- Best Charcoal Smokers for Beginners
- Best Electric Smoker for Beginners
- Best Pellet Smokers for Beginners
- Best Beginner Gas Smoker
- Best Beginner Combination Grill / Smoker
- What is Smoking as a Food Cooking Method?
- The Difference Between a Smoker and a Standard Grill
- What type of Smokers are There?
- Charcoal Smokers
- Gas Smokers
- Pellet Smokers
- Electric Smokers
- Kamado Ceramic Smoker
- What to Consider When Buying?
- Smoker Type
- Fuel Type
- Build Quality
- Available Support
- Future Proof
- Features and Bonuses
- Summary of How to Choose Your First Smoker
In this article, we review the best smokers for beginners and the budding pitmasters who are just starting out. We group them by fuel type for easy reference – charcoal, electric, gas, pellet, or a combination of two or more. So before you click “buy” or gallop out to a can’t-miss sale, you should probably read this article.
Smoking meat, fish, and even cheese is a really good, immensely rewarding and tasty thing to do.
But many beginners can get discouraged by the first results from their enthusiastic, but often unresearched initial efforts on their shiny new smoker, ultimately pushing it into a corner of the garage, never to be used again.
To avoid that false start, it helps to make an informed buying decision, making sure your first smoker is easy to use, and easy to get excellent results from, with the minimum of learning to go through.
After this guide, you will come away with an increased understanding of how smokers work, key features and functions, and be clear on what are the best beginner smokers, and the ones most suitable for your entry into smoker-land.
We want you to be a long-time smoker, the best way to get there is to enjoy your experience from the start, and a big part of this is having the right equipment.
At a Glance: The Best Smokers for Beginners Discussed in this Guide
- Charcoal Smokers
- Weber Smokey Mountain
- Pit Barrel Cooker
- Electric Smoker
- Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker
- Pellet smokers
- Traeger Bronson pellet grill
- Green Mountain Grills Davy Crocket
- Gas smoker
- Smoke Hollow 2-Door Propane Smoker
- Combination grill smokers
- Kamado Joe Classic III
- Oklahoma Joe Combo Grill Smoker
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Best Charcoal Smokers for Beginners
The following 2 models are, in our opinion among the very best choices of charcoal smoker for the beginner just starting out. Easy to learn on, great value and produce amazing results.
Best Electric Smoker for Beginners
If charcoal and fire management’s not your thing, perhaps the relative ease of an electric would be more suitable? if so, we might have found the perfect model…
Best Pellet Smokers for Beginners
Looking for the ultimate in hands off, push button smoking that’s as easy as using the oven in your kitchen? Then a pellet smoker just might be the one for you. Here are two of the best pellet smokers for beginners.
Best Beginner Gas Smoker
Following are our top two choices for the best beginner gas smokers on the market, carefully chosen to be easy to use yet high enough quality to last and give great results.
Best Beginner Combination Grill / Smoker
If you’d like to flip burgers – or do some more adventurous grilling – then a dedicated, sole-purpse smoker may not be your best choice.
You could buy a smoker AND a grill, 2 separate units. but as a beginner, it may make more sense – certainly financially – to get a combination grill and smoker, so you can do both jobs on one unit.
In this next section, we show you our picks for the 2 best combination grill and smoker on the market.
What is Smoking as a Food Cooking Method?
Smoking began as one of many ancient food preservation methods, usually starting with the process of salting foods to stop bacteria from growing.
After brining or marinating, food is placed over a low fire in an enclosed space for hours. The smoke and moisture coat the food with a crust, sealing out germs.
Traditionally used to preserve meats, poultry, or fish, modern smoking is done to flavor those foods as well as nuts, cheeses, and vegetables.
In modern times, hot smoking – or smoke roasting – is typically used to cook tough cuts of meat low n slow over many hours, imparting fantastic smoky flavors into the food, while breaking down the collagen and connective tissues over many hours of low-temperature cooking.
The method takes otherwise traditionally unwanted tough cuts of meat and transforms them into juicy, tender gastronomic delights.
The Difference Between a Smoker and a Standard Grill
A smoker is built so that the heat is either to the side of and away from the food, or well below the meat with a heat deflector so that no radiant heat can get to the food. This enables low and slow cooking, via indirect heat and convection.
On a grill, food is just a few inches away from and directly over the heat source.
A grill is typically used for high-heat, fast cooking, whereas smokers are for low temperature and slow cooking.
Joshua Bousel of topdeblogs.com draws a comparison between ribs cooked on a grill and in a smoker. His conclusion: if you want to keep temperature checks to a minimum, great smoke rings, and enjoy the perfection of meat that is moist and tender with just-right crunch, you’ll want to get a smoker.
