Table of Contents
- 1 Are You Ready for Barbecue Season?
- 2 Benefits of Smokers
- 3 Is a Grill Combo or Smoker Best?
- 4 Types of Smokers
- 5 Buyers Guide: Our Top-Rated Smokers
- 6 Masterbuilt 20060416 Charcoal Bullet Smoker
- 7 Smoke Hollow 3616DEW Digital Electric Smoker
- 8 Masterbuilt 20072115 Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker
- 9 Bradley Smoker BTDS76P
- 10 Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill
- 11 Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
- 12 Masterbuilt 20050211 Black Propane Smoker
- 13 Char-Broil Offset Smoker
- 14 What Can You Make in a Smoker?
- 15 Tips on How to Smoke Meat
- 16 Barbecue Accessories
- 17 Winner: Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill
Are You Ready for Barbecue Season?
Whether you’re slow-roasting a brisket, curing a ham or smoking salmon, nothing beats a high-quality meat smoker. This low-and-slow cooking method produces tender, mouth-watering meats that are sure to be a hit at your next barbecue. A smoker can also be used for drying jerky, roasting flavorful nuts, preparing vegetables and many other applications.
Not all smokers are created equal, though. The smoker best suited to your needs will be one that fits your budget, skill level and size requirements. If you’re ready to take your grilling to the next level, take some time to research your options and understand your needs. Below, we’ll look at a few of the most important things to consider when buying a smoker and review some of the best smokers on the market.
Benefits of Smokers
When it comes to barbecuing, you have two main options: smoking and grilling. Both cooking methods have their place, so it’s a good idea to consider what you need before deciding on a smoker or grill. You may find that a combination of the two is best for your lifestyle.
Smoking meat is a long process. It uses indirect heat to slowly cook meat at a very low temperature. The average smoker cooks meet at temperatures below 275 degrees for many hours at a time. This low-and-slow technique is vital for breaking apart tougher cuts of meat. If you’re planning to serve a thick roast, brisket or Boston butt at your barbecue, a smoker is your best choice.
A grill, on the other hand, puts meat in contact with heat directly. Grills are perfect for hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, skewers and anything else where you want a bit of char. Grills can get very hot and can sear meat within minutes.
Smoking meat takes hours, and you need to be prepared to invest a day in this labor of love. If you’d rather just heat up a few burgers after work, a grill is your tool of choice. If you want the rich, smoky flavor and fall-off-the-bone tenderness that slow-cooking provides, a smoker is right for you.
Is a Grill Combo or Smoker Best?
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to make the choice between a grill and a smoker. There are a number of smoker-grill combinations on the market, and they can offer the best of both worlds in a single package.
The downside to a combo is that it will never have as much specialization power as a single-purpose item. You might lose some flexibility or features that you’d get otherwise. However, this trade-off is worthwhile for many barbecue lovers.
In general, a combo grill will have a large primary grilling surface and a secondary smoking chamber. This allows you to grill and smoke meat at the same time. Before you get too excited, bear in mind that smoking will still take many more hours than grilling; you’ll use up more fuel to keep the apparatus warm than you otherwise might like.
It’s ultimately up to you to decide if a combination tool is right for the job. We’ll look at a few of our top choices later in this guide to help you decide on the right option for your needs.
Types of Smokers
When it comes to smokers, there are three basic types to look out for: ceramic smokers, pellet smokers and competition smokers.
A ceramic smoker also called a kamado grill, is a small and highly versatile type of grill made from ceramic. Because ceramic is insulated, it’s a very efficient material. A kamado grill can be used for either smoking or grilling, and it uses less fuel than a more traditional pellet smoker. However, these grills are usually pretty small and don’t offer all of the bells and whistles serious barbecuers care about. If you plan to do a lot of smoking, you’ll quickly outgrow the kamado grill.
Pellet smokers are some of the best-known tools for hobbyists. These grills use wood pellets that burn to create flavorful smoke while another heat source generates the heat needed to cook the meat. Many modern pellet smokers are regulated by electronic controls that can be pre-programmed for set-it-and-forget-it functionality. Most digital smokers could be considered pellet smokers.
