A smoker, especially a pellet smoker, takes your bbq experience to a whole new level. Imagine enjoying all the things you love about barbecuing: the “fall-off-the-bone” tender meat, spending time outdoors, the incredible smell all while sitting back as fire, smoke and time do its thing. Constantly checking internal temperature, monitoring charcoal, flame, and grease flare-ups quickly becomes a thing of the past.
We still think grilling is king, and there’s nothing like a seared steak or perfectly-seasoned kabobs. Smoking is another outdoor cooking method that, with a little pre-planning (by this, we mean brining), lets you prepare a good amount of food while you enjoy hanging out with family and friends instead of tending and flipping.
There are several smokers on the market today and we recently reviewed prominent ones such as Traeger and Camp Chef. We’ll help you navigate the ins and outs of what to look for so that you can find a high-quality smoker to fit your needs. If you plan on smoking year-round, for example, we’ll discuss why a ceramic smoker fits the bill. Want a smoker that allows you to perfectly sear-finish smoked meat? That’s a feature we’ll look into. At the end of the day, the “best” smoker is the smoker that takes the guess-work out and makes entertaining and cooking for family and friends easy and enjoyable.
Smoker: Why is it Glorious?
Smoke is what makes the barbecue experience complete. Even on a traditional grill most people prefer the added natural flavor of lump charcoal over gas.
Smoking meat is an ancient art imprinted on our DNA. In a primal sense, it tells us a delicious meal is in our near future.
The Difference Between a Grill and Smoker for BBQ
How does a grill work?
There is a time and place for grilling. When you throw something on the grill, you heat it directly at high temperatures. This lets you cook your food faster. A grill is a perfect tool for searing meat. It is also handy if you are in a hurry or need to whip up dinner in a pinch. You can even add wood chips to a grill to add a smokey flavor. But when you grill, you cook the meat for a much shorter amount of time. This means over or under-cooking your food is always a risk.
How does a smoker work?
A smoker cooks food in a different way. Instead of applying direct heat to the food, a smoker creates heat and smoke in another chamber that radiates heat. A smoker is not meant for charring or searing food. You’ll get all of the amazing smoke flavors without any direct heat. This low, controlled, and consistent temperature is what causes meat to become juicy and tender in a smoker – “slow and low.”
The Host With the Most: No Lines Around the BBQ
Remember last year’s Fourth of July barbecue? You waited in line for what seemed like an eternity. Once you finally got to the front, your burger was luke-warm at best. Your buddy was trying to churn out burgers a few at a time to keep up with the demand.
If you love to entertain large groups of people, a smoker is the way to go. Your guests will thank you and you can serve all your food at once for a seamless hosting experience.
Fun to Experiment
A smoker can be a ton of fun if you like to experiment with your cooking techniques. Even with the same recipe, there are endless ways to enhance or change the flavor profile of your meat.
We especially enjoy trying different types of cooking woods for some variety. You can choose from hardwood types like maple, mesquite, oak, or alder. Different wood chips enhance different kinds of meat. For example, oak is great for seafood while maple is great for pork and beef.
Quick Learning Curve
Have you ever envisioned yourself as an official barbecue pitmaster? You can make that dream a reality in no time. Smokers are so user-friendly that they can be used by experts and amateurs alike.
Most smokers are simple to operate so all you need to focus on is perfecting your favorite recipe. There is no need to deal with the classic difficulties of a charcoal grill. You can feel confident that you will never again worry about overcooking a rack of ribs or serving underdone brisket.
What Really Matters When Choosing a Smoker?
The most important thing to consider is how you will use your smoker and what you will use it for. The best smoker for you may not be the smoker your neighbor bought. Everyone has different needs and preferences.
Not every smoker offers the same benefits. Some smokers will need a bit of babysitting, and others are virtually hands-free. This is where you might consider a pellet smoker. These will let you “set it and forget it” with results that will leave your guests wanting more every time.
