If you are not sure what you are looking for, finding the right smoker can be overwhelming. There are so many options on the market with choices in fuel types, shapes, brands, etc. Doing your research is imperative for you to make the right purchase decision.
If you are new to smoking meat, probably the fastest way to narrow your search on the type of smoker you want is to determine the type of fuel you want to use. Your options are Charcoal, Electric, Gas, and Pellet.
Charcoal smokers are currently the cheapest investment available on the market ranging from $100 to $500. Not only are they affordable, but they are also very easy to understand and use. With a Charcoal smoker, you are going to get the strong smoky flavor that die-hard smoking enthusiasts go after, and you can also easily add wood chips to create a unique smoky flavor.
But there are a few downsides to the charcoal smoker. First, temperature control is hard to maintain. It requires a lot of experience and patience in positioning and lighting to sustain the ideal temperature. Also, cleaning a charcoal smoker isn’t easy, but it’s necessary to ensure the best results when cooking.
- Easy to understand
- Create strong, unique, smoky flavors
- Hard to control the temperature
- Requires a lot of trial and error
- Hard to clean
Electric smokers are great for beginners, or those who have a “set it and forget it” mentality. They are full of high-tech sensors and controls which means it will keep the food at precisely the right temperature until done, and there is no need to adjust the fuel since its all electric.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, there are some pitfalls. An electric smoker means that you require electricity to operate, which is not a big deal unless you lose power while cooking. Also, while all the technology and sensors are great, that means troubleshooting will be tougher down the line.
Electric smokers tend to be on a smaller side, which is not great if you plan on making large meals. And, finally, one of the most contentious points with an electric smoker, is the flavor produced. Many critics say that the flavor produced by an electric smoker is the weakest of the available smoker options, but others argue that while it may not be the same as a traditional smoker, the flavor is still good. Let’s chalk that up to draw.
- Great for beginners
- Set-it and forget-it
- Electric relies on a constant power source
- Troubleshooting going to be costly down the line
- Smaller area for meals
- Smoke flavor
A big advantage of a gas smoker is that it’s much faster to get ready than a charcoal smoker. Additionally, like a charcoal smoker, they are simple to understand and use. You get a nice flavor from them because you’re able to control the amount of smoke that exits the smoker.
There are a couple of drawbacks to a gas smoker. The biggest is that the temperature can easily drop if a good breeze comes through. This means you need to keep a watchful eye to make sure the temperature stays consistent while cooking. Additionally, you have to keep an eye on the wood chips to make sure they don’t burn out, and if they do, you have to replace them quickly to get the smoke going again.
- Easy set-up and maintenance
- Good flavor
- Temperature control is tough
- Must keep an eye on wood chip levels
Pellet smokers can best be described as a mix between an electric and charcoal smoker. Like electric smokers, a pellet smoker uses electricity to operate the equipment; but like a charcoal smoker, it burns wood to produce the smoke. Pellet smokers use sensors to monitor the internal temperature and feed fuel to the flame as needed. Price wise, they are a bit more expensive than the other options, but the fuel (pellets) are usually cheap and easy to store for long periods.
While a pellet smoker sounds like a perfect blend of an electric and charcoal smoker, it has similar negatives to electric and charcoal smokers. The first is that there are a lot of sensors and moving parts. If anything goes wrong, pinpointing the exact issue might be hard to do.
Additionally, maintenance on a pellet smoker is tough. You must keep it clean so you do not cause an unwanted flame in other parts of the smoker which can result in uneven cooking. Lastly, the smoky flavor produced on a pellet smoker is not as strong as what is created on charcoal and does require minor modifications to help reach your desired level of flavor.
- Close to set-it and forget-it
- Cheaper fuel
- Easy to maintain temp
- Lots of moving parts and high-tech sensors
- Requires electricity
- Maintenance is rough
- Minor modifications to achieve a smoky flavor