You might think you know how to barbecue, but you can’t know true meat perfection until you’ve tried a smoker. If it sounds like a cliche, that’s because it’s something every grilling veteran will agree on.
While these hefty cooking devices can be pretty expensive, they represent an investment in your kitchen. If you shop carefully and make sure that you end up with the best smoker possible, you’re guaranteed many years of happy grilling.
High-quality products last a long time, require little maintenance, and they make meat dishes taste exceptional.
If you’re currently on the hunt for your very first smoker, it’s useful to have some advice about what to look for and how to distinguish the good from the truly superb. Meat smokers come with all kinds of different features, so it’s important to identify your needs. The size, speed, and power will be determined by how you often you plan to use it and what you want to cook. To help you find the best meat smoker on the market, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. There are eleven products featured, and they cover a range of features & requirements.
|Product Name||Fuel Type||Capacity|
Our Top Pick
|Electric||730 sq inches|
|Weber 721001 |
Best Charcoal Smoker
|Charcoal||481 sq inches|
|Little Chief Smoker|
Best Budget Smoker
|Electric||25 lbs of Meat|
50 lbs of Fish
|Smoke Hollow 38202G|
Best Propane Smoker
|Propane||3.4 Cubic Feet|
|PK Grills PK360|
Best Grill+Smoker Combo
|Charcoal||360 sq inches|
|Old Smokey Electric Smoker||Electric||Not Listed|
|Bradley Smokers Original Smoker|
|Propane||5.4 Cubic Feet|
|Dyna-Glo Vertical Charcoal Smoker|
|Charcoal||1,176 sq inches|
~150 lbs capacity
|Nordic Ware 365 |
|Any Heat Source||0.7 Cubic Feet|
|Char-Broil Deluxe Electric Smoker|
|Electric||725 sq inches|
1. MasterBuilt 20070910 – Best Overall Smoker
We picked the MasterBuilt 20070910 as one of the best meat smokers of the year not because it is flawless, but because it offers a great starting point for beginners. If you’ve never smoked food in this way before, you’ll find a stress free system here. For one thing, it’s compatible with any type of smoking wood, including pecan, cherry, apple, and hickory.
So, you can play around with different flavors until you hit upon a combination which works. The MasterBuilt is fully programmable and can be set for as long as twenty-four hours. When you’ve got a little experience under your belt, this is a great way to cook your favorite cuts at low, slow temperatures and create meat which melts in the mouth.
As this device is a generous thirty inches wide, you won’t run out of space, even when cooking large amounts. The temperature range is capable of moving anywhere between 100 and 275°F, depending on how you program it, of course. Often, poorly insulated drums make smoking in cold climates a bit of a chore, but the MasterBuilt is sturdy and well protected.
We especially liked the side loading wood tray. You don’t always get this, even on super swanky models, and it makes topping the levels up so much easier. Although, the drawer on this device can get a little sticky at times. To avoid cracks, don’t push too hard. Make sure that the drawer is aligned with the tracks before you try and force it back in.
2. Weber 721001 – Best Charcoal Smoker
The Weber 721001 is consistently touted as one of the top rated smokers. It is surprisingly simple actually, but don’t let that put you off. This product is living proof that, sometimes, basic really is best. The first thing that we noticed was how stylish it looks. It is sleek and contemporary, without having to resort to bells and whistles. It is, simply, classic.
The barrel is made out of steel, with a super tough ceramic coating. In truth, the build quality is impeccable, and you can expect this smoker to last a long time, even with heavy use. At forty-one inches tall and nineteen wide, there is plenty of space too. According to the maker, it’s big enough to cook a whole ham and a turkey at the same time.
While can see this as a possibility, a measure like that really depends on how big your cuts of meat are. It should be noted that the Weber 721001 doesn’t offer the same kind of temperature control as other models. The range is narrower (and the top limit smaller) because it is designed primarily for low, slow smoking over many hours.
This model is powered with charcoal, but you can add liquid or chipped wood for that deliciously fragrant flavor. If you use the product as intended and cook at low temperatures, it requires little maintenance. All you have to do is check up on the meat every few hours and toss in a bit more fuel if needed. This smoker pretty much cares for itself when cooking.
3. Little Chief Smoker – Best Budget Smoker
Not all meat smokers work with intense temperatures. In fact, this Little Chief Front Loader is a cold smoking model. It might sound counter intuitive, but the method works really well for smaller cuts of meat and fish. You can also use these models to smoke fruit. They, essentially, cure the food, rather than cooking it.
