Smoking meat is more American than warm apple pie perched on your mother’s windowsill on Sunday.
And sure, slapping meat down on the grill and serving it soon after is convenient and all, but do you know what’s better than convenient? Tender perfection!
Smoking meat is hands down the best way to turn a piece of meat from zero to everybody’s hero, and you’ll be showered in just as much praise.
However, it’s no secret that under-par smokers produce less than desirable meat, and generally aren’t designed to last either.
This doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend all your hard-earned savings on the biggest and best smoker in town - you just need to know what to look for, and where to find it.
In this article, we’re going to give you a heads up on the different types of smokers, then hit you with the creme de la creme of smokers under $500.
Made of high-quality materials and packing features that make your time easier, any one of these smokers comes ready to slip straight into your backyard and smoke your meaty feast to a tender, juicy perfection.
Before you peruse the best smokers of today under $500, it’ll help to know what you’re dealing with first. We’re guessing you’ve heard the names before?
Log burners, charcoal smokers, gas smokers, pellet smokers, and electric smokers, but what exactly makes one outshine the next? Let’s dive in (figuratively, of course, we don’t want to get smoked out now do we)?!
There’s no dancing around the fire with this one, where smokers are concerned, log burners reign supreme. Also known as “stick burners”, log burners, to the surprise of everyone, burn wood logs.
These old-school smokers are regarded highly in the meat-smoking world for producing the finest flavored meats.
However, a log burner isn’t meant to be user-friendly, it’s designed to create tender perfection, remember? Expect a rather steep learning curve when coming up against a log burner, and your commitment level needs to be just as high.
The tricky part to this type of smoker is that wood logs burn clean at high temperatures. So, when it comes time to close up the exhaust dampers, the smoke will smolder and turn dirty.
Professional pitmasters treat this process like the only thing that matters in the world - keeping a watchful eye and a quick hand on their log burner at all times.
By finding a balance between adding logs (fuel), and controlling the dampers, they expertly manage a steadfast temperature while generating clean smoke to cook.
The problem with log-burning smokers is they don’t come cheap, far from it in fact. This makes it almost impossible to pick up a decent log burner for under $500. Thankfully, there’s one brand that does it, and we’ll fill you in who it is later.
Because of the hefty price tag that comes with just about every log burner on the market, most backyard smoking enthusiasts tend to go down the charcoal route.
Even though they may not be quite as prized on the professional pitmaster stage, charcoal smokers offer the real-deal smoking effect, just with a more user-friendly sense.
However, this isn’t a case of getting the charcoal white-hot and letting it do a smokey number on your meat, there’s something else at play here, and it’s pretty important.
By mixing charcoal with wood chunks or chips, you’ll get that real-wood flavor emanating through your meat, while the charcoal works wonders at keeping things burning underneath.
Charcoal smokers still require you to regulate their air intake and exhaust through built-in dampers. But, don’t worry, Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect to be an expert smoker straight off the bat.
Once you come to terms with your charcoal smoker’s temperature control and it’s humming away nicely, then there’s no reason why it can’t be left to its own devices to smoke your meat for several hours at a time.
Another bonus of charcoal over log burners is that charcoal is cheaper than smoking wood. So, even though you’ll need to pick up some smoking wood, it will pale in comparison to what’s needed in a beefed-up log burning machine.
Although purists may scoff at the idea of a gas-powered smoker, we think they’re pretty great. Not only do they get more people keen on smoking meat - people who maybe don’t have the time or means to man a wood smoker.
But, when you get some wood chips/ chunks in the mix, your meat is still destined to come out tasting smoked and delicious.
Yes, it’s true, the gas itself doesn’t create any smoke. So, in order to have your meat smoked through you’ll need to get some wood cooking on a pan above the burner.
As a result of the extended cook times on smoked meat, a savvy idea is to always have an extra gas bottle filled up and ready to be swapped out when your first one runs empty.
One massive plus side to gas over its wood-smoking counterparts is ease. Gas smokers are incredibly easy to maintain a stable temperature, which is ideal for novice smokers learning the ropes.
However, the big downside to gas is that it's unlikely to replicate the same real-wood smoke taste as charcoal and wood smokers.
