Smoking any kind of meat might be scary at first, especially as a beginner. You might be confused about the exact process. Moreover, you may be confused about which smoker to buy. You’ll find a wide variety of smokers in the market, including charcoal, gas and pellet ones.
A smoker is basically an appliance that cooks the meat through the smoke. It is a slow process that happens over low heat. This grants the meat a unique and smoky flavor. Because the process is slow, the smoky flavor easily works its way into the tender fibers of the meat.
So, which smoker is the absolute best? There are a couple of factors that determine the best smokers for beginners. In essence, you need an easy-to-use appliance that works in a simple manner. Check out our top smokers for beginners below
- Best Smokers for Beginners 2020
- Types of Smokers
- What to Consider When Buying a Smoker?
- Best Beginner Charcoal Smoker
- Best Beginner Electric Smoker
- Best Beginner Propane Gas Smoker
- Best Beginner Wood Pellet Smoker
- Best Beginner Combo Smoker
- Essential Barbecue Accessories
- Tips For Your First Smoke
Best Smokers for Beginners 2020
Charcoal + Gas Smoker
But first, let’s dive into the basics so you can make the best possible choice.
Types of Smokers
Innovation and new technologies have given rise to a large number of smoker types. All of them have their own distinct benefits and drawbacks. These are:
1.Vertical Water Smokers
These are perhaps the simplest and the cheapest of them all. This is why they are quite popular with beginners. Furthermore, they are perfectly suitable for small outdoor spaces due to their small size. Mainly, they use charcoal and wood to fuel the smoke.
The fuel is placed at the bottom rack and a water pan is placed above to create steam and an even distribution of heat. The lid goes on top. Furthermore, there are vents that allow for easy air flow.
All in all, they are easy to use and can be easily transported from one place to the next. On the other hand, their small cooking capacity and lack of versatility might discourage some buyers.
2. Horizontal Offset Smokers
In the horizontal offset smokers, there are a few grills inside that hold the meat. It is basically a two-part smoker where one part is dedicated to the firebox and the other for the cooking chamber. This is intended for those who are more experienced.
It often includes multiple controls including the temperature and the smoke flow. The main benefit is that you can refuel the firebox without disturbing the cooking in the chamber above. Also, you can use them as a grill. Furthermore, they are quite durable and retain heat very well.
On the other hand, they are quite hard to learn and do not ensure the evenest cooking. Moreover, they are very expensive and cheaper models might not be built to last.
3.Gas or Propane Smokers
These cabinets are pretty thin as compared to others, however, they are still leak proof. Not too expensive, you can find them within $200. Furthermore, they can retain heat quite well and include a water pan to steam things up. They are small in size as well.
However, there isn’t a thermostat in these type of smokers so you may have to monitor the temperature closely. All you can do is tweak the flow of the gas which might be enough for beginners. Plus, you cannot use it as a grill.
Electric Smokers hold a huge number of advantages including a thermostat. This way you can set the temperature and the timer and let your meat cook while you perform other chores. All this is perfect for beginners who cannot be bothered with keeping up with the details.
Unlike charcoal burners, there really is no burning going on. Thus, the taste tends to suffer. You might not get the same smoky flavor you would get from pellet or charcoal smokers. However, this does grant an advantage that there is more moisture in the grill which helps make the meat tender and moist.
Pellet grills burn pellets obtained from sawdust to lend your meat a beautiful smoky flavor. The best part is that they feature an automatic hopper which automatically drops in the required amount of pellets to reach the desired temperature.
Also included are probes through which you can check the internal temperature of the meat. Some even allow you to control the temperature settings via a mobile app. So, for beginners, all they have to do is set the temperature through their phone and let the hopper work its magic.
What to Consider When Buying a Smoker?
When buying a smoker, you should take the following factors into consideration:
First and foremost, define the limit of what you’re willing to spend on a smoker. These smokers can cost anywhere from $100 to about $30,000. However, for beginners, we don’t recommend that you invest in something too expensive. Instead, something reliable yet cheap will do for now.
You might want to change it later after knowing your preferences. Buying a less costly smoker will make transitioning to a new one much easier.
An important feature to have as a beginner is the temperature control. Where experts might be able to easily adjust the temperature by varying the fuel, beginners might struggle. So, having a digital thermostat is easier and will ensure proper cooking.
