7 Types of Smokers & How to Choose One

Smokers are one of the best cooking appliances used for producing amazing and tasty barbecue recipes. Owning a good and efficient one is a dream come true for any chef who enjoys culinary arts.

There are several brands and types of smokers in the market, each with features tailored to serve the user’s needs. They can also be classified according to the means used to fuel or ignite them. For instance, charcoal, wood pellets, gas, and electricity.

This guide provides comprehensive descriptions of seven types of smokers available in the market. However, selecting one to buy will greatly depend on your immediate barbecue needs and your personal preferences.

The 7 Most Common Types of Smoker

1. Propane/Gas Smokers

Propane-and-Gas-Smokers
Photo credit: bbqonmain.com

Gas smokers, also known as vertical gas smokers, basically use propane as a source of fuel for generating heat. Some are built with stainless steel structures while others have a body made out of cast iron.

The ideal propane smokers have varying features such as the number of cooking racks, temperature control systems, the cooking area, and the number of doors, i.e. single or double doors. Others have a special WiFi feature that can allow you to control the temperature of the smoker remotely.

How do they Work?

There are five main parts that make up a specialized propane smoker, and these parts together decide how it operates. A burner, wood pan, water pan, grilling rack, dampers, and vents are some of them.

The wood pan, which is often filled with wood chips or pellets that generate smoke for cooking and flavoring food, is heated by the burner at the bottom of the smoker. Depending on the flavor of your barbeque, the type of wood you select is important.

Some gas smokers feature water pans that are approximately three-quarters full of water. The steam created contributes to the control of heat in the cooking chamber and provides additional moisture to the food that is smoking. In order to prevent grease drips from falling into the wood pan or the gas flames, it is also used to catch dripping meat fat.

The cooking rack holds all the food and barbecue you intend to smoke or cook.

Advantages

  • They are relatively clean and can accommodate various designs
  • It’s easy to control the internal temperature. You simply adjust the amount of heat produced by the burner.
  • It’s easy to maintain low steady smoking temperatures compared to charcoal smokers.
  • They’re budget-friendly.
  • It’s easy to use and clean up.
  • Portable
  • They’re ideal for use in small apartments and small backyards.

Disadvantages

  • Some propane smokers are small in size meaning they cannot accommodate large amounts of meat
  • Poor metallic construction – models with a thin-gauge metal construction are not durable. They may have weld gaps and non-airtight fitting doors that risk smoke loss.

Who Should Buy One?

A propane smoker is a great pick for you if you prefer a low-maintenance easy-to-use cooker. It doesn’t require constant care when tending its fire and can cook within minutes. It’s a good option if you’re preparing a quick dinner for your entire family.

Read further for a better understanding of gas and electric smokers, and to find out which of them suits u best!

2. Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal-Smokers
Photo credit: grillingwizard.com

These smokers use burning charcoal as a source of heat. Most people prefer using charcoal smokers as the food cooked in them has rich deep flavors.

They can also cook or smoke meat for long hours under low steady temperatures. They, however, require more effort in maintaining consistent heat as you’ll need to keep adding charcoal to sustain this.

How do they Work?

Charcoal smokers as stated above, use charcoal as the main source of fuel for producing heat. This charcoal is normally housed in a firebox located at the bottom of the smoker. It can come in varying sizes depending on the manufacturer’s model. The firebox heats the cooking chamber and maintains consistent temperatures throughout the cooking period.

The charcoal then heats the water pan above it, which usually has water filled up to three-quarter level. This water pan aids in the even distribution of heat and moisturizing of smoking food. The cooking chamber varies in size and depends on the model of the smoker. This also determines the number of cooking racks it can hold in the chamber.

These smokers are normally covered with lids to prevent smoke from escaping from the cooking chamber.

Advantages

  • They are portable thus making them ideal for outdoor cooking
  • Meat smoked in them always comes out having distinctive flavors.
  • Most are affordable
  • They are versatile – apart from smoking, you can also use them for searing and cold smoking.

Disadvantages

  • You’ll need to put in extra effort in cleaning and maintaining it.
  • Charcoal is not an eco-friendly source of fuel

Who Should Buy One?

Charcoal smokers are for patient barbecue lovers who’d like to enjoy deep flavors penetrated in the food smoked in these cookers. Consider checking out these charcoal smokers for a start if you’re looking to purchase one.

3. Offset Smokers

Offset-Smokers

These are classic smokers featuring a long horizontal chamber that houses grill grates and a small firebox attached on one side. The cooking chamber can hold several briskets, pork ribs, and shoulders. They come in different sizes with most having a heavy sturdy steel construction. Be sure to select one with wheels for easy mobility.

How do they Work?

Offset smokers differ from traditional smokers in that the firebox housing the wood pellets or charcoal used to generate heat is beside the cooking chamber and not under it. Heat propagates throughout the cooking chamber via a convection mechanism. Excessive heat then exits through the chimney set on top of it.

