The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best BBQ Smokers

by Matt

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Looking to kick your barbecue game up a notch? Getting your hands on the right type of smoker is step one to unlocking those mouthwatering, fall-off-the-bone flavors. From the fiery charm of charcoal and pellet smokers to the easy-breezy electric and propane smokers, the choices are many. I have written this guide to help you navigate through the different types of smokers. Hoping to help you buy into this BBQ game. The more the merrier.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Smoker

Picking the right smoker is not always the easiest task. They all have positives and negatives. I find that a lot of the choice comes down to personal preference. Here are some key factors to mull over to find your smoking match:

Fuel Type: Propane vs Electric Smokers vs Charcoal and More

The heart of the smoking game is the fuel. It's what fires up the smoker and gets the meat dripping with flavor. Here’s the lowdown on the different types of fuels.

Charcoal Smokers: These bad boys are your traditional, old-school smokers. They deliver that classic smoky flavor that’s hard to beat. It’s like having a BBQ with a touch of the wild outdoors.

Propane Smokers: If convenience is your game, propane smokers are your name. They're easy to fire up and maintain, but might not hit the smoky sweet spot like charcoal does.

Electric Smokers: Plug 'em in, set the temp, and let 'em do the work. Electric smokers are all about ease and precision. But, they might fall short in the smoky flavor department.

Pellet Smokers: These modern marvels use compressed sawdust pellets for fuel. They offer a nice balance of convenience and that smoky goodness we all crave.

Wood Smokers: For those who like to keep it rustic and traditional, wood smokers offer a raw and authentic smoking experience.

Cooking Capacity: Smoker Cooking Quantity

Whether you’re smoking up a storm for a crowd or just for the fam, the size of your smoker matters. A bigger cooking capacity is great for those backyard BBQ bashes, while a smaller one suits the quiet weekend grills.

Temperature Control: Smoker Temperature Control

Getting the temperature just right is like hitting a BBQ home run. Look for a smoker that lets you control the heat with ease, so you’re not sweating over the coals instead of enjoying the cookout.

Price: Smoker Price Range

Smokers come with price tags that range from a few bucks to a small fortune. Determine your budget and find a smoker that suits both your pocket and your BBQ ambitions.

Smoker Experience Level: Best Type of Smoker for Beginners vs Pitmasters

Your BBQ skill level is also a player in the game. Beginners might find electric or propane smokers easier to handle, while the seasoned pitmasters might lean towards charcoal or offset smokers for that traditional smoking experience. All in all no matter which smoker you purchase you will master it in time.

Maintenance: Smoker Cleaning and Maintenance

A smoker that’s easy to clean and maintain will be your long-term BBQ buddy. Look for one that doesn’t turn cleaning into a weekend project.

Portability: Smoker Portability

If you’re the kind of BBQ enthusiast who loves to take the smoke show on the road, a portable smoker is your go-to. Pellet and electric smokers might need a power source, so if you’re heading into the wild, a charcoal or propane smoker might be your best bet.

Durability: Smoker Durability

A smoker that can stand the test of time (and weather) is a keeper. Look for one that’s built to last, so you’re not shopping for a new one every other season.

Digging Deeper: Exploring Different Types of Smokers

The world of smokers is as varied as the cuts of meat you'll be throwing on them. Each type has its quirks and features, so let's break 'em down and see what’s cooking:

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers are the go-to for many traditionalists. They offer a classic smoky flavor that's hard to replicate. A notable model is the Weber Smokey Mountain, known for its affordability and versatility in cooking various types of meats. The Dyna-Glo 36" Vertical Charcoal Smoker is another mention-worthy model with a whopping 1,890 square inches of cooking space, providing enough room for a barbecue feast.

PROS

CONS

Classic smoky flavor

Temperature control can be tricky (make sure smoker has multiple air vents)

Affordable

Requires more effort to operate

Can reach high temperatures for searing

Charcoal can be messy to clean up (but great for the garden)

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers are the epitome of convenience. Models like the Masterbuilt MB20070421 offer a digital control display and a side-loading wood chip drawer, making it a solid choice for those who prefer a set-and-forget approach. They work by electrically heating the wood chips to produce smoke. However, they may lack the traditional smoky flavor associated with charcoal or wood-fired smokers.


