Do you envy your neighbor’s BBQ parties and their expert cooking skills? You see them puttering around the smoker, emerging triumphantly with platters of succulent meat that smells like a dream.
Are you hesitant to jump into a smoker purchase for yourself, wondering if you have the technical know-how necessary to getting the perfect ribs or brisket?
Good news! You don’t need a degree in meat smoking to be the envy of the neighborhood. There are great smokers for beginners that deliver excellent results without a steep learning curve.
One of the best smokers out there is the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which offers a wide range of innovations to make your job even easier. Continue reading for our 2023 list of the best smokers for beginners, and how to choose the perfect one for you.
Best Charcoal Smoker: Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
|Size:||14.5”, 18”, 22”|
|Material:||Porcelain enameled aluminum|
|Dimensions:||31.4” x 14.75” x 14.75”|
|Maximum temperature:||190 °F|
Nothing can beat Weber’s products when it comes to ease of use, although smoking is one of the hardest grilling methods. This Smokey Mountain Cooker has been around for so long that it has adjusted to the needs of beginners even better.
It features two dampers that help retain the internal temperature for more consistent smoking. It also has two easy-to-clean cooking grates that provide enough cooking space. This sample space also allows you to try different cooking methods; you can hang the meat or use water.
The lid has a built-in thermometer to monitor the internal heat without opening the smoker. This way, you can retain the temperature and only open the top when adding charcoal, which is super easy thanks to its removable lid.
The uncomplicated assembly and easy temperature adjustment make it one of the best smokers for beginners. It might have a slight learning curve, taking a few attempts to get the hang of the temperatures. But once you do, you can enjoy the set and forget style.
Best Digital Smoker: Masterbuilt MB20070421 30-inch Digital Electric Smoker
|Material:||Stainless steel interior, alloy steel exterior|
|Dimensions:||22.8” x 23.6” x 42”|
|Maximum temperature:||275 °F|
If you don’t like the hassle of adding and burning charcoal, this Masterbuilt electric smoker is for you. The assembly is beginner-friendly; you only need to plug it in to get it up and running. The glass door allows you to see the inside without opening the door, causing a reduction in the internal temperature.
The digital controls on top of the smoker make adjusting your time and temperature a breeze. You can also turn it on and off with this easy-to-use control.
The Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker is pretty roomy, giving you enough room to smoke anything you desire, whether it be meat, fish, sausages, or even cheese. This makes it perfect for any event, from small, intimate gatherings to big parties! It comes armed with four chrome-covered racks with ample space between them.
And in case you wonder how you can add the signature smoky flavor to your food with a digital smoker, it comes with a small patented wood chips tray installed on the side of the smoker. You don’t need to open the smoker to add wood. Simply slide the tray out and add chips. However, customers have complained about the small size of the chamber, making it necessary to replenish the chips more often.
Best Propane Smoker: Dyna-Glo DGY784BDP 36″ Vertical LP Gas Smoker
|Dimensions:||27” x 19.2” x 46.46”|
|Material:||Stainless steel interior, iron steel exterior|
|Maximum Temperature:||350 °F|
This propane smoker is a great value for the money, offering a lot at an affordable price. Equipped with four adjustable cooking racks and a double-door design, it provides a large cooking space and easy-to-use handling.
You can turn it on with a simple push of a button, then add wood chips when the temperature reaches the required level indicated by the smoke zone on its temperature gauge. You can even load the wood chips without opening the smoker’s door.
The enameled water bowl is large enough to ensure your meat has enough moisture throughout cooking. This large-capacity water bowl will ensure your smoked meat comes out nice and juicy with a pleasant smoky flavor. It’s also large enough to collect all the drippings and prevent them from getting to the burner.
This propane smoker also retains temperature well. However, some customers have reported smoke leakage, which they’ve solved by adding sealant. Some users have also mentioned that the smoker’s efficiency reduces in cold weather, so you may want to put it in a covered area.
Best Pellet Smoker: PIT BOSS 77550 5.5
|Dimensions:||28″ x 29″ x 53″|
|Material:||Stainless steel interior, alloy steel exterior|
|Maximum temperature:||450 °F|
Pellet smokers are among the most beginner-friendly products since they have no-nonsense lighting and temperature-adjusting methods. This Pit Boss pellet smoker definitely fits that bill!
The Pit Boss smoker comes with an integrated digital control board, which is fully programmable. This gives you more control over the temperature, a big benefit as you try to learn the ropes of cooking on a smoker. It also comes with a meat probe that allows for easy temperature readings on a digital readout screen.