You still get that gorgeous smoky infusion, but the outcome is different. If you wanted to make beef jerky, for example, you’d stick your bacon in the Little Chief Smoker and let the system draw out all the water. So, don’t buy one of these if it’s big cuts of barbecued meat that you’re after. They’re not designed for that. There is no need for gas or charcoal.
There is a drawer for wood chips. Keep these as small as possible, because the smoker itself is extremely compact. It is one of the smallest on the market, which makes it ideal for taking on cross country trips. The front loading shelves have a capacity of twenty pounds, though this might depend on the type of meat you’re using.
We’re very fond of this diminutive little device, though it is very much a specialty item. If you buy it and later decide that you’d rather grill briskets and ribs, you’re going to have to pick up a bigger, more expensive machine. It only has one setting (165 degrees F), so it is easy to use but be vigilant in colder conditions. The interior insulation could be a bit better.
4. Smoke Hollow 38202G – Best Propane Smoker
If you want to become a smoking master, the first step is identifying the best meat to smoke. Luckily, there are lots of options and plenty of cuts to practice on. The second is working out how to tend to your meat, without compromising that delicate balance of wood, fire, and fragrance. It is something which even the high-end products find difficult.
Fortunately, the Smoke Hollow 38202G seems to have come up with a clever design. The two drawer system allows the user to refill wood and water, without coming into contact with all that delicious smoke and flavor. The transparent front means that you can keep an eye on meat and ensure the smoking chamber remains sealed until you’re ready to chow down.
We really liked this feature and reckon that it makes the Smoke Hollow one of the best smokers of 2017. You put the meat in, after flavoring or marinating it, and it doesn’t come out until it’s ready. There is no poking around and no fussing. If you want to release a bit of smoke, you can open one of side vents.
The temperature range runs from a low, intense heat to a much higher, faster grill and sear. Although, we did find that it was hard to maintain a consistent level of heat at lower temperatures. If you want to cook over long periods, we’d advise checking up on your meat every hour to ensure that the thermometer hasn’t crept back up.
5. PK Grills PK360 – Best Smoker Grill Combo
Our next featured product is a versatile device. It is the best smoker grill that we’ve found on the market. Yes, that’s right barbeque fans, you can combine two of your favorite cooking styles in one unit. It is a clever idea because neither barbeques nor smokers are the most affordable items in the world.
They can both be pricey and, often, people only use them for a short portion of the year. So, being able to combine the two is handy if you’re on a budget or want to get maximum value out of your cash. The PK360 is part of a long line of highly regarded PK Grills products. It offers exceptional build quality and a hard wearing design which can take a lot of intense use.
If you’re looking for longevity, you cannot go wrong with this product. It is made of cast aluminum and, according to users, the parts will never corrode or break down. The temperature range is very wide, as you’d expect from a device which is capable of open grilling and low smoking. For the former, you simply lift the top of the barrel off and put it to one side.
The smoking and grilling chambers are one and the same. However, when the lid is on and sealed, and the bottom drawer is filled with your choice of wood, you’ve got a high-end smoker to play with. It can take a little practice to get the hang of the smoke vents on the bottom, but it’s just a matter of learning how to match them to the right cooking style.
As far as meat smokers go, the affectionately named ‘Old Smokey’ is what you might call authentic. It has a classic design because it is no more complicated than the early tin drum setups. It has a heating element, a drip ran, and a couple of wire shelves. It is simple, elegant, and free of fuss and contemporary features.
So, if you like the idea of going back to basics, we highly recommend this product as one of the best smokers of 2017. It is capable of getting hot enough to grill at medium temperatures, but its real purpose is that low, slow treatment. You insert your food above the drip pan, load your heated plate with wood chips, and you’re good to go. It doesn’t get any easier.
The only really modern feature is the fact that it’s an electric smoker. You don’t need to burn anything because the hot plate releases the flavor and fragrance from the wood. This makes it one of the safest models on our list. The fireproof handles are an added security precaution, and they help with loading because you’re essentially working with a giant stock pot.
Ultimately, some people will love the basic design and others will hate it. We liked that it felt rustic and more characterful than a lot of the other shiny, chrome models on the market. However, we should point out that the top loading design is a bit awkward. The pot is deep, so getting your meat out requires care and precision.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the Bradley Smokers Original Smoker is that it looks pretty incredible. We get the feeling it might be a bit of a ‘love or hate’ design, but there’s no arguing with the claim that it’s unique. The fully insulated stainless steel exterior is really something to behold. It is sleek, edgy, and highly stylized. You could just fall in love with it.
This product is a little more advanced than some of the rest, but it can be mastered with a bit of practice. The temperature settings are fully programmable, via a digital interface. In fact, there are two burners, and they work separately, so it’s a sophisticated setup. One burner heats the wood chips, and the other brings the smoker up to the desired temperature.
