Grilling is great, but smoking takes outdoor cooking to a whole new level. Smoke penetrates meat during long, slow cooking, giving you a big-league taste at the backyard barbecue.
You don't need expensive cuts to impress, either. Fattier, tougher cuts work best to really lock in moisture. Everything from pork roasts and delicious brisket to whole chicken and racks of ribs will emerge fully cooked, tender, juicy, and full of savory, smoky flavor.
To find the best of the best, we've evaluated some of the top models in both the backyards of our expert reviewers and in our testing Lab. Whether you're a beginner or a pro, you want a charcoal smoker or electric, or you're looking for something high-end or more wallet-friendly, there's a smoker for every meat enthusiast out there.
Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker
Easy setup for smoking
Large water bowl regulates internal temperature
Water level difficult to see when using
This Weber smoker proves that you don't need all the bells and whistles to be the best of the best. If you've been backyard smoking for years, you'll know how to control the airflow, right out of the box. It's also a great introduction to smoking for people who just want something basic that does the job of making tasty barbecue. This user-friendly smoker doesn’t have dials or controls to worry about and works much like a familiar charcoal grill, so beginners will be able to quickly get over the learning curve. But the grill has another "sneaky trick up its sleeve" that impressed our product tester: a water pan that collects drips, keeps the interior humid for juicy results, and helps to regulate the temperature during smoking sessions.
This vertical smoker uses charcoal for the heat source and has two 18-inch cooking grates so you can fit plenty of food for the family or for a backyard party. A thermometer on the top lets you monitor the interior temperature, while a silicone plug in the side allows standard remote meat thermometers to slide through into the meat for perfect cooking every time. When smoking ribs for 6 hours, the tester found that it heated up fairly quickly, and she was able to keep the internal temperature to within a 20-degree range the entire time.
Our home tester did note that it's difficult to monitor the water pan's water level during cooking, but a full bowl will suffice for at least 10 hours of smoking. For additional versatility, this smoker can be configured to be used as a standard grill, as well. Weber does sell this smoker in both a smaller 14-inch version, and a larger 22-inch option.
Price at time of publish: $419
Fuel: Charcoal | Dimensions: 21 x 19 x 41 inches | Cooking Area: 481 square inches | Weight: 39 pounds
"The ability to convert the smoker to a grill was a pleasant surprise, and the included cover was a bonus that will keep the smoker clean in inclement weather." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Pellet Smoker
Weber Smokefire EX4 Wood Fired Pellet Grill
Easy to customize and monitor via an app
Phenomenal temperature consistency during long smokes
Ash bin is difficult to clean
If you'd rather smoke your meats with wood pellets on a grill-smoker combo, the Weber Smokefire EX4 is definitely for you. We loved a lot of things about it after both Lab and home testing, especially that it can be monitored remotely via its Wi-Fi technology. With 672 square inches of space, this can handle temperature between 200 and 600 degrees, so you'll be able to cook anything and everything.
After an easy setup, it was onto testing. Off the bat, having a built-in assistant via Weber Connect, came in handy. It had clear instructions on seasoning the grill, an important first step with pellet grills. The app also walks you through the cooking process, monitors the grill's internal temperature, and, through the included meat probes, helps you watch the meat's temperature while cooking.
During our Lab experiments, they put the Smokefire's smoking capabilities to the test. A low-and-slow pork roast helped our testers confirm that the smoke level and temperature are separately controlled. The smoker maintained a consistent and accurate temperature throughout the day—no wild temperature swings observed at all. The testers were able to achieve a juicy and subtly smoky pork butt at a medium smoke level, rating it one of the best of the day. Afterward though, they found it difficult to clean out the ash bin and couldn't tell when it was full.
Our home tester focused more on the grilling than smoking, which it excelled at. Aesthetically speaking, she mentioned that the Smokefire’s shiny black exterior and stainless steel accessories have a clean and sleek look, as do the carefully designed pellet hopper and ash collector.
Price at time of publish: $1,099
Fuel: Wood pellets | Dimensions: 43 x 33 x 47 inches | Cooking Area: 432 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 20 pounds | Weight: 176 pounds
"LCD temperature and menu display help to control the settings so you can smoke, bake or grill. The grill also contains a 'smoke boost' setting for extra flavor."
Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker
Easy to assemble and operate
Lid doesn't always seal properly
A smoker doesn’t have to break the bank, and this 16-inch bullet smoker from Char-Broil is the perfect example. It has two porcelain-coated cooking grates that offer a total of 388 square inches of cooking space. A temperature gauge on the lid makes it easy to monitor the smoker’s internal temperature for perfect cooking every time.
The dampers are numbered to make it easy to remember the best settings for heat and smoke, and the ash pan is removable for easy cleanup when cooking is done and the fire is out. For those who need more cooking space, there’s also a 20-inch version of this model.
Many customers were pleasantly surprised to find that this smoker is sturdily constructed and keeps consistent temperature, considering its price. A few people advise, however, to be careful when putting the lid back on because it won't always seal properly otherwise.