PROS

CONS

Convenient and easy to use

Lack of smoky flavor

Precise temperature control

Limited cooking capacity compared to others

No fuel required

Higher upfront costs

Propane Smokers

Propane smokers, like the Masterbuilt XL, are known for their ease of use and quick fire setup, making them a good option for new smoker users. They offer precise temperature control with features like the patented thermostatically controlled system found in some Masterbuilt models.

PROS

CONS

Convenient and easy to use

Lack of smoky flavor

Precise temperature control

Limited cooking capacity

No need for charcoal or wood pellets

Higher upfront cost

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers are versatile and user-friendly. Models like the Pit Boss Combo (click image to see more) and Traeger Pro 575 are highly rated for their performance and ease of use. 

They allow cooking at a wide range of temperatures, providing more culinary options compared to gas or charcoal grills.

Pit Boss Combo

PROS

CONS

Convenient and easy to use

Higher upfront cost

Precise temperature control

More complex than other types of smokers

Smoky flavor

May require more maintenance

Versatile


Offset Smokers

Offset smokers, like the Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker and Yoder Wichita Loaded, are known for their distinct smoky flavor and unique firebox setup that facilitates even smoking.

PROS

CONS

Distinct smoky flavor

Requires skill and patience to operate (But great fun)

Can reach high temperatures for searing

Higher upfront cost

Large cooking capacity

Temperature control can be difficult

Kamado Smokers

Kamado smokers, originating from ancient Japanese cooking urns, are praised for their ceramic shell that retains heat and moisture effectively. They offer precise temperature control and can also be used as a grill. Popular models include the Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe, known for their versatility and unique smoky flavor.

PROS

CONS

Excellent heat retention

Higher upfront cost

Unique smoky flavor

Can be heavy and difficult to move

Can be used as a grill

Limited cooking capacity


Comparing the Different Types of Smokers

Now that we've chewed over the details of each type of smoker, let's line them up and see how they stack up against each other.

Charcoal Smokers: The Smoky Maestros

Charcoal smokers are your ticket to a traditional BBQ experience. They’re fantastic for achieving that deep smoky flavor but can be a bit of a handful when it comes to temperature control.

Flavor: Authentic, rich smoky flavor.

Ease of Use: Requires a bit more effort, especially in temperature management.

Price: Generally affordable with a range of options for different budgets.

Maintenance: Regular cleaning needed to manage ash and residue.

Electric Smokers: The Modern Magicians

Electric smokers are all about convenience. They might lack a bit in the flavor department compared to charcoal smokers, but they make up for it in ease of use.

Flavor: Milder smoky flavor compared to charcoal or wood smokers.

Ease of Use: Just plug it in, set the temperature, and you're good to go.

Price: Varying price points, with some models being quite affordable.

Maintenance: Minimal; easy to clean and maintain.

Propane Smokers: The Balanced Buddies

Propane smokers strike a balance between convenience and that smoky BBQ taste. They are easy to use, making them a solid choice for beginners and those who prefer a more hands-off approach.

Flavor: Good smoky flavor, though not as intense as charcoal.

Ease of Use: Simple to operate with straightforward temperature control.

Price: Moderate price range with a good balance of cost and features.

Maintenance: Fairly easy to clean and maintain.

Pellet Smokers: The Versatile Virtuosos

Pellet smokers are the jack of all trades in the smoker world. They offer a good smoky flavor and are incredibly versatile, allowing for smoking, grilling, and even baking.

Flavor: Good smoky flavor with a wood-fired taste.

Ease of Use: Automated temperature control makes it a breeze to use.

Price: Higher upfront cost, but offers a range of cooking options.

Maintenance: Regular cleaning required to manage ash and ensure proper functioning.

Offset Smokers: The Traditional Titans

Offset smokers are for the BBQ purists who love to control every aspect of the smoking process. They offer a traditional smoking experience with a distinct flavor profile.

Flavor: Rich, authentic smoky flavor.

Ease of Use: Requires some skill, especially in managing temperature and airflow.

Price: Wide price range, from affordable to high-end models.

Maintenance: Regular cleaning and maintenance required.

Kamado Smokers: The Ancient All-rounders

Kamado smokers, with their ceramic shell, are great for both grilling and smoking. They offer precise temperature control and a unique flavor profile.

Flavor: Unique smoky flavor with the ability to impart a wood-fired taste.

Ease of Use: Fairly easy to use once you get the hang of temperature control.

Price: Higher upfront cost due to durable construction.

Maintenance: Minimal maintenance required; easy to clean.

