Different Types of Smokers. Review and Tips for Buying the Best BBQ smoker for You

This is it, my calling, the art of smoking meats. It’s not just a culinary technique – it’s a journey, a meditation, and a dance with the flames. Just as a painter needs their canvas and brushes, a pitmaster requires their smoker. But with a myriad of options available, how does one pick their weapon of choice? Well, buckle up, dear reader, for we’re about to embark on a flavorful odyssey through the different types of smokers.

What Are The Main Common Types of Smokers?

There are several types of smokers used for cooking and preserving food. Here’s an overview of the main types of smokers:

  1. Offset Smokers: Also known as stick burners or horizontal smokers with indirect heat, these consist of a large chamber for the food and a smaller firebox attached to one side. Heat and smoke from the firebox flow into the cooking chamber, where they cook and flavor the food.
  2. Vertical Water Smokers: These are tall, cylindrical smokers with a water pan between the heat source and the cooking grate. The water pan helps to regulate temperature and adds moisture to the smoke, ensuring the meat remains juicy.
  3. Box or Cabinet Smokers: These are rectangular, upright units that resemble a small refrigerator. They have multiple shelves for food, making them ideal for smoking large quantities at once. They can use various heat sources like electric, gas, or charcoal.
  4. Drum Smokers: Sometimes called Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS), these are made from steel drums. They are simple in design, with a charcoal basket at the bottom and cooking grates at the top. Their cylindrical shape makes them efficient in terms of heat retention.
  5. Pellet Smokers: These are electrically powered but use wood pellets for the smoke flavor. An electric element heats the pellets, producing smoke. They often come with digital controls, making it easy to set and maintain precise temperatures.
  6. Electric Smokers: These smokers use electricity as their heat source. They are easy to use and maintain a consistent temperature, but some purists believe they don’t impart as much smokey flavor as other types.
  7. Kamado Smokers: Made of thick ceramic walls, these are egg-shaped smokers that can also function as grills for cook meat, vegetables. They retain heat exceptionally well and are efficient in fuel consumption. Popular brands include the Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe.
  8. Cold Smokers: These are designed to smoke food at low temperatures, usually below 100°F. They’re used for foods like cheese, fish, and some sausages, which don’t require cooking but benefit from the smokey flavor.

Each type of smoker has its own advantages and is suited for different culinary needs and preferences. The choice of smoker often depends on the desired flavor profile, the amount of food being smoked, and the level of convenience the user is looking for.

Best Smokers By Types of Fuel Source

Smokers can be categorized based on their fuel source, and each type has its own characteristics and advantages. Here are the common types of smokers by fuel source:

  1. Wood Smokers: These are the traditionalists’ choice. Wood smokers provide a classic smoking experience and a rich, authentic smoke flavor. They require more attention to maintain consistent temperatures.
  2. Charcoal Smokers: Utilizing either lump charcoal or briquettes, charcoal smokers (charcoal grills) are popular for their ability to impart a deep, smoky flavor. They need hands-on management to control airflow and temperature.
  3. Pellet Smokers: Pellet smokers use compressed wood pellets as fuel, which are fed into a firebox by an auger. They offer the convenience of set-it-and-forget-it controls, making them easy to use, with a consistent smoke and temperature.
  4. Electric Smokers: These smokers use a heating element to generate heat, with wood chips added for smoke. They are known for their convenience and precise temperature control, making them ideal for beginners or those who prefer a more hands-off approach.
  5. Propane/Gas Smokers: Gas smokers (gas grill, propane smoker) use a propane tank as their heat source, with wood chips added in a tray above the burner to create smoke. They heat up quickly and maintain steady temperatures with minimal fuss.
  6. Multi-fuel Smokers: Some modern smokers are designed to work with multiple fuel sources, giving the user the option to switch between wood, charcoal, pellets, or even propane, depending on the desired cooking method and flavor profile.

Each type of smoker has a unique set of features that cater to different preferences, whether it’s the flavor profile of the smoke, the ease of use, or the ability to maintain a consistent temperature over long periods.

