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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone


Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $299 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

tailgater magazine

The 2013 AmazingRibs.com Top 10 Backyard Smokers Under $2,000

By Max Good

You can make damned good smoked meats on an all-purpose charcoal grill (click here for tips) or gas grill (click here for tips), but to make the most amazing ribs, salmon, bacon, pulled pork, turkey, etc., you need a smoker. What to buy? Ohhh, there are sooooo many choices!

top 10 smokersWith a high quality modern barbecue smoker you no longer need to hover over your machine for hours, constantly monitoring the temp, fiddling with the dampers, shoveling coal, adding wood chips, and spritzing your meat with a mist of secret moisturizer. A good smoker means that you can win the battle against creosote, soot, and ash. With a good smoker you can get your food on the table on time and not fear that it is over- or under-cooked.

The hottest and fastest growing categories are pellet smokers and egg/kamados. Pellet smokers burn hardwood sawdust that has been compressed into pellets. Egg/kamados are usually egg shaped and well insulated, often made from ceramics.

Readers will note that there are no electric smokers on the list. We know owners of electrics are rabid in their devotion, and that the food they make is very good, but we think the flavor is inferior to the flavor from other devices that generate heat by combustion. We anticipate that electric owners will think we are idiots and probably tell us so in the comments, but we stand by our palates.

In making our selections we tried to cover a wide range of designs and prices and pick the best of breed. Although it was not a criteria for our selection process, interestingly most of the Top 10 are made in the USA.

How we select our Top 10 Lists

We rate and review as objectively as possible, measuring temperatures, slamming lids, turning dials, studying warranties, and kicking casters, but inevitably intangibles such as look and feel have to be considered. We also try to cover a wide range of design concepts and price ranges. Our searchable database has devices selling for more than $10,000, but we have decided to limit this list to "affordable", which we have arbitrarily set at less than $2,000. If we were looking for the 10 best, they might all be expensive, but we are looking for tools that will make buyers happy in a range of price categories. All the selections have won an AmazingRibs.com Best Buy Award, and we consider them the best of breed in their price category. They are listed by price. Prices listed are manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), and actual prices are often lower depending on the supplier and time of year. Please click the red links on the names of the grills to read our complete review and find links to suppliers, many of whom sell well below MSRP.


Smokenator for the Weber Kettle $70

Gold AwardThis simple piece of bent metal, overpriced at $70, is still an amazing value if you already own a basic 22.5" Weber Kettle, which is a heckuva a grill for only $89. Put the two together and it will perform as well as a standalone smoker for twice the price. Smokenators are also available for 18.5" and 26.75" Weber Kettles. Even if you don't have a Kettle, the combo gives you the best of both worlds, grilling and smoking. It corrals the charcoal all on one side better than the Weber branded charcoal basket, holds more charcoal, and the solid metal face makes an extremely efficient indirect heater. We know a competition team in Texas that wins money with theirs. Best of all, the flavor it produces is superb. Smokenators are mostly made in the USA. Only the water pan and a scraper for knocking down ash are imported.

charbroil vertical smoker

Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker $200

Best in BBQ Silver MedalYes, it is cheaply built and, unless you take care of it, it will probably start falling apart in five years, but by then you can save up for a really good smoker. It is narrow so you have to cut rib slabs in half, but it can hold a lot of food. Once you get the hang of it, it can hold temps pretty steadily and it doesn't require nursing. But you absolutely must replace the temperature indicator (it is not a thermometer no matter what they call it) with a good digital thermometer. Foods cooked on a gasser taste wonderful, although they taste slightly different from charcoal or wood smoked, and a lot better than food cooked on an electric smoker.

bvigpoppas drum smoker

Big Poppa's Drum Smoker Kit $140

Gold AwardWe know you lust after one of those macho looking sideways offset barrel smokers for under $200 at the big box store. Please don't do it. It is an unbelievable pain to operate, you'll spend hours trying to modify it, and by the end of the summer it will be in the garbage. If you need to look kewl, build an "Ugly Drum Smoker" with this cleverly designed kit. Food grade drums can easily be found for as little as $20, so for well under $200 you can have a fine smoker. This kit significantly reduces the cost, time required, and probability of error. And the results can cook competition worthy meat. Really.

weber smokey mountain smoker

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18.5" $349

Gold AwardGood old Weber has been making this indestructible charcoal fired "bullet" for years and has made only minor tweaks, although there are minor tweaks yet to be made (for example the thermometer is not accurate). The body is the same enamelized steel as the Weber Kettle and mine is 15 years old and going strong. There is also a larger model, but we prefer this one because it is easier to keep the temp low, and that's crucial to great smoker, although a full slab of ribs barely fits. It can also be used as a grill, but you have to get on your knees to do it. Most parts on this smoker are made in the USA.

