally dislike task. Also, charcoal smokers are meant to be ‘old school’ by nature so don’t expect them to come with many bells and whistles.
Top Charcoal Smoker – Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 18-Inch Charcoal Smoker
- Material Type: Steel
- The Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker helps you achieve an authentic smokehouse flavor at home
- It can accommodate a whole turkey and an entire ham at the same time. Item weight- 39.1 pounds
- Made of porcelain-enameled steel, this smoker comes with 2 nickel-plated 18-1/2-inch-wide cooking grates
- Includes a water pan, thermometer, individual vents on bowl and lid, and heat-resistant nylon handle
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is one of the few charcoal smokers that combine high-quality performance and an affordable price tag. It is described as the best charcoal smoker for beginners, but it is a hit with pro pitmasters as well. Beginners love it because it is as close to ‘set-and-forget- as a charcoal smoker can get. But, it cooks food so well that people use it in barbecue competitions.
One of the neat features of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is the wide door at the front which allows you to quickly load the charcoal. You can also “custom” fit the door so that it can hold in the smoke better.
The 18-inch model comes with two cooking grates and a cooking surface of 481 square inches. If this is not enough for you, you can consider the 22-inch model. Both models are made of high-quality materials and feature superior construction quality. Just by taking a look at the chrome and porcelain coating, you will be able to conclude that this smoker is built to last. Oh, and if something breaks down, the smoker is covered by a 10-year-warranty.
To other options check out our guide to the best charcoal smokers.
Kamado Grill Smoker
What You’ll Like
You must have seen those egg-shaped ceramic grills that are fueled by wood. They are called kamado grills or kamado smokers. What makes kamado smokers stand out is that they can run at low temperatures and infuse that delicious smoky flavor and they can also sear at high heat levels that go well beyond the capabilities of a gas grill. So, you can use kamado grills to cook steaks and even bake a real wood-fired pizza.
Kamado smokers will also give you very precise control of the temperature through airflow. The precision is even greater than that of many indoor ovens. This means that you’ll be able to set your Kamado grill to reach a specific temperature and to stay on that exact temperature for up to eighteen hours. This feature, combined with the smoker’s ability to maintain moisture, makes it particularly ideal for smoking meats.
Among all smokers, Kamado grills have the best insulation because they are ceramic. You can use them all year round, even when the temperature drops and it’s wet outside. Other types of smokers are not as resistant to outside weather as kamado grills are.
What You’ll Dislike
Even though kamado grills do come with a few disadvantages, those are not something that will scare you off. The biggest downside of a kamado smoker is its weight; the units tend to be heavy and moving them to a neighbors place can be a drag. Once you’re done with cooking, don’t expect to move the grill around any time soon because kamados take a while to cool down.
In addition, learning how to cook with a kamado grill may take some time and practice, but, even if you’ve never used a smoker before you’ll be able to figure out how to use it.
Even though kamados can be used both as grills and smokers, doing so on the same day might be troublesome. If you want to use it as a smoker and then want to grill, you will need a pair of welding gloves and red hot ceramics.
Top Kamado Grill – Kamado Joe Classic II
- Premium 18″ Ceramic Grill with Cast Iron Cart & Locking Wheels – The Kamado Joe Classic II gives the perfect cooking size of 18 inches along with its Premium cart that comes with the purchase of your grill, including locking casters and wheels.
- 2-Tier Divide & Conquer - Divide & Conquer Flexible Cooking System transforms the humble grill grate into the most powerful cooking tool in your arsenal. The revolutionary multi-level, half-moon design frees you to cook different foods in different styles at different temperatures—all at the same time
- Kontrol Tower Top Vent - Maintains consistent air setting for precise airflow management during dome opening and closing. Constructed of powder coated cast aluminum, the patent pending dual-adjustment top vent is rain and mold-resistant and allows you to smoke from 225F all the way to searing at 750F.
- Patented Air Lift Hinge – Reduce dome weight by 96% with the Patented Air Lift Hinge. The grill dome can be lifted with a single finger giving the most comfortable grilling experience there is.
- AMP (Advanced Multi-Panel) FireBox – The patent pending six-piece design eliminates breakage and increases grill efficiency.
Up until recently, the kamado industry was dominated by one brand – Big Green Egg. But, when Kamado Joe entered the scene, the company got its first serious threat. Kamado Joe Classic II is one of the best kamado smokers you can get. As we already pointed out, you can use it for grilling, roasting, and baking as well.
We also mentioned that it takes some time to learn how to use kamado grills; but, if you’ve used charcoal grills before it will be a piece of cake for you. However, if you’re making a switch from propane smokers there is going to be a brief learning period.
