So you’ve decided to buy your first smoker but your heagrad is starting to spin just thinking about all the options out there.
Or maybe you’re buying a gift and have no idea where to start.
The most important thing for a beginner is to choose the right type of smoker, so if you aren’t sure if you should go for a charcoal, gas, electric, or pellet don’t worry. We’ll explain your options and help you choose the right one for your needs.
Read on to discover the best smokers for beginners and avoid the frustration of buying a dodgy smoker.
The best smokers for beginners
Some beginners want to get their hands dirty and learn all of the traditional techniques of barbecue. Others want a smoker that’s more hands-off so that they can set and forget and focus more on trying different recipes.
There’s no right approach, so we’ve hand-picked the best options for beginners across a range of different fuel types. We go into even more detail about the pros and cons of each type later, so feel free to skip ahead.
We’ve tried to limit ourselves to value-for-money smokers which are good enough to learn on without dealing with the frustration of a poorly built smoker.
1. The best smoker for beginners – Weber Smokey Mountain
It’s hard to beat the combination of price, and flavor of food produced on a charcoal smoker.
Operating a charcoal smoker does require a little bit more effort compared to some other types of smokers, but you’ll be rewarded with authentic, smokey food.
For the price, you cannot beat the Weber Smokey Mountain for your first smoker. The build quality is excellent. These things last FOREVER. This is the first smoker I bought and what I learned on.
The 18-inch model gets the nod for best beginner smoker because it’s easier to hold a stable temperature.
The 22″ can run a bit hotter and will require more fuel to run.
The bullet design gives you a small footprint which is great if you have a limited amount of space.
While it does look pretty slim, you get two cooking racks which doubles your cooking area to 481 square inches. You can easily feed groups of up to 12.
I’ve been able to fit a whole packer brisket and three racks of ribs on the 18″ Smokey Mountain.
These smokers have been around FOREVER. They were introduced way back in 1981, although the design has gone through several improvements over the years.
You might be wondering if charcoal is suitable for beginners. It’s true you will have a bit more of a learning curve as you master temperature control. There’s also more effort involved in lighting charcoal and firing up your smoker
The Smokey Mountain makes learning easy (and fun if you’re like me and enjoy playing with fire outdoors).
It can hold incredibly steady temperatures for hours with very little babysitting.
I’ve put a brisket on at midnight and got up at 7 AM to find the temperature sitting at exactly 225°F.
What we like:
- Water smoker design makes temperature control easy for beginners – The water bowl sits between the coals and the cooking grates. This acts as a heat sink while adding humidity to the smoke chamber all help stabilize temperatures.
- Used by the best – It’s not often a product aimed at backyard amateur smokers is still used by the pros. Like the competition barbecue teams who go up against smokers costing $15,000+ and can still win awards and thousands of dollars in prize money
- Third-party enhancements – There are lots of clever ways to mod and enhance your WSM
What we don’t like:
- Flimsy door – The door that ships with the Smokey Mountain can leak smoke especially in the beginning. We’ve personally never found this to be a problem, but some people like to seal their door with high temp gasket or upgrade to an aftermarket stainless steel door.
If you can commit to buying a charcoal smoker the decision isn’t really what smoker to buy. Most people spend their time agonizing over what size Smokey Mountain to buy instead.
2. Runner up – Z GRILLS 700D4E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
Pellet smokers (commonly marketed as pellet grills) are generally more expensive than other types of smokers. They make fantastic beginner smokers due to their “set it and forget it” style of cooking.
Most people who want a pellet grill go shopping for a Traeger, but it’s a lot of money to drop on your first smoker.
Z Grills are a great alternative if you don’t want to pay extra just for brandname.
They were manufacturing grills for other US companies for years until deciding to skip the middleman and launch their own brand.
The Z Grills 700D4E is the latest generation and comes up with several improvements including a PID controller for precise temperature control.
You get loads of cooking space with 700 square inches of grill surface split between a primary and an elevated warming/smoking rack.
Unlike a lot of other pellet grills at this price, you get a fully enclosed storage cabinet for keeping spare pellets or grill tools nice and dry.