Brand Comparison

Choosing the right brand is crucial when on the hunt for the Best Types of Smokers. Each brand comes with its own set of pros and cons, and aligning these with your BBQ goals is key. Here’s a breakdown of some of the top brands in the smoker world:

Weber: The Versatile Veteran
Weber is a household name in the BBQ realm, well-regarded for its wide range of products from Charcoal Smokers to Electric Smokers. Their Smoker Grates are known for durability and even heat distribution, ensuring a well-cooked meal every time.

Masterbuilt: The Tech-Savvy Titan
Masterbuilt excels in creating Digital Smokers with modern features. Their Electric Smokers like the Masterbuilt MB20070421 come with digital controls and side-loading wood chip drawers. For those keen on Smoker Temperature Control, this brand is a solid choice.

Traeger: The Pellet Pioneer
As a pioneer of Pellet Smokers, Traeger continues to lead with models like the Pro 575, which boasts precise temperature control and Wi-Fi technology for a modern smoking experience. They provide a blend of traditional smoking with contemporary convenience.

Char-Griller: The Budget-Friendly Buddy
Char-Griller offers a range of affordable Charcoal Smokers and Kettle Grills without compromising on quality. They are a go-to brand for BBQ enthusiasts on a budget, providing value without breaking the bank.

Pit Boss: The Value Victor
Pit Boss is praised for its value-for-money Pellet Smokers. Their smokers offer a balance of quality, features, and affordability, making it a popular choice among both beginners and seasoned pitmasters.

Kamado Joe: The Ceramic Connoisseur
Kamado Joe specializes in Kamado Smokers with their ceramic construction ensuring excellent heat retention and versatile cooking options. Their models are a favorite among those who love experimenting with different BBQ techniques.

Oklahoma Joe's: The Offset Oracle
For BBQ purists, Oklahoma Joe's Offset Smokers are a cherished choice. They embody the traditional smoking experience with their heavy-duty construction and classic design.

In your quest for the Best Types of Smokers, exploring these brands and their offerings could guide you to the smoker that fits your BBQ aspirations to a T. Each brand has carved a niche, and aligning their strengths with your smoking goals could lead to succulent, smoky, and savory BBQ delights.

Buying Guide: Finding the Best Types of Smokers for You

Purchasing a smoker is an investment in many delicious meals to come. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the myriad of options and find the perfect smoker for your needs.

1. Determine Your Needs:
Cooking Capacity: Assess the amount of food you plan to smoke regularly. Whether you’re cooking for a small family or hosting large gatherings will influence your choice.

Space: Measure the space where you plan to place the smoker. Ensure there’s ample room for ventilation and movement.
Features: Consider features like Smoker Temperature Control, digital controls, Wi-Fi connectivity, and integrated meat probes that can make your smoking experience more convenient.

2. Set a Budget:
Smokers come in a wide price range. Setting a budget helps narrow down your options. However, it’s wise to be a little flexible to ensure you get the right smoker that meets your needs.

3. Research Brands and Models:
Delve into the Brand Comparison section above to learn about reputable brands. Read reviews, watch comparison videos, and even visit local stores to see the smokers in person.

4. Consider Fuel Type:
The Type of Smoker Fuel significantly impacts the flavor and ease of use. Decide between charcoal, electric, propane, pellet, or other types based on your preference for flavor and convenience.

5. Check Warranty and Support:
A good warranty and robust customer support from the manufacturer can save you from potential headaches down the road. It’s a reflection of the brand’s confidence in its product.

6. Explore Technology and Innovations:
Modern smokers come with various tech features. If you appreciate remote monitoring via Wi-Fi or enjoy the convenience of digital controls, look for models that cater to these preferences.

7. User Reviews and Testimonials:
Real-world insights from other BBQ enthusiasts can be invaluable. Look for reviews that detail the long-term performance and durability of the smokers you’re considering.

8. Accessorize:
Don’t forget about the accessories like Smoker Covers, grates, and thermometers that can enhance your smoking experience. Some smokers come with essential accessories, while others require separate purchases.

9. Local Retailers and Online Shopping:
Compare prices between local retailers and online platforms. Sometimes, local stores offer assembly and delivery, making it a convenient option.

10. Final Thoughts:
Take your time in making this decision. A good smoker is an investment that should provide years of delicious BBQ. Seek advice from BBQ communities and don’t rush the decision.

Following this buying guide should steer you towards finding the Best Types of Smokers that will meet your BBQ aspirations and provide a smoky, savory satisfaction for years to come.

