The 5 Best Smokers For Beginners [ Anyone Can Learn How to Slow-Cook Flavor-Packed Dishes ]

  Smoking can seem like a cooking technique for masters of cuisine; an advanced form of grilling known only to those who have had the wisdom passed down generation to generation.

Of course, this is nonsense.

Smoking is one of the simplest and most rewarding cooking methods out there. And today, it’s easier than ever to handle what were once major setbacks in the smoking process. Things like constant temperature control; portability; and a reliable energy source.

Whether you’re looking for the best smoker for beginners with professional temperature control or just a budget solution for your home:

You’ve come to the right place.


There are many options and factors to consider before making the final decision. In this guide we’ve composed customer reviews, online and in person interviews, and days of research into a comprehensive guide that you won’t find a better version of online.

This post will tell you what you need to know as a beginner looking to get into the flavorful world of smoking. In my Buyer’s Guide, I’ll discuss the most important factors for choosing a meat smoker for beginners; what types of smokers are available; which fuel sources are out there; and why you should take a second look at your cooking space.

For my best smoker for beginners review, keep reading below and I’ll give you my top picks. If you happen to be a pro smoker and need help making up your mind, please check out choices for best electric and pellet smokers for professionals.

Bottom Line

  All three products on my list are priced, between $100 and $200. The Cusinart  comes in at the lowest price, and best budget option. The Weber Cooker wins my overall choice for its affordability and great features across the board. And the Smokey Hollow, while a little more expensive, is the and best electric smoker my list.

At the end of the day, the main differences you’ll find have to do with the durability of the device and the portability and temperature control. While a major concern for many is ease of use, each of my three choices are reliable and consistent. That being said, if you do choose to stray from this list, be sure to find a smoker that is both warrantied extensively, and backed by extensive customer reviews.

Choose Your Budget

TOP PICKS

RATINGS

TYPE

  BEST OVERALL

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

4.9/5

Charcoal Smoker

BEST BUDGET

Cuisinart Vertical Charcoal Smoker

4.1/5

Electric Smoker

Best Electric Smoker For Beginners

Smoke Hollow Electric Smoker

4.7/5

Electric Smoker

How We Picked?

This guide compares our top picks divided into 3 price-ranges for easy browsing (Here is the full list of the 27 products we tested). You can jump between price ranges using the menu below. Finally, there’s a useful buyer’s guide at the bottom of the page that helps explain what beginners should look for when buying a smoker.


This buyer’s guide is suited to beginners interested in learning which smoker to buy or what's good about them, and what's missing from each and how best to use them.

The Runner Ups

These two smoker didn't make the top 3 list, but you should take them into consideration:

The Masterbuilt Bullet Smoker(The Best Small Smoker)The Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet is a great value option. Light, small and able to be setup just about anywhere, it’s a perfect travel companion that will get the smoking job done on the road or in your yard. Its capacity is on the low end, and a good fit if your single. The low capacity is why its not on my winners list. In short, avoid this smoker if you planning on cooking for your family or enjoy hosting. 

The Char-Broil: The Big Easy Smoker(The Best Combined grill/roast/smoker) It might seem strange to see the Char-Broil Big Easy Smoker Roaster and Grill on this ‘smoker’ list, but for beginners I think it serves as a great introduction to smoking, with more cooking variety. Just keep in mind it's more of an investment ($$$) and thats why its not on my winners list.

BEST OVERALL

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Review

My Best Overall selection takes into account affordability, temperature accuracy and any additional features that may sway the final vote. As the best combination of all these points, the Weber cooker was a standout winner. Competitive or leading the way in almost every category, it was an easy decision. Success is in the details, for me. Small touches like porcelain enameled water pan and charcoal chamber give the Weber a professional finish; making it easier on cleaning and more efficient in heat production. Easily accessible through its front-opening chamber, accurate built-in lid temperature reader and a slit for meat probes, this model from Weber is very beginner-friendly.

