As great as BBQ is, smoking is a long process where each step has to be well prepared for and taken care of to get good tasting meats. Fortunately, the best smokers for the money allows everyone to get an affordable smoking unit that lets them create great tasting food for the family as well as guests.
In this review we cover a number of different types of smokers that will let you enjoy that backyard barbecue without spending a lot of money. If you don’t want having to handle and clean up after using charcoal, you’ll want to consider the last two picks, which run on propane and electricity.
These are the simplest ones to use since they come with a lot of gadgets and controls to let you manage the heat and smoke.
For more authentic cooking, the offset smoker below as well as the vertical charcoal unit right after that one will let you enjoy the extra flavor charcoal imparts on meats and BBQs.
For quick reference, we list our top picks below. Each of the products in the list are our “for the money” picks in their own category. This will help you find the best value smoker based on whether you want one that uses charcoal, propane or can grill as well.
- Offset Smoker: Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker
- Vertical Charcoal Smoker (medium size): Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 14-Inch Charcoal Smoker
- Vertical Charcoal Smoker (large size): Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 18-Inch Charcoal Smoker
- Propane Smoker: Masterbuilt 20051311 GS30D 2-Door Propane Smoker
- Electric Smoker: Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker
- Smoker & Grill Combo: Masterbuilt M7P 7-in-1 Smoker and Grill
If you want to browse through more product options,
What is a Smoker?
A smoker is a piece of outdoor equipment that’s designed to cook foods at low temperatures (225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit) for long periods of time. They use indirect heat via smoke instead of a direct flame (like grills do) to cook your food.
Smokers are popular for cooking barbecue. That’s because it allows the meat to retain its juices and stay moist and tender while imparting a smoky flavor. This is something that grilling isn’t able to do. The downside to smoking is that you’ll need to wait at least 3 to 4 hours before your food is ready to eat. In many cases BBQ pit masters smoke their ribs and brisket for as long as 16 to 18 hours. This allows the meats to absorb all the flavor from the rubs, sauces, charcoal and wood chips. It also makes the BBQ very soft and fall off the bone.
Like grills, smokers offer a lot of variety when it comes to fuel source. The easiest (and cleanest) smokers are use electricity. But, for more flavor, you’ll want to use charcoal and wood. Propane, natural gas and pellet smokers fall somewhere in between the two.
Types of Smokers
In addition to fuel source, you can also classify smokers by their design. Here are some of the most popular types of smokers available today.
Offset smokers are the most popular smokers used by BBQ pit masters. They are available in small, cheap options as well as very expensive, custom rigs.
Offset smokers have a unique look.
- One part consists of a cylinder that’s laid horizontally. This is the cooking chamber where you put your food in.
- And the second part is a small box off to the side of the cylinder. This is the firebox where the fuel usually in the form of charcoal or wood is burned.
The position of the firebox off to the side is why the device is called an offset smoker.
The offset position of the firebox allows it to keep the fire away from the food. This is what allows it to cook the food slowly with indirect heat.
Offset smokers are popular because they give you a lot of control via the vents and the firebox access. But, they’re notoriously difficult to use.
Vertical smokers can come in many forms. Some come in a cylindrical shape, others are rectangular. What makes them unique is they stand up vertically.
They are designed as such where you have multiple grates stacked on top of one another where you place your food. At the bottom of the smoker is the fuel source.
As such, this means that the means placed at the bottom of the smoker get more heat because they’re closer to the heat. Also, it’s more difficult to baste or reposition the meats at the lower grates because you need to remove the top grates first.
Some vertical smokers on the other hand, come with only the top grate. While this fixes the problems mentioned above, it does severely reduce the cooking space.
Vertical smokers are popular for home BBQ because they’re affordable and don’t take up a lot of space.
Box smokers are among the simplest to operate. One reason is that they often use electricity or propane. This allows you to control the temperature via a knob instead of adding charcoal or using vents. Doing so makes it easy to keep temperate constant and lets you set the food and leave it to cook on its own for hours.
Box smokers look like refrigerators from the outside. They have a door that opens. This reveals levels of grates (usually between 3 to 4) like you see in your fridge. The bottom meanwhile, is where the temperate controls often are. This is also where you’ll be able to add water to the tray for moisture as well as wood chips for flavor.
Because they are electric and propane powered, they aren’t able to give you as much smoky flavor as the charcoal and wood options. But, they’re much easier to cook with. And, there’s less cleaning afterward.
Drum smokers are one of the most affordable and easiest to use. They the most simple type of vertical smoker. What you have a is big drum that’s standing vertically.
