Do you love smoked foods but shy away from the very idea of making your own?
It seems like such a specialty cooking method, something that requires a lot of time and culinary expertise, not to mention fire management, wood types and quantities, and more. But it really can be quite simple. Especially if you use an electric smoker.
The idea may be frowned on by charcoal purists, but an electric smoker is capable of delivering tender, smoky food with a lot less time and effort than a gas or charcoal model.
In this article, we’ll look at how electric smokers work and examine what features to look for when you decide to go shopping for one.
We’ll also make some recommendations and review some of the top electric smokers available today, as well as a few more affordable ones. Finally, we’ll name our top pick.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Top 3 Best Electric Smokers from the 7 in Our Roundup
- Smokin-It Model #2 Stainless Steel Electric Smoker
- Bradley Digital Fully Insulated Electric 6-Rack Smoker
- Masterbuilt 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
- Buying Guide
- Features That Matter
- Best Electric Smoker Roundup and Mini-Reviews
- Summary and Conclusion
There are a number of features that can make one electric smoker stand out from others. But before I talk about that, I thought it might help if you first understand the different types of electric smokers and how they work.
This should help better make sense of which model you prefer, and after that we’ll focus on the importance of various features you can find. For good measure, we’ll also consider a bit of food safety.
A vertical water smoker suspends food over a pan of water that sits over a heating element. The design enables water to hold a steady temperature for a long period. As you may know, water captures smoke. The more moisture food has, the more deeply ingrained the smoke can become
Vertical water smokers are considered to work well in warmer weather, but can struggle to hold a steady temperature in colder seasons. So it can pay to consider your local climate, or what time of year you shall be cooking.
Top-loading is the original design of smokers. A barrel or can-shape with a fire on the bottom, a pan to keep drippings from meeting the fire (and possibly creating a larger, unwanted fire), and a rack or two to hold the food: simplicity at its finest.
Because the heat works its way up from the bottom with no window or door seams to leak air, the temperature tends to hold steady for longer.
A water pan is unnecessary since the heat hitting the lid creates condensation which has nowhere to go but down. This creates a lovely moist environment.
It may be necessary to remove the top rack to get to the bottom rack, while both racks may need to be removed to replenish the wood chips. This can make maintaining long cooks a bit of a chore. Additionally, the tall height can make removing hot food a challenge.
They also aren’t much to look at; on the other hand, the sight of a tin can on short legs may touch a chord of homey simplicity in some.
This newer, more popular, style offers access as simple as opening a refrigerator. Many have a viewing window, or the entire door can be made of glass. A thermostat is often included, along with water and wood chip pans.
Not every door has a sensible handle. Some models have to be pulled from the top or side after throwing back one or two latches that hold the door to the body. How tightly these two are held together can impact temperature regulation and cooking speed.
Staying in the Temperature Safety Zone
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends maintaining temperatures between 225 and 300°F through the cooking process. For that reason, smokers are unsuitable for cooking foods that aren’t fully thawed. Food is done when internal temperatures reach
- 145° F beef, pork, veal, or lamb steaks, chops and roasts
- 160° F ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal
- 165° F poultry
Many electric smokers come with temperature probes, and some even have wireless thermostats enabling you to monitor the temp on your smartphone. These are great features, so you know the temp of your cooker, and can monitor the temperature of your food, ensuring everything goes smoothly until your desired cooks ‘doneness’ is achieved.
Depending on the construction, be aware that the following can impact the stability of the temperature:
- Power capacity of the smoker – ability to reach and sustain a temperature; how long it takes to recover from a temperature drop caused by opening the door.
- External temperatures – especially dependent on the density of metal the smoker is made from.
- Type of insulation – governs how well internal temps are held and protection from outside weather conditions (wind, rain, ambient temperature changes, etc.)
- Seal integrity of doors – and window, if one is present.
Features That Matter
The materials used in the construction of a smoker can dictate how well it can hold an optimal temperature and overall durability. Commonly, the materials used are:
- Powdered steel
- Stainless steel
The racks can be made of:
- Stainless steel
These can be 3 to 12 feet in length. Proximity to an electrical outlet has to be considered. This can be remedied with the use of an outdoor extension cord of sufficient amperage.
