Best BBQ Smokers Reviewed and Rated
There’s nothing like a melt-in-your-mouth, smoky brisket to earn you a place in the neighborhood’s cookout hall of fame. That amazing flavor doesn’t come fast, though, and it gets everything from its texture to its taste through a long, slow smoke. The seasoning is up to the cook, but even the best grill master is only as good as the smoker used to cook the meat. Smokers require a lot more finesse than most grills and finding one that fits your lifestyle, budget, and your turkey can be a bit of an adventure.
A BBQ smoker uses low temperatures and lots of smoke to develop one-of-a-kind flavors. Traditionally, smokers were all charcoal fueled, and you can find ancient smoking techniques in some of the oldest BBQ recipes in the world. Today, smoking is not only a favored backyard culinary art, but the focus of many professional . Thanks to this wide range of demands, there are smokers available in every size, shape, and material you can imagine. Smokers can use just about any fuel, including electricity, and many don’t look like grills at all.
Finding the right BBQ smoker is probably harder than finding any other kind of grill, because the individual smoker itself has so much to do with how time-consuming and costly your smoking process will be. Professionals often use the same smokers backyard enthusiasts use. There are plenty of quality smokers available for a broad range of prices, and the best options aren’t always the most expensive.
Our Top 3 Picks
10 Best BBQ Smokers
1. Weber 721001
Power Source: Coal
No of cooking plates: 2
Size: 21” x 19” x 41”
Weight: 39.07 lb.
Cooking Area: 481 sq. inches
It uses a porcelain enameled exterior with a heat-resistant nylon handle for safety. An aluminum vent and fuel door protect against rust on these vulnerable points. Two cooking plates work in tandem with a porcelain coated water plate, which allows steam to tenderize meat as you smoke.
After two seasonings, it’s ready to crank out high quantities of top quality meats. These smokers are large enough to handle family reunions and even small business needs. The built-in thermometer makes it easy to maintain and monitor heat throughout the cooking process.
The smoker also comes with a ten year limited warranty to protect buyers’ investments.
This bullet-shaped smoker is in vogue, and there are many similar, cheaper models available. The difference between this and the knock-offs, however, comes down to manufacturing quality. Between the materials and the limited warranty, it’s a very safe investment. Although the size may be a hindrance for buyers with limited outdoor space, it’s great for serious smoker fans who want a product that can handle anything, up to and including a turkey.
- Design allows maximum cooking space.
- Easy to use with great results.
- Enamel coating makes clean-up easier.
- May be too large for some homes or cooking spaces.
2. Masterbuilt 20070910
Power Source: Electric
No of cooking plates: 4
Size: 20.394” x 19.882” x 33.268”
Weight: 43.139 lbs.
Cooking Area: 730 square inches
This smoker’s claim to fame is its digital technology. Rather than adjusting the temperature manually by handling hot coals, you simply press a few buttons on the top display. A digital timer with an automatic shut-off keeps things safe and prevents meats from drying out. The exterior is powder-coated steel, and each cooking rack is chrome plated. Heavy insulation promotes energy efficient cooking.
Unlike previous models, the heating element is replaceable and reasonably simple to swap out if it breaks down. The smoker is designed for all skill levels, but it’s particularly great for beginners, since it removes the need to constantly monitor and adjust heat. Best of all, Masterbuilt is happy to work with customers, and they’re quick to offer solutions and replacement parts for faulty equipment.
There are a number of electric smokers on our list, but this one sits at the top, despite its technical malfunctions. Since the manufacturers have had an opportunity to use previous failings to improve the shortcomings in the newer model, this smoker has a higher value than many other electric smokers. The customer service support also increases its value.
- Holds heat extremely well.
- Suitable for beginners.
- Superior customer service from manufacturer.
- Lacks coal-cooked flavor.
- Number of electric elements makes breakdowns more frequent.
3. Char-Griller 16620
Power Source: Charcoal
No of cooking plates: 1
Size: 21.6” x 28.7” x 24.8”
Weight: 90 lbs.
Cooking Area: 314 sq. Inches
While the exterior is powder-coated steel, the interior is porcelain coated steel. This makes for a great mix of durability and easy cleaning. The dump ash pan at the very bottom makes cleaning even faster. This egg-shaped grill and smoker combo really strips away additional features for the sake of basic grilling and smoking needs. It can handle anything from 200 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and the design not only controls heat, but actually helps you use less fuel.