Main Advantages of The Different Types of BBQ Smokers

Here’s a summary table of the advantages of the different types of smokers:

Type of Smoker Advantages
Offset Smokers – Authentic smoky flavor
– Suitable for large cuts of meat
– Direct and indirect cooking options
Vertical Water Smokers – Consistent temperature
– Moist cooking environment
– Relatively affordable
Box/Cabinet Smokers – Large capacity
– Consistent temperature
– Suitable for various heat sources
Drum Smokers – Efficient heat retention
– Simple design
– Portable
Pellet Smokers – Precise temperature control
– Easy to use
– Versatile (smoking, grilling, baking)
Electric Smokers – Consistent temperature
– Easy for beginners
– Low maintenance
Kamado Smokers – Efficient fuel consumption
– Retains heat well|
– Multipurpose (smoking, grilling, baking)
Cold Smokers – Imparts smoky flavor without cooking
– Suitable for delicate foods like cheese and fish

Tips for Buying the Best League-Leading Smoker for You

The Classic Offset Smoker: The Granddaddy of Them All

Imagine a time machine that doesn’t warp you to a different era, but rather, to a taste from the past. That’s the offset smoker for you. With its side firebox and horizontal chamber, it’s like the classic car of the smoking world – requires a bit of finesse, but oh boy, the results! If meats could sing, those smoked in an offset would probably belt out blues tunes – deep, soulful, and dripping with character.

Best Choice
Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
900 total Square inch cooking surface, Heavy-gauge all-steel construction.
Whether you’re a seasoned pitmaster or just starting on your smoking journey, this smoker offers a perfect blend of versatility, durability, and exceptional performance. It’s more than just a smoker; it’s an experience.
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Water Smokers: The Zen Masters

Water smokers, with their tall, cylindrical shape, remind me of monks in meditation. There’s a serenity to them. The water pan ensures a moist environment, making it the spa day your meat probably never asked for but totally deserves. It’s like sending your brisket on a tropical vacation where the humidity does wonders for its complexion.

Best Choice
Americana Stainless Steel Charcoal Water Smoker
Americana Stainless Steel Charcoal Water Smoker
351 square inches of cooking space, 2 chrome-plated cooking grids
The stainless steel, chimney-like design with a loose-fitting lid and tight-fitting doors creates a constant flow of new smoke for maximum flavor. With its extra-large 5.5 quart water pan, this Southern Country Smokers perfect the slow-cooking process so food is juicy and tender every time
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Box Smokers: The High-Rise Apartments of Smoking

Ever been to a bustling city with skyscrapers touching the clouds? That’s what box or cabinet smokers are – the high-rise apartments of the smoking world. Multiple shelves mean you can smoke ribs on one level, sausages on another, and perhaps a sneaky tofu block (don’t knock it ’til you try it) on yet another. It’s like hosting a party where everyone’s invited, from the saucy ribs to the humble vegetables.

Best Choice
Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker
Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker
Vertical digital electric smoker with 710 square inches of cooking space.
Low-and-slow smoking methods provide smoked meats with juicy, tender results. Perfect for BBQ slow-smoking when longer smoke times and temperatures are ideal.
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Drum Smokers: The DIY Rockstars

Here’s to all the garage band enthusiasts and DIY mavens – drum smokers are your spirit appliance. Made from steel drums, they’re the epitome of “rock ‘n’ roll meets barbecue”. And just like that catchy tune you can’t get out of your head, the flavors from a drum smoker are unforgettable. Of course, smoker manufacturers try to keep up with the self-taught garage masters, and voilà – here you have awesome drum smokers that you can easily buy. After all, not everyone can be jack of all trades.