Be sure the outlet has a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), an electrical device that protects against severe electrical shocks.
If an extension cord has to be used, it should state that it’s for outdoor use, be a 12/3 or 14/3 grounded cord of at least 15 amps.
The doors can be either solid metal, may have a thermostat or window set in, or can be entirely made of glass.
- How well the seal keeps out cold air and prevents smoke and warm humid air from escaping.
- Whether there is a door handle – some models have latches that are awkward to use.
- Whether the small view afforded by a window is worth the potential for air leakage, or the loss of thermal insulation.
Drip and Water Pans
Water pans can seem a simple thing, but what are often provided with the smoker can be remarkably inadequate.
Some cooks will simply purchase a roasting pan or use disposable aluminum baking pans to capture drippings and be deep enough to reduce the number of times water has to be added.
This may matter a lot or a little, depending on how many things can go wrong with your smoker. Automated wood chip feeders, rheostats – the more and relatively complicated the parts, the more things there are to go wrong.
Some manufacturers will go beyond the mostly standard one-year warranty. Some may even offer extendable contracts which you may consider worthwhile based on how much you invested and how much use of your smoker you mean to be regular in your life.
Performance is determined by so many factors, but the key one is power.
Power determines how long it takes to get up to temperature, how long the smoker can sustain it, and how much food can be handled at one time. Wattage ranges between 700 and 1400 watts.
How long an item will last is a sensible consideration when spending a few hundred dollars.
Product reviews are a good resource for getting an idea of how long you can expect to enjoy your smoker. You may also get an idea of what to expect based on the environment where you live plus the material used (e.g., light metal and high humidity probably equals a short life span).
Also, consider the number of parts which can breakdown. Sometimes, especially for more budget models, simpler can often be better.
This may not be a concern if you decide to dedicate a spot in the yard or patio for your smoker. If not, you’ll want to be able to easily move it from storage to cooking spot (which can vary depending on weather and yard logistics).
Look for sturdy handles for picking up the smoker or, even better, hefty wheels to provide manoeuvrability without heavy lifting.
Height may not seem like a big deal, but a lot of stooping or crouching to see what’s going on or when removing food could be bothersome, possibly painful, depending on your overall health and range of movement.
This can be easily remedied by placing the smoker on a raised surface, while some models have legs or, for an additional cost, will provide a stand. These will raise the unit about a foot and a half off the ground.
Clear instructions can impact the usefulness of any product. Especially if the smoker has to be assembled, then clear wording and pictures are a must.
Other important information can include use of automated wood chip feeders; the need to replenish water; electrical capacity; use of vents; and setting digital timer, temperature, and smoke level settings.
Luckily, comprehensive instructions isn’t a deal breaker with so many resources to be found online, but it is a consideration for some people.
How hard (or easy) to clean your equipment is important because it can affect the longevity of a product, and how much enjoyment you get from it. Especially dealing with water, components can rust if not properly seasoned and cleaned after use.
And realistically, if you know you’ll be a long time scrubbing, scraping and wiping afterward, your smoker isn’t going to get as much use as it otherwise might.
I Look Good, and I’m Helpful too
Function is the main thing but, if offered, why not go for the pretty too? After all, we eat with all of our senses, eyes, and touch, and that can include what we use to prepare food.
Manufacturers recognize this and will offer things that, while not necessary to the mechanics of properly smoking food, can make it more pleasing.
A few examples of nice touches are:
- Accessories – Some will come with a little box of goodies such as heat-resistant gloves, a water-resistant cover, meat forks, and other tools. Manufacturers may also provide these at extra cost.
- Exterior – Not just a mechanical metallic look, a glowing stainless steel finish can impress more readily than a dull metal or industrial black. Smokers can be found in gray, glossy stainless steel; you may even find blue and other colors.
- Windows – I’ll mention these here again because they can be considered a visual bonus. While the whole idea is set and forget, you may want to see the smoking process. The size and type of window can make viewing a pleasure or a chore, as noted above.
- Recipe and tip book – Beyond the basic how-tos are the what-you-can-dos, suggestions for what to smoke and how.
