Beginners to smoking barbecue usually begin by experimenting with a kettle grill smoker. But once you’re ready to take the plunge with your own backyard smoker, that’s when the real fun begins!
There is a huge range of smokers available for the home cook. You’ll definitely have to take into account how large your smoker needs to be, any fancy features you might want, and whether this will double as your main grill. Whether you want a professional, wood-burning smoker or something more casual for Sunday ribs, you can find one that works for your needs. Since a smoker is a large purchase, it’s a great idea to research before buying.
Big Green Egg Large Kamado Grill
What We Love: Retains heat, large surface area, can both grill and smoke
What We Don't Love: Learning curve, expensive
It is very tough to choose a single smoker here as a lot of it depends on your specific scenario and skill level. If you need a cooker that checks a lot of different boxes, it’s hard to beat the Big Green Egg. The famous ceramic cooker retains heat for hours and hours, and the design can give you surprisingly precise cooking temperatures, up to 750 degrees.
The Big Green Egg is a top-notch grill and smoker that will allow you to make almost any smoked or grilled recipe once you get over its learning curve. Fueled by hardwood, the 262 square-inch cooking area can handle 20-pound turkeys, eight steaks, a dozen grilled burgers, or seven racks of ribs vertically. Many will find this to be a wonderful backyard tool that eliminates the need for a bunch of different cookers in their arsenal—if you can shell out the high price for it.
Price at time of publish: $999
Grid Diameter: 18.25 inches | Cooking Area: 262 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 162 pounds
Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill
What We Love: Affordable price point, good temperature control, excellent construction
What We Don't Love: Steep learning curve
The Big Green Egg is a high-end charcoal smoker that people love to show off, and it is an amazing cooker, but this Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill can’t be overlooked. It has an excellent price point and a very similar performance to the pricier egg-shaped models.
While many kamado grills are still made from ceramic, this model's design relies on double-walled steel, which retains heat better while less air is drying out your meat and offers sturdy construction. That excellent temperature control means you can grill at high heat or smoke without issue. Cast-iron cooking grates are found in the 314 square inches of cooking space that can handle almost two dozen burgers at once.
As with any charcoal grill, there is a learning curve with these, but it’s well worth the investment in time and money.
Price at time of publish: $375
Grid Diameter: 20 inches | Cooking Area: 314 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 97 pounds
Traeger Pro 575 Wood Pellet Grill
What We Love: App integration, easy to clean, large hopper
What We Don't Love: Higher price point, not as great for grilling
While you can heat the grill to 500 degrees, pellet smokers like this one are best for smoking rather than direct heat grilling. The Traeger Pro 575 is a high-end grill with a higher price, for sure, but one that comes with helpful features.
The large hopper holds up to 18 pounds, so you don’t have to worry about refilling pellets constantly. There’s also temperature control for consistent cooking, which you can also control via the Traeger app on your smartphone. A built-in probe thermometer helps you determine when cooking is done, and the grill grates are coated with porcelain for easy cleaning.
Price at time of publish: $900
Grid Diameter: N/A | Cooking Area: 575 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 128 pounds
Related: The Best Pellet Smokers
Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36-inch Propane Smoker
What We Love: Compact design, easy hook up to propane tank, heats up quickly
What We Don’t Love: Hard to move around (needs casters), temperature gauge can be a little off
There’s something to be said for a smoker with a vertical design that’s as efficient as this one; nothing is wasted. It feels compact, but it’s very roomy inside, with almost 800 square inches of smoking space spread across four stainless steel racks. You can fit large cuts of meat such as ribs, ham, whole chicken (or lots of smoked chicken wings), pork shoulder, and brisket in this smoker. It’s also easy to hook up a propane tank to start smoking.
This smoker heats up quickly and comes equipped with a rear vent that you can open and close to control the heat and the smoke. Another small thing we like? The thermometer is on the front, which makes it easy to see the temperature as things smoke, and it also means the top of the smoker is flat, so you can use it as a prep surface. Some have observed that the thermometer reads a little lower than the actual temperature, so you might want to add a supplementary thermometer inside the smoker—just like you might do with your home oven.
