Types of Smokers: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re looking to up your barbecue game, investing in a smoker is a great place to start. However, with so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your needs. That’s where we come in.

In this guide, we’ll break down the seven most common types of smokers and their pros and cons. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pitmaster, we’ll help you make an informed decision and get the most out of your smoking experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing the right smoker can be overwhelming, but we’ve got you covered with our guide to the most common types and their pros and cons.
  • Before buying a smoker, consider factors such as fuel type, cooking capacity, and budget.
  • If you’re new to smoking, don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up to more advanced techniques and equipment.

The 5 Most Common Types of Smoker

1. Propane/Gas Smokers

Propane/Gas smokers use natural gas or propane to produce heat. The burners and vents are located at the bottom of the smoker, with the chimney and dampers at the top.

Gas travels from the refillable gas bottle through a manifold and down to the cooking section, where it is ignited as it flows out of the burner valves. Wood chips are used to create the smoky flavor. Gas smokers are as simple to use as an electric smoker, and the temperature is easy to control.

They are great for pitmasters who want a little more of the flavor-enhancing combustion chemicals than you would get with an electric smoker, but none of the cleanup associated with charcoal smokers or the cost of a pellet smoker.

Propane/Gas Smokers

Pros

  • Propane is a widely available fuel.
  • The temperature is easy to control, and it’s much easier to make changes to the heat than with a charcoal or pellet burner.
  • You can get your gas grill started much faster than a charcoal one.

Cons

  • Gas produces more combustion chemicals, and therefore more flavor than an electric grill, but some people complain that they make everything taste of bacon.
  • To be safe, you’ll probably need two gas bottles, just to make sure you don’t run out of gas from a half-filled one.
  • If your tank is running low, you’ll also need to check it about every 30 minutes or risk coming out to find your smoker has died.

2. Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers use charcoal to provide heat, and wood chips are used to create the smoky flavor. The amount of heat created is regulated by air intakes near the coals. The more air that is allowed into the firebox, the hotter the charcoal will burn.

Most charcoal smokers suspend the food above the coals, drawing the heat and smoke across the food using a chimney and air dampers at the top. Charcoal smokers are considered the gold standard when it comes to getting that deep smokey flavor.

Charcoal Smokers

Pros

  • Charcoal actively adds to the taste of the food you are cooking.
  • They come in a broad range of styles and sizes.
  • Charcoal is tied with wood pellets in terms of the fuel that adds the most to the flavor.

Cons

  • Charcoal grills need a lot more babysitting and a little more practice and know-how than electric or gas grills.
  • You’ll need to light the charcoal and let it ash over before adding it to the smoker, so it can take some time to start smoking.
  • The ash and particulate produced by charcoal means that there’s a lot more cleaning up to do once you’ve finished smoking.

3. Offset Smokers

Offset smokers have a firebox that is offset to the side and below the main cooking chamber. When wood or charcoal is burnt in the firebox, the smoke and heat are drawn across the food in the cooking chamber and out of a chimney.

The big barrel cooking chamber of an offset smoker makes it easy to cook up massive amounts of food. Some models offer a grill plate that you can attach above the firebox, giving you a two-in-one griller and smoker.

Offset Smokers

Pros

  • The big barrel cooking chamber of an offset smoker makes it easy to cook up massive amounts of food.
  • Because the firebox is separate from the cooking chamber, you can add more fuel to the fire without letting out the heat and smoke.

Cons

  • Cheap offset smokers are not worth the money.
  • Starting up an offset smoker is a long process. Expect it to take an hour for you to get it up to temperature and start cooking.

4. Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers use wood pellets as fuel and have a hopper that feeds the pellets into the firebox. The pellets are ignited by an electric heating element, and the temperature is regulated by a thermostat. Pellet smokers are known for their ease of use and the ability to set and forget the temperature.

Pellet Smokers

Pros

  • Pellet smokers are known for their ease of use.
  • The ability to set and forget the temperature.

Cons

  • Pellet smokers are more expensive than other types of smokers.
  • They require electricity to operate.

