The best smoker, if you ask a purist, is one that can cook low and slow for hours on end – usually at a very specific 'correct' temperature, and that is no easy thing. For the casual smoker, maybe the best smoker is just one that can impart a smokey taste and hey, that's fine. But come on, let's get serious about this, people.
When it comes to the best barbecue as a lifestyle, four countries head the list: South Africa, Australia, Argentina and the USA. However, when it comes to low and slow grilling and smoking, American barbecue is in a field all of its own. All the best smokers are born in the USA. We’ve scoured two of America’s biggest sources for online products – Walmart and Amazon – and collated this handy guide to the best smokers currently on the US market. Whether you’re preparing a banquet for the local community, the family or just yourself, these are the smokers everyone’s talking about.
A number of these best smokers are also available in the UK and elsewhere, so don't worry if you don't own a ranch or have Guy Fieri's awful Food Network show playing on an endless loop.
The best smokers to buy, in order of preference
Admittedly, the first shipments of Weber’s new SmokeFire had a few hiccups, but the company has since given its new pellet smoker-cum-grill a tweak or two and we are happy to say our model at least is firing on all cylinders.
As the moniker suggests, the SmokeFire can properly sear as well as smoke and grill and that’s unique among pellet grills. But this article is about smokers and in that respect the SmokeFire truly excels. As with any large and fancy pellet grill, this one uses a computer processor – and an app – to monitor the speed of the electrically-powered auger that continually delivers pellets from the huge rear-mounted hopper to the fire pot. This means that when you set the temperature for a slow cook to 120˚C, it’ll stay at that temperature for the full 11 to 14 hour duration – just like your indoor oven.
For smoking and slow roasting of large cuts of meat like brisket, Weber suggests placing an aluminium tray of water on the main grill and the meat above it on the warming rack. Insert the provide met probe, select ‘brisket’ on the Bluetooth-enabled app, set the temperature to about 120˚C (248˚F) and tap ‘start cooking’. Leave the cut on the grill for up to 12 hours, checking the hopper contents from time to time and generally nurturing the meat until it’s fully cooked. The finished cut should literally fall off the bone and, when cut, display the classic pink smoke ring just below the outer crust.
If you’re after a superbly built pellet model that delivers in all disciplines, then this is the model plump for. Granted, it’s not cheap – few pellet barbecues are – but then grilling, smoking and searing doesn’t come much easier.
This is far and away our favourite small barbecue right now. The wood pellet-powered Ranger is extraordinarily heavy so don’t contemplate carrying it too far unless you have an extra pair of hands to hand. However, it is the perfect sized smoker, griller and slow cooker for balcony, verandah and patio use, and a boon for caravans, RVs and campsites with access to a suitable electricity supply.
The Ranger’s interior is divided into two sections: an 8lb pellet hopper on the left and a 184 square inch porcelain grill on the right, with a short auger to deliver the pellets in between. It’s all controlled by a Digital Arc controller that allows you to set the cooking temperature in five degree increments. Also featured is a handy timer, a ‘keep warm’ function that works brilliantly well and a single port for the supplied meat probe. It also comes with a heavy duty flat cast iron griddle plate for whipping up camp side breakfasts.
If you’re a family of four, the new Traeger Ranger might just be the only barbecue you’ll ever need. It really is that good.
Available with a 14-, 18- or 22-inch cooking grate, the Weber Smokey Mountain is one of the most popular smokers on the US market, and one of the most favourably reviewed. It’s comprised of four main parts: a lid, a cooking grate section, a charcoal and wood-chips bowl and a decent sized porcelain enamelled water pan to help keep the meat moist throughout the long cooking process. It also features a lid-mounted thermometer and side portal with rubber grommet to accept a meat probe.
You can expect to get about seven hours of low and slow smoking at the optimum 225ºF (107ºC) when using water and up to 11 hours without. For best results, consider using Weber’s own long-burn briquettes. This smoker has received a veritable smorgasbord of high praise from US users who mostly recommend the cheaper, 14-inch model as the best size for most family gatherings – it’s more than capable of providing enough smokey nosh for a party of six to ten.
If you’re after a reliable smoker from arguably the world’s most reputable barbecue brand, then this is the one to stick on the yard of your ranch, or whatever it is you call it over there.
This pellet model doesn’t sear as well as the Weber SmokeFire but it’s just as good at smoking. The 575 Pro looks more rustic than the Weber and its build quality isn’t quite up to the same level of craftsmanship – it’s not as stylish looking either. But in its favour, the Traeger app is way better than Weber’s even though it uses clumsy wi-fi instead of Bluetooth.
We’ve tried a number of ingredients on the Traeger and it’s performed superbly well every time, partly because it holds its preset temperatures so accurately and partly because we used a variety of Traeger’s utterly brilliant spice rubs that give any ingredient a right kick up the jacksy.
For smokers and grillers who like their barbecues to look like old fashioned steam engines, this is a prime choice that isn’t too expensive given all the tech on board. But don’t expect it to sear as well as the Weber.
This Dalek-shaped smoker (a Dalek is a robot monster in popular UK television series Dr Who) is available in the U of K as well as the US of A, and comes with a removable basket large enough for a big bird, a leg of lamb or a brisket, four rib hooks to hang on the basket, a smoker box for the obligatory handful of wood chips, an easy-clean drip tray and a removable porcelain-coated cooking grate for conventional grilling.
