A whole new world of flavors, textures, and aromas can open up for you if you start smoking your food. This low and slow process of cooking can be extremely rewarding for BBQ enthusiasts and choosing the best smoker can be a great first step. Before you take the plunge in the world of smoked brisket, pulled pork, and thousands of other recipes, you need to research your options and find the right smoker perfect for your needs and level of expertise.
In this guide, we take a look at some of the best smoker grills for beginners and discuss their pros and cons to help you make an informed choice.
Here Are The Best Smokers For Beginners : 2020 Top Picks
- Best Overall Smoker For Beginners : Bradley Digital Smoker
- Best Pellet Smoker For Beginners : Z Grills L6002B
- Best Charcoal Smoker For Beginners : Weber Smoky Mountain
- Best Economical Smoker For Beginners : Weber Kettle Premium
When you are looking for the best smoker that you, as a beginner BBQ enthusiast, can have the most fun with, a great first step is to start by taking a look at the process of smoking in general and the different types of smokers currently available in the market. From there, you can narrow things down and zero in on your smoker of choice.
The Process of Smoking Meat
Grilling meat involves quickly cooking it and creating a hard sear on the outside with the help of very high heat. Smoking meat is, in essence, the opposite in terms of technique. The process involves placing seasoned, brined, or marinated meat in an enclosed space that has indirect, low heat, and smoke. The smoke usually comes from heating a wood product, like wood charcoal, wood pellets, or wood chips, and the type of wood you select has a significant contribution to the overall flavor profile of the finished product.
The meat is cooked low and slow for many hours and the flavor of the smoke infuses into the meat. Apart from flavoring and tenderizing the meat to a great extent, this also helps create a hard crust on the outside, sealing in the flavor.
You can smoke any cut of meat and have a great flavor experience. However, this method is really great for tough or unwanted cuts of meat. The slow cooking can help break down connective tissue and collagen in the meat, rendering these tough cuts incredibly tender and juicy. A great example of this is brisket.
Different Types of Smokers
With a few different kinds of smokers available in the market, you would need to decide the kind that would work the best with your skill levels and requirements at the very outset. The smoker that provides you the easiest workflow might not be the one that brings you the best flavor. There are crucial parameters to analyze here and you can start by learning about the different kinds of smokers you can consider.
For beginner BBQ enthusiasts, electric smokers can present a no-nonsense, simple, and quick route towards delicious smoked food. If you are a true beginner, the simplicity and convenience of this set-and-forget type of smoker will surely be a welcome feature.
This kind of smoker is also great if you do not really have the time to properly monitor the smoking process by spending a lot of time in front of your smoker. With these smokers, all you need to do is plug the smoker into a power source, add wood chips of the kind you prefer, set a particular temperature and cooking time, and add your protein of choice.
These are excellent at maintaining precise temperatures and can take out quite a lot of the common headaches associated with smoking. However, do not expect the same depth and complexity of smoky flavor that you can get with some of the other types of smokers. Also, using an electric smoker means that you are dependent on having a running electric supply throughout the cooking process.
If the power goes out while cooking, the cooking stops then and there. If your home power supply is unstable, it can be a good idea to look for alternatives.
Gas / Propane Smokers
Another poignant choice for a beginner smoker, gas smokers use clean-burning fuels like propane or natural gas. The learning curve is minimal. Just like electric smokers, you put in the wood chips, set the temperature, and come back when your meat is smoked.
These do not require much cooking space and you do not need to be tethered to a wall socket for electricity. It can also be very easy to get them going fast with the instant ignition of the fuel. The clean-burning nature of the fuel means that you do not end up with unpleasant smells, tastes, or deposits on your meat. These can also be very easy to clean.
Gas smokers are generally inexpensive and can help you get your foot in the door smoking with minimum hassle. However, you would still not get the deep, smoky aromas that you can get with other methods. We didn’t do a review of these propane smokers but you can check out the Cuisinart Vertical Propane Smoker.
If you are looking for the classic flavor of smoked meat and a defined smoke ring formation, buying a charcoal smoker is the way to go, if you do not mind a little added work.
There are a few things you would need to research and get right if you want great results from a charcoal smoker. These include choosing the right kind of charcoal, the right kind of woodchips, and learning to manage your charcoal fire, timing, and airflow.
While it does take a little practice, using a charcoal smoker can bring you the authentic smoky taste that many BBQ enthusiasts look for. Charcoal is also extremely cheap. On the flip side, it might take a while before you get really good at smoking meat using a charcoal grill.
These are also harder to clean and require a more open space for setting up. Starting the charcoal for a smoking session can also take a lot more work than the previous alternatives and require you to use an additional device like a chimney starter.