What type of Smokers are There?
The Australian Barbecue Association provides an excellent walk-through of different types of smokers in the following video which we recommend you watch for a good overview of options before we then discuss each in turn below.
OK, let’s look at each in turn.
Charcoal smokers are considered THE best way to flavor smoked foods by many enthusiasts. It can be a challenge, mastering fire management techniques, airflow, wood choices, and timing. But we think you’ll agree the results are worth the pains taken to master the challenge.
These run on clean-burning propane or natural gas which means no danger of unpleasant chemicals going up in smoke and marring the flavor of your food.
Propane, aka liquid petroleum gas, is a by-product of natural gas stored under pressure in tanks, explains the U.S. Department of Energy. Creating a gas-fed outdoor kitchen in a home heated by natural gas is relatively straightforward.
Most gas smokers look like a locker or a small thin refrigerator with racks above a tray for wood which sit above the fuel source. Gas smokers are one of the easiest ways to get smoking in a hurry, and a very good beginner smoker for their ease of use.
Best suited to homes fuelled by natural gas. For those who want to smoke but don’t want the hassle of charcoal, lighting fluid, matches and so on.
Pellet smokers get their name from the fuel source used to create the heat and smoke.
Pellets are made from compacted sawdust and other materials, sometimes including added flavoring, but the best pellets for smoking are made from all natural hardwood.
The pellets are poured into a feeder attached to one side of the smoker and are then slowly fed into the smoker at a rate to generate the desired heat and smoke.
Max Good of SeriousEats reviews the origin of pellet smokers and notes that all modern smokers come equipped with digital temperature controllers which allow setting the unit to feed pellets at a steady rate, giving temperature control that is as easy as turning on a kitchen oven.
Best suited to beginner smokers who don’t mind paying for what they truly want, if what you want is versatility, and hands off almost automatic cooking similar to a kitchen oven. They are the simplest of smoker type to operate, the easiest to master.
Because the pellet feeder adds on to the space taken up by the smoker, those who have lots of storage and cooking space will probably enjoy pellet feeders more than those with minimal space.
These are the closest to fool-proof smoking with almost nothing to learn before producing epic BBQ. Load food, press a few buttons and walk away.
They genuinely do operate like a kitchen oven: Temperature is regulated and consistent throughout the cooking process.
Best suited to a beginner smoker who wants to try smoking foods but isn’t keen on getting their hands dirty with solid fuels and fire management.
Apartment dwellers will love being able to grill electrically where charcoal and fire aren’t allowed.
Kamado Ceramic Smoker
Kamados are a class unto themselves.
Incredibly versatile, a Kamado is a griller, roaster, baker, and smoker all in one, with a multitude of accessories available to aid in all these cooking methods. (Note: You can learn a lot more about kamados in our dedicated article on the best kamados available today.)
They are traditionally made of high-quality ceramic, though other refractory materials (cement, terracotta, lava rock, tile) and stainless steel are now also sometimes used.
There is a bit of a learning curve for using a kamado correctly, so it may test your commitment level with the learning curve compared to a gas or electric grill. But if you have your heart set on a charcoal fueled cooker, then a kamado is one of the best charcoal smoker for beginners.
And although they typically weigh a good 50KGs+, with smaller models available their weight doesn’t prevent enthusiasts from packing them up for tailgating and other away-from-home adventures.
Because of its design, the kamado creates a low-oxygen, high-moisture, nicely sealed-in environment which makes for amazingly moist and tender meats, even after 12 or 16 hours of slow cooking.
One thing to be aware of – and I did mention a learning curve – is the potential threat of ‘flashbacks.’
When the lid is lifted, the surge of oxygen into what was a hot and low-oxygen environment can cause the coals to fire intensely, creating a near-instant fireball. This is easily preventable by ‘burping’ the kamado when opening it though and so is easily nullified.
Burping is just opening the lid an inch or two and holding it there for 5 or so seconds, allowing some oxygen in slowly before opening fully. This prevents any flashback. Easy really.
Best suited to those who want a ‘do it all’ smoker and grill, who wish to BBQ, grill, make pizza, roast and more all on the one unit. But also for people who like to invest in very high-quality equipment that will last a lifetime, and do not mind the price tag that goes with it.
What to Consider When Buying?
‘Only fools rush in’ – or so says Elvis. And he’s right!
There’s a lot you should consider before buying your first smoker, and following are the most important points of consideration before laying down any cold, hard cash for an investment in something you will be using for many years to come.
There are many different types of smokers available, and each has its pros and cons as discussed above.
Consider your living space, budget, patience for learning, availability of fuel or power supply, and ultimately how much food you want to cook (size) and what cooking you’d like to do?