- Remote – A lazy man’s delight or simple pragmatism, having a remote to adjust temperatures can be a safety feature, keeping you from having to go outside in bad weather or during the night. It can also reduce the temperature drops that result from opening the smoker.
- Wood chip loader – a nice feature that contributes to the notion of set and forget, it eliminates the need to open the door to add chips, minimizing a temperature.
- Tube smoke generator – resolves the complaints many have of insufficient smoke. This gadget holds wood chips or pellets and once fired and smoldering, it’s placed in the smoker where it will diffuse smoke for several hours.
- Grill converter – if a smoker is the first thing you buy and you want to try your hand at grilling later, some models offer a separate attachment which will allow this style of cooking.
Best Electric Smoker Roundup and Mini-Reviews
After extensive research, we consider the following seven smokers to be the best available on the market at various price points, to suit all uses and budgets.
We discuss the features and qualities of each individual model, as well as what we and previous owners like and dislike, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision on the smoker that best suits your needs.
Smokin-It Model #2 Electric Smoker
I’ll readily admit that I’m a stainless-steel snob. There is a clean, surgical look about it and in my experience, it’s durable, and stainless steel cookware is known for its ability to quickly turn out flavorful food without the need for a lot of water or oil. So naturally, this 100-percent 18-gauge stainless steel Model 2 smoker immediately had my attention. I’ll try to be objective here.
This 98-pound 17 x 22 x 24 behemoth glides along on four 3-inch rubber casters and comes fully assembled. A hanger on the back of the unit provides a neat way to store the 12-foot power cord when not in use. A handle on either side provides convenient grip when moving the unit.
It is one of the few, perhaps the only, smoker in this review with a double-latch closure on the door. While some intrepid owners report adding extra latches or replacing the existing one outright, the Model 2 has solid latches that ensure the door closes tightly, leading to an enhanced smoking experience.
The four stainless steel racks hold around 35 pounds of food. The 700-watt heating element manages a temperature range of 100 to 250°F. Fiberglass insulation holds in heat and keeps the exterior from heating up.
If this sounds like more than a casual smoker would need, the Model 2 is certified for restaurant use. It is one of the few models in this review to have a drip pan underneath the unit. The weight, material, design, and cost all signal that this is a model for those who are serious about smoking.
Owners use terms like “steady,” “reliable,” and “completely predictable.” Owners find that it stays at temperature, making it truly “set and forget.”
One owner found that starting the smoker at a low temperature and raising the temperature in 10-degree increments created the right atmosphere for a longer, more consistent burn.
Some don’t like the low placement of the thermostat, near the burner. Others find that the temperature of the top racks is 7°F lower than it should be, but most smokers have higher temperature gradients than this!
Because the amount of wood chips can easily overwhelm food, one owner found using a scale to measure the chips helpful.
- Fully assembled
- Easy to use
- Double latch closure
- 3-year warranty
- Dishwasher safe shelves, shelf brackets, and smoke box
- Low to the ground
- Power cord holder may have sharp edges which need filing down
The Model 2 isn’t the cheapest option in this list, but anyone interested in investing in something that will consistently perform for more than a few years should consider this a good option!
Bradley Digital 6-Rack Smoker
Bradley is a famous name in the smoker and barbecue industry; and this digital electric model is one of the pricier ones in this review.
This 11.50″ L x 33″ H x 15″ W 60-pound smoker has a powdered epoxy steel exterior and a polished stainless steel interior. Six removable racks are in the 780-square inch cooking space.
This Bradley features separate burners for smoking and oven; 125 and 500 watts, respectively, and it’s capable of temperatures up to 280°F.
It features a digital control panel which manages temperature and the amount of smoke. A pellet feeder attaches to the side of the smoker for feeding just the right amount of fuel, and an alarm sounds if the feeder is ever to jam. Once the jam is cleared, power then has to be reset.
Generally, it’s easy to use and easy to put together. You need only insert the racks and connect the smoke generator.
Wood pellets burn for about 20 minutes, but with the automatic feeder, the smoker is capable of holding generated smoke for up to 8 hours. The manufacturer recommends a 20-minute preheat time.
Some found the low wattage proved to be insufficient for smoking when outside temps are in the 30s or below.