For serious barbecue enthusiasts, competition smokers are the way to go. There are countless competition-style smokers on the market, and some high-priced models have some very intricate features. In general, what sets a competition smoker apart from any other type of grill is its size and the amount of smoke it produces. These are the smokers commonly used by professionals in restaurants and barbecue contests. However, this doesn’t mean that a competition smoker will necessarily be too expensive for a hobbyist. Many of these smokers can be quite affordable, and the high quality of the materials tends to make them long-lasting. Think of buying this type of smoker as a major investment in your culinary future.
Aside from these basic configurations, smokers can also be divided out into categories based on how they are heated to produce smoke:
Electric smokers are the fastest-cooking and utilize electricity to generate heat. Both analog and digital options are available for temperature setting and other options. Electric smokers are fast and convenient. They start with the touch of a button, and temperature can be controlled through a menu. Some even offer “smart” technology that can be managed through your phone or other devices. However, there are a few drawbacks to electric smokers. One major problem is that they do not tolerate the weather. You will need to store your smoker indoors and protect it from the rain while in use.
Propane smokers work similarly to gas grills. You simply connect a propane tank to the smoker and adjust the settings to establish the appropriate temperature level. Like an electric smoker, a propane unit will generally start with the push of a button and can be easily temperature controlled to maintain the right cooking time and internal temperature. Barbecue aficionados say that the flavor from a gas smoker is inferior to charcoal, but the difference is pretty negligible to the average palate.
Charcoal smokers use charcoal briquettes. They are fussier than the push-to-start electric and propane models as they require you to ignite the charcoal, stoke the fire, monitor the flame and dispose of the burned-out charcoal. However, the flavor offered by a charcoal smoker is unrivaled. Many barbecue enthusiasts combine wood chips with flavored charcoal to achieve more depth of flavor in the final product.
Pellet smokers combine the convenience of an electric smoker with the deep flavor of charcoal. These smokers burn flavored wood pellets but have most of their processes automated. The results are good, but they’re not quite as deep in flavor as classic charcoal smokers. Many electric smokers have a pellet option for a cold smoke to imbue your meat with flavor.
Of course, the type of smoker you choose will depend on your preferences and how much you value time and ease over flavor. Any smoked meat will be delicious, so top-quality charcoal flavor may not be your primary priority. If you’re concerned about the taste, you might want to visit a barbecue cook-off to try meats cooked in a variety of different smokers. If you notice a difference in flavor, you’ll know that the type of smoker will make a big difference to you. Otherwise, go for whatever model best fits your lifestyle.
Buyers Guide: Our Top-Rated Smokers
Now that you understand a little bit more about smoking, it’s time to take a look at the best smokers on the market. There are countless options available, but the smokers listed below are our top favorites for price, performance and durability. We tried to look at a combination of types to suit any preference and budget. All of the smokers below are well-rated and should provide great results.
It’s important to realize that there really is no perfect solution that will fit every need. Take the time to read over our picks and get an idea for what might be important to you. At the end, we’ll tell you our favorite of the bunch, but your mileage may vary. No matter what, though, we’re confident you’ll find something you like among these smokers.
The Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet Smoker is a small and affordable charcoal smoker perfect for small gatherings or for people who have limited space for grilling. Featuring two porcelain coated smoking racks, this compact smoker has enough room to accommodate popular meats like ribs and roasts.
This small and affordable smoker is a good choice for anyone looking to get started with charcoal smoking without a large investment of time or space.
Much of this smoker is porcelain-coated for superior heat retention. It’s big enough to accommodate two full racks of ribs, but its capacity may be too small for larger projects.
Aside from offering a relatively small cooking space, the small size also means that the smoker may not get as hot as it should for maximum effectiveness.
The Smoke Hollow Digital Electric Smoker is an electric-powered smoker with an external-loading wood chip tray and plenty of interior space for smoking a variety of meats at once. The digital controls and LED display make it easy to set up and maintain the appropriate temperature with minimal hands-on time during cooking.
With its push-button start and ample cooking space, this electric smoker offers ease of use without sacrificing quality. The tempered glass viewing window makes it easy to keep an eye on your meat without opening the smoker to let the heat out. Multiple cooking levels allow for simultaneous smoking of several different items, and the smoker has ample capacity for a reasonably large get-together. This is neither the largest nor the most economical model we reviewed, but it’s a good all-around workhorse for the smoking enthusiast.
