If you have never bought a meat smoker before, then it is entirely reasonable to feel overwhelmed when making the decision about which one will best meet your needs.
With so many different models on the market, you may not know where to even begin your search, which is why you will want to use a meat smoker buying guide.
This will ensure that you know what to look for in your new smoker and will keep you from accidentally going over budget while shopping.
Complete Meat Smoker Buying Guide For The Backyard Gourmet
Questions First-Time Meat Smoker Buyers Should Ask Themselves
- What Kind of Smoker Do I Want? There are a few main types of smokers: wood-burning, charcoal, pellet, and gas. Each one has its pros and cons as well as a rabid following of fans. While deciding which one is right for you can be tricky, it’s essential so you can narrow down your search.
- What Foods Will I Be Smoking? You may want to be smoking substantial cuts of meat such as Boston butt, in which case you will want a smoker that has a lot of space and the ability to cook over indirect heat. On the other hand, if you’re going to smoke smaller items such as chickens or fish, then you can choose a smoker that is a lot smaller.
- How Many People Will I Be Feeding? If it’s just you, then you can get away with buying a much smaller meat smoker than if you are going to be catering large parties for your friends and family members. Of course, it’s important to remember that you will likely grow into a more massive meat smoker so instead of having to buy another one in a few years, you may want to buy one a size up from what you think you need now.
- How Much Space Do I Have? If you are lucky enough to have a huge backyard or patio, then space will not be a huge issue but many people have to consider how much room their new smokers will take up. Upright smokers need a lot less floor space but don’t come in the larger sizes that you may prefer.
- Does it Need to Be Portable? There are some meat smokers that are so large that you will need to haul them behind your truck if you want to take them anywhere. Chances are good that you will be happy with a smaller smoker but you will still want to be able to move it from one location to another on your property.
Types of Meat Smokers
Your next step will be deciding what kind of smoker you want to buy. While there are different styles of smokers, the type depends on what type of fuel source that you have for the heat. You will have to make this decision while taking into consideration how hands-on you want to be during cooking as well as weighing the pros and cons of each available type.
Ideal for anyone who wants to put his or her meat on the smoker and then forget about it for a few hours, gas smokers are very easy to operate. They do tend to be more expensive than wood smokers, but some people find that the increase in price is worth the ease of cooking.
You have to vent the top when cooking and make sure that you have enough propane on hand so you don’t run out while using the meat smoker. Some people complain about the taste or smell of food cooked in gas smokers.
These are the least expensive smokers available on the market and are relatively simple pieces of equipment with very few moving parts. The type of wood that you use can impart fantastic flavor to your meat and it’s easy to add additional liquid so that everything is moist.
You do have to know how to start a fire to use a wood smoker and it’s important to keep an eye on them to make sure that they have enough fuel during the time that you are using them.
These are the most technical of all of the meat smokers and are digitally controlled. That makes it easy to entirely manage the whole smoking process. They are an excellent option for people who want complete control over their meat but don’t want to have to monitor it. The downside of pellet smokers is that they can be costly.
By far the easiest smoker to use, these smokers let you just add water, wood, and your meat and then turn it on and walk off. Unfortunately, that convenience comes with a price and the meat smoked in electric smokers does not taste as good as meat prepared in other smokers will.
They tend to be pricey but not as expensive as pellet smokers are. Your food will not have a crust or the much-coveted smoke ring that is typical with smoked meat.
Top Meat Smoker Manufacturers
With so many meat smokers available on the market, it can be very tricky to find one that is reliable, will meet your needs, and is still well within your budget. That being said, there are a few manufacturers that are well known, have been in the business for a while, and consistently produce high-quality products.
It’s smart to start your search by looking at meat smokers from Weber, Masterbuilt, Char-Broil, and Smoke Hollow. While other manufacturers will make high-quality meat smokers, these brands are a great place to begin your search so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you will be buying from a reputable source.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Meat Smoker
When you take time to research potential meat smokers, then you will be better prepared to make a purchase. In addition, this will ensure that you are happy with your decision in the future and that you won’t regret the smoker that you buy.
Horizontal vs. Vertical:
This is one of the main decisions that you will have to make when choosing a meat smoker. Vertical smokers take up much less space than horizontal ones do and are great for allowing the smoke to circulate around your meat. They are generally much less expensive than horizontal smokers are. Unfortunately, they aren’t the best option if you need to smoke a lot of meat at one time since they are smaller in size.
