This article originally appears on homebuyingchecklist.co
Smoking meat, or any other food, gives it a great flavor that you can’t get from a grill or an oven. Technically, you can try using a grill to smoke meat, but the taste won’t be the same. Gas grills reach very high temperatures quickly and they are not good at capturing smoke. In addition, they can cause the meat to become very dry over long periods of time. On the other hand, charcoal grills can do the job, but they are usually too small for lots of meat. That is why you need something larger and better – an electric smoker.
Meat smokers are outdoor cooking appliances which maintain low cooking temperatures for longer periods of time. The goal of this is to heat wood and producing smoke while keeping a consistent temperature. This cooks your meat slowly, over a long period of time, with the chance of absorbing as much of that delicious smokey flavor as possible.
There are a ton of different meat smokers. They go for as little as $50 and they can cost to thousands of dollars. There are portable smokers, backyard smokers, and even modified trailer smokers that can be towed behind a truck. Some smokers are easy to use and easy to clean, which make them great for beginners. Other take a bit more prowess to cook with but give the pit master an incredible amount of control.
Types of smokers
Meat smokers are often categorized by the fuel they use for cooking. A smoker can be fueled by charcoal, hardwood, propane, wood pellets or electricity. Each type of fuel has its advantages, as well as certain disadvantages.
We think each type of smoker has its place in the world, and many pit masters have a few different types of smokers. In this article we’ll look at electric smokers because we think they are the easiest to use for beginners. They are not as intimidating as a hardwood or charcoal smoker, require less attention during cooking, and are more forgiving to use. We think they are a great introduction to smoking meat.
What to Look For In an Electric Smoker?
Deciding what is the best electric smoker on the market is not an easy task just like deciding which one is the right one for you. There are a few things to consider when choosing the best electric smoker – size, quality, maintenance, and performance.
Electric Smoker Sizes
When it comes to the size of the smokers there are two big questions to ask. How many people will you cook for? And where will the smoker be used?
If you’re a backyard griller and you want to spice up your Sunday BBQs with the family you can likely get away with a small to medium size smoker. If you’re a caterer, restaurant owner, or regularly cooking for large parties or events, you’ll likely want to go with something a big bigger.
Where you will use your smoker also matters. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, then the electric units are probably the best choice for you. There are many compact electric smokers that can be placed on your patio. We don’t recommend smoking indoors, but an electric smoker doesn’t require as much ventilation as a pellet smoker or a charcoal smoker.
One of the most important things you should pay attention to when buying an electric smoker is not only the size of the unit but also the size of the cooking area. Most of the smokers are meant to be used outside the house and they have 2-4 cooking grids that can hold up to 16 servings. This is a fairly large cooking area that is very likely to satisfy all your requirements.
Since you are going to place your electric smoker on the outside, you’ll want it to be made out of durable materials. Good electric smokers are made out of stainless/aluminized steel or zinc. This means it can withstand high heat and protects the smoker from rusting.
Avoid smokers that have a lot of plastic parts, especially internally. These will break down over time, have the potential to crack, and won’t do a great job of holding in smoke or heat during your cookout.
The key to making delicious, juicy, and tender smoked meats is having control over the temperature. A stable, consistent temperature leads to beautiful blue smoke and a steady increase in the internal temperature of your cut of meat. A 10 or 20 degree swing in temperature can make a huge difference.
Many electric smokers feature a digital temperature control with an LED screen which give you the ultimate control over your cook. Others just have an dial that you use to estimate the temperature, in which case you’ll probably want an additional thermometer at the very least. The high end models even feature a probe thermometer that you can insert into your cut of meat. They can control the temperature of your smoker based on the internal temperature of your meat to ensure a perfectly prepared dish at the end.
Ease of Maintenance
It’s worth considering how easy your smoker is to clean as part of your decision. Ideally you’re looking for removable racks in your smoker, which makes cleaning off bits of meat easy. You want an easy way to clean and remove any ash or bits of wood chips that are left over. Bonus points if there’s a removable drip pan that’s easy to clean as well.
Every electric smoker has different features and performs differently. There are a number of things that can impact how your smoker retains heat and controls airflow. Heat and airflow can be affected by additional insulation, the type of door used (glass doors tend to leak heat), the number of air vents, the maximum temperature of the heating element, and whether or not the cooking chamber is “air tight”. You want smoke coming out of your vents, not out of the seams of your smoker!
