If you are in the market for a new smoker you have come to the right place! Let us talk you through the pros and cons of the different types of BBQ smokers to help you make an informed decision before you buy, in our Ultimate Guide to Smokers.
Finding the best grill for you can be a nightmare. With so many options to choose from and so many special features, optional extras and essential necessities out there you would be forgiven for feeling slightly baffled.
Don’t worry, we are here to help you safely navigate the world of BBQ smokers. And to perhaps even aid you in choosing the best one for you!
If you have landed on our smokers page, it is because you have already got some idea of where you want to spend your money. But smokers are big investments. And if you’re a beginner, you might not even have a clue about what different types of BBQ smokers there are or how they work.
So let’s take a closer look at the sort of attributes you can expect and which you will have to pay a little extra for.
BBQ Smokers: The Basics!
Smokers are a little different to all other forms of BBQ or grill. Unlike the charcoal, electric and gas grills they rely on good old fashioned smoke to make their impact. Generally this smoke comes from different types of wood but some smokers run by pellets, which charcoal, with propane or electricity… So while a smoker is not a BBQ it is closely related and a very similar product.
Smoking has been used since ancient times and, according to Chad’s BBQ, was developed in pre-historic times when it is believed cavemen discovered that hanging meat to dry in their caves preserved it for longer. Since the caves lacked chimneys, the invention of fire would have added different flavors to the meats depending on which woods were burning. Since then smoking meat and fish has been a favored way of preserving the taste, cooking the meat and providing tastiness all round!
A BBQ smoker works by dehydrating meats, drying them out and increasing the length of time they can be stored for. Where once this was a vital way for hunters to keep a protein supply in backup for lean days; nowadays smoking is a fantastic way to inject your meats with all sorts of full bodied flavors.
The Three Types Of BBQ Smoking
There are 3 predominant types of BBQ smoking:
- Smoke roasting
- Hot smoking
- Cold smoking
One is to roast and smoke at the same time in a process known as smoke roasting (The Reluctant Gourmet), usually using a BBQ or perhaps a spit (think hog roast but much more modern). This method means that your end product is a roasted, crisp skinned meat that cooks faster than the second option: hot smoking.
With hot smoking both a sustained dry heat and a supply of smoke are applied to the meat. This method is favored in large scale smokehouses since it cooks as it smokes, unlike the third option: cold smoking.
Cold smoking smokes but does not cook, so the meat needs to be separately cured before it is induced into the smoker. This is the kind of smoker that you typically find in restaurants since it takes more preparation time than hot smoking or smoke roasting.
Typically, if you are buying a smoker for your home or backyard, you will want a Hot Smoker. We want to find out all the features of these and which one might be best for you.
Fuel Sources For BBQ Smoking
- Natural Gas
Unlike Charcoal Grills, Electric Grills or Gas Grills Smokers come in all fuel types. You can have a propane smoker or even a natural gas smoker that uses methane (you can find an interesting guide to these here, at Simply Meat Smoking).
Your Smoker can be wood fueled, pellet fueled or alternatively, you can buy an electric one. They truly are versatile in terms of fuel source. If you absolutely can’t decide on a fuel source you can even have a dual supply Smoker like the Masterbuilt Pro Charcoal and Propane Smoker.
Propane is created during the treatment of Methane, and Methane is created from farm waste, among other things. A charcoal or wood smoker on the other hand gives a truly natural feel and flavor to the meats.
Most of the less expensive Smokers use charcoal which is cheap to buy (about $19 per 20lb bag from Amazon) but lacks the smokiness of wood. Different types of wood give different subtleties and the range is fantastic.
Some of the woods are a little more expensive but will be worth it for the taste. You can read more about how to match your wood to meat at AZ Central.
Electric Smokers have the same reputation among the professional BBQ Chefs as an Electric Grill does. They do the job faster, cost a lot less in fuel and lack anything like the flavor you will find in any other type of Smoker. The advantage of these is that some have programmable settings and temperature controls.
Gas Smokers heat faster and are easier to use. Plus they retain a little of the smokey flavor, but the choice is yours.
Pellet Smokers are what sets this particular type of meat preparation apart from all other types. These take the good parts of the Electric Smoker and add flavored pellets that give you back the smokiness. It might not be a hog roast – but it comes darned close. Definitely the best of both worlds.
How Much is a Smoker Going to Cost you?
Home Cost Helper has the price of the most basic of wooden smoke-boxes starting at $8, with a typical cheap model around $15. For a backyard Smoker that stands alone expect to pay between $40 and $400 depending on what you need. Electric ones will be cheaper, but not electric pellet burners which are that little bit more expensive. A high end, top quality or commercial model could hit $2000, but those Smokers will have every feature available.
We will go into the features in more detail shortly.
