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.
You're likely to find your favourite smoker among the best Black Friday deals this year. That's because while it isn't brilliant weather for grilling, it's an excellent time to buy: you're not dealing with the extra demand for grilling and smoking kit that happens every time the sun shines. It's definitely worth keeping an eye out for winter bargains.
The best smokers you can buy today
Straight in with a bullet, this no-nonsense leviathan is unquestionably one of the best pellet smokers money can buy – and also one of the most expensive. Mind, you do get an awful lot of great features for your hard earned.
Firstly, it’s built like a tank and that’s no understatement. This beast is made almost entirely from 2mm thick 14 gauge steel – when you tap it your knuckle cracks. And yet despite the weight (135kgs), it was really easy to build.
The Regal 500 comes with acres of grilling estate – 865 square inches including the porcelain-coated warming rack. The main 625 square inch cast iron cooking grate is divided into five separate sections for easy removal when cleaning. Mind, cleaning is something you may not have to do a lot of because the Regal 500 has an excellent fire pot cleaning agitator that empties the burnt ashes into a container. This is an extremely handy feature because with most other pellet smokers you have to remove the grill plate and baffle and reach for a cordless vac to suck up all the pellet dust. The Regal also ships with a full rotisserie set, including the motor. The large pellet hopper, meanwhile, will accommodate a whole 9kg bag of pellets.
All pellet smokers are equipped with an onboard computer that regulates the temperature so that they retain a constant heat throughout the entire grilling process. It’s this electronic wizardly coupled with an electrically-powered pellet auger that makes these smokers the easiest type to use.
This model’s control panel is one of the biggest and best this writer’s come across. The lettering on the LED display is huge – so huge you can check the running temperature from the other side of the patio. The controller also produces consistent temperatures that rarely fluctuate, even during long smoking sessions. The Regal 500 also has one of the widest temperature bands on the market and is one of only a handful of pellet grills capable of reaching a temperature of 600˚F (315˚C). This makes it an ideal grill for searing steaks, something many pellet grills are incapable of.
Like most large pellet grills, this model can also be used with an app so it can be controlled remotely. True, the Broil King app isn’t as comprehensive or as user friendly as Traeger’s but it’s still worth fiddling with, if only to keep tabs on the cook while entertaining guests.
If you’re in the market for a dynamite pellet smoker that performs admirably well no matter what cooking method you select, then this albeit pricey model is about as good as it gets. Warmly recommended.
Get even more information about this top smoker in T3's Broil King Regal 500 review.
Traeger is arguably the most popular pellet grill manufacturer which isn’t surprising given that its founder Joe Traeger is credited with having invented the pellet grill system we know and love today. We’ve already taken a good look at the Traeger Pro 575 and the amazing Traeger Ranger portable so it’s about time we moved up a rung to the next level of Traeger grills. And here it is in all its barrel-shaped black beauty glory.
The Ironwood 650 differs in a number of ways to its cheaper sibling. Its grill grate is bigger for a start and it has a rear exhaust instead of a chimney. It also comes with double insulated sidewalls which helps it hold its pre-set temperatures more consistently in cold weather. Heading over to the heart of the system – the D2 computer interface that keeps everything ticking over – you’ll find two extra buttons. The ’Super Smoke’ button functions at lower temperatures and produces oodles of extra smoke to help infuse meats with that delicious woody flavour that pellet barbecues are so good for. If you love a deep pink smoke ring in your cut of brisket this baby will sort it.
The Ironwood also has a dedicated Keep Warm button which is well handy for those occasions when someone turns up late or you simply fancy a second helping of smoked ribs that haven’t gone cold and congealed. Aside from an interior light and a handy place to store the provided meat sensor, the hopper is also equipped with a sensor that lets you know when it’s due for a top up.
Traeger’s cleverly named WireFi system works a treat with the Traeger app and if you don’t know about this app then you should immediately download it even if you don’t own a Traeger. Why? Because it’s got some of the best grilling and smoking recipes on the planet. That said, the app naturally works best with a Traeger grill because you can literally call up a recipe, follow the prep instructions, tap ‘Make Now’ and bung it on the barbie. The app will communicate with the Ironwood and let you know when to turn the food and when to take it off.
As is the case with all Traegers, build quality is immense – this thing is built like a brick outhouse and comes on four sturdy legs. The lockable casters and big soft rubber wheels make it really easy to move, too. Oh, and final high praise for the assembly process which was an absolute breeze even if it did take two to lift the main carcass onto its legs.
If you’re after an exceptional smoker that also grills, bakes, sears and roasts then this one’s a shoo-in. It’s a doddle to use and it passed all our tests with consummate aplomb. Just be sure to buy a cover for it, especially if you plan to leave it outside.