As far as workmanship, some owners who use the smoker often have had to replace the heater element after 2 to 3 years, longer for infrequent use. But this is perfectly reasonable and to be expected.
The door seal tends to crumple and even separate from the frame after a time, but these are a ‘perishable item’ and to be expected from most smokers. They are cheap and easy to replace and should be considered ‘normal maintenance.’
Briquettes break down easily when wet, one owner used a plastic cup to cover the chute, another used PVC piping, and cap. Many opt for larger water pans to avoid having to refill included pan about every 3 hours.
Cold meat was found to decrease temperatures by 40 to 50 degrees; keeping the door closed as much as possible was helpful. Another owner found rotating the racks led to a more even cooking experience.
- Auto shut off
- Dishwasher safe racks, drip pan, and bowl
- Cold smoking ability without additional parts
- Controls near the bottom of the unit = kneeling down; had welder build 3’ stand (but you can place the smoker on a raised surface of course!)
- Briquettes are relatively pricey.
- Limited instructions/recipes; though lots of help online.
- Timer has a max of 9 hrs 40 min = has to be reset for long smokes, e.g., 10+ hour pork butt or brisket.
- Water bowl may need refilling every 3 hours
The many cons have easy remedies. The popularity of this Bradley is probably because it’s so easy to set up and use. If you’re interested in more details, check out the Bradley Digital 6-rack Smoker by clicking the link below:
Char-Broil Vertical Electric Smoker
There’s a lot to be said for the simple approach. Sometimes we can get so caught up with specialized bells and whistles we fail to focus on basic functionality.
Char-Broil is a commonly found brand in home improvement and department stores. Its Vertical Electric Smoker is purely bare bones.
Made of porcelain-coated wood, this 14 x 14 x 31, 58-pound unit provides 520 square inches of cooking space. It has a digital control panel, with auto shut-off. The interior is stainless steel. It has separate burners for smoking and oven cooks.
The nearly identical water and chip trays can be used interchangeably. Its double walls are insulated which enables it to do an 8-hour cool smoke. It comes with a built-in temperature gauge, but you may want to have an IR thermometer to confirm temperature settings.
This is not a set it and forget unit; many owners find it needs to be checked often for temperature and smoke, but it does better than many at keeping food moist while smoking.
One owner uses it to bake enamel coatings onto – something. Another went a more traditional route and was able to smoke three 7-pound shoulders at once.
Lack of smokiness is reported, leading some owners to use an additional smoker tube, though in our experience, many over smoke their foods and most people seem happy with this units smoky performance.
However, improved smoking was also found by adding charcoal to the chip pan and preheating the unit without water. Advice to put the chip pan directly on the heating element caused the chips to burn fast and a lot of smoke to billow out ‘everywhere’, so we do not recommend this.
Minimal ventilation has been found by some, as well as great sensitivity to ambient air temperatures. Some owners have installed handles on the chip box to make removing it for refills easier and faster. This prevents a lot of temperature loss.
Some people encountering problems with the door not closing securely have remedied this by adding magnetic strips and the addition of window locks on the door. But we only found a couple of cases of this.
- Well insulated
- Helpful customer service department
- OFF-LOW-MED-HIGH temperature dial has led many to purchase IR thermometers
- Temperature must be adjusted often if ambient air temperature is low.
The company seems accommodating, the smoker is priced right for small budgets, and delicious food can be produced. Those are among the best reasons to purchase this model.
Note: For a more detailed look at this model, you can check out our full review of the Char-Broil Electric Vertical smoker here.
Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker, Top Controller
I’m all for brand names but get seriously disturbed when major players in an industry seem to economize on materials. That may well be the case with this model.
Search on smokers and the Masterbuilt name is sure to come up at the top of the list. It has a history of producing fine equipment, but the fact it also has a great parts replacement policy can be seen as a good thing, a warning, or both.
The 20070910 is available in three colors – black, silver, and stainless steel. At 20W x 20D x 22H, it’s powder-coated steel outer body features a vent in the front and an external wood chip tray. It offers 730 square inches of cooking space on three racks. Powered by 800 watts, the smoker offers a temperature range of 100 to 275°F.
