Buying a BBQ Smoker: Everything you need to know!
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If your exposure to the world of BBQ smokers has been limited to traditional offset models, it's time to expand your horizons. This arena has undergone tremendous growth, resulting in a vast array of products boasting advanced cooking systems and innovative features like digital thermostats and automatic fuel feed. The diverse range of options can be overwhelming, especially when you factor in the passionate debates and competitive nature of smoker culture.
However, with this blog as your guide, the process of purchasing a BBQ smoker is as straightforward as adjusting the temperature on an electric or pellet smoker. While there are certainly some unique options available, in this guide, we aim to provide you with an overview of the different types of smokers and highlight the main differences between them. All you need to do is make informed decisions along the way. We are here to turn up the heat and help you make the best decision from the most accurate information we could muster, without blowing smoke up your… never mind, let's just get to it!
Fuel Types matter
There are 4 major types of fuel sources used for smokers, which are outlined below. Images show different styles of smokers that typically use these fuel sources but can be interchangeable between different types.
Gas Smoker Grills: Effortless Barbecuing
For an effortless barbecuing experience, a gas BBQ smoker is a great option. These smokers have a similar design to electric models, with a gas burner at the bottom of the smoking chamber instead of an electric coil. The gas burner produces stable heat, making it easy to control temperature and smoke compared to wood or charcoal smokers. With a good remote thermometer, your only focus will be time and the internal temperature of your food. Rest assured, the flavour will not be compromised; meat cooked on a gas smoker still comes out tender and smoky with a perfect crust. If your gas smoker has air vents for airflow control, we suggest keeping them open during use to avoid soot build-up in the cooking chamber.
Electric Smoker Grills: The Convenient Option
For a hassle-free barbecuing experience, consider using an electric smoker grill. These models boast temperature controls that work like an oven, ensuring that your food is cooked to perfection. Some budget-friendly electric smokers use rheostats instead, which merely adjust the current flowing to the heating element. The heating element and nearby smoker box produce smoke by burning wood chips. With electric smokers, you won't need to fuss with temperature regulation or fuel refilling during cooking. The most important factors to keep in mind are smoke and air flow management, as over-smoking can easily occur due to the smoker box size and low airflow rate. Nevertheless, low airflow is a great feature when you're cooking dishes that require moisture, such as smoked chicken or turkey, due to the minimised heat transfer from the meat as it passes through.
Charcoal Smokers for Barbecuing
For a classic smoky flavour, a charcoal BBQ smoker may be the way to go. These smokers behave like traditional wood-burning options, where the smoky taste from fire combustion is one of the main benefits. Although using a charcoal smoker can be more challenging compared to other smoker types and requires more effort, it can be well worth it for the taste.
Consider using a smoker temperature controller to help adjust airflow and make the experience easier. While monitoring fuel and smoke levels is still necessary, getting a hang of using charcoal takes only a few cooking sessions and is not as daunting as it may seem. You can even add wood directly to the fire box for quick bursts of smoke or sustained smoke over time, using either chips or chunks.
Pellet Smoker Grills: The Ultimate in Convenience
For a truly effortless grilling experience, pellet BBQ smokers are the way to go. These smokers manage everything for you, from fuel and heat levels to smoke and airflow. Some models even have programmable cooking cycles that deliver perfect BBQ with the push of a button. Wood pellets create their own flavoured smoke, eliminating the need for wood chips or chunks, and the resulting mild and subtle flavours make it difficult to over smoke food. This makes pellet smokers ideal for beginners. It's important to remember that the hotter the fire, the less smoke is produced. Conversely, the lower the temperature, the more the fire will smoulder and smoke. You can take advantage of this by selecting "smoke mode," which lowers the heat to create a rush of mild smoke. Check out the ASMOKE pellet smoker AS500N and AS660N models for more details!
Select Your BBQ Smoker Category
You have now arrived at the final step in selecting your ideal smoker - choosing the appropriate BBQ smoker category. We have created four categories - Luxury, Premium, Practical, and Entry-Level - based on factors such as quality, performance, and features, which we believe are the best indicators of a smoker's value and suitability for your lifestyle. Continue reading to discover the key differences between each class of smoker.
Luxury Barbecue Smokers
- Typically constructed from high-quality 304 stainless steel for durability and longevity.
- Brands offering lifetime warranties provide peace of mind.
- Well-insulated and sealed cooking chambers retain the smoke for optimal flavour.
- Offers a luxurious experience with versatile cooking systems and convenient features.
Premium Barbecue Smokers
- Constructed from durable stainless steel or powder-coated steel for long-lasting use.
- Warranties ranging from 5 to 10 years protect your investment.
- Dependable cooking systems and quality insulation ensure consistently delicious BBQ.
- Featuring electric smokers with digital control centres for ease of use.
Practical Barbecue Smokers
- Affordable, vertical smokers in various fuel types, easy to use.
- Warranties reflect the mixed materials used in construction.
- Constructed with fairly thick steel to retain heat well and simple analogue controls.
- Distinguished by unique cooking systems and useful features compared to Entry-level models.
Entry-Level Barbecue Smokers
- Designed to meet a budget-friendly price point rather than performance level.
- Constructed with lower-quality materials and limited warranties.
- Offers basic smoking options with limited features to simplify the cooking process.
Select Your Ideal BBQ Smoker
There is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing the right BBQ smoker for you. From fuel type to body design, you can pick and choose to find the perfect match. Will you opt for the traditional offset style, the compact vertical design, or the visually stunning unconventional models? Keep reading to uncover which type will suit your barbecue needs best.
