Kitchen Tips

best smoker grill for beginners | Topdeblogs


So you’ve decided to buy your first smoker but your head is starting to spin just thinking about all the options out there.

This guide will help you find the best beginner smoker for your situation. For those in a rush, we recommend the versatile, and easy to learn on Weber Smokey Mountain.

There are lots of other great options to consider depending on your budget, plus you’ll also learn all about the different types of smokers and their pros and cons.

So read on to avoid the frustration of buying a crappy smoker.

Our top picks for the best smokers for beginners

The best charcoal smokers for beginners

It’s hard to beat the combination of price, ease of use and quality of food produced on a charcoal smoker

Operating a charcoal smoker does require a little bit more effort comparing to some other types of smokers, but you’ll be rewarded with great tasting food.

To see more options see our guide to the best charcoal smokers.

Our top pick – Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch

Read our full review.

For the price, you cannot beat the Weber Smokey Mountain for your first smoker. The build quality is excellent. These things last FOREVER.

You can choose from three sizes starting at 14″ then going up to 18 and 22 inches.

The 18 inch model gets the nod for best beginner smoker because it’s slightly easier to hold a stable temperature. The 22″ can run a bit hotter.

The bullet design gives you a small footprint which is great if you have a limited amount of space.

While it does look pretty slim, you get two cooking racks which doubles your cooking area to 481 square inches. You can easily feed groups of up to 12.

These smokers have been around FOREVER. They were introduced way back in 1981, although the design has gone through several improvements over the years.

The Weber brand is well regarded and the 10 year warranty gives you peace of mind.

What we like:

  • Water smoker design makes temperature control easy for beginners – The water bowl sits between the coals and the cooking grates. This acts as a heat sink while adding humidity to the smoke chamber all help stabilize temperatures.
  • It’s a super versatile smoker – While it makes a great first smoker, lots of more experienced cooks upgrade to the Smokey Mountain after they are sick of screwing around on a cheap offset smoker.
  • Used by the best – It’s not often a product aimed at backyard amateur smokers is still used by the pros. Like the competition barbecue teams who go up against smokers costing $15,000+ and can still win awards and thousands of dollars in prize money
  • Third-party enhancements – There are lots of clever ways to mod and enhance your WSM

What we don’t like:

  • Flimsy door – The door that ships with the Smokey Mountain can leak smoke especially in the beginning. We’ve personally never found this to be a problem, but some people like to seal their door with high temp gasket or upgrade to an aftermarket stainless steel door.

You might be wondering if charcoal is suitable for beginners. It’s true you will have a bit more of a learning curve as you master temperature control and actually getting your charcoal lit.

Weber Smokey Mountain

The Smokey Mountain makes the learning easy (and fun if you’re like me and enjoy playing with fire outdoors).

It can hold incredibly steady temperatures for hours with very little babysitting.

I’ve put a brisket on at midnight and got up at 7AM to find the temperature sitting at exactly 225°F.

The only potential problem with this smoker is the flimsy aluminum door that can cause smoke to leak out. It’s not a major problem and can easily be fixed with a gasket kit.

If you can commit to buying a charcoal smoker the decision isn’t really what smoker to buy. Most people spend their time agonizing over what size Smokey Mountain to buy instead.

Runner up – Pit Barrel Cooker

Pit barrel cooker review

Read our full review.

There really isn’t a lot of competition out there in the $200-$400 price range that gives the Weber a run for its money in the charcoal smoker family.

All of the budget options will require a lot of modifying unless you want to deal with a poorly insulated, difficult to use smoker.

That’s where the Pit Barrel Cooker comes in.

A variation on the Ugly Drum Smoker style, the Pit Barrel Cooker uses a unique system of hooks to hang everything. You also get a chrome plated grill grate for when you don’t want to use the hooks.

The meat hanging method gives you excellent capacity (you can easily fit 8 racks of ribs). The hanging method also causes the meat to heat more evenly as there are no hot conduction points from the meat lying on a grate.

