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Best Smokers in 2019 – Something for Every Need and Budget

Ask any BBQ enthusiast in the Southern states why BBQ food tastes so darn good and the answer will nearly always be the smoke. For that fork-tender, fall off the bone meat, you can’t beat a low and slow cook with plenty of smoke.

It’s not just the Southern States where BBQ is popular though. According to the Hearth & Patio Barbecue Association, a 2017 ‘State of the Barbecue consumer study‘ found seven in every 10 US adults owned a BBQ or a smoker.

Smokers can be quite different from your standard traditional grill. So which is the best smoker for you to try smoking your own meat or fish at home?

Racks of pork ribs cooking away in a BBQ smoker

In this guide, we’ll look at the all the different types of smokers, discuss their pros and cons and help you to decide which type is best for you.

We also supply a compilation of what are, in our opinion, the top-rated smokers in each category, taken from other detailed and targeted roundups you can find on our website. (Which we’ll link to for you to check out more details.)

At a Glance: Our Top Choices for Best Smoker in 2019

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

Best Smokers: Your Search Stops Here!

We‘ve picked our top choice for the best smoker in each of the categories we discussed, and the details are below.

We have chosen the smokers with the best mix of features, usability, quality, and price. They aren’t necessarily the absolute best you can buy, because in each category there are models costing many thousands of dollars! But our choices represent amazingly good smokers while taking price into consideration.

Elsewhere on our website, you can find guides to more options in each category by clicking on the links provided.

Charcoal Smoker – Weber Summit Charcoal Grill

The Weber Summit charcoal grill is one of Weber’s premium grills, using the familiar kettle design.

Looking more like a gas-powered grill, it features the same trolley-like design, but with the unbeatable taste of a charcoal smoker.

Weber 18501001 Summit Charcoal Grilling Center, Black

What’s in the Box?

The Weber grill comes in a ready to build kit, which consists of the large 24-inch kettle made from porcelain enameled steel with a hinged lid. A trolley attachment with wheels, storage shelves, and a 24-inch stainless steel grate are also included.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 62.2 x 56.6 x 35 inches.
  • Weight: 111 pounds.
  • Total Cooking Area: 452 square inches.
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal with gas ignition.

This Smoker is for You if…

Many grill enthusiasts will swear by Weber products and buy nothing else.

This high-end charcoal grill is perfect if you’re looking for a quality, simple, no fuss grill which doubles as a smoker. The all insulated double walled porcelain enameled lid and bowl give it a ceramic egg quality, but with more flexibility.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

Although the ash cleaning system used by Weber is very effective, it’s still a charcoal grill, which will require more attention than electric or gas.

If you live in an area or building block that restricts the use of charcoal grills you’ll need to consider other options.

What We Like

  • Weber products ooze quality. This is equally good as a smoker as it is a grill.
  • Solid construction, backed with a 10-year warranty.
  • Easy ash removal and cleaning system.
  • Gas powered ignition system makes it easier to light.
  • Vent design allows for temperature control and has a smoke or low setting.
  • A two-position fuel grate for grilling or smoking.
  • Includes a heat deflector shield for more even heat dispersion.
  • All additional parts and grates are made from stainless steel for extra durability.
  • The spring-loaded lid is easy to open.
  • A removable center section of the grate can use Weber Gourmet BBQ system for greater versatility.
  • A sturdy stainless steel trolley provides preparation and storage space.

What We Don’t Like

  • Very expensive for a charcoal BBQ.
  • A steeper learning curve than Kamado grills.
  • Large capacity may be more than most people need.

Summary

This grill/smoker is squarely aimed at those who take their grilling and smoking seriously and only want the best. Grill enthusiasts who already smoke on their kettle grills may question why you would spend over a thousand bucks on what is essentially a kettle BBQ. The innovation goes so much further, though.

The first major update to the kettle design in decades, it’s more akin to a ceramic Kamado grill than the kettle — a kamettle or kettlelado, some may call it. For a more in depth look at this particular model, you can check out our Weber summit charcoal grill review.

To check the availability and for more details, including the price of this Weber Charcoal smoker, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

For more options in charcoal, check out our guide here: Best Charcoal Smokers.

Smokin-It Model #2 Electric Smoker

A mid-priced smoker from Smokin-it, this model still has high-end features, like 721 square inches of cooking space and chrome plated racks.

We particularly liked the 800-watt heating element which saves you money as you smoke—more cash to spend on the next lot of brisket.

Smokin-It Model #2 Electric Smoker

What’s in the Box?

This Smokin-it electric digital smoker arrives fully assembled with a redesigned front-fitting drip also included. In the box, you will find four chrome cooking racks and a detailed user guide to get you started.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 17” x 20.5” x 28.25” including casters
  • Weight: 114 pounds.
  • Power Source: 120 volt electric, 800W heating element.
  • Total Cooking Area: Four stainless steel grilling racks, room for five, rack size is 14-1/2″ x 14-1/2″ and are 3.5″ apart.
  • Temperature Range: 100 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

This Smoker is for You if…

When you live in an area that restricts the use of burning wood or charcoal, an electric smoker is an ideal choice.

