Can’t figure out which barbecue to buy? You’re not alone, in fact there are so many different types let alone manufacturers that choosing your first bbq smoker can be quite difficult if you don’t know what features to look for. One of the most important first steps when deciding which barbecue to buy is simply deciding what your needs are. In this article we’ll help you do that, then look at the different styles of bbq smokers available and then finally look at some of the features.
Considerations when deciding which barbecue to buy
There are three important questions to ask yourself when choosing your first smoker…
- How much capacity do I need
- How much space do I have
- How ‘hands on’ do I want the barbecue experience to be
Lets look at these points in detail
When considering capacity bigger is absolutely not better, in fact you should choose the smallest smoker that fits your needs. If you only need a smoker to make a few racks of ribs yet the one you buy can cook dozens of racks at a time then you’ll waste money on fuel, take up too much room in your backyard and waste time waiting for the pit to come to proper smoking temperature. The right size bbq smoker will come too temperature quickly, use little fuel and save space. Decide up front if you’ll be cooking for 4 people or 40.
When it comes to available space the style of smoker you choose will determine how much space it takes up. Related to this is portability, only a few different types of smokers are portable. Here’s a guide on the different styles of smokers out there. In a nutshell, a cabinet or bullet smoker takes up the least space and gives the most capacity for its size, while an offset smoker takes up the most space yet delivers the least capacity for its size. Remember, a bbq smoker is hot and it’ll be going for hours, you really can’t maneuver around it if your space is limited.
Finally, let us consider how ‘hands on’ you want the experience to be. There are three main fuel types when it comes to backyard smokers’ charcoal/wood, propane and electric. Charcoal is the most hands on as you’ll need to adjust it to keep the proper temperature while electric is ‘set it and forget it’ you set the temp you want and walk away. Propane is in the middle. The consideration here is how ‘authentic’ you want your barbecue to be as many pit masters consider the flavor from charcoal/wood to be the best while propane is the worst.
Which style of barbecue should I buy?
Now that you know what your needs are you’ll need to find the proper style of bbq pit that fits those needs perfectly. Here’s where it gets a bit tough as you’ll need to make some tradeoffs to find the right one. Once again I’ll direct you to this article that will explain the different styles of bbq pit in detail.
I’ll summarize the different styles here as well as the trade off you’ll make.
- Offset smoker: Takes up lots of space, difficult to adjust temperature yet produces the most ‘authentic’ barbecue
- Cabinet smoker: Good size to capacity ratio yet difficult to refuel (fuel type makes a difference here though)
- Bullet smoker: Takes up the least amount of space, best capacity to size ratio and usually portable yet can be difficult to access lower food racks
As you can see, depending on your capacity needs and how ‘hands on’ you want the experience to be you’ll be guided to a specific style of smoker.
Now lets look at the different fuel types you can use.
Which fuel type is best for my 1st bbq smoker?
Once again there’s a tradeoff here. Do you want authentic flavor, portability or just a bbq smoker that’s easy to use and forgiving. There’s three types of fuels out there; charcoal/wood, propane and electric. Let’s look at each one.
Charcoal/wood: Gives the best most authentic bbq flavor yet is the most hands on. Temperature can be difficult to maintain and you’ll need to refuel every few hours. Depending on it’s size it’s quite portable.
Propane: If you keep a spare tank refueling isn’t an issue here, flavor is however as most purists agree that propane doesn’t give that real bbq flavor. You’ll still need to be wary of flare ups and wind issues. It is easy to use though and very portable.
Electric: Absolutely the easiest, most hands off way to bbq. Just set the temp and walk away. Once again though, is it real bbq? Absolutely not portable.
Here’s an in depth look at the different fuel types of barbecue smokers.
So, let’s summarize….
Which barbecue should I buy?
I’ll throw some different situations out there and show you which bbq pit is right for you.
- Cooking for your family and want a real authentic bbq flavor. Well, you’ll want a small pit that uses charcoal.
- Cooking for family but want as little work as possible. An electric bullet smoker is best.
- Cooking for friends, you want to socialize and not tend to temperatures. A cabinet smoker using propane or electric is best.
- Camping? A propane bullet smoker would be your choice.
- Want to make pulled pork or brisket (these are generally smoked for 12+ hours) use a propane or electric as refueling isn’t an issue. Style isn’t important but fuel type is. If you want authentic flavor though, a charcoal offset is the best choice.
There are of course many more different scenarios, the point is how much do you need to cook and how often do you want to have to walk over to the smoker to check/adjust the temperature or refuel.
I hope this article has helped guide you to the best smoker that fits your needs perfectly. I, personally, use two smokers. I have a Weber smokey mountain and a Bradley Original Food Smoker. The Weber I use for ribs and the Bradley is for pulled pork or brisket.
Here’s a link to both on Amazon, they both have amazing reviews and really should be a top consideration when you’re trying to decide which barbecue to buy.