All you need to do is load fuel (charcoal) at the bottom, place the grate on, and put food over the grates. Then, cover.
Drum smokers are among the best options for beginners. They’re cheap, lightweight, easy to use and often very portable.
The Kamado grill allows you to cook using a variety of methods including smoking, grilling, baking, and more. The vessel is often made with ceramic, though many use steel today because it’s cheaper and lighter.
Kamado grills are unique in that they look like a big egg. They use charcoal and are able to reach very high temperatures. One additional advantage is that they can hold heat very long at constant temperatures.
Their downside is they’re very big, heavy and expensive.
Pellet grills fall somewhere in between wood/charcoal smokers and electric smokers. They are more smoker than grill because the heat cooks the food indirectly.
Pellet grills or smokers look like smaller offset smokers. The main difference is, the firebox on the side of pellet grills use wood pellets for fuel. Also, these boxes are equipped with high-tech electronics that allow you to set the temperature electronically or digitally.
From there, the smoker automatically dispenses the right amount of wood pellets into the flame to maintain the desired temperature.
This setup give you the benefits of the smoky flavor or wood (and close to charcoal) which doing away with the difficulty to controlling the fire.
The downside to pellet grills is they’re very expensive.
Best Smokers for the Money (with Reviews)
Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker
The Char-Broil Offset Smoker comes with a total of 288 square inches of cooking area and a 138 square inches of a secondary cooking space or warmer.
This gives you the ability to grill on high as well as low heat when using this grill smoker combo. It has porcelain coating on the cooking grate and it also has a chrome swing away.
There is an easy access door to allow you to remove ashes from the steel firebox. The unit uses an offset set up that allows you to heat and smoke meat indirectly. This allows the flavoring to thoroughly soak into the meat you are cooking.
An additional advantage to the design is that it also enables you to have more control against sudden fire flare-ups. This way, your meat is done the way you want it.
For added space, there is also a convenient side shelf which will allow you to store spices, rubs or other utensils that you may need while smoking.
Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker 14-Inch Charcoal Smoker
Weber’s Smokey Mountain model 711001 cooker offers a round 14.5 inch diameter in terms of cooking area. It also has a built in thermometer on the lid so that you can easily monitor and adjust how hot or cool the internal temperature is.
Temperature is monitored by a high temperature silicone grommet and a temperature probe.
Your meat can be steamed while it is cooking thanks to a porcelain enameled pan that holds water while it is cooking the meat.
This vertical smoker’s fuel door is rust resistant so that adding fuel or air through the dampers will always be easy which is necessary for smoking.
In terms of its heat source. This Weber smoker uses a charcoal chamber that is porcelain enameled so that your fuel is concentrated in one area. This also helps keep the heat in and allow you to be able to control the temperature a little easier.
Masterbuilt 20051311 GS30D 2-Door Propane Smoker
If you don’t like dealing with having to clean up after charcoal, this affordable smoker from Masterbuilt uses propane fuel.
The GS30D is a 2 door unit that allows you to separately look at the meat and tend to the heat without disturbing the other.
It has four chrome smoking racks to give you a large 717 square inches of cooking space inside of it. This entire area is divided into 4 different levels.
At the bottom, tt has a stainless steel burner and a type one regulator and hose to ensure proper cooking. A single push button ignites the flame inside.
For flavoring, the GS30D lets you use the porcelain coated wood chip tray and water pan to keep meats full of moisture and flavor. The unit’s doors lock securely so no heat or smoke escapes and all the flavor is kept for the food.
A built in temperature gauge, and a door handle that stays cool to the touch no matter how hot the inside of the smoker is lets you open and check inside without burning yourself.
Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Electric Digital Smokehouse Smoker
Perhaps one of the best smokers for the money is the Masterbuilt 20070910. It is a 30 inch electric smoker that is digital.
It comes with a fully black coated exterior and is equipped with a controller on top to keep temperatures consistently what you want for them to be.
This is one of the simplest ways to get tasty smoked meats and BBQ. No need to fuss with charcoal or get an LP gas tank. Just prepare the meat with the rub or sauce, plug in the unit and when it reaches the right temperature load them in and wait.
This Masterbuilt smoker is tall and has four chrome coated racks inside of it to give you a sizable 730 square inches of cooking space. It heats with an 800 watt heating element to ensure that you always have enough heat to cook your meat thoroughly.
You can monitor and keep this in check thanks to it thermostat controller that lets you keep cooking temps accurately between 100 and 275 degrees.
A side loading door is also there for the wood chips as well as the removable drip pan. An air damper is located on top and it is great for even the most inexperienced smoking chefs.