Who Should Buy?

Realistically, this is a great smoker for people of all experience, but is particularly useful for introducing beginners to the basics of high quality smoking

Full Weber Smokey Review 

   This is the standout smoker on my list when it comes to quality, ease-of-use and aesthetic design. It may sound strange to talk about a smoker as ‘looking good’, but the sleek, polished black exterior is pleasant on the eyes, and the performance of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is up to its looks.

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive on this one, folks. One recurring complaint, however, is that the grommet for meat probes is slightly undersized. This means it might take a little fiddling to get the wires through as you want them--for beginners who aren’t accustomed to cooking with meat probes, this won’t be an issue. But for people are used to built-in probes or more easily accessible grommets, this can be a minor hassle.

TECH SPECS


  • Cooking Space: 286 square inches
  • Energy Source: Charcoal
  • Cooking Grate: Two round-fitting cooking grids
  • Special Features: Porcelain-enameled finish on water pan and charcoal chamber

Pros

  • High Quality components for a high quality cook
  • Small and easily portable, at just 31 inches tall
  • High heat-capacity grommet for temperature probes
  • In-built temperature reader
  • Effective heat production
  • Easy access front loading and cleaning

Cons

  • Grommets can be difficult to fit probe wires through
  • The larger models begin to get more expensive

BEST BUDGET

Cuisinart Vertical Charcoal Smoker Review 

Cuisinart’s Vertical Charcoal Smoker is a great budget option that can cook for a crowd. While the Masterbuilt Bullet Smoker may be slightly cheaper, nothing on this list beats the Cuisinart in terms of value for the money.  As a classic vertical smoker it has great cooking space, efficient heating and a clean black design. Lightweight and portable, it’s also possible to take this smoker on family trips and into the outdoors.

Who Should Buy?

Great for beginners who are looking to try out an affordable smoker before jumping into the more expensive models out there.

Full Cuisinart Review 

   With an impressive 402 square inches of cooking space, and plenty more vertical space between cooking racks, the Cuisinart COS-116 can cook a large rack of ribs, vegetables and a nice piece of salmon all at once. Its vertical hinging door is another useful feature that lets you clean out the ashes without needing to reach in from the side awkwardly. 


Temperature is easy to adjust with two vents for altering air flow while you cook. However, you need to be careful with this. Without regular cleaning, some users have noted that the ash from previous cooks can clog up the vents and restrict airflow. This will lead to temperature inconsistencies and ultimately a more frustrating smoking experience.

TECH SPECS


  • Cooking Space: 286 square inches
  • Energy Source: Charcoal
  • Cooking Grate: Two round-fitting cooking grids
  • Special Features: Porcelain-enameled finish on water pan and charcoal chamber

Pros

  • Easy-access vertical hinging door for cleaning
  • Nice-fitting cooking grates which don’t slip out of place
  • Three-legged design for easy set-up and stability
  • Side handles for portability
  • Good heat efficiency and cooking space


Cons

  • Air vents are prone to clogging
  • Needs to be cleaned regularly

BEST ELECTRIC SMOKER FOR BEGINNERS 

Smoke Hollow  Electric Smoker Review

The Smoke Hollow 26-inch Electric Smoker has great temperature control, provides a classic smokey finish, and can be left to do its work without supervision. Made with a solid steel cabinet design, the smoke is locked in to produce a rich and intense flavor.

Who Should Buy?

Beginners with easy access to a power outlet in their yard or out on the patio will benefit from the ‘set it and forget it’ style of this all-electric smoker.

Full Smoke Hollow Review 

   The Smoke Hollow Electric is a true smoker, with plenty of cooking space and a sturdy steel design. The cabin itself is well-locked, equipped with adjustable draft and vent controls that let you play with how much smoke stays in or escapes.

Temperature control on this thing is impressive. It comes with a commercial quality heat indicator, but the best part is the electric heating agent gives you full control over how much heat and energy you want to be expelling. 