What we like:

  • Unique hook design – We’ve already mentioned the extra capacity this gives you, but there are some other benefits. Because the meat isn’t sitting on a hot grill rack it cooks more evenly, and as the meat hangs directly above the coals as it cooks the juices from the meat drip creating extra smoke and flavor
  • Very stable temperatures – The drum is very well insulated making temperature control very
  • Build quality is top notch – Sturdy 18-gauge durable steel with porcelain enamel coating.

What we don’t like:

  • Ash catcher not included – It’s a small gripe but it would be nice if they included the ash pan with the basic package. If you order off the PBC website you can choose the “Select” package which includes the ash pan and a few other goodies.

If you want to see how the unique meat hanging system works on the Pit Barrel Cooker then check out the video below.

We did find the Weber Smokey Mountain gives you a little more flexibility to control your temperatures. You’re also able to hit lower temps while the PBC runs on the hotter side.

Other than that the Pit Barrel Cooker is easy to fire up, the option to use hanging hooks or grill grates and the simple temperature control make this a great alternative charcoal smoker for beginners.

The best pellet smoker for beginners

Pellet smokers (commonly marketed as pellet grills) are generally more expensive than other types of smoker.

But the promise of “set it and forget it” cooking without some of the drawbacks of gas or electric can be very appealing for a first time smokers.

There aren’t too many models under the $500 price point that we would recommend, but if you can stretch your budget a tiny bit further you should also check out the Camp Chef SmokePro SG 24

For more options check out our guide to the best pellet grills.

Our top pick – Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker

Most newbie smokers who want a pellet grill go shopping for a Traeger, only to be put off by the price.

Z Grills are a great alternative if you don’t want to pay extra just for the brand.

They have been manufacturing grills for other US companies for years and recently decided to skip the middleman and launch their own brand.

The Z Grills ZPG-7002E gives you plenty of cooking space with 700 square inches of grill surface split between a primary and an elevated warming/smoking rack.

If you need extra storage space there’s also a slightly more expensive version called the 700E which includes a cabinet under the grill.

What we like:

  • Best value for money – Hard to beat the combination of size, construction quality and usability at this price point.
  • Temperature stability – After a few hiccups with an earlier model, Z-Grills seems to have fixed all the issues with a 2019 update and now the grill offers excellent temperature stability.

What we don’t like:

  • No easy way to remove unused pellets – You’ll need to use a shop vac to remove unused wood pellets between smokes as leaving them in their can clog up the auger.
  • No optional extras to purchase – Other brands like Traeger have more accessories, like an insulation blanket for cooking at low temperatures.

Everything about this grill is solid. It ships in two boxes (total weight 132 pounds). Assembly is straightforward and the fit and finish are top-notch.

If you plan to use this mainly as a smoker/oven and don’t need the option to add a searing station this is a great choice.

Check the latest price at Z Grills (Free Shipping and Grill Cover included).

The best propane/gas smoker for beginners

Propane smokers are fantastic for newbies thanks to their low cost and easy to operate design.

We prefer them to electric smokers, as you don’t need a power source so they are more portable, and they offer a better temperature range.

For more options check out our guide to the best propane smokers.

Our top pick – Smoke Hollow PS4415 Propane Smoker

Lots of propane smokers run on the narrow side, which can be especially frustrating if you are trying to smoke full racks of ribs or a whole packer brisket.

You aren’t likely to run out of space with this dual burner 44″ vertical gas smoker from Smoke Hollow.

The main cooking chamber holds 5 removable racks, with two standard, two jerky style, and one combination grid/rib rack.

The two wood chip trays are accessed via a separate door, so you can reload your wood without opening the main chamber (and letting heat and smoke out).

The two 11,000 BTU stainless steel burners are more than capable of holding stable temperatures.

You can also run a single burner for really low temperatures.

What we like:

  • Great size for the price – Always helpful to have a larger smoker. Even if you don’t cook for a lot of people, it’s nice to be able to fit a full rack of ribs without any issues.
  • Dual wood chip trays – Lets you load up more wood chips, and having a separate door to access is nice so you don’t let heat and smoke escape.

What we don’t like:

  • Leaky front door and some cheap materials used – As you would expect on a budget smoker. You can fix the leaky door with a high heat gasket kit.