What we like:
- Best value for money – Hard to beat the combination of size, construction quality and usability at this price point.
- Temperature stability – After a few hiccups with an earlier model, Z-Grills seems to have fixed all the issues with a 2019 update and now the grill offers excellent temperature stability.
- Pellet hopper clean-out – Easy to change out pellets via a small door on the back. Much easier than on the previous 700E model.
What we don’t like:
- Need to be careful when closing the hot lid – This will depend on your height, but at 5’10 I found it a little difficult to grab the handle and shut the lid. The placement and angle of the handle could be improved.
Everything about this grill is solid. It ships in two boxes (total weight 132 pounds). Assembly is straightforward and the fit and finish are top-notch.
If you want something more compact, you can also look at the Z Grills 450B which uses a very similar design but has a smaller footprint.
Read our full Masterbuilt Gravity Series review.
The Masterbuilt Gravity Series is an innovative grill that combines the flavor of charcoal with the ease of use of a pellet grill.
Just like a pellet grill, you have a digital control panel where you can set any temperature between 225 – 700°F.
For comparison, most pellet grills max out around 500°F which hurts when it comes to searing.
You still need to plug this grill into an electrical outlet, but unlike a hopper full of wood pellets you add lump or briquette charcoal. A fan controls the burn rate for you and you can add wood chunks for extra smoke flavor.
The hopper can store enough charcoal for 12-15 hours of continuous cooking, depending on how hot you are cooking, and weather conditions.
What we like:
- Ease of use – The ability to get the flavor of charcoal grilling or smoking with the convenience of automatic controls makes this a game changer design.
- Versatility – Can easily hit high searing temperatures or low smoking temperatures.
- Ease of clean up – Charcoal ash falls into a removable tray for easy dumping. Much easier than taking apart the
WeberSmokey Mountain and cleaning it out after each cook.
What we don’t like:
- Design wastes charcoal – The tray at the bottom of the hopper causes chunks of charcoal to fall through. Easily fixed with so see our full review for details.
- Short warranty – At one year Masterbuilt offer one of the shortest warranties in the industry.
The Gravity Series is great for beginners who want the option to smoke and grill, and don’t want to compromise on flavor.
Imagine being able to smoke and grill food with a rich, smokey taste, without having to babysit your smoker all day.
When life gets in the way it’s great to be able to set your smoker and know that your pork butt will be safe while you drop the kids off at soccer practice.
Propane smokers are fantastic for newbies thanks to their low cost and easy to operate design.
We prefer them to electric smokers, as you don’t need a power source so they are more portable, and they offer a better temperature range which is essential for getting nice crispy skin when smoking poultry.
The Masterbuilt MPS ThermoTemp features a thermostatic temperature control which gives you more even, consistent temperatures than other propane smokers.
You get four chrome-coated racks for a total of 792 square inches of cooking space on the 30″ and 961 on the 40″.
It’s worth noting this smoker runs narrow so we would definitely recommend going for the 40″ model so you can fit a full brisket or rack of ribs without any trouble.
What we like:
- More accurate temperatures – The MPS ThermoTemp uses a thermostat mounted at the back of the smoker to talk to the burner system which allows for more accurate and stable temperatures.
- Access chip and water tray seperatly – You can open a lower door without distributing your food to access your water and wood chip tray.
What we don’t like:
- Short warranty period – Masterbuilt have a reputation for cheap construction, and the one year warranty does not help this. Especially considering other affordable brands like Pit Boss are now offering 5 years.
- Grease drain hard to clean – The flrame deflector plate is bolted in, which makes the grease drain difficult to clean.
If you want good temperature accuracy and consistency with a simple to use smoker (minus a few hard to reach cleaning areas) the MPS ThermoTemp is a good option.
The Masterbuilt digital electric smoker is a great entry point for someone on a tight budget who wants to get started smoking meat.
With electric smokers, you give up a little in the flavor department in return for simple temperature control and convenience at a fraction of the price of a pellet grill.
The built-in digital thermometer allows you to select your preferred temperature without worrying about maintaining charcoal or fire.