Something like this model is perfect for use on your balcony if you live in an apartment, and is much less messy to clean up.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

The taste from electric smokers is rarely the same as charcoal, or even gas models. If you want that authentic smoke taste, it might be worth looking at other types of smokers.

What We Like

  • Large capacity but a small footprint
  • Easy start-up
  • 100% stainless steel construction
  • Easy custom configuration of shelving
  • No gaskets to wear out and need replacing
  • Dishwasher safe components
  • Extra-long power cord

What We Don’t Like

  • We prefer digital controls to analog, but they do keep the costs down
  • It’s very low to the ground without the cart so does require a lot of bending down to use. We’d recommend adding their cart to raise the height.
  • Must have access to electricity supply for use (kind of obvious, but just saying 😉 )

Summary

If you intend to smoke on a regular basis, an electric cabinet smoker like the Smokin-it can be ideal for smoking a few extra cuts for friends too.

With no charcoal to buy every time or cumbersome propane refills, it’s as easy as plugging it into the nearest outlet. And the 800W heater ensures it’s not too costly to use either.

For more information you can check out our in depth look at the smoking-it model 2, or for current prices and customer reviews, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

For a look at more options in the electric smoker market, read our guide here: Best Electric Smokers

Gas Smoker – Camp Chef 24″ Smoke Vault

For many people, a propane smoker will offer a better smoke taste than electric but still avoid the need for messy charcoal.

This gas smoker from Camp Chef features a wider temperature range than some more limited ones and can even be used to bake pizza, pies or bread.

What’s in the Box?

This extra large gas smoker arrives fully assembled and comes with two cooking grids and a jerky rack. Camp Chef even included a guidebook with tips, ideas, and recipes. Removable legs allow it to be counter mounted or free standing.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 30 inches (without legs).
  • Weight: 75 pounds.
  • Total Cooking Space: 721 square inches.
  • Temperature Range: 160 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Total Output: 18,000 BTU/hr

This Smoker is for You if…

Camp Chef’s 24-inch smoke vault is perfect for smoking larger amounts of meat when you don’t have the space required by larger charcoal smokers.

This is the perfect smoker for small backyards or even the occasional camping trip.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

This model isn’t for you if you like the added flavor of cooking over charcoal.

Also, not everybody likes the idea of hauling gas bottles about, and it could potentially run out mid smoke.

A gas/charcoal combo grill is also a better choice if you want more flexibility.

What We Like

  • A solid stainless steel door won’t rust.
  • Fully adjustable heat control dials, three damper valves and an indoor thermometer to help control the temperature.
  • Large capacity with three adjustable shelves.
  • Heavy gauge steel wood chip tray.
  • The removable porcelain base makes for easier cleanup.
  • A convenient snap ignition with no matches needed.

What We Don’t Like

  • Thinner metals used in the cabinet won’t insulate the heat too much.
  • The door has to be opened to top up wood chips, allowing smoke to escape.
  • No thermostat so temperature has to be manually controlled.
  • The build can allow smoke to leak out.

Summary

This Camp Chef offers all the quick start-up convenience of a gas-powered grill. With a snap ignition, it will quickly come up to a temperature which can be adjusted for the ultimate smoking of meats. The maximum temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit means you could even use it as a pizza oven.

For the latest availability and prices, or just more information on the Camp Chef 24” Smoke Vault, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Home Depot

 

For more options in highly recommended gas smokers, check out our guide here to the best gas smokers.

Pellet Smoker – Traeger Tfb42lzbc Grills Lil Tex Elite

Traeger is the true pioneer of pellet smoking, having introduced the first pellet grills and remaining one of the best-known brands.

Its high-end models can run into thousands of dollars and utilize the latest tech, including Bluetooth and smartphone apps. The Lil Tex Elite, by comparison, features nothing so fancy, with just an old-school digital controller.

Traeger TFB42LZBC Grills Lil Tex Elite 22 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker - Grill, Smoke, Bake, Roast, Braise, and BBQ (Bronze)

What’s in the Box?

The Traeger Lil Tex Elite arrives in kit form, with a grill frame assembly to which you attach the hopper/burner and legs. The box also contains a porcelain grill, grease drain pan, chimney assembly, grease bucket, and a hardware kit.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 49 x 42 x 22 inches.
  • Weight: 98 pounds.
  • Total Cooking Area: 418 square inches.
  • Hopper Capacity: 18 pounds.
  • Power Source: 120 volts, with Digital Elite controller.
  • Fuel: 100 percent hardwood pellets.