This smoker is large enough to accommodate an average brisket or large turkey. It’s a good choice for dehydrating jerky, but don’t expect to do any grilling: Its heat capacity tops out around 275 degrees.
The Masterbuilt Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker brings smoking into the 21st century with fully digital controls and “smart” technology. Available in both a 30-inch and 40-inch model, this smoker can be controlled remotely through your Bluetooth-capable device of choice.
This “smart” smoker is a great option for the tech-savvy chef who wants to incorporate some high-performance toys into his barbecuing. This electrical smoker syncs up with your smartphone or tablet with Bluetooth technology, allowing you to control and monitor its digital settings remotely.
This smoker is large enough to accommodate an average brisket or large turkey. It’s a good choice for dehydrating jerky, but don’t expect to do any grilling: Its heat capacity tops out around 275 degrees.
Bradley Smoker BTDS76P
The Bradley Digital 4-Rack Smoker is a premium smoker made of high quality powder epoxy steel. It’s designed to offer up to eight hours of cool smoke for low-and-slow cooking of your favorite meats. Digital controls and a fully insulated stainless steel interior make it easy to set and maintain the desired temperature.
This digital smoker is a premium electric smoker that allows for complete control over temperature, time and smoke volume. With two independent burners, internal thermostat and fully insulated interior, this smoker offers excellent control and efficiency.
This smoker is a bit pricier than others in its class, but the insulation and heat control help to make sense of the higher cost. This is a fairly energy efficient electric smoker that will tackle most any task you put before it.
The Dyna-Glo Signature Series Heavy Duty grill-smoker combo is designed with professionals and hardcore barbecue enthusiasts in mind. This is a large combination smoker with the versatility to tackle any barbecuing project.
This competition-style grill and smoker combo will do just about anything you like when it comes to barbecue. The charcoal-powered vertical smoker offers a stunning 1,382 total square inches of cooking space, and the offset grill allows you to grill your burgers and other items while the smoker handles the slow-cooking tasks.
This combination smoker relies on charcoal for heat and flavor. There are no fancy gadgets or electronic gizmos; there is an analog temperature gauge on the outside, but you’ll want to use your own digital meat thermometer to keep track of the food as you cook.
For people looking for a no-frills solution for grilling and smoking large quantities of meat, this classic setup is a prime contender.
The Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker is one of the most efficient smokers in its class when it comes to burning wood chips for cool smoke. It boasts a deep wood chip tray that will last up to seven hours without needing to be refilled. With a push-button start and digital controls, setting and maintaining temperature is a breeze. This electric-powered smoker offers plenty of room for cooking for a crowd without taking up too much space on your patio.
This compact electric smoker has ample capacity for feeding a group of any size, and its digital settings make it easy to set up your meat and walk away without needing to monitor or babysit. If you’re looking for a good combination of control and hands-off functionality, this may be the smoker for you.
This electric smoker strives to provide charcoal-rich flavor without the time investment and hassle you might encounter with other more fussy grill setups. The smoke box has capacity to last between four and seven hours before refilling, and digital controls make it easy to monitor time and temperature.
The Masterbuilt Black Propane Smoker is available in a 30-inch, 40-inch and 44-inch model to accommodate any size of cooking space and smoking capacity need. Every model is made with same high-quality materials. This propane-powered smoker utilizes analog controls and a built-in temperature gauge to allow for simple and straightforward use.
This propane smoker is compact but with ample space for a brisket or turkey. This no-frills smoker is a work-horse built to last. With push-button ignition and adjustable analog controls, this smoker offers relatively hands-off use without any of the bells and whistles provided by some digital smokers.
We prefer the larger model as it offers more room for bigger meat smoking projects for get-togethers and special events. Its lowest temperature setting is around 150, which makes it ideal for brisket but not the best choice for jerky or other meat curing options.
This side-by-side Char-Broil Offset Smoker provides the functionality of a competition smoker without the high price tag. Available in a 30-inch, 40-inch and deluxe 40-inch model, this smoker offers ample cooking space and flexibility for any culinary project.
The Offset Smoker features 477 square inches of primary cooking surface and a three-piece smoking chamber to maximize efficiency and minimize temperature loss.