No matter which smoker you choose, there’s one thing they all offer: slow and low cooking that will leave any cut of meat juicy, tender, and flavorful. A smoker can make expert barbecuing accessible to anyone, whether you are a BBQ pitmaster or a novice.
Size: When in Doubt Go Bigger
Think about how many people you will cook for on a regular basis. Also, consider special occasions. Do you enjoy hosting parties and get-togethers? If the answer is yes, do not shy away from a larger grill with more capabilities. When in doubt, go bigger. You might regret spending money on a smoker that you outgrow within a month. Plan ahead and consider the possibilities.
Shape: Does it Make a Difference?
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to choose the smoker that will best fit your needs. They come in a wide variety of brands, shapes, and colors. There are lots of shapes on the market, such as the Big Green Egg and the bullet-shaped Weber smoker. Most people wonder where to begin.
You might be surprised to learn that the shape doesn’t actually impact your barbecue results. A unique smoker is a conversation starter above all. Your smoker will be a statement piece in your backyard. It communicates that you are a grill master. You take your food seriously and want to cook with only the best.
The Form Factor – Purchasing a smoker is not just for the practicality of cooking. You are making this investment to make a statement. You are looking for the full experience of smoking your barbecue at home. Think about the pleasure and satisfaction you will get each and every time you set eyes on your new smoker. You want something you love and are proud of.
Hands-on or Hands-off?
Be realistic about how hands-on you want to be in the process. Some smokers may require a bit of babysitting. Consider if this is something you feel is manageable. You might decide a smoker that requires a lot of your attention will distract you from entertaining guests. As the price increases, smokers and pellet smokers become more self-sufficient. You can typically expect to pay for ease of use and convenience.
Budget: Are Smokers Affordable?
You will want to consider your budget and be aware of the price ranges. If you have never shopped for a smoker before, it may feel hard to compare one model to the next. It is helpful to have a general awareness of what features to look for in a smoker and the typical price ranges.
There are three classes of smokers and pellet smokers. Typically the most affordable options will run around $599. Premium models are priced at $1,299 or a bit lower. Luxury models are usually upwards of $1,299.
Fuel Type in a Smoker: Gas, Electric, Charcoal, Wood Pellets
There are four different types of fuel sources for smokers. You can choose from gas, electric, charcoal, and pellet fuel. There are positives and negatives to each fuel source. You will want to think about the ease of use, flavor, and other factors when deciding which option is best for you.
We have broken it all down to help you sort out the differences.
Gas Fuel Pros and Cons
Gas Pros: Gas is often used for its convenience. Simply hit the switch and your smoker is up and running. You will be able to control the heat source for high, medium, and low temperatures just like you would when using a regular gas grill. A gas smoker requires a bit more attention. Gas is great if you are new to using a smoker. Most people feel more successful right away when working with gas since it is more straightforward.
Gas Cons: The downside of gas is that it does nothing for the flavor of your food. It also tends to run hot and cause moist heat, which is less than ideal.
While gas is easy to start, you will need to monitor it. The temperature can fluctuate or get off track rather quickly. Some models are not well insulated and this can make it hard to hold a consistent temperature.
Gas smokers tend to offer fewer technology options. So, if you are a tech nerd like me, you may be disappointed to find that many gas smokers do not include fun features like Bluetooth or Wifi capability.
Electric Fuel Pros and Cons
Electric Pros: An electric smoker is another entry-level option for beginners. You can easily plug it and not worry about building or maintaining a fire like you would in a traditional smoker. You can put your meat in the smoker in the morning and not think about it again until later in the day.
Holding a consistent temperature in an electric smoker is simple especially if you select a digital model. This will let you set and hold a specific temperature.
Depending on your space, an electric smoker is also a good option if you live in a condo where a burning barbecue is not allowed. Lastly, an electric smoker offers consistent, low-temperature heat. Typical, fire-fueled smokers will not allow you to maintain steady temperatures lower than 150 degrees. So, if you want lower and slower, electric may offer you this control.