It has a remote, digital control panel, timer, and auto-shutoff feature which simplify the cooking process. Accessories include a cover to keep it protected in wet weather and a stand which elevates it almost a foot and a half off the ground.
One owner enjoys enhancing store-bought rotisserie chickens by placing them in the Masterbuilt for 30 minutes or so – the time it takes for the smoker to get up to smoking speed.
The Masterbuilt requires a pre-heat period but after that smoking time is generally 5 hours for ribs, 3 hours for chicken, and about two hours for sausage.
- Minor assembly required
- Large capacity – a full rack of ribs can easily fit on one shelf
- Adjustable door latch
- Replacement parts available
- Works well with a (15-amp) extension cord
- Door seal can become compacted, resulting in a less-than-airtight smoking environment
- Temperature can be unsteady, especially in cold or windy weather
- Window gets obscured by smoke and moisture.
- Wood chips have to be replaced every 30 – 45 minutes
Mixed emotions on this one. It does a bang-up job, but parts seem to need replacing early on.
Others comment that theirs have performed well for nearly five years while some consider the workmanship to be poor (unevenly welded door pins, door latch breaking after a year, rust-prone water pan) but another owner considers the extra heating element and temperature controller worth investing in.
Because of uneven temperatures and the need to replace wood chips, this is not a set-and-forget smoker. And It may come down to the individuality of smokers; you may get a good one that’ll run for years and make you feel your money was well spent, or you may get one that needs replacements sooner rather than later but still does a good job.
If you’re feeling ambitious, your Masterbuilt 30 digital smoker awaits awaits.
Note: For a more in-depth study at this model, please see our our full review of the Masterbuilt 30 digital smoker here.
Masterbuilt 20070210 30-Inch Black Electric Analog Smoker
This 50-pound 40 x 20 x 27 unit assembles quickly, only needing the attachment of legs and handles. Its three chrome-coated racks make it easy to insert and remove foods with different cooking times. Powered by 1500 watts, it boasts a temperature range of 100 to 400°F degrees (hot enough to use as a grill).
Features a temperature gauge set in the door and an adjustable, non-digital, temperature control. Included in the online product description is a choking hazard warning (small parts, not for children under 3). The door latch is adjustable.
Traditional uses include smoking a pork shoulder butt for about 8 hours, resulting in a product moist enough to shred with a spoon. A 20-pound turkey was smoked in two hours. One owner raved about the turnout of tender jerky. Whole chickens (2 at a time works best), skinless breasts, tenders, ribs, wings, and brisket are other smoking experiences.
A few owners report grease leaks down the legs, ruining the deck. While many rejoice over the moistness of the smoked product, others complain of excess condensation. One owner remedied this by drilling holes around the unit a few inches from the bottom and in the lid.
Wood chips are found to work better when wet. To increase smokiness, it’s recommended to start at a high temperature and, once the chips get going, add the meat and reduce the temperature.
- Easy setup
- Maintains high temperatures
- Enables “smoke roasting” which yields a crisp skin on poultry
- Double walls have nothing but air in between, making this unit not the most suited to cold weather smoking
- Some say the small air hole doesn’t adequately allow smoke to vent
- Racks are held by screws which could cause cuts and snags on hands or mitts. They can also bend a little under the weight of food placed on it, but nobody has reported this being a major issue or deal breaker.
This basic smoker can yield excellent results, but less than stellar workmanship may steer some to better models. However, for the price, it’s more than adequate and is one to seriously consider.
It’s good to know there are workarounds, so if you’re willing to do a little DIY, this smoker may be the one you’ll want to try.
Old Smokey Electric Smoker
Sometimes looks aren’t everything. Ugly and productive is fine. Although our last product has been compared to a tin can with a heating element, the bottom line is it does what it’s meant to do – beautifully.
For the record, Old Smokey is the only top-load smoker in this review.
Made of steel, this gray 16 x 16 x 29 ‘can’ weighs in at a mere 23 pounds. Its compact size holds two racks. It comes equipped with side handles, short wire legs, and a drip pan. A water pan is unnecessary since the design of the Old Smokey seals in moisture, providing a continuous basting effect.