Unfortunately, although the smoker features stainless steel construction, it has some issues with rust. The bolts are often the first to show signs of oxidization, and the interior of the lid soon follows. After a year and a half, the bottom of the product may become too rusted to use. It works exceptionally well for the first year or so, but this isn’t the product for someone looking for a long-term investment.
To keep this smoker in working order, you’ll need to invest a lot of tender-loving care. Although rust is often a sign of poor maintenance, it seems to be a common issue with this model, which reflects on the smoker’s construction. For a mid-priced smoker, material standards should be a little higher.
- Folding side shelf is convenient.
- Warming rack adds versatility.
- Rusting bolts.
- Potential to develop serious rust issues after a year and a half.
4. Bradley Smokers
Power Source: Electric
No of cooking plates: 4
Size: 50 lbs.
Weight: 33.5” x 17.5” x 20.25”
Cooking Area: Unknown
The point of an electric smoker is to reduce the work in smoking. This smoker allows users to safely leave food cooking with only minimal checking. Since everything can be controlled from the outside, it’s much easier to maintain smoke and heat without using extra pucks.
The heating system is a little weak, but it’s possible to modify it. Still, there’s nothing like sinking
money into a smoker that you then have to pay more to alter with replacement parts. The other issue with the smoker is the size of the water reservoir. It complicates long cooks and may not meet every recipe’s needs.
This is a great hands-off smoker for those looking for great food with minimal work. Its flaws are small and easily remedied, and since it sits comfortably in the mid-price range, those little fixes are affordable.
- One Year Warranty.
- Safe for minimal handling.
- Low output from heater.
- Relatively small water pan.
5. Pit Barrel
Power Source: Coal
No of cooking plates: 1 plus Smoking Hooks
Size: 22.01” x 32.99” x 22.01”
Weight: 63.93 lbs.
Cooking Area: Unknown
If you’re looking for a high quality, hands-on smoker, this is probably the best value for your money. It won the Best Value Gold Medal Award from AmazingRibs.com, and has celebrity chef endorsements. The barrel is safe to use on wooden decks, especially if it’s set on a patio stone.
Due to the shape and size, heat control can be tricky. Another problem comes from exposure to the elements and accumulated moisture. The barrel does not handle winters well, and the interior may lose its paint and develop rust, even if kept in a shelter.
This mid-range smoker definitely relies a lot on hype to make a sale. That said, while it isn’t much to look at, it does seem to work extremely well during the first few seasons of use. Upkeep is the biggest concern. If you don’t have an extremely safe, dry place to store this big cooker, you’ll be throwing away a sizeable investment within the first year or two.
- Perfect for a large range of foods.
- Also functions as a grill.
- Risk of rusting and peeling paint.
- Difficult to manage heat.
6. Camp Chef PG24
Power Source: Wood and Electric
No of cooking plates: 2
Size: 51” x 21” x 45”
Weight: 127 lbs.
Cooking Area: 570 sq. inches
This complete system allows you to not only smoke and grill, but also roast and traditionally barbeque. Cooking is simple, and one of the industry’s most advanced digital controls helps streamline the process from beginning to end.
A video aid helps with set up, and a patented ash cleanout system makes clean up just as fast.
Although the overall engineering of the product seems sound, some of the electrical components have flaws. The primary issue is the main controller. Customer service days and hours are limited, but the manufacturer is aware of the issue and responds accordingly. You don’t have to pressure them to get replacement parts, and the new parts seem to be of a higher quality than the failing pieces built into the original machines.
This product offers a lot of bang for your buck, and although ordering replacement parts is a bit of a hassle, it doesn’t impact value all that much. This smoker functions perfectly well as a grill, roaster, and barbeque, and it’s rare to find a multipurpose smoker that actually fulfills that claim. Its cooking space is huge, too, so if you have the time and patience to deal with customer service, this is still a sound investment.
- Digital control of genuine wood-fired smoker.
- Patented ash cleanout system helps with clean up.
- Tons of cooking space.
- Several electrical pieces, including the main controller and meat thermometer have a high chance of breaking.
7. Camp Chef
Power Source: Propane
No of cooking plates: 2
Size: 18” x 16” x 44”
Weight: 65 lbs.
