Want to expand your culinary repertoire beyond barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers this summer? Consider a smoker. Whereas a grill cooks meat directly over a flame, smokers use indirect heat to cook meat slowly over long periods of time. As a result, smokers can break down tough cuts so they’re more tender, and infuse food with tasty fat and smoky flavors, according to our experts.
Given the range of fuel sources, designs, and sizes, shopping for a smoker can feel overwhelming. To learn more about smokers and how to shop for them, we spoke to chefs and barbecue experts who smoke meat on a regular basis. In this article, you’ll find both their shopping advice and their smoker recommendations, so you can pinpoint the best model for your needs.
Our top picks
- Best overall/editor’s pick: Big Green Egg Large Egg
- Best budget pick: Outlaw Charcoal Grill
- Best splurge: Trager Ironwood 885 Pellet Grill
How we picked the best smokers
We interviewed chefs, pitmasters and barbecue professionals who recommend keeping the following criteria in mind while shopping:
- Fuel source: Smokers are often categorized by the fuel sources they use. The most common options are charcoal, wood, pellets, electricity and propane, according to our experts. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, which we’ll expand on below.
- Design: Smokers come in a range of shapes and sizes. The overall design determines how the smoker cooks the meat and is dependent on its fuel source. We’ll go into more detail below, but offset, kamado and vertical smokers are the most popular designs, according to our experts.
- Capacity: Bigger smokers can cook more food at once, but they also take up more space in your yard. To find the best sized smoker for you, our experts recommend taking your household’s maximum required serving size and doubling it so you can also feed guests. To express capacity, we’ve listed the cooking area in square inches below each smoker, and, when the brands disclosed the information, how many racks of ribs each smoker can cook at once.
The best smokers in 2023
Below, you’ll find some of the most popular smokers on the market. Their designs and fuel sources vary, but each has an average customer rating of more than four stars and meets our experts’ criteria for a solid at-home smoker.
The Big Green Egg is one of the most popular kamado-style grills on the market. (Kamado-style grills are usually versatile and typically easier for beginners to master, according to our experts.) The ceramic dome shape works for both grilling and smoking, while the external thermometer and airflow systems help you control and reach temperatures up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand’s website. The Big Green Egg comes in seven size options and the brand sells various accessories to level up your experience, including stands, pizza stones, Dutch ovens and grilling racks. All Big Green Eggs come with a lifetime warranty.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 262 square inches (or seven racks of ribs) | Dimensions: 31 x 22 x 22 inches
The Outlaw is a grill and smoker in one, and comes recommended by Ryan Mitchell, co-founder of True Made Foods and co-author of “Ed Mitchell's Barbeque.” Mitchell loves The Outlaw because of its beginner-friendly shape and its steel and cast-iron equipment that retains heat well. “The barrel design allows the at-home enthusiast to perfect both direct and indirect forms of smoking and the flavor is unbeatable,” Mitchell says. Its built-in gauge and heat dampers help to control the temperature and the smoke too, according to the brand’s website.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 950 square inches | Dimensions: 49 x 50 x 29 inches
It’s one of the most expensive options on this list, but the Trager Ironwood 885 has ample bells and whistles that help make smoking easy and convenient. The insulated construction is designed to quickly reach a maximum temperature of 500 degrees, while the exhaust system and digital display help you adjust the settings as needed, according to the Trager. This WiFi-compatible smoker also has a pellet sensor to alert you when fuel is low and an included meat probe so you can monitor your food’s temperature from your phone. Finally, large, textured wheels help you move your smoker around with ease on any terrain, according to the brand’s website.
