It can be overwhelming when you are looking into smokers as a beginner. Which type to choose, which brands are best, these are all questions you will ask yourself when you start learning about smokers.
We’ve researched all the top smokers that are on the market and have narrowed it down to the best smokers for beginners in each category.
Top Picks For The Best Smokers For Beginners
Best Charcoal Smoker For Beginners
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a vertical charcoal smoker, sometimes called the weber “bullet”. This is an iconic smoker that is very well built with high quality materials. It’s also an easy smoker to use that doesn’t take a very long time to master.
The great thing about the weber smokey mountain is that it is a very popular smoker and has a huge following. As a result, there is no shortage of communities and information out there to help you get the most of your smoker.
The smokey mountain does a great job of holding a steady temperature for hours, and raising and lowering the temperature is pretty easy by using the vents.
Although it is fairly small and doesn’t take up much patio space, it has a good cooking area as it uses two racks inside. Big enough to cook two large items of food.
It comes in three different sizes, I recommend the large 22 inch smoker, but you can choose to go with either the 18 inch or the 14 inch if that suits you better.
This is a smoker that will last a long time and is backed up by the iconic weber name.
Best Pellet Smoker For Beginners
This Traeger pellet smoker is quite different than the charcoal smoker above. You fill up the hopper with wood pellets, plug it into an electrical outlet, flip the switch on, and turn the dial to the temperature you want to cook at.
This is a very easy method of smoking for beginners.
This has a 300 square inch cooking area, enough space for about 3 racks of ribs. The thing I like about pellet smokers is that you can actually grill on them as well. So if you are looking to only have one piece of outdoor cooking equipment, a pellet smoker is very versatile.
It weighs in at 60 pounds, although it’s not a small portable grill, you can most definitely take this smoker camping or tailgating.
You can choose from a variety of types of wood when buying pellets for this. Although pellets are a little bit more expensive than the wood chips you would use with the other types of smokers, you save on not having to buy propane or charcoal, and you also don’t have to buy the wood chips.
If you are looking for a high quality smoker that is very easy to set up and use to start smoking for beginners, this Traeger is definitely one you should look into. If you are also interested in having a smoker that also doubles as a grill, this is probably your best bet.
Best Electric Smoker For Beginners
Perhaps the easiest type of smoker to use, the Masterbuilt electric smoker is a good option for beginners and can create some really great barbecue.
The only things you need to start smoking some awesome food is electricity and some wood chips.
The Masterbuilt electric smoker has four racks in the fully insulated body of the smoker. Yes, that means room for 4 large items of food.
With a temperature range of 100 degrees to 275 degrees F, you can also cold smoke with this smoker.
The thing that I really about this smoker, and electric smokers in general, is that it is just so easy to set up and start smoking.
The thermostat temperature control makes it really easy to dial in the temperature, just like the oven in your kitchen, and it is very well insulated so it helps in maintaining that consistent temperature that is so important when smoking.
In addition to most likely being the easiest to use, this is also one of the less expensive smokers on our list.
The Masterbuilt propane smoker is another good option for beginners if you are interested in using propane as your fuel source. Many people will say that you can get a superior flavor using other fuel sources than gas, and when it comes to grilling they may just be right, but because the fuel source in smokers is used to fire the wood so that the smoke is produced, you can really get a great flavor with this smoker.
The 30 inch model has four smoking racks with 717 square inches of cooking area, so plenty of room to smoke 4 large items.
It is a chest type smoker with a locking door. It also has a temperature gauge on the front of the door.
Propane is certainly convenient and available everywhere, so if you decide to go with propane with your first smoker, we suggest going with a good name and checking out this Masterbuilt.
With all of that said, our number one pick for the best smoker for beginners is the Weber Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker.
Not only is it a great smoker that is easy to learn for beginners, but this smoker will allow you to grow into an advanced smoker and still keep up the job. This is an iconic smoker that should last you for years and years, and it just produces that great smoked flavor.
Charcoal is available almost everywhere and it provides a great flavor. If you don’t want to deal with charcoal or you have a preference for another type of smoker, any of the smokers on our list will do you very well.
What Is Smoking?
Smoking is a way of outdoor cooking. You put food into an enclosed space for long periods of time with a low fire, a much tower temperature fire than a regular grill.
Wood is usually used to create smoke which makes for that nice “smokey” flavor that so many BBQ enthusiasts are after.
“Low and Slow” is a phrase you will hear quite often when talking about smokers. This type of outdoor cooking allows you to cook tough cuts of meat for several hours under a low-temperature fire (225°F to 250°F is usually the sweet spot), resulting in tender, moist, juicy, fall-apart deliciousness
What’s the difference between Grilling and Smoking?
While smoking refers to the “Low and Slow” method of cooking in an enclosed space with a low heat fire for several hours, grilling is basically the exact opposite of that.
Grilling is cooking for a much shorter amount of time over a very high-temperature fire.
Some grills and smokers can achieve both types of outdoor cooking with some adjustments to how they are set up, while others are dedicated to one form or the other.
How To Choose Your First Smoker?