Best Choice
Large 21.5-inch cooking surface and 17-pound fuel capacity deliver competition performance.
Bronco Pro Drum Smoker has a unique airflow control system and sealed lid that deliver precise control over smoke and heat.
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Pellet Smokers: The Tech Geeks of the Lot

In a world of analog, here comes the digital maestro. Pellet smokers are the smartphones of the smoking realm – sleek, efficient, and, dare I say, a tad show-offy? With precise temperature controls and wood pellets that infuse just the right amount of smokiness, they’re for those who like a bit of modern flair with their ancient smoking traditions.

Best Choice
Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Wifi Portable Wood Pellet Grill
Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Wifi Portable Wood Pellet Grill
52 x 34 x 52 inches
WIFI Control and monitor grill and internal food temps to-the-degree and on-the-go from the GMG App with access to a huge selection of recipes and grilling profiles
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Electric Smokers: Plug, Play, and Chow Down

For those who want to dip their toes into the smoking world without diving headfirst, electric smokers are your safe bet. They’re like that reliable friend who, while not the life of the party, always has a bottle opener and knows the best late-night snack spots.

Best Choice
Masterbuilt MB20070210 Analog Electric Smoker with 3 Smoking Racks
Masterbuilt MB20070210 Analog Electric Smoker with 3 Smoking Racks
Electric analog smoker with 535 square inches of cooking space
From your favorite cuts of meats to flavorful veggies, discover endless options when it comes to smoking foods.
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Kamado Smokers: The Ancient Warriors

Originating from Japan, these egg-shaped wonders are the samurais of the smoking world—versatile, efficient, and legendary. Whether you’re grilling, baking, or smoking, a Kamado has your back. It’s like having a Swiss Army knife, but instead of tools, you get delicious dishes.

Best Choice
London Sunshine Ceramic Charcoal BBQ Kamado Grill Smoker
London Sunshine Ceramic Charcoal BBQ Kamado Grill Smoker
Portable Tabletop Cadet Series -Orange
MADE for Grill Kings & Queens – Wide cooking temperature range (180°F~750°F, 82°C~399°C) allows you to smoke, bake, grill, broil. The ceramic wall insulates and evenly distributes heat and air throughout the chamber, locking in all the flavor and moisture to bring out the best of your special spice blend.
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Cold Smokers: The Cool Cats on the Block

For those who like it cool, literally, cold smokers are your jam. Ideal for cheeses, fish, and other delicacies, they’re like the jazz musicians of the smoking world—smooth, sophisticated, and oh-so-cool.

Best Choice
Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill
Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill
The best price for Vertical Offset Smoker
Features five chrome-plated cooking grates and a total cooking space of 1382 square inches
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What Type of Grill Smoker is Best to Buy for a Beginner?

For beginners, certain types of smokers are more user-friendly and require less experience to produce good results. Here’s a breakdown:

Electric Smokers:

  • Advantages: They are very easy to use, require minimal setup, and maintain a consistent temperature without much intervention. Many electric smokers come with digital controls, which makes it simple for beginners to set and forget.
  • Drawbacks: Some purists believe electric smokers don’t impart as rich a smoky flavor as other types.

Pellet Smokers:

  • Advantages: These are also quite user-friendly. They automatically feed wood pellets to maintain the desired temperature and smoke level. Modern pellet smokers often come with digital controls, allowing for precise temperature settings.
  • Drawbacks: They are generally more expensive than some other types of smokers, and you’ll need to buy wood pellets.

Vertical Water Smokers:

  • Advantages: These are relatively affordable and straightforward to use. The water pan helps regulate temperature, making it more forgiving for beginners.
  • Drawbacks: They might not have as much cooking space as other types, and you’ll need to monitor the water level.

Among these, the Electric Smoker is probably the most beginner-friendly due to its simplicity. However, if a beginner is willing to invest a bit more for flavor and versatility, a Pellet Smoker is a great choice. The Vertical Water Smoker is a good middle-ground option in terms of price and ease of use.

Ultimately, the best choice for a beginner depends on their budget, how hands-on they want to be with the smoking process, and their flavor preferences.

Liam Turner

Gear Review Specialist. Liam’s expertise lies in testing and reviewing smoking equipment, ensuring our readers make informed decisions.

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