Smoking foods—and especially meat—is an ancient pastime.
Initially, it was a way to preserve food before there were such things as chemical preservatives or even refrigerators. Smoked foods have a longer shelf life than non-smoked, allowing families to reduce food waste.
Today, we still love smoked meats—in particular, those that underwent the “low and slow” method—but for different reasons. Smoking meats can offer a whole new world in terms of texture and flavor. That’s why everyone and their mother owns a meat smoker!
Wait—what was that you said? You don’t own a meat smoker yet? You’re here to learn the top considerations before buying one?
Pardon us! Keep reading for our smoking-hot buying guide.
Choose Your Fuel: Pellets, Electric, Gas, or Charcoal
It’s no surprise that smokers come in all shapes and sizes and require different types of fuel.
Now, though, you’ve got to consider your own preference. Do you prefer the taste of meat smoked with pellets, but enjoy the convenience of using an electric smoker? Or perhaps you love the smokiness that charcoal provides, but would rather have the efficiency of a gas instrument.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you—but it does help to learn a thing or two about each type.
In a pellet smoker, both heat and smoke are produced by burning pellets. Keep in mind that pellet smokers do require electricity—but for other reasons than producing heat (like making a fan blow, powering the auger, etc.).
Some users cite a better flavor with pellet smokers over gas ones, thanks to its more natural qualities, and beginning smokers find it easy to manage temperatures and avoid flare-ups. Your most difficult decision now is choosing a Camp Chef vs Traeger model!
Electric smokers have one major benefit: ease of use.
They’re portable, they’re easy to light, they’re easy to clean and maintain. An electric smoker is very similar to cooking in a crockpot—in that you can essentially “set it and forget it.” In this way, an electric smoker might be the best thing for beginner meat smokers who also want something that cooks both easily and evenly.
The cons of electric smokers are minimal. For some, there’s a subtle difference in flavor. Overall, the only significant downside would be that use is limited to spaces with outlets.
Gas smokers are fueled by either gas or propane. In addition to that, most gas smokers also have a place for pellets or wood chips—getting the best of both worlds!
Gas smokers are designed to honor that low and slow cooking style. Their temperatures typically don’t exceed 250°, allowing for a tender piece of meat every time. And as far as temperature control goes—anyone who can manage a gas grill can manage a gas smoker.
Finally, we’ve got charcoal smokers—the most primal and natural way to go about smoking your meats. If you want some authentic barbecue, a charcoal smoker is how you’re gonna get it.
What you need: fuel and wood chips or pellets. That’s all.
Don’t be fooled by its low-maintenance set-up, as a certain amount of expertise is required here. Charcoal smokers are harder to control, as one has to manage the flame and the oxygen. Adjust dampers, vents, and baffles over the course of your smoking session, as well as replenishing your charcoal as needed.
Choose Your Body: Vertical, Horizontal, or Built-In
By now, you’ve learned about the various types of smokers, which has likely narrowed down your selection. Keeping your smoking style in mind, you’ve now got to consider the size and shape of your smoker.
Will it be vertical and free-standing or horizontal and offset? Will you build it into your outdoor kitchen, affixing it to the ground and making it seamless with the counter? Will it be massive and shiny or smaller and more traditional?
There are no right or wrong answers—only choosing the smoker that meets your needs. Each type has its own set of pros and cons.
Vertical smokers are fuel-efficient, with the heat source on the bottom. The confined space of the smoker, combined with a solid surface area, provides meats with thorough cooking and tenderizing. They’re often smaller, allowing for better space management, and have design flexibility (add or remove racks as needed).
Offset, or horizontal smokers, have separate boxes—one for the fuel source and one for the smoking. This position prompts rising smoke from the fuel box to seep into the smoking box, where it cooks the meat. The smoke then exits through a chimney and the process repeats.
The more open the vents = the more oxygen = the higher the flame, and vise versa.
Finally, you might opt for something completely different, such as a custom design built right into your kitchen set-up.
A Meat Smoker Is in Your Future!
There you have it, future meat smokers of the world—the top considerations when choosing your first smoker.
You’ve got to narrow down your fuel type and body type. From there, the rest is easy, and more fun. You get to think about aesthetics—things like luxury vs practicality, appearance, brand name, and more.
Now that you’ve learned how to buy your first meat smoker, you’ll find plenty of use for the rest of our page. Keep scrolling to peruse dozens of delicious and healthy recipes (you know—for when you’re not eating barbecue). Bon appétit!