BBQ Smoker Buying Guide
BBQ Smoker Buying Guide
Time was, when summer came around folks went straight for the trusty kettle style charcoal grill. Now, there are tons of different types of cookers out there, so it’s important to spend time looking through as many barbecue grill and BBQ smoker comparison sites as you can before you buy.
Special Report… BBQ Smoker Buying Advice from the Pros!
What’s missing largely from the web these days is a comprehensive place where folks can go to get no frills and easy to understand buying advice. Lucky for you, easy to understand buying advice is just what this website provides!
BBQ Smoker Reviews
There’s a misconception out there about buying a BBQ smoker. Namely, the idea that with BBQ smokers come long hours tending over piles of lump charcoal and aged wood. What’s great about today’s modern BBQ smokers is that they are so advance that even the worst of the best BBQ smokers turns creating wonderfully smoked meats, chicken, and fish into an enjoyable experience for the whole family. In fact, almost all of the great smoker reviews and wood smoker reviews out there agree on this single point: It’s all about getting your food to the table on time without it being undercooked, burnt, or too dry to enjoy.
Checklist for Buying a Barbecue Smoker
How Much Can You Pay?
As with all consumer products, your out of pocket expense is where the money meets the road. You can find cheap bullet style smokers for as low as $60 and go as high as some luxury commercial BBQ smokers that run as much as $5,000. If you’re looking online, which is likely as you’re reading this now – you’ll also want to be sure and factor in any shipping and handling costs you might have to pay. Tip: Always look for deals that cut your rates to as low as zero for shipping. These days, many online BBQ stores offer free shipping as a tool to get you to buy.
How Hard Do You Want to Work Controlling Temperature?
There are those among BBQ smoker purists that believe that ‘stick burners’ – or log fed BBQ smokers are the only way to go. Others say that pure lump charcoal stacked “minion” style for low and slow cooking is best. However, some of these methods will have you tweaking vents and stoking fires for so long that you’ll forget your guests names – or be too drunk to remember them when dinner’s ready at the least.
Electric BBQ Smokers
What you want to do to make your life easier is to check BBQ smoker reviews that highlight the kind of BBQ smokers that need limited tending. Many reviewers say that the best BBQ smokers to start out with are electric BBQ smokers, as they come with built in thermostats and are pretty much set it and forget it in terms of the time you need to spend tending the fire.
Masterbuilt Electric Smokers
Possibly the most widely used and consistently positive electric smoker reviews come from customers who choose electric models made by Masterbuilt.
You can’t argue with social proof like what you see via the links above. It’s clear that folks just plain love them.
Smokin-It Electric Smokers
Smokin-it electric smokers have been around for a good while, and their claim to fame is consistency with great customer service.
Customers readily sing the company’s praises when the need to have a dinged or damaged part arises, or when they simply have questions about the product itself.
Bradley Digital 4-Rack Electric Smoker
Bradley electric smokers are among the most popular on the market. With ample space and easy to use smoke and temperature settings, you truly have a set-it and forget-it option here.
The Bradley 4-Rack Digital Smoker is completely insulated, allowing you to cook all year round and still hold solid temperatures. The unit’s stainless steel interior maximizes heat retention and ensures easy clean-up.
My Thoughts on Electric Smokers
If you like them, use them! Too many people get wrapped up in what they feel is “authentic” smoked BBQ. Come on, seriously? Does the end product come out tasting great? Then great! You have a smoker that works for you, and for many – electric BBQ smokers do the trick quite well!
I have spoken with many professional barbecue cooks – those who have won in major competitions – who say that their favorite smokers at home are in fact electric BBQ smokers.
Gas BBQ Smokers
Gas BBQ smokers do not come to mind initially when folks think about BBQ. However, many restaurants use gas or propane BBQ smokers that are heated with gas and fed logs to add smoke flavor. True, the flavor you get from a gas BBQ smoker might be a bit different than what you get from a traditional charcoal or wood BBQ smoker, but they do a great job and are a good option if you’re on a tight budget.
Masterbuilt 2 Door Propane Smoker
Once again, Masterbuilt shows strong among consumers looking for dependable products. As you can see, the Masterbuilt 2 Door Propane Smoker below gets excellent reviews – with many customers noting customer service and product functionality as the key selling points.
There’s even a few reviews on Amazon that show some easy to do DIY “mods” you can do to these smokers, making them great if you or someone you know likes to “tinker” with these toys!
Camp Chef 18in Smoke Vault
Camp Chef reigns supreme among many in terms of their brand reliability. They’ve developed quite a loyal following as well – with customers using words like “excellent” and “phenomenal” to describe both the customer care they receive and the delicious BBQ the make using their Camp Chef Propane Smokers.
I really like the adjustable rack system offered with the Camp Chef as well as the way they set you up for making your own jerky! Can’t beat that!
All in all, propane smokers are handy and a great option for you if ease of use is your goal. In many cases, if you’re already in a situation where you’re using a propane BBQ grill, then a gas BBQ smoker (propane BBQ smoker) might be a great fit.