One major complaint is that the design doesn’t allow for the grease to fall away from the cooking mechanism effectively. If you don’t cover the wood chips properly, grease can drip down from your food and land on the wood chunks, creating a grease fire rather than a true smokey heat. I would suggest arranging your wood chip box and food accordingly to avoid this as much as possible, but certainly a noticeable design floor in this otherwise quality product from Smoke Hollow.

TECH SPECS


  • Cooking Capacity: 1.3 cu.ft. 
  • Energy Source: Electric
  • Cooking Grate: Two chrome-plated cooking grids
  • Special Features: Welded-steel cabinet with cool-touch spring wire handle

Pros

  • Energy efficient electric smoker (about 26 cents per hour session!)
  • Welded-steel cabinet for a great smoke lock-in
  • Plenty of space, big enough to fit two large turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner
  • Great temperature control
  • Perfect temperature range at Maximum: 325 Fahrenheit and Minimum 175 Fahrenheit.

Cons

  • Grease can drip into the wood chips
  • Some issues with bubbling paint on the inner door

BEST SMALL SMOKER

Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet Smoker 

The Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet is a great value option. Light, small and able to be setup just about anywhere, it’s a perfect travel companion that will get the smoking job done on the road or in your yard.

Who Should Buy?

Perfect for families that want to take their smoker on camping or road trips. This is the most portable smoker on the list, and can be taken with you on any journey that could use some freshly smoked foods.

Full Masterbuilt Bullet Smoker Review 

   This is the standout smoker on my list when it comes to quality, ease-of-use and aesthetic design. It may sound strange to talk about a smoker as ‘looking good’, but the sleek, polished black exterior is pleasant on the eyes, and the performance of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is up to its looks.

Success is in the details, for me. Small touches like porcelain enameled water pan and charcoal chamber give the Weber a professional finish; making it easier on cleaning and more efficient in heat production. Easily accessible through its front-opening chamber, accurate built-in lid temperature reader and a slit for meat probes, this model from Weber is very beginner-friendly. 

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive on this one, folks. One recurring complaint, however, is that the grommet for meat probes is slightly undersized. This means it might take a little fiddling to get the wires through as you want them--for beginners who aren’t accustomed to cooking with meat probes, this won’t be an issue. But for people are used to built-in probes or more easily accessible grommets, this can be a minor hassle.

TECH SPECS


  • Cooking Space: 286 square inches
  • Energy Source: Charcoal
  • Cooking Grate: Two round-fitting cooking grids
  • Special Features: Porcelain-enameled finish on water pan and charcoal chamber

Pros

  • High Quality components for a high quality cook
  • Small and easily portable, at just 31 inches tall
  • High heat-capacity grommet for temperature probes
  • In-built temperature reader
  • Effective heat production
  • Easy access front loading and cleaning

Cons

  • Grommets can be difficult to fit probe wires through
  • The larger models begin to get more expensive

Best Combined Grill/Roast/Smoker

Char-Broil The Big Easy Smoker Review

It might seem strange to see the Char-Broil Big Easy Smoker Roaster and Grill on this ‘smoker’ list, but for beginners I think it serves as a great introduction to smoking. The smoky flavor is a great addition in this design, and it lets users learn some of the basics around loading a side section with wood chips to produce a nice smoky texture.  Full review below.

Who Should Buy?

Great for beginners who just want to get that final smoky taste, without going through the long slow smoke-cooking process.

Full Char-Broil Smoker Review 

   This model is slightly different to the others on my list. Not a strictly true smoker, the Char-Broil Roaster, Smoker & Grill is a combination effort that will cover all bases.

With 180 square inches of grilling space on top and 25 lbs roasting capacity, you can comfortably cook two turkeys in the chamber, while grilling more meats and vegetables up above. It’s truly a space and heat efficient model, and its infrared finish technology gives a nice crispy finish in the roasting/smoking chamber.