This Smoker is for You if…

A pellet grill is, without doubt, the easiest way to get into smoking meats; the grill does all the work for you.

The compact Lil Tex Elite is an ideal introduction to pellet smoking at a price much lower than other pellet grills, but with the same Traeger quality.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

Being the cheapest pellet grill Traeger makes, it doesn’t feature any of the bells and whistles of the high-end models. There’s no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and no fancy meat probes as with higher priced models.

What We Like

  • Uses hardwood rather than compressed sawdust for richer smoke flavor.
  • Compact, but features a generous 418 square inches of cooking surface.
  • Fast and reliable automatic ignition system.
  • Porcelain grill grates are easy to clean.
  • Automated auger with induction fan ensures even cooking.
  • Digital elite controller for maintaining temperature within 20 degrees is easy to use with a large LED display.
  • Excellent for beginners.

What We Don’t Like

  • More expensive than similar sized pellet grills.
  • No advanced features, like meat probes or easy pellet exchange system.
  • Wooden pellets can get damp and clog the auger.

Summary

Everybody should try pellet smoking at some stage in their grill career. It’s unlikely you’ll ever want to go back to other methods—the taste is unbeatable, and it’s so easy.

The only thing I miss is sitting with the boys with a beer all night, babysitting the smoking meat.

For the latest prices on this affordable Traeger Lil Tex Elite pellet grill, or for more details, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Check out this guide for a wider selection of the best pellet grills to choose from: Best pellet grills 2019

Offset Smoker – Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker

For the best smoke flow possible, you really need a reverse flow smoker. The Oklahoma Joe’s Highland reverse flow smoker is one of the very best.

With 900 square inches of cooking surface, it employs a series of four baffles, for guiding the smoke and heat through the main chamber.

The great thing about reverse flow technology is it avoids the uneven cooking you normally associate with offset smokers. Although the firebox is still at one end of the chamber, the smoke traversing the cooking chamber twice while being forced over the meats provides an even and delicious result.

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker

What’s in the Box?

This heavy gauge all-steel construction arrives in parts which need assembling at home. It’s quite easy to build, but the sheer weight of the grill means you may need somebody to help out.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 33.5 x 57 x 53 inches.
  • Weight: 180.8 pounds.
  • Total Cooking Area: 900 square inches.
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal.

This Smoker is for You if…

This is one of the manliest looking of smokers you could ever buy. Put this in your backyard and people know you mean business. And for larger cuts of meat, the reverse flow technology ensures even smoking throughout.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

It’s big, and it’s heavy. If you want to take your smoker on outdoor adventures with you, there are smaller and lighter offset smokers available.

What We Like

  • Heavy gauge steel used for construction is very durable.
  • Porcelain coating of the steel provides extra insulation.
  • Multiple dampers for easier heat and smoke control.
  • The firebox features a large stainless steel basket and side door for an easy clean out.
  • The baffles can be adjusted or even removed, for the smoke flow which suits your meat best.
  • Plenty of storage with a front and bottom shelf.
  • Cool-touch handles prevent burnt hands when opening.

What We Don’t Like

  • Smoke can occasionally leak out the doors; easily fixed with customized gaskets.
  • Very heavy to move, even with the provided wheels.

Summary

If you’ve decided to go down the offset smoker route, you really should consider how it smokes rather than just how it looks. The reverse flow smoke technology of this model ensures you get evenly cooked and smoked meats every time.

To check out the latest prices and availability of this excellent offset smoker from Oklahoma Joe, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

For a deeper look into the world of offsets, check out our guide to the best offset smokers.

Kamado Grill and Smoker – Kamado Joe Classic II

Although the Green Egg may be the best-known brand of Kamado grills, this vibrant red egg from Kamado Joe is our pick of the best Kamado grills.

The Classic II just does everything right, with a number of innovative features taking it to the next level.

Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Ceramic, Classic II Charcoal Grill

What’s in the Box?

The large ceramic shelled egg of the Kamado Joe Classic II comes with a heavy-duty cast iron cart for rolling it around your backyard. The box also includes a heat deflector, a system of half racks for “divide and conquer” cooking, folding shelves, and a grill and grate gripper tool.

Specifications,

  • Dimensions: 46.5 x 48 x 28 inches.
  • Weight: 188 pounds.
  • Cooking Surface: 256 square inches.
  • Heat Range: 225 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal

This Smoker is for You if…

For those who love to grill as well as smoke meats, the divide and conquer cooking system gives a functionality other “egg” smokers can’t match. If you’re not quite ready to give up that grilling of a burger or steak just yet, the two cook zones of the Kamado Joe Classic are perfect.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

Kamado Joe prices are pretty similar to those of the better known Green Egg, with some arguing Green Eggs can be cheaper.

If your budget is a little tighter, there are many less expensive Kamado grill options, but they may not come with the same accessories.