Luckily, though, the gas smoker market is super competitive and there are some really competitive deals going that slide under the $500 bracket with ease.
Pellets are another smoker type that always seems to have a cloud of controversy hovering over them.
For what could very well be the easiest smoker of the lot, you’d think that people would give them a break and just appreciate them for what they are - convenient.
The pellets used in pellet smokers are small compressed balls of 100% natural sawdust that, thankfully, come glue and are binder-free. The benefits of pellet smokers over the previously mentioned smoker types can not be overlooked.
First of all, they are instant-igniters, meaning all you have to do is prime its fire pot and press a button.
This nifty feature is due to pellet smokers using a cooking technique called “convection” which surrounds food with a constant stream of smoke and hot air (just like your oven).
The beauty of this is that pellet smokers can be left unattended for up to 12 hours at a time while they work their conventional methods in, around, and on top of your food.
They are also thermostat-controlled which takes the constant worry, babysitting, and guesswork out of smoking.
The latest and greatest pellet smokers come with the kinds of features that traditional wood smokers can only dream of.
One of the most astonishing features is a WiFi control system that lets you adjust the interior temperature through the gift of the internet.
This means you can get your pellet smoker doing its thing in the morning, go to work, turn it down when required, and come back to a full-day smoke on your favorite cut of beef.
Sounds too good to be true right? Wrong! Another cool feature of some pellet smokers is their integrated temperature-checking meat probes, which, again, skip the guesswork and put you in control of your meat’s smoking destiny.
But don’t think pellet smokers only come with a long and impressive list of plus sides, because, as with all tech, comes the very real prospect of components breaking.
With the inclusion of motors, fans, electronics, and digital temperature controls, these smokers have the potential to malfunction unannounced, and sometimes in the middle of a cook.
This risk means shopping around for good-quality products from respectable brands is especially important when scoping out your next pellet smoking sidekick.
You know how we just bigged-up the ease of pellet smokers? Well, electric smokers are even easier than them.
After setting their temperature with an in-built digital controller, all you have to do is whack some wood chips down on the pan, dust your hands, and walk away.
Of course, sliding your food onto the racks is also pretty important, but you catch the drift, and the drift is going with the tide, not against it.
Don’t think electric smokers are the answer to everything though. Without a live fire, food that is cooked in these puppies can never, and will never, taste like the real thing.
Sure, you may get little wisps of that maple wood coming through your pulled pork. Or, you may get a subtle smokiness through your bacon, but a blind taste test against some wood-smoked rashers will have the electric bacon being left, every, single, time.
However, if you’re not looking to smoke the all-important game day brisket, and all you desire from your electric smoker is to do some wings, veggies, nuts, cheese, fish, and cured meats, then they certainly make a good case for that.
Because they have tiny vents brought on by weak elements, electric smokers are terrible for creating crispy-skinned chicken or that chewy, almost-charred, bacon we all secretly strive for.
Instead, they are better at cooking meat and food where keeping hold of moisture is key.
That being said, going down the electric smoking road is better than going down a smokeless road.
If you’re in a small apartment or somewhere where live fires are a big no-no, electrics can give you smoked food without the fire. And for that, they can be thanked.
Now that you’re up to speed on the different smoker styles that can be found under $500, it’s now time for you to use that newly learned knowledge on something special.
Each of the smokers below has been tried, tested, and can mix it with the best of them.
Whether you’re looking to get down and dirty with a bona fide log burner. Or, press a button and let your electric smoker (mostly) take care of the rest.
Keep following your intuitions because you’ve come to the right place, it’s true, your backyard smoking destiny has almost been met.
In the world of barbeque, there is Weber, and then there is the rest. Weber has been ahead of the curve since before the curve started curving, carving out a formidable name that can only surpass itself.
Especially here in the U.S, where Weber sells more grills than any other company and has been doing so for well over 100 years - it’s safe to say that Weber is the best.
Their Smokey Mountain Cooker is a modern classic that has been serving backyard smokers deliciously smoked cuts for over 40 years. Since its inception, the Smokey Mountain has been modernized, of course, but its iconic bullet-style design is still instantly recognizable.