Electric Smoker Reviews
Top Pick – Masterbuilt 40 Inch Electric Smoker (20075315)
Despite its awful name, the Masterbuilt 40 Inch Electric Smoker is perfect for making smoked products in the convenience of your own home. The Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smoker with Viewing Window and RF Remote Control is the best electric smoker for most people because it has the perfect combination of convenience, durability, and quality. From smoked chicken legs on a school night to a Christmas brisket, this smoker will deliver. Just plug it in, set the controls, and it will take care of the rest. This 40” electric smoker from Masterbuilt is the right choice for both amateurs and pros and it exceeds all expectations.
- 975 square inches of cooking space
- Four cooking racks
- Easy to load in and remove wood chips
- An internal light with viewing door that allows you to monitor what is going on inside.
- Removable racks, drip tray, water pan. All of which are dishwasher safe and make clean up a breeze.
- Includes wheels for easy transportation
Great Heating Unit with a Built-In Meat Temperature Probe
The Masterbuilt 40” electric smoker has a great 1,200-watt heating unit. The smoker can be heated up to 350 °F, which is enough for smoking any type of food. Unlike many other electric smoker models, this model can cook poultry because of its ability to reach high temperatures.
In addition, the smoker comes with a built-in meat temperature probe that lets you know precisely the internal temperature of the meat.
And while a glass door might seem like a small deal, smokers release most of their heat when you can’t resist opening the door to check on things. Between the glass door, internal light, and the temperature probe, you’ll be able to easily monitor the progress of your meat without causing wild temperature swings in the cooker.
Massive Cooking Space
As already mentioned, this Masterbuilt Electric Smoker has a cooking space of 975 square inches. It’s the biggest of all the other Masterbuilt electric smokers. To put things into perspective, it is large enough to smoke 24 burgers, two whole turkeys, and four pork butts all at once. It passes the “4th of Juy” test – it’s big enough to feed all of your neighbors at the block party.
The internal space is well laid out as well. On the inside of the unit are four adjustable chrome-coated racks. It’s easy to separate out different types of meat and vegetables while cooking. Plus the racks are easy to remove for cleaning and are dishwasher safe.
Blue LED Control Panel Screen and RF Remote Control
The Masterbuilt 40 inch smoker comes with an integrated control panel that makes it easy to control and monitor the cooking process. The blue LED display makes it easy to see at night, which is great for those overnight cooks.
The RF remote control takes a lot of stress out of the entire smoking process. Setting the time and temperature of your smoker is a piece of cake. But the remote also lets you monitor the smoker temperature, meat temperature, and time. You can control the entire process from your pocket.
Cold Smoking Kit
Most smokers product smoke by burning wood chips. The heat that comes off those wood chips becomes a problem if you want to smoke something that needs to stay cold – like cheese, charcuterie or smoked salmon.
The Masterbuilt Cold Smoking Kit is an offset box that attaches to your smoker. It uses a wood chip system to run that creates smoke but isolates the food from heat. This cold smoking kit allows you to cure meats or smoke foods at a very low temperature – as low as 20°C / 70 °F. The food avoids direct heat and is infused with a beautiful smoky flavor.
There are many other features that make this Masterbuilt smoker the best electric smoker on the market.
- The unit is fully insulated to make sure no smoke gets wasted.
- Small plastic wheels on the back make it easy to move the smoker.
- The removable drip pan and water bowl make cleaning easy. They are accessible from the front, which makes it easier to take them out.
If you decide to buy this electric smoker, you will be able to use it as soon as it arrives at your home address. Assembly is easy and will have you cooking in under a half hour!
Runner Up – Smoke Hollow 30-Inch Electric Smoker
The Smoke Hollow 30-inch Electric Smoker is made out of solid steel and comes with three chrome plated grates for loading the food. The grates are adjustable which makes it easy to fit large cuts of meat in the smoker. They’re also removable and easy to clean. The unit is powered by a 1,500-watt heating element, which is significantly bigger than our top pick. There are three temperature settings to choose from, and the external temperature gauge gives you an accurate reading during your cook. It’s built of double-walled steel, which makes it both sturdy and well insulated from the elements. This smoker is the perfect choice for anyone who wants a robust and durable smoker that can be used even during the cold winter months.
There are a few tradeoffs you make for the lower price point. The double wall steel construction doesn’t contain smoke as well as some other cookers, so you may get some leakage. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary when it comes to electric smokers, but it does mean you might need to burn more wood to get the same smokey flavor relative to other cookers. The lack of an internal thermometer means you’ll likely want to buy your own wireless digital thermometer (we recommend this ThermoPro model). And the lack of remote control or timer functionality means you will have to spend a bit more time monitoring your cook.