Cooking Area: 420 sq. inches
Three adjustable damper valves give users maximum control over their smoke. A heat control dial gives you more precise control over the exact temperature than a simple thermometer, which leaves you guessing how much fuel to add or extinguish. When your meal is ready, the removable porcelain base tray makes cleanup a breeze.
Although this smoker is easy to set up and clean, it has a few flaws. The number of vents gives great control over your smoke, but several do not completely close, which leaves the smoker vulnerable to sharp winds during colder seasons. Some vents do not completely close, presumably for safety reasons, but they do not take weather into consideration. The smoker’s other major flaw is its built-in thermometer. This thermometer seems to fail more often than it actually works, and the temperatures it reports are unreliable.
As one of the cheaper options on our list, this product holds a lot of value, despite its vulnerability to drafts and malfunctioning hardware. Many cooks like to use their own thermometers regardless of whether or not one’s provided, and it’s not an expensive replacement. The draft challenge is more of an issue, especially for users living in harsh climates, and these users may benefit more from one of our other options.
- Number and placement of vents offers great control over cooking.
- Heat dial makes it easier to control temperature.
- Size and placement of vents lets in drafts that alter temperature.
- Built-in thermometer simply doesn’t work.
8. PK Grills Combo
Power Source: Charcoal
No of cooking plates: 1
Size: 35.5” x 35” x 16”
Weight: 45 lbs.
Cooking Area: 294 sq. inches
If you plan on taking your smoker with you on trips, this is a great choice. It comes apart easily for quick setup and teardown. The aluminum materials are far lighter than any steel competitors, too. Those same materials also make it tougher than many similar smokers. The manufacturers claim it smokes like one of the popular egg-shaped grills. However, since it doesn’t use porcelain, it’s much more durable.
Although it’s a fairly simple design, the PK grill/smoker gives you a surprising amount of control. This is thanks to the four-vent system. It’s easy to bring heat up quickly or ensure a long, slow smoke by adjusting the vents and fuel.
Since two of those marvelous vents are on the bottom, however, without any real catch trays or containment measures, you’ll be dealing with a lot of loose ash to clean up. Cleaning the inside is even more of a chore. The other issue, of course, is size. This product simply isn’t large enough to handle big cuts of meat, and it can’t compete with many other smokers when it comes to scale.
This isn’t a cheap smoker, and if you’re looking to entertain the entire neighborhood, this smoker just isn’t for you. No matter how great the design, portability, and materials are, a smoker that can’t hold your food can’t cook it. That said, if you want something to travel with, and you have modest ambitions, this could be your perfect smoker. Durability matters, and the fact that the entire smoker is impervious to rust is invaluable.
- Lightweight materials are extremely durable and portable.
- It does not rust.
- Number and placement of vents gives the cook a ton of control.
- It’s smaller than many smokers, and can’t handle large items.
- Cleanup is a pain.
9. Smoke Hollow 4-in-1
Power Source: Charcoal and Gas
No of cooking plates: 1 (for smoking)
Size: 82” x 23” x 53.5”
Weight: 218 lbs.
Cooking Area: Unknown
This monstrosity of a grill and smoker combo will eat up most of your patio, but offers the chance to cook for half the town at the same time. Porcelain-coated cast iron makes up the majority of the charcoal side of this product, and an offset side firebox is what gives this brute its abilities as a smoker.
Despite its size, cleanup is fairly straightforward thanks to removable grease and ash pans.
Due to its size, upkeep is a big problem. Unless you have somewhere to store this massive contraption away from the elements, it will begin to rust within four years. It’s essentially two large grills welded together, so there are plenty of gaps to let in water. Even the one year limited warranty isn’t enough to
make this a secure investment.
This big combo is a big investment, but it does not appear that the long-term value of the product stands up to its initial cost. Even if users have a dry place to store it, moving this smoker back and forth would be an annoying burden.
- Its sheer size allows for all kinds of smoking.
- Simple cleanup thanks to ash and grease pans.
- It will rust sooner rather than later.
10. Char-Griller 2123
Power Source: Charcoal
No of cooking plates: 2
Size: 35” x 29” x 50”
Weight: 71.6 lbs.
Cooking Area: 635 sq. inches
This smoker is designed for easy use, with two shelves within easy reach for tools, spices, and cutlery. A lower rack provides additional storage, and the entire grill is easy to tilt and wheel inside the safety of a garage or shed. An ash pan pulls out from the side of the smoker, too, so you’ll spend little time keeping your equipment clean.
