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Best Smokers of 2020
A smoker gives your meat a delicious, woodsy flavor that everyone loves. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best smoker for your outdoor barbecue needs.
For a Mouth-Watering Meal, Find the Perfect Smoker
There's something tantalizing about tender, smoke-flavored meat that falls off the bone. Whether you love smoked meat in the tradition of North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, or somewhere else, owning a smoker allows you to prepare these delicacies whenever you like.
It's true that you can get pretty good results by simply grilling meat, but smoking pork, beef, ribs, salmon, and other meats infuses them with a delicious, woodsy flavor that elevates your barbecue to the next level. It's also true that some barbecue grills have the capacity to smoke meat. But having a dedicated smoker makes it much easier to enjoy smoked barbecue whenever you want.
Smokers are available in a variety of types and sizes. Some are equipped with extensive features while others are quite basic. If you're shopping for a new smoker, it can be difficult to know which product would best fit your needs.
At BestReviews, we pride ourselves on our honest, unbiased product recommendations and reviews. We do not accept samples from product manufacturers. Instead, we perform deep research on the products we feature. If you're ready to buy a smoker, take a look at the matrix above for our top recommendations. For general information about what to look for in a smoker, continue reading our shopping guide.
What Type of Smoker Should You Get?
The market offers lots of choices when it comes to smoking meat. You'll need to choose among a vertical water smoker, a horizontal offset smoker, a box smoker, a drum smoker, a smoker oven, a Kamado grill, and a pellet grill.
Vertical Water Smoker
A vertical water smoker consists of three components: heat source, water pan, and smoking chamber. The heat source can be gas or electric. The water pan helps regulate the smoker's heat and adds moisture to the cooking process.
Vertical water smokers are usually compact, and they tend to be more energy-efficient than larger smokers. They're also easier on the budget than other types of smokers. If you're new to smoking, you may wish to consider a vertical water smoker.
Vertical water smokers do have a few drawbacks. They offer limited temperature control, and they don't offer much room in terms of food capacity.
Horizontal Offset Smoker
A horizontal offset smoker features two parts: a long, barrel-like cooking chamber and a firebox with an adjustable vent. The heat from the firebox makes its way into the cooking chamber through a hole, while the smoke filters out through a smokestack on the end of the cooking chamber.
If you decide to buy a horizontal offset smoker, we recommend that you choose one of high quality. A low-quality horizontal offset smoker can leak smoke and provide uneven heating. But a horizontal offset smoker with tightly sealed doors and seams will keep the smoke trapped inside.
A box smoker is essentially a box with a heat source at the bottom and a cooking chamber at the top. If you opt for this type of smoker, choose one with proper insulation to ensure that the heat and smoke are contained. Properly insulated box smokers cost more, but the results are all the more delicious.
Box smokers are also sometimes called vault smokers, cabinet smokers, or block smokers.
A drum smoker is one of the simplest types of smokers. It consists of a drum with a firebox at the bottom and a cooking rack on top. There are usually vents in the base and a lid where you can make temperature adjustments.
A drum smoker allows for direct smoking, which works well for chicken and ribs but isn't as effective for pork roasts or brisket.
Although it's an outdoor appliance, a smoker oven operates a lot like a traditional oven. It features a well-insulated box with a heating element in the bottom and racks onto which you place the meat for cooking.
Smoker ovens typically feature computer controls and temperature probes for precise temperature control. They tend to have a larger capacity than other smokers.
Smoker ovens cost more than other types of smokers, but if you're an avid barbecuer/smoker, you may find the investment to be worth it.
The Kamado grill originated in Japan and is made of ceramic. It must be augmented for smoking: a baffle is placed at the bottom to block the radiant heat so you can keep the smoker at a low temperature for a long time.
Kamado grills are durable and extremely versatile; you can use them to smoke or to grill. Kamado grills are expensive, though, and they don't have a very large capacity. If you're feeding lots of people, a Kamado grill might be too small for your needs.
A pellet grill uses wood pellets to provide an authentic smoky flavor. The pellets go in a bin, and a motor-powered corkscrew pulls the pellets into the firepot. Some pellet grills offer specific temperature adjustments and meat probes for more effective control.
Pellet grills are more versatile than some other options, as they can both smoke and grill. They are easy to operate but tend to cost a fair amount of money. Because pellet grills have many working parts, they may be more prone to mechanical breakdown over time.
What Size Smoker Should You Get?
The size of your smoker matters both in terms of how much food you want to cook and how much space you have available in your yard.
● If you smoke meats occasionally or for just one or two people, a small, compact smoker would probably suit you fine. These smokers are easy to situate in a yard or even on an apartment balcony.
● If you smoke meat frequently and cook for large groups of 10 or more, you'll need a large smoker that may take up a lot of space in your yard.
