The Best Smokers, According to Chefs and Pitmasters

These smokers take the sweat out of home barbecue, like the superior Kamado Joe Classic Joe II.

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best smokers
Walmart / Bed Bath and Beyond / Ace Hardware

CYBER WEEK DEAL: Get our top pick for Best Pellet Smoker, the Traeger Grills Pro Series 780, on sale right now.

Barbecue evokes a sense of awe bordering on reverence; slow-roasted, tender, and bathed in smoke, this must surely be the work of someone with years of experience. But technological and design innovations have placed making great barbecue within the grasp of the every-person.

Running the gamut of shapes, sizes, prices, and fuel types, there is a smoker out there for almost everyone who wants to try smoking for themselves for the first time or up their home barbecue game. We enlisted the help of two experienced chefs and pitmasters to weigh in on their top smoker picks and what to look for when purchasing one. Cory Bahr is the chef and owner of Parish restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana, and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Jake Wood is the owner and pitmaster of Lawrence BBQ in Durham, North Carolina. Relying on their input and copious research, we found the best smokers in several categories, ultimately dubbing the Kamado Joe Classic Joe II our winner. Ahead, all of the best smokers for great barbecue at home.

Best Overall: Kamado Joe Big Joe Grill, Series II

big-joe-charcoal-grill
Courtesy of Home Depot.

Pros: The heat retention and fuel efficiency make this very easy to use.

Cons: It is heavy and bulky and needs to be kept dry.

Considering the multitude of formats, selecting a single overall smoker was no easy task. The primary consideration, affirmed by Bahr and Wood, is that a consumer wants a smoker that will consistently produce the same results when following the same process. After that, we judged ease of use, including how easy it is to obtain the fuel necessary to operate it. Stripping away all of the bells and whistles of several models to make a valid apples-to-apples comparison, we arrived at the Kamado Joe Classic Joe II.

The Classic Joe II is an 18-inch charcoal-burning smoker that can use wood chunks or chips as a smoking fuel source. While it boasts many features that make it a more multi-use appliance than simply a smoker, it's the smoker capacities that we're taking into account here. Its ceramic construction and gasketed lid provide excellent heat retention with temperature control from the upper and lower vent system. The design and airflow provide efficient fuel burning, minimizing the need to add additional charcoal or wood. While this is a heavy unit, the spring-assisted lid hinge allows easy opening, and the included rack and casters ease the job of moving the smoker. Its 508-square-inch cooking space is enough to hold a couple of pork butts, and you can maximize space for ribs or pork bellies by hanging them vertically.

Circling back to the original considerations, we believe consumers will find that the Classic Joe II provides the consistency and ease of use to raise the bar in their home barbecue.

  • Dimensions: 46.5 x 28 x 48 inches
  • Capacity: 508 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal
  • Temperature Range: 225°F - 750°F
  • Included Accessories: Grate gripper, flexible cooking rack, ash tool, heat deflector

Best Pellet Smoker: Traeger Grills Pro Series 780 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker

Grill and Smoker

Traeger

Pros: It has multiple connectivity options for hands-free monitoring and a large cooking and fuel capacity.

Cons: While not the most expensive option reviewed here, it does come with a price tag, and people may find the size and weight restrictive for their space.

Several manufacturers are currently vying for pellet smoker market dominance. Comparing them side by side, the Traeger Pro 780 holds firm in this category. While many models sport similar features and come in varying shapes and sizes, "they're all chasing Traeger," says Wood. The 780 presented well in our Electric Smoker roundup and held firm here.

The 780 offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and Alexa integrations that keep the user in constant contact with what's happening inside, monitoring the smoker temperature, the internal temperature of the food, and the time remaining on the cook. But tech isn't all it brings to the table.

While primarily designed for smoking, it is also suitable for grilling or baking. The Traeger offers a large capacity, handling 34 burgers, or six whole chickens, or six slabs of ribs at once.

