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The Best Smokers for 2021

You’re planning to buy a new smoker, but the number of different types of smokers gives you a hard time with this task?

I know perfectly well that it is not an easy choice, especially for beginners, who know absolutely nothing on the topic. You have to pay attention to many things, but without adequate experience it is hard to choose the right smoker.

There are different types available, powered with different types of fuel, which makes it necessary to learn pros and cons of each of them beforehand in order to avoid unnecessary disappointment as well as waste of time and especially money.

This guide will also help you find all the upsides and downsides of different types of smokers. 

ebg-table__image Weber Smokey Mountain
  • Cooking Surface: 481 sq. in.
  • Great for low & slow smoking
  • Warranty: 10 Years
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ebg-table__image Pit Barrel Cooker
  • Cooking Surface: N/A
  • Best hanging meat smoker
  • Warranty: 1 Year
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ebg-table__image Camp Chef SmokePro DLX 24
  • Cooking Surface: 570 sq. in.
  • Warranty: 3 Years
  • Pellet Hopper: 18 lbs
  • Best Value for the Money
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ebg-table__image Masterbuilt Front Controller
  • Cooking Surface: 730 sq. in.
  • Warranty: 90 days
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ebg-table__image Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24
  • Cooking Surface: 600 sq. in.
  • Warranty: 1 Year
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The Best Smokers for 2021: Top Picks

1. Best overall smoker: Weber Smokey Mountain 18″

See our full Weber Smokey Mountain review.

Weber Smokey Mountain is a great smoker both for beginners and advanced users alike, built to last forever. Another great product from Weber which has plenty of very well made products, WSM comes with whole 10 years of warranty.

Available in three different sizes, 14, 18 and 22 inches, it will suit everyone’s needs. In this guide, I will focus on reviewing the 18” model, which I think is the best universal option considering its size.

Contrary to a popular belief, its medium size doesn’t mean you should think of it as a small smoker. Quite the opposite, Weber Smokey Mountain 18” offers a whole lot of space. Inside you will find two racks that increase the total cooking area to whole 481 square inches.

Weber Smokey Mountain 18"

The grill’s structure is simple yet effective, having been perfected over few dozen years, today it constitutes a nearly perfect charcoal smoker that every fan of BBQ will love. It is this exact model that many people use in prestigious BBQ competitions, competing on a high level with teams that have much more expensive equipment.

WSM comes with all the necessary features that make it possible to reliably smoke meat on the highest level.

Inside, at the very bottom, you will find a water bowl that makes it easier to maintain a fixed temperature inside the grill and influences the results of meat smoking.

Separate air vents, one located on the bottom (on the bowl) whereas the other on the top (on the lid). Such solution gives the best air flow and makes it easy to control.

WSM makes it possible to buy many extra non-standard accessories, not many smokers come with such a wide offer which makes it a very versatile smoker that you can keep upgrading.

What I Like:

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Temperature Control
  • Incredibly easy to use even for beginners

What I Don’t Like

  • Aluminium Front doors can cause a little smoke leak

2. Runner up: Pit Barrel Cooker

See our full Pit Barrel Cooker review.

In this price range, it is the only worthy competitor to Weber Smokey Mountain. If for some reason you don’t like the Weber brand or simply want something different then Pit Barrel Cooker is a great alternative.

These two models (Pit Barrel Cooker and Weber Smokey Mountain) are actually top-tier so regardless of what you choose, you will certainly be satisfied with the quality and results. 

It is an Ugly Drum Smoker type (UDS), the structure is pretty simple which is why many people decide to build their own UDS. Luckily, several manufacturers have decided to commercially manufacture this brilliant type of smoker.

Pit Barrel Cooker

Today’s commercial models are much better made and perfected which makes them more efficient and easier to use.

PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker) makes it possible to hang meat ( ribs, chicken, turkey etc ), in Weber Smokey Mountain you have to buy a separately sold meat hanging set – that’s one of the few significant differences that can be found between these two brilliant smokers.

Another, less important difference is lack of water bowl in PBC which makes slow and low cooking easier.

Weber Smokey Mountain’s advantage is a bigger number of air vents as well as the front door that provides easy access to the lower part of the smoker when adding more charcoal.

After a careful analysis, I come to a conclusion that both models are great, but you have to take into account the necessity of spending about extra $30-$50 on accessories that will make WSM capable of exactly the same things as PBC (I’m talking about the meat hanging set here).