Price at time of publish: $230
Fuel: Charcoal | Dimensions: 21.75 x 21.1 x 39.1 inches | Cooking Area: 388 square inches | Weight: 16.5 pounds
"A common mistake people make with smokers is either using too much wood or adding the food to the smoker before the smoke is running clean. You want to see a thin blue smoke, not a thick white or gray smoke. The wrong smoke will taint the flavor of your food." — Christie Vanover, Owner and Pitmaster of GirlsCanGrill.com
Traeger Tailgater 20 Pellet Grill
Lightweight and portable
Mysterious temperature swings
Awkward to fold up for transport
One of the pitfalls of normal smokers is that they can't be taken along for camping trips, summer getaways, or tailgating parties. That's where Traeger's very portable smoker/grill comes in handy. This pellet smoker has easy-to-use digital control, an electric auto-start ignition, and an auger system that feeds pellets into the fire, so all you have to do is make sure the hopper is full and the grill will do the rest.
This has 300 square inches of cooking space, so it’s not huge, but both our Lab and home testers found it adequate for a cookout. It handle four large steaks with ease and could fit a good-sized pork shoulder. All of the testers noted that the hopper is large enough for an all-day smoking session, though you do need to keep an eye on it. It can maintain a consistent temperature, but sometime lost heat which results in a wild temperature swing. But at the end of the day, it holds its own against larger, more expensive (and less portable) models.
Assembly out of the box is easy—it does need a seasoning session—and it's easy to set up wherever you need it. We do recommend having a buddy around when it's time to get grilling as it can be a little awkward to move.
Price at time of publish: $530
Fuel: Wood pellets | Dimensions: 37 x 18 x 36 inches | Cooking Area: 300 square inches | Weight: 60 pounds | Hopper Capacity: 8 pounds
"Even if you only use it for smoking and grilling, the Tailgater can replace your gas or charcoal grill and deliver better flavor than either." — Justin Park, Product Tester
Best Offset Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Offset Smoker
Built to last
Large cooking capacity
Offset smokers look like traditional grills with a small firebox on the side, but they work much differently since the heat comes from the firebox rather than from below the food. Controlled heat and smoke enter the cooking chamber for perfectly smoked meats every time.
A thermometer mounted in the lid, along with multiple dampers, makes controlling the heat and smoke easy. Made from heavy-gauge black-coated steel, this sturdy smoker is built to last and will look good for years. The stay-cool handles on the cookbox and firebox lids let you open the lids safely, even when the grill is hot. This has 619 square inches of cooking space in the main chamber, but if you need a little extra space, a rack in the firebox gives you extra space right over the fire.
Price at time of publish: $600
Fuel: Charcoal | Dimensions: 57 x 33.5 x 53 inches | Cooking Area: 619 square inches | Weight: 178 pounds
Kamado Joe Big Joe II Grill
Excellent heat retention
Versatile two-tier cooktop
Eye-catching color and design
Too heavy to transport
Ceramic is fragile
The word "kamado" is the Japanese word for "stove" or "cooking range," although today it's a generic term for a ceramic grill that's especially excellent for smoking. Compared to metal charcoal grills, kamado grills take barbecue to a whole new level with superior heat retention that traps moisture and smoke inside, locking primo flavor deep inside the meat.
Although it is pricey, the Kamado Joe Big Joe II comes with rave reviews—a clear favorite among grillers. The red egg-shaped grill with locking wheels has an 24-inch cooktop divided among two half-moon-shaped tiers, allowing you to cook different foods in different styles at different temperatures simultaneously.
Powered by natural lump charcoal, smoke at 225 degrees or crank it all the way up to 750 degrees to sear. It's mold- and water-resistant, so you can cook in the rain, too. A fiberglass mesh gasket and self-activating stainless steel latch ensure a strong, airtight seal for tender, smoke-flavored brisket, chicken, and more. Lift the top with just two fingers (it'll stay put exactly where you position it) and use the sliding ash drawer for a super easy clean.
If you're hoping to save a little money, you can always downsize to the Kamado Joe Big Joe I. The two models have the same cooking area and temperature range, but the Big Joe II comes with an air lift hinge, improved top vent, and a few other premium features. You can also consider the smaller diameter, and lower price, of the Classic Joe II.
Price at time of publish: $1,900
Fuel: Charcoal | Dimensions: 58.4 x 36 x 54 inches | Cooking Area: 450 square inches | Weight: 372 pounds
Demeyere Resto Stovetop Smoker
Works with any stovetop
Doubles as a steamer
Made from high-quality material
Some smoke can escape
Lacks thorough instructions
Not everyone has outdoor space for smoking, and that’s where this stainless steel smoker comes in handy. The Demeyere Resto Smoker is designed to be used right on your stovetop, allowing you to make your favorite smoked foods indoors. The 4-piece design includes a 3-ply 18/10 stainless steel encapsulated base with welded side handles, a polished stainless steel lid, and two inserts.