The Big Easy runs off propane gas and uses Char-Broil’s famed TRU-Infrared tech to evenly roast, smoke or grill whatever you throw at it. Despite its weight and height, its footprint is actually small enough for a balcony or small yard. A top smoker-cum-grill for fuss-free al fresco feasting, although purists may bristle at the minimum temperature of 250ºF.
Landmann has upped the ante with this model and created a much more streamlined and better looking smoker than its Kentucky model. The Vinson 200 is comprised of two compartments: on the right a small charcoal chamber and, on the left, a large 27” x 15” grill on which to place the meat. It’s a clever, tried-and-trusted system but it does come with a steep learning curve.
To use, load the right-hand chamber with charcoal and throw on a handful of wood chips or a pile of damp oak sawdust. Now wait until the charcoal turns grey, lift the lid of the main compartment on the left and put on a large, seasoned leg of lamb, a whole salmon or bird of your choice. Smoke and heat is drawn in from the smaller chamber and all cooking is performed indirectly with the lid permanently closed, so there are absolutely no flare ups. Just remember to place a tray of water beneath to keep the meat moist throughout the cooking process. It goes without saying that you can also use the main grill on the left as a traditional barbecue – just load the bottom chamber with charcoal and grill away with the lid on or off.
When it comes to smoking and slow roasting, it’s worth noting that it can take between four and 12 hours for the process to complete so make sure the meat is on the grill at least four hours before your guests arrive or they’ll be so hungry they might resort to eating the tablecloth.
American pit masters love smoking and low & slow using wood pellets. Having tried and tested the excellent Traeger Pro 575 for our Best Large Barbecue guide, this writer wholeheartedly agrees that compressed wood pellets – available in a variety of tree species – are the real deal if you want that authentic smokey flavour.
Pit Boss is arguably America’s most popular manufacturer of pellet grills and this fairly compact model is its most popular at Walmart, where people know about shopping for grills. The Pit Boss Classic has 700 square inches of meal estate under the hood, which is more than enough for the average American family. Its 21lb pellet hopper is ample, too, for several hours of gentle smoking or low and slow roasting.
Like the very similarly-styled but better built Traeger, it uses an electrically-powered auger to deliver pellets to the mini furnace and a digital controller to set the required temperature. Unlike the Traeger, this one also provides the wherewithal to sear steaks by moving one of the deflector panels to the side.
If you’re keen on trying the pellet method, then give this keenly-priced, top-selling contender a whirl.
This is a stupendous smoker and the model of choice for professional chefs the world over. In fact, the only reason it isn’t much higher up this list is because it’s so expensive and made from fragile ceramic that likely won’t survive an accident while assembling it. The addition of optional stands, side tables etc, takes the price to even more eye-watering levels. But put this gorgeous Japanese kamado-style barbie on your patio and your guests will certainly take notice. They’ll also expect the best al fresco banquet they’ve ever experienced. No pressure, then.
Top chefs – and most TV celebrity cooks – love ceramic barbecues like this because they’re able to reach a phenomenal 399˚C – brilliant for searing steaks – and the amazing insulation properties of ceramic means the charcoal will stay hot for up to ten hours. And that makes them perfect for smoking and slow roasting.
This model comes with an 18-inch grate but there are another four sizes available, from MiniMax to the whoppingly large 2XL, which sports a massive 29-inch grate. Available in any colour, as long as it’s green.
Yes, yes, it's against the LAWS of The Barbecue to grill electric but there are good reasons to try an e-smoker. Despite the fact it looks like the ugly lovechild of a safe and a drinks cooler, the Masterbuilt is another hugely popular smoker Stateside. At 20 inches square, it has a relatively small footprint so you could feasibly use it on a balcony, neighbours permitting. At $202, it’s also cheap to buy.
Because it's an electric smoker, you’re going to need a secure outdoor power outlet or a high-quality extension lead. The Masterbuilt MES 130 comes with four chrome-plated smoke racks with a combined surface area of 730 square inches – enough smoking space to feed the neighbourhood (or neighborhood as they incorrectly spell it in the US - just sayin').
Given that it’s electric – it uses an 800-watt heating element – this thing will go on smoking till the next blue moon and remain at a constant preset temperature throughout the process. It’s certainly a doddle to use: slap some seasoned meat on one or all of the cooking grates, fill the wood chip tube with your favourite chips, top up the small water reservoir and set the temperature on the digital interface – or the supplied remote controller – to your preferred temperature. Now go watch a box set of your favourite TV series for about eight hours while the Masterbuilt does its low and slow cooking thang.
This very reasonably-priced smoker has garnered a very good rating from Walmart buyers so it appears that the majority of users are very contented with their purchase. The others are presumably still stuffing their faces with brisket.
A hugely popular choice on Amazon, the 23-inch Oster table-top smoker looks like a slow cooker and to some degree it is, because it can can cook slow and low as well as roasting, baking and smoking.
To use as a smoker, simply put a handful of hickory or apple wood chips into the two corner chambers, pour some water into the pan below the wire rack, pop in a bird (up to 20lbs), a slab of brisket or some some baby back ribs, adjust the simple temperature dial and, well, that’s all there is to it. If you want to roast or slow cook anything indoors, just leave the wood chip containers empty.
Those after a small electric smoker for the home, the studio flat, the RV, the campsite or the boat should give this versatile model serious consideration. If the huge swathe of positive user reviews are anything to go by, it’s a doozy.