The chips are slowly filtered into the drum, in incremental amounts, every twenty minutes or so. This ensures a consistent, even smoke so that the meat cooks at a stable temperature and is fully penetrated with all that flavor. The machine is front loading, which makes it really easy to get your food in and out. It’s kind of like a mini fridge, with four sturdy wire racks.
The only thing that we didn’t like so much about the Bradley Smoker is that it only takes bisquette wood chips. They can be expensive, and we advise factoring them into the cost of running this product before you buy it. Typically, an eight-hour smoke will use around twenty-four of these bisquettes. For a 48 piece pack, you’ll pay about $15 to $20.
The Cuisinart has an almost Victorian aesthetic, which is bound to delight lovers of classic appliances. It is very boxy, but also much narrower than it is wide, so you’ve got a longer, thinner interior. This means that, even though it looks fairly cramped, you can fit a surprising amount of food on the racks.
Plus, every component has been coated in porcelain enamel for toughness and longevity. In fact, that is the real theme of the COS-244 Smoker. It doesn’t beat the PK Grills model for the title of best smoker grill, but it does offer a consistently high level of performance. The quality of the materials is obviously right at the top end of the market too.
The bottom compartment can be opened for refilling, without having to access the meat smoking chamber and release all of that flavor. However, this would be a more useful feature if the door was transparent or included a window. You can’t really see into the drum with this smoker, so you usually end up pulling the top compartment open anyway.
The uppermost temperature is 450 degrees F, which is substantially greater than a lot of other devices. Therefore, you can, technically use the Cuisinart COS-244 for roasting and high-intensity grilling. Like most smokers with elevated ‘top’ temperatures, it can end up being harder to cook consistently at a lower heat.
When searching for the best smoker, an experienced grill master will take the shape of a product into account. It affects the way the smoke moves around and penetrates the meat. This is one of the reasons why there’s a market for both standard and offset devices. It also shows that many of these decisions do come down to personal choice.
If a smoker is ‘offset,’ it means that the heating component is positioned on the side, rather than directly underneath the cooking drum. The Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC is designed this way. It ensures that the heating function doesn’t affect the behavior of the smoke. The end result is a smooth, balanced roast with a delicate (but not overpowering) flavor.
This product is very spacious and contains no fewer than six wire racks for your cuts of meat. We especially liked the ergonomic handles on the outside, as they make it easy to access the smoker, even if you’re holding plates or cutlery in one hand. We did notice a small but steady stream of smoke leaking out of the sides of the drum, so the seal isn’t impenetrable.
It is a common problem for smokers and, particularly offset devices because the design is intended to allow freedom of movement. In exchange for a marvelously even coverage, you often have to accept a bit of a loss. You can, however, add extra insulation around the doors to try and slow the rate of escape.
10. Nordic Ware 365 – Best Portable Smoker
Now, for something a little different. Smokers are generally associated with outdoor use because the vast majority of products cannot be safely used inside. It is a sticking point for keen chefs, as it means you’ve got to be willing to tend to your meat in the wind and rain. You might have a hankering for smoked chicken, but it doesn’t mean the weather is on your side.
The good news is that Nordic Ware has invented a nifty indoor kettle smoker. There is a number of these on the market, but we think the 365 is the finest. It works in much the same way as an old fashioned kettle. You just add a little water, insert some wood chips, and place it directly on the stove.
Obviously, you’re not going to fit anywhere near the same amount of meat inside, but it’s surprisingly roomy. Plus, the dome is curved high, so that you can fit whole chickens and other bulky cuts of meat beneath the top. It is ideal for slow cooking beef, pork, poultry, lamb, seafood, and even small pizzas.
Though the Nordic Ware 365 Indoor Smoker does use wood chips, they need to be compatible with the device. When shopping, look for very fine chips which are almost powdery. They will burn faster, smoother, and with less dense smoke. It comes with a top vent and an internal thermometer, just like you’re used to seeing on full-size outdoor smokers.
Like the Little Chief Front Load Smoker, this next device is not really built for intense, heavy use. The best meat to smoke would be something like beef jerky, hot dogs, or bacon. The uppermost temperature is low compared to bigger products, but it does its job very efficiently. The digital controls make it easy to regulate cooking styles and prepare meat with precision.
It won’t produce a rich, impactful flavor. However, not everybody wants to be overwhelmed by fragrance. Sometimes, a subtle essence is best. We like that it stands on the ground, about knee height, like a miniature refrigerator. Even if it’s placed directly on the floor, it’s no trouble opening the smoker door and taking cooked meats out.
