Want to purchase a smoker for your next BBQ party? If yes, here’s everything you need to know or do in order to make the right buying decision.
A smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance that is used to maintain a constant smoke temperature so that you can cook your meat slowly and efficiently. The smoke is used to not only cook the food but also add a little wooden flavor to your food so that you can enjoy BBQ, grilled items, and so on.
There are different types of smokers available in the market, based on different fuel types and you have numerous options in terms of design, size, features, etc. This can make it a little confusing to choose the best-suited smoker for yourself and can often overwhelm the users. So, we have prepared a guide to help you out in choosing the best smoker for yourself.
Table of Contents
What are the Different Smoker Types
The first thing that you need to know about smokers is that there are different types of smokers available in the market based on the fuel type that is used. You will find charcoal smokers, electric smokers, propane smokers, and pellet smokers. Each of these smokers has its own features and benefits and you need to consider all these functions before selecting the best smoker type for your requirements.
Charcoal Smokers are traditional smokers which are used more for the experience than actual cooking and are usually used to supply the users with an authentic flavor to the food.
A charcoal smoker requires a little more knowledge and expertise in comparison to a gas or an electric smoker but it produces one of the best flavors which is unbeatable. It is also one of the cheapest smokers in the market.
An electric smoker is one of the most convenient smokers and is extremely easy to use but it cannot provide you with an authentic flavor like a charcoal smoker. It helps in maintaining a constant temperature in an automated process and doesn’t require any manual effort on your part.
Since it requires minimum attention from your side electric smokers are often considered the perfect smokers for beginners who want to cook and smoke food regularly but don’t want to spend too much time or effort in it.
However, there is one serious drawback with electric smokers which is you cannot operate it without electricity.
Propane/Natural Gas Smokers
A gas smoker uses propane or natural gas to produce heat and smoke and tends to heat up much faster than other smokers. It maintains a steady and consistent heat and is the best choice for users who are new to smoking food.
They help in cooking your food quickly which is why they often make the best choice for users who are in a hurry to cook and don’t have a lot of time to spend on preparing food.
Also, a gas smoker is quite easy to operate and can be used when there is no electricity available too.
Pellet smokers are similar to electric smokers but they use wood pellets to burn and produce smoke and heat up your food. They offer you authentic charcoal smoker flavor but they are easy and convenient to use as an electric smoker. Basically, you get the best of both the worlds with a pellet smoker but make sure you pick the right wood for smoking before you get started.
Questions to Ask Yourself before Buying a Smoker
Before you start looking for an ideal smoker for yourself, you need to start by asking a few questions to yourself and need to first assess your requirements. This will help you in understanding the features and functions that you are looking out for and you will find it easier to choose the perfect smoker for yourself.
Why do I need a Smoker?
The first thing that you need to determine is the purpose of buying a new smoker. Are you upgrading your old model or are you purchasing a smoker for the first time? Whatever the reason be, you need to first determine the use of your smoker and then move ahead.
So, make a list of uses of your smoker and decide for what you will be mainly using it. If you are using it to prepare food for your family every weekend then you might want to look at a big, easy to use and safe smoker and might need to keep a good budget for it. However, if you are just purchasing it for a one-time party or for infrequent use then you might not want to invest so much.
How often will I use it?
The next important question to ask yourself is the frequency with which you will be using the smoker. Are you going to use it every day or monthly? Is it going to be used for special occasions only?
Once you answer these questions, you will have a better idea about the type of smoker that you might need to invest in. If you are going to use it regularly then you might want to purchase a cheap smoker which won’t cost a lot of operational costs and you will also have to make sure it is durable and long-lasting.
On the other hand, if you are going to use your smoker occasionally then you can indulge in an electric or gas smoker which will be easier to use and won’t require a lot of work from your side.
What size smoker do I need?
You need to decide if you will be using your smoker for a family gathering, friends gathering, parties, or just for your family use.
If you are going to use it for daily family use then you can purchase a small sized smoker but if you are looking for a smoker that can cook for your entire neighborhood or family tree then you might need to look at bigger smokers.
Also, remember that a bigger smoker means higher cost so be prepared and only purchase the smoker size that you actually need.
