As you consider getting into this hobby, it is helpful to consider some different types of smokers. I use an electric smoker, but I don’t consider it the ‘right’ answer. I prefer it for my reasons (which you’ll read), but at the end of the day, you need to pick the kind of smoker you’ll enjoy using the most. Period. Don’t let a forum or a website tell you that electric, propane, or whatever isn’t ‘real’ BBQ. It just doesn’t matter. Do you enjoy the food you cook? Does your family? Do your friends? If yes, nothing else matters. So, here is a general overview of some of the types of smokers out there, as well as what you can expect to get out of each price tier.
One of the big questions one must answer before buying a meat smoker is what kind of fuel you will be burning. There are a few types of smokers available, but I’ll talk through four of them: electric, charcoal, pellet, and propane. So, how do you pick? I’ll present some of the pros and cons of each type of smoker, as well as the reason I chose the type of smoker I did.
Features of a propane smoker
The design of this smoker permits the smoking of heat in an environment that is controlled. A gas burner is used to generate the heat. This burner is located directly below a steered box or iron that has the necessary fuel, which is wood or charcoal to provide smoke.
The steel box itself is made in such a way that it contains some vent holes that are situated at the top part of the box. Actually, what it does is smoking and not burning. One can always add charcoal or wood to produce smoke.
Here, the smoker utilizes a propane tank, the same way a gas grill does.
Advantages of gas smokers
- Simple in usage. Just like the electric smokers, a gas smoker is the easiest to use. There are no complex rules to adhere to, making it to be used by almost any person apart from little kids.
- Very Portable. Due to its manageable size, it is portable to be carried anywhere be it on trips or to camping. This makes it more acceptable than the electric one
- Flexibility. As it is seen, a gas smoker is flexible as it can shoot to 450 degrees and over.
- Very fast in cooking. As compared to electric smokers, a gas smoker is way much faster than an electric one, which needs time to warm up. Also, one can regulate the temperatures at any given time.
- Can be used at any place. This is an added advantage over electric one, as it doesn’t need to be connected to a source of electricity in order to function. For this reason, many people opt for it. Others term it to be all weather smoker.
Advantages of pellet smokers
Pellet smokers have had my attention lately, and seem to be making a surge in the smoking world. Here are a few reasons why, as well as some downsides:
- Easy to maintain a consistant temperature. Pellet smokers use an auger system to feed compressed wood pellets into a little stove of sort. This mechanism is controlled by a thermostat which informs the auger system when to drop more pellets in. This puts it about even with electric and propane in terms of ease of use.
- A big bonus is that 100% of the heat used to cook your food is from wood. So you can say the food you produce was smoked over 100% hardwood. Nice.
- Like the others mentioned, parts can break. Auger mechanisms can jam/fail, and the auger requires electricity to function. Nothing overly dramatic here, simply pointing out that the same potential issues can arise with these units that can with gas and electric. I have heard a lot of horror stories with issues like this. A friend’s parents were having a large party at their house and the auger system malfunctioned. It has had problems several times in the short life of the unit. Not good.
- One other downside that is worth noting is cost. While every other type of smoker has at least one option under $100, the pellet smokers tend to float around $600 for the smallest units. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth considering, just something to keep in mind.
Advantages of charcoal smokers
Ahh charcoal. The purist’s fuel. Every meat smoker and BBQ’er will tell you that charcoal produces the best flavor. I wouldn’t disagree. There is a flavor that electric and gas just simply can’t match. A few things about charcoal.
- Starting a fire can be a pain. Lighting briquettes can be a hassle, and just takes time. This will add about 30-45 minutes to the start of the process.
- Maintaining a fire can be a hassle. When you grill with charcoal, you are talking about a relatively short period of time with food being cooked. With smoking, you need to maintain a low, slow, and consistent heat for the entire time of the smoke. This can be quite cumbersome if you are smoking a cut of meat for 15 hours. There are times where the temperature gets too hot while you are warming things up, and it can be a bear to get it back down. It is quite possible to master the art, but it can be a steep learning curve.
- The flavor can’t be beat. I won’t challenge the fact that the best darn tasting BBQ you’ll have comes from cooking with charcoal. Heck, some people don’t consider it BBQ if you cook it any other way!
- Charcoal cost money too. One of my hesitations about purchasing a propane smoker was the cost of fuel. But charcoal isn’t cheap either. If I had to price them out, pellets and charcoal would be on the high end, with propane slightly below that, and electricity at the bottom of the list.
Features of an electric smoker
This smoker is similar to the gas one, but it differs in some ways. For instance, an electric smoker has got complex parts like heating elements, thermostats and timers which are programmable.
Another difference is that it uses electricity and not wood or charcoal. This means that it cannot be used in places where there is no electricity.
However, when used, it produces amazing results that anyone will like.
Benefits of electric smokers
- Safety: actually, it is very safe to use it. Unlike gas smokers which require fire to generate smoke, this one doesn’t. Also, they are not risky as the gas ones which can cause fire.
- Cheap: comparing the two, electric smokers are cheaper than gas ones. They do not need wood or charcoal to function, just plugging them to electricity, and they do not consume a lot of power.
- Easy to Use: with just plugging into the socket, programming the temperature, you are ready to use it in cooking. With the gas, you have to wait for some time to attain a certain cooking temperature.
- Convenient: they have no concerns like gas smokers. For instance, electric smokers do not need keeping a stable flow of air, flame, and temperature like gas smokers need.
So, whats the right answer? There isn’t one! Like I said in the intro, each of these methods of meat smoking can produce amazing food that your friends and family will rave about. Consider what you want out of this hobby. Are you looking for the traditional BBQ event where you spend much of the day outside tending to the food? If so, charcoal might be right for you. Are you looking for an easy solution that you can let cook overnight? If so, propane or electric are great options. Are you looking to eventually dabble in competitions? If so, charcoal is the only option for you. More than anything, I would say choose the type of smoker that works best with how you live.