The offset firefox provides easy access for ash removal and a large space for feeding in wood chips. Temperature can be controlled and modulated through the top damper, allowing for heat and smoke control to meet your needs.
What Can You Make in a Smoker?
Once you’ve mastered the basics of smoking meat, you may wish to experiment. You can cook far more than brisket in a smoker. Depending on your personal tastes and the size of smoker you buy, you have many delicious options available to you:
Smoking a chicken or even a holiday turkey is a popular use of a smoker. Smoked turkey can be a bit of an acquired taste as the flavor is quite powerful against the otherwise bland backdrop of white meat turkey. If you choose to smoke a turkey, you might want to start with a low quantity of smoke or a mild wood before experimenting with bolder flavor combinations.
Smoking was once used as a method of food preservation. Many popular foods like summer sausage and bacon are prepared through smoking. If you’re interested in learning about these techniques, there are many ways to learn about them so that you can put your smoker to good use between backyard barbecues.
Tips on How to Smoke Meat
Before you buy a smoker, it helps to understand how smoking works and what you can do with it. Knowing a few valuable tips of the trade can help ensure you get the best quality results every time.
For the best results, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Slow Cooking Takes Time
Smoking will take hours, and it’s best not to rush it. Set aside a day for your preparation. Turn it into a social event by cracking open a few beers and inviting friends over to enjoy the process. Some meats will cook faster than others, but patience is always a virtue when it comes to smoking. Be prepared to serve some finger foods or other snacks as an opening course while the meat finishes.
Choose the Right Meat
Slow-cooking is the ideal method for turning cheap cuts of meat into tender delicacies. That said, higher quality meat will always yield better flavor. The best meats for smoking include brisket, shoulder and butt roasts. These are large chunks of meat with ample amounts of fat running through them. The fat helps to keep the meat moist during cooking. Leaner meats can dry out during smoking and won’t benefit as much from the low temperatures and long cooking times. If you cook ribs, fatty country-style ribs are a better choice than the leaner baby back ribs.
Avoid Lighter Fluid
The smoke in your smoker contributes to the flavor of the finished meat. Charcoal imparts the best flavor, but be wary of any charcoal that comes pre-soaked in lighter fluid. You don’t want the flavor of lighter fluid seeping into your meat. Use a chimney starter instead to quickly and easily light your coals. If a chimney starter seems too fussy, you might prefer working with an electric or gas smoker with a push-button ignition.
Choose the Right Wood
Wood pellets or chunks burn to impart their smokey flavor into your meat, so choosing the right wood is important for your final flavor. Opt for hard woods like cherry, oak or hickory. Avoid mesquite and pine as they are too flavorful and, in the case of pine, slightly toxic. Other woods, such as oleander, are highly toxic and can make you or your family sick. Always use wood chunks or chips packaged specifically for smoking. If you do use your own wood, do your research in advance to ensure it will be safe. Bear in mind that every type of wood has its own unique flavor, so you may need to experiment a bit before deciding on the right match for your meats of choice.
Take a Hands Off Approach
Once your meat has been set in place, walk away and keep the lid on. Every time you open the smoker, you risk allowing moisture to escape. This will increase cooking time and dry out the meat. Leave the meat unmolested until your thermometer tells you it’s ready to carve. Some smokers come with see-through windows that can help you get a visual on the meat as it cooks. If you’re the type of person who’s always tempted to open the door for a peek, one of these glass-windowed units could be a good solution.
Buying a high-quality smoker is a big investment, and you owe it to yourself to get the best results out of your purchase. This means buying the right accessories to make your life easier and help to improve the flavor and texture of your meat. Some of the most important accessories on our list help to keep you and your equipment safe. Below are some of the must-have accessories we recommend for the best possible smoking experience:
Wireless Meat Thermometer
Cooking meat properly requires knowing its internal temperature. A high-quality thermometer takes the guesswork out of the equation and eliminates a lot of the babysitting you might otherwise need to do to ensure a properly cooked meal. Some smokers come with built-in temperature gauges, but these aren’t a suitable replacement for meat thermometers. You need to know the meat’s internal temperature, not the ambient temperature inside the smoker, in order to gauge whether the meat is done.
