Which smoker is best?
There’s nothing quite like the richly infused flavor of smoked meats and fish, and even vegetables and cheeses, too. Today’s smokers can be highly versatile, and several manufacturers include grill areas so you’ve got a great family all-rounder.
We’ve been looking at the latest models so we can help you pick the right one for the way you like to cook and eat. There are models that are compact enough for the smallest yard, and for day-to-day dining, or larger ones that have enough capacity for serious parties. Our updated shortlist spotlights one of our long-standing favorites as well as two affordable newcomers from reputable brands.
Best smokers of 2021
- Weber’s 22-inch Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker: Returning to the top spot, this versatile, high-quality, family-size smoker is one of the best names in outdoor cooking.
- Char-Broil’s The Big Easy Gas-Fired Smoker: Smoke, roast, or grill in the same easy-to-use unit, and at a very competitive price, too. This is a new addition to our list.
- Dyna-Glo’s Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker: A new entry on our list, this model is a great choice for those who want plenty of smoking space, plus a handy grill, in an affordable package.
Jump to the end for more information on each one.
What to know before you buy a smoker
A smoker can be an affordable addition to existing outdoor cooking, with models starting from around $120. At the other end of the scale, it’s possible to pay $500 and more.
There are two main questions that will define your best smoker. First, do you just want smoked food, or do you want the ability to grill as well? Second, do you want traditional charcoal, the ease of gas, or the precise control offered by electricity?
The cheapest dedicated smokers are either a steel box or barrel design (vertical or horizontal). Apart from maybe keeping an eye on fuel and temperature, you get them fired up and leave them alone. Ideally, they should have a side box or tray so you can add fuel without disturbing the smoking chamber.
They are either charcoal or electric (the latter has a heating element for the wood chips). Charcoal and wood offer that traditional flavor everyone loves. Electric smokers provide precise thermostatic control, and may also include timers. More expensive models also have glass doors, so you can see what’s going on. You’ll probably get more consistent smoking with an electric model, though some argue you don’t get that authentic taste.
Smokers with grill
If you want a smoker plus grill, your choice will be charcoal or gas. There are two basic layouts — the popular kettle type which you use as either smoker or grill, or larger models that have a smoker and separate grill on the side. One of the critical factors here is capacity — how many square inches of cooking space you have — and how it’s divided. Grill areas are often smaller than they might be if you were buying a grill on its own. Something to watch out for.
What to look for in a quality smoker
Controllability is important with smoking. You don’t want it to get too hot and cook too quickly, or it won’t infuse the flavor properly, so an external temperature gauge is a must. Some have a convenient “smoking zone” marked on them. Remember, these tell you the heat inside the smoker — not whether the meat is actually cooked (you need a hand-held meat thermometer for that).
Build quality is always a consideration, and it’s frequently why two models that look very similar are different prices. It’s worth checking owner feedback for reports of rusting. Cleanup is something else to think about. Stainless steel racks are best, though chrome-plated ones are cheaper. You’ll also want to think about grease management. A cover is a good idea (whether you’re keeping it outdoors or not). Some include one, many do not.
Do I need to season my smoker before use?
A. It’s usually recommended. There may be residue from the production process like paint and packaging smells that might taint your food. Your owner’s manual should give instructions, but spraying or wiping the interior with vegetable oil (canola is popular) then heating for 30 to 45 minutes is a common solution.
What kind of wood should I use in my smoker?
A. There are lots of different flavors. Hickory, oak, and pecan are popular, and it’s great fun to experiment. Always buy from a reputable source, specifically for smoking. You need to be careful because some woodsmoke is actually toxic. Never use scrap, you don’t know what chemicals it might have been treated with.
What smokers are best to buy?
What we like: Very well-made, with 726 square inches of smoking and grilling space. Designed for optimum smoking temperature with easy-to-use damper that offers control without losing smoke. Cover included.
What we dislike: Premium price. Poor packaging can lead to delivery damage.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
Top smoker for the money
What we like: Easy gas lighting with reliable, controllable fuel supply. Uses TRU-infrared technology so you can smoke, roast, or grill. 21-pound meat capacity. 180-square-inch grill. Removable grease tray helps cleanup.
What we dislike: Heat control can be difficult. Build quality is inconsistent.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
Worth checking out
What we like: Five racks give over 1,300 square inches of smoker space, plus separate grill. Heavy-duty construction for durability. Convenient side access for charcoal/wood. Temperature gauge shows “smoke zone” for easy monitoring.
What we dislike: Heavy and requires plenty of space. Occasional transport damage. Screws sometimes missing.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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