While it lacks some of the bells and whistles compared to our top pick, it’s a workhorse electric smoker that comes it at a significantly lower cost. It’s perfect purchase for those who want a low-cost way to try smoking meats, or who want to expand their existing arsenal of smokers for more capacity.
Price Meets Performance
The design of the Smoke Hollow electric smoker makes the unit very efficient. The temperature control mechanism allows you to set and maintain the desired temperature level. It does not give you the granular control over temperature like a digital thermometer does, and you will need to make some adjustments to get it dialed in to a specific temperature setting. But the external temperature gauge will always give you precise readout, and having a wireless temperature probe makes this process much easier.
It’s also worth noting that the heating element in these smokers is replaceable. If you have any issues, or your cook your smoker into the ground and your heating element gives out, you can replace the part instead of buying a new smoker.
When it comes to using the Smoke Hollow smoker, it’s one of the most time-efficient models on the market. The 30 inch smoker uses a high-quality wood chip box made of stainless steel and a porcelain coating. The chip box can be used for years before showing any wear. The porcelain coating makes it resistant to rust which is important if you’re soaking your wood chips. The combination of steel and porcelain means it can heat up in as little as 15 minutes, so your wood is smoking in no time. We appreciate that they paid attention to the little details with this important part of the system.
Easy to Clean
Like our top pick, the Smoke Hollow electric smoker is very easy to clean. The internal parts are easily removed and made of materials that are easily cleaned. We wouldn’t recommend putting these parts in a dishwasher though, so you’ll do most of your cleaning by hand.
Easy to use
We’ve mentioned several times already that this electric smoker is very sturdy. What adds even more quality to this particular feature is the magnetic door latch. This latch is very useful and it provides an extremely tight locking of your food inside the smoker.
The adjustable internal racks make it easy to free up space in your smoker. Smaller items like fish or vegetables can go on top while you clear room for larger cuts of meat on the bottom.
In addition, the unit comes with a detachable controller and power cord which simplifies the setup. There’s almost no assembly required, this smoker is plug and play.
Budget Pick – Smoke Hollow 26-Inch Smoker
Those on a budget always try to find something that is affordable but still performs almost as well as the most expensive products. Lucky for you, the Smoke Hollow 26-inch Electric Smoker can often be purchased for under $100 and is very similar to it’s larger 30 inch cousin.
It comes with the same 1,500-watt heating element as the larger model and use the same adjustable temperature control. Just like the 30 inch smoker, it has a thermometer mounted to the door so you can read your internal temperature. And it has the same durable construction that we love from Smoke Hollow.
So what’s different? For one, the smoker is significantly smaller. While it may seem like you are not giving up much going from a 30 inch model to a 26 inch model, it’s actually smaller on every dimension. All told, the Smoke Hollow 26 inch smoker has about 35% less internal volume compared to the 30 inch smoker. This effects a few things.
For one, you can’t fit as much into this smoker. It only features two removable racks. The smaller size means your meats and vegetables are closer to the heating element as well. That 1500-watt output means this small smoker comes up to temperature quickly and can reach up to 325 degrees F, which is great for smoking things like poultry. The downside is it can’t go below 175 degrees F, so smoking more delicate foods becomes difficult. Unlike the Masterbuilt 40 inch model, there’s no cold smoking option either.
It’s hard to call these things flaws. With the 26 inch Smoke Hollow‘s low price point, you have to forgive the lack of certain features for this rugged little smoker. It’s small footprint makes it an easy addition to almost any home. Weighing in at 33 lbs, it’s easy to store in a closet or garage, and it’s one of the most portable electric smokers on the market. We think it’s a great pick for beginners who want to try smoking without making a major investment. Given the small size, it’s also a great smoker for those who are limited to cooking on a balcony.
Best Electric Smoker with Automatic Feeder – Bradley Digital Smoker
The Bradley Digital Smoker is an amazing electric smoker that can hot and cold smoke right out of the box. The flagship model from Bradley Smokers uses an automatic feeder that feeds special wood disks into your smoker, making it nearly foolproof to cook with. All you have to do is add Bradley’s smoking bisquettes (small wood disks), set the oven temperature, and set you’re timers, and the Bradley Smoker will do the rest.
This smoker is definitely the best electric smoker with automatic feeder that you can get. It is a perfect choice for those who want to take up meat smoking as a hobby and want to enjoy smoked foods, but do not want to deal with the tedious parts of smoking. It’s also great for caterers who need to juggle preparation for large meals, or even expert pit masters who want to fine tune their recipes.
Hot & Cold Smoking
The Bradley Digital Smoker has two separate burners – one for smoke, and one for heating the oven. Because of this you can use this model to cold smoke things like fish, cheese, ham, and other food. You can even use it as a food dryer that can make jerky or dried fruit.
