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 best 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.
Weber Smokey Mountain
481 sq. in.
Pit Barrel Cooker
570 sq. in.
Masterbuilt Front Controller
700+ sq. in.
Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24
The 5 Best Smokers for 2020
1. Best Overall Weber Smokey Mountain 18
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.
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.
Of course you will find a built-in thermometer here, but personally I recommend buying a special thermometer, which is definitely better.
WMT 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 device that you can keep upgrading.
All of that combined provides an incredibly easy temperature control, which in case of this type of smokers ( power source charcoal ) can be difficult.
Therefore, besides one worthy competitor that you can learn about below, there isn’t any other that is worthy of competing with Weber Smokey Mountain.
You wish not only for a great quality smoker but also one that is efficient, worth your money and most of all makes it possible to smoke meat at the highest possible level ? Smokey Mountain is a great answer to you.
2. Runner-Up Pit Barrel Cooker
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 are actually top-tier so regardless of what you choose, you will certainly be satisfied with the quality and results. Incredibly easy to use even for beginners, fans of meat smoking will be really impressed.
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.
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 PBC capable of exactly the same things as WSM ( I’m talking about the meat hanging set here ).
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. Pellets 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. Then the intelligent system will be automatically calculating the required amount of pellets to maintain a fixed temperature that you chose.
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 which is necessary when smoking meat.
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.
You have to keep in mind that a smoker that is powered by charcoal is very often an investment for eternity, very often without 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. Remember to buy from reliable manufacturers in the event of any malfunctions in the future or necessity to replace worn elements. Every manufacturer offers warranty, pay attention to that because you may never know and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
4. Electric 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 without having to control anything.
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.
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. I agree that an electric smoker is unable to do to meat what a traditional smoker can.
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 in its many elements that the device can’t work without. It is definitely not an investment to last forever.
When it comes to significant advantages, one would definitely be the space inside the Masterbuilt Front Controller Smoker, which is simply large ( depending on the model, about 700-1000~ square inches of the cooking area ).
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.
5. Gas Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24
In this category, there isn’t much choice and it mostly arises from the small interest in this type of smoker.
Out of the entire available offer, however, it is possible to choose something decent and one 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 and there’s a water bowl inside.
Lower temperatures and windy weather, however, might slightly complicate the smoking process.
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.
When it comes to the quality, it is definitely not an investment for eternity, but for this kind of money you can be satisfied even with five years of good functioning.
I would suggest this model as an auxiliary one when available with a discount, it happens pretty often which allows the price to be lower by about 30%. 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 else, possibly a traditional smoker that you will certainly be satisfied with.
I highly recommend a pellet smoker from the same manufacturer ( Camp Chef ) as a better alternative, I’m talking about the PG24 model that I have already mentioned above, it is truly phenomenal and 100% worth the much higher price.
A good Smoker is the essence of true BBQ. There are many different models available these days at very diverse prices. If you’re planning to buy your first smoker and don’t really know where to start or what type will be the best for you then I invite you to read my tips below.
When looking for your first smoker, you can go through a lot of trouble seeing all those offers in the stores. If you wish to avoid disappointment and be satisfied with your purchase then I invite you to read my tips. My advice will help you understand the upsides and downsides of every type of smoker which will allow you to choose a model that will suit you the best.
How did I pick the best ones?
I had a chance to test all types of smokers which means I have a lot of experience that helped me quickly prepare a list of several best bbq smokers. I know what to pay attention to in each of them, each type differs a lot from the next one so you have to know what you’re looking at.
Most of all, I paid attention to the price, quality of workmanship in relation to price, efficiency, functionality, size etc. I analyzed many smoker grills of each type and decided to only choose those that are really good and worthy of recommendation.
Depending on your preferences, you will find several models in my guide that are fueled, for example, with gas, pellets, charcoal or even electricity. Each of them has its upsides and downsides that you can learn about at the end of this guide.
How did I test?
If you have already had a chance to see my website then I bet you noticed plenty of buyers guides. I already had a chance to test every type of smoker so my tests were expected to be much easier.
I only picked the best models of each type of smoker and confronted them all in one big test. I decided that I would be smoking ribs and few other pieces of meat, and then compare the results and conclude it with my rating.
That way, I compared all the models and saw the differences between them all firsthand. I’m talking about functionality, handling, efficiency and of course the results of meat smoking.
I discovered which model is good for beginners, which one for those who want to forget about controlling the meat smoking process all the time and which one for fans of real BBQ. Of course I also paid attention to the quality of workmanship for individual elements as well as usability of the gadgets.
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.
Main types of smokers – upsides and downsides
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 ) and it probably arises from tradition. You have to know, however, that every type of smoker allows to get great results and very good BBQ.
I cannot tell which type is the best for a beginner, for example. 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, Gas, Pellets and Electric are just the source of heat, which is why you need to learn the upsides and downsides of each of them below.
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.
Their huge advantage is that they are always going to work even despite minor malfunctions – all you have to do is get the charcoal burning, no systems here that rely on electricity, for example. Their structure, on the other hand, is made of the kind of materials that in many cases can last over a dozen or even few dozen years.
If you love traditional BBQ just like I do and are considering buying a new smoker then you should check my guide where you will learn more on the best charcoal 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.
Pellet Smokers are still a novelty compared to charcoal smokers that have been strongly developing over the last few years and earning a growing popularity mostly thanks to their convenience and efficiency.
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. Are you interested in this type? You should definitely check out my guide where you will discover the best pellet 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.
Meat smoking usually takes a long time which means there’s nothing worse than running out of fuel in the middle of cooking. Make sure you always start with a tank that isn’t close to empty. Additionally, the best way to prevent this type of situations is another spare tank around the house.
Although it's not a popular power source, in my guide to gas smokers I chose some noteworthy models.
They provide fixed temperature which makes them a good choice for those who often smoke meat for 10+ hours. On top of that, they also make a convenient device for those who don’t want to participate in the whole BBQ-related commotion. If all that matters to you is the end result which is the meat and you want to avoid having to control the smoking process all the time, go for this smoker ( good to start with ).
A downside to everything that contains electric parts is malfunctions. Well-made elements can usually last for many years without problems, in most cases on the other hand, sooner or later something will break down.
On top of that, one has to admit that even the best model cannot achieve the kind of results as in a traditional smoker ( charcoal fueled ). If you have decided, however, that this is the type for you, I encourage you to check out my guide that will help you choose the best electric smoker.
BBQ and grilling are my biggest passions.