Alternatively, you can place it on an elevated surface, but it must be something extremely heat resistant like stone or concrete. With a generous 725 square inches of smoking capacity, you’ve got plenty of room for chickens, salmon, and cheese if you fancy it. There is also a built in temperature probe. It hooks onto the interior of the device, just under the top surface.
It is a great accessory, as every grill master misplaces their instruments at some point during a cooking session. This way, you can’t lose it, and you’ve got a quick way to inspect your meat. Plus, it connects to the digital temperature interface and gives you an instant reading. Do use your own judgment as well though, because smoker probes can be notoriously jumpy.
Factors We Considered
There is a lot of different things to think about when shopping for meat smokers or trying to find the best smoker grill. As already mentioned, these products aren’t throw away items. They are not like the cupcake maker or the juicer that you bought on a whim and pushed to the back of the kitchen cupboard. They represent a sizeable investment, so we advise buying a full size only if you’re sure that it will get plenty of use.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wait until the sun is shining to start an outdoor smoker up and get your meat cooking. Although, if it’s cold outside, the burner is likely to need more attention. Even heavily insulated units tend to leak heat at a faster rate when the surrounding air is very wet or cool. Always keep this in mind when grilling.
In the next section, we’re going to talk about some of the things you should prioritize when selecting a brand new smoker.
Fuel Type and Smoke Control
This is a pretty big subject because meat smokers work in all kinds of different ways. The more contemporary products are built around convenience, so you’ll find that they have digital and automatic control functions. On the other hand, some chefs really do enjoy getting hands on and directing the meat through every stage of the cooking process.
It is up to you how much help you want and what degree of intervention you’d like to make. Very basic, old school smokers rely on vigilance and instinct. You’ve got to be willing to check and recheck those cuts every couple of hours. The alternative is to invest in a very stylized unit, with sophisticated temperature controls.
These are the kind of meat smokers which can be left for days, with only refills of wood, charcoal, or water required. The choice of fuel relates to this too, as charcoal will always need more attention than electric and gas. Even so, it’s still a popular choice, because it’s a very authentic, rustic way of cooking food.
Size and Construction
Making the decision between a stove top and an outdoor smoker should be pretty easy. While the two perform a similar function, they are very different devices. Indoor kettle smokers are a superb option for anybody who doesn’t feel experienced enough to cook with a full-size unit. Just spend some time practicing with a smaller version, then graduate to something bigger.
Kettle smokers might be your only choice because you don’t have a garden. In this case, they’re the next best way to cure jerky, smoke small chickens, and grill moderately sized cuts. For outdoor smokers, build quality is essential. This is an item which is going to spend most of its life outside, exposed to the elements, so it must be weather resistant and very strong.
Look for tough materials like steel, aluminum, porcelain, and ceramic. Ideally, you do want to keep your cooking implements out of the rain, but it’s a good idea for them to be hard wearing. If you’re halfway through a rack of ribs and the heavens open, a high-quality smoker might lose a little heat, but it shouldn’t let in water.
Capacity is, of course, a big factor when shopping. Don’t forget that, the bigger the unit, the more it will cost to heat and operate. If you’re smoking large quantities of meat, it’s going to be worth the effort, but not for a drum which is always less than half full. Think carefully about your meat eating habits and pick a smoker which fits the lifestyle you lead.
Extra Perks and Features
It’s worth mentioning that the best choice for you might not be a feature packed product. You don’t have to pick up a futuristic device, with scores of fussy extras, if it doesn’t suit your needs. There are plenty of simple, high performing meat smokers out there. In fact, our list contains several simple and classic designs which we think are amongst the best smokers of 2017.
Nevertheless, we advise looking for products with at least one vent (preferably more, if the smoker is sizeable) and a thermometer of some kind. Even if you can see right into the drum, through a transparent window, you can’t rely on sight alone. Having an inbuilt thermometer is the best way to be sure that meat is fully cooked and safe to eat.
One feature which tends to get overlooked is the quality of the seal. The problem with smokers is that a large proportion leak. It is a recurring issue, among high-end products too, so it isn’t always avoidable. However, you can reduce the chance and rate of leakage by investing in a good, strong metal and scrutinizing user reviews to see if a particular unit is troublesome.
What you can do if you get a leaky seal is add extra insulation. This is a quick and easy process, but the likelihood is that you’ll need to repeat it once every couple of years. That is unless you can hunt down a meat smoker which produces amazing food, handles heat responsibly, and keeps the tasty stuff firmly in the cabinet. They’re definitely out there.