You just need to plug it into an electrical outlet and you’re ready to cook.
There’s also a more expensive Bluetooth model which is also available in both 30 and 40″ sizes.
I would recommend going for the 40″ if you can afford it. Having the extra width allows you to fit a whole rack of ribs without cutting them into pieces like with our 30″ pictured below.
Assembly is very straight forward and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
Unlike some other cheapo smokers, the Masterbuilt is reasonably well insulated and should perform OK in colder weather.
The wood chip loader is great for adding new chips without opening the smoker and losing heat and smoke. You can buy any kind of wood chips from your local hardware store, or order different types form Amazon including apple, cherry, hickory, and pecan.
What we like:
- Generous amount of cooking space – The 30 inch digital model comes with a generous 730 sq inches of cooking space, almost the same as the largest 22″ Smokey Mountain for a fraction of the price.
- Simple temperature controls — You can smoke your meat from 100 to 275°F, a nice range that makes the unit useful for a variety of smoking situations.
- Pimp your smoker – Masterbuilt sells a range of optional accessories including a cold smoking attachment. Great if you want to give cold smoking a go.
What we don’t like:
- Narrow design – The 30 inch model will be a little narrow for full racks of ribs, so you will need to cut them or roll them to fit.
The main issues you’re likely to encounter are the inaccurate temperature probe. These are pretty common issues as most manufacturers use cheap probes so you may want to invest in your own thermometer.
An electric smoker like this is going to have more parts that can break down than a charcoal smoker, so there’s more risk you’ll encounter problems with buttons breaking or calibration errors.
The Masterbuilt isn’t a perfect smoker, and it definitely wouldn’t impress a traditionalist. But if you want to eat barbecue without the fuss it’s a good cheap option to get started.
6. The best kamado smoker for beginners- Char-Griller Akorn Kamado
Kamado cookers run on charcoal and are much more versatile than dedicated charcoal smokers like the Smokey Mountain.
Expensive models are made from ceramic, although now you can get some good budget options made from steel.
The most popular brands of kamado grill like Big Green Egg and
The Char-Griller Akorn Kamado uses the same egg shaped design, but switches up the construction to offer better affordability.
You still get excellent insulation and heat retention thanks to the triple wall design. You can easily hold low and slow temperatures for 10+ hours.
You can cook at temperatures between 200-750°F, with temperature settings controlled by the top and bottom dampers.
You get 314 square inches of primary cooking space, plus an extra 133 square inch removable warming rack for a total of 447 square inches.
What we like:
- Great value entry-level kamado – By using a combination of 22 gauge steel, powder coated, and porcelain coated steel the Akorn Kamado is much more affordable. It won’t last quite as long as a ceramic model, but it also isn’t quite as heavy.
- Lightweight design – While you give up some temperature stability, you gain a lot more portability.
- Versatile grill/smoker combo – With the purchase of the ceramic smoking stone, this becomes a super versatile smoker/grill/oven combo.
What we don’t like:
- The cart could be a little more stable – Should be fine if you’re not wheeling it around a lot.
- Low quality thermometer – Not a large problem if you can get your hands on a quality third party thermometer.
7. Pit Barrel Cooker – A great alternative to the
Weber Smokey Mountain
Read our full review.
There really isn’t a lot of competition out there in the $200-$400 price range that gives the
All of the budget options will require a lot of modifying unless you want to deal with a poorly insulated, difficult to use smoker.
That’s where the Pit Barrel Cooker comes in.
A variation on the Ugly Drum Smoker style, the
The meat hanging method gives you excellent capacity (you can easily fit 8 racks of ribs). The hanging method also causes the meat to heat more evenly as there are no hot conduction points from the meat lying on a grate.
What we like:
- Unique hook design – We’ve already mentioned the extra capacity this gives you, but there are some other benefits. Because the meat isn’t sitting on a hot grill rack it cooks more evenly, and as the meat hangs directly above the coals as it cooks the juices from the meat drip creating extra smoke and flavor
- Very stable temperatures – The drum is very well insulated making temperature control very
- Build quality is top notch – Sturdy 18-gauge durable steel with porcelain enamel coating.
