Whether you’re a beginner just getting into the meat smoking game or an experienced veteran, the key to authentic smoky flavors is the right smoker. There are multiple types of smokers, and as a person starting out, the choice is daunting and you could make a mistake. Our expert grillers will prevent that with 8 of the best options.
The first option is the easy-peasy Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. It’s quite lightweight for the size, and as a charcoal smoker, you can be sure to get that delicious smokehouse flavor right in your own backyard.
The outside looks sleek, with a shiny and polished black finish and maybe a little fragile, but the unit is made from porcelain-enameled steel, which delivers excellent insulation and durability.
The Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker also comes with nickel-plated cooking grates, a built-in thermometer for temperature monitoring and regulation, a water pan, and a heat-resistant nylon handle.
Your first smoker can also be a very versatile model that can do more than just give you smokehouse tastes. Did you know that Kamado grills can also do an excellent job at smoking meat? Kamado grills have a ceramic body that is excellent for insulation and heat retention.
They are often referred to as all-in-one units that can do almost anything a culinary enthusiast can think of, and do it well. This particular Kamado grill has an oval shape, which enlarges the cooking chamber to house larger ingredients like entire racks of ribs.
The heat and moisture retention from the Primo PGCXLC also adds to the delicious flavors.
Our expert BBQ team also included another Primo Kamado grill that’s a more budget smoker for those who don’t want to exceed the 1K mark, and it has a smaller footprint and a differently-shaped cooking chamber. The Primo PGCRH is round, which is our team’s suggestion for those who often cook whole turkeys and chickens. (Learn how to smoke turkey in an electric smoker here.)
You get a fully-assembled grill made from top-grade ceramic and a wide cooking area. The Primo PGCRH also has accessories in the package including side shelves, the grill, cradle, and ash tool.
You can wheel it around and keep it in place with the front-locking casters and the powder-coated hardware is corrosion-resistant.
The Classic Pit Barrel Cooker resembles the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker in terms of finish, but it comes in the shape of a barrel. There is minimal assembly required for the Pit Barrel Cooker, and it comes with a ton of accessories to achieve versatile results.
You get stainless steel hooks for slabs of meat, hanging rods, a charcoal basket and more, for smoking foods with the combined technology of a slow cooker and smoker. The vertical charcoal smoker design produces more consistent results in a shorter time without the need for smoke or temperature control, making it an excellent beginner smoker.
Just like how a Kamado grill can double as a smoker, you can get a grill and smoker 2-in-1 combo as well, and the Z GRILLS ZPG-550C is the perfect example of this. It is a wood pellet smoker and grill that is more of an 8-in-1 combo that can do many things. Whether you want to braise, sear, bake, char-grill, or smoke, this is the best pellet smoker to do so.
What makes Z-Grills one of the best beginner smokers is the advanced Wood-Fired Technology. It gives you a woody flavor that you can’t get from an electric smoker or even charcoal smokers.
The Dyna-Glo DGSS1382VCS-D is a heavy-duty vertical offset smoker and grill. You get an incredibly large 1382 square inches of cooking space with multiple tier racks.
The offset smoker has a heavy-gauge steel body with a temperature gauge that makes temperature regulation much easier. The result is the perfect amount of infused smoke for a flavor that satisfies your palate.
The components you need to touch with your hands such as the lid and handles are cool to the touch to prevent any injury. The unit also comes with oversized wheels for easy portability.
Our culinary experts included an electric smoker for the easy and simple operation. The Smokehouse Products Little Chief Electric Smoker is very affordable, lightweight, and compact - the best smoker for beginners who don’t do a lot of heavy cooking.
It’s also a great choice for low-maintenance jerky making with a consistent low-temperature setting that produces consistent results. What really made the Little Chief a winner for our team was the UL and CUL certifications, no assembly, and a 2-year limited warranty.
The small unit comes with hickory-flavored wood chips for added flavor.
Char Broil The Big Easy is a TRU-infrared propane smoker that our team recommends for beginners for smart technology. Smoke, roast, and grill your meats with this one unit. As a beginner, you won’t need to relentlessly monitor the temperature as the TRU-infrared technology will make sure everything is cooked evenly without any flare-ups.