Fuel source: pellets | Cooking area: 885 square inches (or seven racks of ribs) | Dimensions: 47 x 54 x 27 inches
Using a porcelain-enameled lid and two cooking grates, the vertical shape on this popular Weber smoker is designed to retain heat and lock in flavor, according to the brand’s website. Charcoal and wood power this smoker, which leads to the smokiest flavors, according to our experts. It has a silicone grommet for monitoring, and adjustable dampers for temperature control. As a result, reviewers say it’s easy for beginners. Each smoker also includes a protective cover.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 286 square inches (or two racks of ribs) | Dimensions: 31.4 x 14.7 x 14.7 inches
This mode is made almost entirely out of rust-resistant aluminum, which conducts heat more efficiently than steel and can withstand harsh elements, according to the brand. The bullet-shaped design has four vents (two on the top and two on the bottom) that help you control airflow and evenly cook meat, as detailed on its website. Since it’s more compact than other smokers on this list, it’s ideal for small families and those with limited outdoor space. The brand also offers a 20-year limited warranty.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 310 square inches | Dimensions: 34.75 x 19.5 x 36.375 inches
Electric smokers, like this Masterbuilt option, are some of the easiest options for beginners, according to our experts. This model has a high-capacity vertical design with four chrome racks, so you can smoke ample meat at once without taking up too much space in your yard. While it’s fueled by electricity, it has a woodchip loading system so you can add flavor without losing heat, according to the brand’s website. It also has a water bowl to add moisture, a drip pan for clean-up and adjustable dampers for air control.
Fuel source: electric | Cooking area: 708 square inches | Dimensions: 33.27 x 20.47 x 19.88 inches
This Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker, comes recommended by David Rose, executive chef and spokesperson of Omaha Steaks, since you can also use it as a grill. It’s made from heavy-gauge steel, which improves stability and heat retention, and it has a large-capacity firebox compartment that keeps the fuel burning, according to Rose. Adjustable dampers and a temperature gauge help with heat control and monitoring, while its wagon-style wheels help you move the smoker as needed, according to the brand’s website.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 619 square inches | Dimensions: 33.5 x 57 x 53 inches
Smokers from this brand produce rich smoky flavors and are “workhorses that you can use over and over,” says Dominique Leach, chef and owner of Lexington Betty Smokehouse, who recommends them for beginners since they’re also easy to use. While it’s technically an offset smoker, the smoking chamber has a vertical design with five chrome grates, so it has the highest capacity of all the models on this list. It also has an integrated gauge that keeps an eye on the temperature, a pull-out side tray to access your fuel, built-in sausage hooks to hang meat and a removable side tray for clean-up, as detailed by the brand’s website. Plus, this is the largest option on our list with a capacity of more than 1,000 square inches.
Fuel source: charcoal | Cooking area: 1,382 square inches | Dimensions: 45.5 x 24.9 x 58.8 inches
Because this Cuisinart vertical smoker, which has a 4.5-average star rating from more than 6,000 reviews on Amazon, is fueled by propane, it’s similar to a standard grill in terms of heating. However, its porcelain-enameled tray holds wood and water, which infuse your meat with moisture and taste, according to the brand’s website. The four stainless steel racks are vertical to save space, dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up and removable when needed for smoking entire chickens, according to the brand’s website.
Fuel source: propane | Cooking area: 785 square inches | Dimensions: 19.3 x 18.1 x 38.6 inches
What are the benefits of a smoker?
Smokers apply indirect heat for a long period of time to break down tough connective tissue and render meats with high-fat content, according to Yoder. As a result, you can turn “what would have been considered lesser quality cuts” into “a succulent, juicy, rich cut of meat,” Yoder says. By varying the types of wood you use, you can also infuse your meats with distinctive flavors, according to our experts. For example, Leach recommends using wood from fruit trees for extra flavor.
How to shop for smokers
When shopping for smokers, it’s important to keep the following in mind, according to our experts:
Smoker are first categorized by their primary fuel source. Wood and charcoal (which are often used together) create the smokiest flavors, while electric, pellet and gas smokers are more convenient, but may not yield as tasty a result, according to our experts.
In addition to their fuel sources, smokers are also categorized by the shapes, materials and mechanisms they use to smoke meat. There are three primary smoker types: offset, kamado and vertical, according to our experts. (We go into greater depth on these, below.) All smokers require time — at least a few hours — to thoroughly cook meat, but some designs require more active intervention and know-how, according to our experts.