This is the beefed-up 22-inch model that comes with two large cooking grates. This means you should have no problems fitting your thickest rack of ribs, beef brisket, and the rest without a worry about it.
The lid, bowl, and body have been porcelain-enameled to give the Smokey Mountain its insanely good heat retention and durability.
So durable is its construction that Weber has slapped a cool and collected 10-year manufacturer’s service onto the Smokey.
The silicone temperature grommets monitor the smoker’s internal temperature so that you know exactly what’s happening behind closed doors.
An oversized aluminum door has been fitted to make your life easier when it comes time to stoke the smoke and add more charcoal.
If 22-inches is a little large for your needs, then you’ll be pleased to know Weber has both an 18-inch and 14-inch model as well.
The Weber Smokey Mountain made smoking accessible to backyard enthusiasts back in the 80s, 40 years on, and it's still got our backs.
Proudly standing 40 inches tall with four chrome-coated smoking racks built into it, Masterbuilt’s Propane Smoker comes ready to feed the family (and we mean the extended one!).
Not only does this smoker stand out proud and tall, but it also has some pretty cool features that are designed to make your life easier, and your backyard safer
The most impressive one has got to be the in-built temperature sensor. Gone are the days of leaving your prized cuts of meat in the hands of fate and luck.
This clever sensor has put an end to guessing by controlling its burner to maintain your desired temperature. Impressive, right?
On the safety front, it’s packing a dedicated safety valve that automatically shuts off the burner, if, for whatever reason, the flame has been extinguished.
If you’re someone who understandably worries about their gas tank running dry, then you’ll be pleased to know Masterbuilt has included a tank fuel level gauge for this exact reason.
With a 15,750 BTU stainless steel burner working a number under your stacked racks of tenderizing meats, it’s clear this smoker doesn’t like doing things in halves. If you don't like halves either, then step into the propane-propelled way of smoking and pick this puppy up today.
The O.G vertical barrel cooker from Pit Barrel Cooker Co. is a hard one to deny. With an impressive set of hanging hooks and accessories, this beautiful barrel makes light work of smoking food.
Whole chickens, rib racks, pork shoulder, whatever you’ve got in mind, the Pit Barrel will find a way to hang it.
If you picked up some delicate bites like salmon, tomatoes, or asparagus, and you think they’d do well in the Pit Barrel, then you would be correct.
On top of its arsenal of hanging accessories, the Pit Barrel also comes with a standard grill grate for this exact purpose.
If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what this smoker comes with, get ready, because it’s a lot.
Eight stainless steel hooks, two hanging rods, the aforementioned grill grate, a charcoal basket, and a hook remover tool to keep your hand out of heat and harm’s way. That was a lot, right?
The beauty of this smoker system over other designs is its simplicity. By trimming the fat down to exactly what’s needed to smoke, this is a barrel that can be relied upon.
You won’t have to fuss and fiddle with any air dampers on this rig, it does the smoke-regulating magic all on its lonesome. This simple fact means you can let it be and go about enjoying yourself without fear, or the need to babysit.
Another attractive feature of this smoker style is it's essentially just a barrel, which means no assembly on your end.
By suspending your meat, you instantly open it up to uninterrupted, 360-degree heating, and if you didn’t know, that gives it a better chance of going all juicy and tender.
Sure, using the Pit Barrel may feel like you’re cheating, but when you know professional pitmasters have a soft spot for barrel smokers and use them whenever possible, it’s not really cheating, it’s just clever.
Oklahoma Joe’s is a big-name brand that puts its money where its construction is. So, it was a huge surprise to see their Highland Offset Smoker sneak into the “under $500” category.
Although this is the smallest model of the Highland Offset Smoker range, space is not a premium in any model of the Highland series.
Its primary cooking grate fits, without undue stress, four pork shoulders, seven whole chickens, or three beef briskets. No, not all at the same time because that would be absurd.
But, you can’t deny that fitting seven whole chickens comfortably is a super impressive feat for a smoker under $500.
Made of high-temperature resistant, heavy-gauge steel, offset smokers under $500 don’t come any more heavy-duty than this guy. Its unrivaled quality through construction is a big reason for its success, as well as looking so dang cool.
The matte-black, powder-coated finish coupled with its thoughtful aesthetic and purposeful design sees the Highland Offset often chosen off the back of its rugged look alone.