Since it’s a cast iron grill, this product takes some extra maintenance. With proper care and protection, however, the cast iron grill itself does well and lasts for a number of years. The downside is that the support structure doesn’t last as long as the grill itself, and the legs have a good chance of rusting out. The final, and most frustrating, part of this product is that the firebox costs extra, which should be expected from a cheaper model, but remains annoying.
This is one of the most affordable grills on our list, and it definitely invests its small budget in all the right areas. It works just fine as a smoker, provided you’re willing to pay for the additional firebox, and it has the range to cook just about whatever you want. Still, it requires a lot of attention. Buyers should be aware that they’ll trade money savings for time costs.
- Airtight hood locks in smoke and heat.
- Easy to clean thanks to the pull-out ash pan.
- Lots of adjustable features to give you control over your smoke.
- Firebox costs extra.
- Cast iron construction demands a lot of TLC.
- Support structure may rust out very quickly.
The diversity of BBQ smokers available makes fair judgment a challenge, and personal cooking preferences will go a long way in determining which type of smoker is best for you. However, our evaluation hinged on five key criteria by which any smoker can be judged. They are as follows:
- Quality of Materials and Construction
- Heat and Smoke Control
- Ease of Use
- Core Performance
Quality of Materials and Construction
The smokers we examined had many different primary materials, and although powdered and enameled steel were the most popular, they were far from the only options. While these different materials impact ease of maintenance, we didn’t judge the quality of any smoker’s construction based on the type of materials used. We’ll go deeper into maintenance issues below.
Quality materials and construction stand up to wear and tear. Products that failed within the first few seasons of use show poor investment priorities on the part of the manufacturer. A common sign of low-quality materials and substandard construction is rusting screws, rivets, or other joiners. These innocuous little pieces of hardware offer manufacturers a way to shave a few dollars off of construction costs without losing the ability to make claims about the smoker’s primary materials. Rust spreads, however, and as small as those little screws are, they ultimately keep your smoker together.
Several smokers will need replacement parts sooner rather than later. For this reason, we’ve added customer service and warranty use into this category’s consideration. If manufacturers are aware of a problem, then it should be an easy fix, and the vast majority of smokers on our list are backed by customer support that has a handle on the situation. Warranties are like life insurance for smokers, and the length of coverage reflects how long a manufacturer expects a product to work without problems. Therefore, the longer the warranty, the better the BBQ smoker’s quality.
Heat and Smoke Control
This point is unique to smokers. A grill doesn’t rely on the delicate control that a smoker utilizes, and grills don’t need to retain heat for the same periods of time. In order to do its job well, a smoker absolutely must provide exemplary heat controls. Simple products may use a series of strategically placed vents, and digital options more often rely on automatic feeders and display screens. Again, we didn’t look into which of these methods was superior, only whether or not they performed well.
Products with extra insulation, air tight hoods, and precise vent controls are more likely to manage heat and smoke well. There are, of course, exceptions, and just because a smoker has a lot of control features, that doesn’t mean it always does a good job managing temperature and smoke. Digital tech can fail, and vents can suck in drafts.
Ease of Use
A digital smoker will always be easier to manage than a simple charcoal burner, but that preference comes down to customer desires, and we did not use this as part of our considerations. Instead, we examined how easily the smokers could be set up, cleaned, moved, and used. While some are intrinsically more portable than others, we relied on the manufacturer’s claims. Not all smokers are designed to be frequently moved, for instance, but if a manufacturer touted portability, the smoker in question came under scrutiny for its ease of movement and ability to travel.
Features like built-in thermometers, side shelves, and warming racks all make smokers easier to use as well. Provided they work as expected, thermometers can make heat and smoke management vastly easier, and everyone needs a space for their spices and sauces.
Core performance examines how well a smoker smokes. The smoker’s ability to retain heat and maintain an even temperature are both crucial for turning out good food. The quality of food from a smoker depends on how close the food is to heat source and how regular that heat source remains.
The lovely smoky taste, however, comes from wood, and very few smokers are actually wood-fueled, so there are other features that go into core performance. Automatic feeders demanded some scrutiny. If they’re linked to a digital heat control, they may feed to quickly or too slowly. Side burners require the same consideration. The right amount of smoke creates a delicate flavor, but too much can leave your meal tasting like you rescued it from a forest fire.