The Traeger Pro 780 is one of the heavier smokers reviewed here (the construction and tech add up to 155 pounds), but two all-terrain wheels and a set of casters offer ease of movement. The auger-driven pellet hopper ensures long smoking times without the need to monitor and add fuel.

  • Dimensions: 27 x 55 x 49 inches
  • Capacity: 780 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Pellet
  • Temperature Range: 120°F - 550°F
  • Included accessories: Temperature probe, connectivity options

Best Electric Smoker: Char-Broil 19202101 Deluxe Black Digital Electric Smoker

char-broil-deluxe-digital-smoker

Amazon

Pros: The digital controls and large chip box make this unit very easy to operate and maintain consistent temperatures.

Cons: The smoke is inconsistent at low temperatures, and the window can be challenging to clean.

The Char-Broil Deluxe won Best Overall in our Electric Smoker Roundup for its consistency and ease of use. Combining the convenience of smoking with wood chips and the precision of digital controls, the Deluxe is versatile and easy to operate. Steady and reliable, it is not the flashiest on the market but delivers consistent results with minimal interaction.

Its larger capacity allows for smoking can feed a large gathering or dinner for two, while its temperature range allows for both cold and hot smoking. The integrated temperature probe monitors the internal temperature of the items inside, and a larger chip box minimizes the need to open the smoker to add more fuel. The dual wall construction allows for heat retention even in cold weather while keeping the outside of the smoker relatively cool. The lighted window facilitates viewing the items inside without opening the door. Finally, it has a warming feature that makes reheating smoked foods after they've rested easy without drying the food out.

  • Dimensions: 16.54 x 32.52 x 18.11 inches
  • Capacity: 725 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Wood chips
  • Temperature Range: 100°F - 275°F
  • Included Equipment: Digital temperature probe

Related: The Best Electric Smokers for Fast BBQ at Home

Best Value: Weber 14-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker

smoker

Weber

Pros: The construction allows for easy lighting, adding more fuel, loading, and unloading.

Cons: There are virtually no bells or whistles, and the damper system has a learning curve.

Best value can be a tricky evaluation. It ultimately boils down to value received for dollars spent over most inexpensive. With that in mind, the Weber 14-Inch Smoky Mountain brings considerable benefit to the table.

This model has a small footprint of only 14 x 14 inches, perfect for small spaces and portability, but boasts 286 square inches of cooking space, enough for two large pieces of meat or slabs of ribs. The lid, body, and bowl are porcelain-lined, providing excellent heat retention. The design of the dampers allows for precise temperature control with the ability to adjust airflow through the unit. In addition to the built-in thermometer for monitoring the smoker's temperature, there is a thermometer port on the side to facilitate an external probe to monitor the internal temperature of the food inside. The Weber is not the cheapest option on the market, but a good, long-lasting value that also features a 10-year warranty.

  • Dimensions: 14.7 x 14.7 x 31.4 inches
  • Capacity: 286 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal
  • Temperature Range: 200°F - 400°F
  • Included accessories: Built-in thermometer

Best Offset/Reverse Flow: Lang 36-inch Original Patio Smoker

36-inch Original Patio Smoker

Lang

Pros: The solid construction and reverse flow design allow easy heat management and retention.

Cons: This smoker is heavy by design at 655 pounds, requires frequent tending of the fire, and is only available directly from the factory.

"Stick burners" may not be the jumping-off point for people new to smoking, but traditionalists and those who feel they need to hone their craft will frequently, inevitably, arrive at an offset smoker. But not all offsets are created equal; construction and airflow are everything.

An inexpensive offset is usually constructed of thin steel with a single draw from the firebox to the smokestack that makes heat retention, longevity, and temperature control difficult, which is frustrating for users and provides highly inconsistent results in the end product. Bahr recommends a minimum of 1/4-inch expanded steel construction and a reverse-flow design when considering offset smokers.

