If you were not fortunate enough to ever visit one of those rustic western towns where they had a true, honest-to-god smokehouse, then you don’t even realize that your nose and mouth haven’t even come close to experiencing all that life has to offer. Whether you were one of these deprived souls or one of the lucky few that has had slow-smoked spare ribs falling off the bone, you need to do yourself a favor and get that fresh-smoked flavor right in your own backyard with a smoker.
These are a whole different way to cook than grilling or roasting. It is an entire experience that is as time-honored and as time-intensive as a Japanese tea ceremony. Smoking your meat is a slow process that moves in stages and takes hours or even days. It isn’t for the impatient, but for the meat eater that needs to savor every bite of their beef, pork, or poultry. When you’ve had meat that is smoked right, your tastebuds come alive. To help assure you that you’re buying a machine that will give you that experience, we’ve compiled our 6 best smokers.
Pit Barrel Cooker
Affordable Ugly Drum: Ordinarily drum smokers are a source of shame for the user. They hide them out back behind privacy fences or put them behind screens of something less embarrassing, like a Hello Kitty! shrine. Such is not the case with the Pit Barrel Cooker. It is a little on the homely side, but one taste of the meat that comes out will have you framing it for posterity. It uses charcoal – which worries some when it comes to dryness – and it lets the meat dangle just inches above hot coals – which worries everyone – but fear not. Even notoriously fickle Tri-Tip came out tender and succulent. Just make sure you don’t doubt the Pit Barrel and start modifying it. You’ll ruin it even if you know what you are doing. It works perfectly when partly full or when every spare inch of the 30 gallon drum is used. [Purchase: $289]
Masterbuilt Electric Smoker
The Versatile Smoker: Don’t be put off by the design that makes it look like a miniature fridge that should be keeping your beer cold, not keeping your meat hot. This is great for not only the big smoking tasks like Thanksgiving turkey or Easter ham but also getting tons of sausages or rack upon rack of ribs ready for serious cookouts. Despite the four racks and the boxy design it the Masterbuilt manages to move heat evenly, though if you are doing multiple racks, rotating them partway through wouldn’t hurt ya none.
The Masterbuilt has a digital temperature gauge and auto shut-off so it requires absolutely no supervision, though a power outage can throw a serious wrench into your works. Though the body looks like a single unit, the wood loading tray goes into the side so it is still separate and accessible. The drip pans are removable for easy cleaning and you can use as many or as few of the racks as you want. If you plan on smoking nothing but big items, this is probably not going to give you the space, but for large loads of small items, there is nothing better, and the price is unbeatable. [Purchase: $177]
Smokin Tex 1400 Pro Series Electric BBQ Smoker
Easy Peasy: If you are one of those that hiss and spit like a fire being doused at the idea of using an electric smoker, then you haven’t eaten anything that has come out of the Tex 1400. It’s the choice for the modern user who doesn’t have time to monitor their meat for hours on end. This is a true “set-it and forget-it” smoker that doesn’t need a babysitter. You program the temperature where you need it and leave it to do the dirty work. It will maintain a perfect interior heat level. There are a few very minor drawbacks. First, you can only smoke 35 lbs. at a time. Second, you only have a temperature range of 100-250 so if you’re going to try to smoke a pork butt at the last minute, you’re SOL. Finally, you’re paying top dollar for the machine to do the heavy lifting. [Purchase: $539]
Char-Broil Big Easy TRU Infrared Smoker
All-In-One: There aren’t many dedicated gas options out there and many of the hybrid grill/smoker/roasters are bad at all three jobs. Such is not the case with the high-tech Big Easy which offers excellent smoking capacity thanks to the infrared heating system. The added roasting and grilling are decent, though keep in mind that is a smoker first. The infrared system absorbs and redistributes heat throughout the body so you will never have spots that are dried out from overheating or under-flavored because they never got warm enough to absorb the smokey goodness. This style of heat has proven to be especially adept at piercing meat through and through so that the center is as juicy as the flesh near the surface. If you just want to toss a turkey in as soon as it quits gobbling, this will take care of the rest. The digital readout is easy to comprehend and the controls are much simpler than your phone. Despite the low price, this is a home run. [Purchase: $222]
Weber-Stephen Smokey Mountain Cooker
Classic Taste: Nothing about the Smokey Mountain Cooker feels modern. It even looks like a time capsule that was buried when the nation was worried about those dirty commies coming to take our women. Be that as it may, it cooks like a professional smokehouse and the flavor infusion cannot be denied. The best part of ol’ Smokey is it will last and last while many of the newer offerings on the market with their special gauges and additional parts only give you three years of service.
Whether you use the higher or lower rack, you’ll get an even cook every time without the dryness that comes from other charcoal smokers. The unique bullet shape acts as a parabolic reflector that moves the heat around the interior chamber so that the bottom isn’t getting overcooked while the top stays raw. Just be aware that you may want to use your own probe thermometer as the one on the hood is analog and thus gives you a ballpark rather than an exact figure. [Purchase: $259]
Camp Chef Pellet Smoker DLX
True Pellet Flavor: If putting your pellets in a tray just doesn’t give you enough of that woodsy flavor, or you want to drive the neighborhood into a feeding frenzy with your smokehouse smells, then this should be your choice. It also offers the option of using it as a grill when the itch to barbecue simply cannot be denied. Not only does it manage to offer premium smokehouse flavor that is straight out of the old west, it has high-technology built right in. It includes an automated pellet distributor that will keep the temperature constant and guarantee the flavor saturates every inch of your meat. It offers temperatures that range from 160 to 400, which is great for the quick cook, but if you like to take your time, it might be a little too quick on the draw for your liking. [Purchase: $700]