Want to see how our number two pick fares against our number three pick? Then check out T3's Weber Smokefire EX4 vs Traeger Ironwood 650 comparison feature.
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.
To see how this pellet smoker squares up against a quality rival, then check out T3's Weber Smokefire EX4 vs Pit Boss Classic comparison feature.
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.
To see how this smoker compares to our number one choice be sure to check out T3's Traeger Ironwood 650 vs Char-Broil The Big Easy comparison feature.
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.
How to choose the best smoker for you
A smoker is a type of barbecue that is ostensibly designed for ‘slow & low’ cooking of meats and fish using wood chips or pellets to infuse ingredients with an aromatic smokey flavour. Smokers are especially well suited to cooking tougher cuts of meat like ribs and brisket over a period of four to seven hours at temperatures as low as 107˚C (225˚F). When done, the meat should literally fall off the bone or tear apart like a piece of pulled pork. That said, smokers are equally brilliant at slow cooking more delicate meats like lamb, ham, fish and even vegetables. You can usually tell when meat has been smoked by the narrow ring of pink meat just beneath the crusty ‘bark’.
Smokers can be fuelled in a number of ways: charcoal (or briquettes), gas, electric and wood pellets. Charcoal is the most popular method and the smokers themselves are the cheapest to buy. However, novices will almost certainly find it very difficult to balance the amount of charcoal required with the amount of air circulation through the vents. Too much ventilation and the internal temperature will climb too high and the charcoal will burn out more quickly. Too little and the temperature may not be high enough.
The best type of charcoal barbecue for smoking is the Japanese style Kamado which has thick insulation to keep the heat in. You could feasibly smoke food on a standard barbecue using wet wood chips on the coals or grilling grate but you almost certainly won’t be able to perform a long slow & low session, simply because the BBQ wasn’t designed for that purpose.
Gas and electric smokers are better suited to long smoking sessions since the fuels they use – propane gas or electricity – last for ages. Just be sure when using gas that you have enough propane in the bottle to last several hours. Most electric and gas smokers come with a small wood chip box near the heat source which heats up the wood, creating smoke. Wood chips come from a variety of tree sources (mesquite, maple, oak, apple and cherry) and each type infuses food with a different flavour.
If you can afford it, the best type of smoker uses compressed wood pellets as fuel and is far and away the easiest and most fuss free to use. Pellet grills like those reviewed on this page require an electricity source to power an auger that feeds pellets into a burn pot below the grill grate. The clever thing about pellet grills is that everything is controlled by a computer processor which ensures that any preset temperature remains that way for the entire duration of the cook. Like an indoor oven, when you select the temperature you want, it literally stays that way for hours at a time. Hence, if you’re a newbie and can afford it, a pellet grill is definitely the best option of all. They are equally capable of grilling standard meats like any barbecue and some can even sear steaks. And because they literally burn wood as the main fuel, everything that’s cooked on a pellet grill is infused with an authentically smokey flavour, whether its basic chicken wings, a Christmas ham or a Texas-style brisket.
Now go forth and smoke.
How we test the best smokers
The very first thing we look at when reviewing smokers is how easy the respective smoker is to assemble. After all, unless you specifically request an assembly service (at great cost), you will be expected to build the smoker yourself. Luckily, and certainly when it comes to pellet smokers, most of the hard work is done before it leaves the factory. Indeed, in the case of pellet smokers, all you will need to fit are the legs, any cross supports and side trays and all the interior grilling sections. Be mindful that all pellet smokers bar the smallest arrive on a wooden pallet and the main body itself is very, very heavy. So be sure to enrol a mate when it’s assembly time.
The next thing we do is cast a keen eye over the quality of the materials used, taking note of any cool features that other models perhaps don’t have. With pellet smokers we also dig into the control panel to see how easy it is to use. And if the smoker can be used with an app, we’ll have a good rummage around that, too.
When it comes to actually testing them, the proof is in the pudding, or rather the rack of ribs or a whole chicken we invariably throw on the grate. We generally perform three tasks. The first is a rack of slow smoked ribs which we cook over a five to six hour period. The meat should be tender, moist and fall off the bone and have a crisp bark. It should also display a noticeable pink smoke ring of about half a centimetre in depth just under the bark. Crucially, it should taste divine.
Next, we’ll put a whole chicken on the grill, set a higher temperature and see how moist and succulent the results are. Invariably our chickens turn out to be much better than if roasted in an indoor oven – a testament to how well smokers perform.
With the pellet grills only, we’ll finally try a standard grilling session using sausages and chicken legs to see how hot the pellet grill can go and whether the legs and bangers crisp up as nicely as they would on a standard charcoal barbecue.
We then don’t eat for a week.
- Light up your new smoker with some of the best outdoor lights