Welcome to part 2 of my series, How to Find the Best Barbecue Smoker for a Beginner. Here’s part 1 if you missed it. In my previous article we discussed the different types of bbq smokers available, common features you should look for as well as what to consider if you’re looking to get your 1st bbq smoker. In this part we’ll look at the different fuel types available, the pros and cons of each and then finally compare some of the most popular beginner smokers in each category. When we’re done you should have a firm grip on which is the best novice barbecue smoker for you.
Within each style of smoker (cabinet, offset or bullet) there is available three main fuel types; wood/charcoal, gas or electric. Lets take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
What type of Fuel is Best for a Beginner Smoker?
Although you may immediately think charcoal is the only way to go you should consider the alternatives; gas and electric.
Charcoal/wood has of course been used for smoking meat since the beginning, many purists will argue that it’s the only way to make ‘real’ barbecue. To me it’s a matter of choice, I really can’t taste much difference between the three fuel types as long as the food is properly smoked. I will say this though, you only find charcoal/wood smokers at barbecue competitions. Let’s look at the three types of fuel.
Charcoal: Real authentic barbecue, the way the pit masters do it.
- Produces ‘real’ barbecue flavor
- You get that ‘real’ barbecue experience
- Refueling required for long cook times
- Can flare up due to wind or opening the lid
- Subject to grease fires (cabinet/bullet smokers only)
- Long delay for temperature adjustments to kick in (up to 15 minutes depending on size and type of smoker)
- Need to constantly watch and adjust temperature
- Need to have extra fuel on hand ‘just in case’
- Lot’s of cleanup after your done
- There is a bit of a fire hazard
- Can potentially be used as a grill as well, just add more fuel
Propane: Cheap and easy, great for the backyard, portable too!
- Quickly comes up to temperature
- Very little mess, easy cleanup
- Wind has little effect on the temperature
- Able to adjust temperatures quickly, but not very accurately
- Crank up the heat and you can grill too!
- Is it real barbecue??
- You really should have an extra tank on hand just in case
Electric: The new kid on the block
- No mess, period
- Quickly comes up to temperature (not as quick as propane though)
- Quickly temperature adjustment (again, not as quick as propane)
- Most ‘hands off’ of any type of barbecue smoker
- No need for additional fuel tanks (just don’t forget to pay your electric bill)
- Very fine temperature adjustment
- Very safe
- Absolutely not portable at all
- Again, is it real barbecue??
- Can’t use if it’s raining
- Electric smokers usually can’t get above 300 degrees, so you can’t do any grilling at all with these
Now, we know about the different types of barbecue smokers out there and what the different fuel types do so lets take a look at some of the most popular novice barbecue smokers out there and compare them.
What are Some of the Best Beginner Smokers?
First up is the Weber Smokey Mountain. As you can see this is a bullet style that uses charcoal. It is, as far as the smoker reviews go, the finest novice smoker available in the charcoal category. We know from it’s design that it holds heat very well and can hold tons of meat. Being a charcoal smoker it does require some hand holding to get the temperature steady at 225 degrees, but once it’s there it’ll hold it very well. This smoker will burn an incredibly long time on just one load of coals. A great choice if you want the real barbecue experience and flavor.
Don’t let the size fool you, I’ve had 6 racks of ribs and a Boston Butt cooking at the same time in this smoker. Bottom grate is a bit difficult to access but it’s not like you’ll be opening this up every 10 minutes. Very portable and easy to clean. You really can’t go wrong with this one.
Here it is on Amazon, as you can see, hundreds of 5 star reviews.
This, by the way, was my first ‘real’ smoker. I made the mistake of getting a thin walled offset at a large home supply store and paid the price for it in ruined meat. This thing makes incredible ribs.
Next we have the Bradley electric smoker, as you know it’s an electric cabinet smoker. I personally own one of these as well as the Weber above. This one absolutely excels at long unattended cooks like Boston Butt and Brisket. The door closes just like a refrigerator and thus forms an airtight seal. This hold the temperature ridiculously well.
The cool thing about this smoker is the wood hopper system. On the left side you stack wood discs (like hockey pucks) and the smoke generator feeds one onto a hot plate every 20 minutes. The actual heating element that cooks the food is on the bottom of the main cabinet. The cool thing is you can mix and match different wood types, personally I use apple and maple for ribs, cherry and oak for brisket. This smoker holds an incredible amount of food.
If you think you’ll be doing lots of long smoke sessions than this is the smoker for you.
You can read more about the Bradley Smoker here.
Next up we have the Masterbuilt Propane Smoker. This is also a cabinet smoker but uses propane and as such it’s portable. This one is smaller than the Bradley (if you don’t include the tank) and has a great meat capacity. Very highly rated and able to hold temperature very well. Once again, due to the use of propane it’s a good choice for long unattended cooking sessions. This is also the least expensive of the beginner smokers listed here. Take a good look at this one if you need portability or the least expensive smoker you can get.
As you can see I have not listed an offset smoker, why?, they just aren’t a smoker a novice should be using. Yes, they make great barbecue but you really have to have some experience before attempting to use on.
Also, remember that the steel should be thick and that’ll make a decent offset cost over $500, let alone a great one. The Weber can make barbecue just as good as an offset, in fact, many people use them in barbecue competitions, so go with that for real barbecue flavor. For convenience and ease of use the Masterbuilt or Bradley is the best choice, the Masterbuilt is cheaper but the Bradley allows you to mix and match wood discs so you can make your own custom flavor combinations.
So, now you know all about the different smokers out there and which fuel to use. I’ve shown you some of the best of the best in each fuel category. Decide what size you really need and move on from there.