One caveat, though: At almost 70 pounds, this is pretty heavy to move around. If you plan on storing it out of sight when not in use, consider adding casters, which some folks have done.
Price at time of publish: $233
Grid Diameter: 14 x 14 in | Cooking Area: 785 square inches | BTUs: 12,000 | Weight: 69.5 pounds
Related: Best Gas Smokers
Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
What We Love: Large cooking area, easy to set up, easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Narrow design
If you don’t want to deal with a charcoal grill, firewood grill, or propane gas grill, an electric smoker is the way to go. This wonderful electric smoker from Char-Broil is an upper-mid-range size and very easy to set up and use.
Measuring 16.5 x 18.1 x 32.5 inches, the smoker comes with 725 square inches of cooking space, enough to cook eight racks of ribs, four briskets, or six whole chickens. The interior grates are made of durable stainless steel, so you don’t have to worry about rust, and they’re easy to remove for cleanup. There's a lot of space there, and the racks are adjustable, but the narrow vertical design takes a little bit of getting used to.
There’s a large, 4-cup smoke box for wood chips for up to seven hours of smoke, so you don’t need to constantly refill—and it comes with a wonderful remote for easy temperature checking.
Price at time of publish: $400
Grid Diameter: N/A | Cooking Area: 725 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 50 pounds
Related: The Best Electric Smokers
Oklahoma Joe's Offset Highland Smoker
What We Love: Moderate price point, large surface area, heavy construction
What We Don't Love: Occasional small leaks
The world of offset smokers gets pretty intense pretty quickly, with smokers in the many thousands of dollars. But the price is an important metric for smokers, and this Oklahoma Joe’s model is hard to beat.
With 619 square inches of primary cooking area and 281 inches of secondary cooking space, this is big enough for a full brisket or pork butt without a problem. The heavy-gauge steel is great for retaining a good temperature, while multiple dampers help with the heat and smoke. There’s also a front shelf to handle food preparation and a cool-touch handle to avoid accidents.
Some reviewers mentioned that this model occasionally has small leaks, but those can be sealed easily with a professional smoker gasket or heat-resistant silicone-like LavaLock.
Price at time of publish: $449
Grid Diameter: N/A | Cooking Area: 900 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 176 pounds
Related: Best Offset Smokers
Best for Beginners
Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Smoker
What We Love: Easy to use, more affordable, less messy clean up
What We Don't Love: Wood chip tray is small and requires frequent reloading
Electric smokers can get a bad rep from seasoned smoking professionals, but for a beginning smoker, it’s hard to beat their ease of use, and you can make a really good BBQ in them. If you are just learning the ins and outs of smoking, Masterbuilt 30-inch Electric Smoker is a great entry-point smoker because it's more affordable (around $250) and is less messy than a pellet or charcoal smoker.
Measuring 19.9 x 20.5 x 33.3 inches, this smoker has a large enough cooking space for two turkeys, four pork butts, four racks of ribs (country ribs or otherwise), or six chickens. Reliable digital controls handle the internal temperature and cooking time, and a side-door wood-chip loader means you don’t have to open the smoker door during cooking.
Keep an eye on this smoker as you go because the wood chip tray is small, which means you'll have to change them out more frequently.
Price at time of publish: $249
Grid Diameter: N/A | Cooking Area: 711 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 45 pounds
Related: The Best Charcoal Grills
Best for Small Spaces
Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker
What We Love: Compact, consistent temperature control, lighter weight
What We Don't Love: Very basic, a little pricey for a basic model
Weber is the maker of classic grills and smokers, including this 18-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker. This small but mighty cooker only measures 21 x 19 x 41 inches, making it a great option for those with limited space. It's also easy to move around because at 39 pounds, it's not terribly heavy.
This is a no-frills charcoal cooker that doesn’t include any remote options or other fancy features. But it can make an amazing whole smoked turkey and an entire ham at the same time and maintains a consistent temperature. Its easy-to-use damper is especially helpful for new smokers. Once you master the basics though, you can cook amazingly delicious food on it. I catered a whole wedding using a few Weber cookers like this, and everyone ended up fed and happy!
Weber also makes a 14-inch model for tighter spaces, but the cooking space is very small. I would opt for at least the 18-inch model if you can swing it. It feels a little pricey for such a basic model, but it is a solid grill nonetheless.