The best wireless thermometers have heat-resistant probes and digital readers that can be programmed to sound an alarm when the appropriate temperature is reached. Just set up your thermometer, clip it to the front of the smoker and walk away until it beeps.
If you use a charcoal smoker, you’ll want a chimney starter for lighting your briquettes. The chimney starter makes it easy to light the charcoal on fire and eliminates the need for chemical additives that can throw off the flavor of your final product.
A chimney starter is a specially made cylindrical metal tube used for starting a fire. You start out by pouring in your charcoal. Next, add a few paper towels or newspapers moistened with cooking oil. Set fire to the papers, place the chimney over them and wait about 10 to 20 minutes for the coals to reach the proper temperature for smoking. They can then be poured easily into your grill or smoker.
Heat Resistant Gloves
Despite their low-and-slow cooking temperatures, smokers can still reach temperatures high enough to burn you if you’re not careful. This goes double any time you’re working with wood pellets or charcoal. Before you go near a hot grill, be sure to don a pair of heat-resistant gloves that will keep you safe from scorching and sparks.
In a pinch, you can use welding gloves for this purpose. We much prefer specialty made gloves woven with heat-resistant silicone fibers. These allow you to have complete manual dexterity while protecting you from hot surfaces and wood sparks.
If you like to cook ribs, a rib rack allows you to make the most of your available space. These simple wire racks double the available cooking space in your smoker and provide a safe spot for ribs to be nestled during cooking.
When choosing a rack, look for one sized to hold the ribs upright to allow for maximum air flow. This will ensure even cooking and proper moisture release during smoking. Some smokers come with suitable racks already, so keep an eye out for that feature if you intend to cook a lot of ribs.
The best time to clean your grill or smoker is immediately after use. Cleaning a hot grill helps to remove gunky build-up before it has a chance to cake on and become impossible to remove. A good grill brush will cost less than $10 and is a worthwhile investment for the long-term success of your grilling and smoking endeavors.
To get the most from your grill brush, spritz the still-hot surface of your grill or smoking rack with water and brush vigorously to loosen up drippings and any other leavings from your meat. Most grill brushes come with steel wool fiber bristles on one side and a plastic or metal scraper on the other. Just be sure that whatever brush you choose won’t damage the surface of your smoker or grill.
When looking for the best smokers on the market, we made sure to review a variety of options as we know that no single smoker is best for everyone. Your individual needs and preferences must be taken into consideration. Some people may prefer a larger capacity; others might require a smaller unit in order to fit in their outdoor space.
Overall, we looked at a number of digital smokers. Although the flavor imparted by an electric smoker may not be as deep and rich as that obtained from charcoal, these smokers are undoubtedly convenient and increasingly popular.
Nevertheless, two of our top contenders are charcoal models. Propane, which offers some of the benefits of both charcoal and electricity, cannot be ignored.
Overall, one of our strongest contenders may be the Dyna-Glo Signature Series competition-style vertical smoker and grill combo. This is a barbecue powerhouse that will do anything you need from smoking and grilling to curing and jerking. It’s a classic charcoal unit that will impact the traditional flavor and offers enough space and power for even a professional application.
Of course, the Dyna-Glo comes with a hefty price tag, and it may be too much for some hobbyists to handle. If you need a grill that will handle your weekend barbecuing needs with minimal fuss and a much lower initial investment, it’s hard to argue with the highly affordable charcoal bullet smoker from Masterbuilt. The cheapest smoker on our list, the bullet is compact but powerful enough for most applications. Although some reviewers struggled to maintain temperatures due to the lack of insulation, the smoker has overall high reviews and provides an unprecedented value.
If charcoal taste isn’t important to you or if you prefer more high-tech offerings, our third choice is the high-tech Smoke Hollow digital smoker. Affordable without being cheap, this electric smoker has all of the features we look for without any unnecessary added gimmicks.
The smoker best suited for your needs is the one you’ll feel good working with. A premium quality smoker or grill-and-smoker combo is a big investment, and you should take the time to familiarize yourself with your options so that you’ll feel comfortable with your choice. Once you’ve selected the smoker that best fits your needs, you’ll be ready to start exploring all of the exciting culinary opportunities that await you.