As with most BBQ’s you will get what you pay for in terms of durability and longevity. A cheaper model won’t be designed to last, so always get a warranty wherever you can.
What Size of BBQ Smoker Do You Need?
Even the smallest of Smokers will smoke a lot of meat or fish, so you might not need as large a model as you would think. If you are technically minded you can even DIY one for yourself (see this article by Smoker Cooking for more information). Otherwise and if you are not a professional joiner or builder, any Smoker you consider buying ought to have a guide included as to how much it can hold.
There are different shapes of BBQ Smokers, adding yet more options to a growing list. A Drum Smoker is a drum shape, with a long barrel and the smoke and fuel source in the base. A grill is placed over the barrel and the meat can be smoked. If you were to Do It Yourself the Drum Smoker is the type of Smoker you would end up with.
A Box Smoker is a commercial type model, or more likely to have indoors than out, it looks like a metal closet. There is usually an electric supply and a compartment for pellets, wood or charcoal to add flavor.
An Offset Smoker looks like a barrel BBQ grill but has an attachment on the side for smoke and the final type is a vertical smoker, which looks like a much more refined version of the Drum Smoker and has a lot more features. They usually create smoke via water and heat but flavors can be added.
Special Features of BBQ Smokers?
Some optional extra’s include:
- Timers, temperature gauges and automation on electric models. They may also turn themselves off when things are finished, meaning you don’t need to be there throughout. This is both a pro and a con of electric models, since it somewhat negates the time-honored tradition of the BBQ Grill.
- Different flavors of smokey goodness through the choice of fuel source. Pellet burners and wood burners tend to be best for this.
- Self-ignition on the gas and electric models.
- You can buy some Electric, Gas or Charcoal BBQ Grills with Smokers attached.
- Extra racks, stainless steel grates, warming boxes, door latches and removable ash pans! (Smoky MT Barbecue)
You also have all those flavor choices from your fuel and options in terms of storage space, work surfaces and material makeup. For instance, a stainless steel model is more likely to be used in a professional kitchen. An iron or cast aluminum Smoker however would be more at home in a backyard.
Wooden smokers are also fairly common, particularly among home-made Smokers, but you should always be extra careful when setting fire near a wooden smoke box. That’s how accidents happen. Go pro and don’t be caught out.
Pros of a BBQ Smoker:
- They preserve food in a healthy way.
- They allow for a huge range of gourmet flavors.
- They can cook just as quickly as a BBQ.
- Some take the BBQ and make it better, such as the electric pellet burner which adds smoke while retaining the ease of electricity.
- Fuel is cheap or even free if you stay near a forest.
Cons of a BBQ Smoker:
- Some of them don’t actually use smoke. Be wary when making your decision.
- Electric Smokers take away the outdoors spirit of Barbecue.
- Fuel flavors and smokers themselves can be pricey.
- The ones that do produce smoke will produce smoke… your neighbors might not like it.
BBQ Smoker Brands and Models We Love!
As usual, Weber are creating some of the most technologically advanced models on the market. Their Smokey Mountain Cooker Series is a reliable choice. As with most Weber products it doesn’t come cheap but it does carry their solid reputation for high quality.
The Char-Griller 16620 is another big name to be rivaled. This model has performed consistently well in reviews. This particular model is a Smoke Roaster and is also one of our favorite Charcoal BBQ Grills!
Best Electric Smoker – the Char-Broil Analog Electric Smoker is a closet style electric wood chip burner that is great value for the price you pay.
Best Gas Smoker – A brilliant backyard model, the Dyna-Glo DGY784BDP is a vertical smoker with a bit of a pricier tag on it. That being said it is solid iron and it will stand in your backyard through a tornado; as well as having a few mod-cons too.
Best Charcoal/Wood Smoker – Weber hold the top spot here with their Smokey mountain product, but we also love the cheaper, smaller and more cheerful Old Smokey range for their tough spirit.
Best Pellet Smoker – Traeger make some of the best Pellet smokers on the market, occupying the two top spots as voted by Seriously Smoked. The Traeger Select Elite Pellet Grill comes highly recommended.
As you can see; your decision to opt for a BBQ smoker over any other type of grill has only led you to several more choices. However, we hope that our Ultimate Guide to Smokers has helped you to narrow things down somewhat. As much as it might be confusing at first glance; taking the time to smoke and prepare your own meats – as well as preserve them for longer – allows for a more thorough appreciation of BBQ than you can get from almost anywhere else.
Smokers provide a flavor range you can spend a lifetime studying, the freedom to BBQ without really BBQ’ing and a very natural way to preserve your favorite foods. We highly recommend it to any BBQ enthusiast and even encourage BBQ beginners to have a go. With our help you can learn all there is to know… just bookmark our page and check back in for new articles!
Good luck on your journey towards the perfect Smoker for you. The perfect partnership is out there waiting for you, all it takes is a few short clicks!