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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

BBQ_grill_grates

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 $289 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 mor 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.


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tailgater magazine
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The 2014 AmazingRibs.com Top 10 Best Value Backyard Smokers

By Max Good

pit barrel cookerThe biggest news on our 2014 list of Best Value Backyard Smokers is the new Pit Barrel Cooker. This charcoal burning, 30 gallon steel drum is not only macho looking, but the clever design makes it one of the more impressive cookers we've tested, especially at only $289 including delivery to your door from the plant in Colorado. We loved working with it and many readers who have bought it are mad in love with it. It runs a little hotter than we normally like at first, but the food is superb and there is almost no fussing with it once you fire it up.

The fastest growing categories are pellet smokers and kamados. Pellet smokers burn hardwood sawdust that has been compressed into pellets. An impressive newcomer to our list this year is the feature rich Camp Chef DLX Pellet Smoker. Camp Chef also broke our lineup with a gas smoker, their Smoke Vault. Snobs snort at gas smokers, but we're here to tell you that many top BBQ restaurants use big gas smokers, and the small ones are really inexpensive, easy to set and walk away, and the product will make you a hero.

Kamados are usually egg shaped and well insulated, traditionally made from ceramics, but more and more are being made from steel. They are especially good at cold weather cooking. The most impressive of them all is the enormous and gorgeous tile inlaid Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32 weighing in at almost half a ton and just under $6,000.

With 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-cooked or under-cooked.

Sharp-eyed readers may note that there are no electric smokers on the list. We know owners of electrics are rabid in their devotion, that electrics are easy to use, and that the food they make is very good, but we think the flavor is less exciting than the flavor from devices that generate heat by combustion of charcoal, wood, or gas.

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, most of the Top 10 are made in the USA.

Click here to see the 33 smokers that won our gold medal, 4 silver, medals, and 7 bronze medals.

How we select our Top 10 Best Values

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. All the selections have won an AmazingRibs.com Best Value Award, and we consider them among the best of breed in their price category. Although value is a primary concern, we have included one luxurious dream cooker because value is relative to the size of your bank account.

They are listed in order of manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), but actual prices are often lower depending on the store and time of year. Please click the red links to read our complete detailed review and find links to suppliers, many of whom sell well below MSRP.

charbroil vertical smoker

Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker $200

Gold AwardYes, 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 something built to last. 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. Click here to read our complete review of the Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker.


pit barrel cooker

Pit Barrel Cooker $289

Gold AwardWe're running out of good things to say about this simple, affordable smoker. There's nothing else like it on the market. $289 delivered to your door in a big box. Open it up and start smoking. No assembly, no baby sitting and great results every time. If you've wanted to get a dedicated smoker or replace a cheapo rust bucket that never worked well anyway, the PBC beats anything in this price range hands down.

It's a variation on the Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS, but the drum is slightly smaller and, although it comes with a grate, for most recipes you hang the meat vertically from hooks - even turkeys! Your jaw will hit the deck as you pull one round of deliciously smoked meats after another from this magic drum with little more effort than trimming and seasoning. Furthermore the meat hanging method provides beaucoup capacity. PBC easily accommodates eight full slabs of ribs. Whether you're a novice or an award winning competitor (and competition teams now use them), Pit Barrel is a welcome addition to any backyard. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Pit Barrel Cooker.


camp chef smoke vault

Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24" $344

Gold AwardGas smokers often run hot and have a limited temperature range, but the Smoke Vault 24" can be dialed down to 160°F or cranked to 500°F. Go low for smoked nuts and cheese, 225°F for ribs and brisket and 325°F for crispy chicken. The large width is big enough to lay slabs of ribs flat and there's plenty of room inside for turkeys, roasts and rib racks. It is the only gasser we know of that can be converted to natural gas so no more worrying if the tank will run dry before you're done with a long low slow cook. Comes with a nickel-plated mesh rack for smoking jerky. Click here to read our complete review of the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24".


weber smokey mountain 18

Weber Smokey Mountain 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). However, the new 2014s have a soft grommet on the right side where you can easily insert an accurate digital thermometer probe. The body is the same enamelized steel as the Weber Kettle. We have one that's 16 years old and going strong. There is also a larger model, but we prefer this size because it is easier to keep the temp low, 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. Click here to read our complete review of the Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5".


camp chef pellet smoker

Camp Chef Pellet Smoker DLX $834 (shhh, we'll show you where to get it for under $700)

Gold AwardThis entry level pellet smoker is loaded with great features and easy to find for way below list price. It has an older style notched digital controller like Traeger uses, but Camp Chef adds a dual LED read out for the included meat thermometer so you can toggle between cooking temperature and internal meat temperature. Pellet smokers are known to produce light smoke flavor. If you want more, Camp Chef's controller includes two low temperature settings that allow the wood pellets to smolder and produce extra smoke. Although pellets don't create much ash, it needs to be removed periodically, which is a pain on most other smokers because the greasy grates and drip pan must be lifted out to get at the burn pot. The DLX is one of the few models on the market with an ash removal system that deposits ash in a cup under the smoke box for easy disposal. Click here to read our complete review of the Camp Chef Pellet Smoker DLX.


primo oval junior

Primo Oval Junior $832

Gold AwardSmokers based on an ancient Japanese "kamado" design are all the rage. The best are made from ceramics that 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 2-zone cooking, a technique we consider vital for grilling. There are a few 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 Big Green Egg, the model that has been around the longest. The stand in the picture is not included. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Primo Oval Junior.


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. We have the next size up, the Party, and it is truly impressive. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Backwoods Smoker Chubby.


mak 1 star smoker

MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill $1,600

Gold AwardAnother pellet grill like the Camp Chef above, but the 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. Click here to read our complete review of the MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill.


horizon smoker

Horizon 20" RD Special Marshal $1,825

Gold AwardOffset smokers just look cool, but the fact is the cheap ones in the big box stores are junk and they are almost impossible to manage temperatures and turn into rust buckets after one season.If you're Jonesing for the pro look, if you want to burn logs as well as charcoal, this is what you have to spend to get quality. The Horizon is built to cook well 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. Click here to read our complete review of the Horizon 20" RD Special Marshal.


komodo kamado

Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32 $5,910

Gold AwardIt's Big. It's Bad. It's Beautiful! Komodo Kamado makes some of the most striking, high quality cookers we've seen. Stunning assortments of inlaid tile finishes are available from colorful to subdued, but KKs are not just another pretty face. Quality and attention to detail are evident in everything you see and touch from the 304 stainless steel grates and hinges to the heavy duty casters. And the casters have to be powerful to support this Bad Boy weighing in at almost half a ton. At 32 inches wide, this is the biggest Kamado on the market. Plenty of options are available from teakwood carts to gas ignition.  Click here to read our complete review of the Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32.

 


Please read 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.

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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.