Another factor is the size. If you’re going to be cooking for a bunch of friends, then there’s no need to invest in a huge smoker. Check the size of your backyard or terrace. If it’s smaller, go for a more vertical unit that still allows you plenty of space.
Consider exactly how much food you’ll be cooking with the smoker and for how many people. If you’ll only be using it for small feasts, then there’s no need to invest in huge units. A small grill shaped unit will do. On the other hand, if you plan on inviting the whole neighborhood, then go for a larger one.
You might be content with your smoker if it can smoke your meat perfectly. However, some units on the market allow you to grill, braise or even bake. Most units are cookers, meaning they can smoke and grill. Simply remove the water pan and put on some grates. So, think about this feature and whether it is necessary for you to have.
Easy to Clean
For beginners, cleaning the smoker might be as much of a hassle as cooking. As a lot of juices and grease accumulates on the grate and the interior, you need to clean it. We recommend you go for a unit where you can easily remove components for cleaning.
Best Beginner Charcoal Smoker
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use smoker, you might not find any better than the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. Specifically designed for beginners, the Weber Smoker ensures you can enjoy the taste of smoked meat right at the comfort of your own home.
The unit includes two cooking grates to allow you to cook large sections of meat at the same time. The 22.5-inch grates are nickel plated to add to the durability and heat resistance of the grates. Furthermore, the lid and the bowl include an enamel and porcelain construction that helps to retain heat. Moreover, it protects the exterior of the smoker from rust.
Also included is a silicone thermometer that monitors the temperature of your smoker. The dampers further help you control the temperature, so you can get a perfectly cooked steak with flavorful smokiness every time.
In addition to this, a water pan helps you steam things up so your meat is almost tender and moist. Users found that adding more wood or coal was easier due to the fuel door while the storage cover ensured that the grill was safe from pests when not in use.
Another charcoal smoker that is beginner friendly is the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker. Granted it looks difficult to assemble, however, you’ll find that the truth is far from it. In fact, the bits and pieces ensure that you have to do the bare minimum to get perfectly seared and smoked meat.
The assembly includes 8 stainless steel hooks that allow you to hang your meat and let it cook in the smoke. On the other hand, if you want to sear the meat, it includes a grate as well. The package further includes a coal basket that allows you to fuel the smoker up with the perfect amount of charcoal.
Furthermore, the 30 Gallon Porcelain Coated Steel Drum guarantees heat retention, resulting in faster results. The faster cooking time ensures that you don’t have to keep an eye on temperature or control it. For experts, this might be a letdown, however, beginners might enjoy this feature as they have to worry about one less factor.
All in all, the Pit Barrel Cooker ensures minimal effort on your part. It is durable, simple to operate and involves minimal hassles. The quick setup adds to the portability as you can simply travel with it to picnics without worrying about setting it up.
Best Beginner Electric Smoker
For those who want a little more freedom when smoking meat, the Masterbuilt Electric Smoker is perfect. The smoker makes use of an 800-watt heating element on which the wood is placed. These coils or heating elements produce heat to burn up the wood.
However, the combustion temperature is low so, you don’t require a lot of oxygen intake.
Since the Masterbuilt intakes lesser oxygen, the humidity is high which helps produce moist and tender meat. Thus, the Masterbuilt electric smoker is perfect for smoking fish, bacon and vegetables. Also, the smoker includes an abundance of space, about 730 square inches. This way you can use about 4 cooking racks at the same.
Moreover, these racks are chrome plated to ensure durability and sturdiness. The best part is that it includes a timer as well as a digital temperature control. This allows you to cook anywhere between 100 to 275 degrees F. You need only set the controls at the top and leave the meat to cook.
In addition, a side door allows you to load the wood chips into the smoker easily. A removable drip pan and air damper ensure enough steam to moist the meat. The easy to use operation is ideal for folks of all experience levels.
Best Beginner Propane Gas Smoker
The Smoke Hollow Gas Smoker is a dual door smoker that is perfect for smoking and preparing meat. It includes four chrome-plated cooking racks that you can adjust on different levels to give the desired level of smokiness to the meat. Furthermore, a sausage hanger ensures you can hang the meat without producing any searing signs on it.