Grills and smokers are all made of metal, which means they are all more or less prone to rust. The only way to stop your investment from literally falling apart in front of your eyes is to keep up on basic maintenance. Still, some require a lot more attention than others, and some have obstacles that further complicate maintenance.
Regular maintenance involves regular cleaning, regular oiling, and some protection from the elements. Smokers typically require ‘seasoning’ before they’re ready to get cooking as well, and failing to season can lead to not only bad food, but damage to the smoker.
Some grills simply can’t be left outside. Due to their materials, they will rust after exposure to precipitation, harsh temperatures, or even humidity. Regular oiling can prevent a lot of that, but that’s another maintenance step that counts against the smoker overall. What’s more, if a BBQ smoker is not designed to be easily wheeled into a garage or shed, but it rusts easily, it loses both maintenance and ease of use consideration.
Q: Do electric smokers have weaker flavors?
Technically speaking, digital smokers don’t have an open flame. This means you won’t get the same smoke ring that you would get from a charcoal smoker. However, looks aside, the fuel doesn’t heavily affect taste. You won’t have the coal flavor that so many people enjoy with their barbeque, but smoking relies (or should rely) on the flavor of the wood and seasonings far more than the fuel’s influence. If you taste the coal more than the wood when you use a coal-fueled smoker, you’re doing something wrong.
So long as you have good wood, a solid grasp of spices, and plenty of patience, you can get wonderful flavors from an electric smoker. You could plausibly get a more genuine wood-flavor, actually. It may take some experimentation to master your own recipes, but your family and friends are unlikely to complain if you invite them over to a few extra meals.
Q: How do construction materials influence the final taste?
Let’s be honest. This question is really about cast iron. The science is still out on whether aged cast iron genuinely makes better food, but the jury leans on the side of ‘no.’ Regardless, a new cast iron BBQ smoker doesn’t have an advantage over smokers of any other materials you may buy. A cast iron smoker and a stainless steel smoker both benefit from seasoning. Cast iron has high maintenance demands, but if you love it, then you’re probably willing to make the sacrifice. Keep in mind, preventing a skillet from rusting is much easier than keeping a big smoker from rusting. So, if you have plans of passing on your smoker to your great, great grandchildren as a magical flavor machine, keep in mind that your offspring are expected to have much longer lives than any smoker or grill on today’s market.
Q: Do all smokers rust?
Anything metal has a high risk of rusting. Regular maintenance, such as oiling, however, can dramatically lower these risks. Finding a smoker that’s been properly and thoroughly treated also cuts down on the risk. It’s untreated materials like screws and gaps in the construction that lead to premature rusting. Thoroughly cleaning your grill after each and every use also cuts down on rust. A number of the smokers we reviewed appeared to have significant rust issues, but these rust spots almost always seemed to originate at places where moisture gathers during cooking, which indicates poor maintenance on the part of the user.
Not all smokers rust, but their longevity relies more on the user’s maintenance habits than the smoker itself. A smoker kept in a sheltered area will not rust as quickly as one left on an exposed patio, and a smoker with a good cover will always outlast one left bare to the elements. Still, smokers, like cars, are made of metal, and they almost inevitably begin to rust sooner or later. The sooner or later depends on you.
Q: How work-intensive is smoking?
The amount of work depends a lot on the smoker you choose.
Babysitting a traditional smoker isn’t unlike babysitting children. There’s a reward at the end, but you’ll face hours of boredom punctuated by sudden bouts of panic as you see or suspect that something has gone wrong. You must feed your charge, clean it, and prevent it from getting too hot or too cold. The payout at the end is a return for a serious time investment.
While you should never leave a smoker entirely unattended, digital smokers are well known for their comparative ease of use. Instead of setting up a lawn chair next to your smoker and getting comfortable with a beer, you can actually go about your daily life. Digital smokers are not as temperamental as traditional smokers, and they’re much safer since they don’t technically use an open flame. Not everyone likes these smokers, and a lot of great cooks take pride in their traditional BBQ smoker handling skills. It really is a skill, too. Keeping the perfect temperature and smoke consistency requires lots of checking and a thorough understanding of how your chosen fuel, wood, smoker, and food behave. If you want to master the skill of operating a smoker, your best choice is a traditional charcoal or gas smoker. On the other hand, if you’re only interested in the food itself, and you don’t feel like investing that much time into your meal, a digital smoker would be perfect.