While grills have been mainstays in many people’s gardens or kitchens for years, smokers have failed to gain the same level of popularity. I think this is such a great shame though, as smoking meat has been one of my favorite parts of outdoor cooking since I first started way back when my fingers had only just been touched by the BBQ bug.
See, smoked meat offers a taste profile that a lot of other forms of cooking just can’t match. Don’t get me wrong, I love grilled food as much as the next person, but the tastes in a cut of meat cooked at a delicately low temperature over several hours just hit the spot.
OK, so you’ve come around to smoked meat. But why should you get an electric smoker? That’s an excellent question, my fire-cooking friend, and one that is not too difficult to answer.
Firstly, for someone new to the smoking game, they make for a wallet-friendly entry point to the BBQ method. When compared to other kinds of smoker, electrics are far more affordable.
Secondly, they are very easy to use. With smoking being a very long form of cooking, you often have to be quite hands-on with it. Not so with electric smokers, which has enough automatic features and controls to do a lot of the hard works itself.
But where do you begin? I’ve outlined what I believe to be 5 of the best, along with the key criteria you need to keep in mind when choosing your smoker.
BBQ newbie? Learn how to use an electric smoker here
Right, let’s look at the nitty gritty on these magic machines! Here’s our breakdown on everything you need to know about five of the best smokers out there.
#1. Masterbuilt 4-Rack Digital Electric Smoker
You’re going to see Masterbuilt mentioned a lot in this list, and it’s for good reason. In my experience, they have almost always produced strong and easy-to-use smokers, and this 4-Rack model is the perfect example of this.
First of all, it’s huge. It can hold up to about 80lb of food, which is perfect if you’re anything like me and love to cook everything in batch. It has an 800-watt engine, which is very strong compared to industry standards.
What I particularly like about this smoker is the little extras that come with it. I’ve had experiences before where I’ve bought a new grill or appliance, taken it home and opened it only to find that I need to buy additional products with it. This just isn’t the case with the Masterbuilt. It comes with an onboard thermometer with a meat probe, so you can easily monitor the temperatures of the cooking environment and your meat’s internal temperature.
It also comes with a nice 10-inch stand, to help you position it correctly on your patio, as well as some excellent heat-resistant gloves. Bonuses like these are a sure-fire way to have me onboard, so Masterbuilt know what they’re doing!
Finally, if you’re picky about colors (and there is no shame in that!) then you have the choice of black, blue, green, stainless or even cinnamon.
Dimensions: 40.75 inches x 22.84 inches x 22.91 inches
Weight: 61.4 pounds
#2. Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker
I told you that Masterbuilt would feature heavily in this list. Luckily though, this isn’t just brand naming. This model more than warrants a place on this list.
In terms of size, this is more modest than the 4-rack model, but the upshot of this is that it’s more affordable and therefore more accessible to smoking newcomers. This also doesn’t mean a compromise in power or quality, as its 800-watt engine matches that of the 4-rack above.
I know that temperature control can prove intimidating to newbies, but also more experienced grillers (believe me, I’ve had more issues than I’m willing to admit). Electric smokers come armed with fantastic means of temperature control though, and this particular model has one planted on its top. It also has a side loading compartment for easy wood chip loading.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of smoking then you will have also had the displeasure of the clean-up operation needed after. Masterbuilt are way ahead of you though, and have made this model with removable parts and drip-tray for easy dishwasher cleaning. And while you will still need to get stuck in to the unit itself, removing the racks and trays means nothing is getting in your way.
Dimensions: 20 x 17 x 33.5 inches
Weight: 45.9 pounds
#3. Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smoker
OK, this is a big smoker. It has the capacity to host up to 100lbs of meat (my eyes nearly popped out of my head just writing that). This is paired with an impressive 1200 watts of power. This combines to create an all-powerful smoking machine.
So do you really need all that space? As ever, the boring answer is “well it depends on how much you want to cook…” but I also want to give you the good answer: If you want to have fun with your smoker, then absolutely. For me, smoking is about experimenting with meat cuts like rack of ribs and whole birds, and this smoker is going to afford you that space much more than any other would.
Like with other models, it has a built-in thermometer and control panel, so the outlay on power certainly doesn’t mean that you need to concede anything in terms of ease of use.
Dimensions: 40.2 inches x 25 inches x 19.5 inches
Weight: 73 pounds
#4. Masterbuilt 20072115 Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker
OK, by now you might be rolling your eyes at the presence of yet another Masterbuilt smoker in this list, but hear me out: This product more than warrants its place in my list. Its power compares really well to the others in this list, and can reach internal temperatures of about 275°F.
