Being a beginner in smoking meat can bring a lot of obstacles that can prevent you from enjoying it. You may have questions like what type of smoker is best for your level of expertise, what wood chips you should use, or even what kind of meat you should smoke for your first time.
These questions can make your head spin, but all that stops now. We’re going to answer the most critical issues of all: what type of smoker should you get and which one will be best?
Answering these questions will help you get started in smoking meat. In this article, we’re going to tell you about the things you should know about the different types of smokers out there. We’ll also give you two of the best for each class as well as the accessories that you may need, no matter which one you get.
What are the Different Types of Smokers a Newbie Needs to Know?
Depending on the fuel source or design you prefer, there will always be a smoker out there for you. That said, there are five different types of smokers: charcoal, propane or gas, electric, offset, and pellet. That may seem like a lot, but don’t worry! We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each kind of smoker.
As their name implies, this type of smokers primarily uses charcoal for fuel. Charcoal smokers are considered staples in the smoking world. The traditional design and the burning charcoal’s smell are capable of producing the smoky flavor that you covet.
Adding wood chips to the lit charcoal is like adding seasoning — it’s the best way to get the perfect balance of smoke and taste.
Another benefit of this kind of smoker is the fact that you can turn it into a grill whenever you want barbeque because it’s versatile.
These are the reasons why you, as a beginner, may prefer this type of smoker. You may even think that it’s the most accessible and most straightforward option.
However, you need to remember that all smokers have their disadvantages.
For charcoal smokers, you’re looking at the complicated process of getting the temperature just right after you’ve gotten the charcoal burning.
There’s the fact that you’re going to be on standby while you’re smoking meat and maintaining the charcoal. If you don’t, you might end up with burnt meat and flaming charcoals. In that case, you need to know how to put out a charcoal grill or smoker.
That said, it’s safe to assume that unless you have a little experience, at least with temperature control, charcoal smokers aren’t the best way to go for starters.
If charcoal smokers will require you to have a little bit of experience before you start using them, the exact opposite is true for propane or gas smokers.
Among the different types out there, propane smokers as some of the most popular smokers for non-experts, and with good reason.
First off, propane smokers are easy to use for smoking meat. All you need is a full propane tank, the smoker itself, and your meat. Turn on the smoker and voila!
You’re on your way to getting the smoked meat that you’ve been wanting without having to worry about maintaining the temperature or ashes getting into your glorious-tasting meat.
Another advantage of propane smokers is that it almost always doesn’t require all that much cooking space. From your backyard to a small corner in the garage, this type of smoker can and will fit.
Before you jump ship from charcoal smokers, you might want to consider one of the drawbacks of propane smokers. Propane tanks can cost a lot, and it can run out in the middle of smoking.
You also won’t be getting the same smoky flavor that you can reach effortlessly from charcoal smokers.
Electric smokers take the crown when it comes to being the beginner smoker out there.
Although relatively new, this smoker is the set it and forget it type that doesn’t only suit people who are starting out but also for those who may not have enough time to monitor how the smoking process is going.
One of the essential advantages of electric smokers is how you can forget about having to worry about the temperature.
With this type of smoker, you can do precise meat smoking with certain temperatures that you found in your research.
It’s also easy to learn and easy to maintain, requiring nothing but a simple wipe down to clean and prevent the development of rust and other bacteria that can compromise the taste of your meat and your smoker.
Like propane smokers, though, you won’t be getting the same depth of flavor that you can get with charcoal smokers.
Furthermore, despite the maximum control that it offers, electric smokers will have you constantly worrying about a power source.
Without electricity, it won’t operate, and this can be annoying, especially if the power goes out in the middle of smoking the meat. So, when you compare propane vs electric smokers, it’s a given that a propane smoker is better for areas where a source of electricity is unstable.
Other than that, an electric smoker is a great entry point into meat smoking.
Aside from charcoal smokers, there’s another type that makes a statement in the world of meat smoking.
Offset smokers have quite the presence whenever it’s seen by people who might be interested in smoking. They’re vast and heavy-duty and are perfectly capable of smoking and grilling your meat.
The name comes from how the firebox is a little bit below the side of the cooking chamber. This design allows the smoke to move from the firebox and into the cooking area. As a result, this type of smoker can achieve constant and consistent cooking through the indirect heat that the meat receives.
Offset smokers offer the advantage of being able to smoke a lot of meat at once. It’s also versatile as it can be used for grilling. Another plus of this kind of smoker is that it’s durable.