What We Like

  • A strong, sturdy shell that is guaranteed for life.
  • An air-lift hinge makes the heavy lid easy to open.
  • A double thickness wire mesh fiberglass gasket seals the Kamado Joe lid.
  • A unique vent design is weatherproof and won’t rust.
  • Comes with a whole heap of accessories, like grill grates and cart, that you would normally pay extra for.
  • Expandable grate for more options of how you cook.
  • Built-in thermometer for monitoring the internal temperature.
  • A six-piece firebox is less likely to break from high heats.
  • A slide-out ash drawer makes clean up simple.

What We Don’t Like

  • The 18-inch diameter can be too small for some cuts, like whole racks of ribs or larger pork butts.
  • Very heavy to lift or move about.

Summary

Kamado Joe seems to be beating the Green Egg company at their own game with this feature-packed Kamado grill. The newer technology used in the Kamado Joe makes it even easier to use than ever before for a quality smoke.

For more details on the impressive Kamado Joe Classic II and the latest prices or availability, click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

For further options in the world of Kamados, check out our guide to the best ceramic smokers.

Drum Smoker (UDS) – Pit Barrel Cooker

When it comes to Ugly Drum smokers, you can always build your own if you’re on a tight budget.

If you can’t get your hands on an oil drum or don’t have the DIY expertise or tools, the Pit Barrel cooker is an excellent alternative, with all the accessories you could ever need also included.

18-1/2 in. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package

What’s in the Box?

The 30-gallon porcelain coated steel drum comes with an 18.5-inch standard grill grate and a charcoal basket. It has two steel hanging rods and eight stainless steel hooks. Also included is a wooden hook remover and a 3-point barrel stand.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 21 x 21 x 31.1 inches.
  • Weight: 57 pounds.
  • Fuel: Charcoal briquette.
  • Primary Capacity: 240 square inches.

This Smoker is for You if…

If you’re looking for something which is easy to throw in the bed of your truck and set up when on the go, the Pit Barrel is ideal.

Easy to set up, this smoker is also ideal for beginners who may have struggled with a cheap offset model.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

It’s not the prettiest of smokers, in fact, for some it’s downright ugly, hence the nickname Ugly Drum Smoker. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and personally I – and many others – think they look kinda cool!

However, if you want a smoker which is going to be the centerpiece of your patio you will definitely want to consider another model.

What We Like

  • Surprisingly portable and lightweight. Can be set up just about anywhere.
  • The Pit Barrel cooker is ready assembled, just add coals and you’re ready to go.
  • Solid construction with porcelain enameled steel.
  • A hook system increases the cooking You can fit eight racks of ribs or two large pork butts.
  • A forgiving smoker once you’ve mastered the basics.
  • Airtight construction helps to achieve steady temperatures over a longer period of time.

What We Don’t Like

  • The temperature control can be restricted. Always have a wireless thermometer on hand.
  • The heat source is too far away from the food to allow it to be used as a grill.
  • It can be difficult to add more fuel when using for longer smokes with a charcoal bowl at the base, below all the meats.
  • You’ll need to invest in some long-handled tongs as it can be very deep to reach into.

Summary

For somebody just starting out with meat smoking, the Pit Barrel Cooker is an ideal choice and very affordable too. It’s durable, easy to use and portable enough to take on your next camping trip, or even a tailgate party.

It may not offer the temperature control of other smokers, we definitely don’t advise messing with vents too much. You can check the availability of the Pit Barrel and the latest prices by clicking here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Vertical Charcoal / Water Smoker – Weber Smokey Mountain

When it comes to bullet or vertical charcoal water smokers, there’s only one way to go, the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.

Since its introduction, the WSM has been one of the most popular bullet style smokers, with many cookbooks, and a web forum, especially for the WSM.

This is quite probably the best and most popular of all smokers for beginners.

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 22 Inch Smoker

What’s in the Box?

A 3-part porcelain enameled steel smoker bullet with two 22.5-inch nickel plated cooking grates are included. You also get a porcelain-enameled water pan, premium Weber cover, and an owner’s guide.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 24 x 23 x 48.5 inches.
  • Weight: 68 pounds.
  • Total Cooking Area: 726 square inches.
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal.
  • Warranty: 10-years limited Weber guarantee.

This Smoker is for You if…

If you’re a beginner looking for a quality backyard smoker, the Weber Smokey Mountain is a cult favorite.

Although smaller sizes are available, spending the extra hundred bucks or so on the larger size can allow for much more smoking in a still relatively compact package.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

It may be rated as one of the best beginner smokers, but it has a steep learning curve. This isn’t just a “setup and go” smoker. You need to manage the vents and airflow for constant temperature control.

If you’re looking for the simplest smoker to use, electric or gas models, or even a pellet grill can be easier to master.