With so many different types and models to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one will fit your needs. It’s also important to get a smoker that is easy to use for beginners There are some advances types that are a bit more difficult to use. Having a bad experience and bad food can really turn you off from this excellent way of outdoor cooking, leaving your fancy new smoker under the cover and collecting dust.
We definitely want to avoid that at all costs and make sure using your first smoker is a fun and rewarding experience, and that the food you wind up with is amazing,
We’ll go over some of the different types and variations of smokers and some things to look for.
Most smokers use wood to produce the smoke and give you that great flavor, but there are different ways that the wood is lit.
Charcoal is a classic fuel for outdoor cooking, there are die-hards that swear by the use of charcoal. Charcoal provides a great flavor and is one of the most readily available fuel types. You can pick these up locally at tons of stores or order them online.
Charcoal can be a little more effort than some of the other heat sources, but it gives great tasting results and is really quite fun.
Gas / Propane
Propane is another popular heat source, there is a lot less setup and upfront work to do compared to charcoal.
It’s also easy to manage, you can easily control the temperature your smoking at with a propane smoker. “Set it and forget it” is something that rings true with propane gas smokers.
Propane tanks can be filled at many hardware stores, there are also many exchange type programs at lots of convenience stores. A tank of propane can last for a really long cook, but make sure if you are starting a cook that you start with a full tank of propane or have a spare to throw on, because you may run out of fuel in the middle of a cook.
Pellet smokers use wood pellets that are little balls of sawdust and wood. They come in a variety of species of wood and are fairly common at hardware stores.
While most other types use wood chips heated up by another source of fuel, pellet smokers use electricity to heat up the pellets.
Just fill up your hopper, plug it in, and set the dial just like you would with your oven.
This is another “set it and forget it” type of smoker, just make sure to keep your hopper filled up with pellets.
The pellets themselves can be a little bit more expensive than the other types of fuel, but they are very convenient and easy to use.
Probably the simplest and easy to use smoker for beginners is the electric smoker. This is “set it and forget” on steroids. If you have an outlet nearby or an extension cord, you have smoke and will get some great tasting barbecue.
The only real thing you may have to do is refill the wood chips, other than that electric smokers just do their thing and smoke some great food without you having to do much of anything. It is an excellent beginner smoker but if you want to be more hands-on, a charcoal smoker will have you feeling more like a pitmaster.
Types of Smokers
Smokers come in many shapes and sizes, here’s a quick explanation of each one.
Vertical smokers are a round cylinder that stands upright.
The heat source is at the bottom, directly above that is a wood pan where you put your wood chips. Above that is a water pan, and at the top is the rack area where you would put your food.
Box smokers work very similarly to vertical smokers, although instead of being a round cylinder like the iconic Weber Smokey Mountain, they are more square. Think of a safe with a chimney coming out of the top.
An offset smoker is what you would usually think of when thinking of a smoker, it looks similar to a regular grill, but is much more round, basically a sideways barrel. It has a separate firebox to the side. You start a fire with wood logs in the firebox, then the heat and smoke pass through a chamber into the cooking chamber (the barrel part).
While offset smokers are used for creating some of the best barbecue food around, they are the farther thing from “set it and forget it” as it gets.
You have to tend to the fire in the firebox and it is very difficult to maintain a consistent temperature.
While you can work up to an offset smoker, they are the most difficult type of smoker to cook with and are definitely not recommended for beginners. These are the type that can turn a beginner off from smoking altogether.
Drum smokers work like a vertical smoker. They very much resemble a steel oil drum. You can purchase these, or you can actually make your own.
Charcoal is usually used as a heat source in drum smokers.
You can place your food on racks that sit in the drum or even hang your meat from the lid.
They give a great flavor as the meat drips go down into the fire, then come back up as smoke and make for a great tasting barbecue.
Kamado smokers are a modern take on the old Japanese kamado grill design. They are a ceramic urn that uses charcoal as a heat source.
These are easy to start in all weather conditions, even high wind. The ceramic is a great insulator and kamado grills are excellent at maintaining steady temperatures.
Kamado grills make for excellent smokers, but they do come with a fairly hefty price tag.
Budget for a beginning smoker
You can certainly get yourself a smoker with a pretty low price tag, but your results are not going to be as great as you expect. The cheapest smokers really are not very good. They aren’t well insulated which makes holding a consistent temperature very difficult, if not impossible. Remember that a consistently low temperature is one of the key ingredients of great smoking.
If you can stretch your budget a little bit, you can start out with a high-quality well-built smoker that will last you a very long time, and will be much more enjoyable to use.
If you really don’t have the budget to stretch, you may consider a grill/smoker combo. You can even get decent results with the classic Weber kettle. Or you may already have a grill that you could possibly try out for smoking.
Dedicated Smoker vs. a Grill/Smoker Combo
We recommend for beginners to really consider a dedicated smoker as you will get much better results and the process will be much easier.
Some smokers can be used as a grill, and some grills can be used as a smoker, but really for the best results, you should really have a dedicated piece of equipment for both.
