The Best Electric Smokers to Get Your Barbecue Season Started
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If you’re new to smoking meat (or veggies or cheese… or even marshmallows and trying to decide if this is a cooking method you'd like to try your hand at, an electric smoker is a great entry point into the hobby.
Electric smokers are usually squat, rectangular cabinets that look like a Droid extra in a Star Wars movie. Some electric smokers have digital temperature gauges befitting their shape; but many of these appliances at lower price points will have ones that are strictly analog.
The reason an electric smoker is suitable for both beginners and pros is that you simply turn it on to get started. There’s no need for a chimney starter to get a flame going like with a Kamado grill or charcoal smoker.
How these work is simple, too. Electric smokers are like washing machines, in that you load them from the front or top. Many have a door that swings out to reveal a series of shelves that you can fill to the brim with anything you can think of, from ears of corn and marinated chicken thighs, to venison, turkey, beef, other veggies—the possibilities are endless.
Those shelves typically sit above a water pan (which provides moisture) and a tray for wood chips (the source of the smoke) near a heating element.
Best Electric Smokers
The Expert: I’m a cookbook author (Cookies & Beer, Stock, Broth & Bowl), food writer, and I frequently review appliances for national publications. I’m a Kansas Citian too, which means I grill, eat barbecue, and interview pitmasters at a rate that may concern my cardiologist. I have been a certified judge at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue and co-created a barbecue documentary. I’ve also owned a series of smokers and grills over the past two decades.
What to Consider in an Electric Smoker
Electric smokers are easy to start (if you can turn on an electric blanket, you’ve got it down) and effective at holding temperatures, which is great for producing consistently tasty barbecue. There are a number of things to look for when purchasing an electric smoker. The criteria below will help you find the right model for you.
The smallest electric smoker featured (the Old Smokey Products Electric Smoker at roughly 200 square inches) is great if you’re cooking for yourself or you and your partner. If you’re feeding five or six people, you likely want to look at the models with at least 500 square inches (starting with the Cuisinart Vertical Electric Smoker). Hosting a larger party? At least 900 square inches allows you cook several large cuts of meat like whole briskets and multiple racks of ribs.
The strength of the heating element is measured in Watts. You may want a higher wattage if you’re attempting to use an electric smoker for multiple seasons of the year. The stronger heating element will typically correspond with a higher temperature range and should help when your smoker is warming up.
Electric smokers don’t get as hot as charcoal or pellet grills. Most electric smokers top out under 300 degrees Fahrenheit. So, we’re talking about the low and slow technique where you’re cooking a rack of ribs at a low temperature for a long time – something to keep in mind if you’ve got a hungry crowd waiting.
Analog controllers mean you’re in charge of adjusting the temperature (by adjusting the power to the heat element) versus digital controllers which use sensors to adjust the temperature inside of your smoker. Electric smokers with digital controllers are usually more expensive but require less babysitting.
How We Selected These Electric Smokers
I read through reviews, relied on my experience, and balanced design and budget considerations to find electric smokers for different budgets and with unique design elements. Further, I tapped the previous research by Brad Ford, test editor for Popular Mechanics. Read on to discover the best electric smokers to get you set for summer and beyond.
Vertical Electric Smoker
The Cuisinart Vertical Electric Smoker is like a genie—you get a lot of cooking space in a compact box. You can cook an entire meal—from starches to veggies to meats—all at once. The vertical design also makes this smoker an easy fit with patios, decks, and outdoor kitchens.
With a wide temperature range, and a maximum temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit (important because you’ll lose some heat when you have to open the door to add wood chips), you’ve got plenty of options whether you’re smoking chicken breasts or gouda. When it’s time to clean your smoker, you’ll appreciate the three easy-to-remove shelves.
30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
This electric smoker from Masterbuilt is highly regarded by customers and has thousands of positive ratings. And it’s easy to see why. At just $200, it has the primary features you want without breaking the bank. Heat in the smoker should be very stable with double-wall, insulated construction, a digital temperature controller, and a seal on the door. The temperature range of the Digital Electric Smoker is 100 to 275 degrees F. It features four slide-out rack to put food on, a water pan, a wood chip pan, and a patented wood chip loading drawer. While it doesn’t come with an integrated meat probe, it’s still a solid value.
3-Series Digital Electric Smoker
Pit Boss didn’t cut corners on its 3-Series Digital Electric Smoker. Starting with a powerful 1,650-watt heating element, this smoker heats up to 350 degrees F, with a smoking range of 100 and 350 degrees F which should be maintainable at just about any outside temperature.
Like others in this price range, construction is double-walled and insulated, with glass in the door. The unit, in an attractive silver finish, sits atop four legs with caster wheels making this smoker easy to move around and access without kneeling on the ground—a significant convenience.
Four porcelain-coated steel grill racks combine to provide 685 square inches of cooking surface. The higher smoking temps and wheeled legs give this an edge over other models of similar size, but all of that comes with a bigger price tag.
