There are an endless amount of parameters by which to judge the ‘best’ smoker, or any device. That is part of the reason we like the term ‘favorite’ smoker. There is room for other opinions, as it should be when it comes to pretty subjective results for what folks like as barbecue. That being said, we do have strong opinions.
The first parameter we want in our smoker is consistent temperature. When you throw some expensive cuts of meat and it will spend time measured in a double digit hour count, you need a steady heat. Build quality and design make a big difference, we do like easy and sturdy. Add in cooking space, price and of course, how well does it do the job of imparting those luscious smoky flavors, and you have the criteria we apply to picking smokers.
Best Value Buy
The Ugly Drum Smoker is our fav in multiple categories. It is primitive, in a great way. Super easy to use, you put charcoal in the tray, light some coals in your chimney, when they’re hot dump them on top of more charcoal and seal it up. That is going to give you a steady 250-ish degree heat. 225 degrees may be the target temp for most smoking, but this slightly higher temp gives you exceptional results in less time. This has the original shape for vertical smoking, built with a 33 gallon drum of 18 gauge steel with a seriously heavy enamel coat on the exterior.
Easy to assemble, it allows you to hang meat from hooks so that you truly get 360 degree surface exposure to the smoke. Being a vertical container, you also get the benefit of all those juices dripping into the coals for extra smoking flavor. It does include a grate for smoking more delicate items, veggies and such, which makes this a versatile tool for varied food preparation. At a price right around $350 this is a classic smoker that will deliver great results for years of use.
Garden & Outdoor
Amazon.com: Weber 18-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker: Garden & Outdoor
Weber, like Kleenex or Xerox, is the name now associated with Kettle cookers. If not necessarily the first to the market, they certainly became a literal household name and have been for decades. The Weber Smokey Mountain is our best overall choice, it has been in the market since 1981. This longevity is because it works, and works well.
Like the Ugly Drum, it uses a vertical shape to create convection currents so the smoke envelopes the food. It differs though, by having a water tray between the coals and the meat. Moisture helps with the smoking process, and the water creates a heat sink for more stable temperatures. As a result, holding 225 degrees all day is an easy target. A sturdy tank-like build with venting at the top and bottom, and a well sized door to access the interior, all add up to a user friendly smoker with great results at about the same price as the Ugly Drum Smoker. This is a charcoal driven smoker giving you stable temps, you can certainly add chunk or shaved wood for more smoke flavors.
Best Buy on a Budget
Digital Electric Smoker, Deluxe,
Silver : Garden & Outdoor
Amazon.com : Char-Broil 17202004 Digital Electric Smoker, Deluxe, Silver : Garden & Outdoor
The Charbroil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker not only packs in a lot of features at a price point just over $250, but its user friendly aspects make it a good entry choice into the world of smoking meats. It is not perfect, nor might we expect it to be as a budget item. Shaped like a little fridge, the door opens to let you access everything from the racked food to the water tray to your wood chip box. You’ll want to watch the temp, it can run hotter than you may have want as your target, and it may go through wood chips faster than advertised.
That being said, the temperature issue is a testament to how well the cabinet is insulated. The controls are digital, it even has a mostly functional remote control. You will want to get to know your way around it when firing it up for the first time. It will take about 45 minutes to get to smoking temperature, and we always recommend using a thermometer you trust to monitor cabinet and meat temperatures. This unit can cook based on the internal temp of your meat, or the time duration you program into it. With a little learning curve and a couple double checks, this smoker will serve you well and make some tasty food.
Amazon.com : Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill : Garden & Outdoor
If you are taking another stride in your smoking meat journey, this is a great smoker to look at. It will serve the beginner, with only a minor caveat or two. If you are a ‘devil is in the details’ type, Dayna-Glo had you in mind. Oversize steel wheels make bringing this out very easy, even on a grassy surface. The handles are reminiscent of a wood fired stove with heavy spring wire wraps that stay cool. It is advertised as heavy gauge steel, and while that may be an overstatement, this unit is certainly made with sturdy materials.
But the show-off aspect has two things going for it. This is a true offset smoker with the firebox on the side feeding smoke into the chamber. They advertise this part as a grill, and yes it will work for that. But you can also take that rack out, and now your firebox has enough room to put enough fuel in for many hours of smoking before it needs replenishment. The amount of cooking space is amazing. Five racks for cooking to feed your squad, offering over 1300 square inches of usability. This is not a high temp smoker, your recipes should be based on holding that 225 degree mark or less, and you will be very happy with the results.
Best Pellet Smoker Overall
Amazon.com: Z Grills ZPG-7002B 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker, 8 in 1 BBQ Grill Auto Temperature Controls, inch Cooking Area, 700 sq in Black: Kitchen & Dining
We would be remiss if we did not include a pellet smoker as an alternative for you to consider. The technology has been around for over forty years, so yeah, we consider them the newcomer, but they are certainly well tested by now. The convenience and compete set and forget aspect of these units makes them a real asset to a home smoke aficionado. The plethora of quality pellet choices from various woods also make this an important product group to consider.
Z Grills has been kicking around for thirty years. They are not the pioneer of this market, but they have certainly built a reputation for a good product at good price. This is a midsize model and it still has over 700 square inches of racks. It is basically a simple system, which makes maintaining and cleaning easy. But it has a thermostat that is pretty accurate, and a convection system assuring even burn to the fuel, and great heat/smoke circulation to cook with. The lowest setting is about 180, good for low and slow real smoking. It can also go to 450 degrees so it becomes an outdoor oven that imparts nice smoke to your food.