Electric Cons: First of all, while the “set it and forget it” nature of electric smokers is helpful, you should always be cautious. Never leave your smoker completely unattended. This is purely for safety reasons.
One of the downsides of using an electric smoker is it is challenging to get the ever-coveted “smoke ring.” A smoke ring can only be formed when a smoker hits the right temperature. When a smoke ring is formed, chemicals are released to create an incredible flavor. This is tough to do with an electric option.
In addition, the “flip a switch” convenience comes at a cost. Surprisingly, one of the biggest flaws about an electric smoker is the weather. In the summer months, an electric smoker might work well. But if you are considering using your smoker year-round, an electric model may not be right for you. Some electric smokers will lose heat fast if the temperatures are cold outside. This makes it harder for you to cook consistent, high-quality barbecue. Rain can also be a big factor when working with an electric smoker. You could cause some electrical issues at home if you are not careful.
Charcoal Fuel Pros and Cons
Charcoal Pros: The benefit of charcoal is it lights quickly and burns hot in any weather conditions. Charcoal produces dry heat which is great for your meat. It can add a nice crisp outer layer, also called the “bark” while keeping the meat tender and hydrated inside. Charcoal provides the strongest, most intense smoke and flavor. Even without adding wood, you’ll get a complex smoke. Plus, you can use it no matter what. Even if the power goes out, you can still barbecue with your charcoal smoker.
Charcoal Cons: The downside is charcoal burns quickly and can run out. You’ll need to replenish frequently, especially if you are smoking your meat slow and low. You have to light it yourself since there’s no simple switch. Using a smoker with charcoal tends to be a bit more involved and labor-intensive.
People find it harder to control the internal temperature which can result in flare-ups that may scorch your food. It can be trickier to master as you fine-tune the amount of airflow inside your smoker. This involves playing with the vents. But, with time and patience the end result is worth it.
Then again, the downsides we mentioned above are what makes smoking so desirable for experienced smokers and adds to the overall personal enjoyment of being a grillmaster.
Pellet Fuel Pros and Cons
Pellet Pros: Pellet smokers are unique. They do require electricity but are different from electric smokers. What makes a smoker a pellet smoker is that it uses electricity to burn wood pellets. This is what creates the ambient heat and smoke to cook your food. Pellet smokers are equally as easy to set as an electric smoker but they will improve the quality and flavor of your barbecue significantly. No need to worry about flare ups or inconsistent heating of your meat, a pellet smoker will create that sought-after smoke ring for BBQ perfection.
Pellet Cons: One of the potential cons of a pellet smoker is that it relies on electricity. So you will need access to an outdoor outlet. Unlike gas or a charcoal smoker, if the power is out, you are out of luck. Because of its electric components, you will also need to be careful when it comes to rain and water. Summer thunderstorms and pool parties may not be your pellet smoker’s friend.
Pellet smokers will boost the flavor of your food over an electric or a gas smoker. But, you may miss out on some of the taste perks that come from using charcoal fuel.
Our Recommendation on the Fuel Type
We recommend charcoal and pellet fuel. Remember, you are purchasing this smoker for the experience, the flavor, the prestige, and the joy of it. Why cut corners or take shortcuts? If you are going to a barbecue with a smoker, do it right.
7 Best Smokers Including Pellet Smokers
To help you sift through the options and find a smoker that is perfect for you, we have highlighted our top picks by category. Here you will find just what you’re looking for. Whether you’re searching for value, a splurge, accuracy, or bragging rights at the next family barbecue, we have got you covered.
1) Best Overall: Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Smoker and Grill
We consider the Traeger Grill the best overall smoker. The Traeger Pro 575 is not just a smoker; it is a grill too. This model offers the best of both worlds without any sacrifice. Using wood pellets as a fuel source makes the Pro 575 easy to operate while taking advantage of an incredible array of wood smoke flavors.