It’s also a smaller and more compact design for those that don’t entertain large parties. The Big Easy can hold 25 pounds of meat at the most and offers 180 square inches of cooking area.
For more flavor, beginners can use the smoker box to add more wood chips.
The best smoker for beginners will definitely be within your budget, easy to use, and consistent. However, to get even more out of your smoker, you should also consider the following points.
Already have a smoker? Learn how to use a smoker grill here.
The size of a smoker could refer to the size of the entire unit or the cooking space. In this section, our team will talk about the measurements and weight of the smoker. If you have a big backyard then the size won’t be a limiter, but for those who have a small space and need to store the unit away after use, a compact unit that’s portable is important.
Smaller smokers are generally lighter, and some even come with carrying handles that help you move them from one location to another. However, our grillers like to look for full-sized units and they say portability will not be hindered if you look for units with large wheels.
A smoker with a wheeled stand will take more pressure off of the weight limit and it will be easier to move the smoker back into storage. You should also think about the type of food you want to cook with your first smoker. If you’re a whole chicken and turkey kind of person, then our experts advise not to pick a small and compact unit. (We have our recommended smoker stands here.)
If you want to play around and find the best flavors with slow smoking, then your first smoker can be smaller. Smaller units tend to heat up faster, so the cooking process will be shorter as you can reach the desired temperature faster.
The purpose and the size of the parties you often cook for will also impact the size consideration. You can still opt for a smaller grill even if you smoke for a lot of people, but not many will choose this because it’s a lot more work as you can’t smoke a large amount at the same time.
Then comes the shape of the smoker, and you will see the most variety in Kamado options. You can have an oval or round shape, and this is also dictated by what you plan on cooking. A whole rack of ribs will fit in an oval shape better than it would in a round, and you will have a hard time shutting the lid with whole birds with that same shape.
Lastly, do you need more than just smoking capabilities for your first smoker? Our expert chefs have included many combo models that are both pellet grills and smokers, a charcoal grill and smoker combo, and a smoker and gas grill combo as well. Think about what you need your unit to do to decide if you want a dedicated smoker or a combo.
We mentioned another aspect about the size of your first smoker, and that is the cooking surface. This is usually depicted as X inches of cooking space, and this tells you how much space you have to spread your food on.
Smokers come in various sizes, and like the size of the smoker itself, you need to consider the type of food you will be smoking, how many people you typically smoke for, and whether you need a portable unit because a small smoker usually means a smaller cooking area.
It’s also important to note that the total cooking space is usually spread between different tiers. For example, if you have two cooking racks or stainless steel grates, then it’s the combined space you have for both.
As you will have also noticed from our list of products, there are various types of smokers you can get. From a charcoal smoker to a pellet smoker, and an offset smoker to propane smokers or gas smokers, there are so many to choose from. Our experts will highlight each one to help you pick.
First and foremost, we have the charcoal smoker, which has a very authentic smoke flavor to your pulled pork or smoked beef jerky. Charcoal smokers are very popular and one of the most sought-after types on the market.
The fuel type is charcoal lumps or briquettes, and our team won’t lie, but the smoking process with charcoal smokers is pretty hands-on. Beginners that want to be involved every step of the way rather than just set it and forget it, will love the charcoal smoker.
You have to control everything and have control over everything from the temperature range to the smoke, charcoal smokers need to be monitored. If you like to set it and forget it, then charcoal smokers may not be the best for you.
Even though they are a process, charcoal smokers are easy to operate and give you a very delicious smoky flavor. Another bonus is that the best charcoal smoker won’t cost an arm and a leg.
We also have a pellet smoker, which functions off of wood pellets. You can find combo pellet grills with a smoker. A pellet grill is a great choice as it can also act as an oven, which is great for pizza lovers. For those who have a pellet grill or are considering it, you will find that they are very versatile units.
Many pellet smokers are a pellet grill and smoker combo that can bake as well. Due to the various applications, our experts love this type of grill for beginners.
Wood pellets are also more eco-friendly than charcoal lumps, as they are basically repurposed wood and wood dust. Yes, you will need to repurchase wood pellets to operate your pellet smokers, but they are pretty affordable and easily accessible. They are also recommended for low and slow smoking.
