2018 Amazingribs.com Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Backyard Smokers

"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.

Regardless of the price you pay, beware that the dial thermometer attached to the hood of your smoker is likely to be of poor quality. It is not unusual for these thermometers to be off by 50°F. We strongly recommend that you include in your budget a good digital thermometer with a probe that can be placed on the cooking surface.

Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker $200 - 6th Year On Our List!

charbroil vertical smoker

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersThe 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.

Read our complete review of the Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker

Pit Barrel Cooker $299 - 5th Year On Our List!

Pit Barrel Cooker

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersWe'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.

Read our complete review of the Pit Barrel Cooker

Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24" $344 - 5th Year On Our List!

camp chef smoke vault

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersGas 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.

Read our complete review of the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24"

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18" $349 - 6th Year On Our List!

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18"

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersGood 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.

Read our complete review of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18"

Vision Professional S-Series Kamado $699 – New To Our List!

Black kamado on a black metal stand with four legs and four wheels. It has a shiny metal cap and wood shelves on each side.

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersVision 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 familiar, round air intake dampers, an ash removal tray, and an optional 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.

Read our complete review of the Vision Professional S Series Kamado

Backwoods Smoker Chubby $1,099 - 6th Year On Our List!

backwoods chubby

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersThis 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.

Read our complete revew of the Backwoods Smoker Chubby

Kamado Joe Classic II 18" $1,200 - 2nd Year On Our List!

Red kamado on a stand with four legs. It has black shelves on both side with BBQ tools hanging.

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersClassic 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?

Read our complete review of the Kamado Joe Classic II 18"

Karubecue C-60 Pit $1,450 – 4th Year On Our List!

Karubecue C-60 Pit

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersWith 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.

Read our complete review of the Karubecue C-60 Pit

MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill $1,700 - 6th Year On Our List!

Black metal box with a smaller box attached to the lefy mounted on four legs. A control panel on the small box looks like an American flag.

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersHere 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.

Read our complete review of the MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill

Yoder Loaded Wichita 20" Smoker $1,894 - New To Our List!

Large black horizontal barrel smoker with chimney on the left side mounted on four legs with two large wheels

AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award for Best Value Grills and SmokersWe 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.

Read our complete review of the Yoder Loaded Wichita 20" Smoker


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How we review and rate grills and smokers

By Max Good, Director of Equipment Reviews

I am the only person in the world whose full time job is researching, testing, reviewing, and rating grills and smokers. I measure temperatures, slam lids, turn dials, study warranties, kick casters, cook a lot of food, and consider look, feel, functionality, durability, and price. I select devices in a wide range of prices, offering winners at many levels of affordability.

Price is a big part of the decision making process for most buyers. High priced, luxury lines are generally impressive as they should be for the money, but I'm often more excited by decent low to mid cost products that are realistically within the budget of most AmazingRibs.com readers. A good deal of this low cost equipment is manufactured off shore and often in China. Despite grumbling from some, these products are very popular.

Our highest rated selections are the best in their price category and all have already achieved our prestigious Gold Medal Best Value Award. Reviews are listed in order of the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) from low to high, but market prices can differ significantly, especially since many of these items can be highly customized.

We purchase many of the products we review, although occasionally suppliers send us samples. We adhere to Federal Trade Commission regulations. We have a written policy about samples making it clear to suppliers that we will call 'em as we see 'em. Suppliers are never charged to have products reviewed or be included in our listings. After we are done with samples, we often give them away. We never sell them. Due to this policy, many nearby fire departments have nice new grills and smokers.

Our reviews are unbiased as humanly possible. We do not make or sell any competitive products, and our advertising is sold by third party ad networks. We don’t do sponsored articles, paid articles, or accept junkets. Rest assured that when we recommend a product, it is because we like it, not because someone has paid us to say so or because the company is an advertiser or sponsor. We disclose all of our material relationships, policies, and business practices. Readers will always know the difference between editorial and advertising. We always present our honest opinions to the best of our ability.

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