That being said, the ‘smoking’ feature in this model is mostly for adding a smoky texture to foods that are primarily cooked another way. The cooking in this model is done relatively quickly (in smoking terms), with the smoky flavor added on top. For that reason, it isn’t really a true smoker, but more of a ‘smoker imitator’ that grills and roasts very effectively.

TECH SPECS


  • Cooking Space: 180 sq. inches grill, plus 25 lbs of cooking capacity in chamber
  • Energy Source: Infrared heating chamber
  • Cooking Grate: Two stainless steel racks with porcelain coated cast iron for grilling above
  • Special Features: Infrared heating chamber

Pros

  • Diverse cooking options
  • Smoky finish
  • Fast-cooking option
  • Massive cooking space and capacity
  • Roasting and infrared chamber

Cons

  • Not a true smoker
  • Grease pan isn’t tightly fitted and moves around

Buyer’s Guide

How to choose the best smoker for beginners

If you’re just getting into smoking, you’ll want a smoker that basically takes care of itself. There are three things to look for:

1)  Fuel source;
2) Temperature control; and
3) Cooking space.


How well you can control your cooking temperature will largely depend on the quality of the grill, and the fuel source. Keep that in mind while reading through my sections on different types of smokers.

First, let’s look at what’s going on under the hood of these machines.

What is the smoking process?

People have been smoking foods since prehistory. If we look in on the indigenous population of the Caribbean, we find that they would set their meat and fish upon a rack that hung over a very ‘smoky fire’ (the setup was called a ‘barbacoa’... remind you of another word?). From Medieval Europe to the Southern states of the United States, smoking tough or ‘undesirable’ cuts of meat was a necessary means of making something out of nothing:

Today, smoked meats are a delicacy; tender and packed with flavor. 

The smoking process is slow and low. Typically between 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit, some of the most tender results come with 24 hours of continuous cooking. In modern smokers, smoke is produced by a fuel source (we’ll talk more about the difference between these later) which is then filtered through the chamber, surrounding and heating your food indirectly. As opposed to a direct flame or searing hot grill, this produces a different type of cooking process--where flame-grilled meats react sharply at the surface (for that delicious charcoal burn), smoked meats have a much more even cook. This allows the flavour to develop with time, soaking up the smoke and flavor of the charcoal or wood chunks.

Which Type of Smoker is Best For Beginners?

We’ve come a long way from the 17th century smokehouses of Europe.

Today, modern smokers are commercially manufactured, and able to fit in the back of your car. They take the large-scale smoking process and capture it in a compact, durable, high-heat-capacity box or cylinder:

And they use a variety of fuels to bring the heat.

From charcoal to electric, pellet and propane sources, the type of fuel you use can play a role in flavor, ease-of-use and energy costs.

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal is one of the most popular and effective fuel sources for smoking. Famed for giving you that classic smoky taste, charcoal produces a slow steady heat; when you add some wooden chunks into the charcoal mix, that’s when you’ll get some seriously flavor-packed meats.

Vertical charcoal smokers produce heat and smoke at the base of the structure, which then rises up to the food that’s placed on a cooking rack above. They also tend to use a water pan, which can help regulate the temperatures within the smoker, while also keeping the meat from drying out. Offset smokers, on the other hand, keep the fuel source in a separate section off to the side; in the ‘firebox’. The smoke then travels from the firebox into the cooking chamber, where it heats and flavors the food before escaping out the exhaust vent. 

Compared to some other fuel types, charcoal is very affordable, easy to find, and can be used for a variety of other grills. It can also take a little more attention and involvement. For beginners, starting your charcoals can take some effort--but once you learn how to get them going, it’s really quite simple. And while many modern charcoal smokers have addressed these issues (with automatic temperature regulators), you might also need to check in on your charcoal smoker every couple of hours or so, to be sure that the heat is maintained. 