Traditional Offset Smokers
These units feature a fire box that is positioned horizontally and separate from the main cooking chamber. Offset smokers typically have a horizontal barrel shape and are powered by charcoal or wood, which produces both heat and smoke that flow into the cooking area. These models are a popular choice for barbecue enthusiasts and competitors, although they do require a bit of extra attention and effort. Fortunately, modern offset smokers often come equipped with temperature controllers that help regulate heat and airflow, although you'll still need to keep an eye on fuel and smoke production. Despite some inevitable temperature variations across the cooking surface, recent advancements like large heat baffles and reverse-flow air intakes help maintain even heating.
Space-Saving Vertical Smokers
These smokers have a heat source positioned directly below the main cooking chamber, which is typically shaped like a cabinet. Starting from the bottom, the components of a vertical smoker are arranged as follows: heat source, wood shelf or smoker box, optional water pan, and cooking grates. This design provides a more even temperature distribution and easier temperature control, as heat and smoke naturally rise toward the food. Many electric smokers are vertical in design, but there are also several charcoal, pellet, and gas models that take this form. For example, the budget-friendly Gateway Drum Smokers are vertical models. Regardless of the fuel source, make sure your vertical smoker has easy access to the fire box for refuelling as needed (most models have doors or sliding trays for this purpose). Additionally, vertical smokers can easily be incorporated into a BBQ island setup.
Unusual Outdoor Smokers
If you're looking for something outside the box, then unconventional BBQ smokers may be just what you're after. These models don't fit neatly into either the offset or vertical categories and often feature unique designs that set them apart from other smokers. The Lynx Sonoma gas smoker, for example, comes in built-in and freestanding options and boasts cutting-edge features such as LED-lit control knobs and smartphone connectivity. The Cajun Combeaux charcoal grill and smoker is another option that combines versatility with versatility, as it can function as both a charcoal grill and a vertical or offset smoker depending on where you position the charcoal basket inside the unit. So why settle for ordinary when you can have extraordinary?
Select Your Smoker's Placement: How does configuration matter?
Once you have chosen your fuel type and smoker type, it's time to consider placement. This involves finding the right spot for your smoker, whether you want it to be portable or integrated into your outdoor kitchen setup. In this section, we'll go over the different options available to you.
Mobile Smokers (sometimes called free-standing)
Mobile smokers are the most common option, and for good reason. They offer the convenience of being able to move your smoker around the yard and take it to competitions, if desired. Additionally, the ability to clean your smoker after a long day of smoking meat is much easier with a mobile smoker. The process of removing ash and grease is less labour-intensive when you can move the cooker and clean it from all angles. For travelling competition smokers, a mobile smoker is a must-have, and these models are also much easier to store during the off-season. Just make sure your mobile smoker has strong wheels and a protective cover to keep it in good condition. Some examples of mobile smokers are the two portable ASMOKE models AS350 and AS300.
Integrated Smokers (built in)
If you're looking to add some versatility and a unique touch to your outdoor kitchen, an integrated smoker may be the way to go. This option allows you to pair your BBQ smoker with a conventional gas grill, giving you the ability to serve a wider variety of food to your guests. For even more versatility, consider adding a built-in kamado smoker to your BBQ island setup. Another option is to use a vertical electric smoker on wheels, such as those from Cookshack, that can be placed directly into a counter cutout with proper ventilation. If you have a freestanding cabinet smoker, it can also be integrated into your outdoor kitchen, as long as you follow the recommended ventilation and clearance guidelines in the owner's manual.
Final Thoughts on Buying a Smoker
As you approach the end of your smoker buying journey, we've got a few witty words of wisdom to steer you in the right direction. BBQ smoking is a science, and there are a bunch of important factors that make a huge impact on the taste and tenderness of your food. Here's a rundown of the most crucial aspects you should keep in mind.
Insulation is key
Heat and smoke retention are crucial in low-and-slow smoking, which makes top-notch insulation an absolute must. Look for a smoker with features like well-designed fibreglass mesh, felt gaskets, and flanged lips to keep the heat in. Thick-gauge metal and ceramics used in kamado smokers are great insulators too. Keep an eye out for any seals or gaskets in the smoker body that could let smoke escape, as this not only affects the flavour of your food but also makes your smoker less fuel-efficient. In a nutshell, aim for a BBQ smoker made of quality materials with a solid warranty from a customer-focused company.
Temperature and Airflow Control
Regulating temperature is critical in BBQ, and this is especially true for smokers. Make sure you understand the temperature-control systems of the model you choose. Charcoal and kamado smokers rely on dampers (or vents) to control airflow and adjust the internal temperature. Electric and gas smokers may also have damper systems, so make sure they're accessible, easy to operate, and made of durable materials that won't rust. A rusted damper is a no-go, as it'll compromise your airflow and temperature control.
Wood Chips and Chunks
Wood is often the main source of smoke in many smokers. Different hardwood species produce unique flavours, so feel free to experiment. Here's a quick rundown on the use of wood chips and chunks:
- Use wood chips for a strong smoky flavour during short cooks
- Use wood chunks for a steady stream of smoke flavour during longer cooks
- You can also use a combination of both, depending on what you're smoking
There's also a debate about soaking wood chips, but all soaking does is extend the time it takes for your chips or chunks to ignite. It only makes sense to soak wood if you need to extend your smoke session, in which case you'd only soak half your stock to refuel your smoker without the hassle.
Water Pans and Water Smokers
Water pans (or pans that can hold liquids like apple juice, cider vinegar, or beer) serve two purposes: creating high humidity inside your smoker and stabilising temperature. High humidity keeps your food moist, while the water pan acts as a deflector to absorb and radiate heat evenly. While you technically don't have to use a water pan, it makes the smoking process a lot easier. Cheers to juicy, delicious BBQ!
If you enjoyed reading this blog we dive even deeper in Pellet Smokers: The Ultimate Guide