For a nice balance between the flavor profile of charcoal smokers and the ease of use and convenience of gas smokers, you can go with a pellet smoker. These versatile smokers derive their heat from wood pellets. I would say the pellet smokers are the best type of smoker for beginners.
These are fitted with digital controllers and sensors that monitor the interior temperature and automatically add pellets to the fire pot to keep the smoker at a consistent temperature.
The learning curve is minimal and usage is easy and convenient. These are versatile machines that can be used for a variety of cooking methods. They heat up fast, can maintain precise temperatures, and do not require you to babysit the smoker constantly. You can also have quick access to a wide range of flavors depending on which wooden pellets you choose. However, these also require electrical access and can be priced on the higher side in general.
Best Smoker for Beginners – Reviews and Features
Best Overall Smoker for Beginners
Bradley Digital Smoker
Electric smokers, as discussed earlier, can be one of the easiest ways for beginners to get started with the world of smoking food. The Bradley Digital Smoker is a versatile, affordable, and easy-to-use electric smoker and our pick for the best overall smoker for beginners. The Bradley Digital 6 Rack Smoker is a popular option and contains several meaningful features that can make the smoking experience much more rewarding.
With the Bradley Digital 6 Rack Smoker, you get the main smoking chamber that provides 858 square inches of cooking space and can accommodate four adjustable racks. The large height also gives you enough space to hang meat hooks if you want to smoke sausage, bacon, ham, or jerky. At the center of the smoker is a digital smoke generator that provides heat to the wood bisquettes used by the smoker, which come in twelve different varieties.
A water basin at the bottom catches the bisquettes and grease while a drip tray is used to funnel cooking liquids. A smoke diffuser is provided with the unit to promote an even distribution of smoke.
The main appeal of the unit is the automated operation and great temperature control that is possible with the digital controller. Cooking time and heat output are measured by the unit periodically and the controller automatically releases new wood bisquettes into the burning area to keep heat and smoke levels consistent. Spent bisquettes are collected in the water basin and new ones take their place on their own.
This can give you a great degree of granular control over the operation of the smoker. You can set the cooking time, target temperature, and the level of smoke you want and just leave the unit to do its thing. Once fully loaded with wood bisquettes, the unit can keep operating for up to nine hours. The build quality is also good with the insulated stainless steel chamber proving capable of retaining heat. Cleaning up is easy and the fit and finish are solid.
Assembling the unit is fast and easy with detailed instructions provided with the product. The interface of the digital controller is also simple to operate and a few minutes with the manual should allow you to start smoking food immediately. The set-and-forget nature of the smoker and how it handles its operation automatically make this is a particularly salient choice for beginners with a minimal learning curve.
You can also go for optional extras like the Bradley smoker cover for added protection and the Bradley cold smoker adapter that turns it into a cold smoker.
- Makes smoking food easy and accessible for absolute beginners
- Fully automated operation and large bisquette capacity allow for long, slow smoking
- Great for a variety of different foods, can produce good smoked flavors
- The large cooking area makes it great for family meals
- Variety of flavors can be achieved through twelve different kinds of wooden bisquettes
- Optional extras can extend the functionality
- Affordably priced
- The flavor and smoke ring formation are not as good as pellet or charcoal smokers
- Can sometimes produce too much smoke and impart a bitter taste to the food. Might require the use of the Bradley bisquettes saver product to reduce the smoke formation and bisquette usage
- The digital controller can sometimes be unreliable. Might require the use of an extra digital thermometer for proper temperature monitoring
Best Pellet Smoker for Beginners
Z Grills L6002B
If you are looking to impart more intense smoky flavors to your food, getting a pellet grill can be a great idea. For beginners who want to get started with pellet grills, we picked the easy-to-use, versatile Z Grills L6002B as an excellent option. This is a smaller pellet grill that sports robust design and quality while providing automated operation and versatile cooking.
The most important feature that you can get with this grill is the digital temperature control system which can make this a set-and-forget kind of smoker.
The Z Grills L6002B, apart from being a very capable pellet smoker for beginners, can also be used to grill, bake, roast, and braise food. The unit has a built-in fan that moves the heat and smoke around and helps the cooking process through convection, much like a convection oven. The cooking area is large at 600 square inches which makes it a terrific choice for family gatherings and parties.
As far as the core of the smoker is concerned, the hopper can accommodate ten pounds of wooden pellets at a time, allowing you a consolidated cook time of approximately ten hours. The electric starter helps heat the pellets and the smoker can be started in very little time.
The versatility of the smoker comes from the range of temperature it can help achieve with 180 degrees at the lower end and 450 degrees at the higher end. For searing, you can use the direct flame with temperatures reaching up to 1,000 degrees.
The ease of use and convenience comes courtesy of the digital control system. Once you start the cooking process by setting a temperature and cooking time, the digital control board takes over. The electric ignition kicks in and the smoker reaches its target heat quickly.