Most users enjoy the two-door system as it makes it easier for them to control the moisture and heat in such a large cooker. This way users can feed water and chips into the pan below without having to open the door above. So, you end up with evenly and perfectly cooked meat each time.
The 38-inch smoker provides sufficient space for you to cook large amounts of meat for the entire family. Also included is a gas control system that allows you to control the flow of gas and adjust the temperature according to your preference. The upper and lower vents further allow for accurate temperature control.
The push button ignition system grants convenience so you don’t have to go through any hassles to start the system up. All in all, the Smoke Hollow Gas Smoker is best for beginners who need a reliable and high-quality system by their side.
Best Beginner Wood Pellet Smoker
For beginners, nothing can be easier to handle than the Traeger Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker. The wood grill allows you to achieve an amazing smoky flavor that is unlike the one obtained from charcoal or gas. Not only that, but the smoker adds versatility to your cooking. It allows you to bake, roast, braise, barbecue, grill and smoke, all in one cooker.
Also included is an Integrated Digitial Elite Controller that allows you to set the temperature accurately so your food cooks perfectly and thoroughly every time. In addition, it allows you to cook on low heat and at a slow setting to smoke the meat up to 450 degrees. An LED display at the exterior makes it easy for you to read the temperature.
While the name ‘Lil Tex’ may discourage you, in reality, the grill holds an abundance of space. Its 418 square inch cooking area makes it easier for you to grill a large amount of food at the same time. Moreover, the electronic auto-start ignition helps you fire up the smoker with just the flip of a button.
If that wasn’t enough, perhaps the easy to clean grates will change your mind. These grates are non-stick which makes it easier to clean the grease.
If you’re just starting out on a smoker and would prefer something a little more tech-savvy, then the Green Mountain Grill is perfect for you. What’s unique about this grill is that it is WiFi-enabled so you can control the temperature and other settings through a mobile app.
Unlike the other grills in this list, this one is actually portable. Need to smoke meat by the lake for a picnic? Simply fold the legs and use them as handles. Another unique feature that users will love is the Sense-Mate which is a thermal sensor that allows you to monitor the grill temperature.
Furthermore, the pellet grill can run on 12 V so you can take the smoker out for camping and hunting without worrying about the power. Adding to the portability is the light weight of merely 57 pounds. This way you can easily carry it wherever you want.
Apart from this, it comes with a meat probe so you can check how well your meat has cooked as well as a convenience tray. Overall, the Green Mountain Grill is perfect for camping, hunting or tail-gaiting as it is extremely portable.
Best Beginner Combo Smoker
If you’re looking for something a bit more versatile than the regular smoker, then perhaps you might fancy the Oklahoma Joe’s Combo Smoker. This unit grants you the option of using either Charcoal or LP Gas for smoking your meat. Thus, you can enjoy two different smoky flavors from a single cooking station.
In addition, the smoker has a huge surface area of about 1060 square inch so you can entertain your entire family for Christmas or a summer BBQ party. Some of the large cooking surface is reserved for smoking while the rest dedicated to gas grilling.
Included in the main cooking chamber are 6 porcelain coated cast iron grates that allow for perfect searing and smoking. The multiple dampers along the chamber and firebox allow you to control the heat as well as the smoke. Another feature that users love is the storage shelf which allows you to keep essential cooking materials and extra fuel close by.
The temperature gauges installed at the lid ensure that you can always monitor the temperature inside the grill. A convenient firebox access door makes it easier to stoke the fire without having to open the chamber lid. Lastly, the cool touch handles are perfect for beginners who are scared of burning themselves.
Another combo grill that beginners will love is the Premier Specialty Classic Charcoal Grill. It is much smaller than others which is perfect for those who wish for a compact grill and smoker. While the 406 square inch cooking area might seem small, it is sufficient to cook large amounts of food for a medium sized family.
Also included is a built-in thermometer that allows you to monitor the temperature of the grill easily. Unlike others where the lid slams down, the Premier’s lid includes an Air Lift Hinge which reduces 96% of the weight. This way you can open and close the dome without much effort.
Another unique feature is the Divide and Conquer Cooking system that includes multi-level half racks so you can cook food in different styles. This way you can cook an entire meal at different temperatures at the same time. The Kontrol Top Tower helps maintain the air flow into the smoker, regardless of whether the door is opened or closed.