For a smoker of this size assembly is straight forward and should only take one person about 30 minutes.

Steel quality is good for the price although some of the components like the door lock and the burner knobs feel a little bit cheap.

So long as you treat it well and use a cover this shouldn’t be an issue though.

Get the latest price on Amazon.

The best electric smoker for beginners

With electric smokers, you give up a little in the flavor department in return for simple temperature control and convenience.

You can use electric smokers where charcoal and even gas are not allowed, and electric smokers are especially good at cold smoking and making jerky.

View our full guide to the best electric smokers for more options.

Our top pick – Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker

Read our full review.

The Masterbuilt digital smoker is a great entry point for someone just getting started smoking meat.

The built-in digital thermometer allows you to select your preferred temperature without worrying about maintaining charcoal or fire.

You just need to plug it into an electrical outlet and you’re ready to cook.

This smoker is available in a range of different configurations. You can choose between 30″ or 40″ and with or without a window.

Assembly is very straight forward and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

The front window sounds like it would be useful, but in our experience it just gets dirty. The window is also a bit pointless as the only safe way to know if your food is cooked is with a good temperature probe setup.

But your neighbor will probably think it looks cool so we wouldn’t knock you for getting it anyway.

Unlike some other cheapo smokers, the Masterbuilt is reasonably well insulated and should perform OK in colder weather.

What we like:

  • Generous amount of cooking space – The 30 inch digital model comes with a generous 730 sq inches of cooking space, almost the same as the largest 22″ Smokey Mountain for a fraction of the price.
  • Simple temperature controls — You can smoke your meat from 100 to 275°F, a nice range that makes the unit useful for a variety of smoking situations.
  • Pimp your smoker – Masterbuilt sells a range of optional accessories including a cold smoking attachment. Great if you want to give cold smoking a go.

What we don’t like:

  • Narrow design – The 30 inch model will be a little narrow for full racks of ribs, so you will need to cut them or roll them to fit.

You can buy any kind of wood chips from your local hardware store, or order different types form Amazon including apple, cherry, hickory, and pecan. While the effect of different types of wood chips is up for debate, it’s fun to see how tweaking small elements can affect the flavor.

The main issues you’re likely to encounter are the inaccurate temperature probe. These are pretty common issues as most manufacturers use cheap probes so you may want to invest in your own thermometer.

An electric smoker like this is going to have more parts that can break down than a charcoal smoker, so there’s more risk you’ll encounter problems with buttons breaking or calibration errors.

The Masterbuilt isn’t a perfect smoker, and it definitely wouldn’t impress a traditionalist. But if you want to eat barbecue without the fuss it’s a good cheap option to get started.

Get the latest price on Amazon.

The best kamado smoker for beginners

Kamado cookers run on charcoal and are much more versatile than dedicatedcharcoal smokers like the Smokey Mountain.

Expensive models are made from ceramic, although now you can get some good budget options made from steel.

Check out our guide to the best kamado grills for more options.

Our top pick – Char-Griller Akorn Kamado

The most popular brands of kamado grill like Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe would be outside most beginner budgets.

The Char-Griller Akorn Kamado uses the same egg shaped design, but switches up the construction to offer better affordability.

You still get excellent insulation and heat retention thanks to the triple wall design. You can easily hold low and slow temperatures for 10+ hours.

You can cook at temperatures between 200-750°F, with temperature settings controlled by the top and bottom dampers.

You get 314 square inches of primary cooking space, plus an extra 133 square inch removable warming rack for a total of 447 square inches.

What we like:

  • Great value entry-level kamado – By using a combination of 22 gauge steel, powder coated and porcelain coated steel the Akorn Kamado is much more affordable. It won’t last quite as long as a ceramic model, but it also isn’t quite as heavy.
  • Versatile grill/smoker combo – With the purchase of the ceramic smoking stone, this becomes a super versatile smoker/grill/oven combo.

What we don’t like:

  • The cart could be a little more stable – Should be fine if you’re not wheeling it around a lot.
  • Low quality thermometer – Not a large problem if you can get your hands on a quality third party thermometer.

Get the latest price on Amazon.