What I Like:

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Meat Hanging Set

What I Don’t Like

  • No Water Bowl

Considering everything else, on the other hand, PBC is simply a great smoker that allows to prepare food of the top quality while having a great time. Every fan of real BBQ will be incredibly satisfied not only with the results of smoking but also this entire process and all of that for decent money.

3. Best smart smoker: Camp Chef PG24

The greatest advantage of Camp Chef PG24 is its precise temperature control, just refill the pellets container and pick your desired temperature using the digital controller and turn on the ignition – that’s all.

You don’t have to worry about getting the charcoal burning, everything will take place automatically after programming the smoker adequately.

Pellet Smoker provides comfort similar to that of an electric stove while being much better than it as the source of power is foodgrade wood pellets that produce smoke.

Camp Chef PG24

Pellets leave ash behind but you shouldn’t worry too much about it as this model comes with an ash removal system that makes it much easier to remove.

The downside of this type of smoker is its price – the advanced technology, structure and features make it one of the most expensive smokers but I have to admit that all of it is worth this money.

If you want to have a stress-free and pretty much set & forget smoker, then Camp Chef PG24 will be a perfect choice. You don’t have to worry about anything once you start the grill, the temperature or amount of fuel will no longer be a worry of yours (that’s the advanced digital controller’s job). 

On top of that, you can plug in a meat probe that will let you know (through the alarm) when your meat is ready.

What I Like:

  • Set & Forget Style
  • Quality & Features

What I Don’t Like

  • Expensive

You have to keep in mind that a smoker that is powered by charcoal is very often an investment for years, usuallywithout having to spend extra money if you take good care of it (like the two I described above, PBC and WSM).  

A pellet smoker, on the other hand, is equipped with electric elements that it can’t work without (digital controller) and always carry the risk of malfunction further down the road. 

Of course it doesn’t mean that a good pellet smoker is very malfunction-prone. Quite the opposite, if you buy a good model, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about for years to come.

4. Best smoker for beginners: Masterbuilt Front Controller

Let me start by admitting that I am not a fan of electric smokers, but I’m here to objectively present to you all the available options.

I am perfectly aware that this type of smoker is a good choice for many, especially for beginners. 

The digital controller allows you to precisely set the temperature, you don’t have to worry about adding fuel and the temperature fluctuations arising from it. Just start the smoker, set the temperature and few minutes later you can start smoking meat.

Masterbuilt Front Controller

Of course most people will just start yelling about how a typical charcoal fueled smoker is incomparably better when it comes to results of smoking.

You need to know, though, that an electric smoker is equipped with a special smoker box where you have to put wood chips that will produce the smoke that is valuable to your meat. The smoking results still won’t be top-notch but the smoker box will certainly make the meat tastier.

The biggest downside to electric smokers is sadly the high risk of malfunction.

I picked this model also because Masterbuilt offers plenty of very useful gadgets, such as the cold smoking attachment.

I have to admit that it is not a suggestion for someone who loves real BBQ, traditionalists speak rather negatively of the electric smoker. However, if you want to quickly and easily prepare something good without having much knowledge on smoking and without any trouble, then it is something for you.

What I Like:

  • Big Cooking Space
  • Easy to use

What I Don’t Like

  • High risk of component failure.
  • Lack of smoke flavor

5. Best gas smoker: Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24

See our full Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 review.

Out of the entire category of gas smokers, it is possible to choose something decent and such choice is actually Camp Chef Smoker Vault 24.

Maintaining a fixed temperature is the key, this model has no problem with this provided that the weather conditions are decent. Lower temperatures and windy weather, however, might slightly complicate the smoking process.

Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24"

It comes with 3 air vents (1 on the top and one on either side of the bottom). Additionally, on the inside you will find two cooking grates, 1 jerky rack, water bowl and wood chips container. 

You have to get prepared for some of the smoke coming out of the front door, though.

Don’t bother with the built-in thermometer, which can differ by as much as 30-50 degree from the actual temperature, it’s better to get yourself a decent smoker thermometer setup.

What I Like:

  • Easy to use, Set & Forget
  • Problems with temperature during cold weather

What I Don’t Like

  • Price
  • High risk of component failure.

If it is possible to buy it at a discount price then it’s a good smoker to start with, otherwise I would suggest something different, possibly a charcoal smoker like PBC or WSM.

I also highly recommend a pellet smoker from the same manufacturer (Camp Chef) as a better alternative, I’m talking about the SmokePro model that I have already mentioned above, it is truly phenomenal and 100% worth the much higher price.

What to pay attention to when buying a new smoker?