Pitmasters will feel right at home when manning this offset, as it looks, feels, and smells like the real thing. This is an old-school log burner with a few modern touches that have ensured it remains relevant in the modern-day.
The professional-grade temperature gauge gives accurate monitoring, and with multiple adjusting dampers, you’ll be able to regulate its heat and smoke accordingly.
Another nod to convenience on the Highland is its firebox door that allows you to stoke your fire without the need to lift the chamber lid.
Like it's any surprise, but Oklahoma Joe’s have gone the extra mile and porcelain-wrapped the smoker’s cooking grates to resist rust and make them easier to clean.
Other notable features include a front shelf for quick access to utensils and food, cool-touch handles, and last but certainly not least - large, wagon-style wheels.
These traditional wheels have been reinforced to make light work of moving the Highland and traveling over rocky roads out west (ok, maybe not that last part).
If you’re thinking of dabbling in the traditional style of smoking, then there’s no question, Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset is coming home for dinner, and it's cooking!
Sure, bigger is often better, but sometimes portable is better too. Needing no introduction, Traeger is a premium, U.S-owned brand that’s been slinging pellet grills since their first big-hit back in 1985.
Anyone who makes the leap into owning a Traeger often becomes a Traeger lover for life, and this portable smoker is the perfect leap into the rest of your life.
Traeger isn’t trying to take away from the fact that a full-sized backyard smoker is important, heck, they recommend it. Traeger just wants you to eat well off-grid too.
This shrunken pellet smoker is perfect for whisking away on camping trips to serve you perfectly grilled/ smoked eats when surrounded by nothing but nature.
Still fitting its fair share of the good stuff - Traeger proudly states a whole chicken, rack of ribs, or six burgers can comfortably fit inside.
Notes to its premium nature include porcelain-coated grill grates, a cast iron griddle for when you want perfectly seared steak or fried eggs in the morning, and advanced grilling logic for precise temperature controls.
Perfect for quick-fire grilling and smoking, the Traeger portable requires little from you, it just likes to have a view.
If the idea of a portable smoker has got you dreaming of deliciously-smoked meat on sneaky weekends getaways, but you think Traeger’s portable ain’t big enough, Green Mountain has got just the thing.
Aptly named the “Davy Crockett” this portable pellet smoker is easy to transport without sacrificing size.
Branded as “the ultimate tailgating grill”, Green Mountain knows that there ain’t no party like a tailgating party. The beauty of the Davy Crockett is that it lets you live out your portable smoking dreams but in the most contemporary of means.
The Sense-Mate function is a thermal sensor that constantly monitors the internal temperature to make sure you don’t miss a beat.
On top of having eyes and ears (Sense-Mate) on the grill at all times, Green Mountain has given the Davy Crockett WiFi capabilities. This enables you to control and monitor it from your phone (granted it’s smart).
Yes, Davy comes ready to fire up with pellets, this much is true. But, this multifaceted smoker doesn’t stop at pellets.
With an in-built car battery-compatible electric burner, you can get instant grilling satisfaction when needed too.
If you were starting to wonder when the portable side of Davy comes into play? You’ll be pleased to know of the foldable, quick-release legs that make picking up and sliding Davy into your truck a welcomed breeze.
Note the meat probe, convenience tray, pellet bucket, a peaked lid for rib racks, and we hope by now you’re starting to understand just how good Green Mountain has made the famed Davy Crockett portable.
Do old Davy proud and take this portable puppy out into the great unknown and eat like a king/ queen while doing it.
If you’re looking for a seriously scorched deal on an electric smoker, Char-Broil has got you. The Electric Smoker 725 Deluxe takes the dirt, grime, and hard work out of smoking while still serving up deliciously-smoked meat.
How does it do this you ask? Its low-set electric heating element securely fits a stainless-steel wood chip box. Which, once filled with four cups of your favorite-flavored wood chips will create an even burn for up to seven hours.
The smoker’s premium, double-wall insulation does a very good job of locking in the electric-generated smoke and heat. So good in fact that this smoker uses 10 times fewer wood chips in a seven-hour smoking session than other leading electric smoker brands.
