Throughout my entire life, I have really owned a lot of different smokers. I have fond memories of many of them, whereas the majority of them were one big mistake that today I will help you avoid.
Now I know what to pay attention to before buying a new smoker and I know perfectly well from experience which models are really brilliant. This guide will help you choose the right smoker for beginners and learn the upsides and downsides of each of them.
For smoking meat, the best are obviously traditional charcoal/wood powered smokers, which have the most recognizable, characteristic smoky flavor. Over time, however, I have also discovered many versatile smoker grills that are also worth attention at least due to their convenience.
First let me start with the best smokers dedicated to smoking meat only, and then I will present all the other types of smokers that will work great for grilling as well ( smoker grill ).
Weber Smokey Mountain
Pit Barrel Cooker
Camp Chef PG24
Weber Original Premium Kettle
Kamado Joe Classic II
Masterbuilt 30 inch Electric Smoker
The Best Smokers - ( Updated List )
1. Best Overall Weber Smokey Mountain 18"
The number one smoker for me, which is dedicated to smoking meat only. It is used by very experienced people ( it can be seen in many BBQ competitions ) but I have to admit that it is also the best choice for beginners.
As of today, I think that WSM is one of the most popular smokers. It’s because Weber has created a model that is characterized by functionality, ease of use, efficiency, durability, great warranty, additional accessories and most of all a price 100% adequate to it all.
Available in three sizes ( 14, 18 and 22 inches ), in this review I will be describing what I believe to be the universal model of 18 inch that offers 481 square inches of the main cooking area.
Well thought-out and perfectly designed structure of the smoker is not only very efficient but also durable. As one of the few smokers, the Smokey Mountain model can boast whole 10 years of warranty.
WSM comes with a great air flow which means I had no problems whatsoever with temperature control. Everyone who has ever come across a smoker or grill with charcoal/wood as the source of heat knows perfectly well what temperature control means.
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I have already had an opportunity to cook on it when making my first steps in BBQ. It was back in the day when I had neither knowledge nor experience, but I still remember to this day what a great food I was able to prepare on it without much effort.
Speaking in favor of Weber Smokey Mountain is mostly the very high quality and efficiency. It comes with all the elements necessary for smoking and is very easy to use.
Great for beginners who are not confident in their skills and those more demanding who participate in prestigious competitions.
2. Runner Up - Pit Barrel Cooker
Another great smoker that was also created only with smoking meat in mind. In terms of quality and efficiency it is as great as WSM, I won’t say which model is better because that would be pointless. The truth is, both of them are phenomenal, so no matter what you choose, you will be 100% satisfied, the perfect solution would be to buy both models ( which is what I did ).
Pit Barrel Cooker seems to me like a little more demanding smoker which is why I’d rather suggest it to those who have at least the basic knowledge on smoking meat.
I really like the ability to smoke meat on hooks that are included. I have to admit that I often use the hooks and if I plan to smoke meat that way then I always go for PBC.
One small downside for me is the small amount of space under the lid when I use the rack. A definitely much better solution would be a round lid like the one in WSM, but this is not something that impacts the results of smoking.
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Pit Barrel Cooker makes it possible to prepare delicious BBQ that is as great as from Weber Smokey Mountain. Speaking from experience, I can say that WSM offers easier temperature control ( better for beginners ). When it comes to the results of smoking, on the other hand, there is absolutely no difference here, both smokers are great.
When it comes to the quality and everything else, this model exceeded my expectations that were already pretty high to begin with. Very big thumbs up for high quality, I am sure that PBC is an investment for years to come.
Let me present you a great suggestion in the pellet smokers category, which combines quality, efficiency and an adequate price for all of it. Of course I’m talking about the Camp Chef PG24DLX that is currently the best model not just for the beginners but overall when it comes to the medium-tier pellet smokers.
You need to know that it is one of the most expensive types of smokers, which is why I won’t be talking here about top-tier models like Yoder or even Rec Tec for example, which cost few times as much as PG24DLX.
PG24 DLX comes with all the essential elements ( ash and grease removal system ) as well as a precise digital controller that works wonderful in real world conditions.
I often use this smoker due to the convenience and results and I have to admit that Camp Chef PG24DLX has no problems whatsoever with temperature maintenance. It matters because most of competitive models have serious problems with that.
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You also need to know that a pellet smoker is great for smoking meat, but it will also be perfectly suitable for grilling. This model can easily achieve temperatures within the range of 160-550 degrees F.
Considering my own experience with this model as well as all of its upsides and downsides, I can clearly say that it is a great model and I can honestly recommend it to others.