primo oval junior

Primo Oval Junior $832

Gold AwardCeramic smokers based on an ancient Japanese "kamado" design are all the rage, with the Big Green Egg the most popular of the breed. Ceramics are very efficient, holding heat and using very little charcoal. They can also be used as grills, but the cone shape of most of them doesn't make them ideal for two-zone cooking, a technique we consider vital for grilling. There are two exceptions, however, the two Primo models, which are oval shaped and can be easily set up with two zones for great grilling. There is even a larger model, the XL. We like them better than the Egg. The stand in the picture is not included. Made in the USA.

backwoods chubby

Backwoods Smoker Chubby $970

Gold AwardThis little baby looks like a dorm fridge and it shares a lot in common with it. The walls are well insulated, the door latches tight, there's a clever reverse flow heat and smoke transit system, temp control is incredibly simple, and it can hold standard hotel pans. A water pan between the charcoal and the food keeps the cooking chamber moist. There are larger sizes that are popular among the professional competition teams. I have the next size up, the Party, and it is truly impressive. Made in the USA.

rec tec smoker

REC TEC Grills $995

Gold AwardWe are in love with the new generation of pellet smokers. These clever designs burn wood pellets that look like pencils broken into 1/2" sections. The pellets are made from hardwood sawdust scrap from sawmills and furniture manufacturers. A digital thermostat system controls the better models by controlling the flow of pellets and air into the burner. They are truly set-it-forget-it easy and hold the temp rock solid. They cook by hot air and smoke circulating, so most pellet burners are not good at direct heat grilling. Pellet grills need electricity to run the controller so you'll not be hauling them to the beach, and the smoke flavor is delicate and elegant, but not as aggressive and deep as charcoal and wood. We know that a model by Traeger is by far the more popular and widely distributed, but we think this is a lot better chiefly because we like the controller better. And it is a lot better looking, especially with the metal bulls horns for handles.

mak 1 star smoker

MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill $1,299

Gold AwardAnother pellet grill like the REC TEC above, but the slightly higher price buys a number of bells and whistles, including our favorite digital controller. Built entirely in the USA, it is solid with a heavy duty powder coat. The hood is a roll top, meaning it does not need a lot of rear clearance like some of its competitors, and there is plenty of room inside. We recommend you buy the optional upper level racks. My only criticism is that it looks like a WWI tank. Made in the USA.

fast eddys smoker

Fast Eddy's by Cookshack PG500 $1,595

Gold AwardThe innovation here is that the cooking surface is divided into two sections, one is much like all the other pellet smokers, strictly indirect convection air cooking, but the other, smaller section exposes the meat to direct radiant heat so you can get a good dark sear when you want to high heat grill. And there is a 30-day money back guarantee! Made in the USA.

horizon smoker

Horizon 20" RD Special $1,825

Gold AwardIf you're Jonesing for the pro look, if you want to burn logs and/or charcoal, this is what you have to spend if you also want quality. As I explained above, the cheapo offsets in the hardware stores suck. But the Horizon is built to cook and to last. Made of 1/4" thick steel, when it heats up the mass retains heat and holds temp. You still have to practice to get control over the vents to control heat and it's a good idea to sit nearby to watch it, but that's why lounge chairs and beer were invented. If you get one, make sure it has the convection plate. It helps distribute the heat more evenly. And the capacious cooking chamber can be loaded with charcoal if the entire Little League is coming over and you need to grill up 43 burgers at once. Made in the USA.

Please read this before posting a comment or question

grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

3) If you post a photo, wait a minute for a thumbnail to appear. It will happen even if you don't see it happen.

4) Click here to learn more about our comment system and our privacy promise. Remember, your login info for comments is probably different from your Pitmaster Club login info if you are a member.


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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© Copyright 2014 by AmazingRibs, Inc. AmazingRibs.com is published by AmazingRibs, Inc., a Florida Corporation. Unless otherwise noted, all text, recipes, photos, and computer code are owned by AmazingRibs, Inc. and fully protected by US copyright law. This means that unless you have written permission to publish or distribute anything on this website you have committed a Federal crime. But we're easy. To get reprint rights, just click here. You do not need permission to link to this website. Note. Some photos of commercial products such as grills were provided by the manufacturers and are under their copyright.