Horizontal smokers, on the other hand, are more stable and much more significant than their vertical counterparts. They are great for smoking large quantities of meat at once and can usually be pulled behind a truck but aren’t ideal if you are going to be smoking just a little meat for your family.
Not all meat smokers will be able to get hot enough to sear a steak or to caramelize sauce. Generally, smokers aren’t as hot as other appliances such as a grill but having the option to turn them really hot is always a benefit.
While you don’t want to have to make your final decision based solely on what you can afford, meat smokers tend to get very pricey so it’s vital that you have a thought-out budget before you go shopping.
In addition, some smokers, such as pellet smokers and ones that use propane, will have regular costs associated with being able to use them. By knowing what your budget is, you can be sure that you can afford the smoker not only when you buy it but also when you want to use it.
If you are going to be taking your smoker with you when you travel, then its strength is especially important. Even if you are not going to be moving your smoker on a regular basis, it’s crucial that you are sure that it has been built to last and won’t fall apart.
Make sure to check the welding, how sturdy the wheels and legs are, and the quality of the hinges as well as the latches. If there is a lot of plastic, then you need to make sure that the smoker can handle high heat, and any exposed metal or screws can rust if the smoker is left out in the rain.
From small to huge, there are meat smokers for every person. Remember to plan ahead in case you decide that you need a more massive smoker in the future but not to overbuy a smoker that you can’t move or easily store.
Features to Look for in a Meat Smoker
Different meat smokers will have various features that you can choose from. Remember that all optional features will likely add to the final cost of the smoker that you want so you will have to weigh your desired features against the budget that you have set for yourself.
- Moveable Shelves: Not all meat smokers offer moveable shelves in them but these make it much easier to smoke all different sizes and shapes of meat without hassle. You won’t have to cut your meat into portions to smoke it when you can quickly adjust the shelves and being able to remove them makes cleaning your smoker a lot easier.
- High-Quality Thermometer: Unfortunately, a lot of meat smokers come with cheaper thermometers that won’t work very reliably. This makes it very difficult to keep an eye on your meat and to make sure that it’s at the right temperature. A higher-quality thermometer will allow you to keep an eye on your smoker without worrying about if it is too hot or too cold.
- Water Pan: A water pan is useful for filling with herbs, water, wine, or beer. It doesn’t just help to flavor the meat but also to regulate any fluctuations in temperature. It’s smart to look for a model that has a large water pan; more than that, you want to make sure that you can easily access it. If you can’t get to the water pan while the smoker is full, then you will have a lot of problems trying to add more liquid to it or check to see what’s left.
- Drip Pan: While you may want to let your drippings fall directly into the fire for more flavor and a better aroma, it is nice to be able to collect the drippings if you want to. These can make an excellent sauce.
Putting it All Together
With some information about choosing a meat smoker, you will be better prepared when it comes time to make your purchase.
Your first step is to decide on your budget and how much money you feel comfortable spending before you even go to look at a smoker. After you have come up with a firm budget, then it’s time to decide what type of meat smoker you want. Choosing between the four categories can be tricky and you may need to do more research to see what kind is really right for you. Once you have narrowed down your choice to the perfect type of smoker for you, then you will be able to consider manufacturers and features.
If you have an ideal manufacturer that you want to buy from, that’s great! It’s okay if you don’t as you can still get a great meat smoker. By knowing what type you want and your budget, you can look at available models from different manufacturers. You will need to consider the size of the smoker and if you can easily place it at your home.
Finally, you can think about the additional features that you are interested in and see if any of them are available on the smoker that you’re considering. Remember that you may not be able to find a smoker with all of the features that you want without going over budget so you may have to prioritize.
When you use this meat smoker buying guide to help you plan out your purchase, you can be sure that you’ll be happy with your new smoker. What may work for a friend or family member might not work for you, so it’s worth spending a little time doing research and considering the various options before spending any money.
Now that you have done your research, you can begin your journey in becoming a backyard gourmet. You can start by checking out our list of the best meat smokers for beginners or our list of the best meat smokers for home use. Or you can read our individual meat smoker reviews below.