Wood and Charcoal Fired BBQ Smokers
The true origins of barbecue hearken back to wood coals imparting delicious smoky goodness to cuts of meat that had to be cooked over low heat for long periods of time. If you want to really master the art of BBQ, and if you have the space to accommodate them, then wood or charcoal BBQ smokers are phenomenal.
Purists stick to wood and charcoal BBQ smokers only when they cook for competitions. In fact, most BBQ competitions sanctioned by any of the national BBQ bodies will not even allow food to be cooked on anything other than wood or charcoal BBQ smokers.
Start Out the Easy Way – Use a Pellet BBQ Smoker
If the thought of learning how to master the vents and stoking of a charcoal or wood BBQ smoker scares you a bit, it’s a great idea to look into a pellet smoker. You can learn all about pellet smokers in great detail in a detailed selection of pellet grill reviews I wrote here.
Pellet Pro Pellet Smoker
One grill I really like is the Pellet Pro, produced by the same folks that make the Smoke Daddy Magnum P.I.G. Smoke adapter that’s so popular.
You can see a full review I did on the Pellet Pro grill here. The unit measures up to the elements and holds its own very well in terms of maintaining temperature and producing a good product. I enjoyed the ribs and pork butts we did on them immensely. Oh, and the folks at Pellet Pro are excellent to work with.
Rec-Tec Pellet Grills
Rec-Tec Grills also make a good product. They have a cult following that seems to be growing each year.
As you can see from the design, you better like red! And the bull horns as handles are great. Rec-Tec uses a centrally loading pellet hopper that holds something like 40 lbs of pellets, which is great for longer cooks like for brisket.
These babies are the closest thing you can get to the ease of use you find in electric BBQ smokers, only they burn tiny little wood pellets. Many pellet smokers are on the market, so it’s a matter of finding one that fits your budget and your space limitations.
Kick it Up a Notch with a Charcoal or Wood BBQ Smoker
Controlling temperature and smoke content when you use charcoal or wood BBQ smokers is all about managing the flow of air into and out of your BBQ smoker. The cheaper you go with your BBQ smoker purchase the more likely you are to have problems maintaining temp and keeping smoke levels where you want them. Inexpensive BBQ smokers are made with thin steel that often lacks insulation. They also do not often seal as well where metal meets metal.
Can you make good or even great smoked BBQ on cheaper, leaky BBQ smokers? Sure. You’ll just have to spend longer figuring out how to get the temperature to even out.
Check out the Craftsmanship of your BBQ Smoker
Quality matters. Especially when you’re adding fire and smoking charcoal and wood chunks into the mix. When looking through BBQ smoker reviews, be sure to examine the thickness and quality of the metal. Thin metal distributes heat poorly, while heavier gauge metal distributes heat more evenly. Be sure to consider the type of temperatures you have year round. Warmer climates like Florida can probably get away with thinner metal smokers better than cold climates, as the cold may tend to warp thinner metal.
Check the finished touches of the BBQ smoker you’re looking at. Sometimes machine cuts can leave sharp edges. Also, make sure things like wheels, casters, hinges, latches, paint, and moving parts are made with a quality level that you find acceptable. Most online BBQ smokers reviews will reference these points, so look for them in the reviews you read.
What Sort of Thermometer Does the BBQ Smoker Use?
A good thermometer or two will be your saving grace when you embark on your BBQ smoker venture. Trying to measure temperature by feel like you can sometimes do with grilling just doesn’t cut it when you operate a BBQ smoker. If your smoker is a bullet style, you can use a single thermometer. However, if you opt for a barrel or offset style BBQ smoker, you will need to use two quality thermometers inserted at the level your BBQ grate sits. As the draft of your smoker carries hot air across your meat, temperatures on the left and right of the barrel might vary quite a bit.
Here’s a dirty little secret about most of the thermometers that come with BBQ smokers today: they’re awful. In fact, thermometers that come with most BBQ smokers can be off by as many as 40 degrees or more. As such, you might want to invest in an upgrade for the ones you get with your unit.
It’s also a great idea to get a couple digital thermometer. Thermapen is by far the hands down favorite among BBQ pros, but there are other models out there, too. Plan on buying a good digital thermometer or two. Click here to read my buying guide to thermometers.
Keeping the Heat in your BBQ Smoker Even Steven
Your BBQ smoker’s ability to maintain temp at varying levels of intensity will be key. For instance, can the BBQ smoker you are looking at hold high temps of up to 500 degrees F for cooking say, a Christmas turkey? Then, if you want to lower the heat, is it possible to decrease it to as low as 100 degrees F for smoking cheese?
Other items to consider are how much food the smoker can hold, the BBQ smoker’s ability to go mobile for storage, access to the cook area and charcoal / wood loading area, etc.
You want to be sure your BBQ smoker comes with a solid warranty. Many manufacturers offer some form of limited protection, so be sure to check this out when you buy a BBQ smoker.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a BBQ Smoker
The final thing to take into consideration is this: temperature control and predictability is key when you want to look into what it takes to buy BBQ smokers. Consider your budget, and try and purchase the best BBQ smoker your money can buy.