Nothing says Summer like smoked meat. Brisket, turkey, pulled pork and ribs are just a few of the cuts that never fail to please a weekend crowd. To feed your guests, you can either shell out big bucks for these foods or you can make them for a fraction of the cost and get the bragging rights that come with it. What you need is a new smoker. But what kind of smoker should you buy?
When buying a smoker, the biggest decision that you have to make is the fuel type. Do you want a classic stick burner, pellet fueled, propane or even electric. Take a look at the difference.
Your classic stick burner can use wood logs or charcoal & wood chunks for fuel. If you are a purist, this is probably the only way to smoke.
Pros & Cons
A stick burner will arguably make the best smoked meat. In the hands of a master, you can achieve the perfect temperature and smoke ratio. These also tend to be some of the larger smokers, so if you want to cook for a large group, this is probably the way to go.
There are a few downsides to stick burners however.
One is that it does take a lot of skill to operate. People practice for years on these things before they start to feel like a smoking expert.
Another problem is that you will have to tend the grill often, especially if you intend to cook strictly with wood. Charcoal will give you a little more freedom, but you will still be more or less chained to the smoker while you cook.
Choosing Your Stick Burner
As with all smokers, you have to pay for quality, so invest as much money as your budget allows. Of course, if you need smoker financing, we are always ere to help.
The chief thing that you need to look at with a stick burner is material thickness. Smoking meat produces moisture and you need a grill that will not rust out in a few years. Those thin metal grills are essentially disposable.
Another consideration is the style of the smoker. A traditional barrel smoker is great and this is what most people will purchase. If you want to smoke more meat or different types of meat, a cabinet style smoker might be a better choice.
Although you can buy a cheap stick smoker for a few hundred dollars, expect to spend at least $500 for quality.
If you still want that great smoke flavor but want to do a little less grill tending, a pellet grill might be the smoker you should buy.
Pros & Cons
With a pellet grill, convenience is the biggest selling point. You simply load the pellets, set your temperature and walk away. It takes a lot of the work out of smoking. Many of these units will even feature Bluetooth technology so you can keep an eye on your meat remotely.
The biggest downside is cost. These grills will be on the expensive side of the smoker market in both initial purchase price and operation costs. Expect to spend roughly $1000 for a good pellet grill/smoker and then you have to purchase special pellets to cook with.
Choosing Your Pellet Grill
There are a number of pellet grills on the market from your basic Traeger grill that you can get at the big box store to custom units that you can only find online.
With a pellet smoker, your main goal will be to find a unit with a solid reputation. You need to find one that is built well and that is known to hold a steady temperature.
Your next consideration should be size. How much meat do you want to cook at once? If you think you know, add a little more. It is better to have a bit more capacity for the occasional big smoke.
Just like with pellet smokers, a propane unit will add convenience, just without the big price of a pellet model.
Pros & Cons
The pros with a propane burner are similar to that of a pellet grill. There is much less grill tending required. All that you have to do is make sure that you have enough propane.You also do not need to provide any added moisture as burning propane produces more moisture than burning wood.
The bad with propane is that you have to add an additional fuel source, wood. You will need to keep a smoker box fed to get your smoke flavor which makes them a little less convenient than pellet smokers.
Additionally, you have to make sure that you do not run out of propane. If you go with this type of smoker, you should have an extra tank on hand.
Choosing Your Propane Smoker
With a propane smoker, size will be the main thing that you need to decide on. Decide how much meat that you want to smoke and then choose a smoker accordingly.
Ideally, you want to dial in your smoker size so that you do not waste as much fuel. A standard 20# propane tank will give you about 18 hours of smoking time, but this will go down considerably if you have to heat a lot of unused space.
This is arguably the most convenient smoker to purchase. Just load up your meat, plug in a thermometer and let it run.
Pros & Cons
The biggest advantage is that you have virtually no need to monitor your cook. You have the dependability of an electric heat source and most models only require you to load the wood smoker box once.
Now for the negatives. Purists hate electric models and for good reason. It is nearly impossible to get a smoke line on an electric smoker due to the lack of oxygen in the smoking chamber. In addition, getting crisp skin or a crunchy bark will be tough if not impossible.
Choosing Your Electric Smoker
So what kind of electric smoker should you buy? There are a lot of different electric smokers on the market and you should be able to find one that fits any budget.
When making a choice, what you are looking for is insulation value. An electric smokers ability to reach and hold a temperature is based on how much insulation that you have. Ideally what you want is a double walled model so that your smoker will not struggle.
Besides insulation, look for the features offered. Do you want to be able to monitor your meat and control your temperature from a distance? If so, look for a Bluetooth model.