That said, offset smokers aren’t suitable for the less-experienced. Getting the temperature right and maintaining it requires experience. Not only that, but you also need to be able to operate numerous vents and dampers to get the perfect smoked meat.
As such, you’ll be better off starting with something like an electric smoker instead of an offset smoker.
Aside from electric and propane smokers, another type that will suit new learners is a pellet smoker.
Pellet smokers use high-energy wood pellets as the primary fuel source. These wood pellets also produce a more in-depth flavor to the meat. And it is because of how easy it is to use and the taste it introduces that pellet smokers have slowly and steadily gained popularity in recent years.
One of the many advantages of pellet smokers is that it can light up and preheat everything in record time, much like propane and electric smokers. It also often comes with digital temperature controls, which makes pellet smokers the perfect combination of charcoal and electric smokers.
With pellet smokers, you can get the smoky flavor and depth of taste that are present in charcoal smokers. You can also get the temperature control that you have with electric smokers.
The combination of these features brings with it a higher price tag. Pellet smokers aren’t cheap smokers.
It also relies on electricity to function and is, as such, limited to a power source.
You also need to constantly monitor the wood pellets because a little bit of moisture will make it disappear.
Other than these cons, pellet smokers are perfect for those without experience, especially if you have the extra cash to spare.
So, what’s the ideal type of smoker for those starting out?
Having gone through the different types of smokers, the answer to this question is that it depends. For complete fresh starters who never used a smoker before, the answer would be electric and propane smoker.
For someone who might have a bigger budget for their first smoker, the answer is a pellet smoker.
If you have a bit of experience in smoking, charcoal and offset smokers are perfect for you.
Regardless of what you choose to buy, we’ve got your back. In the next section, we’ll give you the most appropriate smoker for each type. Hopefully, you’ll find the right one for you.
Ten Recommended Smokers for Beginners
To save you the effort of having to research the perfect meat-smoking machine, we’ve compiled a list for you. This list will give you the best, safe choice of smokers. There will be two for each type so that no matter where you want to start, you can get to buying your first equipment.
1. Masterbuilt 20072115 Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker
Masterbuilt’s smart digital electric smoker is our top pick of the bunch as it is a great entry-level smoker.
It features 721 square inches of cooking space, four removable cooking grates, and an 800-watt heating element.
These features mean that this smoker is perfectly capable of cooking for a sizeable crowd and maintaining consistent temperatures up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where this smoker shines, though, is the “smart digital” part of the name.
This name refers to the Bluetooth Smart technology that converts your phone into a remote for the smoker.
With your phone, you can do things like turning it on and off, setting the cooking temperature and time, and watching the internal meat temperature all from a single device.
The viewing window is also a great plus.
This feature will allow you to monitor the meat without needing to open the cabinet door and letting all the smoke and heat out.
These features make for a great starter smoker. At the $300 price point, it’s one of the smokers with excellent value for money, and that’s why it’s an excellent choice.
2. Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
Aside from Masterbuilt’s contribution to the list, another ideal smoker for beginners is Char-Broil‘s version of a digital electric smoker.
While not as technologically-advanced as the first smoker we reviewed, this smoker still has a ton of features that you should consider.
It has a cooking area that clocks in at 725 square inches and a heating element at 800 watts.
Like Masterbuilt’s electric smoker, it also comes with four height-adjustable and removable cooking grates and a large viewing window.
What sets it apart is the wheels of this smoker, which makes it more portable than the first.
It also has a removable food temperature gauge.
It features stainless steel and double-wall construction. This build means that it can maintain temperatures.
3. Masterbuilt 20051311 GS30D 2-Door Propane Smoker
On the side of propane smokers, our most recommended is Masterbuilt’s 2-door unit.
It features 717 square inches of cooking space and is the more fuel-efficient option among our two best beginner propane smokers.
Masterbuilt’s 2-door propane smoker is also built like a tank.
It comes with four chrome cooking racks, a stainless high-quality steel burner, and a porcelain-coated wood chips tray and water pan. This build makes this propane smoker durable and easy to clean.
An analog temperature gauge is built-in on the door.
Perhaps the most unique proposition of this smoker is its two doors.
The lower door allows you to access the wood chip tray and the water pan without letting the amount of heat and smoke escape from the smoker cabinet. Said feature is useful as it helps in maintaining the temperature.