What our team also raves about in pellet smokers is the various flavors it can produce. Since your pellet grill and smoker is fueled by wood, there are many flavored options available on the market. You can find cherry pellets, hickory pellets, and much more that can give pellet smokers an edge over most smokers due to the variety of results.
One more advantage pellet smokers have is they are more of a set it and forget it type. They are more independent compared to the charcoal models and the temperatures remain pretty consistent, although they can be pricier.
Offset smokers are amazing, but unless you’re a very dedicated budding smoker, offset smokers can take some trial and error to use. What exactly is an offset smoker? It is a unit that is usually fueled by wood or charcoal burning in a firebox attached to the horizontal unit. It gets its name because the smoking chamber and the firebox are offset, which cooks your food with indirect heat.
You can also get vertical offset smokers, such as the Dyna-Glo option our team recommends. The downside of offset smokers is the practice it takes to get the fire and temperature regulation under control, but it does give you a more hands-on experience.
Offset smokers can sometimes have a very large total cooking area that maximizes your time.
For the simplest option, our experts recommend electric smokers. They are the leading choice for those looking to set it and forget it, and the best electric smoker can also be used for cold smoking. Electric smokers are powered by electricity, and all you need to do is to plug them in. There is minimal hassle and less setup required to use electric smokers.
They are very practical, won’t cost too much, and a lot of portable models with small profiles are electric smokers. It’s the best recommendation for beginners, but BBQ lovers and purists may not want electric smokers because of the deemed “inauthentic taste”.
While our team agrees that you may not get the true BBQ smoking experience with electric smokers, they are great units to rely on when you need the job done consistently and without monitoring.
Gas smokers, also referred to as propane smokers, are powered by a gas connection. The simplicity of propane smokers can match their electric competitors, but there is an extra step to the operation. Users are required to refill or replace the propane tank whenever it runs out, but aside from that, our experts also often recommend a propane smoker for those just starting out.
This type is also quite affordable, but the flavor from a gas smoker isn’t as robust as the traditional charcoal or wood options. A gas smoker also typically has a smaller and narrower body, which makes it unideal for ribs.
A Kamado smoker is the same as the grill, and it’s used for a variety of cooking styles due to its excellent insulation. Although the unit may be modern, Kamados operate on a very old technique used for decades. You can get exceptional temperature control for even better smoky flavor and the unit is also very versatile.
The Kamado units are fueled by wood chunks, charcoal, or briquettes. One downside to this amazing grill is the price tag. If you’re a beginner and not sure about investing in an expensive unit, then the Kamado type may not be the best option. However, you can’t beat the temperature regulation and the versatility.
Smoking meat should be an enjoyable process, and not one that you dread because the smoker is difficult to use. The best smokers will meet your needs and more. Heat insulation and distribution are among the most important factors for the best smoky flavor. The best smokers will allow you to do that easily.
Look for a smoker with easily removable parts so cleaning is made easier. The wood chip tray, ash pan, and drip tray are the parts that need to be cleaned after every use.
If possible, look for digital control panels because a digital readout is easier to monitor. A temperature gauge is also an important add-on because you can very clearly see how hot the chamber is without having to lift the lid.
The best smokers will definitely have handles on the lid. Please make sure that the handles, regardless of the material, are cool to the touch. Most of the materials used to construct the best smokers may conduct a bit of heat, which is not what you want for the handles.
It doesn’t matter what product you’re buying, the material durability is what tells you how long the device will last. A smoker with flimsy construction without protective coatings will rust, corrode, and break. The material also depends on the type of smoker you go for.
Kamado units are an example made from ceramic, which is great for insulation, thick, and heavy, but will crack and break if impacted. Ceramic is a high-grade material that produces ideal results, but there is no way around the naturally more fragile properties.
Look for aluminum, stainless steel, or cast iron construction, and a protective coating regardless of which one you choose. Without it, your smoker could take a hit after a short time if you keep it outdoors. The coating will not only protect the best smokers but also make them easier to clean.