In addition, the top vent is weather resistant so you can cook in any season. Another standout feature for beginners is the ash drawer. It slides out easily to make cleaning quicker.
Essential Barbecue Accessories
Let’s face it! As a beginner you need all the help you can get. Barbecue accessories can make your life easier. Some of these may be available with the smoker or you may have to buy them separately. Here are some essential accessories to help elevate your smoking experience.
When smoking meat, you need to know that the internal temperature is constant for a long period of time. Thus, a meat thermometer can help you monitor the temperature of the meat. Some smokers allow you to monitor the temperature through apps which is much more convenient.
A pair of tongs can help you in handling hot racks of meat. Ensure that the tongs are long enough to protect your hands and are well insulated. If you plan on cooking larger pieces of meat, buying a tong that is strong and sturdy is advisable.
Smoking meat can be a huge fire hazard. Even if your tongs are well-insulated, they might still heat up enough to burn your hands. Also, you might be stoking the fire or handling the fuel, which can cause burns. So, heat resistant gloves are a great accessory to have. They will keep your hands safe and burn-proof.
A grill brush can help you clean out the greasy and dirty racks and grates easily. Otherwise, it might be hard for you to get into every corner and crevice. Mostly, these brushes include wire bristles which ensure no grease is left behind.
A chimney fire starter can help you start the fire easily. Some modern grills and smokers already include an automatic ignition starter. This feature allows you to start a fire with just a press of a button. On the other hand, if you’re stuck with some old charcoal smokers, then a fire starter is an essential piece of accessory.
Since you might leave the smoker out, it is crucial that you protect it with a weatherproof cover. Otherwise, dust might accumulate inside it or it might face rain and snow. Electric smokers, especially need weatherproof covers so their circuitry isn’t affected. Also, if water gets inside of your firebox, it might hard to start a fire.
Tips For Your First Smoke
Smoking or barbecuing may be intimidating, but with simple tips, you can easily do it. Here are our top tips for beginners.
1.Dry Brine You Meat
Take half a teaspoon of salt for every pound of meat. Take the meat out at least 2 hours before you plan on smoking it. Rub the salt into the meat which helps add flavor to the meat. Not only that, it will denature the proteins resulting in more tender fibers.
2.Leave Meat at Normal Temperature
A huge mistake beginners make is putting cold cuts of meat directly into the smoker. Instead, you should take it out of the fridge at least an hour prior to the smoking. Otherwise, you might end up with hours of cooking before you can get to your desired temperature.
3.Keep the Cooking Slow and Low
Smoking the meat out slowly will help the meat absorb more of that smoky flavor. This is why you should cook at low temperatures for long periods of time. This way your meat will be soft and fall right off the bone. Also, the low temperature prevents it from being burnt.
4.Find More About The Wood Type
Different woods lend a different kind of flavor to the meat. Some milder woods such as alder go well with salmon and other types of fish. On the other hand, some sweeter woods such as cherry and pear pair well with pork and poultry. Some other heavier woods such as oak and mesquite are perfect to smoke beef. I had an article detailing how to choose wood suitable for each type of meat.
5.Avoid Over Smoking
Going overboard with smoking your meat is an easy mistake most beginners tend to make. Remember that the meat should provide most of the flavor and there should only be a light hint of smokiness throughout your meat.
6.Avoid Opening the Lid
While it may be tempting to lift the lid and check your meat over and over again, it is highly discouraged. If you open the lid more than once, it can mess up the cooking of the meat. In fact, it might even drop the temperature. This is why dual chamber smokers are so popular. They allow you to add fuel without having to open the lid again and again.
7.Monitor the Temperature
Beginners do not have as much idea of when to stop cooking the meat. A thermometer can come in handy in this case. By monitoring the temperature, you can easily avoid overcooking or undercooking your meat.
All in all, smoking meat for the first time can be a challenging task but with the best smoker by your side, it seems much easier. Our best smokers for beginners are all easy to use and ensure that you have to put in minimal efforts. While the budget is completely up to you, we recommend you for a unit that is least costly and uses high-quality materials at the same time. This way you can get the most reliable unit on a budget. So, what are you waiting for? Bon Appetit.
Not sure what to try with your newly beloved smoker? Read our Introduction to Lamb meat for recipe ideas!