As such, being able to add wood chunks and water without opening the door of the cooking cabinet will help you get the smoky taste you’ve been wanting.
You have to keep in mind that propane smokers do not have the digital control that you have with electric smokers.
4. Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24″
A second option that you might want to consider if you’re looking for a propane smoker is the Camp Chef Smoker Vault.
Whereas the first propane smoker we recommended can’t go below 200 degrees Fahrenheit, Camp Chef’s contribution to our list boasts the ability to get down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This feature makes this smoker the perfect candidate for low and slow smoking and cold smoking.
It doesn’t have a large capacity of a cooking area, but it does come with two height-adjustable smoking racks.
It also comes with one jerky smoking rack, a heavy-gauge steel wood chip tray, a removable porcelain-coated base tray, and a temperature gauge.
The Camp Chef propane smoker features maximum heat control thanks to the damper valves and the protected burner drum.
All in all, it’s one of the best propane smokers we could find for newbies.
5. Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain 14-inch Charcoal Smoker
Moving on to the charcoal smoker side, you have the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker as the best charcoal smoker for beginners.
The one feature of this smoker that sets it apart from the others on this list is the huge water pan.
With Weber’s charcoal smoker, you won’t have to worry about refilling the water pan every once in a while. This is a great feature as it will allow you to focus on the quality of the meat you’re smoking.
It’s also built to last with plated steel cooking grates, rust-resistant metal legs, and aluminum fuel door and heat shield.
A cover, bowl, lid, and water pan are also included in the package.
Another feature that’s useful for everyone is how easy it is to clean.
The bowl, lid, center section, and water pan of this smoker are porcelain-enameled. This build makes it surprisingly durable and easy to clean, and this is particularly useful, especially considering how charcoal smokers always seem to make a mess.
6. Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker
If you want to go for a cheaper but no less perfect option, then the Dyna-Glo vertical charcoal smoker is our second pick.
This smoker gives you 784 square inches of cooking space, which makes it good enough for large capacity cooking.
The vertical design of this charcoal smoker requires less space, and you can choose to put it anywhere that it fits.
What makes this smoker stand out, though, is the steps that Dyna-Glo takes to make sure that it’s easy to clean.
Whereas Weber’s charcoal smoker went with build quality to ensure easy maintenance, Dyna-Glo included everything you may need to clean a charcoal smoker.
It contains a charcoal and ash management system.
Through the dedicated charcoal chamber, charcoal grate, and ash pan, you only need to remove everything to clear out the dirt and grime.
7. Char-Broil Offset Smoker
If you still haven’t found the perfect smoker for you, then you might be leaning toward the offset smokers.
Our top pick for that is Char-Broil’s 30″ Offset Smoker.
This unit gives you 605 square inches of cooking surfaces. That may not seem like much considering the larger smokers on this list, but Char-Broil makes up for it with its other features.
The black, powder-coated steel construction makes it durable, and the porcelain-coated cooking grates make for easy cleaning and maintenance.
Where this smoker shines is in the firebox and the additional space.
This offset smoker comes with a firebox that is equipped with an ash door, which means that the ashes are easy to clear out after cooking.
It also boasts a lot of prep and storage spaces. There’s a shelf at the bottom, and there’s another one on the side of the cooking chamber.
8. Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker
Whereas the first offset smoker we recommended seemed to lack in cooking space, the same thing can’t be said about Dyna-Glo’s offset smoker.
With 784 square inches of cooking space to offer, this smoker is perfectly capable of smoking meat for large crowds.
Dyna-Glo helps you take advantage of the space with six height-adjustable cooking grates.
This smoker also features a temperature gauge that is helpful to beginners as it details the ideal smoking temperature. This feature helps in making sure that you don’t go too low or too hot when smoking.
The removable ash pan makes for easy maintenance that won’t require you to keep checking the cooking chamber to see if the ashes got to your meat.
Finally, there’s the charcoal chamber to consider.
It’s porcelain-enameled and designed to help you pack your charcoal tightly to help your source of heat and smoke in keeping itself burning efficiently.
9. Z Grills ZPG-450A
One the side of pellet smokers, our most recommended is Z Grill’s ZPG-450A. This model offers a lot of features that can help anyone get started on meat smoking. The 25,000 BTU output of the Z Grills is great for cooking a wide variety of food.
For one, this smoker features versatility in that it can be used to smoke, roast, grill, braise or bake meat.
For a beginner who might not know yet what they want to do, this versatile option might be the perfect smoker for you.