The fully insulated stainless steel construction means you can cold smoke on a hot day, or hot smoke in the middle of winter. Your cooking chamber is insulated from the weather outside. When hot smoking, the insulation helps maintain heat so you can avoid temperature swings while cooking.
Automatic Bisquette Feeder
One of the features of this smoker that users love the most is the automatic bisquette feeder. As already mentioned, the smoker uses bisquettes (small wood disks) to produce smoker. The automatic feeder adds bisquettes to the burner every twenty minutes to maintain a consistent smoke throughout your cook.
The Bradley Digital Smoker can hold enough bisquttes to provide 9 hours of smoke with a single load. One downside to the system is that it only works with Bradley bisquettes, you cannot use normal wood chips with this smoker. The good news is the bisques are easy to find on Amazon and are available at many Home Depot stores.
The major bonus with Bisquettes is they are perfectly prepared for smoking. No need to worry about soaking or drying them. They come in a variety of flavors such as hickory, apple, and even blended flavors like “old whiskey”.
Easy to Use
One of the best features of the Bradley Digital Electric Smoker is that it is easy to set up and use, even for beginners. In some ways they’re nearly foolproof.
Every part of the process is controlled digitally. Once the bisquettes are loaded you just need to push a few buttons to start your cook. Set the temperature you want to cook at and the cook time based on your recipe. From there just set the timer for your smoke and you’re off to the races.
The Bradley Digital Smoker lets you control smoke timing independently – you can run the smoker for the entire cook, or just smoke for a few hours and finish the rest of your dish with just heat.
This type of granular control is only possible with a digital electric smoker and it allows for very precise cooking. For beginners, it means you can easily follow recipes without fear of ruining that beautiful brisket you spent so much time trimming to perfection. For caterers, it means you can cook smoked dishes for large groups with confidence. And for experienced pit masters, you have the chance to run experiments to find the perfect heat & smoke combinations for your recipes. Over at the Food Lab they run these brisket experiments with a Sous Vide, but you can use your Bradley Digital Smoker for the entire process.
Like our top pick, this Bradley smoker is easy to clean. The interior of this smoker is actually beautiful and mostly made of stainless steel. The removable racks, drip pan, and water pan are all removable. This makes it easy to wipe down the interior after a cook and wash the removable parts in the dishwasher.
Compact and Predictable
This electric smoker has a generous capacity, but it is also very compact. The four racks can accommodate whole chickens, two racks of ribs, and shoulders of pork. The unit comes with a durable exterior design and a stainless steel interior. What many users like about the Bradley Original is the fact that it is very predictable – it will always give the same result when it comes to meat smoking. And when it comes to smoked BBQ, predictability is the key to a great dish.
There are many electric smokers on the market. Below we cover some of the more popular models that we like that didn’t make it into our top picks.
The Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker is one of the few smokers that packs a punch but is still small enough for camping, road trips, and traveling in general.
It is strikingly similar to the Smoke Hallow smokers – it has a 1400-watt heating element, an analogue temperature control dial, basic stainless steel construction, and a temperature gauge mounted in the door. It measures roughly 23” x 23” x 16” and only weighs 22 lbs. so it’s easily packed in the trunk of a car for transport. To make traveling easier the Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker also includes collapsible legs that fold up while traveling. It includes collapsable handles on the side of the smoker, which make carrying it easy. However, Masterbuilt makes a pretty awesome carrying case for this smoker that we can’t recommend enough. It offers some protection which made us comfortable putting our new toy in the bed of a truck. The case itself features some zipper pockets to hold your grilling tools. It also has some Molle webbing on the front pocket so you have a ton of options when it comes to adding pouches, straps, or even a beer koozie!
The inside of the Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker is pretty spartan, but it’s more then enough to cook for a few people. This unit comes with two 12” square inches chrome-coated racks. They’re not adjustable, but they are removable, so if you need more vertical space you can just take the upper rack out. A water pan, removable wooden chip tray, and a grease collector are included as well.
This smoker is utilitarian, and it’s nowhere near as fully featured as our top pick. But it’s built to be used on the go, which means you can easily take it camping, tailgating, or even just down the street for a block party.
For the price, the Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker is an easy way to test the waters. It’s durable, portable, and can smoke some amazing meals for a small group of people. Use this as a starter smoker and if you decide to upgrade later you still have a great little grill that you can take on the go.
Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker Pros
- Low Cost
- Portable and versatile
- Removable racks and trays
- Quality construction
- Custom built carry case makes an awesome portable smoker kit
Masterbuilt Portable Electric Smoker Cons
- Limited cook space
- No digital thermometer
- No timer functionality
Smokehouse Products Little Chief Smoker
Little Chief Electric Smokehouse Smoker is even smaller than Masterbuilt’s portable model. It is the perfect choice for small gatherings. Initially designed in 1968, the Little Chief Smoker has a sturdy, old school build that is high quality.
We get a lot of questions about the Little Chief Smoker, and we want to set the record straight for our readers. This smoker comes with only one heat setting. This setting allows the unit to be heated at 165 degrees and this temperature allows only cool smoking. This means that the smoker won’t necessarily cook the meat, but it will smoke and cure it. Because of its smoking style, this smoker is perfect for smoking fish and fruits or making your own jerky. Unfortunately, it won’t perform well if you want roasted meat – it will never get to a high enough temperature to actually cook the meat, and nobody likes a raw brisket.
The front loading design has four racks and can smoke up to 25 pounds of meat. (Whether or not you could fit 25 pounds of meat into this smoker is a different story.) It is one of the smallest electric smokers, weighing only around 20 pounds. It is made for outdoor use and storage with its sturdy aluminum body that is rust resistant. The grill grates are chrome-plated for maximum cooking efficiency and easy cleanup. This electric smokehouse comes with a two-year warranty. Some users claim that their Smokehouse smoker lasted for up to 15 years without the need for any repairs. If you do have an issue fear not! Most of the parts are replaceable and available online, so have no doubt that it will keep you cooking for years to come.
Little Chief Smoker Pros
- The unit is very sturdy and durable
- Two-year warranty
Little Chief Smoker Cons
- Only works for basic smoking & dehydration
Recommended Accessories for Electric Smokers
You’ll need a few things to make good use of your smoker – for instance wood chips are a necessity! There are also a few accessories we recommend that will make your first smoke a success and keep your smoker in tip top shape.
Using wood chips correctly is the key to smoking food. There are so many types of wood to choose from, and each one will slightly change the flavor. We like the wood chips from Western BBQ Products. We recommend trying their Apple or Hickory wood chips to start.
It’s also worth noting that how you prepare your wood chips can be a game changer when it comes to your smoking techniques. Make sure to avoid the common myth of soaking your wood chips!
A wireless thermometer is a great investment for several reasons. You should always monitor the internal temperature of your meats. This will help make sure the food you’re serving is safe and won’t make anyone sick. It will also help make sure you don’t overcook your meat and serve a dried out meal, which is arguably worse than food poisoning!
We love our Wireless ThermoPro Remote Thermometer. It’s durable enough to leave the temperature probe in the meat during your cook, and you can close your grill on the cable without worrying about breaking it. The remote slips easily in your pocket so you can monitor your cook temperature without constantly checking on your smoker. You can even set countdown timers or alerts which is really handy.
If you’re really on a budget we also like the ThermoPro instant read thermometers as well. It’s just as accurate as our favorite thermometer, you’ll just need to check your temperature manually.
A cover for an electric smoker will keep the rain, snow, and any unwanted out. In addition, an expensive smoker hidden under a cover will attract fewer thieves. But, just like covers protect your smoker from moisture, they can also trap it and encourage rusting. That is why you have to make sure that your smoker is completely dry when placing the cover.
Sure, you can experiment all you want with different types of meat, spices, and wood chips. But, sometimes a good recipe will save you all the trouble. When you buy your smoker, you might be so excited that you end up not knowing what to cook first. If you ever get stuck, here are some recipes you might try out:
- Franklin Barbecue Brisket Recipe – We dive deep into Aaron Franklin’s recipe and teach you how to cook his world-famous brisket
- Smoke it like a Pitmaster With Your Electric Smoker – It doesn’t have a catchy title, but it DOES have a bunch of recipes that are tailor made for electric smokers. We love the Brown Sugar Salmon Recipe on page 91!
- The Complete Electric Smoker Cookbook – 100+ smoker recipes straight from BBQ Guru Bill West. Don’t miss out on the Crispy Skin Orange Chicken recipe on page 38.
Other types of smokers
If you’re interested in a smoker that might be a bit more challenging to use but is closer to wood-fired smoking we recommend this guide to the best pellet smokers. They are electrically powered, but they use wood pellets to provide heat. In a way, the pellet smoker is a combination of an electric and propane smoker. Pellet smokers do not need to be constantly supervised like charcoal smokers, but are a bit more difficult to use than an electric smoker because there is one more variable to control. They likely won’t make your food taste any better, and they’re definitely more difficult to use than an electric smoker… but some people want the street cred that comes with using a pellet smoker.