Assembly is also very simple, thanks to the clear instructions and the uncomplicated design. The insulated door does an excellent job of retaining heat, and the glass door means you don’t need to open the door to check the cooking process.
It does appear that packaging leaves something to be desired, though many buyers report the company is quick to respond, sending out replacements or replacement parts with haste.
Best Grill and Smoker Combo: Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill
|Dimensions:||45” x 31” x 4”|
|Maximum temperature:||700 °F|
If you’re low on space or just want to keep your budget small, you may want to consider a grill/smoker combo. This is a great way to hone your smoking skills while also being able to enjoy delicious grilled meals. You can’t go wrong with this Char-Griller combo.
The Char-Griller Akorn Kamado comes with dual dampers that seal the inside and trap heat, allowing for perfect low and slow cooking. However, some users recommended replacing the gasket with a more durable one.
Wheels make it portable, and the compact dimensions mean you can fit it into any area. Plus, the side shelves have hooks that allow you to store all your cooking tools.
The Char-Griller is often praised for its fuel efficiency, thanks to its insulated body. As some reviewers suggest, you can extend your charcoal’s life and use it on several cooking occasions simply by closing off the vents after you are done cooking.
It’s also more affordable than similar products. The only downside is that you must pay extra to get the heat deflector for indirect smoking. It’s a smoking stone that can also double as a pizza stone and is an often-mentioned accessory in reviews.
Best Offset Smoker: Char-Broil 12201570-A1
|Dimensions:||17.5 x 46.25 x 44.75|
Offset smokers may not be quite as beginner-friendly as some of our other options, primarily because of their high costs. A high-quality offset smoker can cost upward of $3,000, which is not a viable option for most beginners. You may want to start with a budget-offset smoker and get a more advanced one after you feel well on your journey to becoming a seasoned pit master.
That’s why I recommend this Char-Broil offset smoker. It is mentioned often in the reviews as a good starter unit, or good for someone new to smoking foods. That’s not the only reason to give it a look, however!
This offset smoker provides ample smoking space: 290 square inches of smoke space, or about 18 hamburgers worth of room! You can also grill on an additional 140 square inches of space, giving you a total of 430 square inches of cooking surface. It also has easy-to-control features, including an integrated temperature gauge on the lid and multiple dampers to allow for better smoke and heat management.
This smoker has two stationary legs and two wheels, increasing stability and portability at the same time.
Best Kettle Smoker: Kamado Joe KJ15041021
|Dimensions:||18″ x 18.11″ x 54″|
|Maximum temperatures:||750 °F|
If you are looking for a versatile smoker that allows you to bake, roast, and grill, this Kamado Joe is for you. It features the SlōRoller, a patent hyperbolic smoke chamber that turns the grill into a dedicated smoker once detached.
Another innovative design is its 3-tier cooking system, which allows you to cook different foods at three temperatures simultaneously. Talk about an incredible feature! It’s also highly durable, featuring a beautiful and distinctive, red-colored galvanized steel coating.
The innovations don’t end here, though! The smoker boasts a hinged door that can open with only one finger. It has a tower-top vent that controls the airflow and increases the cooker’s efficiency.
Unfortunately, this smoker is significantly more expensive than others on the list.
How To Choose The Best Smokers for Beginners
Picking the right smoker may be daunting, given the wide variety of available options. That’s even more confusing if you’re a beginner. A lot goes into purchasing a smoker. So, do your homework and determine what you need precisely. Here’s what to consider:
As you saw in this guide, there are different types of smokers. If you don’t know which you’d prefer, consider the features on our list below!
The best fuel to get a pleasant smoky aroma is charcoal. Charcoal smokers can use a combination of wood chips and charcoal (lump or briquettes) to produce a beautiful flavor. They can also come with a water tray that keeps the temperatures stable and the internal chamber moist. However, they may not be the most beginner-friendly.
You need to monitor the temperatures constantly and keep them at the desired levels.
Most charcoal smokers, especially cheap ones, experience temperature fluctuations. This can dash your perfect BBQ hopes, instead of delivering uncooked meat or a burnt, black mess. On the other hand, some users believe that charcoal smokers are easier to operate since you can simply lower or increase the temperatures by reducing or adding charcoal.
You may also need to replenish the charcoal during cooking, especially if the smoker is small.
These are the easiest-to-use smokers because you don’t need to light charcoal. You just need to plug it in, add some wood chips, and let the cooker do its job.
These smokers typically light up with a button, have straightforward temperature controls, and don’t involve any manual work to keep the fire on. Once you turn on the smoker, it keeps the temperature at your desired level without having to fiddle with the gauge.