How much space do I have?
Once you have decided the size of the smoker that you would require for your use, you need to determine if you have sufficient place to keep your smoker. If you have a lot of space to store your smoker then it is not a big deal, you can go ahead and purchase any sized smoker that you wish.
However, if you are short on space then carefully think of a storage place before purchasing your smoker else you will be stranded with your smoker in the middle of your backyard with no place to keep it.
How much am I willing to spend?
Finally, you need to set a budget range for yourself before you start looking for the perfect smoker for yourself. You will easily be able to find a smoker that costs in the range of $100 to $5000 so it is important that you set your budget beforehand.
If you want a low-cost smoker then check out features of the smokers in your budget range and compromise a little. If the price is not an issue then also it would be best to look for a smoker which would get you all the necessary features and functions at the lowest cost possible.
What Features Make a good Smoker
Once you understand your requirements and have more ideas about the type of smoker that you are looking for, you need to check out the following points to ensure that you select the best-suited smoker for yourself.
One of the most important things to consider when looking for a smoker is temperature control. We all want food that is properly cooked and is neither overcooked nor undercooked. Another thing that most people look out for is the time taken by a smoker to cook and easy temperature control can help in that.
However, a lot of smokers tend to have a thermostat for quick cooking which can alter the taste of the meat and the ribs and make you wish that you had instead opted for a slower cooking smoker.
This is why it is important that you choose a smoker that will allow easy control of the temperature and would produce proper heat and smoke which will add flavor to your meat. Propane smokers are easiest to heat up and can quickly cook your food but they alter the taste of your food slightly.
Charcoal and wood smokers provide the required flavor but are difficult to maintain a constant temperature while the electric smokers are the easiest to control temperature and don’t require you to monitor it regularly.
One of the most common problems faced is the leakage and heat escape problem. A lot of smokers who are built out of cheap materials don’t have proper insulation and often let the heat and smoke escape from the smoker which makes it difficult to maintain a constant temperature.
So, check the insulation, seals, metal thickness, etc. before you purchase a smoker for yourself. Although a leaky smoker can still provide you with nicely cooked food, the result won’t be consistent always.
Construction and Durability
The next important thing to consider is the material used for the construction of the smoker. Heavy steel is durable and can distribute the heat properly which will come really handy during the cold season.
A well-constructed smoker will be durable and will not get warped and will last for a longer period of time. Also, check that the hinges and latches of the smoker and make sure that they are tight and sturdy and will not fall off quickly.
So, make sure you check the material of the smoker and choose a smoker that is rustproof and waterproof and will be easy to clean and polish. If you don’t care about the looks then you can simply go for a material like stainless steel which will be durable and stable and will provide you with better heat retention.
Another important point to consider is that the smoker should include a high-quality thermometer which will help in keeping a track of the smoker temperature and will allow you to maintain the required smoke temperature. A lot of smokers don’t include a thermometer or come with a thermometer which hangs from the side and isn’t of much use.
Check a smoker which will come with a reliable thermometer or if you don’t find one then purchase a thermometer separately to keep monitoring your smoker. This is extremely important because a slight change in your thermometer can result in overcooked or undercooked food.
Consistent Heat Production
One of the most important things to keep in mind when purchasing a smoker is that it should offer you consistent heat if you want to get the most out of it. If you purchase a smoker with a side firebox then you will easily notice a difference of 50-75 degrees Fahrenheit on the opposite sides of the smoker.
So, make sure that you get a smoker that will offer consistent heat throughout the smoker so that your food doesn’t stay undercooked in one portion and overcooked in another portion.
Easy to Add Fuel
You also need to check a smoker which will be easy to add fuel to and won’t be too messy or complicated to use. If you use a charcoal or a wood smoker then you want a model that will allow you to easily add the wood chips, chunks, or pellets to produce heat and smoke.
Also, make sure that the fuel access is from the front because it will be much easier to access. So, select front-loading and cabinet styled smokers instead of top-loading bullet-style or shelved smokers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that heat shouldn’t be lost when you are adding the fuel to the smoker. If you let the heat escape too often then the cooking time increases and can often result in inconsistently cooked food. So, check a smoker which will let you add the charcoal wood, pellet, gas water, etc. without affecting the smoker temperature.