The control board then monitors the temperature and time and automatically adds pellets to the hopper to control the temperature and keep it within the intended limits. Along with the automatic temperature control, you can also monitor the temperature using the real-time temperature display on the unit.
The automatic operation means that you can enjoy the superior smoky taste brought out by a pellet grill without having to contend with a steep learning curve. The cart design is robust and the unit comes with quality casters that make movement easy. The bottom cart area is also fitted with a storage compartment with a door where you can keep your wood pellets dry and ready to go.
The unit has a smoking and warming rack, foldable shelf, and sturdy stainless steel construction.
- A quick and easy way to enter the world of pellet grills
- Imparts excellent smoky flavor to the food
- The automated pellet feeding system and temperature control make for easy and hassle-free use
- Large hopper capacity great for extended cooking
- Versatile temperature range allows it to be used for many forms of cooking
- Sturdy stainless steel construction
- Not as large as other pellet grills
- No wifi or bluetooth connectivity
- Does not contain a side table for use as a work surface
Best Charcoal Smoker For Beginners
Weber Smoky Mountain
An immensely popular choice for many BBQ enthusiasts, the Weber Smoky Mountain is the quintessential charcoal smoker that boasts of simple, easy-to-use design and big, bold, smoky flavors. For beginners, this iconic model can be a fabulous choice for cooking excellent smoked food while also learning about some of the operations aspects of using a charcoal smoker.
The distinctive appearance of the Smoke Mountain, a capsule with legs, is often associated with smokers of this kind. A defining feature of this smoker is the large water pan. This means that you do not need to refill the water periodically and can rather focus on your cooking and the flavors of your food.
Apart from the main cooking chamber, you get the water pan, the center section, the lid, and the porcelain-enameled bowl. You also have a heavy-gauge charcoal grate and plated cooking grates, both made from sturdy steel. The 18-inch model provides a cooking area of 481 square inches divided into two layers. There is also an integrated thermometer that makes it easy to monitor the temperature.
The design of the Smoky Mountain has seen very little change for over forty years, which is a testament to its great quality and effectiveness. The porcelain-enameled steel retains heat very well and there is also a heat-resistant handle made from nylon which makes handling easy and safe. Using this smoker involves the use of charcoal mixed with woodchips for optimum flavor. You can choose your flavor profile by choosing the kind of wood you want to put into the mix.
There is a dedicated charcoal door that allows you to replenish your charcoal once you start running out. Similarly, there is a silicon grommet that allows you to insert an external temperature probe into the smoking area without having to compromise with heat retention. There is also a very large number of accessories that you can purchase for the Smoky Mountain, that you can use for simple workflow tweaks all the way to dramatically changing the functionality of the smoker.
- Imparts the classic, authentic deep, smoky flavor to the food
- Easy to control temperature and keep it consistent for a long time
- Large cooking capacity for larger meals
- A large, diverse range of options when it comes to accessories
- Inexpensive and built like a tank
- Needs a lot of charcoal to function
- Has a learning curve
- The lid is not hinged
- The charcoal door can sometimes leak heat
Most Economical Smoker for Beginners
Weber Kettle Premium
The Weber Kettle is somewhat of a legend in BBQ circles. This versatile grill can also double up as a smoker and give you a range of cooking options for a really affordable price. This basic 22-inch model provides a cooking area of 363 square inches and is primarily used to grill meat quickly and get a hard sear with grill marks.
The main cooking area features hinged cooking grates that enable you to easily add more charcoal during the cooking process. The dampers can allow you to precisely control the heat in the grill by controlling the flow of air. Closing the dampers completely is also an easy way to extinguish the charcoal when you are done cooking.
The one-touch cleaning system makes the Weber Kettle Premium a breeze to clean. The heat resistant nylon handles make for easy handling of the lid and the provided wheels can be used to move the grill with ease. If you are looking to use this as a smoker, you can do this easily by taking advantage of dedicated accessories like the Slow’N Sear that can effectively give you a cooler cooking area that you can effectively smoke food in.
- Simple, inexpensive, and versatile
- Excellent build quality can make it last for a long time
- Several accessories are available to extend the functionality
- Using it as a smoker can require a bit of extra work and accessories
The Perfect Barbeque
Any of the above options would allow you to get a foot in the door when it comes to creating tasty, flavorful smoked food at home. If you take a look at the features and pros and cons of these products, you would have a great starting point from which to make a meaningful purchasing decision.
This guide can also help you understand the different kinds of smokers available in the market and help you make an informed choice regarding the right one for your needs. With one of these excellent products, your journey towards cooking excellent smoked food, like slow-cooked brisket, pulled pork, or smoked sausages, can really take off.