What We Like

  • Sturdy construction with a 10-year warranty.
  • Water smoker design makes temperature control easier for beginners—with practice.
  • Compact with a smaller footprint than offset smokers.
  • A thermometer built into the lid allows for monitoring of the internal temperature.
  • Integrated water pan keeps meat juicy and never dry or charred.
  • Two shelves provide a large cooking area—easily enough for two turkeys or two large pork butts.
  • Two vent system at the base and in the lid for better airflow and temperature control.
  • Plenty of online resources and user modifications available.

What We Don’t Like

  • Stainless steel vents aren’t heat resistant and can be very hot to touch. Use tongs or heat-proof gloves.
  • The side access door can be quite flimsy—investing in new gaskets and a replacement door is advised.

Summary

The Weber Smokey Mountain is a quality cooker from one of the industry’s most respected manufacturers. It’s even backed up with an astounding 10-year warranty, so this smoker should last for years to come, especially if you use the included premium cover.

Although bullet smokers are ideal for beginners, it can take some practice for the best results. Luckily there is plenty of information available online and guides on charcoal setup methods, the vent control and general smoking times on the WSM.

For more information you can check out our Weber Smokey Mountain review, or for the latest prices click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Smoker Grill Combo – Oklahoma Joe’s Charcoal/Lp Gas/Smoker Combo

This absolute monster of a grill from Oklahoma Joe and Char-Broil does it all—smoke, grill, bake or roast.

It’s one of the few, and one of the best hybrid grills available that features a gas grill, a charcoal grill, and a dedicated offset smoke box.

You could be smoking a brisket on one side while still using the other chamber for flipping burgers. You can even use the surface of the firebox to keep food warm.

Oklahoma Joe's Charcoal/LP Gas/Smoker Combo

What’s in the Box?

The Oklahoma Joe comes in a kit form. It’s easy to assemble with just a few tools and all the nuts and bolts provided.

Six porcelain cooking grates are provided with this grill combo.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 74 x 31.5 x 50.6 inches.
  • Weight: 205 pounds.
  • Total cooking area: 1,060 square inches.
  • Primary cooking area: 750 square inches.
  • Firebox cooking surface: 310 square inches.
  • Gas Burners: 4 x 12,000 BTU burners

This Smoker is for You if…

When you entertain for large outdoor parties on a regular basis, the Oklahoma Joe Smoker Combo grill is a perfect choice. It’s a one-stop, do-it-all piece of cooking equipment for your backyard.

Another Model Might Be for You if…

It’s big and not suited to smaller backyards and definitely not too portable either. If space is at a premium, you will definitely want to consider another model of smoker.

What We Like

  • Thick carbon steel construction.
  • Plenty of preparation space with a front shelf.
  • The porcelain grates are easy to clean.
  • Large cooking area.
  • Cool-touch handles to prevent burning as you open the lids.
  • Three separate chambers allow for charcoal and gas cooking at the same time.
  • Lid-mounted temperature gauges for monitoring the temperature of individual chambers.
  • A firebox access door means you can stoke the fire without allowing smoke or heat to escape.

What We Don’t Like

  • You may find the wheels unstable on this grill, making it harder to move.
  • Silicone seals on this type of smoker often need reinforcement.
  • It’s heavy and large, difficult to put away after every use—invest in a cover.

Summary

For the ultimate outdoor kitchen, it’s hard to beat a smoker combo grill. This model from Char-Broil even allows you to choose between the convenience of gas and charcoal for those purists looking for that unique BBQ taste.

It’s also an excellent smoker with a capacity for larger amounts of meat. Whether you want to quickly grill a steak midweek, or smoke a piece of brisket over the weekend, a smoker combo grill is the way to go. For the latest prices and more info click here:

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

For further options, check out our guide to the best smoker grill combos.

What is a BBQ Smoker? What do They Do?

If the outdoor cooking bug has already bitten you, it’s inevitable that one day you will want to try your hand at smoking your meats.

A smoker, put simply, is an outdoor appliance which cooks food at lower temperatures for extended periods while creating smoke.

A closed chamber will be large enough to accommodate the required amount of BBQ food while smothering it with a gentle flow of smoke.

Smoke created by burning wood allows the meats to take on a unique smokey flavor which can’t be matched by any other method. A common misconception is that the smoke itself cooks the meat, but in reality, it’s the heat of the fire or heating element which actually cooks the meat, while a thin smoke adds a layer of flavor.

Different Types of Smoker Available

In the past, and still at many larger commercial smokehouse restaurants, the smoking of meats is done in a large smoke room or “house.” Unfortunately, we haven’t all got the space for a dedicated smoke room.

There are many types of smokers available now, from simple wood burners, charcoal or gas smokers, through to the more technologically advanced electric or wood pellet models.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each below, to help you decide which is the best smoker for you.

