What To Consider When Buying a Smoker
Whether you want a new, updated smoker for your favorite hobby or a fully-equipped smoking machine fit for winning local contests, it pays to think carefully when buying a smoker to expand your outdoor cooking options. Here are a few things to consider:
These tried-and-true contraptions are designed to cook meat while infusing it with smoky flavor, ideal for ribs, brisket, pulled pork, salmon and many other foods. Like grills, smokers come in many varieties, so it pays to carefully consider just what kind you need.
One of the biggest improvements to new smokers is enhanced controls for adjusting temperature and smoking time. These features are most common in electric smokers, but these days even gas and charcoal smokers have features that allow them to sense and adjust temperature. Look for a smoker option that includes these features, or at least consider buying a smart temperature probe, so you can check your phone to monitor temperatures at any given time. A little programming and precise temp control can go a long way when creating the perfect smoking experience.
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Type of Fuel
This is one of the hardest choices to make when buying a smoker, because different fuels produce such noticeably different results. The major fuels include:
- Charcoal: Charcoal smokers use a combination of wood and charcoal that is easy to understand, affordable and customizable with combinations of wood chips for your own smoky flavor. The masters tend to use charcoal, but it also presents its own difficulties. Charcoal smokers rarely have precise temperatures, require a lot of experience in positioning and lighting and make the cleaning process really rough. If you don’t mind spending a lot of time on your smoking project, think about this option.
- Electric: Electric smokers use a lot of energy, but have high-tech sensors and controls that allow for careful programming and temperature balance. However, they tend to produce less smokey flavors out of all the fuel options.
- Gas: Propane smokers are faster and easier to control than charcoal and produce better flavors than electric, making them a very popular choice for beginners.
- Pellet: We’re also seeing a lot more pellet smokers these days, which use electricity or gas to burn wood pellets—essentially adding modern tech to the charcoal approach. These have become more popular by the Traeger line of products, which are basically grill hybrids that can be used for a variety of purposes, including smoking. The all-in-one approach has a lot to offer buyers.
Keep in mind, hybrid models that combine multiple fuel types are also available, although switching between fuels can be time-consuming.
Design and Shape
Pick the right design and shape based on what you want to do with your smoker. If you want to smoke primarily for your family and as a hobby, a bullet-shape or a smaller Traeger model may be your best choice. For more serious work and more room for a variety of meats, a larger barrel or cabinet version is more fitting. If it’s just you, an egg option like a Kamado may be best. If you really want to go big for parties on your deck, businesses or competitions, then you need a full, towable, large-capacity model.
No matter what model you get, look for heavy steel construction and thick walls that will easily hold in and concentrate heat for several hours. A heavy but ugly smoker will often perform better than a sleek, lightweight version.
While closely connected to shape and design, heat distribution deserves its own section: Pay attention to how the shape and fuel affects heat distribution when buying a smoker, and what areas of the smoker will be the hottest. This is particularly important on charcoal grills that double as smokers, which tend to have fluctuating hot zones that need to be carefully managed.
Photo: Damian Moo Moo Barton/Shutterstock
Several hundred dollars can get you a perfectly good, albeit mid-range, charcoal or gas smoker. For an expert setup or more high-tech add-ons, the price may rise into the $700 to $1,000 range. The extra-large competitive smokers go far beyond this, of course, but that’s a different level of investment.