2015 Top 10 Best Value Backyard Smokers
In 2013 we gave our Best Value Gold Medal to Pit Barrel Cooker, then a fledgling Ma and Pa business out of Strasburg, CO, and in 2014 we put them on our Top 10 Best Value Backyard Smokers List. Pit Barrel has proven to be a phenomenon. Demand skyrocketed and manufacturing had to be relocated to a larger facility in California.
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. 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. It just burns steady.
The fastest growing categories are pellet smokers and kamados. Pellet smokers burn hardwood sawdust that has been compressed into pellets and most have digital temperature control that you can set just like on your kitchen stove. Green Mountain Grills recently lowered pricing across the board on all their pellet smokers to make an aggressive push for their optional WiFi systems that can be monitored and controlled from a smart phone.
Camp Chef's capacious, well-made Smoke Vault gas smoker returns for 2015. Snobs snort at gas smokers, but we're here to tell you that many top rated 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 versatile and especially good at cold weather cooking. Our favorite kamados are Primo Ovals and their Oval Junior makes our Top 10 List once again for 2015. The oval shape gives them more versatility than the round designs because it enables cooks to create a hot direct zone and warm indirect zone that may be used simultaneously for grilling, something that round kamados like the Big Green Egg cannot achieve. Round models are best at smoking, roasting, and baking.
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, and adding wood. 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.
Smoking with logs as both a heat source and flavor source is trickier than any other fuel, but the Karubecue C-60 Pit is designed to let the greenest novice smoke meats like a wizened Texas Pit Boss. You have to feed the fire every half hour, but that's all you have to do, Karubecue's brilliant design makes perfect smoke from start to finish every time you fire it up. The results are truly extraordinary!
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, it is interesting to note that most of the Top 10 are made in the USA.
Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker $200 - 3rd Year On Our List!
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.
Pit Barrel Cooker $299 - 2nd Year On Our List!
We're running out of good things to say about this simple, affordable smoker. There's nothing else like it on the market. $299 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 24" $344 - 2nd Year On Our List!
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 400°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 18.5" $349 - 3rd Year On Our List!
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 17 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".
Green Mountain Grills has produced quality, technologically advanced pellet smokers since 2008. Some competitors are trying to catch up by introducing features like an integrated meat probe, which has been standard on Green Mountains for years. Now GMG is making an end run around the competition by dropping prices on all models to make their WiFi technology more affordable. The base price above on GMG's mid-size Daniel Boone already makes it a best buy. You get a lot for the money. BUT, for a hundred bucks more, WiFi awaits, enabling you to control and monitor your smoker from a smart phone! Click here for the full review of the Green Mountain Daniel Boone Pellet Smoker.
Primo Oval Junior $832 - 3rd Year On Our List!
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.
Backwoods Smoker Chubby $970 - 3rd Year On Our List!
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.
Many believe stick burners, smokers that burn wood logs, produce the best smoked meat. But inexpensive stick burners don't work well and even high quality ones, like the Horizon model shown below, require a commitment and learning curve that can be daunting to the backyard chef. Inventor Bill Karau, competed on the BBQ circuit and toured BBQ joints around his stomping ground in Texas for many years before determining to design a stick burner that produced perfect smoke from start to finish, every time, regardless of skill. Thus the Karubecue was born. At its crux is a patented Inverted Flame Firebox (IFF) which sucks heat and smoke from underneath a wood fire, not the top. Heavy smoke, laden with gases and microscopic particles is pulled through a red hot fire where it burns up, sending clean, light blue smoke and heat into a thermostatically controlled oven.
The results are astonishing. If we could post a scratch and sniff picture of ribs smoked on the Karubecue there would be no need to write any further explanation of why it made our Top Ten List. Alas, we cannot, so click here to read our review of the Karubecue C-60 Pit. The above price includes shipping from the factory, aka Karau's garage. Normally we wouldn't review a product that has no distribution, but we had to let you know about this one.
MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill $1,500 - 3rd Year On Our List!
Another pellet grill, 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 20" RD Special Marshal $1,825 - 3rd Year On Our List!
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.