Charcoal Smoker

“It’s all about the charcoal,” many experienced meat smokers and grill aficionados will tell you. Certainly, it’s hard to beat that true BBQ flavor you get when cooking or smoking over charcoal.

With no power needed, or heavy propane tanks to lug around, charcoal smokers can be much more portable. Of course, the size of the model you choose can affect its portability but, in general, charcoal smokers will be the most camping friendly option.

However, with charcoal, you’re going to be left with a messy cleanup and lots of ash.

The learning curve of controlling the temperature can be much harder too, especially for longer cooks. And finally, recent studies have suggested food cooked over charcoal can be more carcinogenic, depending on the type of charcoal you use.

Although they may not feature as many bells and whistles as other types, charcoal smokers are usually the least expensive option.

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers are all about simplicity and are the ideal choice for those new to smoking.

Usually a “box” or vertical chamber style of a smoker, they feature a tray where you add wood chips or chunks above an electric heating element, and food above a water pan that keeps the cooking chamber moist and separates the food from direct heat.

Most high-end electric smokers will feature some form of a thermostat, which makes maintaining the temperature much easier. Some may even have features like a timer or Bluetooth for simpler operation. Interior shelves in the cabinet also allow for larger quantities of meat to be smoked compared to other types.

The major disadvantage of an electric smoker is the flavor. With no combustion taking place, no complex flavors being added by burning fuel in combination with wood smoke, the finished product tastes very different from wood or charcoal smokers and may well not be what you expect.

Gas Smoker

A gas smoker, again, tends to be a cabinet style or box smoker, but it runs on propane rather than electricity.

Like a traditional gas grill, burners are connected to a propane tank, although on a smoker, the burners are located at the base. Directly above the burners, you’ll find a wood pan, and then a water pan for the smoking chamber.

Simple to use, you fill the water pan and light the burners before adding the wooden chunks once the smoker has warmed up to cooking temp. Once any white billowing smoke has receded, leaving only a thin whispy smoke to flow out of the chimney, you can add the meat.

Like electric models, large shelves mean you can smoke more meat in one process.

Although the temperature is easy to control with a simple turn of a knob, propane smokers usually only feature a thermometer somewhere on the chamber. Dome or door mounted thermometers can be shockingly inaccurate and you should consider investing in a thermometer which sits on the grate.

Pellet Smoker

Pellet smokers or grills are some of the most advanced smokers currently on the market. They are very popular due to their set-it-up and leave design, there’s no hovering or babysitting needed. This is all thanks to internal temperature control.

The electric auger on a pellet smoker feeds pellets made from compressed sawdust into a firebox, where a metal rod ignites them. Depending on the temperature in the grill and your chosen settings, a digital thermostat controls the number of pellets that the automatic hopper drops into the firebox, which controls the temperature.

Many of the more high-end pellet smokers will feature probes, which can measure the internal temperature of the meat. A recent innovation also allows you to control or monitor the process with your smartphone or tablet.

Finally, pellet smokers are more versatile and can be used for smoking, roasting, barbecue or baking.

Unfortunately, all this technology comes at a price, with pellet grills being more expensive than most other types.

Access to electricity can also have its own downfalls, making the smoker less mobile and certainly needing a cover if stored outside—electricity and water don’t mix too well.

Offset Smoker

Offset smokers look like those huge old oil drum contraptions you often see on popular TV shows, like BBQ Pitmasters. The classic, two-chamber design can be seen at BBQ festivals all over the US.

A large smoking chamber has a separate firebox attached to the side. Exhaust/intake vents allow you to adjust the temperature as you cook. The separate firebox allows you to add more fuel or wood without opening the main chamber.

However, with the firebox placed at one end of the chamber, the opposite end will have a lower temperature, and meat will need rotating for an even cook.

Unfortunately, not all offset grills are of high quality, with some users more concerned with the manly looks, rather than how it smokes. Cheaper offset smoker/grills tend to use thinner metals, which don’t retain heat too well, consume a ton of fuel, leak smoke and are hard to control and get consistent results with. They require A LOT of babysitting!

Smoker Grill Combo

Any appliance that offers the functionality of both grilling and smoking is often referred to as a smoker grill combo. The term can also apply to units which use more than one type of fuel, i.e. gas and charcoal.

Larger smoker grill combos feature a main chamber, with gas burner rods inside, and grates to be used as a grill. A separate offset firebox will typically feature an individual burner or be charcoal fueled for the smoke flow. Similar to an offset, a reverse flow of the smoke can be controlled using exhaust and intake vents or the chimney.

Again, these units can be expensive, although budget models are now available. Be wary of smoker grill combos that are too cheap though, as they may use thinner metals or have poor seals in the construction, allowing heat and smoke to escape.

A smoker grill combo can be the largest of all types and take up considerable space in your backyard. They will be very heavy to move, especially with added propane tanks, and they’ll need a cover if left outdoors. However, you can smoke large amounts of meat, and even use the grill for a final searing effect.

