The 2014 AmazingRibs.com Top 10 Best Value Backyard Smokers
By Max Good
The 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 $299 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.
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.
Yes, 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.
We'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.
Gas 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".
Good 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 DLX $834 (shhh, we'll show you where to get it for under $700)
This 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.
Smokers 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.
This 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.
Another 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.
Offset 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.
It'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.
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