Don't forget that you'll need space around your smoker for ventilation. So even if you have enough space for a smoker's physical dimensions, you'll also need a bit of space beyond that for adequate venting.
Charcoal, Wood, Electricity, Pellets, Propane: What Type of Fuel Should You Use?
Different smokers take different kinds of fuel. There are charcoal smokers, wood smokers, electric smokers, pellet smokers, and propane smokers from which to choose. Which type should you buy?
● Charcoal and wood smokers are the most traditional types of smokers. Both provide an authentic flavor that's tough to replicate elsewhere. Charcoal smokers usually cost less than wood smokers, but there are some high-end charcoal models that are expensive.
● Electric smokers are the easiest smokers to use. You simply turn the smoker on and use computer controls to smoke your meats. However, electric smokers don't offer the authentic flavor that charcoal and wood smokers do, and they can be pricey.
● Pellet smokers use small wooden pellets for fuel. They also use electricity to burn the pellets and create smoke. Pellet smokers are quite convenient, just as electric smokers are. But unlike electric smokers, your food may approach the traditional flavor associated with wood smoking when you use a pellet smoker.
● Propane smokers, also known as gas smokers, are usually inexpensive and easy to use. They impart a good flavor to the meat, though it's not quite the same as the flavor you would get from a charcoal or wood smoker.
Other Questions to Ask Before Buying a Smoker
In addition to inquiring about a smoker's size and fuel type, there are some other questions you should ask before purchasing a smoker.
● What range of temperatures can the smoker reach? The greater a smoker's temperature range, the more versatile it will be. For example, you may need to go as hot as 500°F to smoke a turkey or as low as 100°F to smoke cheese. Check the temperature range of any smoker that you're considering to ensure that it's adequate for the foods you plan to smoke.
● How easy or hard is it to control the smoker's temperature? Make sure you'll be able to control the smoker's temperature easily and effectively. Gas, electric, and wood pellet smokers usually offer the easiest temperature control because they feature thermostats that you can program. For charcoal and wood burners, you'll need dampers on the firebox and chimney to allow you to control the oxygen supply to the fire.
● Is the smoker adequately insulated? Proper insulation prevents heat and smoke from escaping during operation. Look for a smoker with thick walls made of heavy metal or ceramic. Secure seals and welds that ensure the smoker is properly insulated are also important.
● Can the smoker perform any other functions? If you want a smoker with the versatility to allow for other cooking methods, this is an important question to ask. The market offers some excellent smoker/grill combos for people who are interested in a multifunctional appliance.
● Does the smoker come with a water pan? Many smokers include a water pan that you can insert above the heat source to moderate temperature fluctuations. To add more flavor to your food, you can use beer, wine, or herb-infused water in the pan instead of plain water.
● Does the smoker come with a drip pan? A drip pan is a helpful addition to any smoker. The drip pan catches fat and other fluids as they drip from the meat during smoking. You can then use the drippings to create a tasty sauce for your meat.
● Does the smoker have wheels? Whether you plan to move your smoker around during smoking season or not, it's a good idea to buy a model with wheels. You'll have an easier time putting it into storage for the winter if you can simply wheel it into your garage or shed. Check to make sure that the wheels move well over textured surfaces such as grass and concrete.
How Much Do Smokers Cost?
Smokers vary in price based on the type, size, and extra features they offer. You can expect to pay between $60 and $600 for a smoker.
● If you're new to smoking, a basic smoker that costs between $60 and $100 is a good option.
● For a mid-range option with a larger capacity and extra features, expect to pay between $150 and $300.
● A very large, high-end smoker with all the bells and whistles will typically cost between $350 and $650.
Tips for Smoking Success
● You can smoke a wide variety of meats, but some taste better than others when smoked. The best-tasting smoked meats include pork and beef ribs, brisket, ham, pork roast, chicken, turkey, salmon, and trout.
● Marinating your meat before adding it to the smoker provides a flavor boost. Pre-made marinades are available at the grocery store in a wide variety of flavors, such as teriyaki and chipotle.
● Rubs are another way to flavor meats before you add them to a smoker. Pre-made rubs that contain a mix of spices, garlic, and salt are available at the grocery store.
● Choose the wood for your smoker based on the type of meat you're smoking. Cherry works well with turkey, beef, and pork. Hickory is a good choice for lamb and beef. Mesquite pairs well with beef or pork. Applewood is ideal for fish, poultry, and pork.
● If you're concerned about small wood chips burning up too quickly in your smoker, soak them for at least an hour before adding them.
● Streams of white smoke pouring out of your smoker are a good sign. If you see black smoke streaming out of it, though, it can mean the meat is burning or the fire isn't properly ventilated.
● While it may be tempting to peek, don't open the lid of the smoker while the meat is cooking. You'll release the smoke and heat inside, which can affect the finished results.
● For best results, preheat your smoker before you add the meat. Aim for 250°F.