Drum Smoker (UDS)

Also known as an “Ugly Drum Smoker” or “UDS,” the Drum smoker has become popular due to its simple design and low cost. With a little DIY expertise and an old 55-gallon drum, you could even put one of these together yourself.

A UDS is a very basic smoker made from a steel drum, with a cooking grate at the top, which uses heat from the firebox at the base. As the smoke rises, it escapes through a vent at the top, and the fire burning at the base pulls in heat through a bottom vent.

Drum smokers can offer you extra capacity over other types, with many utilizing hooks to hang more meat. They are inexpensive, easy to set up and highly portable.

Vertical Charcoal / Water Smoker

A vertical smoker, also known as a bullet or water smoker, is perhaps the most popular of all types, particularly with beginners. And the most famous example is the Weber Smokey Mountain, which has seen a whole subculture of web forums and books grow up around it.

Vertical water smokers are made up of three parts, with a metal bowl, or firebox, at the base, where you place the lit charcoal and any wood chips you add. A water pan above the firebox acts as a barrier to disperse the heat. The final part is the smoking chamber, with shelves and a lid, which is usually dome-shaped.

With a little practice, bullet smokers are very easy to use, with vents at the base and in the lid allowing you to control the air flow. You can pretty much set up the smoker and go.

It being a smaller unit also makes it ideal for placing in a corner of your backyard, or even taking camping.

Kamado Grill and Smoker

Finally, we have my favorite type of smoker, the Kamado grill style.

The kamado grill originally came from Japan. The name comes from the Japanese word for a stove or cooking range.

Kamado grills were traditionally made of clay, but today’s models are ceramic and look like a big egg. The best known Kamado grill/smokers in the US are those made by the ‘Big Green Egg’ and ‘Kamado Joe’ companies.

The main feature of a Kamado grill is how well insulated they are, with the ceramic construction exceptionally good at holding steady temperatures. Adjusting the vents on a Kamado grill allows you to get the temperature just right, for a low and slow smoke without too much tending.

Kamado grills tend to be relatively expensive and can also be very heavy—they certainly aren’t portable. They do have a smaller footprint though, and won’t take up too much space on your patio.

What to Look for in the Best Smokers

So now you know what a smoker does, and the different types that exist, you’re probably raring to go.

But before you go and stock up on briskets and pork butts, you first need to choose the best smoker for your requirements, and what you should look for.

Here are a few tips, explaining what features you should consider when choosing the best smoker for you.

The Type of Smoker

We have already looked at the different types of smokers available to buy, but which one is best for you?

Consider how much meat you intend to smoke and how often you expect to smoke. If you’re planning regular large smoking sessions at home, it may be best to invest in a gas or electric smoker, as charcoal can get expensive in the long run.

Charcoal may be more expensive to replace constantly, but purists will argue you only get that authentic BBQ taste from charcoal.

Electric grills can be limited to their location by the availability of the nearest outlet, and propane tanks are heavy to move if you’re looking for something portable.

Build Quality, Materials, Insulation, and Durability

A smoker can be a considerable investment and will need to withstand significant wear and tear from being repeatedly heated and cooled, being outside in all weathers, being knocked, spilled on and more!

Ensure the one you choose has a sturdy construction that won’t collapse mid-smoke. If the smoker is a heavy model, will it stand up to being dragged around your patio?

Thinner metals may be lighter, but won’t offer that all important insulation for maintaining temperature. If you intend to leave the smoker outdoors, is the metal rustproof? A common sign of low-quality materials is rusting screws or joints.

It’s not just about the materials used, but also the quality of the construction. Hoods or lids should be tight fitting, with quality seals or gaskets. Wind can play havoc during a long smoke, and any smoker you buy should be airtight to avoid fluctuating temperatures.

Size

How much space do you have to spare in your backyard?

Some larger offset or combo smokers can dominate a smaller patio. Kamado style grills or vertical charcoal bullet smokers will have a much smaller footprint and can be easily tucked away.

If you’re choosing an electric model, you’ll need to consider where the nearest socket is. Electric smokers need high amperage extension leads, and the last thing you want is unsightly and dangerous cables lying all over your backyard or patio.

Capacity

Of course, the size of a smoker will also affect how much and what type of meat it can smoke.

If you intend to smoke for larger groups, you’ll need the smoker with the most cooking area. Vertical smokers may have shelves which allow for more meat but can limit the size of larger joints to the dimensions of the chamber.

Horizontal style smokers, like offsets, combos or wood pellet grills, will typically feature larger grates that can accommodate several whole racks of ribs or larger pork butts and briskets.

So be mindful of how much you want to cook in one go, and buy a smoker that is able to deliver.

Temperature Range

The temperature range of a smoker is even more important than that of an outdoor grill. To smoke meats well, you need better control of the temperature and for more extended periods.

