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If you want to cook a true low and slow barbecue without emptying your pockets of precious cash, a budget smoker is a great option for your needs. These smokers offer a wide variety of options, from electric to charcoal, with many great features available with each. If you are in the market for a smoker these are the units you should be looking at. No matter the type of fuel you want to run your smoker with, or your level of expertise, there is a great smoker under $400 for your backyard cookout needs.
01 of 09
Weber Smokey Mountain 18 Inch Smoker
It would seem almost insane to change a smoker as popular at Weber's Smokey Mountain (WSM) Smoker, but Weber has listened to the fans and made only slight (requested) changes to this unit. The addition of a lid mounted thermometer and a bottom mounted heat shield doesn't affect how this unit works but gives you a better smoker. In the past, you either had to drill a hole and put in your own thermometer or set one inside and lift the lid to check the temperature. Now you can see the cooking temperature easily. The heat shield will protect whatever surface you put your smoker on. Altogether, a better WSM.
02 of 09
Napoleon Apollo 3 in 1 Smoker
The Napoleon Apollo 3 in 1 takes the simple, vertical water smoker to a whole new level. Also known as the ProQ, this three section smoker can be reduced to a simple charcoal grill, or assembled to a large capacity charcoal smoker. Loaded with features, this unit is capable or smoking up a large amount of food, or small load without wasting lots of extra charcoal. Standard with a bar in the lid for hooks to hang racks of ribs or sausages, eyelets for meat probes, and a good airflow system. All of the body connection points can cause it to leak smoke, but that is typical of this kind of smoker.
03 of 09
Pit Barrel Cooker
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a simple, easy to use charcoal unit that can cook up to eight racks of ribs at once. Designed to operate consistently at around 300 degrees F., this cooker needs very little attention and can be relied upon to turn out some great food in a relatively short period of time. While there are those that might argue that it isn't a real smoker, it does create smokey flavors and great food.
04 of 09
Big Chief Front Load Smoker
For smoking large cuts of great barbecue buy a different smoker. For nearly 55 years the Big Chief, and its little brother, the Little Chief, have been designed for smoking all those things that don't traditionally fall into the strict category of barbecue. For smoking fish, jerky, sausage, cheese, this is the perfect smoker. The lower cooking temperatures, that can't be adjusted, and decent smoke production is great for preserving foods and adding smoke flavor to things you might not cook, or might finish off someplace else.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Smoke Hollow 44-Inch Gas Smoker
The biggest limitation of gas smokers is the range of temperatures they can hit and the fact that most of them leak smoke and heat through the doors. The Smoke Hollow 44-inch smoker doesn't have these problems. The doors latch closed tightly and the dual burner design gives it a much wider range of temperatures. It is also a very large smoker, standing 5 feet high with five racks and seven cubic feet of capacity. If there is a problem with this smoker you probably won't see it for a few years. The lightweight burners and thinner metals shorten the life expectancy of this smoker. Care should be taken to keep it in good working order.
Read more reviews of the best gas smokers available to purchase online.
06 of 09
Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24
One of the problems with gas smokers is that the heat output can be limited by a factory who thinks they know best. While smoking is done in a specific temperature range, it should be up to the user if they want to "flash" smoke or do a low-temperature smoke. This Camp Chef smoker has a temperature range from 160 to 400 degrees F so it is much more versatile than many gas smokers on the market. However, like many most box style gas smokers, the body isn't insulated and though the door on this one fits better, you still get smoke leakage.
07 of 09
Char-Griller Smokin' Pro
The Char-Griller is another classic offset firebox smoker. This design is so popular because it works. The Char-Griller is easy to use and you can even get a rotisserie kit for it. Like all units of this type, it also doubles as a charcoal grill. It is also one of the least expensive of this type of smoker.
08 of 09
Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker 725 Inch
Char-Broil is, of course, one of the leading names in outdoor cooking and while they have been able to produce some innovative products, they tend to have difficulty in the follow-through. This model, part of a large line of electric refrigerator style smokers, h as digital controls and an insulated construction that promises to make it easy to use and efficient, and generally it is. For under $400USD this little smoker has good capacity and a great line of features and if yours works well, it can be a pretty good investment. The biggest caveat with all electric smokers of this type is that smoke production can be limited so if you are looking for a heavy smoke flavor, looks somewhere else.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Dyna-Glo 36 in. Vertical Off-Set Charcoal Smoker
This vertical smoker has an offset smoke box that helps keep excess heat away from the food to avoid overcooking the items at the bottom, while also sending tasty smoke to the entire cooking box.
The six adjustable cooking grates allow you to adjust the height of the cooking space for foods of different thicknesses, so you can have thin filets on one rack, large chickens on another, and a wheel of cheese or a bowl of salt on another rack, with less wasted space between the foods. There is a total of 1176 square inches of cooking space, so you can smoke up to 150 pounds of food in one session.
The exterior of this smoker is powder-coated steel and the wood chip box smoking is porcelain enameled steel, so this smoker will still look good after many years of use. The sturdy handles make it easy to move the smoker to the perfect spot for cooking, and the integrated thermometer lets you monitor temperature without opening a door. For sure you’ll appreciate the grease system that collects both food drippings and condensation from the inside of the cooking chamber, so cleanup is fast and easy.
How We Tested
Our reviewers spent 21 hours testing one of the most popular budget-friendly smokers on the market by, yes, smoking everything they could get their hands on — from meat to seafood to cheese to cocktail ingredients. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using this smoker, from portability to fuel type, and have outlined them here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.
What to Look for in a Smoker Under $400
Fuel type Sure, you’ll use wood to create the smoke in any of these smokers, but you have choices as to how that wood gets its heat. Electric smokers are convenient, while charcoal is more traditional. Gas grills offer yet another option. Since it’s wood that provides the flavor, the fuel choice is more about personal preference.
Portability While you likely won’t be moving your smoker very far, you may decide to keep it in storage when it’s not in use, or you might want the option to move it to a better spot in the yard when the wind suddenly shifts. Think about whether you’ll be able to move the smoker by yourself or will need a helping hand.
Ability to cold smoke Most smokers have no problem with hot smoking but cold smoking is a little trickier. Do you want to cold smoke salmon or bacon, or are you more interested in smoking and cooking slabs of ribs or large hunks of brisket for dinner? If cold smoking isn’t something you plan on exploring, then you needn’t look for smokers with that option.
Test Results: Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch Smoker
What We Like
Builds heat effectively
Reliable built-in thermometer
What We Don't Like
Instructions could be clearer for beginners
Doesn’t always fully seal
One of our reviewers had never used a smoker before but tried this one out with chicken, ribs, and vegetables. While he noted that the instructions weren’t “at a dummy-proof level,” he thought that, overall, this smoker was a good size for a small dinner party and “great for someone who loves grilling or smoking a perfect meal.” In terms of its design, one of our testers found that the top and bottom dome covers were effective at building heat, but one person cautioned that his smoker seemed to have some leaks. He did a DIY seal upgrade for $10.