How to choose your first smoker

Some smokers are more forgiving than others. You’ll have a heck of a lot more fun (and impress your friends and family a lot more) if you spend a little time learning what makes a great first smoker.

Each of the smokers covered above is a solid choice for the amateur pit master.

But how do you choose which one is right for YOU?

The answers easy if you want to be traditional. Just get yourself a charcoal Weber Smokey Mountain and then get on with it.

But if you’re still not sure we’ve broken the process down into 3 steps.

Step 1: Determine your budget

Since this is your first smoker, the budget is likely one of your top concerns. Some of you may already have a price point in mind.

When it comes to budgeting for your first smoker there are two schools of thought.

Option 1 – Buy a cheap smoker to learn on then upgrade later

You could go down to your local hardware store and pick up a cheap smoker for $50-$100. If you’re still using it and having fun after a season, then you can invest in a better quality smoker.

The problem with doing this is that cheap smokers kind of suck.

A lot.

With a cheap smoker you’re going to spend more time struggling with temperature control due to poor heat retention.

Think about it like this. Is there any point buying the cheapest guitar to learn on, when even Santana himself couldn’t make it sound good?

We don’t think so. That’s why we haven’t recommended any cheap smokers.

The good news is that if your budget absolutely can’t stretch, then you can still get a high quality Weber Kettle and use it as a combo smoker / grill.

Option 2: Spend a little bit extra to start with

If your budget can stretch past $200 then your options for a good first smoker open way up. At this price point, you can even get a smoker that’s good enough to compete with.

If you absolutely can’t stretch your budget, keep an eye out on Craigslist or eBay. Old smokers still work great especially after a clean up.

Now you can have your budget sorted, it’s time to learn what type of smoker is right for you.

Step 2: Decide what type of smoker to buy

Throughout this guide, we’ve referred to different types of smokers like “gas’, “charcoal”, “pellet” and “electric.

These are all really just different types of heat.

Each of these types of smoker has their own pros and cons and require different skills to master.

Maybe it’s because barbecue attracts a lot of old school types, but there are some silly notions out there that unless you’re slaving over an offset barrel smoker for 16+ hours using aged hickory logs, then you’re not cooking “real barbecue”.

Let’s get something straight.

All kinds of smokers can produce delicious barbecue. Charcoal, electric, gas, and pellets are all just sources of heat. There’s really no such thing as the best type of smoker for a beginner. Each has its own pros and cons.

We’ve outlined the main types of smoker below.

Charcoal smokers

Think about how involved you want to be in the smoking process. A lot of people (including us) love the interactive nature of charcoal.

Illustration of charcoal smoker anatomy

From the ritual of filling up your chimney starter, to controlling the oxygen and managing the temperature you are more involved in the cooking process.

Pros of charcoal smokers:

  • It’s practically accepted wisdom that charcoal gives the best flavour
  • Cooking with charcoal is the best way to achieve a great bark or crust, and can produce the best smoke ring out of any method
  • Get to have fun being outdoors

Cons of charcoal smokers:

  • Requires more attention and effort than using an electric, gas or pellet smoker
  • Requires some effort up front to light the charcoal
  • Cost of buying charcoal can add up

Smoking with charcoal doesn’t have to be an epic task either. A good water smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain can hold a steady temperature for hours and will only require minimum attention.

Cooking low and slow is all about taking the time to do things properly.

Buying a charcoal smoker is a great way to learn everything there is to know about barbecue.

Gas / propane smokers

Gas (also known as) propane smokers fall into the “set it and forget it” family of smokers. They’re easy to use and very consistent.

Pros of gas smokers:

  • Easier to manage than charcoal
  • High degree of control over temperature
  • One tank of propane can easily last for a 15 hour smoke

Cons of gas smokers:

  • Like electric, you won’t get a great smoke ring or generate as rich a bark
  • Some models can be too narrow to fit a full rack of ribs or large brisket or turkey. You’ll either need to portion your meat or cook smaller cuts.
  • Cheaper models with poor build quality can leak smoke and do not hold temperature in cold weather

You can easily run out of fuel during a long cook so make sure you start with a full tank. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up. This is true for charcoal as well though so we wouldn’t consider this a con.