You might be thinking, “neat, a 2-in-1 appliance!” Actually, it is much more. This smoker and grill can be used for 6 different cooking methods. It can grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise and create wood-flavored BBQ. It is like having a full restaurant-quality kitchen on your patio.
The Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Smoker and Grill leverages both wood fire and smoke to cook meats to pure perfection. You’ll be so impressed by the flavors you can achieve.
Some features we love include the fact that this smoker is wifi capable! It is integrated with a smart app, so you have tons of control over your food. Plus, the controls are right at your fingertips. Never skip a beat at your next gathering. You can adjust your cook cycle, temperature, and settings while chatting up your friends as the life of the party.
Talk about a multi-tasking dream.
2) Best for Budget: Weber Smokey Mountain
You will love the Weber Smokey Mountain because this model offers a lot of choices: there is an option for any budget. This charcoal smoker comes in three model sizes to fit your space, needs, and preferences.
While the Weber is an affordable option, it is also built to last. We love the plated steel cooking grates and the rust-resistant metal legs that will enjoy many, many years outdoors.
We also appreciate the extra-large water pan built into this model. This feature will ensure you can maintain temperatures for a full day of barbecue fun.
People have lots of encouraging things to say about this smoker. They are specifically pleased with the flavor it gives to their favorite barbecue foods. One person reviewed, “I will not eat ribs anywhere else now because mine are better.”
3) Best Gas Smoker: Lynx LSMK-NG
If you are looking for a gas smoker, look no further than the Lynx LSMK-NG. Looks can be deceiving. While this no-frills smoker looks like a regular built-in grill, it is actually so much more.
This sleek stainless steel smoker offers tons of value. It comes with lots of features that take the “guesswork out of smoking.” You will find plenty of space on 1,000 square inch dual racks so you can cook several items at the same time. Plus, there’s enough wood chip space to keep your smoker cooking for up to 6 hours without needing to add more wood.
Wifi and smart app capabilities mean that you can control your smoker without ever getting up from the couch! The app also includes recipes to help you get creative and inspired in your outdoor kitchen.
4) Best Budget Electric: Masterbuilt MB20071117
You are looking for value but have a tighter budget to stick to. The Masterbuilt MB20071117 is an ideal option if you want smoked barbecue without breaking the bank. This electric smoker balances value with quality.
Its 4 smoking racks offer a large capacity. It can impressively hold 2 Turkeys, 4 Pork Butts, 4 Racks of Ribs, 6 Chickens all at once so you can cook for the whole family or the whole party. It has thermostat temperature control and a fully insulated body, so you can feel confident that once you set the temperature, it will hold.
We appreciate that you can add wood chips without opening the door, reducing heat loss. People who have reviewed this product call the wood chip slot “genius.”
Since this smoker is electric, people share that the Masterbuilt is not always able to provide enough smoke to achieve the optimal smoker results. Also, it does need a lot of babysitting and you may need to replenish the wood chips every 30 minutes or so. With the affordability comes a bit more sweat equity. But this is a great appliance for anyone who is willing to get more involved in a hands-on smoker experience.
5) Best Copycat Pellet Smoker: Z Grills ZPG-450A
This wood pellet smoker and grill is perfect for small families. One smoker can do so much. It can smoke, grill, char, roast, sear, and more. It does it all with that amazing hardwood flavor.
The temperature settings allow you to cook at temperatures as low as 180 degrees up to 450 degrees to cover all your cooking needs. You can smoke slow and low or sizzle up something on the grill. With convection technology, the temperature stays within 10 degrees of what you set with digital temperature control. Plus, it will automatically add pellets as needed to regulate and maintain the temperature meaning less work for you!
When it comes to smoking your barbecue, the large-capacity wood pellet hopper comes in handy. It holds 15 pounds of wood pellets at once for long, continuous cooking. 20 pounds of pellets leads to 20 hours of smoking time. You will spend less time worrying about refilling the wood pellets and more time socializing with friends or kicking back to relax.
