A smoker under $1000: What you should and should not expect
While hundreds of dollars isn’t exactly play money, you’ll find that in smokers over $1000 you’re just going to get more convenience and durability. However, the selections we have on our guide are quite impressive. Expect assembly to take a while.
Features to consider while choosing a smoker
First off, think about the level of experience you have with smoking and how much food you’ll usually be cooking with it. If you’re a beginner, search out a smoker that’s going to have straightforward, easy operation, cleaning, and maintenance, like the Traeger Lil Tex Elite 34. You don’t want to waste food just because you didn’t understand how it worked.
Knowing how much you’ll be cooking is important, so you know how big the grilling surface should be. Also, think about what you’ll be cooking. Obviously, you’ll need a larger and taller area if cooking entire chickens/turkeys or racks of ribs as opposed to just burgers and hot dogs.
Also, think about what kind of smoker it is. What does it operate with? Pellets? Charcoal? Is it electric?
Smoker type and power source
Again, determine what kind of smoker you want. There are vertical, barrel-types, 2-in-1, and grill combos/offsets. What kind of power source will you be using? Charcoal smokers, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, are very interactive, and charcoal does give a good flavor. It’s also the best way to get a great bark/crust, but it requires more attention and isn’t as healthy as say, pellets.
Propane smokers, like the Masterbuilt GS40, are ultra-convenient, as you can simply set it up and walk away. There’s a high amount of temperature control, and it also lasts very long. However, some models are too narrow to accommodate a full rack of ribs or a big brisket.
Pellet smokers have exploded in popularity in recent years, and are another very convenient option. You can easily pick your desired temperature, while the controller manages the rest of the process for you. There’s no need to worry about fire management. You can literally place a brisket in the smoker and walk away. Keep in mind that they’re generally much more expensive.
The wider the temperature range, the greater amount of control you have over your food and how it’s cooked. We all know that if you want true melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, then slow-cooking is the way to go. If you don’t have as much of a range, then this may be difficult for you.
As mentioned above, the cooking area is a huge factor in selecting the best smoker for you. Think about what and how much you’ll be cooking at a time. If you’re just going to be cooking for you and one other person, you’re obviously not going to need something like 1,300 square inches of cooking space.
Number and quality of grates
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Think about what you’ll be cooking and how you’ll be doing it. The number of grates makes it possible to cook more at one time which will save you time and all-around be more convenient.
Dimensions and weight
How big of an area do you have to keep your smoker in? If you only have a small patio or balcony then you’ll want to opt for a more compact design. Especially if you have a balcony or plan on moving it around, opt for the more lightweight option. If you have a large backyard, then you won’t have to worry quite as much about this. Wheels always make transportation easier, especially if the grill is on the heavy side.
Ease of use
Even if you’re a seasoned pro in the smoking area, having a unit that’s easy to use is never a bad thing. That way you can be sure that you’re going to get a good smoke every time, with a lot of juiciness and flavor. No one wants to waste food, right?
Look for a model that has easily-accessible dials and/or an easy-to-read display so you know what’s going on. Included temperature gauges mean that you can just do your own thing without worrying about temperatures fluctuating.
While warranties obviously vary depending on the manufacturer and model, a 3-year limited warranty is the industry standard, or even minimum. We recommend choosing a smoker that at least provides you with this, so you can get your money’s worth without it breaking down on you or decreasing the quality of the smokes.
Don’t listen to anyone who says that carbon buildup is going to improve the flavor of your food. No one wants to eat built-up grease! So, how do you clean it? Before each time you use it, do a little clean-up to keep it working its best and prevent any off flavors.
If you have scale, try to scrape it off and vacuum it up with a plastic putty knife and (obviously) a vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment to reach those smaller spaces. Put on some rubber gloves and arm yourself with a wire brush, a scrub brush, steel wool, paper towels, and a garden hose with dish soap. Make sure to clean the probe if you have a built-in thermometer, too. Never get water into the dial area.
With pellet smokers, make sure to never use water on it as they have digital controllers, fans, and more. Always keep these dry. In addition, the pellets cannot get wet as they’re made of sawdust.