Summer is here and that means it’s time to put the heat to the meat. As we all know, there’s no better way to welcome summer than breaking out a backyard smoker and hosting a barbeque. It’s what everyone is waiting for and the best way to ensure that your friends actually come to visit during those busy summer months. The only challenge is making sure that you have the right equipment on hand to make a meal that everyone in your home deserves. Whether you’re cooking for your family or your entire neighborhood, this guide to buying the best smoker will help you narrow down your choices and make an informed decision. This is one of the most important decisions for anyone to make while planning the perfect backyard BBQ. It’s important to take the decision seriously and treat it with the respect that it deserves.
But first, you may be asking, why is the Sous Vide Guy writing about smokers? We get it. As many of my readers already know, sous vide is a way of achieving precise temperatures from the center of your meat to the edge, without any overcooking. Smokers are an incredible final step after cooking sous vide for the perfect ribs and briskets. Sure, it’s complicated and adds an extra step to an already complex and time consuming cooking process, the results are always worth it. I’ve had my fair share of experience with a wide variety of smokers on the market including electric smokers, gas smokers, charcoal smokers, and even pellet smokers. I’ve done the research and met all the challenges. It’s time for you to benefit from my hard work on mistakes. So without further ado, Let’s dive right in and take a look at my top recommendations for the best smoker for your big BBQ summer.
Best Smokers: Comparison Chart
Weber Smokey Mountain
Char-Broil Big Easy
Types of Smokers
Shopping for a new smoker can be quite overwhelming due to the wide variety of brands and types available on the market. You might think that a smoker is a fairly standardized product. But don’t forget that those who BBQ well take the process quite seriously. There are so many excellent smokers out there that it can be nearly impossible to choose the right one to bring into your home. But don’t worry. Follow my advice and it will feel both easy and natural. The first step in narrowing down your selection is to understand what type of smoker you want. There are four main kinds of smokers including electric, gas, charcoal, and pellet. Each type of smoker has its pros and cons and some are better suited for beginners while others are definitely reserved for experienced smoker enthusiasts. For example, electric smokers and pellet smokers are very different from one another. So, let’s dive into each type to compare the smokers and ultimately pinpoint our top smokers in each category. It’s important to get a base level knowledge about the wild and wonderful world of smokers before committing to any specific smoker.
As you could probably guess, electric smokers are the best for beginners. They simplify the process, but at the same time you won’t have the same level of control over your delicious smoked meats with these devices. These are great options for long cooks as you do not have to worry about running out of gas or reloading pellets. However, even experienced smokers may enjoy using electric smokers for multiple reasons, including:
✅ PROS: “Set it and forget it” which is great for long cooks. It’s also really easy to clean since there’s no charcoal to worry about. Plus these smokers are relatively cheap, making them an easy entry point to the hobby.
❌ CONS: Requires a power source (which sometimes tough for outdoor cooking) and also produces less smoke rings compared to charcoal. Also offers less control and customizability to your smoking experience than the other options.
Best Electric Smoker: Bradley Smokers Original Smoker
The Bradley Original Smoker (BS611) is a world-class and feature-packed smoker that you can bring into any backyard or cottage without breaking the bank. This electric smoker comes with an automatic wood feeder system (you can see this on the side of the smoker in the picture) so it will maintain the temperature you set without you having to do anything. The wood feeder system can create continuous smoke for a full 8 hours before you’ll have to worry about having to re-load the unit. That means that you can finish a full 15 hour brisket and only having to reload the wood once!
As for the interior, it’s fully stainless steel for easy cleaning and contains four removable racks. Another great feature about the Bradley Original Smoker is the separate smoke and oven burners. This means you can decide between heat + smoke, heat only, and smoke only, which really adds another dimension to its’ potential uses. Definitely an ideal and stunning machine for anyone starting their meat smoking journey.
Budget Pick: Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Digital Smoker
While I really like the Bradley smoker, this 30” Masterbuilt smoker must be recommended as well due to its low cost and performance (a killer combo for any first time smoker out there). This is definitely the most universally popular electric smoker on the market. The Masterbuilt 30” Digital Smoker has over 700 sq inches of cooking space with 4 fully removable racks. While the Masterbuilt smoker doesn’t have an automatic wood feeder like the Bradley unit, it still has an easily accessible side loader. If you’re a beginner and looking to get a reliable smoker without spending much cash, the Masterbuilt is your best bet.
Gas (or propane) smokers are ideal for those who want the easiness of electric smokers but don’t want to worry about finding a power source. This makes them ideal for anyone in cottage country or backyard BBQ veterans. Simply connect a propane tank to the smoker, much like you already do for a regular grill, add some wood chips, and begin cooking. It really is that simple. Gas smokers can often reach higher temperatures, however, a long smoke can easily go through a full propane tank pretty quickly. So keep that in mind. You’ll likely have to replace your propane tanks fairly regularly with these smokers.
✅ PROS: Gas smokers are easy, much like electric, and they also offer better mobility since you do not need an electric power source.
❌ CONS: Propane tanks can deplete rather quickly on longer cooks, and gas smokers still fall short to charcoal and pellet smokers in terms of smoke rings.
Best Gas Smoker: Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Smoker
While I typically do not use gas smokers, the Char-Broil Big Easy TRU-Infrared smoker is a home run due to its multiple creative uses. The Big Easy Smoker Roaster and Grill lets you do just that. This 3-in-1 machine can do a lot, but it can’t cook a lot. The cooking space of this smoker is only 180 sq inches, compared to 700 sq inches on the electric Masterbuilt smoker. So, if you need to smoke a lot of meat at once to feed your hungry guests and family, this might not be the ideal smoker for you.
