Compact enough for small spaces
Lightweight and portable
No high-heat option
Uses up smoking fuel quickly
Char-Broil is a massive outdoor cooking brand that produces everything from gas grills to turkey fryers. While the company sells many kinds of smokers including traditional barrel smokers and propane smokers, the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker is a digitally controlled, electric-powered option that might be most useful for people with limited space or a limited budget.
Setup: Simple Assembly and Setup
The Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker is mostly ready to go out of the box. We followed the simple instructions, placing a few items including the trays, water pan, and firebox inside the unit.
Like most any smoker coming from an assembly line, the Char-Broil Deluxe requires a burn-off “seasoning” period before it’s food-safe. So, we removed all stickers and plastic packaging from inside and outside the unit before firing up for the seasoning.
The biggest drawback of this smoker is its lack of high-heat options, which makes it a dedicated low ’n’ slow smoker and nothing else.
Speaking of stickers, one of the most perplexing and frustrating aspects of this Char-Broil smoker is the giant sticker affixed to the front glass. Despite dozens of furious online reviews complaining about the sticker, we still had to battle it on our model.
It’s not as straightforward as simply peeling off the sticker. Removing the face of the sticker takes some work, and the glue stays on the glass. Nail polish remover wasn’t up to the task, and paper towels or rags only seemed to smear the glue. We found we needed a specialty gunk remover solvent and a razor blade to get things moving. Set aside at least an hour to deal with the sticker.
Design: A Sturdy Smoker With an Intuitive Interface
The height of the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker isn’t ideal for the average-sized BBQ chef, with the lowest shelf sitting less than a foot off the ground. That said, if you’re lookin’, you’re not cookin’, so the height was only really an annoyance when we were loading food, inserting temperature probes, and just taking a peek to satisfy our curiosity. Setting the unit on a stand or picnic table brings it up to a more comfortable height, but it isn’t necessary to use it effectively.
The design and aesthetics set this smoker apart from most grill-style barrel and pellet smokers. It looks much more like a wine fridge than a traditional smoker, and this makes it feel more like an appliance and less like a grill.
The digital interface is so simply and intuitively designed, we were able to use it without a single glance at the user’s guide.
While the exterior is all plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap. Everything inside is metal, and the glass feels sturdy and thick enough to retain heat while allowing cooks to look inside. The glass might seem unnecessary to hardcore smoke chefs, but it satisfied our urge to see how our food was progressing without opening things up and losing valuable smoke and heat.
The digital interface is so intuitively designed, we were able to use it without a single glance at the user’s guide (with a few caveats discussed below).
Read through our guide to the best grilling accessories.
Portability: A Lightweight Option
While it isn’t advertised as a travel/tailgate smoker, the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker could easily be taken tailgating or camping. It’s much more mobile than many other so-called “portable” smokers.
At just over 50 pounds, the Char-Broil Deluxe is equipped with a handle and built-in wheels that made it easy for us to maneuver. Additionally, its shape (rectangular with rounded corners) fits into cars and trucks with less fuss than awkwardly shaped barrel pellet smokers, with their legs on the bottom and attachments hanging off their sides.
This smoker’s main limitation as a travel option is the same one that we faced at home: the lack of a high-heat option. Most pellet grills can crank up to 450 degrees, which is more than you need for searing up hot dogs, fish, and burgers. The Char-Broil maxes out at 275 degrees, and it struggles to keep temperatures that high, so this unit only works on the road if you’re happy just smoking low and slow or if you have a separate grill option.
Performance: Steady Temperature Control
The Char-Broil is different than popular pellet-fed smokers in that it doesn’t rely on wood as part of its temperature regulation. The heat is controlled by a relatively small electric coil that looks identical to the electric element in most ovens. It has an optional smoker box that can be filled with wood chips or pellets for smoke, but this isn’t required to generate heat. As a result, this model is generally more stable and reliable than pellet smokers, which can swing as much as 100 degrees in either direction while trying to maintain a set temperature.
The ability to run the smoker for a set amount of time (plus the relative reliability of the temperature control) meant we could actually “set it and forget it,” unlike with most pellet-fed smokers.
The unit has two main modes of operation: You can either target a meat temperature or set a specific amount of time. Target meat temperature mode runs the machine at a set temperature until the built-in meat temperature probe reaches the desired temperature. We could see this being particularly appealing for recipe-followers. The set time might be useful for smoke chefs who like to monitor their meat’s temperature by hand and from different locations on the meat and are comfortable with the art of smoking as well as the science.
The ability to run the smoker for a set amount of time (plus the relative reliability of the temperature control) meant we could actually “set it and forget it.” Most pellet-fed smokers have more variables in temperature and a greater likelihood of failure in a protracted smoking session.
The biggest drawback of this smoker is its lack of high-heat options, which makes it a dedicated low ’n’ slow smoker and nothing else. Other types of smokers can run hotter, enabling gas grill-type cooking in the 350-450 range. We found that the Char-Broil sometimes struggled to reach its advertised maximum temperature of 275; it’s at its best closer to 225. This is no slight if you are interested in lower-temperature smoking such as that used for hot-smoking salmon or the long, low smoke at 225 recommended for pulled pork or ribs.
Another gripe is that the relatively small smoker box doesn’t hold enough fuel to cover a long smoking session. In our test, the Char-Broil used up all the chips and ceased producing smoke after about 3 hours, even on lower-temperature smoking such as smoked salmon. It’s not hard to refill the smoker box, but it does require you to monitor the smoke output and open the unit to refill when necessary.
Take a peek at our guide to the best charcoal grills you can buy today.
Capacity: Plenty of Cooking Surface
One of the surprises of this ultra-compact unit is the available cooking surface, which comes in at 725 square inches. That’s larger than some smoker grills that take up at least double the deck real estate. Food height matters here, however, since if we were cooking taller items such as whole chickens, we’d need to remove racks to fit them, cutting the effective smoking space in half. That said, we were able to pack lower-height items such as salmon fillets in there, covering nearly all of the 725 square inches if we needed them.
Price: Cheaper, but Not Cheap
The $300 price tag on this Char-Broil allowed us to get into smoking for much less than the grill-style smokers widely available at big box stores, which start at $400 and often run beyond $1,000. Comparable smokers such as the Masterbuilt 4-Rack Digital Electric Smoker range from $175 to $400, making the Char-Broil well-priced for its category.
One more affordable option is a gas-powered vertical smoker with analog controls. While you save around $100 going this route, you also sacrifice some of the ease of use. Bullet-style smokers can be cheaper (and Char-Broil sells their own), but you get much less cooking surface area and lose the digital interface.
Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker vs. Masterbuilt 4-Rack Digital Electric Smoker
There are many vertical smokers similar to the Char-Broil model we reviewed. The main differences are in heat source (some are gas or pellet-fed) and size. In this price range and type, however, the Masterbuilt 4-Rack Digital Electric Smoker offers very similar specs and performance for roughly $100 more.
Unlike the Char-Broil, the Masterbuilt stands on legs, which raises the cooking compartment to a much more usable height. Aside from that and an included cover, these units are nearly identical. Considering you can buy a stand to raise the height of the unit for $50 (or just set it on something you already have), we feel that it’s hard to justify the extra expense for the Masterbuilt over the Char-Broil.
Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best smokers under $400.
- Product Name Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
- Product Brand Char-Broil
- Price $299.99
- Fuel Wood chips or pellets
- Grilling area 725 square inches
- Warranty 1 year