Thanks to these advantages, electric smokers are the best for novices. They are also budget-friendly and safe. Electric smokers are able to keep temperatures as low as you desire, making them suitable for low and slow cooking. However, many professional users believe an electric smoker’s smoke flavor isn’t as nice or as powerful as others.
Propane smokers are widely popular among beginners since they offer the simplicity of electric smokers while producing better results and flavors. You can use wood pellets, chips, or charcoal to produce the smoky flavor.
However, propane smokers have two significant disadvantages. First, they require a dedicated fuel source: a propane tank. It’s not as simple as plugging the smoker into an outlet. Fuel can run out in the middle of cooking, so you need to monitor the gas levels and have spare tanks available to prevent the cooking process from stopping.
Heat stabilization is essential in smokers. If the temperature drops during cooking, it’s easy to overcompensate and make it too high, or miss your target meal time. Ensure the smoker has a high-quality construction and is made of sturdy materials.
Stainless steel is the best material since it offers even heat distribution and is thick enough to retain heat. Avoid thin metals, as they can leak, are less durable, and are prone to rust.
The smoker must have a solid seal to prevent smoke and temperature leakage. Ensure the dampers and lids close tightly, and the gaskets are high-quality. Look for specific hot zones and make sure they’re kept to a minimum. If your smoker has too many hot zones, it doesn’t have an even heat distribution. This will lead to uneven cooking and a great deal of frustration.
Wondering how to test your smoker? Check out this simple guide.
Capacity and Size
If you’re a beginner, you may want to start small until you get the hang of things. However, as your skills grow, you may want to show off your skills at a big barbeque party. Consider the grate’s size and the unit’s capacity to ensure it can accommodate everything you need.
Keeping the heat stable during cooking is arguably the most challenging part of using a smoker. Most modern smokers feature temperature controllers installed on their exteriors, so you don’t need to open the lid to adjust the heat. However, not all of them work well and may offer inaccurate readings.
Look for a smoker with adjustable temperature and smoke levels. If it comes with a smart probe, so much the better. Otherwise, invest in a high-quality probe that helps you monitor the temperatures accurately.
A dedicated smoker can be more reliable and durable. However, if you’re into other cooking methods, such as grilling, or you have a small space, you may want to look for a more versatile cooker.
A versatile smoker can be an all-in-one tool that eliminates the need to purchase dedicated ones. Some smokers have wide cooking areas that allow for different cooking methods simultaneously. Others have separate tools, such as smoking stones, that turn a grill into a smoker.
Last but not least, the smoker’s price is a significant factor that can limit your choices. The price range for home-use smokers is incredibly vast, ranging between $100 and $10,000. However, you can find a decent, entry-level smoker for under $500. If you discover you love smoking food and wear out your starter smoker, you could always invest in a higher-end smoker with a larger capacity.
Grill vs. Smoker
Grilling and smoking can confuse beginners because of similar cooking equipment. However, these two cooking methods are very different, although you can find grills that double as smokers and vice versa.
The biggest difference between grilling and smoking is that grilling uses direct and high heat. This means you can get your grilled hamburger in a few minutes.
On the other hand, smoking is a low and slow cooking method that prepares your meal in several hours. It creates smoke inside the chamber, surrounds the meat with smoke, and cooks it through indirect heat.
As a result, smoking adds a pleasant smoky flavor to your meat, which is not comparable to the smoky taste you may get while grilling.
Grilling is perfect mainly for parties, quick meals, and small cuts of meat. Smoking requires a lot of patience and lends itself to cooking large meat cuts.
Can You Smoke Meat on a Grill?
As mentioned, you can find products that serve as grills and smokers. They have dedicated grates for grilling under direct flames and dampers that seal the chamber and fill it with smoke.
If the grill has a big surface area, you can create indirect heat by placing the meat on the corners of the grate where direct flames can’t reach it. Add moist wood chips to get the smoke you need for that mouthwatering flavor.
If your grill doesn’t have a good cover, it can’t create an enclosed space that will trap smoke for an extended period. In such cases, you may be able to get a good smoke by wrapping your meat in aluminum foil. However, don’t expect to get the same deep flavors as a dedicated smoker.
Check out this video to smoke your meat on a regular grill.
A smoker can be a great addition to your cooking arsenal. No matter how experienced you are, what your budget is, or how much space you have, you can find a good smoker that will help you enjoy the mouthwatering deliciousness of smoked foods.
Among the vast selection of smokers on the market, my favorite is the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. Although it’s fueled by charcoal, it’s straightforward and lacks the hassles of charcoal smokers.
Please share your insights about smokers in the comments section below.