What’s the Best BBQ Smoker for You?
What’s the best BBQ smoker for you? That is a good question, it sounds simple enough but maybe it isn’t as simple as it seems. There are a great many smokers out there on the market, so which one is right for you?
In this post I’m going take a look at a few of the more popular models. I will talk about a few of them, give you some information on them and an idea of pricing so you can evaluate them yourself and make an informed decision.
You have your choice of heat source options which include wood, pellet, charcoal, electric or gas BBQ smokers. The choice you make will really depend upon what you want to do with your BBQ smoker. For the most part they will all get you the results that you are looking for in the end.
Heat Source – CHARCOAL
Let’s take a look first at what is maybe the most common type, the old school charcoal smoker. This type of BBQ smoker comes in all shapes and sizes. You can get one that is rectangular, similar to a bar fridge. You can get ones that are shaped like a barrel lying on its side. One of the more popular ones is the egg shape. The one thing to keep in mind with a charcoal smoker is that you will have to babysit it throughout the smoking process.
Let’s start with what I will call the vertical style. These generally have a smaller footprint so they work well if you don’t have a lot of space on your deck or patio. They have vertical racks, usually between 4 and 6 racks. Which means they can accommodate anything from a full rack of ribs to a couple of whole chickens or even a large turkey.
Most have the temperature gauge on the door. Make sure you find one that is easy to read. Find one that you don’t have to get down on your knees to read, trust me, it gets hard on those old knees after a while!. Also, it should have large numbers making it easy to read the temperature.
Like most charcoal smokers they have a heat box at the bottom. Usually there is a slide-out tray or drawer for the charcoal and wood chips. This type of design is quite good; the heat and smoke rise through your food. These are generally made of steel. As for pricing, they are usually at the lower end of the price spectrum for smokers; you can pick up a basic unit for around $250.00 – $300.00 CAD. Although larger units with more features will cost you a little more.
The Off Set Type Smoker
The barrel-type which are sometimes called an offset smoker has the heat box on one end. A barrel style smoking chamber and a chimney at the other end. The idea is that the heat and smoke move from the heat chamber across the food. These come in many different sizes starting from approximately 30” in length and up.
If you are looking to smoke large cuts of meat, even up to a whole hog, this is likely the type of smoker for you. We had a neighbor years ago who would have an annual pig roast and smoke a whole hog for the event. This was the style of smoker he used. The results were fantastic! The pricing for these units can range from a couple hundred on the low end but can run into the thousands depending on the size and features.
The Egg (Kamado Style)
The egg or the cylindrical vertical smokers have become very popular recently with the introduction of the “Big Green Egg”. These Kamado style units work very well and come in a variety of sizes from the mini to the 2XL unit.
The mini model, which has a 10” grill, is good for a small deck and is even portable. The 2XL unit can handle a suckling pig!
These units are made of ceramic not metal so they retain the heat very well during the cooking process. The units are very well made and should last you a lifetime, although they are not inexpensive!
The mini units can be found for around $400 CAD. The cost of the 2XL unit is in the $4,000 CAD range. It’s not a small investment, but depending upon your requirements may be the right choice.
heat source – Wood Pellets
All the units we have talked about so far are fueled with charcoal. The next heat source type that is out there is wood pellets. These are manufactured wooded pellets and are about the size of a large multi-vitamin. The pellets burn very hot and provide even and consistent heat as they burn.
One of the better quality wood pellet smokers on the market today is the Traeger units. These are offset units that work very well and are well made. They come in a variety of sizes from small portable units to large commercial smokers.
The pricing of these wood pellet units can range from $350 CAD for a small portable unit to north of $1,500 CAD for a larger unit. A commercial unit can run into the thousands of dollars. One thing about all wood pellet units is that, like charcoal you need to make sure you have enough fuel to complete the cooking process. The last thing you want to do is run out of fuel before you are finished cooking!
Some of the newer units have digital temperature controls, which is fantastic! In addition, some will even operate using an app on your smart phone! What will they think of next?
heat source – Electric and Gas Smokers
While some traditionalists may scoff at the use of a gas or electric smoker these are becoming a growing segment of the marketplace. There are a couple reasons for this, first is the ease of use; they are quick to set up and clean up. Secondly, the price to get into a unit like this is relatively inexpensive.
Both these types of smoker are usually the rectangular vertical style. The propane units have a burner like a gas grill. You will likely have to monitor the cooking chamber temperature. These units generally do not have a digital thermostat to control the chamber temperature.
There are a couple options when you are looking at electric smokers. Again, they are usually the rectangular vertical style, so doing a whole hog in one is not really an option. However, they are large enough for most typical smoker cooking tasks. All have digital temperature controls so you can set the chamber temperature and forget it!
Bradley makes a very popular electric smoker. These units are designed to do both hot and cold smoking. Cold smoking is something that most other units are not able to do. One thing about the Bradley smoker that you should be aware of is that you have to purchase the compressed wooden discs from Bradley. This can be somewhat limiting in regards to your wood smoke options.
The other style of electric smoker is made by Masterbuilt. They have a hopper that you can load your choice of wood chips into. This provides a little more flexibility regarding your wood of choice for smoking. This is the type of smoker I have used for years.
The pricing for these electric or gas smokers is generally at the lower end of the scale. For example, you can find a good electric unit for under $250.00 CAD. But I do have a few words of caution; don’t leave them uncovered as the rain will damage digital components rendering the unit useless.
Also, do not leave these units in direct sun. The heat will also damage the electronic controls. In other words, you need to keep them covered and in the shade.
So as you can see there are a plethora of options out there. There is something for everyone. If you are new to the smoking game you might want to start with something simple like a smaller electric or gas unit. If you are a more experienced smoker the larger charcoal or wood pellet units might be something to consider.
The most important thing is that you get out there and cook some wonderful smoked creations for your family and friends. I know you will love it as much as I do!