Pellet smokers

If you’ve been doing your research you probably noticed a huge uptick in people talking about pellet smokers. It seems like everyone is either thinking about or has just bought a pellet smoker.

Falling directly into the “set it and forget it” variety of smokers it’s easy to see why they are becoming so people with new smokers.

Pros or pellet smokers:

  • Thermostatically controlled which means you can select your desired temperature and the controller handles the rest for you by feeding wood pellets into the fire.
  • You don’t have to worry about temperature control or fire management, as the smoker automatically feeds the right amount of pellets.
  • Add a brisket and then jump into bed, knowing that by the time you wake up delicious barbecue will only be a few hours away.

Cons of pellet smokers:

  • You’ll have to pay a bit more for the convenience, even average pellet smokers will cost more than a great quality charcoal smoker like the Smokey Mountain.
  • While a great “lazy mans” barbecue, you will struggle to achieve the same level for bark, smoke ring and flavour you get from charcoal unless you spend over $1000.

Some people love to poke fun at pellet smokers because they’re considered so ‘easy’, but there’s a large number of professionals who swear by them.

There used to be a great community website called “pelletheads” but unfortunately that seems to have shut down. One of the member from that website has setup pelletfans so check that out for more tips and advice.

While most products use the word ‘pellet grill’ in the name, they are really better used as dedicated smokers with some limited grilling ability.

Electric smokers

Electric smokers take a lot of the hassle out of smoking meat. They are a great option for long smokes like brisket than can take well over 12 hours, and generally keep your meat moist and temperature stable.

Pros of electric smokers:

  • Electric smokers fall into the “set it and forget it type of smoker” which can be a pro or a con depending on what you enjoy and what you hate about barbecuing
  • Great at other types of smoking like fish, sausage, bacon and cheese
  • If the thought of monitoring your barbecue over a 14 hour smoke fills you with dread, you might want to consider an electric although you do still have to add wood every so often

Cons of electric smokers:

  • You’ll need a readily available power outlet or weatherproof extension cord
  • Unlike more conventional smokers, electrics rely on electronics. When they go bad they can leave you with expensive repairs
  • Issues are even more likely if you’re buying a cheap electric smoker
  • You won’t get a smoke ring which can be a deal breaker for many people (although there are some hacks out there for getting a smoke ring on an electric smoker)
  • While perfectly capable of making delicious food, other types of smokers can get an even better result

They are also kind of boring. Switch em on, and then go do something else doesn’t sound like much fun to us. You don’t get any of the joy of firing up charcoal, tinkering with air flow or perfecting your smoke ring. If the end product is all that’s important to you then go ahead and consider an electric for your first smoker.

Just know that it’s not going to impress any of your friends.

Offset smokers

What about offset wood burning smokers? While these can use charcoal or wood, we’ve left them off this list for a good reason.

They don’t make good smokers for beginners to learn on.

If you still aren’t put off by the idea, you can check out our guide to the best offset smokers.

If you’ve managed to narrow your choice down but still can’t decide, these guides might be helpful:

  • Pellet grills vs gas grills
  • Propane vs electric smokers
  • Pellet grill vs propane smoker

Step 3: Can you commit to a dedicated smoker or do you need the versatility of a grill and smoker combo

If you’re just getting into smoking meat then buying a dedicated smoker is a big commitment. We understand wanting something flexible that can double as a grill.

But for a beginner’s budget, we would urge you to consider a dedicated smoker.

While most smokers CAN be used to grill in a pinch, a dedicated smoker will hold a low temperature better, will be better insulated and give you more features.

With that being said, we’ve put together a guide to the best grills that can double as a smoker.

If you’re just dipping your toes into smoking meat, your best option is a classic original Weber Kettle. This is a great inexpensive option and will get you a great quality grill from one of the most respected brands in barbecue.

The Kettle has a huge online community of enthusiasts, and you’ll find lots of great advice and recipes around.

We also have a guide for setting your Kettle up for smoking.

There are also several accessories you can buy to make your Kettle a more versatile smoker.