Do you simply want to smoke food, or perhaps grill and make pizzas too?
These are all things you need to consider before deciding which type of smoker is right for you.
Charcoal is so plentiful that even 7-11 carries it. Therefore, you’ll never have fuel sourcing worries if you go for a charcoal fired smoker.
If your house runs on gas, connecting a smoker to the house line provides a constant fuel source without added costs or trips out to replenish your supplies.
The argument continues on whether – or how much – flavor is compromised when using fuel other than charcoal. Can you tell the difference between a roast smoked by gas versus one smoked by charcoal? (NOTE: I certainly can and much prefer the use of charcoal!)
Pellet smokers are the most expensive to run, with specialized wood pellets needed that aren’t as plentiful or easy to source as charcoal, and get burnt through at quite a rate on a long, 16-hour brisket cook. Economical pellets are not!
Too often when it comes to smokers, “inexpensive” means a thin material which leaks waves of smoke, fails to keep the heat in and results in your smokers temperatures ebbing and flowing with the wind and weather.
So You’ll want to find the balance between inexpensive but still well built, and just plain cheap.
Too many episodes of getting a poorly smoked roast at the cost of smoking up your clothes, hair, and home can quickly turn your smoker into just another piece of clutter in the garage.
And any savings you make with the ‘cheaper’ smoker are soon eaten away by extra fuel costs needed to maintain the heat inside a poorly insulated, leaky smoker.
A well-built smoker, that’s sealed and well insulated will save a ton of money when it comes to fuel over the life of a smoker.
Closely tied in with build quality: How well does it do what it should?
If leakage is a problem, you know the food isn’t getting the proper, constant flow of heat and smoke needed. That translates into a lot of wasted charcoal, wood, or gas, and irregularly cooked food with hot spots and cold spots which sadly equals poor results.
Good customer service is one of the best ways to achieve customer loyalty. Weber, Kamado Joe etc. are known for their quality, responsive customer support.
Manufacturers also use Facebook and other social media to communicate with their customers and foster communication among owners.
Some manufacturers sponsor owner forums, where tips, troubleshooting, gripes, and praises are freely shared.
If the smoker you purchase has a community built around it, with owners helping each other and sharing cooking tips, this can dramatically increase the enjoyment you will get from your smoker.
Having mastered the basic smoker, what’s the route to the next level?
Will you have to buy a new model or is there an upgrade path via modifications and upgrades of your current model?
Are there accessories and attachments – grates, tools, pizza stones – for when you want to ‘up your game’ and try out new cooking techniques and dishes?
Are you only going to cook for a small gathering of family and friends? Or regularly catering for larger groups?
How often will you use it?
Those are basic questions you should answer, to ensure you get the right size.
Features and Bonuses
Color choices include standard black and colorful red, green, silver or the terra cotta/earthenware look
Function can range from a dedicated smoker to one that also cooks, bakes, and grills
Accessories may be needed for alternate cooking methods, and in general to make the smoking experience manageable.
Material choices include stainless or porcelain enameled steels, wood, ceramic, and tile. Glass doors and steel liners are possible.
Summary of How to Choose Your First Smoker
Determining your budget before you start can protect you from impulse buying you may regret. Especially if you decide smoking isn’t for you, you don’t want a big expensive yard ornament hogging space on your patio or back lawn. Consider which would serve you better: Either learning the ropes on an inexpensive model and upgrading later – OR – buy the pricier model you’ve determined will last decades (most economical, best value decision)
Deciding on fuel type based on the information provided above can substantially affect your purchase cost, ongoing costs, effort required while cooking and ultimately the results.
Deciding if you want a dedicated smoker or a combination smoker and grill will eliminate the need for expensive add-ons or a separate grill at a later date.
Determining the amount of food you’ll be smoking – for a family of 3 or a crowd of 10 – will lead you to the correct size of smoker.
Our top choices among the products reviewed here are the Traeger Bronson 20 and the Kamado Joe.
The Traeger Bronson is a wood-fed fire offering generous cooking space, has one of the shortest preheat times, and is easy to use. That it offers a variety of cooking styles makes it one to grow with, it’s reasonably priced too and hence deserves being in the fight for best smoker for beginners.
The Kamado Joe is quite simply our favorite cooker at any price and we always recommend it, but you will have to reach deeper into those pockets compared to the Traeger.
What about you? Feeling better prepared to make that first purchase? We certainly hope so. There are so many options; marketers make everything sound attractive, putting this information to work for you can mean a smart first-buy that may see you through many happy years of smoked food adventures.
By taking consideration of the what and how of your expectations, and matching them to the fuel style and smoker types, we hope we’ve set you firmly on the path to becoming an old and satisfied smoking champion.