In my experience, its dimensions provide enough space for between 25-30 burgers, which translates to a decent sized whole bird for smoking.
It comes with Bluetooth, which is a feature that I really like. This means that you can integrate it with your phone via an app, allowing you to control your smoker from there. Technology and I haven’t always gotten along, but I love this feature.
Like a lot of the other smokers in this list, it has a built-in meat probe thermometer, but crucially it also has an air damper. This helps you maintain good smoke flow while in use, which in turn helps you control temperature as best as possible.
Dimensions: 20.9 x 20.1 x 31.9 inches
Weight: 53.7 pounds
#5. Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
“What’s that?” I hear you say, “a non-Masterbuilt smoker?”. That’s right, and this beautiful little machine more than deserve its place in this list. I’ve often only associated Char-Broil with grills, but this foray of theirs into the world is smoking is very welcome.
Firstly, at 725-square inches it has a good amount of capacity to take on a strong smoking session. Personally, this is the kind of size of smoker that I like to go for. One that provides ample space to experiment with, but without dominating your yard space.
One of its standout features is its double wall construction and insulation. This obviously helps its heat retention in a way that not a lot of other models do. Whether it be smoking or grilling, I’ve often had temperature control problems due to heat loss, so this is a really welcome feature. Not only that, but this insulation means that its energy efficiency is excellent, meaning that you will save a fortune on wood chips and fuel.
Dimensions:16.5 x 18.1 x 32.5 inches
Weight: 50.2 pounds
So there we have it, my top 5. But what separates one smoker from another? What kind of features make one better than another?
Here’s a list of the things I recommend taking into consideration when trying to decide the right smoker for you.
For me, this is the most important feature a smoker can have. Power and capacity are all great, but the point of electric smokers is to be newcomer-friendly so if it doesn’t have a good control system in place then it’s simply not worth buying.
Generally speaking, traditional wood and charcoal models need tending (see how difficult that can be here) and sometimes even intervention for temperature regulation. I’ve sometimes had to resort to keeping a pan of water close by to regulate temperatures if they get out of hand. Electric models are far better regulated, so this inconvenience or lack of control tends not to be an issue.
Ideal meat temperatures for smoking tend to sit somewhere around 225-275 degrees fahrenheit (take a look at this meat-by-meat guide to smoking temperatures), so it’s key that your chosen smoker can comfortably sit in that range. The 5 that I chose for this list all do this, so keeping a good cooking temperature shouldn’t be an issue.
Internal Layout and Build
I think is something of an overlooked feature for smoking, and even grilling more generally, but the setup of the interior of the smoker is really key to its performance. The internal setup of the smoker is a big contributing factor to its performance, with the spread of its racks being crucial to how well (or not) your meat cooks.
Obviously size can play a big role here, with large models being able to host multiple racks of meat. Models with removable racks are ideal because it gives you the flexibility to move your food closer to or further away from the heat plates at the bottom of the smoker.
While larger smokers obviously allow you to cook more meat, they also give you the option of hanging the meat inside it, instead of just laying it down on the rack.
I’m not talking caveats as in the linguistic or literary term, but rather the term used in the barbecue world. Installed caveats in a smoker refer to the ventilation system in a smoker’s combustion chamber, which allows heat and smoke to be released. You’ll need these in your smoker, as they allow good smoke flow in within your smoker.
Addition of Wood Chips
While opting for electric might seem like you’re forfeiting the benefits of wood or charcoal smoking, you do still get to keep faithful to the authentic smoky tastes of BBQ. A lot of electric smokers allow you do add wood pellets or chips to them (and read here for why you should use them), which help infuse your meat with authentic barbecue flavor.
I love this about electric smokers. With a lot of ‘automatic’ BBQ products, such as gas grills, the trade-off for ease-of-use and convenience is often authenticity. But the chance to add wood chips to your smoker takes some of the romance around wood cooking.
Just one warning: Try to make sure that the wood pellet drawer is deep enough to contain a good amount of chips. They can be easy to overload otherwise, which can lead to flames or excess ash, then ruining your smoking and even potentially being a safety hazard.
This is my final criterion, but no less key than all the others. The key to smoking is maintaining excellent temperature control throughout the entire process, however if your smoker is not well insulated then it will struggle to keep this temperature over a long enough time.
Industry standard is that smokers should feature excellent insulation, but just to be safe I recommend looking out for double wall construction. These models are excellent at heat retention and being energy efficient.