"Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire."Exodus 12:9
Everyone loves smoky food. The smell of fire roasted meats and spirit of kinship that pervades BBQ gatherings harkens back to our ancestors. You just don't get that with boiled ribs or pork "BBQ" from a crockpot. For years, smoking was a mystery to many home cooks. Today, it's commonplace to find backyard smokers in all corners of the world filling neighborhoods with the irresistible fragrance of wood smoke.
Some cheap smokers can cause disappointment and even outright exasperation. Beware of these cookers, but don't be deterred! Yes, you can get a decent quality smoker that is easy to use and produces excellent results for a reasonable price. Let us help.
Of all the great smoker designs available, pellet smokers are the absolute easiest to use because they are thermostatically controlled just like your indoor kitchen oven. You simply select a cooking temperature and a controller maintains it by feeding wood pellets and air to a fire pot as needed.
Kamados continue to gain popularity. This year Vision breaks into our Best Smokers list with their innovative Quickchange Gas Insert that easily converts most of their models to a gas grill for a fast week night burger session.
Sharp-eyed readers may note that there are no electric smokers on the list. We know owners of electrics are rabid in their devotion, but we find the flavor to be less exciting than what you get from devices that combust charcoal, wood, or gas. Click here to read more about how to buy a smoker.
Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker $200 - 6th Year On Our List!
The Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker is cheaply built, but not as bad as most gas smokers in this price range. It is a tall narrow box, so you have to cut rib slabs in half, but it can hold a lot of food. Once you get the hang of it, this unit 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.
Pit Barrel Cooker $299 - 5th 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. Plus, the meat hanging method actually provides tons of capacity. For instance, PBC easily accommodates eight full slabs of ribs in a single cook. Whether you're a novice or an award winning competitor (yes, competition teams now use them), Pit Barrel is a welcome addition to any backyard.
Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24" $344 - 5th 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, or 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 and slow cook. It also comes with a nickel-plated mesh rack for smoking jerky.
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18" $349 - 6th Year On Our List!
Good old Weber has been making this indestructible charcoal fired "bullet" for years and has made only minor tweaks. However, there are minor tweaks yet to be made (we'd like a better thermometer, but then again, we use our own accurate digital thermometer probe). The body is the same enamelized steel as the Weber Kettle charcoal grill. We have one of these bullets that is 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. This unit can also be used as a grill, but you have to get on your knees to do it.
Vision Professional S-Series Kamado $799 – New To Our List!
Vision Grills is a kamado company to keep your eye on. They're coming on strong with patented, innovative designs that stand out from the ever growing kamado crowd. Many consumers still shy away from kamados for the same reasons they buy gas instead of charcoal grills. They just don't want to light the charcoal and clean out ash. Furthermore, they don't understand the sliding air intake damper which is typical on kamados. Vision’s answer is their unique ProZone system, a slide out insert that includes a dual damper air intake, an ash removal tray, and an electric fire starter. In 2016, they introduced an optional Quickchange Gas Insert that slides into the ProZone slot to convert most models into a gas grill for a quick, mid-week meal.
Backwoods Smoker Chubby $1,099 - 6th 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 nice and humid. Larger sizes of this smoker are popular among professional competition teams. We have the Party, the next size up from the Chubby reviewed here, and it is truly impressive.
Kamado Joe Classic II 18" $1,200 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Classic II improves on their previous ClassicJoe 18” with a number of remarkable upgrades that exemplify the elegance and innovation that are hallmarks of Kamado Joe. In the beginning, Kamado Joe muscled their way into the growing kamado market with high quality, beautiful, ceramic cookers loaded with extras offered at prices just below the popular Big Green Egg. But KJ couldn’t resist forward motion and began evolving into something bigger and better: a leader, an innovator, and one of the premier kamado brands. “We decided to think of Kamado Joe as Mercedes Benz, or BMW, to keep making improvements and not be afraid of raising prices,” says KJ’s owner Bobby Brennan. “At first we had a little heartburn, but it’s all coming together.” Not to say Brennan and company threw price out of their equation, but now they are comfortable with MSRPs slightly higher than Eggs. So what do those extra dollars buy?
Karubecue C-60 Pit $1,450 – 4th Year On Our List!
With proper fire management, stick burners (smokers that burn wood logs) produce the best smoked meat. Period. But inexpensive stick burners don't work well, and even high quality ones require a commitment and learning curve that can be daunting to the aspiring backyard chef. Inventor Bill Karau competed on the BBQ circuit and toured BBQ joints around his stomping grounds in Texas for many years before designing a stick burner that produced perfect smoke from start to finish, every time, regardless of skill. Behold the Karubecue. At its crux, is a patented Inverted Flame Firebox (IFF) which sucks heat and smoke from underneath a wood fire, not from the top. Heavy smoke, laden with flavorful 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 wins our top honors. Alas, we cannot, so you'll have to read the review for all the details. Note that the price shown here includes shipping direct from the factory.
MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill $1,700 - 6th Year On Our List!
Here is yet another pellet smoker, but the higher price tag buys a number of bells and whistles, including our favorite digital temperature controller. Built entirely in the USA, this smoker is rock 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.
Yoder Loaded Wichita 20" Smoker $1,894 - New To Our List!
We admit it, offset smokers just look cool. But the fact is, most of the cheap ones sold in big box stores are junk. Their thin walls and chintzy construction make it almost impossible to manage a steady temperature. Abandoned due to frustration, they often turn into rust buckets after one season. If you're Jonesing for the pro look, and if you want to burn logs as well as charcoal, this is the kind of money you have to spend to get quality. Yoder Smokers are built for serious backyard and competitive cooking, and they have a well-deserved reputation for craftsmanship. The bodies of all Yoder offset smokers are made from new 1/4" thick steel pipe and plate and have a lifetime guarantee against burnout. This big barrel smoker comes loaded with some of Yoder's most popular options: a cooking door counterweight to assist opening and closing the heavy lid, 2nd level slide out shelf for additional capacity, a pot warmer mounted on the firebox that provides a flat surface for beans and sauces, and a heat management plate.