Being uninsulated steel, the outside surface tends to get very hot, so the manufacturer strongly suggests the supervision of children around it.
The top-down design may seem a detraction, but since the Old Smokey cooks fast, there shouldn’t be a need to take out the racks to add more wood chips.
Owners boast 4 to 12 years of satisfied smoking; one owner has had an Old Smokey in use for over 30 years.
Ribs, butts, tips, whole chickens, and pork chops are among the smoking favorites. Many recommend this to the novice smoker because of the simplicity of set up and speed of cooking. The user’s manual instructs cooking on high.
- Easy to use
- Cooks fast
- Durable (lasts years)
- Easy to clean
- Option of having a thermostat installed by the manufacturer
- Design requires removing both racks to get to the chip pan
- Exterior gets very hot
- Intense moisture build-up can lead to no ‘bark’, but this can be remedied by broiling or grilling the food after it’s finished smoking
I’ll admit I didn’t see the point of such an awkward setup, but there’s a lot to be said about this ‘tin can’ of a smoker. Common sense precautions when working around it can go a long way in eliminating the cons. If you want a classic smoking experience, look no further than Old Smokey.
Smoke Hollow 26142E Electric Smoker, 26-Inch
Compact but functional best describes this steel smoker.
It stands 35.5 x 19 x 16.5 and weighs just under 40 pounds. The 26-inch refers to the height of the cooking space, not the width; this limited interior space may not appeal to some as it may require halving large pieces of meat. Powered by 1500 watts, the 26142E has a temperature range of 150 to 250°F.
It comes with two chrome-plated grids, 4 sturdy-looking legs and a single-latch, cool-touch door handle.
It has an adjustable analog temperature control, and a porcelain-coated water pan and chip tray. An extension cord is also provided.
Owners say the manufacturer provides good directions for assembling the many parts of the smoker. It quickly gets up to cooking temperature and stays there. Others find that it tends to run warmer in the first hour and should be monitored.
One user found a temperature drop of 50 degrees in 20 seconds occurred when the door was opened. To work around this, one owner threaded an oven proof meat thermometer through the smoke hole. No doubt a remote thermometer placed inside would work just as well.
Complaints of not enough smoke were resolved by hanging a tube smoke generator inside the unit for about 5 hours, but again, only the most hardcore ever seem to complain food isn’t smoky enough.
The lack of a catch pan, leading to grease leaking all over the patio, led one owner to hang a foil-lined grate under the second shelf. Another owner placed the unit on a water heater pan.
One owner found the manufacturer’s directions to place the chip holder directly on the heating element damages the element, so we recommend to avoid this if possible. It also increased the risk of even soaked chips catching fire.
Because of the narrowness of the cooking space, one owner found it helpful to cut a brisket in half, placing a piece on each rack.
- Easy assembly
- Heats fast
- Generally holds temperature well
- Sensitive to air temperature
- Prone to sharp temperature drops when the door is opened
Affordability seems to be this smoker’s strongest suit. Concerns over the power can be remedied by following the guidance set out in the user manual. If the Smoke Hollow sounds like your new smoker, take a closer look.
Summary and Conclusion
Alaska Granny gives a nice summary overview of the features and functionality of an electric smoker; although she demonstrates a Bradley smoker, the principles extend across models.
There’s a lot to be said for electric smokers! They produce tender, smoky goodness without a lot of fuss. But I find it disturbing that so many owners find it necessary to make design improvements -replacing or adding hinges, drilling holes, and adding handles. Epoxy for the door seals and several remedies to keep smoke from escaping.
If I’m paying for something, the price had better acknowledge the need for these “after market” fix-ups.
Of these 7 products reviewed – and snobbery aside – the Smokin-It Model 2 is our top choice.
It’s sturdy, has a superior door seal and hinge system, well-insulated, mobile, easy to clean, and comes with a 3-year warranty. And it looks impressive.
Perhaps you’ll find another model more suited to your taste but for us, the Model 2 is an investment worth making.
What’s your experience with electric smokers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Product image credits: © Amazon.com
Please be aware this page contains affiliate links and FoodFireFriends.com receives a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking through such links. This has no effect at all on the eventual price you pay and we’re thankful for your support.