4. Best Smoker Grill - Weber Original Kettle Premium
Kettle from Weber is one of the best smoker grills, it is brilliant both for grilling and for smoking meat. Chances are everyone knows what a real kettle grill is so I won’t expand on the topic. Let me just point out that the construction of a kettle grill allows for a very effective air flow control which is crucial when controlling temperature.
To make things clear, I’m talking about the 18 inch here which I consider to be universal. There’s a lot of space under the lid ( 363 square inches ) which allows for any coal configuration, creating direct or indirect heat ( like the snake method or the 50/50 method and more ).
When it comes to durability, after all these years on the market Weber proves how important quality is to them. The Original Premmium Kettle is covered with whole 10 years of warranty and I can honestly say that in the right hands it can last for much longer.
If you don’t have much money and you wish to have not only a great smoker but also a very good grill then buy this model. It won’t be as convenient and efficient in smoking meat as Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber Smokey Mountain, but you will save a lot of money while having a versatile grill in your backyard.
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A valuable thing in this grill is its ash removal system that makes it possible to very quickly and conveniently get rid of the ash that comes from the charcoal burning.
Weber Original Premium Kettle is the best smoker grill combo as well as a great choice for beginners. It doesn’t cost much compared to other typical smokers while also being versatile and very well built.
Kamado is a versatile Smoker Grill, although sadly it is pretty expensive for beginners, but for those more experienced it will be a very interesting new experience. The ceramic egg-shaped smoker is great at insulating heat which makes it suitable for slow meat smoking as well as grilling at very high temperatures.
The source of heat is charcoal which means that in terms of food’s flavor it is the top tier. Temperature control consists of controlling the air vents just like in a regular smoker.
The ceramics are so good at insulating heat that, contrary to a popular belief, this smoker allows to smoke meat for many years without adding more fuel ( works great in the winter ).
Sadly, the smoking process might be a little complicated for beginners which is why I mostly recommend this model for experienced pit masters.
Personally, I much prefer to use the Kamado Joe Classic II for grilling due to its ability to reach truly high temperatures ( great for steaks or hamburgers ). One has to admit, though, that it can handle smoking meat as well as grilling if you know what you’re doing.
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A small downside is also the slightly small amount of space under the lid. Despite that, Kamado Joe Classic II is a great smoker grill that will improve your BBQ if you haven’t come across one yet. Let me also add that it is also a very durable grill that is resistant to corrosion and any type of weather conditions.
On the other hand, if what you need more is a simple and convenient dedicated smoker then forget about this model. Let me also remind you that for the price of Kamado Joe II you can easily get few high-quality dedicated smokers.
To many people, “electric smoker” are forbidden words that have nothing to do with real BBQ. To an extent I agree with that sentiment which is why this model takes the last place on my list of suggestions.
You need to know, though, that it is not the type of smoker for a fan of real BBQ. It is simply a convenient device that allows to prepare delicious BBQ in simple household conditions without much effort.
I agree that food from an electric smoker will never be as great as from a dedicated smoker where the source of heat is charcoal or wood – that’s obvious. I have to admit, though, that my results of smoking on this smoker were really very tasty.
Personally, I prefer other types of smokers, but I believe that the Masterbuilt 30" electric smoker is great for beginners and those who don’t like all those activities related to smoking on a traditional smoker.
You don’t have to worry about the temperature control, just turn it on, select the desired temperature and that’s it. I had no problems maintaining a fixed temperature, it warms up fast and is easy to clean.
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I do have a certain aversion towards electric smokers due to their tendency to malfunction and in turn expensive repairs. Let’s be honest, a real dedicated smoker can only be defeated by rust, but this takes many years.
An electric smoker, on the other hand, consists of many elements that it’s unable to work without, I’m mostly talking about the heating element and the thermostat with a digital controller. If any of those elements breaks down, in many cases all that is left for you to do is expensive repairs.
Let me repeat, if you’re tired of all the tasks related to smoking meat, choose an electric smoker that limits the responsibilities related to smoking to the bare minimum.
First of all, what is a smoker ?
It’s a device that mostly allows to smoke meat ( in some cases also to grill ). Throughout the last few dozen years, especially the last two decades, a whole lot has changed when it comes to smokers.
The most popular type used to be the regular charcoal smoker grill that required a lot of attention during BBQ. Today there are many more types of smokers and each of them has its upsides and downsides. The most growing in popularity in recent years is the Pellet Smoker Grill which is versatile, very easy to use and gives great results of smoking.
These days, when looking for a new smoker, you have such a huge choice that it is hard to decide which type to choose. Below you will find my short summary on each of the types, check it out if you don’t know which type will be the best for you.
