Which portable smoker is best?
Using a smoker is one of the only ways you can impart that unique woody, earthy, smoky flavor to your foods, and it isn’t just for red meat. Vegetables, fish and even some cheeses can benefit tremendously from smoking. Portable smokers are an excellent way of achieving this flavor on the go.
The best portable smoker is the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 14-Inch Charcoal Smoker. It’s small and lightweight for maximum portability and runs on charcoal instead of heavy, expensive propane bottles.
What to know before you buy a portable smoker
Types of portable smokers
There are several smoker types available, but only a few are portable.
- Box smokers are tall, rectangular smokers best for cooking larger quantities of foods. They have a solid front door, with pricier models adding a glass window for easy monitoring. Low-cost models might have poor insulation.
- Drum smokers are excellent portable choices thanks to small sizes and light weights. Making things even easier, they usually run on charcoal. They can’t cook much food at once, however, making them poor choices for large gatherings.
- Vertical water smokers can be either drum- or box-shaped, though they cook most similarly to drum smokers. They use a bottom-loaded heat source to heat a pan of water which keeps meat moist and regulates heat. They share the limited capacity issues of drum smokers.
- Kamado grills typically act as a standard grill, though they can be converted for use as a smoker. These tend to be heavier, larger and more expensive than dedicated smokers but are strong choices for those who like their dual function.
Portable smokers are usually powered by charcoal or propane, but some models use electricity instead. Charcoal and propane each have their recurring costs, depending on how often you need to use them. If you rarely use your smoker, a bag of charcoal has a lower entry cost. If you tailgate every weekend, a bottle of propane will last much longer. Electricity is easy to use and offers unique perks like built-in timers and temperature control but requires access to an outlet.
What to look for in a quality portable smoker
The largest factor in determining the portability of a smoker is its weight. Most consumers consider a smoker over 50 pounds as too heavy to be portable, though everyone has their own personal cutoff. The most portable models typically weigh 20-30 pounds.
Pieces and parts
Some portable smokers can be broken down into several small parts. Others have wheels.
- Parts: Models that can be disassembled may make for a more portable smoker, but some users find the breakdown and buildup processes to be frustrating. These models allow you to bring a larger-capacity smoker with you, however.
- Wheels: Smokers with wheels may seem more easily portable, but it’s a trick. Models almost always include wheels on large, solid and heavy smokers to make them easier to move around your yard instead of making them easy to take on the go.
How much you can expect to spend on a portable smoker
Portable smokers tend to skew toward lower price ranges as a result of their typically small sizes. Most cost around $200-$300, though some top-dollar models can hit $500.
Portable smoker FAQ
Should I clean my smoker after each use?
A. Yes, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking. Smokers need to develop seasonings on their surfaces, just like cast iron pans. This seasoning helps to protect the smoker, better control temperature and enhance the flavor of your foods. After each cooking session, remove all your trays and racks and clean them by hand. While you’re doing that, run your empty smoker at a high temperature to burn away dangerous food residue like fat splatters. If there are any large chunks of food after this process, remove them carefully without scrubbing.
Will using lighter fluid on charcoal affect my food’s taste?
A. Yes it will, and much for the worse. Adding any chemical to assist in starting your charcoal imparts that chemical into your foods as it burns. You should also avoid charcoal that has chemicals added beforehand that make them easier to light. The best option for starting your charcoal is to use a charcoal chimney to light them, with the aid of flammables like clean paper.
What are the best portable smokers to buy?
Top portable smoker
What you need to know: This portable smoker is simple to use and delivers excellent results.
What you’ll love: This smoker only weighs 23 pounds, making it easy to move around. Fuel is easy to add and dampers can limit the temperature if you add too much. It comes with a cover for protection when not in use. It’s also available in 18- and 22-inch heights.
What you should consider: More expensive portable smokers have more features. Larger models have increased weights that limit ease of portability. Some assembly is required, but an expert assembly add-on is available.
Top portable smoker for the money
What you need to know: This portable smoker is large but still light on its feet.
What you’ll love: This smoker has a width and height of 23.4 by 36.2 inches yet only weighs 22.7 pounds. It easily grills and roasts as well as smokes. Assembly is easy and it’s powered by propane, so it can be used anywhere.
What you should consider: Aspects of its construction, like some of the drip trays, aren’t well-fitted. A cover for protection is an additional charge.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This portable smoker runs on electricity rather than charcoal or propane.
What you’ll love: Electrical power lets you set cooking timers and control cooking temperature with the press of a few buttons. It fits four smoking racks that can cook up to six whole chickens at once. A patented wood chip loader lets you add chips without opening the smoker.
What you should consider: It’s one of the heaviest portable options at 45.9 pounds. Wood chips need to be added with more regularity than other models.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Jordan Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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