What we don’t like:
- Ash catcher not included – It’s a small gripe but it would be nice if they included the ash pan with the basic package. If you order off the PBC website you can choose the “Select” package which includes the ash pan and a few other goodies.
We did find the
Other than that the
How to choose your first smoker
Some smokers are more forgiving than others. You’ll have a heck of a lot more fun (and impress your friends and family a lot more) if you spend a little time learning what makes a great first smoker.
Each of the smokers covered above is a solid choice for the amateur pitmaster.
But how do you choose which one is right for YOU?
The answers easy if you want to be traditional. Just get yourself a charcoal
But if you’re still not sure we’ve broken the process down into 3 steps.
Step 1: Determine your budget
Since this is your first smoker, the budget is likely one of your top concerns. Some of you may already have a price point in mind.
When it comes to budgeting for your first smoker there are two schools of thought.
Option 1 – Buy a cheap smoker to learn on then upgrade later
You could go down to your local hardware store and pick up a cheap smoker for $50-$100. If you’re still using it and having fun after a season, then you can invest in a better quality smoker.
The problem with doing this is that cheap smokers kind of suck.
With a cheap smoker, you’re going to spend more time struggling with temperature control due to poor heat retention.
Think about it like this. Is there any point in buying the cheapest guitar to learn on, when even Santana himself couldn’t make it sound good?
We don’t think so. That’s why we haven’t recommended any cheap smokers.
Option 2: Spend a little bit extra to start with
If your budget can stretch past $200 then your options for a good first smoker open way up. At this price point, you can even get a smoker that’s good enough to compete with.
If you absolutely can’t stretch your budget, keep an eye out on Craigslist or eBay. Old smokers still work great, especially after a clean-up.
Now you can have your budget sorted, it’s time to learn what type of smoker is right for you.
Step 2: Decide what type of smoker to buy
Throughout this guide, we’ve referred to different types of smokers like “gas’, “charcoal”, “pellet” and “electric.
These all have different methods of generating heat and smoke.
Each of these types of smoker has their own pros and cons and require different skills to master.
Maybe it’s because barbecue attracts a lot of old-school types, but there are some silly notions out there that unless you’re slaving over an offset smoker for 16+ hours using aged hickory logs, then you’re not cooking “real barbecue”.
Let’s get something straight.
All kinds of smokers can produce delicious barbecue. Charcoal, electric, gas, and pellets are all just sources of heat. There’s really no such thing as the best type of smoker for a beginner. Each has its own pros and cons.
We’ve outlined the main types of smoker below.
Think about how involved you want to be in the smoking process. A lot of people (including us) love the interactive nature of charcoal.
From the ritual of filling up your chimney starter, to controlling the oxygen and managing the temperature you are more involved in the cooking process.
Pros of charcoal smokers:
- It’s practically accepted wisdom that charcoal gives the best flavour
- Cooking with charcoal is the best way to achieve a great bark or crust, and can produce the best smoke ring out of any method
- Get to have fun being outdoors
Cons of charcoal smokers:
- Requires more attention and effort than using an electric, gas or pellet smoker
- Requires some effort up front to light the charcoal
- Cost of buying charcoal can add up
Smoking with charcoal doesn’t have to be an epic task either. A good water smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain can hold a steady temperature for hours and will only require minimum attention.
Cooking low and slow is all about taking the time to do things properly.
Buying a charcoal smoker is a great way to learn everything there is to know about barbecue.
Gas / propane smokers
Gas (also known as) propane smokers fall into the “set it and forget it” family of smokers. They’re easy to use and very consistent.
Pros of gas smokers:
- Easier to manage than charcoal
- High degree of control over temperature
- One tank of propane can easily last for a 15 hour smoke
Cons of gas smokers:
- Like electric, you won’t get a great smoke ring or generate as rich a bark
- Some models can be too narrow to fit a full rack of ribs or large brisket or turkey. You’ll either need to portion your meat or cook smaller cuts.