As we said before if you really just want to try it out without committing too much, check out a Weber kettle grill. You can use these to try out smoking, of course, it is not as easy to control as a dedicated smoker, but you can produce some great food. And if you realize smoking isn’t for you, you have a great iconic grill after all.
What Size Smoker Should I Get?
Smokers come in a variety of sizes. Some things to consider when deciding which size will suit you is the type of food you will be cooking, and how many people you will usually be serving.
If you plan on cooking large types of food such as a full turkey or a brisket, make sure that the cooking area of the smoker you choose is large enough to fit whatever food you may want to cook.
A lot of the smokers on the market come in different sizes. If you have a large family or have people over for your barbecues just make sure that you pick a size that is big enough to cook enough food for everyone. Depending on your budget, bigger is usually better.
You also may want to consider whether you want something that you will be able to bring with you camping, tailgating, or over to a friend’s cookout. If you plan on taking your smoker to go, picking one that is easy to set up and is able to fit in your vehicle will be a consideration.
What Makes a Smoker Good For Beginners?
There are some things to keep in mind when considering whether a particular smoker is good for your first or whether it should be left to the pros. A poor experience can have you giving up on smoking altogether.
Ease Of Use
A good smoker for beginners is convenient and easy to use. This is why we don’t recommend offset smokers as a beginning smoker. “Set it and forget it” types of smokers are what we are looking for.
Our first smoker should be very easy to control the temperature on. Electric, propane, pellet, and charcoal smokers are all fairly easy to dial in a good temperature. That’s why those are the types we recommend in this article.
We also want a smoker that is well built with quality materials. There are a couple of different reasons for this.
Just because it’s your first smoker, doesn’t mean we want to have to replace it anytime soon. Even if you end up graduating to a more advanced smoker you will always find times where your first smoker is an easier option, provided you purchased a quality smoker, to begin with. Many pitmasters use multiple types of smokers.
Another reason we want a well built first smoker is that because one of the key factors in cooking great smoked food is consistent temperature. If we go for the really low-end options we will have to deal with thin material that doesn’t do a good job of keeping the heat in. This can lead to inconsistent temperatures.
A well built smoker that is tightly sealed and insulated will give you much better results and also save you money on fuel in the long run, possibly making up for the amount you would save by going for the cheap option.
What To Avoid
There are a few common traps to avoid when choosing your beginner smoker.
Although we all want to impress our friends when they come over and see our awesome new smoker sitting on our patio, we don’t want to choose our smoker based on which one looks the coolest. There are some smokers that look awesome but really don’t deliver the results we want.
Another thing to avoid is buying a smoker because it’s cheap. You may think that you can start with a cheap model to get your feet wet and then upgrade once you have a better idea of how to use the smoker, but the cheap ones are cheap for a reason and you really won’t enjoy using them. Not only will your food suffer, but they don’t tend to last due to poor quality. A good smoker that may cost a bit more will last for years and years to come.
Tips and Tricks for Beginning Smokers
Smoking should be fun and you can experiment with different things to see what gets you the best results. It’s ok if you mess something up, you will still probably wind up with some great food that’s most likely better than any other type of cooking.
A good place to start is with cheap meat that you can experiment with instead of going straight for the expensive meat you will want to cook eventually. Pork butt is a great meat to start out with as your first smoke. It is inexpensive and also one of the easier meats to smoke. It’s great for starting out and getting the hang of your smoker, it’s also delicious!
You can also experiment with different rubs and sauces. There are tons to choose from, so just pick something that looks good and give it a try.
There are also many different species of wood that you can try out on your smoker.
One thing to keep in mind is to keep a consistent temperature in your smoker. So avoid peeking to often, as exciting as seeing your awesome food cooking away is, you really need some patience and let the smoker do the work. As the saying goes “If you’re lookin’, you’re not cookin’”
The sweet spot as far as temperature goes for most food you want to smoke is about 225°F-250°F, but it’s a good idea to look up the best temperature as well as the best cooking time for the particular food that you’re smoking.
There are countless gadgets and accessories you can use when it comes to smokers and barbecue in general. Of course, you need to have your smoker, but beyond that, there are a few essential accessories that you must have when doing your first cook,
I know you’re sick of hearing it, but I can’t drill home the point enough that one of the most important things when it comes to smoking is keeping a consistent temperature, for that reason, it’s essential to have a good quality thermometer so you will know what temperature your smoker is running and, and what temperature your meat is at.
You will also need your fuel. Depending on the type of smoker you get, this will either be Charcoal, Propane, Pellets, or an outdoor extension cord if you go with an electric smoker.
You will also need your wood chips to create the smoke. You’ve got this covered if you went with a pellet smoker, but the other types will require you to go out and purchase some wood chips. There are many different types of wood that you can use, so just try some and experiment.
Barbecue gloves will also come in handy, allowing you to grab hot things and not get burned. The added benefit of barbecue gloves is that not only can will you not get burned, but you’re also going to look really cool doing it!
A good set of knives is a great investment to make as well. This will make trimming and slicing your meat much easier. We just made some awesome barbecue, why slice it up with a dollar store steak knife.