Technology and Innovations: Modern-Day Smoking

The world of BBQ and smoking has embraced the digital era, bringing in a slew of modern features that make smoking more convenient, precise, and enjoyable. Here are some of the latest technological advancements you'll find in the Best Types of Smokers of 2023:

1. Smart Technology Integration:
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Connectivity: Modern smokers like the Bradley Smoker BS916 and the Traeger Pro 575 offer Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to monitor and control your smoker remotely from your smartphone or tablet, making for a hassle-free smoking experience.

2. Digital Controls:
Touch Screen and Digital Electronic Controls: Smokers like the Smoke Hollow 36” Digital Smoker and the Bradley Smoker BS916 come with touch screen controls or digital electronic controls for easy operation, enabling you to set the time, temperature, and smoke level with a touch of a button.

3. Advanced Temperature Monitoring:
Integrated Temperature Probes: Some smokers have integrated temperature probes to monitor the internal temperature of your meat without having to open the smoker, ensuring your meat is cooked to perfection.
Remote Temperature Monitoring: The Masterbuilt 40” Front Controller RF Remote Smoker and others offer remote temperature monitoring through smart technology remote systems, providing real-time insights into your BBQ.

4. Automatic Features:
Automatic Pellet Feeding and Chip Feeding: Automated pellet or chip feeding systems in some electric smokers maintain a consistent temperature and smoke level, reducing the need for constant monitoring.

5. Ease of Use and Maintenance:
Easy Wood Chip Loading Systems and Front Access Drip Pans: Features like easy wood chip loading systems and front access drip pans in some models simplify the start-up cooking process and make cleaning a breeze.

6. Visual Monitoring Features:
Tempered Glass Viewing Windows: Smokers like the Smoke Hollow 36” Digital Smoker have tempered glass viewing windows, allowing you to see what’s cooking without losing heat.

7. Large Cooking Capacity:
Spacious Cooking Areas: Models like the Masterbuilt 40” Front Controller RF Remote Smoker provide ample cooking space, ideal for those large family gatherings or backyard parties.

8. Innovative New Products:
Digital Charcoal Grill + Smoker from Masterbuilt: A new entrant in 2023, this model combines digital control with charcoal grilling and smoking, promising a blend of tradition with modern control.

9. Exciting Announcements:
Weber’s New 2023 Offerings: Keep an eye out for Weber's new product line-up for 2023, which is anticipated to bring innovative features to the BBQ and smoking scene.

The integration of these modern technologies in smokers showcases how the traditional smoking practice is evolving, blending the old with the new, and providing BBQ enthusiasts with tools that enhance their smoking experience, making it more enjoyable and results more delicious.

Conclusion: The Smoky Path to BBQ Mastery

Stepping into the realm of BBQ and smoking is such a great journey. I find smoking meat has become such a passion for me. Its a whole different world than just turning on the oven and waiting for your meat to cook.

Having the right smoker by your side is like having the right companion on a smoky, flavorful journey. Whether it’s the traditional charm of Charcoal Smokers, the modern ease of Electric Smokers, or the versatile prowess of Pellet Smokers, each type has its unique appeal and capabilities, waiting to be explored and mastered.

Your choice of smoker is a reflection of your BBQ personality and your commitment to the craft. It's about finding that perfect balance between ease, flavor, and the joy of smoking. The Best Types of Smokers not only elevate your BBQ game but also broaden your horizon, introducing you to a community bonded by the love of smoke-infused flavors.

This guide has aimed to demystify the world of smokers, providing you with the insight needed to make an informed decision. With sections on different types of smokers, brand comparisons, buying guide and modern technological innovations, you are now armed with a treasure trove of knowledge.

As you venture forward, remember, the path to BBQ mastery is laden with trials, errors, and delicious successes. So, choose your smoker, fire it up, and let the smoky adventures begin. Your quest for that perfect, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth BBQ is a glorious journey, and every pit master will tell you, it's utterly worth it.

Now that you have chosen your new smoking companion, why not check out my blog on Smoking Meat for Beginner's. Or download a free copy of my eBook here.

So, here's to many smoky, savory, and satisfying BBQ days ahead. May your smoker be your gateway to a world of unbeatable flavors and endless BBQ explorations. Happy Grilling!!

About the Author

Matt Barrell

Hi, Matt Barrell here. A BBQ and Smoked meat enthusiast. I love grilling and smoking meat, it is not just my hobby its my passion. My goal is to share my passion with as many other like-minded people as possible.