Advantages of having an electric smoker
Most traditional smokers operate using propane or charcoal or, most traditional of all, wood pellets – so why opt for an electric smoker? The number one reason for most people is convenience. Electric smokers can be hooked up to a standard wall outlet on the outside of your house, which eliminates the need to stockpile propane, charcoal, or wood pellets in order to operate your smoker.
Using electricity also drastically reduces the amount of time it takes to get your smoker running, since it can heat up evenly and faster than if you were using charcoal or wood pellets.
Electricity is also considered one of the safest methods of powering a smoker, since there are no gas lines or open flames. Finally, electric smokers are practical and easy to use – many include an electric thermostat that lets you set a specific temperature for cooking your meat.
For all these advantages to electric smokers, there are also very few disadvantages. While some people feel that electric smokers cannot provide the same smoky taste as traditional smokers, this varies highly based on personal preference and many people love the taste of meats cooked in electric smokers.
What to expect from electric smokers under $200?
At their heart, electric smokers under the $200 price point don’t differ much from their more expensive cousins – they operate using the same principles and, in most cases, cook your meat to very similar tastes. The main difference between inexpensive and expensive electric smokers is the cooking space of the smokers. Large smokers that are able to hold enough meat for an entire barbeque, rather than for just a single family, are typically significantly pricier. The other major difference is in whether the electric smoker also includes an electric thermostat or settings that let you automate the cooking time. While these electronic features are standard on many expensive electric smokers, only a few less expensive models like those from Masterbuilt and Smoke Hollow have these controls.
Features to consider before buying an electric smoker
Now that you know more about the advantages of electric smokers and what to expect under the $200 price point, we’ll cover some of the most important features that you need to consider when choosing the electric smoker that is right for you.
Power and temperature
Power and temperature range are two of the fundamental technical specifications of any electric smoker. The power describes the wattage of the electric heater, which in turn controls how fast a smoker can heat up and how hot it can get.
The temperature range is extremely important, since it describes the maximum temperature at which you will be able to cook foods.
Most electric smokers are capable of a maximum of 275 degrees – which is high enough given that most meats are smoked at 225 degrees – but units like the smoker from Cuisinart are capable of up to 400 degrees for accelerated cooking.
The majority of traditional smokers and many inexpensive electric smokers have analog temperature dials that let you see, but not control, the temperature. However, some electric smokers under $200, like those from Masterbuilt and Smoke Hollow, include electronic temperature controls that allow you to specifically set the temperature of your smoker. This can be extremely handy for those who like to set and forget their smoker, or who want to follow a cooking temperature regimen exactly.
Cooking space and overall dimensions
Are you planning to use your smoker to cook small amounts of meat for your family, or to smoke enough meat to feed an entire backyard barbeque? The answer will be a prime consideration when looking at the size of smoker that you need, which is typically measured as the internal cooking space. Electric smokers under $200 are typically limited in the amount of cooking space they offer, but models like the Masterbuilt 20070910 offer an impressive 730 square inches of space. Also, be sure to note the overall dimensions of the smoker, which typically reflect the cooking space, since these are the dimensions that determine how much space the smoker will take up on your patio.
Durability and warranty
Even under the $200 price point, you should expect your electric smoker to last for years to come. The durability of your smoker comes largely from the materials from which it is built. Look for electric smokers that are constructed of heavy-duty materials like stainless steel on the exterior, and which feature chrome-plated cooking grates on the inside that will be resistant to years of cooking meat.
The warranty on your smoker is also important for peace of mind. While many inexpensive electric smokers come with short warranties of only a few months, models like the one from Cuisinart
come with warranties of up to three years.
How to use your electric smoker?
While electric smokers are quite convenient, they do require some care and work to operate. First of all, you need to add several components aside from just your meat to the smoker. Nearly every electric smoker comes with a refillable water tray, which must be filled with water to produce the smoke that will fill the chamber. This water tray will need to be refilled every hour or two when smoking, and it is generally best to fill it with hot rather than cold water. Another important component that needs to be filled at the start of smoking is the wooden chips bowl. The wooden chips that you add here are what will give your meat a smoky flavor in the absence of real smoke from a charcoal or pellet burning smoker. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the drip tray, which captures any juices dripping off of your meat, while smoking. While this will rarely overflow, the drip tray can be a great source of marinade when your meat is finished cooking.
Note that electric smokers typically take around 30–45 minutes to heat up, and the cooking time for your particular food depends on what type of food you are cooking, how much you are cooking, and what temperature you are cooking at.
Guides are available for different meat types – plan to use a meat thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of your meat to know when it is finished smoking. On electric smokers with analog thermostats, the temperature is typically controlled by a simple dial, while on smokers with digital thermostats you can easily set the temperature via a small screen display.