The full-length glass door opens up the smoker and allows you to keep a watchful eye over your prized cuts while keeping the door shut and the heat in.
The LED-display control panel is super easy to use and regulates the smoker’s internal heat. When it comes time to check the temperature of the meat itself, Char-Broil has included a dedicated meat probe for this exact reason.
Once it’s official and your meat is finally ready to eat, but your guests haven’t quite made it to the table yet, simply flick the warming switch. Your food will stay warm, without overcooking, until it comes time to feast.
With four stacked racks, during the smoking process, it’s to be expected that a fair amount of grease is going to start dripping off of your meat.
Luckily, Char-Broil planned for this and has included an 8.5-cup capacity grease tray that is easily removed, washed, and slid back in to go another round.
The Smoke Vault by Camp Chef has a unique design that has been made to look exactly like a fortified safe. Even down to the exterior thermometer resembling its dial.
Thankfully, Camp Chef hasn’t put all their eggs in the one, themed basket, with the Smoke Vault’s construction being just as on point.
Once you crack the smoker’s code and open it up, you’ll be presented with a whole array of racks, trays, and pans to comfortably smoke your game-day feast.
Built into the Smoke Vault, you’ve got three adjustable damper valves, matchless snap-ignition, and an easy-to-read 50 to 550-degree thermometer.
On top of all that Camp Chef has been so kind as to include a bunch of cooking/ smoking tips, tricks, and recipe ideas to get your creative juices flowing and your mouth-watering.
Yes, this is a budget smoker. But, considering its unique theme and capable construction, you’d be silly for not considering it for your next backyard cook-up.
Although purists tend to side with wood chips, pellets make a very good case as the better option of the two for backyard smokers.
Not only do they create a hotter environment, but they also burn slower than chips, which makes them more cost-effective.
This combination of reasons means pellets can smoke a wider variety of meats and other foods like vegetables and cheese.
Another plus side to pellets is they create a fraction of the ash that wood chips do, which means less clean-up and maintenance for you.
The downside to pellets is, even though they don’t feature any glue or binder, they still require more processing and additives mixed through them that can affect the flavor of your meat.
For this reason, buying premium pellets with as few additives as possible is key to tasting that pure smoky flavor through your meat.
Finding the perfect place out back for your shiny new smoker is imperative for its longevity and your safety. Keeping it at least 10 feet away from your home is the first step in safeguarding your family from any untimely smoking accidents.
Another clever idea is to pick up a purpose-built grilling floor mat. A floor mat coupled with a flat and even surface will ensure a sturdy base to place your smoker on top of.
Strategically placing your smoker where there’s protection from the wind and weather is also clever to keep smoke away from your home, as well as offering a windbreak to maximize its smoking ability.
We know how exciting it is to finally set a shiny new smoker in place (we really do). But, before you jump straight into the fun part and smell smoked meats emanating from within, there’s a trick-of-the-trade prerequisite called seasoning to do.
By seasoning your new meat-smoking weapon prior to its first cook-up, you’ll lay a great foundation for stacks of successfully smoked meats in the future.
The first step is to coat your smoker’s entire interior with high burn-point cooking oil (that includes the racks and lid). The next step is to fill the chimney with charcoal and light it using firestarters.
While the chimney charcoal is lighting up, add more charcoal to the smoker’s firebox, and once the chimney charcoal is raring to go, add it into the firebox as well.
Then all you have to do is make sure the exhaust and intake are fully open and let the charcoal burn through for a minimum of two to three hours at 275°F.
Doing this process will rid the smoker of production chemicals and solvents that may have been left behind in manufacturing.
Is it just us, or is buying a smoker one of the most exciting things in life? Not only does it get you thinking about all the amazing memory-making you’ll be doing with your family, but it also means, on a selfish note, that you’ll be eating well from here on out.
Whether you already know your way around a smoker, or this is your first step into the mouth-watering world of backyard smoking, the smokers listed above are here to help you out.
Through premium construction, modern features, and stylish designs, these $500 and under smokers certainly are an impressive bunch - proving that you don’t have to spend a lot to smoke a lot.
We hope you were able to find something that tickled your fancy and will have you sitting down to some self-smoked juiciness very soon.
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