To use this indoor smoker, you simply put wood chips in the base, place the rack on top, then add fish, vegetables, or meats and cheeses to the unit. It can be heated on any type of stovetop, including induction, and soon, you'll have tasty food with a rich smoked flavor. Plus, the unit can double as a steamer, allowing you to easily cook fish and vegetables, and it can simply be put in the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Price at time of publish: $130
Fuel: Stovetop | Dimensions: 14 x 12.5 x 5 inches | Material: Stainless steel | Weight: 6 pounds
How We Tested
Our Lab tested some of the top smokers as a part of a larger test of pellet grills. During that test, the testers grilled, seared, baked, and smoked to thoroughly analyze every feature and the grill's performance. They then rated each on heat control and retention, size, features, performance, ease of cleaning, and overall value.
We also sent models directly to the homes of our expert food writers who spent weeks using them in their backyards to see how the stood up to everyday cooking and cleaning. They were also able to offer additional insights into how easy they were to set up and store, and use during typical weather conditions. After testing, our writers submitted their feedback on what they liked and didn't like.
What to Look for in a Smoker
Types of Smokers
Smokers can be fueled by charcoal, hardwood, electricity, wood pellets, or propane. There are advantages (and some disadvantages) to these different fuels:
Charcoal and wood smokers are more traditional and typically provide a more authentic flavor to your cooking. The cheapest smokers on the market are usually charcoal, but some of the most expensive use charcoal, as well.
These are the most convenient—just plug them in and add wood, water, and food—and the heat is also easy to regulate since it’s much like a stove. But many lack authentic flavor. Computer-controlled electric smokers allow you to set up the smoker and let it run until the food is ready.
Pellet smokers are electrically powered but burn wood pellets to provide heat and smoke. These units can be as convenient as an electric smoker, but give you the flavor of the best charcoal/hardwood smokers.
Smokers powered by propane typically heat faster and easier than electric smokers but are still easy to use. They are also more portable, since you don’t need a power outlet, but you need to watch its propane levels to make sure you don’t run out in the middle of smoking that brisket.
Depending on the price you can get a smoker that gives great barbecue with very little effort. One question you want to answer is how involved do you want to be in the process. Barbecue is a long and noble tradition of people sitting by the fire making great food. Do you want to set it and forget it or do you want to take an active part in the food you cook? Look for the electronic or computer control features that may automate some of the processes for you.
Size and Smoking Capacity
The smallest smokers can produce enough food for a large family (maybe as many as 20 people). The largest smokers make enough barbecue to cater a party all day long. It is important that you consider how much barbecue you want to make before you buy. If you are only going to be smoking for the family on the weekend, then a small unit will be enough. If you want to be able to smoke for the company party, then you will need a lot more space. Most smokers will tell you how much food you can prepare. As a general rule of thumb, you need one pound of meat (raw) per person. That can mean a lot of food.
There are a number of units on the market that can smoke and grill. If you want to be able to have the best of both worlds, then these are the units for you. Charcoal units, like the Kamado Joe Classic II, are the most common of this kind of multipurpose smoker. While many of the lower-priced units will promise this feature, you must be aware that a great design needs to be both a good smoker and a good grill. Most of the less expensive models do one or the other well, but not both.
Portability isn’t just about tossing your smoker in the trunk to take it to a party—it’s also about the ease of moving it out of storage to the yard and back again. You should consider the weight and other features if you know you'll be moving the smoker around often. This is especially important if you don't have a permanent outdoor space for a large smoker.
What is a smoker?
A smoker, sometimes called a BBQ smoker, is an outdoor cooking appliance that can maintain low temperatures for extended periods of time while producing smoke and holding it around the meat for absorption. There are numerous types of smokers, including offset smokers, box smokers, kamado grills, and pellet grills, and they can be powered by gas, electricity, charcoal, or wood pellets.
How does a smoker work?
To create their signature smoke, these appliances maintain a much lower temperature than a traditional grill. Whereas a grill cooks food at 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, smokers maintain a temperature between 180 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes its wood chips to smolder instead of burning, filling the cooking cavity up with smoke.
This indirect heat cooks your food and gives it a delicious smoky flavor, but the process takes significantly longer than a regular grill—smoking meat typically takes six to eight hours, but it can be as long as 22 hours for large cuts of meat like brisket.
Do I need to clean my smoker after every use?
Just like your grill, your smoker needs regular maintenance if you want it to deliver optimal results and last for years. You'll want to clean out ashes, grease, and food build-up after each use, and you may need to re-season the smoker periodically, as well, to maintain its protective coating.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
From smoking guns for cocktails to a stovetop smoker to an electric smoker, Donna Currie has been experimenting with home-smoked food for a long time. She’s smoked cocktails, salt, cheese, and even her own home-cured and smoked bacon. When it comes to lighting things on fire and creating billows of smoke, she knows what she likes.
This roundup was updated by Camryn Rabideau, product tester and grill expert for The Spruce Eats. She's done firsthand testing of the Masterbuilt Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker and more popular grills. She also interviewed Christie Vanover, Owner and Pitmaster of GirlsCanGrill.com as part of her research.
- Christie Vanover, Owner and Pitmaster of GirlsCanGrill.com