Meat smoking is best when in the range of 225 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on what you’re cooking. While for roasting you will temps of 400f+, and for searing as high as 500f or more.

Can the smoker reach the temperatures needed for a grill or the searing effect on a steak?

Sometimes you may even want to use your smoker as an oven, or for baking pizzas. You don’t always need a combo for this, just check the manufacturer’s specs for how low or high a particular models temperature can go.

However, if all you want to do is smoke low and slow, between 225 and 275f, then almost all smokers can achieve this.

Even Heat Distribution

An important part of cooking any meat, not just smoking it, is how even the heat is distributed. Many of the cuts you’re going to smoke won’t always be a uniform thickness, especially with cheaper cuts, like brisket or pork shoulder.

With a regular grill, you would just regularly move the meat to hotter or cooler parts of the grill for an even cook. Smoking meats, however, typically involves a longer cook and every time you open the lid, it allows smoke and heat to escape.

Offset smokers are notorious for uneven heat distribution, with the end of the smoking chamber, near the firebox, being much hotter than the end furthest from the fire.

Vertical and bullet smokers will often use a water pan to distribute heat more evenly with a steam effect. Grill/smoker combos will also use a heat source under the foods, for a more even cook.

Ease of Use and Maintenance

Digital smokers will nearly always be easier to manage, with many pellet grills just needing to be set up and pretty much left alone.

Thermostats and digital probes on a digital electric smoker can allow for the grill to automatically maintain the correct temperature without babysitting the smoke.

Kamado and bullets smokers allow for techniques which enable a longer burn, but it may require some practice to get the vents and airflow right.

Gas or electric grills will, however, be easier to ignite, with a simple button, or piezo ignition system on gas grills. Although these grills are easier to clean, with none of the ash of a charcoal grill, there are more parts to go wrong.

Grills and smokers are all made with metal which should also be rustproof. Regular cleaning, oiling and some protection from the elements will extend their life.

Accessories

What accessories can you use with the smoker or are included? A deflector plate can allow for more even heat distribution, while a water pan will be a barrier between the heat source and the foods.

Extra shelves will allow you to increase the capacity and an additional warming shelf can be useful if you intend to grill on the smoker, too, or keep foods warm while you prepare others.

Some vertical, especially ugly drum smokers, may include hooks, which allow for hanging larger joints of meat or whole birds for smoking.

Mobility / Portability

Are you going to be mainly smoking at home, or do you intend to smoke meats when camping or tailgating?

At the very least, a smoker should feature some form of sturdy wheels, for easier moving around your patio. Wheels can also allow for moving it into the garage or shed when not being used, for protection from the elements.

If you’re looking for the ultimate in portability, look for either a UDS or a smaller upright bullet smoker. They don’t need any power outlet or heavy propane tanks, and many can be disassembled for easier storage or packing.

Just be warned, although kamado grills have a very small footprint, that ceramic casing is heavy!

Ease of Cleaning

When you’re smoking and cooking meats, a fair amount of fat and meat juices will drop from the meat, with not all of it landing in the drip pan. As you’re cooking your meats for longer periods, there will inevitably be a build up of leftover “goodies” on the inside parts.

When choosing the best smoker, check how much of the inside is removable. Grates, fireboxes, and water pans can all be removed for cleaning, and a good hosing of the unit will remove most debris.

With electric or gas grills, hosing down the inside isn’t always an option – it’s all about how much time you’re willing to spend cleaning your smoker.

Price

As with any purchase, budget is always a consideration – try to set your budget and stick to it, though do remember that you get what you pay for!

Smokers vary in price, from under a hundred dollars for a basic charcoal grill, to over two thousand dollars for more advanced pellet grills.

Less expensive offset smokers can certainly look the part, but cheaper models may use thinner metals and feature a poor construction.

You would be surprised at many of the kamado grills’ high prices, but you’re getting a premium smoker which should last a lifetime.

Conclusion

We hope our look at the different types of smokers has helped you decide which is the best type for you. We’ve tried to feature a smoker of each type for every budget in our quick roundup, but there are more options listed in our detailed guides elsewhere on this website.

If you have any stories to share about your smoking meat experiences, choosing a smoker or just have a general question, we are waiting to hear from you in the comments below,

 

Product image credits: © Amazon.com

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com. I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

2 thoughts on “Best Smokers in 2019 – Something for Every Need and Budget”

  1. Anyone in the market for a pellet grill should research the Yoder YS 640. Significantly more money than the Traeger line, but a far superior build, made in USA. Thanks for the reviews and info. Great website.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your comment.

      That is a seriously good looking bit of kit, and certainly gets rave reviews around the web (just been reading about it now.) I’ll add it in to the article when I do a content refresh (many weeks away, sadly, due to time constraints, but I will get around to it!)

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