As a new type in the field, this pellet smoker comes with all the features you’d expect from an innovation.
You can use the digital control board to achieve precise temperature smoking. Furthermore, it’s equipped with an electric feed system that monitors the amount of heat and smoke it produces.
Other digital features include an auto-start ignition and LED temperature indicators, which lets you “set it and forget it”.
This smoker can achieve consistent flavor as it is meant to utilize wood pellets whenever it senses that there’s a need for more heat and smoke to achieve and maintain specific temperatures.
10. Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill
Our second recommendation for pellet smokers is Camp Chef’s SmokePro DLX.
Whereas our top pick focused on the versatility and technology of their smoker, Camp Chef concentrated on the cleaning and maintenance categories.
This pellet smoker features pellet hopper and ash cleanout systems that will make it easy for anyone to keep their unit clean.
Beyond cleaning and maintenance, this smoker is also equipped with features that make it easy to monitor temperatures.
You’ll find a meat probe and warming rack, as well as a smoke control system included in the package.
Combined with a larger cooking space at 573 square inches, these features ensure that you won’t have any problems smoking a large batch of meat.
Accessories to Buy
Now that we’ve gone over the pros and cons of each smoker on this list, it’s clear that no matter which smoker you go for, you’ll probably need some accessories.
Here are five accessories and why you might need them:
Heat-resistant Smoking Gloves
Smoking gloves are a must-have. Safety first, especially for beginners who are more prone to burn accidents.
Wireless Meat Probe
Most smokers on this list don’t have a built-in meat thermometer. For someone who might still be getting used to the mechanics of smoking meat, this accessory is a must-buy.
If you decided to go with charcoal smoker then a charcoal starter is an accessory will help you in the process of lighting your charcoal, which is essential for safe charcoal transfers for those of you who might go for a charcoal or offset smoker.
Whether or not you’re a beginner, tongs are essential in smoking as it allows you to rotate your meat without having to stick your hands into the smoking cabinet or cooking chamber.
This accessory helps in cleaning and maintaining your cooking, smoking, and grilling racks. Being able to brush the grease or ash away prevents rust from developing and spreading, thereby making your smoker more durable and long-lasting.
What to Look for Before You Buy Your First Smoker
Beyond the accessories that you might need throughout the smoking process, another thing that you should remember is that there are things you need to look for before you buy your first smoker.
In sum, these things are the cooking space, the cleaning necessities, the space requirements, beginner-friendly features, and fuel source.
The cooking space should be large enough for your needs. Anything beyond 700 square inches is considered large, and anything below 400 square inches is meant for smoking for a small crowd.
Furthermore, your first smoker should also have features that make it easy to clean it so that you can focus on your meat.
Along with cleaning features, you also need to look around your home and consider where you might put your first smoker. If you don’t have much space, you should probably go for a smaller smoker or a vertical smoker.
Beginner-friendly features, like precise temperature control, side-loading wood chips, or automatic on and off, are a must. It ensures that you’re always on the safe side, and you don’t end up with burnt meat or, worse, a fire.
Finally, consider the fuel source of the smoker you want. Whether it be charcoal or wood chips or even propane tanks, think about how much it usually costs, how much meat you want to smoke, and how much of the fuel source you’ll need. Make sure that it’s within your budget.
To make sure that you have all the knowledge you’ll need to start smoking, here are our final tips.
Look for stainless steel, porcelain enamel, or chrome coating. These features mean that your smoker is durable and easy to clean.
You can smoke any meat, vegetables, or even cheese that you want. Remember that what you want to smoke has an optimum temperature for cooking. For example, meat is usually perfectly smoked at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Portability might be something that you’ll see as a benefit. If so, then look for a smoker with wheels or a weight that seems easy to carry.
Aside from portability, you should probably look for a smoker that is versatile to future-proof yourself in case smoking doesn’t pan out for you. For instance, a smoker that can also grill or bake or roast will give you a lot of options for how you want your meat cooked.
Smoking can give you the best meat you’ve ever tasted. In other words, enjoy the experience!
In conclusion, buying your first smoker may require you to think about the features, pros and cons, built-in accessories, and price tag.
As a beginner, this long list of requirements may make you feel nervous and hesitant.
It’s a grueling process, but we hope that with this article, we’ve helped you take the first step into the meat smoking world.
There’s no such thing as a perfect smoker, but if you look carefully and if you take the time to think about it, there’s something out there that will fit your needs and more.