A lot of things actually depend on whether you’re a beginner and just starting to learn or if you already have substantial experience. Most people will be satisfied with Weber Smokey Mountain or PBC but then there will be those who want something different. Regardless of the situation, below you will find few universal tips.

  • Budget  – How much money you are willing to spend on your new purchase will actually impact what you are able to get. Due to the diversity of prices, I advise the beginners to spend a small amount on some cheaper smoker in order to get some experience. Then once you know a lot about meat smoking, you can spend a much higher amount on buying a good smoker. If BBQ is your passion then the answer is simple – buy a higher tier product like Weber Smokey Mountain, Pitt Barrel Cooker or Camp Chef PG24.
  • What you’re planning to cookThink about what type of food you’re going to cook and at what amount. A whole chicken, turkey or any other bigger meat requires a larger cooking area. Make sure that the smoker you’re interested in is big enough to fit a lot of meat.
  • Temperature controlI know that it is not possible to check this in person before the purchase, but you can read other people’s reviews or watch videos on youtube where you will learn everything on the topic. A fixed and precise temperature is the key to great results which is why you should avoid models that struggle with that or else your meat smoking will turn into a nightmare.
  • Power Source (Fuel)You need to define what source of heat you prefer, as you have already noticed, in this guide I present several different types (Charcoal, Pellets, Electric & Gas). You have a problem with that? Below I include the upsides and downsides of each of them.

Main types of smokers

As you may already guess, different types of heat differ significantly from one another. Each of them requires adequate knowledge and technique and each of them functions differently.

Most people are attached to charcoal as the source of heat (including myself). You have to know, however, that every type of smoker allows to get great results.

I cannot tell which type is the best for a beginner. Each of them has its upsides and downsides that you need to analyze and make your own decision on which of them will suit you best.

Charcoal Smokers

I love this source of heat because it gives me a lot of fun during BBQ. Every time, you have to properly prepare the smoker, get the charcoal burning, control the air flow and therefore the temperature. 

All of that allows me to get deeply involved in the smoking process and enjoy all of it.

PROS:

  • The best fun and benefits of BBQ, large involvement in the whole process and control of all the processes.
  • The food made with this type of smoker, when combined with great skills, gives a wonderful flavor.
  • Charcoal provides great conditions for the smoke ring to form and bbq bark.

CONS

  • Large involvement in the smoking process might be a downside to some. It all requires more attention than with other sources of heat so in a way it is not a convenient “set & forget” type of smoker.
  • Continuing with the convenience aspect, in many cases the biggest problem is the necessity to get the charcoal burning. It takes time and skills which is where many beginners have problems with, luckily there are several easy ways to get the charcoal burning.
  • Pretty high price for high quality charcoal briquettes, one bag of which doesn’t last for long, contrary to a popular belief.

Pellet Smokers

It’s a great middle ground between a great meat flavor and convenient smoking. A perfect Set & Forget style smoker that allows you to forget about the whole smoking process once you start it. You don’t have to worry about a fixed temperature or the amount of fuel – an intelligent system will do everything for you while you can just focus on whatever you please. 

For maximum convenience I recommend a meat probe that will inform you when the meat reaches a perfect internal temperature.

PROS:

  • I have to admit that this type of smoker is great not only thanks to the great results of smoking but also thanks to the convenience that you can’t get with any other type of smoker.

CONS

  • Sadly, compared to other types, pellet smokers are among the most expensive ones. A medium quality model usually costs twice as much as a high quality charcoal smoker such as Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber Smokey Mountain.
  • Pellets will not have the well-known charcoal taste, so if you have a chance then you should try food straight from a pellet smoker and see for yourself if this flavor suits you.

Gas Smokers

Gas Smokers are simply easy and convenient to use, just like electric ones they provide fixed temperature without having to control the whole smoking process. As everyone knows, though, a propane tank isn’t unlimited and you have to be aware that eventually it will run out.

PROS:

  • Very easy to use without requiring as much attention as a charcoal fueled smoker for example.
  • Plenty of models are relatively smaller so they don’t take much space in the backyard.

CONS

  • Cheaper models are usually not very well made.
  • Propane is just fuel that runs out which means that you’re going to need a spare tank for longer cooks.

Electric Smokers

PROS:

  • Easy maintenance of a fixed temperature during decent weather conditions.
  • Convenience just like with other set & forget style smokers.
  • Good and convenient for smoking things other than just meat (cheese, fish etc).

CONS

  • The necessity of a constant access to a power source.
  • An electric smoker is the most malfunction-prone type, it is definitely not an investment for a long period of time.
  • Frequent malfunctions result in expensive repairs.