Overall, it really depends what you plan on smoking. For example, this Big Easy smoker is great for sous vide because it has a regular grill right on top of the smoker so you can finish off a great sear after soaking up some of the smoke flavor. However, if you plan on smoking full racks of ribs or hosting a neighborhood bbq, you may want something with more cooking space. It all comes down to personal smoking preference.
Charcoal smokers take a big step up from electric and gas smokers in terms of performance, however they obviously require a little more work and maintenance. That’s just how charcoal works after all. If you are a fan of charcoal grills, such as the Big Green Egg, you will likely prefer using charcoal smokers over anything else. Even if you have no experience with charcoal, this may be an excellent opportunity for you to realize the performance benefits of using charcoal to grill your meats to perfection.
✅ PROS: Charcoal smokers give off the best flavor, bark, and smoke rings, period. It’s as simple as that. If you want to smoke meat with the best of them, this is your only option.
❌ CONS: However, with charcoal comes cleaning. You also have to pay more attention and monitor the cook a bit more. This is a smoker that needs constant attention and love to deliver the best results. Big time BBQ aficionados know that this only adds to the experience!
Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker
There’s only one way to put it: this is the holy grail of smokers. I really don’t think the Weber Smokey Mountain can be beat. Backed by the infamous 10-year limited Weber warranty, this charcoal smoker is built for heavy use and contains two 18” racks adding up to about 480 sq inches of cooking space. While the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker doesn’t have as much cooking space as most electric smokers out there, it will definitely get a better smoke ring and better flavor. This will deliver the type of smoked meats that you dream about and crave during the off season.
If you’re looking for an authentic smoking experience and don’t mind paying a little more attention during the cook, you have to get this smoker. There’s a reason the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is our top rated smoker. It delivers meats that will make you feel weak in the knees. Once you’ve smoked out with the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, you’ll never want to go back to another smoker ever again.
Pellet smokers grew in popularity over the last couple years, and for very good reason. This doesn’t offer a conventional or traditional meat smoking experience, but it does deliver delicious feasts without too much stress. It’s very easy to recognize a pellet smoker over other types because of its size and the large pellet hopper on the side of the smoker.
✅ PROS: Pellet smokers are close to “set it and forget it” like electric due to their temperature controllers, and they also typically have large cooking areas.
❌ CONS: However, these are often more expensive up front, and still do not produce a smoke ring like charcoal can. That might be a deal breaker for many serious smokers out there.
Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
If the Green Mountain Grills Davy Crocket pellet smoker is good at one thing, it’s making your neighbors jealous. This thing is the Rolls Royce of smokers without the hefty price tag. The WiFi controlled (that’s right!) Davy Crockett smoker comes with Sense-Mate which monitors the temperature of the grill and can be controlled from your phone. Anyone who sees a neighbour smoking up some tasty meats with this bad boy will instantly feel inadequate until they are able to put their own in their backyard.
This Green Mountain Grills smoker is also surprisingly portable for being a pellet smoker. If you’re looking for a little more “set it and forget it” but don’t want to fall back on electric smokers, the Davy Crockett pellet grill is my top pick which will allow smoke rings closer to that of charcoal.
Why Use a BBQ Smoker?
BBQ smokers work by the principle of “low and slow” cooking – that is, low temperature over a long period of time. Though this requires a longer overall cook time, you’ll find that the meat you cook is amazingly prepared. Ever have pulled pork or brisket that falls right off the bone from a BBQ joint that uses a smoker? Yum! There’s no substitute for BBQ smokers. They deliver the type of BBQ that will change your life for the better.
Also, the meat in a smoker picks up amazing smokey flavors which are often imitated but never replicated! No artificial smoke flavor you buy can come close to matching what truly smoked meat offers in terms of flavor.
Does the Type of Fuel Matter?
Many hardcore smoking enthusiasts have their own answers to this question. Some will swear by charcoal, others not only by wood, but by specific types of wood for each type of food!
I say there is no universal right answer, it simply depends on what you like best.
Charcoal smokers do offer amazing flavor that embody summer cookouts. The nice thing about using charcoal is it’s always readily available and easy to use. It’s a very low-maintenance fuel if you can’t hover around your smoker all day.
Wood is an amazing fuel source because of the variety of flavors you can get by using different types of wood. It’s like adding an extra layer or secret ingredient to your meat that can’t be reproduced by any other cooking methods.
If you’re big into mastering smoking, then you can have a lot of fun playing around with different food/wood combinations to find your ultimate flavor. One great place to start is this wood smoking chart via Charbroil. On that page they also offer a description of flavor a specific wood can add.
Finding a good source of wood for your smoker may be tough, and you might not have much room to store wood which can be a challenge. You’ll also have to be very attentive to your smoker if you’re using wood, as you need to constantly monitor the flame and throw more wood on as needed, but not too much.
Wood pellets are a kind of hybrid fuel type that tries to replicate the advantages of wood, but makes the smoking more manageable. Wood pellets are essentially small, condensed pieces of sawdust that can be sourced from any type of wood. One big advantage of wood pellets is you can load them into an automated, electric smoker that will manage the fuel for you, adding more when it’s needed.
Even though pellets are made from real wood, they won’t give you as intense of a smoky flavor compared to a wood-burning smoker. Some grill enthusiasts find this to be a turn off, and some like to be more hands-on with their smoker and find that pellets take the fun out of it.
What to Smoke?
So you’ve got your smoker all setup and ready to go now – but what should you try smoking?
Really you could smoke just about any type of food! Since smoking takes such a long time though, most people prefer to for dense meats that can be used to serve many people or across many meals. Meats like chicken, pork, or steaks are excellent choices.
Some of the most popular meats to smoke include –
- Whole chickens
- Pork Shoulder
- Tri-tip Steaks
- Corned Beef
Best Smokers: Comparison Chart
Weber Smokey Mountain
Char-Broil Big Easy