What to look for in a beginner smoker

While your price point, type of fuel and dedicated smoker vs combo are the main factors that go into choosing the best first smoker, there are plenty of other things to consider:

What type of foods do you think you’ll be cooking?

Most enthusiasts focus on smoking pork butts, ribs, brisket and the occasional chicken or turkey.

You need to make sure the smoker you decide on is large enough to fit the type of food you’ll be cooking.

Electric and gas smokers are often to narrow to fit full racks of ribs or packer briskets on.

How many people do you typically cook for?

Some of the smokers we recommend in this article like the Weber Smokey Mountain come in a range of sizes so you want to think about your typical usage, and then allow for a bit of extra room if you have friends over.

It’s much more likely that you will regret not going for the larger size.

The only downside to larger smokers is slightly higher fuel costs and they take up a little more space.

Do you want a portable smoker?

If you want to take your new smoker camping or tailgating, you want a smoker that travels well.

A smoker that has been designed for this purpose with easy setup will be an important consideration.

A few pellet smoker brands offer good value portable options, like the Davy Crockett from Green Mountain Grills.

Masterbuilt also sell portable propane and electric smokers.

Do you plan on cold smoking?

Some smokers can be converted into cold smokers with a lot of work, while others like the Masterbuilt come with ready-made cold smoking attachments.

If you want to cold smoke cheese or make your own smoked salmon then you’ll need a smoker capable of running at low temperatures.

Barbecue basics

Since this is a guide for beginners we thought we should explain some of the basics of barbecue. We don’t want you to get your new smoker home and have no idea what to do with it!

What’s the difference between smoking and grilling?

Smoking is all about low and slow. Think temps between 225 and 275°F for long periods of time (from 3 hours up to 15+ hours).

Usually, it involves burning wood chips, chunks or pellets to impart smokey flavors.

Grilling is higher temps (350°Fish) but shorter duration. It may or may not include wood smoke depending on what you’re doing.

You may not need to close the dome, once again, depending on what you’re cooking.

How does smoking work?

Old fashioned “low and slow” barbecue is simple to understand and hard to master. You start with a fuel source like charcoal, gas, wood pellets or electricity.

Flavor is added to the meat by adding wood chips or wood chunks to the heat source to create smoke.

By controlling oxygen, you can achieve steady low temperatures which gives the cooking method it’s nickname “low and slow”.

Essential barbecue accessories

Other than the actual smoker there are only a few accessories you absolutely NEED before your first smoke.

While some people love to obsess over the ideal smoking gear setup when you are first starting out just focus on nailing the basics.

  • You need to know how hot your smoker is running (the built thermometers is next to worthless), and what temperature your meat is so you know when to pull it off so it’s worth investing in a good dual probe wireless thermometer setup.
  • If you’re cooking with charcoal you’ll need some fuel. You can’t go wrong with Kingsford briquettes or check out our guide to lump charcoal.
  • You’ll also need wood chunks or chips to provide the smoke. People love to obsess about type of wood but it really isn’t a big deal. Fruit woods like apple and cherry work well for everything.
  • BBQ gloves are highly recommended for moving hot grill racks or handling charcoal.
  • There are several other nice to have accessories like good knives for slicing and trimming meat

Check out this list of essential smoker accessories for more ideas.

Tips for your first smoke

Smoking is all about having a go, experimenting and learning from your mistakes.

Remember that even if you screw up a few things the end result will still taste better than pretty much anything else you would put in your mouth.

That said, for your first smoke consider starting with a couple of pounds of cheap pork butt. The meat is pretty forgiving and great for learning the kinks of the smoker you decided on.

From there invest in several different types of rubs and barbecue sauce (or learn how to make your own).

Lastly, you might want to check out this list of beginner smoker mistakes to avoid (you can thank us later).

Wrapping it up

Remember that the key to really great BBQ is to have fun, enjoy the company of your friends and family, and make delicious food. You don’t need an expensive smoker or the latest gadgets to do that.

If this guide has helped take away some of the anxiety over buying your first smoker we would love it if you shared it around.

If you’re a bit more experienced and you disagree with one of our selections or think we’ve missed out a great smoker for beginners then let us know in the comments below.

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