Kamado Joe Classic II is one of the most versatile grills ever made. Its temperature ranges from 225°F to 750°F and there are a few smokers that can beat this Kamado Joe when it comes to maintaining the temperature and trapping heat. In addition, you can use the grates and place them at different heights to create different temperature zones.
To see other options, read our guide to the best kamado grill.
Comparing Different Types of Smokers
Electric vs Gas Smoker
Gas and electric smokers share a lot in common. First of all, they are very easy to use and you can buy a good model for under $200. But, in general, gas smokers tend to be a bit less expensive. The main difference between these units is, obviously, the fuel source.
Electric smokers will give you excellent temperature control and you can just set and forget your smoker. However, in order for the smoker to work, you need to have a power source nearby. This reduces the portability of these models and makes them a bit risky for use during wet weather conditions.
Electric smokers operate within a lower temperature range than the gas smokers, making them an excellent choice for all those into cold smoking. If you decide to go for a gas smoker, you’ll have trouble reaching low temperatures. Usually, the lowest temperature you can set for these smokers is 200°F, making these models unsuitable for cold smoking.
On the other hand, gas smokers can reach higher temperatures and they are also far more portable than electric smokers. Unlike the electric smokers that are usually well-insulated, gas smokers can be poorly insulated and you’ll need to monitor the inside temperature closely. Propane smokers need more monitoring than their electric-powered cousins, making them a less convenient option.
When it comes to the cooking area, electric smokers are the better option here. 1000 square inches of cooking space is quite a common feature of these smokers. So, if you plan to smoke a lot of meat, electric smokers are the right choice here.
When it comes to food flavor, both types of smokers have little impact on the flavor. That is why many manufacturers add wood chips bowls for infusing the food with that authentic smoky flavor.
All those who are looking for maximum convenience and ease of use will be glad to hear that cleaning both types of smokers is incredibly easy. Neither electricity nor gas leaves any trace behind (unlike charcoal smokers). All you’ll have to clean is the grease tray once you’re done with cooking.
Electric vs Pellet Smoker
Both electric and pellet smokers require minimal maintenance and operate on the set-it-and-forget-it principle. So, all you’ll have to do is set the desired temperature, load the food, and wait for the smoker to reach the temperature. It doesn’t get easier than this. In terms of cleaning, both models require minimal effort. If you go for the electric smoker, you’ll have to remove the charred wood chunks after each use. And, a pellet smoker will require you to clean out ashes after cooking. Both cleaning processes take up the same amount of time and effort.
You will be glad to hear that both types of smokers do a great job when it comes to low and slow cooking, which is kind of the point of buying a smoker. If you buy a smoker that can’t cook food low and slow, then you won’t get that tender and succulent BBQ flavor.
Speaking of flavor, choosing a smoker is all about the end result. And, electric and pellet smokers deliver similar results since both use electricity. However, they use different heat sources which make all the difference.
Electric smokers use the element as the only real source of heat, whereas the pellet smoker burns quite a few wood pellets to produce heat (2 pounds per hour). Burning pellets creates lots of smokes and gasses and that is where the amazing flavor comes from. An electric smoker, on the other hand, produces heat, steam, and a bit of smoke – which does impart some flavor to the meat, but not as nearly as the pellet smokers. Unfortunately, no matter how much money you spend on an electric smoker it won’t be able to produce the same flavor as the pellet models.
However, electric smokers do have some advantages over the pellet counterparts. Let’s assume that you don’t want to smoke meat only, but also fish, cheese, nuts, and other food. As already mentioned, electric smokers can maintain very low temperatures and are great for cold smoking. However, pellet smokers reach high temperatures and aren’t suitable for cold smoking.
Electric vs Charcoal Smokers
When choosing between an electric and a charcoal smoker you will have to ask yourself one important question – what does BBQ mean to you? If you’re one of those people who love traditional smoking, putting time and effort into smoking and watching over their food all the time, then charcoal smokers are the right choice for you. However, if you’re all about speed and convenience, then an electric smoker is the way to go.
A charcoal smoker represents the traditional way of smoking food and it can infuse your food with that smoky flavor we all dream of. But, the amazing taste of food comes with a price. You will have to get the charcoal burning, adjust the air vents to reach the right temperature, add fuel, and constantly monitor everything. For some people, this is the true magic of smoking food, but for others, it is just a tedious process.
In terms of temperature, electric smokers can’t reach high temperatures as charcoal smokers do. On the other hand, charcoal smokers aren’t that good of a choice for cold smoking because it’s very difficult to maintain a low temperature. However, if you’re more fond of crispy food on the outside and juicy content on the inside, charcoal is the way to go.
You won’t get the perfect smoky taste with an electric smoker, but you will get convenience, speed, and simplicity instead. Electric smokers feature precise controllers that allow you to set the desired temperature and then leave the food until it’s done. But, all of this comes at the expense of flavor. Electricity can’t produce as much smoke as charcoal does. However, you can use wood chips to try and make up for the loss.