5. Electric Smokers

Electric smokers use electricity to produce heat, and wood chips are used to create the smoky flavor. The temperature is regulated by a thermostat. Electric smokers are known for their ease of use and the ability to set and forget the temperature.

Pros

  • Electric smokers are known for their ease of use.
  • The ability to set and forget the temperature.

Cons

Things to Consider Before Buying a Smoker

What is Your Budget?

Your budget is going to play a significant role in determining the type of smoker you should buy. If you have a budget of under $500, it’s best to avoid an offset smoker as the quality may not be great. Pellet grills in this price range may also not have the best quality.

If your budget is between $200-$500, you have a lot of great options in the charcoal, propane, and electric family. Finally, if you can spend over $1,000, your options open up to the best brands of offset smokers like Yoder, quality Kamado like the Kamado Joe, or a large high-tech pellet smoker.

Type of Fuel

Your budget will dictate your options, but within your budget, you still have to choose which fuel source or type of smoker to go with. A charcoal smoker is recommended if you want to learn the art of barbecue. A pellet smoker is a great option for someone who just wants great food and can spend some money. A propane smoker is ideal for someone who doesn’t have a lot to spend but wants the set and forget convenience of a pellet smoker.

It’s best to leave the offset smoker until your second or third smoker. Finally, a Kamado is a good option if you have a decent budget and want a grill/smoker combo.

The Number of People You Will be Cooking For?

All types of smokers come in a variety of sizes, although some like electric/propane tend to run on the large size. You can usually compare the size of the cooking area in square inches, and many manufacturers will provide helpful guidance in terms of how many chickens or burgers you can fit.

One thing to watch out for is that just because a smoker has a certain amount of square inches, doesn’t mean you can actually fit what you plan to cook. Many people have been disappointed when they found out their “huge” electric smoker couldn’t fit a full packer brisket or rack of ribs without cutting it.

Do You Need it to be Portable?

Smokers are typically not the most portable devices. However, some manufacturers make decent units for taking camping or tailgating. These are almost always a compact size to fit easily in your trunk, so you will give up space for this feature.

Our favorite portable pellet grill is the Traeger Tailgater, while the PKTX is an excellent charcoal grill for traveling that can also smoke.

Wrapping it up

When it comes to choosing a smoker, it’s best to buy the one that seems right for you and get smoking. A lot of learning how to smoke food comes under the axiom of “learn by doing,” and, at the end of the day, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with some fantastic food.

There is no “best” type of smoker out there, but it’s important to consider your budget, the type of fuel, the number of people you will be cooking for, and whether you need it to be portable. Do you have any tips for someone just getting into smoking meat? Please let us know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Differences between a Smoker and a Grill

When it comes to cooking meat, smokers and grills are two popular options. While both are used to cook meat, the main difference is the cooking method. A grill uses direct heat to cook the meat, while a smoker uses indirect heat to cook the meat. This means that a smoker takes longer to cook meat, but it also produces a smoky flavor that many people enjoy.

Advantages of Using a Wood Smoker

Wood smokers are a popular choice among barbecue enthusiasts because they produce a rich and smoky flavor that is difficult to replicate with other types of smokers. Wood smokers are also versatile and can be used to cook a variety of meats, including beef, pork, and chicken.

Advantages of Using a Propane Smoker

Propane smokers are a great option for those who want a smoker that is easy to use and requires minimal cleanup. Propane smokers are also more affordable than other types of smokers, making them an excellent choice for beginners.

Advantages of Using a Vertical Smoker

Vertical smokers are designed to cook meat vertically, which allows for more even cooking. Vertical smokers are also compact and take up less space than other types of smokers, making them a good choice for those who have limited outdoor space.

Advantages of Using an Offset Smoker

Offset smokers are a popular choice among barbecue enthusiasts because they produce a rich and smoky flavor that is difficult to replicate with other types of smokers. Offset smokers are also versatile and can be used to cook a variety of meats, including beef, pork, and chicken.

Advantages of Using a Charcoal Smoker

Charcoal smokers are a great option for those who want a smoker that produces a smoky flavor but also allows for precise temperature control. Charcoal smokers are also versatile and can be used to cook a variety of meats, including beef, pork, and chicken.