Buying the right meat smoker for your needs can be overwhelming considering the sheer number of products available. Adding to this, Smokers today are not what they used to be, and are more advanced with myriad features and can be had in several different shapes, sizes and types, making it even more daunting to get the right one. So unless you know exactly the type of smoker you need whether vertical/cylinder, barrel/cabinet, electric, offset or water smoker, you’re going to be like a kid in a candy store. In order to ease your buying decision, let’s walk you through the four common types of smokers available to choose from.
Vertical, cylinder style aka “barrel smokers”
are the most common types of smokers available today for several reasons starting with ease of use, compact footprint and affordability. The interior of this type of smokers includes two bowls, where the bowl located at the bottom of the unit is designated for smoker wood and charcoal, and the bowl at the center is where you would store water or liquid to keep your food moisturized throughout the long smoking process.
The front of a cylinder smoker is appointed with a trap door, which can be opened to replenish charcoal and wood to maintain the temperature in the unit. Your food will be located up top and right below the lid, and will cook with the heat rising from below. This is why it is highly recommended that you avoid opening the lid of the unit when smoking is in progress to retain the heat and smoke inside.
Next up is the vertical cabinet style smokers
which are relatively similar in design to vertical smokers, but there are some distinct characteristics that set them apart. For starters, they are larger in size and contain multiple racks that can be adjusted or removed depending on what you are smoking. Furthermore, cabinet smokers provide more options to smoke a variety of smoked dishes simultaneously and can accommodate both large and small items. Although they are similar in functionality to vertical smokers, where the heat rises from the bottom, they do offer better heat control owing to the increased number of vents. It is worth mentioning that cabinet smokers are a tad bit more expensive than their vertical counterparts, but the extra $$$ are well worth the investment especially if you’ are a BBQ enthusiast.
In contrast to larger cabinet style smokers, Water smokers
generally have a small footprint, and are a great choice for those with limited patio or deck space. Also referred to as a bullet smoker (although there are also cabinet style water smokers), this type of smoker is easy to operate, and almost guarantees a consistent temperature between 225 to 250 degrees owing to its unique design and thermodynamics. A water smoker is generally the least expensive type of smokers and is divided into 3 compartments – the firebox, water chamber and cooking chamber.
The heating source for water smokers varies and can be charcoal, gas or an electric heating element, and is located at the lower most part of the unit. Above that lies the water pan, which is what makes the magic happen by regulating the heat of the smoker, and deflect the direct heat from the source for a moist cooking environment that prevents your food from drying out. Some meat smokers have dual options available, such as Bradley Smokers Original Smoker, which acts as both a smoker and a slow cooker, with list price of $369.00 (but available for less on Amazon).
Just like the name suggests, electric smokers
are your “set it and forget it” type, and use heat sources that burn consistently, and generally offer a larger cooking area compared to other types of smokers. These smokers are also widely used nowadays, and are powered by electricity to ignite the heat source such as wood. Most units such as the Bradley Original smoker are appointed with thermostats or rheostats to monitor the temperature inside the chamber. Another noteworthy feature of electric smokers is that they are versatile, where the heat can be controlled to flow from top to bottom or vice versa.
If you are someone who does not smoke foods a lot, or has a tight budget, you might want to consider an offset smoker
that is attached to regular style grill. An offset smoker is popular choice in smokers, and basically features a classic smoker design. It consists of a horizontal chamber that is mated with a firebox, where the former smokes the food and latter provides the heat from charcoal and smoke wood. The chamber of this type of smokers generally features shelves, allowing you to smoke several briskets, racks of ribs and pork shoulders.
However, if you are someone who does not plan on using a meat smoker on a regular basis, are looking for one that is more affordable, and one that is portable, then the Char-Broil Portable Charcoal Grill
comes highly recommended. This portable meat smoker and grill is only $93 and is perfect for those looking for a smaller, more affordable option. And of course be sure to check out our reviews of the best gas grills
and portable grills
if you feel a meat smoker is not for you.
As mentioned earlier, purchasing a meat smoker requires quite a bit of thought and research, so making the process as simple as possible for all buyers is something that we take pride in. Let’s take a look at some of the most the important ones factors to consider when buying a meat smoker.
The price of any product has a large impact on whether or not a consumer will spend the money, and will generally tend to reflect on the overall quality of the product itself. A meat smoker will generally run you approximately $250 for one that is durable and of high quality.
For people who are serious, full time barbecue smokers, you may want to invest in a higher end model, or one that is on the larger side with more features. However, when it comes to meat smokers, cutting corners is not a good idea, because more often than not you'll end up with one that has a really low price tag, with little to offer should you do so. However, there are brands and models that have both a small price tag and added features that are perfect for those looking for a bargain.
For the purpose of this review, we've looked at brands and models that have ranges of affordability to fit any budget, without sacrificing the need for durability and overall high quality. We took different types of needs into careful consideration when looking for some of the best meat smokers on the market, and have come out with options for those who would make use of theirs often, and for those who would not.
Features are important within the decision-making process, and depending on what you're looking for in a meat smoker, whether its simplicity or extensive features, we have taken five of the best rated when it comes to meat smokers with the best features to offer. For example, the Smokey Mountain Cooker comes with a rust-resistant aluminum fuel door, silicone temperature grommet, and a built-in lid thermometer.
You also have the option to choose from electric, digital, woodchip, and charcoal meat smokers, which all depends on the taste that you prefer. For example, some prefer their smoked meats to have the taste that you would only have from applewood wood chips. If you're someone with a very specific taste, then having a feature that caters to your taste, such as an automatic woodchip loader, is definitely best.