Water and drip pans are pretty common features, but they’re not included with every smoker. The former is placed above the heat source, and it moderates the temperature fluctuations. In simple terms, water cancels out the unwanted effects of all that heat and prevents your joint, ribs, or flank from drying out. You can add wine, beer, or herbs to your water smoking tray.
The most common types of smoker are charcoal, gas, and electric. You can also use wood pellets, but this is a relatively new idea and a little less popular. The thing to remember is that all of these fuels are capable of producing amazing food. It is not the heat source which determines the quality of the meat. It is the skill of the person cooking it.
Nevertheless, there are benefits and downsides to using charcoal, electric, and gas. For instance, charcoal is thought to create the smokiest, richest flavors. However, it is unpredictable and requires a lot more monitoring and maintenance. If you use charcoal to power your meat smoker, you’ll need to check up on it more often.
Electric smokers are very different. They’re often referred to as ‘set it and forget it’ cookers, as you can get away with leaving them unattended for long hours. You do still need to add wood every so often, but electric models are great at regulating their own temperature. You’re dealing with a computerized system, rather than a natural burner, and the benefits are clear.
For the most part, smoking enthusiasts reject electric burners because they don’t create the same aesthetic. You don’t get that distinctive charcoal ring. Gas and propane smokers are very similar, in the way that they don’t require much attention. You can leave a gas burner cooking for fifteen hours without changing the tank.
Once you’ve found a meat smoker that suites your needs, it could be worth picking up a few key accessories. The type of items available for outdoor burners are similar to what you’d expect for regular barbeques. Obviously, long tongs and pokers are pretty handy for moving the meat around and shuffling coals. You don’t want to be doing it with your fingers.
Ultimately, you can kind of double up when it comes to accessories. If you have a barbeque or standard outdoor grill, don’t hesitate to use your cutlery and other items for the smoker too. We advise picking up a few extras though. Insulated safety gloves are highly valuable because taking food out of a smoker can be awkward sometimes.
Depending on the shape and size of the drum, you might be better off reaching in and using your hands to lift pieces of meat from the smoker. You’ll need strong, flexible gloves for this in a heat resistant material like rubber or silicone. Skilled smoking is all about getting up close and personal with your cuts, so direct handling is no problem as long as you’re hygienic.
While you’re shopping, pick up a tough grill brush for scrubbing food remnants off the wire racks. Marinated chicken is notoriously sticky and will cling to the shelves during cooking. Some meat enthusiasts would argue that it only adds to the taste of the next batch, but there’s a fine line between flavor and filth. Give your unit a good clean when you’re through.
Finally, we think a high-quality thermometer is a really great addition to your smoking kit. Yes, most products do come with a dial on the outside, but this won’t tell you how hot the interior of the meat is. It will only determine the heat of the air around it. Wireless thermometers are cheap, reasonably reliable, and easy to use.
Best Smokers 2017 – A Quick Review
Best Overall Smoker
The MasterBuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker is a very impressive piece of kit, particularly for the price. It is well insulated, provides plenty of cooking space, and is ideal for beginners.
Best Charcoal Smoker
The Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 18-Inch Charcoal Smoker is one of the top rated smokers of 2017. It attracts superb customer reviews, as it offers top level performance at an affordable price.
Best Budget Smoker
The Smokehouse Products Little Chief Front Load Smoker is a cold smoking model, which is designed for slow cooking and curing. It is very compact and can be easily transported. Plus, the front loading design makes monitoring your meats a breeze.
Best Propane Smoker
The Smoke Hollow 38202G Propane Smoker is one of the most popular meat smokers because of the smart two drawer design. The idea of this system is that you put the meat in and avoid moving or touching it until it is finished. The bottom drawer allows for refilling without emptying out the smoke.
Best Grill & Smoker Combo
The PK Grills PK360 Grill and Smoker Combination beats all rivals when it comes to the best smoker grill on the market. Yes, it has a hefty price tag, but you’re getting two cooking systems in one. And, according to users, it is almost impervious to wear and tear.
Best Portable Smoker
The Nordic Ware 365 Indoor/Outdoor Kettle Smoker is an indoor device, so it is safe to use inside the kitchen, as well as in the garden. While it can only cook small amounts of meat, the unit is efficient, well contained, and easy to use.
Final Thoughts – Wrapping up
Now, we come to the end of our guide to the best smokers of 2017. The hope is that one of the products featured has managed to catch your eye. If this is the case, the next best step is to conduct your own research. Look for more information about the model online and see if you can hunt down some customer reviews for a fresh perspective.
Alternatively, you can put your faith our extensive review here and have your favorite smoker on its way to your home within hours. Our advice is to take it slow, gather all the information you need, and pick a smoker which is going to fit your needs and your budget.