If you’re just getting started with smoking, you’ll get the best and most consistent results with an electric smoker. A quality smoker of this type will hold a constant temperature without you hovering over it all the time. Even though using a charcoal smoker requires a bit of practice and learning, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to master it as well.
Gas vs Pellet Smoker
Both gas and pellet smokers are specialized in reaching high temperatures, cooking your food fast, and adding a unique smoke flavor to any food you want to cook. Both types of smokers have a “set-it-and-forget-it” capability that a lot of users appreciate. This means that you can just throw the food inside the smoker and then tend to other activities, including going away for a few hours.
Flavor and taste are something very subjective but, many pitmasters will agree that pellet smokers give food a better taste. This is due to the wood pellets that the smokers use, which are made completely from wood. So, there won’t be any chemical additives as might be the case with food smoked with a propane grill. But, the flavor difference is very subtle, and only experienced pitmasters will notice it.
Propane smokers might be easier to maintain, but pellet grills are much easier to use. They operate on automatic temperature controls and you won’t have to worry about whether or not your grill is getting enough wood pellets. As long as you make sure there are enough pellets, they will be fed into the cooking chamber.
You might have to do slightly more cleaning if you get a pellet smoker, but the great news is that pellet smokers produce very little debris. If you use 20 pounds of pellets, you’ll only end up with about 1/4 cup of ash, meaning that there will be hardly anything to clean up when you’re done.
Propane smokers are very easy to use and find fuel for. Also, they are quite portable and the right choice for those who want to bring their smokers to cookouts or camping trips.
On the other hand, a pellet smoker is an excellent choice for all those who want to have precise control over temperature and the flavor. The wooden pellets you’ll be burning take an active hand in flavoring your meat, even if they might be a bit more expensive fuel source.
Gas vs Charcoal Smoker
By now, you probably have the idea what is the basic distinction between gas and charcoal smokers besides the fuel.
Using gas smokers is very easy due to instant ignition and short heat up time. Controlling the temperature is as easy as adjusting the flow of gas. When it comes to charcoal smokers, it’s hard to find a less convenient type of smoker. Not only do you have to clean the charcoal afterward, but you also have to light it up manually and to check on it regularly to ensure optimal temperature. Also, a gas tank will last you much longer than a bag of charcoal.
When it comes to temperatures, both types of smokers can reach roasting temperatures 350°F to 400°F. Neither of the grills will allow for cold smoking, but they can reach lower temperatures.
As we pointed it out several times, the charcoal smoker is the type of smoker that will infuse your food with the most authentic smoky flavor. However, it has several other advantages such as being quite foolproof. These smokers won’t break down since there are no burners, fuel connections, or burning parts. Breaking down an insulated box with a fire pit at the bottom is almost impossible.
When it comes to gas smokers, they are durable but also subject to the same performance woes as gas grills such as leaky hoses, broken connections, malfunctioning ignitors, and rusty or clogged burner tubes. But, if you use and maintain your gas smoker properly, it’s unlikely that you will run into any of these problems.
Maintaining both gas and charcoal smokers comes down to storing them properly, using a cover, and cleaning the racks between uses. However, there is one additional step for charcoal smokers – cleaning out the ashes. Truth be told, this is not too difficult, but it still is a tedious task many people try to avoid.
Pellet vs Charcoal
Choosing between a pellet and a charcoal smoker is the most difficult task. Many pitmasters will say that food cooked on a pellet grill is not as smokey as the food they’ve cooked on a charcoal grill. However, pellet smokers will still deliver very good results.
One of the biggest differences between pellets and charcoal smokers is the ease of use. To run a pellet smoker, all you need to do is fill the hopper with wood pellets, choose the desired cooking temperature, and put the food in. An auger will automatically feed the pellets to the firebox and ensure a steady temperature.
Running a charcoal grill requires a bit more time and effort. First of all, you’ll need to light the charcoal and then to wait for up to 30 minutes for the charcoal to be ready to cook on.
Controlling a charcoal smoker will never be as easy as controlling a pellet smoker. We’ve already touched upon this matter, but it’s worth pointing it out one more time. Controlling the temperature on a pellet smoker is as simple as turning a dial to choose the right temperature. However, to control the temperature of a charcoal smoker, you will have to play with the air vents a bit. The general rule is, the more air comes in, the hotter the smoker will get.
In terms of versatility, charcoal smokers are at an advantage. Pellet smokers are designed for smoking; you will be able to achieve lower temperatures easily, but high temperatures will be hard to reach. However, you can use a charcoal smoker to grill steaks and burgers easily or smoke food low and slow.