Even the most basic of meat smokers come with thermometers and ventilation systems, but the more advanced smokers generally offer multiple digital controls and functions to choose from, which is why we have taken all the corresponding benefits and features for each meat smoker that have been chosen for our top five list into careful consideration.
Construction and Design
Depending on how often you plan on using a smoker, the construction and design are important factors. For example, if you want one that can be conveniently stored, paying close attention to the size specifications and whether or not the model you are looking at can fit wherever you are planning to use for storage. You will also want to figure out whether you want a traditional woodchip, charcoal, electric, or digital smoker, and whether or not you want one that has multiple functions to it, and not just a smoker overall. For example, some brands and model offer both a smoker and a slow cooker, such as the Bradley Smokers Original Smoker.
If you're planning on using your smoker frequently, and need a brand that offers a model with a construction and design that caters to large amounts of food, then you're going to need a meat smoker that has more than enough room to properly cook any amount of food you put in. We have only included the meat smokers that have met our construction and design expectations when it comes to durability, being able to hold large, and small, amounts, and whether or not they are sturdy enough to be able to use for many years to come.
Performance and Ease of Use
When it comes to performance, you have a couple of choices available to you; single-use, dual, and multiple-use meat smokers. Depending on what you plan on using a meat smoker for, narrowing your search down is incredibly easy, especially since we lay everything out for you, including performance and design.
For example, if you're looking for a meat smoker that practically does all of the work itself, then we recommend the Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smoker, which allows you to punch in the simple settings to your satisfaction, and leave it! This meat smoker can also hold up to 80 lbs. of food, which makes it easier to smoke and cook large amounts of food at once, without having to worry about watching the time and switching food items in order to save time.
A high quality meat smoker that is able to have near perfect, if not perfect, ratings with performance and ease of use, should be able to hold a decent size amount of food, have a thermostat temperature that is properly integrated in order to keep a consistent, even temperature, and be able to keep the majority, if not all, of the smoke inside the machine itself.
However, if you're looking for a meat smoker that is compact in size, and even one that can be used indoors, then we have found one of the top meat smokers available on the market that meets both of those requirements, as well. The Nordic Ware Kettle Smoker allows indoor smoking with ease and does not compromise space.
Even though meat smokers generally have the same purpose, no two brands are the same, and making a final decision on which brand and model are best for you can be a tough one. Different features, prices, and sizes can cause an overload in the decision-making process, which is why we've laid everything out for you. Let’s see how our 5 recommendations stack up.
Masterbuilt started out as a small family owned company in 1973 – and with their commitment to excellence, they have become a leader in the work of outdoor food cooking products. The Masterbuilt Electric Smoker made out list both because of the quality construction, but also because of how powerful it is as a smoker – great for both novices and experienced smokers alike.
One great feature of this smoker is the fact that the top-mounted control panel regulates the temperature as needed, which goes from 100 to 275 degrees, and lets you set a cooking time between 0 to 24 hours. You can find the loading tray for wood on the side, which you can also use while the smoker is in use. The racks alone are a feature on their own, considering they are plated with chrome, and are above a drip pan to catch juices and help with cleanup to make it easier.
Construction and Design
The Masterbuilt Electric Smoker comes with a great combination of both convenience and size, thanks to its cabinet-style. The unit is 33.5 inches high, 20 inches around, and 17 inches deep, with 730 square inches of area to cook, and comes with 4 racks. Retaining heat and reducing energy consumption is done quite well because of the high quality insulation, as well as the outer casing, which is made out of powder-coated steel. There is also a removable pan for liquids, as well.
Performance and Ease of Use
Because the Masterbuilt Digital Smoker is an electric unit, it's incredibly easy to set up and use. All you have to do is set the temperature, load up the wood chips, and press the button to get it started. Depending on your taste preference, considering some prefer to add spirits or juices to their meats, you can use the removable liquid pan to add water for moisture, or whiskey, for example, for added flavor.
When it comes to grills, smokers and equipment for outdoor cooking, Nordic Ware is not a name that will come automatically to people’s minds but we just HAD to tell you about the Kettle Smoker that is part of their 365 line of products designed for indoor and outdoor use – all year long. The reality is that many people love the taste of smoked foods, but don’t want to invest in a full sized cooker (or don’t have the room of for one), and if that’s the case this small-sized smoker is a perfect choice.
The Kettle Smoker comes with a recipe book, non-stick pan, vent, thermometer, non-stick rack for food, liquid pan, and a tightly fitted lid. You will also receive a supply of fine wood chips to start with, which will also give you an idea of the size you will need to buy once your small supply is used. Overall, the simplicity of the Kettle Smoker is incredible.
Construction and Design
At 7 inches high and 13 inches across, the Kettle Smoker is perfect for a decently sized chicken, steaks, and even ribs. Constructed of durable steel, its design makes it simple to have it smoking on your stove or sitting outside for smoking foods with ease. It’s also great as an easy-to-pack smoker to take with you on camping trips.
Performance and Ease of Use
To ensure that you do not smoke your home out when using the Kettle Smoker inside, using an abundance of thin wood chips is highly recommended, as well as following the instructions given with the unit to the letter. Proper ventilation will be needed, especially considering it has a large impact on the end result's flavor. Overall, the Kettle Smoker is incredibly easy to use and works as a food smoker should.
If you're looking for a compact smoker that is designed to feed only a few people, as well as one that you can use inside and out, then the Nordic Ware Kettle Smoker is a great option for you.
We've looked at some of the best rated meat smokers currently available on the market with consumers in mind, to ensure that, no matter what your budget or preferences may be there's a model and brand to fit all needs and wants alike. We believe that any of these 5 top smokers will give you what you need for excellent smoked foods.