One of the most important things to consider when selecting a smoker is the temperature range. An electric smoker can allow you to cook on a low-temperature range but cannot go higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit which can often limit your smoking experience.
On the other hand, charcoal or a gas smoker allows the user a wide temperature range and can go often as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit which allows the user to perform various cooking tasks on the smoker.
A varying temperature range will give you more versatility and will let you cook different items with ease so always opt for a wide temperature range when looking for a suitable smoker.
Another important thing to check when you are looking for charcoal or wood smoker is that it should include a working damper which will allow you to control the oxygen supply provided to the fire.
There should be a working damper both on the chimney and the firebox so that you can easily control the oxygen supply and the heat produced by the smoker.
Features and Accessories
You also need to check for the additional features and accessories that are provided along with the smoker. If there is a digital panel or an automated feature which makes your work easier then opt for that. Check if your smoker comes with additional accessories like tool hooks or rib hooks which will make it easier to smoke different kinds of meat.
Although your decision shouldn’t be entirely based on the additional accessories and features that are provided by the smoker but taking them into consideration will certainly help you in making a smart and wise choice.
If you have children or pets at home then you also need to ensure that the smoker includes a safety feature that will protect your family from any kind of accidents or injuries.
Opt for smokers with cools handles so that your children won’t accidentally burn themselves while holding the smoker and make sure that the electrical parts of the smoker are properly insulated and won’t injure your family members.
Safety is one of the top priorities when purchasing a smoker so make sure you are diligent when checking the safety features of a smoker.
Another essential point to consider when purchasing a smoker is the required capacity of your smoker. You will find smokers with different capacities, some will be able to cook an entire meal for your family gatherings and some will have enough space to cook food for only two people.
So, you need to decide if you are purchasing a smoker to be used for a big gathering or for just daily purpose and then look for an appropriate capacity smoker. Make sure that the racks inside the smoker are easily removable so that you can fit an entire turkey inside it and won’t have trouble cooking big food items as well.
Size and Portability
Apart from checking the capacity of the smoker, you also need to check the length, width, and weight of your smoker. Choose a smoker size that you can easily fit in your house and won’t have too much trouble moving around. If you purchase a large smoker and wish to use it every day in the backyard then it might be cumbersome for you.
So, decide the purpose of your smoker and then buy an appropriately sized smoker for yourself. If you will be moving your smoker a lot then check a smoker with wheels so that it is easily portable and won’t require a manual effort from your side.
Another important thing to consider is the price of the smoker. You can find a smoker in a wide price range from a cheap charcoal smoker which costs $50 to all-in-one smoker/grill which costs around $5000. This is why it is important that you first set a budget for yourself and then select the best smoker in that budget.
Make sure that you include the operational cost, maintenance cost, shipping cost, etc. when considering the price of your smoker as this will help you in deciding the total money that you will need to use the smoker.
Easy to Clean
One of the most important things to consider when buying a smoker is the ease of cleanliness. Although cleaning your smoker’s exterior is optional, you still need to regularly clean the interior of the smoker to ensure that your smoker works well every day. A clean smoker will heat up properly and will cook your food efficiently without adding any weird flavor or taste.
You need to clean the fat and the oil which drips from your food as it can be unhealthy and can make you fall sick if you cook without removing it first. A lot of smokers often come with a self-cleaning option which makes it easy to keep the interior clean. Also, check for moveable racks so that you can remove them while cleaning your smoker.
Make sure you check the cleaning ease of a smoker unit before purchasing it for yourself.
Tips to make cleaning easy peasy
A drip pan will not only make it easier for you to keep your smoker clean but will also help you in collecting fat, oil, etc. to prepare sauces.
Warranty and Support
Last, but not the least, check for a model that will offer you a unit and parts warranty and offers you an easy process for contacting the customer support for any issues. A reliable brand will provide you with a long warranty and will offer you all kinds of support to keep your unit working efficiently.
Purchasing a smoker is no easy task and since the cost is high, it is important that you are careful and considerate when making any choice.
So, make sure you check the price but focus on the temperature control and choose the best-suited smoker for yourself.