Reverse-flow design is all about circulation. Specially designed baffles draw smoke from the firebox across the bottom of the smoker. The smoke rises into the cook chamber before exiting the stack. Think of it as a rustic, smoky convection oven.

For this type of smoker, both Bahr and Wood are Lang evangelists. While presenting a significant price jump from cheaper models, Wood likes the ease of use in both cooking and fire management that Langs provide. The 36-inch model has 6 cubic feet of space in the cook chamber to accommodate up to 72 pounds of food. Lang's sizes range from the 36-inch patio model to a monstrous 108 inches. The 36-inch Original Patio is a reasonable size for backyard cooks with solid construction that could make the smoker a generational family heirloom.

  • Dimensions: 70 x 73 x 39 inches
  • Capacity: 6 cubic feet
  • Fuel Type: Wood or charcoal
  • Temperature Range: Up to 350°F
  • Included accessories: Temperature gauge, casters, and wheels

Related: The Best Outdoor Grills to Upgrade Your Backyard Barbecues

Best Propane Smoker: Masterbuilt Two-Door 30-Inch Propane Smoker

Masterbuilt Two-Door 30-Inch Propane Smoker

Amazon

Pros: Push-button ignition and fast heating make this easy to use.

Cons: Assembling this smoker can take some time to get right, and the unit needs frequent cleaning to keep a consistent temperature.

Temperature control is one of the essential factors in cooking good barbecue. Propane is a format that provides quick ignition and consistent heat to burn either chips, pellets, or logs. The Masterbuilt features a 15,400 BTU burner and built-in temperature controls that allow for even cooking with only a 10-degree variance in most cases.

This model has stainless steel racks, ceramic coated water, and chip bowls that prevent burner flare-ups. It's a medium-capacity smoker that can accommodate two turkeys, eight chickens, four pork butts, or four racks of ribs at a time. The temperature control reaches 350°F, which can help add extra heat at the end of cooking to crisp poultry skin, add a crust to meat, or potentially use for baking.

  • Dimensions: 20.47 x 20.86 x 43.5 inches
  • Capacity: 731 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Chips, pellets, logs
  • Temperature Range: Up to 350°F
  • Included Accessories: Built-in thermometer

Best Multi-Use: Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill

Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill

Weber

Pros: It's easy to clean and the lightweight construction makes it easy to move while still offering good heat retention.

Cons: The dual baffles provide some challenges to get used to and the exterior and handles can become very hot during cooking.

As a rule, I hate single-purpose tools. I'm a proponent of efficiency in space and movement and have no place for something that serves only one purpose, like an egg separator. When applied to outdoor cooking equipment, that can become problematic. The principles of smoking and grilling stand in opposition to each other. Grilling is a relatively quick cooking process, which typically includes some phase of high-temperature searing of the food to achieve the Maillard reaction—the browning and crust development that gives grilled food its specific flavor. Smoking is a "low and slow" method of cooking where the high temperatures associated with searing are detrimental to the process. Finding a reliable smoker that is also good for grilling presents a problem on the outside. I'm not the only one who feels this way, and manufacturers have responded. From simple steel units to the heavy ceramic construction of the kamado-style grills, there are a variety of multi-use smoker grills on the market that serve both purposes.

We compared the relative merits of the Kudu grill, the Big Green Egg, the Kamado Joe II, and the Weber Original Kettle 22. The Kudu uses a dome over the top of the grill system, which presents some temperature consistency issues. Weighing the Big Green Egg against the Kamado Joe showed that the Kamado Joe had an edge on features and versatility over the B.G.E. That left comparing the $139 Weber against the $1800 Kamado Joe.

In terms of versatility for the buck, the Weber wins. While it doesn't have the complexity of kamado grill heat retention, the upper and lower baffles allow for easy regulation of temperatures. The simple "rack over a fire with a lid" design facilitates offset cooking at low temperatures, such as smoking or baking, direct heat for searing, or a hybrid. The kettle grill can burn charcoal, wood, chips, or pellets in any combination you choose. The Weber is an excellent choice in simple terms of value to dollar and ease of use.