Your safety comes first, and other than donning protective gear such as reliable grill gloves and using tongs when handling the best smokers, you also want your combo or dedicated smoker to be safe to operate. There are units that are safety certified, which adds a layer of protection.
A meat probe is a useful feature that can keep your fingers and forearms away from the heat if you need to get in there halfway through the cooking time to check on your meats.
The price can be a deterrent for smokers, and there are a few factors that can increase or decrease the cost. The type of smoker you choose, the capabilities, construction, accessories, and even the brand all have a hand in how much the unit will cost you.
Our experts recommend units around the 300 mark for starts, but the more capable units with added features and accessories could be over 1000. If you’re not determined to be a pro smoker, then you won’t need to go for units that cost over 1000, but what our chefs do suggest is to never go far under 300.
You will be surprised by how poorly constructed most units around 100 are and how quickly they break. For something that comes in such close contact with the food you intend to eat, we really recommend not sacrificing quality for the price.
Regardless of the end price, your unit needs to have a reasonable warranty. Most units will at least have a standard 1-year warranty, limited or not, but our team says ones that offer longer ones plus a return period are even better. For smokers, the basic warranty period from many brands is 3 years.
More often than not, the length of the warranty and the protection the manufacturer or brand is willing to give for the product speaks volumes about the quality.
For the best experience and results, beginners should understand how a smoker functions in order to take full advantage of their abilities.
Smoking is a slow process with a low setting. Smokers are powered by different sources of fuel including wood, gas, and electricity. Once you start up your smoker, it then becomes a waiting and monitoring game.
There are some smokers that allow you to add specific flavors to enhance your meat with wood pellets or chips. Your main job as a smoker is to control the oxygen and heat which impacts the smoke. Fiddling around with the settings can help you figure out what you prefer.
Is it your first time smoking or are you looking to brush up your skills? Our professional culinary team has a few pearls of wisdom to offer.
You will have a trial and error process, and that’s just a fact. Experimenting is part of the fun when it comes to smoking. It’s okay if your first, second, or even 10th try isn’t perfect. Our team says to try to experiment with cheaper cuts of meat first, so you won’t feel as devastated when things don't turn out exactly as you pictured.
An extra trick is BBQ rubs and sauces can usually mask some oversmoking or make under smoked meats taste a bit better.
Know the optimal temperatures for smoking your specific ingredients. For example, don’t cook two ingredients of different textures and food groups for the same amount of time. If you’re smoking pork butt and green peppers, don’t do it together because you will very likely end up with an oversmoked or undersmoked dish.
We also suggest you make full use of the accessories and features of your smoker, which brings us to the next section.
Some you can buy and some are included, but there are accessories that can make your meat smoking easier and more enjoyable. Things such as a chimney starter, meat probe, and cleaning tools are great bonuses, but the more important ones are the items below.
If you don’t have a thermometer built into your first smoker, then definitely buy a separate one. The thermometer probe will come in handy no matter how much experience you rack up. (See the best smoker thermometers in the market.)
Making sure the internal temperature of your smoked meats reach the ideal temperature will make all the difference when you bite into them.
As we said before, wood pieces can offer different flavors and different types may be suited better to different meats. This accessory also saves you a lot of work if you want variety for virtually no extra effort.
You can experiment with different wood flavors on the same meat to produce varying results.
Some smokers come with tongs, but if yours does not, it is a safety accessory we strongly recommend getting. Tongs are long clip-like utensils that allow you to maneuver your ingredients without having to stick your hand into the smoker.
It will greatly lessen the chances of injuries and help you to check on your meat easily.
Last but definitely not least are BBQ gloves. Make sure the gloves are heat resistant and made of material that will not be damaged from accidental sprays and flare-ups. Your hands and forearms will thank you.
The gloves will also allow you to handle the wood pellets and charcoal without dirtying your hands. Of course, they also protect you from injury.
It’s really no surprise our chefs chose the Smokey Mountain from Weber as the best smoker for beginners. It’s a very sturdy unit that has a large enough chamber to cook whole turkeys and ham. You get precision heat control, a thermometer built in, excellent insulation, and accessories all focused on helping you achieve that authentic smokehouse flavor you’re looking for.
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