People have shared great feedback about this smoker based on their results and the price point. One person shared in a review, “As a basic set it and forget it, smoker, this thing hits the nail on the head. For the price, you cannot go wrong!”
6) Most Fun: Big Green Egg
The Big Green Egg is more than just a smoker; it is a lifestyle. This ceramic Kamado smoker comes in sizes as small as the “mini-max” and as big as “X-large.” It lives up to the hype in both performance and reputation.
People who have a Big Green Egg are playfully called “Eggheads,” and they are proud of it! This community loves to share recipes, tips, and inspiration. If you are looking for a smoker, this model has all the bells and whistles with the reputation to back it.
We are big fans of the Big Green Egg over at Designer Appliances. Several of our staff members own one, and we’ve even been known to cook staff lunches on a Big Green Egg!
When you invest in a Big Green Egg, you are getting so much more than just a smoker. This appliance can cook at temperatures as low as 200 degrees up to temperatures of 750 degrees.
The heat capabilities truly give you so many options. You could bake a cake, sear a salmon, and smoke a pork butt all on the same Egg.
Sometimes the brand recognition can actually be intimidating to people. Often people will share that they are worried the Big Green Egg (BGE) will be too complicated or hard to use. This is absolutely false. The BGE is very forgiving and lets you get to cooking fast. Within 10 minutes of lighting the charcoal, your smoker will be ready to use.
One of our favorite features is precise temperature control. Aside from its unique shape and design, this is what makes the Big Green Egg stand out from the competition. The control is simply amazing, making it feel more like a lab environment than a backyard. You will be able to pinpoint and adjust your cook options for the best and most exact results possible.
If all of these amazing benefits haven’t convinced you, you might be swayed by Big Green Egg’s commitment to quality. They offer a lifetime warranty so you can feel 100% confident in your investment. This may even be the last outdoor cooking appliance you ever purchase.
7) Most Impressive: Kalamazoo Smoker
Ready to go all out for the very best? Money’s not an object? The Kalamazoo is for you.
Kalamazoo’s goal was to bring “competition-quality BBQ to the visually refined, stylish outdoor kitchen spaces.” The Kalamazoo grill certainly achieved the goal by allowing pitmasters to use all three fuel sources together or separate in their built-in grills. Now with the smoker the company raised the bar even higher.
Our favorite feature is hard to choose because there are so many. But, if we had to pick, we would likely choose to highlight Kalamazoo’s double compartments. One compartment is just for the food, and the other is for charcoal and wood chips. This means you never have to disrupt your smoking process. There is zero disturbance or heat loss while cooking, even if you choose to add more charcoal midway. Plus, a seven-pound load of charcoal will last and keep temperatures consistent for 24 hours.
This model truly lets you “set it and forget it.” It requires virtually no supervision whatsoever. Plus it has a super large capacity so you can host the neighbors, your whole block, or even the entire town! You’ll be able to cook a ton of food at once. You can literally fit two whole turkeys inside at the same time.
You can buy a freestanding option, but we really feel it makes a great addition to your backyard hardscape as a built-in smoker. You can design an outdoor kitchen that is not only functional but style-forward. This smoker is a looker. It will be hard for your guests to walk by your Kalamazoo without taking both the second helping of food and a second look at the smoker itself.
This smoker is built to impress.
Accessories that will enhance the experience
Lump charcoal and starters
Electric and gas smokers don’t need to worry about this accessory. However, if you are choosing a charcoal fuel source, you’ll want to listen up. Natural lump charcoal is ideal. We do not recommend using lighter fluid because it will taste pretty gross. Stick to lighting your charcoal with charcoal lighter specifically made for the job. This will help you get your charcoal lit without the fuss. Be sure to have extra charcoal, wood chips, or pellets on hand, depending on your smoker type. You want to avoid a panicked run to the store mid-way through smoking your favorite barbecue.