  • Dimensions: 22.5 x 25x 39 inches
  • Capacity: 363 square inches
  • Fuel Type: Charcoal, wood, chips, pellets
  • Temperature Range: 0-550°F (288°C)
  • Included Accessories: Built-in thermometer

Conclusion

Whether you have space considerations, want the latest high-tech connectivity, are just trying barbecuing out, or want to take your game in a new direction, the latest smoker innovations mean that there is a smoker for you. The Kamado Joe Classic Joe II pairs ease of use with consistent results. At the same time, the Lang 36-inch Patio Classic brings a more old-school feel and experience to your cooking without sacrificing convenience or consistency.

Factors to Consider

Heat Source

Are you an electric, gas, or charcoal fan? Do you have limitations on what fuel you can burn where you live? Electric is a good, consistent choice for even temperatures. Gas provides an equivalent amount of heat and control without the need to be near an electric outlet, but a gas line or propane tank has its restrictions as far as ventilation and space go. Charcoal and wood have a learning curve to find the "sweet spot" for cooking temperatures.

Fuel Type

Chips are easily obtainable but require soaking and frequent refilling of the chip box during smoking. Pellets are versatile across the spectrum of heat sources but may require special ordering from the manufacturer, decreasing the likelihood of spontaneous barbecues. Charcoal generates considerable ash. Wood generates an equal amount of ash and requires more storage space and occasional log splitting.

Construction

Construction materials can vary, but the most critical thing to look for in a smoker is its ability to retain heat. Thin construction radiates the heat out of the smoker, which means that it is not cooking the food inside. Temperature fluctuations from the heat escaping can result in dry, tough smoked foods, or worse, the food is still half-cooked, tough, dry, and you're out of fuel.

Size

How much room are you willing to give to your smoker? Don't forget that you might also need to store wood, pellets, or charcoal. Ideally, one wants a covered space away from the elements to aid the longevity of their equipment. If you're dealing with limited space, are you willing to trade the room for a table or chair for your smoker?

The Research

We consulted two experts, combined with our own expertise, to get their thoughts on what makes a great smoker, then scoured the market for the best options. After combing the market for volumes of online reviews for these products, we weighed them against several criteria, including value, ease of use, consistency, and quality of construction.

Pro Panel Q+A

Q: How do you use a smoker?

A: The process is fairly straightforward. Smoking is an extension of slow-roasting, exposing food to low heat over a long period of time to tenderize it, break down tough connective tissues, and render excess fat. After seasoning food to your liking, via a rub, brine, or just dusting with salt and spices, the food is placed on racks that allow the heat and smoke to circulate around it. From there, heat source, fuel, and design dictate how the actual smoking occurs. In short, the heat source ignites the fuel, and the smoke and heat get to work on flavoring and slow-cooking the food.

Q: Can you smoke on a gas grill?

A: Yes. The preferred method is to use wood chips because of their lower ignition temperature. There are many choices available for boxes and pans suited for use inside a gas grill to fill with the wood chips of your liking. Some folks like to up the game a little by soaking their chips in rum or bourbon instead of water to add an extra element of flavor.

Q: Can you use wood in a charcoal smoker?

A: Yes. Many chefs and pitmasters use charcoal as the heat source for both cooking and igniting the wood used for smoking which gives barbecue of all types its distinctive flavor. Bahr likes to start his smoker with charcoal lit in a chimney starter, then alternate layers of wood and charcoal in the firebox to build a bed of coals.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. For this piece, he interviewed Food & Wine Best New Chef Cory Bahr of Parish restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana, and pitmaster Jake Wood (owner of Lawrence BBQ in Durham, North Carolina) to find out what the pros look for in a smoker. He then used their insights and his own expertise and market research to curate this list.

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