This exceptional feature makes the offset smoker produce barbecue laced with smoked rings and a crispy texture. The temperature within the smoker is controlled by adjusting the air entering through the intake and exhaust vents.

There’s also the reverse offset smoker which is a new technology in the smokers market. For this smoker, the chimney is also set above the cooking chamber, but on the side near the firebox.

Read further on how to use an offset smoker the right way

Advantages

  • You can add more wood pellets, chips, or charcoal without opening the lid of the cooking chamber.
  • The humongous cooking area gives you more room for cooking big chunks of meat and larger meal portions.
  • Some units allow you to double up the smoker as a grill. You simply place the grill grate on top of the firebox, and you’ll have your grill ready for use.
  • There’s no need for electricity to power up any component of the smoker.

Disadvantages

  • It’s relatively expensive
  • Heating up can take up to an hour which is a long time.

Who Should Buy One?

If you’re looking for a smoker big enough to prepare meals for serving big families or outdoor parties, offset smokers are the best option.

4. Pellet Smokers

Pellet-Smokers

Pellet smokers are the most versatile cookers in the smoker/grill market. They have been designed to use a variety of cooking techniques such as smoking, roasting, grilling, and baking. They make great briskets, ribs, smoked fish, and turkey.

Some pellet smokers have digital control systems that make it easy to control the temperature and timer of the smoker remotely.

How do they Work?

Pellet smokers use an indirect approach in supplying heat throughout the cooking chamber. Their main source of fuel is wood pellets which burn slowly for long periods of time. This makes it convenient for long-hour cooking.

The heat produced circulates throughout the cooking chamber via convection motion which allows for its even distribution of heat.

In case the temperatures run low while cooking, the pellet hopper at the top of the cooking chamber supplies more wood pellets. This is done through an auger that connects the hopper to the burning pot stationed at the bottom of the cooking chamber.

The temperature of this smoker is purely controlled by natural airflow. Fans located at the bottom of this cooker, when turned on, forcefully pull in the air into the smoker. This increases the supply of oxygen which in turn increases the rate of pellets consumption. The extra heat produced can be used for searing barbecues.

Advantages

  • Easy to use and operate.
  • They produce great smoked meats compared to other types of smokers. This is due to their long-hours cooking feature which infuses rich smoke flavors into barbecues via indirect heat.
  • It is highly versatile. It offers you a variety of cooking options for all your barbecues.
  • The wood pellets provided come in different kinds of flavors. You can choose to use hickory, apple, cherry, maple, mesquite, and many more.
  • Has a temperature control system that’s easy to manage
  • They generally have large cooking areas which provide more space for larger meals and steaks.

Disadvantages

  • Pellet smokers need electricity. You’ll need to plug it into an extension power socket if you want to use it outdoors.
  • It only works great on food cooked slowly and for several hours. This may not be a good option for quick dinners.
  • Most of them are not durable.

Who Should Buy One?

Pellet smokers produce one of the tastiest barbecues you can ever prepare. However, you’ll need to be patient enough to wait for it to cook your meat for the full span of time which could be hours. It’s a good pick if you’re looking for a smoker that effectively induces smoky flavors deep into your steaks.

5. Electric Smokers

Electric-Smokers
Photo credit: residencestyle.com

Electric smokers use hot electric rods powered up by electricity to produce heat for smoking food. They usually have a robust design and come with stainless steel or cast iron construction.

Depending on their brand, they come with a variety of features. Some of these include; double doors, large cooking areas, integrated digital control systems, smoking, and warming racks.

How do they Work?

The working mechanism of an electric smoker is quite simple. The electric rod is first plugged into a source of electricity. Once powered up, the rod heats the pan filled with wood chips which smolder and produce smoke that cooks the food in the cooking chamber.

Some electric smokers have water pans to enhance heat distribution and add moisture to enrich the texture of smoking meat.

Advantages

  • They are easy to use and maintain.
  • They produce more consistent and reliable results when it comes to smoked barbecues.
  • It’s easy to control their cooking temperatures. They have an adjustable thermostat that aids in regulating the temperature of the smoker.

Disadvantages

  • At times, they don’t infuse smoked flavors deep into the barbecues.
  • It heavily relies on electricity for powering it up and producing heat for smoking.

Who Should Buy One?

Electric smokers have a combination of top-notch features designed to make smoking an easier process and a thrilling experience at the same time. It can produce barbecues matching up to the standards of pellet and gas/propane smokers.

It’s a good option if you’ve been considering purchasing a compact smoker that can produce quality and reliable results.

However, you may just have to bear with the high electricity consumption in case you want to smoke your barbecues for long hours under low steady heat.

Check our guide on how to use an electric smoker

6. Kamado Grills

Kamado-Grills

Lately, many people are switching to kamado grills due to their effective heat circulation and powerful heat insulation properties. These are typically oval-shaped grills originally designed in Japan and have been used for more than 3,000 years. Initially, the Japanese used them to cook their staple food, rice, but currently, they’re used worldwide to grill and roast barbecues.