This is where you can get really creative! Wood chips will smell incredible in your smoker and will get everyone’s attention. But the real show stopper is the flavor that these wood chips will permeate into your food. No matter if you are cooking pork, beef, fish, or even veggies, different woods will bring out complex flavors. This can enhance every recipe you try. Be sure to experiment with a variety of wood chip options like apple, cherry, pecan, and hickory. You could even create a wood chip medley with two or more wood types.
Keeping a consistent temperature in your smoker is everything when it comes to barbecue! Any temperature reinforcements will make the job easier and more successful. We love using remote thermometers. You can check on the temperature or adjust settings from anywhere in your home or yard.
Marinators / Injectors
So many factors can influence flavor. Smoke and wood chips definitely add to the taste, but you can go beyond with marinators and injectors. These tools will add a powerful flavor punch and contribute to moist, juicy meat that never dries out.
There are lots of marinator options, from high-tech to low-tech. You could choose to invest in a vacuum sealer. We think this is best because it sucks all of the air out of the bag, so that the marinade will soak into the meat faster, giving you the best results.
If a vacuum sealer isn’t an option for you, there is a DIY solution. You can simply use resealable plastic bags. Choose something with a zip-top. Like a vacuum sealer, you will want to try your best to remove as much air as possible from the bag once you seal it shut. Be sure to squeeze and add pressure.
You can also marinate from the inside out. While a marinator applies marinades to the outside of the meat, an injector will go directly to the core and work its way through. An injector looks like a big syringe. This is a quick, mess-free option.
Heat resistant gloves
Get the right tools for the job. Using heat-resistant gloves will keep you safe and ensure you feel confident getting hands-on with your smoker! There are times when you will need to move or adjust your meat and fuss with tin foil wrappings. If you have the right gloves, you won’t skip a beat and can adjust the food or the smoker vents as needed.
3 Easy Steps to Turn Your Existing Gas Grill Into a Smoker
Not ready to invest in a smoker just yet?
Want to see for yourself what all the smoker hype is about?
Or, maybe you got a brand new grill yesterday and you aren’t in the market to buy another barbecue tool just yet.
As luck will have it, you can actually turn your gas grill into a smoker in a few simple steps.
Step 1: Do not put the food directly on the burner. If you only have 2 burners or a small gas grill this may not work for you. But, if you have at least 3 burners, you can turn off the middle burner. This will allow you to heat your food indirectly.
Step 2: Some manufacturers include a smoker box with your grill. If not, you can DIY this. Buy a metal disposable box for your wood chips. After soaking the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes, you will transfer them to the metal box. Place the box on an active burner so that the box of wood chips gets direct heat.
Step 3: Get the temperature on the lid to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (give or take 10 degrees is okay). If you have a remote temperature probe try to hit 275 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface without the burner.
Turning your grill into a smoker isn’t the same as the real deal. But, it can get you close. This will depend on a few things. You’ll consider the quality of your grill grates, the thickness of the stainless steel box, and wind conditions. If these factors are just right, you should be able to get decent results on your smoking experience using a grill. These are the elements that you can better control with a standalone smoker.
While turning your grill into a smoker isn’t the best smoker option, it may be a helpful way to see if you enjoy the process before buying a true smoker in the future.
Keep in mind that you will not be able to use the grill when smoking. If you think you might want to grill and use the smoker at the same time, you should definitely buy the right tools for the job.
A smoker can be a game-changer for your backyard barbecue experience. This is an investment in a state-of-the-art conversation piece that you will be proud to show off. A smoker takes the outdoor cooking experience beyond basics. It makes an excellent addition to your patio kitchen space.
Your smoker will look impressive, and it will let you cook “fall-off-the-bone” delicious barbecue for your family and friends. You will be able to enjoy both the process and the end result fully.
Now, the only question is, what will you barbecue in your smoker first?
Can I use my smoker to bake pizza?
The answer is maybe. Pizza requires high heat, anywhere from 500 to 900 F. Therefore, a traditional smoker cannot be used as a pizza oven. However, modern pellet smokers such as Traeger or Camp Chef can be used to make pizza.
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SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on April 22, 2021. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.