The 10 Best Smokers
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in May of 2015. Attention, meat lovers: with one of these smokers, you can enjoy the rich flavor of restaurant-grade pork, beef, turkey, and salmon in the comfort of your own home -- and at a fraction of the price. The models on this list come in different shapes and sizes, and are suitable for cooking everything from ribs and brisket to Boston butt. Always consult your local codes for fire restrictions. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
January 17, 2020:
Removed the Cave Tools Smoker Box and the Char-Griller Table Top because they are not actually smokers. Removed the Masterbuilt Digital because of availability concerns. Added the Oklahoma Joe's Highland, the Traeger Grills TFB57PZBO, and the Dyna-Glo Signature Series.
The Oklahoma Joe's and the Dyna-Glo were added to make sure that we include good offset smokers given that offset smoking is the most common and traditional method for smoking meats. This type of smoker demands greater user involvement than pellet or vertical smokers given that there is no mechanism to automatically manage the heat. However, for many, this is precisely the appeal of this type of smoker. The Highland is very affordable while providing all of the elements you need to produce consistently good results. It has thick walls to trap the heat and therefore allow for more precise temperature manipulation and the seams allow minimal smoke to escape to ensure a good flow from the firebox vent to the smokestack.
If instead you have no interest in labor-intensive processes but want great and consistent results, the Traeger's pellet hop design requires only that you load the hop and set the temperature with the only learning curve being the pre-smoker meat preparation and rub.
Working with fire and gas is inherently dangerous. Observe proper safety protocols to prevent personal injury or damage to property.
Preserve The Flavors Of Summer
Hot smoking is usually done at temperatures of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit and is meant to simultaneously cook the food while infusing it with smoke flavor.
While preparing foods in an oven or microwave are helpful, the smoking process has a way of infusing them with a richness in flavor not experienced by simply broiling them using a conventional oven. A food smoker can provide you with that backyard barbecue taste with an added kick that rivals the quality of the smoked food you'll find in a restaurant.
The smoking process involves flavoring, cooking, and even preserving a variety of fish, meats, pork and poultry through prolonged exposure to the smoke produced from burning materials such as hickory, maple, cherry, oak, and other fragrant hardwoods. Additional materials burned in the smoking process can include pellets and charcoal. Smoking is accomplished in either hot or cold contexts.
Hot smoking is usually done at temperatures of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit and is meant to simultaneously cook the food while infusing it with smoke flavor. Cold smoking is done at temperatures less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in order to enhance a food's flavor while also creating a smoke barrier that prevents bacterial growth. This can help to preserve the food for extended periods of time. Foods are typically cured before undergoing the cold smoking process.
While smokers come in many different shapes and sizes, they fall into one of 4 general fuel categories, which include propane, electric, pellet, and charcoal. Similar to a gas grill, a propane smoker gets its fuel from an independent gas tank with its heat being generated by a gas-powered burner located directly under a steel or iron box containing the wood or charcoal for the smoke. Major advantages to the propane smoker include the consistency of its temperature when smoking foods in a controlled environment, its portability (i.e. to take on camping trips), and the low cost for replacement parts when needed. Electric smokers often leverage a two-box system that includes both a cooking and fire box.
The fire box is equipped with a powerful heating element and is usually adjacent to or underneath the cooking box. Both the heat and smoke produced in the fire box (by the heating element and desired flavor of wood) are transferred to the food box where they cook and smoke the food. Electric smokers are also built to maintain temperature consistency and ease of use. Pellet smokers use an auger system to feed compressed, cylindrical wood pellets into a small stove compartment. This type of smoker is controlled by a thermostat, which informs the auger system when to drop more pellets into the stove. The biggest advantage to a pellet smoker is that all of the heat used for the smoke comes from the wood itself, which leads to an authentic taste. Charcoal smokers operate in much the same way as pellet smokers. The main advantage to charcoal smokers is that they provide the most barbecue-like flavor to your foods in combination with the wood chosen.
Smoking Is A Choice
One of the most important decisions to make right off the bat is whether you prefer an electric or charcoal-style smoker. Assuming an electric unit has a good heating element, it will be easy to maintain proper operating temperatures through the use of a thermostat. The choice of hardwood is also a big consideration, since there are many different flavors available, each with their own unique qualities for pairing with different types of beef, poultry, pork, or fish.
Assuming an electric unit has a good heating element, it will be easy to maintain proper operating temperatures through the use of a thermostat.
The shape and design of the smoker one chooses can have an effect on the way the food ends up being prepared. For that reason, one must consider the types of food they choose to smoke, how often, and with what materials. An offset smoker, for example, closely resembles an outdoor barbecue and is characterized by a cylindrical-shaped cooking chamber connected via pipe to a smaller cylinder for the fire box where airflow is strictly controlled and used to both cook and flavor your food before it escapes through a rear exhaust vent.
If you like classic designs, then this can certainly do the trick. The upright drum smoker is also vertically-shaped and designed for pseudo-indirect hot smoking, thanks to its bottom charcoal basket and cooking racks covered by a vented lid. This can he helpful in situations where you might not have much room to do your smoking.
A vertical water smoker is similar in design to the drum smoker with the addition of a water bowl in between its fire and cooking racks. The water bowl helps to maintain consistent temperatures in the cooking chamber while also providing reliable humidity that condenses along with the smoke to enhance flavors during the smoking process. For that reason, if rich flavor is important to your meals, a water smoker can be a powerful asset.
A Brief History Of The Smoker
Smoking foods as a way to preserve and enhance flavors has been around since the time of our ancient ancestors. In these times, meat was often hung to dry and when it began to take on the flavors of the smoke from nearby fires, early humans realized the smoke's ability to help preserve and enhance the way their food tasted. This process was eventually combined with curing food in salt, leading to an effective preservation process that has been adapted and developed worldwide ever since.
In 1939, a device called the Torry Kiln was invented at the Torry Research Station in Scotland, which allowed for uniform mass-smoking. The kiln was considered the very first prototype for all modern large-scale commercial smokers.
Since the 1930s, additional refinements and enhancements have been made to both commercial and home-style smokers, however the fundamental principals through which every model type operates has essentially remained the same.