How to Pick the Best Smoker
By: Jack Mancuso
You step outside, and there’s a distinctive smell in the air. Someone nearby, like me, fired up their smoker, and your stomach growls. There’s a hint of maple and apple, perhaps also oak. Wonder what’s cooking? It could be nearly anything like:
Pulled Pork Cooked in a Pineapple Shell and even
The flavor that smoking brings out in food is mouthwatering magic. A thought forms in a bubble over your head, reading clearly.
“Maybe I should get my own smoker!”
If you’re ready to take that step, there are three initial things you want to consider;
- Budget: How much can you spend? Leave yourself a little wiggle room if you find a smoker with a nifty feature that’s a must-have.
- Capacity: How many people do you think you’ll be smoking for regularly? Do you throw parties often? You’ll want more space in your smoker.
- Features: These are the fun part. Like any household gadget, there may be specific configurations that tickle your fancy. Some common features include temperature settings, a timer, sensors, etc. Of course, the more goodies, the higher your investment becomes.
How to Pick the Best Smoker: Electric, Gas, Pellet, or Charcoal?
There are basically four types of smokers, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.
The attraction of an electric smoker is that it’s easy. You pretty much just set it up and go. Over time, an electric smoker saves you money from buying gas, pellets, or wood. It’s a safe option, particularly if you have dogs who love running outside. On the downside, it’s really hard to get a good smoke ring on an electric smoker.
This is what most people think of when they hear the word smoker. It’s a little more difficult to learn how to use a charcoal system, but it certainly amps up the flavor. You can add wood right on top of the charcoal.
In terms of simplicity, gas smokers rank up there with electric styles. You have stable heat with gas, meaning you control the temperature far better than with charcoal or wood. The food will remain tender, and the meat will have that satisfying crust.
If you want to manage smoke, airflow, and heat levels, then a Pellet design is the smoker from heaven. Since there’s no wood involved, you rarely over smoke your food. The pellet smoker produces the most smoke at lower temperatures. How often do you hear the phrase “low and slow” when it comes to perfect barbecue?
Offset or Verticle Smoker?
An offset smoker has a heat source set to the side of the main chamber. These generally use wood or charcoal for heat and smoke. Professionals and competitors swear by them, but if you don’t have much time for babysitting, this is probably not the best configuration for you.
By comparison, a vertical smoker has its heat source below the main cooking chamber. Temperatures are easily managed because smoke rises naturally. You will see many electric smokers of this type, there are also ones that use other media for burning.
How to Pick the Best Smoker Temptations: Sensational Smokers
Just like cars, there are proverbial Cadillacs among barbecue smokers. These lux models are built out of stainless steel and have lifetime warranties. The construction keeps the smoke in the chamber, and it can offer a variety of add-ons. The high-end smokers are wonderful to look at, but they’ll cost you a pretty penny.
Ok, so the luxury version is out of your price range. The next step down would be a powder-coated steel smoker. The warranties here are usually good for 10 years (not bad). You’ll enjoy consistency in your barbecue.
If you go to the “lot” across the street, you’ll find more budget-friendly models that are practical, often good for the novice, but you won’t get the kind of performance that you would in a higher-end smoker. You could try one before buying something fancier, but the comparison is like gold to copper.
At the end of the day, you want a smoker whose flavor makes you happy. Check for units with thick-gauge metal and tight seals, so smoke doesn’t escape. Also, be patient with yourself. There is a learning curve no matter what smoker you choose. Half the fun is perfecting your art.