- Cheaper models with poor build quality can leak smoke and do not hold temperature in cold weather
You can easily run out of fuel during a long cook so make sure you start with a full tank. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up. This is true for charcoal as well though so we wouldn’t consider this a con.
If you’ve been doing your research you probably noticed a huge uptick in people talking about pellet smokers. It seems like everyone is either thinking about or has just bought a pellet smoker.
Falling directly into the “set it and forget it” variety of smokers it’s easy to see why they are becoming so people with new smokers.
Pros or pellet smokers:
- Thermostatically controlled which means you can select your desired temperature and the controller handles the rest for you by feeding wood pellets into the fire.
- You don’t have to worry about temperature control or fire management, as the smoker automatically feeds the right amount of pellets.
- Add a brisket and then jump into bed, knowing that by the time you wake up delicious barbecue will only be a few hours away.
Cons of pellet smokers:
- You’ll have to pay a bit more for the convenience, even average pellet smokers will cost more than a great quality charcoal smoker like the Smokey Mountain.
- While a great “lazy mans” barbecue, you will struggle to achieve the same level for bark, smoke ring and flavour you get from charcoal unless you spend over $1000.
Some people love to poke fun at pellet smokers because they’re considered so ‘easy’, but there’s a large number of professionals who swear by them.
There used to be a great community website called “pelletheads” but unfortunately that seems to have shut down. One of the member from that website has setup pelletfans so check that out for more tips and advice.
While most products use the word ‘pellet grill’ in the name, they are really better used as dedicated smokers with some limited grilling ability.
Electric smokers take a lot of the hassle out of smoking meat. They are a great option for long smokes like brisket than can take well over 12 hours, and generally keep your meat moist and temperature stable.
Pros of electric smokers:
- Electric smokers fall into the “set it and forget it type of smoker” which can be a pro or a con depending on what you enjoy and what you hate about barbecuing
- Great at other types of smoking like fish, sausage, bacon and cheese
- If the thought of monitoring your barbecue over a 14 hour smoke fills you with dread, you might want to consider an electric although you do still have to add wood every so often
Cons of electric smokers:
- You’ll need a readily available power outlet or weatherproof extension cord
- Unlike more conventional smokers, electrics rely on electronics. When they go bad they can leave you with expensive repairs
- Issues are even more likely if you’re buying a cheap electric smoker
- You won’t get a smoke ring which can be a deal breaker for many people (although there are some hacks out there for getting a smoke ring on an electric smoker)
- While perfectly capable of making delicious food, other types of smokers can get an even better result
They are also kind of boring. Switch em on, and then go do something else doesn’t sound like much fun to us. You don’t get any of the joy of firing up charcoal, tinkering with air flow or perfecting your smoke ring. If the end product is all that’s important to you then go ahead and consider an electric for your first smoker.
Just know that it’s not going to impress any of your friends.
What about offset wood burning smokers? While these can use charcoal or wood, we’ve left them off this list for a good reason.
They don’t make good smokers for beginners to learn on.
If you still aren’t put off by the idea, you can check out our guide to the best offset smokers.
If you’ve managed to narrow your choice down but still can’t decide, these guides might be helpful:
Step 3: Can you commit to a dedicated smoker or do you need the versatility of a grill and smoker combo
If you’re just getting into smoking meat then buying a dedicated smoker is a big commitment. We understand wanting something flexible that can double as a grill.
But for a beginner’s budget, we would urge you to consider a dedicated smoker.
While most smokers CAN be used to grill in a pinch, a dedicated smoker will hold a low temperature better, will be better insulated and give you more features.
With that being said, we’ve put together a guide to the best grills that can double as a smoker.
If you’re just dipping your toes into smoking meat, your best option is a classic original Weber Kettle. This is a great inexpensive option and will get you a great quality grill from one of the most respected brands in barbecue.
The Kettle has a huge online community of enthusiasts, and you’ll find lots of great advice and recipes around.
We also have a guide for setting your Kettle up for smoking.
There are also several accessories you can buy to make your Kettle a more versatile smoker.