Bluetooth 40-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
The Masterbuilt Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker is a sleek stainless cooker with a large glass window so you can take a peek at your ribs without disturbing the peace. You can also check the temperature on a tablet or your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can be inside prepping drinks and appetizers without having to be outside keeping a constant eye on your main course.
Another convenience: the ability to add wood chips through a nifty side loader without the need to open the smoker door. An interior light is useful to see what’s happening on all four chrome-coated racks, but some barbecuers found the LED display to be difficult to read during the day.
Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
Like many electric smokers, Char-Broil’s version operates in a temperature range from 100 to 275 degrees F. Double-wall, insulated construction and a door seal help keep the internal temperature steady, while the glass door makes it easy to see what’s going on without opening it up and letting all that heat out. The glass is a trade-off though, because it’s not insulated like the walls of the smoker.
As the name indicates, this smoker has a digital temperature controller for setting smoking temperatures. You can also use the timer or set an internal target temp (if you use the included meat probe). Four stainless-steel grill racks provide 725 square inches of cooking area, and a large smoke box holds enough wood chips for four to seven hours of cooking.
This Old Smokey is a basic, vertical smoker with an analog temperature controller. The 15-inch diameter body houses a 1,250-watt heating element, a wood chip tray, a drip try, and two grill racks. It can reach temperatures from 200 up to 250 degrees F, although given its single-wall construction, expect that to drop if you venture to cook when its below 50 degrees F outside.
The grill racks have handles to make it easy to lift them out. Note that everything, including wood chips and the drip tray, will load into the unit from the top, which closes with a flat lid. This simple smoker has few variables to control, is relatively easy to use, and comes highly rated by customers online.
Smokin Tex 1400 Pro Deluxe
If you want to go all in on electric smoking, the Smokin Tex 1400 Pro Deluxe is worth considering. Smoking temperatures range from 100 to 250 degrees F, and although it has an analog temperature controller, the insulated double walls help it hold a steady temp. The 100 percent stainless-steel construction makes cleaning easy and ensures the 1400 Pro Deluxe will last for years.
The smoker comes with five 14.5 by 14.5-inch racks—one of which is specifically for seafood. Four caster wheels facilitate moving this around, which is convenient since you won’t be leaving an electric smoker outside when you’re done smoking. Try out the sample pack of five species of wood that is included.
We tested the Big Chief and found it works great for foods like fish and beef jerky. It has a non-adjustable heating element—meaning it is either on or off—that’s set to work at 165 degrees F. This temperature is suited for small, thin cuts, and dehydrating (hence its proficiency with fish and jerky). You’ll want to finish big cuts of meat in or on another appliance after smoking.
Smokehouse makes the aluminum body with single-wall aluminum, which means the temperature inside will drop as the temperature outside does. The brand offers an optional wraparound insulating blanket ($35) for use in colder temperatures.
The Big Chief comes with five racks, which can hold up to 50 pounds of food. Wood chips load in a pan that slips in a small door on the front, so heat isn’t lost opening the unit up every time you add more. The Big Chief is a simple, inexpensive way to get started with an electric smoker.
30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
While it looks like a no-frills black box, the Dyna-Glo has everything needed to smoke some tasty meat. With double-wall, insulated construction, the walls and sealed door will hold in heat from the 1,000-watt heating element well. The manufacturer claims a maximum temperature of 300 degrees F, so we expect smoking between 100 and 275 degrees to be a reliable range.
Four grill racks provide a total 723 square inches of cooking area, and Dyna-Glo includes a built-in meat probe. The digital controller integrated in the top front edge of the smoker body sets and monitors the temperature. Once smoking has started, you can load additional wood chips through a small side door to minimize heat loss.
Get Ready for Summer Entertaining With an Electric Smoker. Expert Jonathan Bender Shares Cleaning and Storage Tips, and a Bit on Cold Smoking…Perfect for Bacon, Salmon, or Cheese.
PM: How do I store my smoker when not in use?
JB: Water has the potential to mess with electrical equipment and metal on your electric smoker. If you’ve got a garage or enclosed space like a shed that’s dry, that’s the optimal spot. If not, a cover for your grill and a covered patio are your best bet. Store your electric grill inside during the winter as it will struggle to keep heat when the temperature drops.
PM: How often do I need to clean my smoker?
JB: Clean out the ash after each use and save a more thorough cleaning for every two to three uses. If you want to do clean after every use, it should be a shorter process overall.
While the smoker is still warm (but not so hot that you can’t touch it), use a scraper to get grease off the top and sides of the interior, working your way down as you go. Use a grill brush and warm, soapy water to wipe down your shelves, water pan, and drip pan.
PM: What is cold smoking?
JB: Cold smoking is when you add smoke flavor to food—commonly ham or salmon—at a very low temperature (under 100 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s a finishing step for many foods, not a style of cooking, to add smokiness to mozzarella in a few minutes or to a whole ham over the course of many days.
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