How do they Work?

Kamado grills work with the simple principle of internal heat circulation through convection movements. It’s very much like that of an ordinary kitchen oven. Those made of ceramic material have superior insulation properties making them suitable for long-hour cooking and grilling under low steady heat conditions.

Heat is normally produced by charcoal stored in a firebox located in the grill’s lower chamber. An air vent located at the base of the kamado grill draws in air which supplies oxygen for the burning charcoal. Heat and smoke produced then move up into the cooking chamber and upwards towards the top air vent where some of it escapes. These air vents also help in controlling temperature in the kamado grills.

Effective heat circulation is only possible once the lid of the grill is properly shut.

Advantages

  • Kamado grills made out of ceramic material have great insulation properties. This makes it convenient for use during the winter seasons.
  • Cooks food evenly while keeping it tasty and juicy.
  • It’s easy to regulate its internal temperatures
  • Consumes less charcoal compared to standard charcoal grills. This saves a lot of fuel.
  • It’s easy to clean and maintain.

Disadvantages

  • The ceramic types are mostly heavy and quite fragile. They can easily break if not properly handled.
  • Brands such as the Big Green Egg have a limited warranty period.

Who Should Buy One?

Kamado grills are amazing, compact cookers suitable for all barbecue enthusiasts, from beginners to experts. It offers great insulation properties and cooks great food. This kind of grill is for you if you’re looking for a highly versatile grill that not only grills meat but can prepare a variety of food and infuse them with deep flavors that your family will enjoy.

7. Kettle Grills

Kettle-Grills
Photo credit: bbqoutfitters.com

Kettle grills derive their name from their typical shape designed by the Weber company, way back in 1951. Their structure consists of a round lid, a stainless steel grilling grate, and two air vents – one at the top and one at the base of the grill. They can be used for searing, roasting, grilling, baking, and slow low-heat cooking.

How do they Work?

The operation mechanism of a kettle grill is also simple. Charcoal is its source of fuel. You can either heat the charcoal directly to ignite it or use a chimney starter. The heat produced propagates directly into the cooking chamber and grills food placed in it. The air vents help in regulating the internal temperatures of the grill by controlling the airflow movements.

Advantages

  • Cheap
  • Quite versatile
  • It’s easy to use, clean, and maintain.
  • The integrated four legs give it high stability on a standing pose.

Disadvantage

  • Some models come with limited accessories essential for use. For instance, a thermometer gauge for monitoring the temperature of the grill.

Who Should Buy One?

Go for a kettle grill if you love doing barbecues during the weekend. It’s also a great option if you’re starting out on barbecues. Most people owning a kettle grill hardly buy other grills since they are versatile.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Smoker

Your Budget

Smokers can cost as low as $100 while others cross the $1,000 mark. It’s important to first assess your smoker’s needs so you can avoid overspending. A budget lower than $500 would favor a variety of charcoal, propane, and electric smokers.

If you can afford those that cost more than $1,000, the better. Such brands always have the latest technology in-built in them and most of them are of high quality. For example, offset smokers, Kamado Joe smokers, and pellet smokers.

The Type of Fuel

You can buy a smoker based on the kind of fuel it uses for igniting heat. Charcoal smokers are great for beginners. Pellet smokers cook great food with amazing flavors but are quite expensive. Gas smokers which use propane are a great option if you prefer a “set it and forget it” kind of smoker that can do quick meals.

Temperature Control

The ease with which you control the temperature of a smoker should never be overlooked when purchasing a smoker. Consider the time and effort you’ll use in setting and regulating the temperature. Some smokers like the latest pellet smoker models, have automatic digital temperature controls that make it easy for you to control the temperature remotely. They, however, come at a price.

Some smokers such as traditional charcoal smokers require you to keep monitoring the temperature levels almost every hour. Others take a tremendous amount of time to reach the desired temperature.

Capacity

Also, keep in mind the size of the smoker for you to meet the demands of the number of people you’re cooking for. If it’s a large party you frequently host, consider getting an offset smoker. If it’s only for your family or a smaller gathering, a kamado grill will do.

It’s also important to factor in the amount of food you’d like to cook in one session. Larger meals will require bigger smokers and vice versa.

Footprint/Portability

This factor comes in handy when you’ll want to move your smoker around the backyard or your patio. It’s also important in case you’ll want to maneuver your smoker or move it indoors during the winter season.

Consider buying a smoker with featured sturdy wheels that enhance its mobility. Moving the smoker also gives room for positioning it at a safe location in case an accidental fire occurs.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has provided the smoker details you were looking for if you’ve been contemplating buying one. It all narrows down to your personal preference and the features you’d like to enjoy in a smoker.

Some like electric smokers provide convenience when cooking while kamado grills and pellet smokers may require your patience, but produce better barbecues.

The bottom line is, that it all depends on your needs and preferences. Choose the one that suits you best and will make your barbecue experience easier and more worthwhile.

Related: Smokey Hollow Smokers – A Comprehensive Guide

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