Price at time of publish: $419
Grid Diameter: 18.5 inches | Cooking Area: 481 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 39 pounds
Related: The Best Portable Grills
Best for the Backyard Pro
Yoder Loaded Wichita
What We Like: Enormous cooking area, excellent heat and temperature control, solid steel construction
What We Don't Like: Most expensive option, very heavy
If you are a serious backyard pro looking to up your BBQ and smoking game, the Yoder Loaded Wichita is truly a stunning smoker with an equally stunning high price tag.
It features 1,600 square inches of cooking space so you can feed the whole neighborhood, and it's made of solid 0.25-inch steel. It’s a solid cooker that doesn’t leak and has incredible temperature retention. It also weighs almost 600 pounds, so make sure you have a good spot for it (although the sturdy wheels make it possible to move).
Price at time of publish: $3,059
Grid Diameter: N/A | Cooking Area: 1,600 square inches | BTUs: N/A | Weight: 600 pounds
Related: How to Clean a Grill
The iconic Big Green Egg Large Kamado Grill and Smoker remains one of the very best smokers in our book. It's definitely an investment and a worthy one at that. If you're a fan of pellet smokers, the Traeger Pro 575 Wifi Pellet Grill and Smoker deserves a spot in your backyard.
What to Look for When Buying a Smoker
There are a few different items to look for when choosing a smoker. Before you even get into price and features, think about where you are putting the smoker. If you live in a small apartment or a spacious home with a backyard, that’s going to be a factor as to what smoker you buy. You also need to consider how many people you regularly cook for; as in, are your smoking projects for a small family dinner, or do you regularly invite family and friends over for a backyard cookout? A general rule of thumb is 1 pound of raw meat per person when looking at a smoker's capacity.
Features are very important. You might be familiar with cooking with charcoal or gas and feel drawn to those options for a smoker. Or you might want the ease of simply plugging the unit into an outlet. Digital controls can mean you can set it and forget it. Many manufacturers have added smart technology features, too. For example, do you want to be able to walk away while the food is smoking and have your phone alert you when it’s done? Some smokers can do that.
Do you want to be able to smoke on the weekends and grill during the week? Many models allow you the option to do both. If you anticipate smoking smaller items on a regular basis, and balancing that with the occasional larger smoking project, consider how easy (or hard) it is to modify your grill for that change. Also, make sure the grill manufacturer has the necessary accessory grills and tools available. You just might want to expand your smoking horizons as you gain experience.
What's the difference between horizontal and vertical smokers?
The main difference is where the meat is in relation to the fire. Chef Derek Wolf of Over the Fire Cookings tells us that "with traditional stick burning horizontal smokers, the firebox will be on the side with the meat in a separate chamber next to it," whereas with vertical smokers, "the fire will be underneath the meat itself."
"The biggest difference is the heat shield that will be between the fire and the meat," says Wolf. Chef Adrian de Leon of Tarbell's in Phoenix adds that "vertical smokers are designed for low and slow smoking and roasting, but not for creating direct fire or flames found in typical grills."
How do you clean smokers?
Once cooled, you’ll want to remove the ashes, brush the grates with a grill brush, and use a knife to scrape out any bits of food left in the chamber. If you're using a pellet smoker, it's best to remove any unused pellets so that they can be stored in a weatherproof environment.
What's the best meat to smoke all day?
The process of smoking meat can definitely dry it out, so it’s a good idea to choose cuts that have some fat on them, such as brisket, pork shoulder/pork butt, and ribs. The fat will help keep the meat moist and tender. It’s no accident that these are also the most delicious cuts of meat to smoke, too.
Should you flip the meat while it smokes?
Grilling and smoking are different in a lot of ways, and it’s easy to understand why you might think you need to flip meat while smoking. But you don’t have to. A good smoker has even heat distribution, so it’s not necessary. It’s best to let the smoker do the job.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Nick Evans has been developing recipes for the home cook for over a decade on Simply Recipes and his personal blog, Macheesmo. He’s used and tested a huge range of both indoor and outdoor cooking equipment over the years. For the last few years, he’s tested a variety of grills and outdoor cookers.
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