What to look for in a beginner smoker
While your price point, type of fuel, and dedicated smoker vs combo are the main factors that go into choosing the best first smoker, there are plenty of other things to consider:
What type of foods do you think you’ll be cooking?
Most enthusiasts focus on smoking pork butts, ribs, brisket, and the occasional chicken or turkey. For more ideas see our guide on the best meats to smoke.
You need to make sure the smoker you decide on is large enough to fit the type of food you’ll be cooking.
Some models of electric and gas smokers are often too narrow to fit full racks of ribs or packer briskets on.
Don’t just look at the total square inches or number of cooking racks as this can be a false economy.
How many people do you typically cook for?
Some of the smokers we recommend in this article like the Weber Smokey Mountain come in a range of sizes so you want to think about your typical usage, and then allow for a bit of extra room if you have friends over.
It’s much more likely that you will regret not going for the larger size.
The only downside to larger smokers is slightly higher fuel costs and they take up a little more space.
Do you want a portable smoker?
If you want to take your new smoker camping or tailgating, you want a smoker that travels well.
A smoker that has been designed for this purpose with easy setup will be an important consideration.
A few pellet smoker brands offer good value portable options, like the Traeger Tailgater.
Do you plan on cold smoking?
Some smokers can be converted into cold smokers with a lot of work, while others like the Masterbuilt come with ready-made cold smoking attachments.
If you want to cold smoke cheese or make your own smoked salmon then you’ll need a smoker capable of running at low temperatures.
Since this is a guide for beginners we thought we should explain some of the basics of barbecue. We don’t want you to get your new smoker home and have no idea what to do with it!
What’s the difference between smoking and grilling?
Smoking is all about low and slow. Think temps between 225 and 275°F for long periods of time (from 3 hours up to 15+ hours).
Usually, it involves burning wood chips, chunks or pellets to impart smokey flavors.
Grilling is higher temps (350°Fish) but shorter duration. It may or may not include wood smoke depending on what you’re doing.
You may not need to close the dome, once again, depending on what you’re cooking.
How does smoking work?
Old fashioned “low and slow” barbecue is simple to understand and hard to master. You start with a fuel source like charcoal, gas, wood pellets or electricity.
Flavor is added to the meat by adding wood chips or wood chunks to the heat source to create smoke.
By controlling oxygen, you can achieve steady low temperatures which gives the cooking method it’s nickname “low and slow”.
Essential barbecue accessories
Other than the actual smoker, there are only a few accessories you absolutely NEED before your first smoke.
While some people love to obsess over the ideal smoking gear setup, when you are first starting out, just focus on nailing the basics.
- You need to know how hot your smoker is running (the built thermometers are next to worthless), and what temperature your meat is so you know when to pull it off so it’s worth investing in a good dual probe wireless thermometer setup.
- If you’re cooking with charcoal, you’ll need some fuel. You can’t go wrong with Kingsford briquettes, or check out our guide to lump charcoal.
- You’ll also need wood chunks or chips to provide the smoke. People love to obsess about type of wood but it really isn’t a big deal. Fruit woods like apple and cherry work well for everything.
- BBQ gloves are highly recommended for moving hot grill racks or handling charcoal.
- There are several other nice-to-have accessories like good knives for slicing and trimming meat
Check out this list of essential smoker accessories for more ideas.
Tips for your first smoke
Smoking is all about having a go, experimenting, and learning from your mistakes.
Remember that even if you screw up a few things the end result will still taste better than pretty much anything else you would put in your mouth.
That said, for your first smoke, consider starting with a couple of pounds of cheap pork butt. The meat is pretty forgiving and great for learning the kinks of the smoker you decided on.
Lastly, you might want to check out this list of beginner smoker mistakes to avoid (you can thank us later).
Wrapping it up
Remember that the key to really great BBQ is to have fun, enjoy the company of your friends and family, and make delicious food. You don’t need an expensive smoker or the latest gadgets to do that.
If this guide has helped take away some of the anxiety over buying your first smoker we would love it if you shared it around.
If you’re a bit more experienced and you disagree with one of our selections or think we’ve missed out a great smoker for beginners then let us know in the comments below.