Types of smokers
These are all the types of smokers where the main source of heat is charcoal. The enthusiasts of the characteristic smoky flavor of meat should definitely pick charcoal smoker, as no other smoker can offer a flavor this rich.
Personally, it is my number one when it comes to types of smokers, plus this kind of smoker requires much more attention throughout the entire smoking process which I see as an advantage. Controlling the air vents, lighting up the charcoal, temperature control etc.
An option for those who want genuine, traditional BBQ that in many cases requires adequate knowledge and experience.
Kamado Smoker Grill
Kamados are included in the “charcoal smokers” category because their source of heat is charcoal. They completely differ from a typical smoker, however, in nearly every regard. Most of all, a kamado is versatile which means it allows to smoke and to grill and it is phenomenal in both ( personally I prefer grilling ).
A real kamado is made of ceramics, which is perfect at insulating heat and it means that at a much lower charcoal consumption you can achieve much higher temperatures. The ceramics are also durable and corrosion-resistant, if you’re interested in a Kamado Smoker then check out models built of nothing but ceramics.
When it comes to temperature control, the key element is the air vents which is the same as in a regular smoker. At the first glance, it seems pretty difficult, but with a little bit of practice, you will discover how easy and effective it is.
Pellet Smokers burn compressed wood ( pellets ) as their source of heat. It’s a very interesting type of smoker that has developed significantly within the recent years, gaining a lot of popularity. The main advantage of this type of smoker is its convenience, ease of use and results.
In simplest words, the Pellet Smoker is a Set&Forget style smoker that makes a great solution for those who wish to prepare great BBQ without devoting too much time to it. It is also a great option for those who don’t feel like doing all the chores awaiting them when smoking meat on a typical smoker ( Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber Smokey Mountain ).
It’s a very easy to use and convenient smoker that makes it possible to prepare delicious BBQ even for beginners. The heat is provided by a burner that runs on propane from a tank which means that temperature control utilizes knobs and not air vents.
You don’t need to worry about lighting up the charcoal or watching its amount until your tank runs empty. In many cases, smoking meat takes a whole lot of time, and a propane smoker is nearly maintenance-free. All you have to do is make sure once in a while if you have enough propane in the tank.
Propane burns clean without having an impact on the food’s flavor, although this problem was solved by installing a wood chips container directly above the burner which allows to generate valuable smoke for your food.
They’re famous for being even more convenient and easy to use than propane smokers. You don’t have to worry about any kind of fuel, the source of heat is the heating element that runs on electricity. On top of that, in most models you set the temperature using a digital controller instead of knobs. All of that works even better and more precisely, which is why many people who don’t like the BBQ-related chores choose this smoker.
An electric smoker is also equipped with a water and wood chips container to generate valuable smoke that significantly alters the flavor of your food. Of course the results are far from those in a charcoal smoker, but for a smoker this maintenance-free the food’s flavor is tasty. If you often smoke overnight then an electric smoker will be the most convenient smoker for this task.
Tips for buying a smoker for beginner
Budget – Such large number of different types of smokers makes them available in different price ranges. The truth is, you need to start from defining your budget, as it impacts so much. If you want traditional BBQ then you can easily buy a great charcoal smoker for decent money ( like Weber Smokey Mountain or Pit Barrel Cooker ).
Type – Each type has its upsides and downsides, one is good for a fan of traditional BBQ while other is characterized by convenience and ease of use ( set & forget style ) I had prepared a short summary earlier for each of available types of smokers, scroll back a little and read it again, then think about what type suits your cooking style the best.
Cooking style – You like traditional BBQ or do you prefer maintenance-free smokers? Everything has its upsides and downsides that have to be carefully considered. The pellet smoker is more suitable to you, or maybe you actually prefer to just smoke with wood, charcoal or both? You have to think about your cooking style preferences, I am perfectly aware that everyone has their own opinion on the topic.
Size – There’s no point buying a huge smoker if you’re not going to use even half of its possibilities, it’s nothing but a waste of money and free space in the backyard. If you only cook at home for few people, you probably only need a medium-sized smoker ( like Smokey Mountain 18 inch ). That’s why you should carefully analyze how much you cook and how much of volume you expect.
Cold smoking – You can smoke not only meat but also cheese or certain fish. The problem of cold smoking is that very few smokers can generate enough smoke at low temperatures. On top of that, maintaining a pretty low temperature over many hours is not an easy task either. For cold smoking, I recommend an electric smoker together with a separately sold cold smoking kit that will take care of the right amount of smoke.