Capacity isn’t just about the overall size — although the dimensions are important when choosing a smoker, especially if you have limited space in your yard. Since the firebox (the area that houses the fuel) and the smoke chamber (where the food goes) are separate, the size of the smoke chamber will determine how much meat you can cook at once, according to our experts. Brands display smoking capacity as it relates to the square inches required to cover its grate surfaces.
What are the types of fuel sources?
Wood and charcoal are often used in tandem to create the smokiest flavors, and since this fuel combination is often affordable and works with budget-friendly smokers, it’s usually the most cost-conscious option, according to our experts. That said, smokers that use wood and charcoal typically require the most monitoring during cooking due to their lack of temperature controls, according to our experts.
When it comes to convenience, pellet smokers are the best option, says Jeremy Yoder, owner of Mad Scientist BBQ. Pellets are thin, consistent-burning pieces of wood, and pellet smokers often let you set the temperature and walk away for a low-maintenance experience, says Yoder. “Despite their convenience, pellet smokers don’t produce as much smoke flavor as other types of smokers, though some pellet diehards would disagree,” he says.
For total beginners, an electric smoker is the easiest to master, according to Mark Conway, BBQ pitmaster of Stew Leonard’s in Paramus. Electric smokers are often user-friendly because you can control both the smoke output and the temperature — sometimes even from your smartphone, he says.
Like many standard grills, gas smokers use canisters of gas or propane as a fuel source. Our experts did not directly recommend propane smokers, though we included one on this list because of its consistent heat output and ease of use for beginners.
What are the best smoker designs?
“For maximum flavor, wood-burning offset smokers rule the day,” says Yoder. Offset smokers have a large smoking chamber and a firebox off to the side, and they’re typically fueled by wood and/or charcoal. However, they often require near-constant attention because they have no set temperature controls, so they’re not the easiest for beginners, according to Yoder.
These dome-style charcoal grills use ceramic materials that are ideal for retaining heat during extra-long cooks, according to our experts. Kamado smokers have the most user-friendly design for beginners because you can easily adjust the levels of smoke by changing the ratio of wood chips to charcoal, says Rose. Kamado-style models also double as standard barbecue grills since the wood and charcoal can directly cook meat from underneath, according to our experts.
Also sometimes called a cabinet smoker, a vertical smoker has its heat source at the bottom, according to Rose. Because of its upright design, it usually has a larger grate capacity and is therefore a good option for commercial smoking or large families, says Rose. Depending on the design, vertical smokers may use a range of fuel sources, including coal, wood, electric and gas.
How big of a smoker should I get?
“When it comes to capacity, the best advice is to imagine the most food you could ever conceivably need to cook, double it, and purchase a smoker commensurate with those demands,” says Yoder. A smoker with a capacity of 885 square inches, for example, may be able to smoke seven racks of ribs, 10 chickens and nine pork butts, which offers plenty of room if you’re hosting your friends and neighbors for a cookout.
What are the best meats to cook with a smoker?
Because a smoker cooks “low and slow,” it’s best for tougher pieces of meat, like brisket, pork shoulders and ribs, according to Tyshawn Lackey, executive chef at Stew Leonard’s in Paramus. If you’re new to smoking, ribs are a great dish to start with because they don’t require trimming and are easy to season, Lackey told us.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Ryan Mitchell is the co-founder of True Made Foods and co-author of the book Ed Mitchell's Barbeque.
- Dominique Leach is the chef and owner of Lexington Betty Smokehouse.
- Jeremy Yoder is the owner of Mad Scientist BBQ.
- Mark Conway is the BBQ pitmaster at Stew Leonard’s in Paramus.
- Tyshawn Lackey is the executive chef at Stew Leonard’s in Paramus.
- David Rose is the executive chef and spokesperson of Omaha Steaks and Big Green Egg.
Why trust Select?
Maria Cassano is an e-commerce writer, editor and consultant. You can find her articles about cooking and appliances in publications such as Food & Wine, Bustle, Allrecipes, CNN and The Daily Beast. For this article, she interviewed six barbecue experts, researched highly rated smokers and narrowed down the best options using the experts’ criteria.