Lastly, the clean-up on charcoal smokers can be more difficult than with other smokers. The black remaining ash makes a nice mess, and can take some time to fully cool down--be careful that you’re not trying to clean out hot ashes, as this can result in serious burns. 

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers make some of the best smokers for beginners. A somewhat recent addition to the smoking scene, electric smokers rely on an electricity to provide energy for a heating element. This heating element is usually placed below a space for wood chips or chunks, which then readily smolder and smoke with the constant heat.

The advantages of electric smokers are their ease-of-use and superior temperature control. Firstly, for beginners, electric smokers are ideal because you really can set it up and walk away. Secondly, the electric heating method has a greater level of control than charcoal of gas fuel source--allowing you to regulate your temperature incredibly accurately and quickly. It also makes for an easy connection between digital displays, controls and electric heating sources. 

Electric smokers also tend to keep a water pan for ensuring that your meats are moist and tender throughout the cooking process. The setback of electric smokers is that they require a ready power outlet. That makes them great for backyards, patios and verandas, but it means that they aren’t entirely portable like some other fuel sources that can be set up anywhere--on camping trips, etc.

Propane/Gas Smokers

Gas smokers tend to offer some of the most affordable smoking options on the market. Gas burners have been around and manufactured for some time now, making serious progress in the BBQ grilling industry, and this has translated across into the smoking world.

Similar to vertical charcoal methods, gas and propane smokers typically hold a burner at the base of a cylindrical or rectangular space. Wood chips sit above the gas burner, which is connected through the bottom of the chamber to a gas line and tank. 

Gas tanks can usually be filled for about $15.00 per 5 gallon tank--since each gallon should get you about 3 cookouts, that means each cookout will cost about $1.00.

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers are the most recently growing smokers on the market. The Traeger pellet grill had a monopoly on the pellet grills and smokers for 20 years, all the way up until 2006 when Joe Traeger’s original patent expired. Since then, new manufacturers have entered the pellet grill and smoker market, making for a wider variety today than there has ever been.

Pellet smokers are actually almost always pellet grills, roasters and BBQs, too. The pellet grill is designed to accommodate all of these cooking methods--the fuel sources coming from densely packed wooden pellets. These are small bullet-shaped clippings that are produced by compacting wood waste from large mills. Higher quality food-grade wood pellets are made from cleaner materials, and often come with flavor schemes included like ‘Maple’, ‘Smoky Apple’ or ‘Hickory BBQ’. The fact that these wooden pellets are the primary source of heat energy and smoke make them a great way to smoke your food, achieving some of the best final flavor results. 

These grills are also very simple to operate, and demand little to no experience for operating. Most pellet grills use a digital display which can set temperature and cooking style--just set your cooking method, cooking time and let the grill do its work. 

Pellet smokers are also dependent on electricity, which means that they need to be within range of a power outlet to operate.

Cooking Space

As a beginner, you may not realise that the size of the equipment doesn’t always translate to more ‘cooking space’. Unlike grills which need surface area that is directly in contact with the heat source, smokers are usually able to pack a larger load by including the vertical space in their calculations--giving you more bang for your buck. Vertical smokers, for example, will often have a few rows or racks for preparing food.

Be sure to check out the ‘cooking space’ specification on each product, as this will be a good indicator for how many people you can serve at a time. A general grilling rule is: You can fit 3 burger patties in every 100 square inches of cooking space. For smoking, however, you will find most products listed in cubic inches, since they include horizontal and vertical space capacities. Some smokers may also tell you how many square inches of cooking space are available on the provided trays.

Summing Up

Smoking doesn’t require any culinary expertise. If you can load an electric grill with wood chips; if you can get your charcoal lighted; if you can hook up a gas tank to your propane smoker’s gas line; you can smoke your food. After setup, smoking is the simplest way to prepare a delicacy, and the flavor is well worth the wait.

Check out my best smokers for beginners reviews, then let us know if you found something you like; or if you know of any smokers that you love which didn’t make an appearance on this list.

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