So you want to smoke meat, but sitting out in the rain tending a fire doesn’t sound like fun to you?
Electric smokers are the perfect choice if you want a set it and forget it approach.
Most electric smokers are super simple to use and great for beginners. You can easily set the exact temperature you want, and you don’t have to babysit it to keep the temperature stable.
You also never have to worry about running out of fuel (unless you get unlucky with a power cut).
In this guide you’ll learn the pros and cons of buying an electric smoker, and rank and review the best electric smokers you should consider buying.
Click to jump straight to each topic
- Best all around electric smoker – Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
- Best mid-range electric smoker – Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
- Our favorite budget electric smoker – Smoke Hollow 26-Inch Electric Smoker
- Best bluetooth electric smoker – Masterbuilt Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker 40 Inch
- Best large electric smoker – Smokein-it Model #2 Electric Smoker
- The rest of the competition
- Pros and cons of buying an electric smoker
- How do electric smokers work
- What’s better for smoking gas or electric?
- Lack of smoke ring on electric smokers
- Why don’t electric smokers produce smoke rings?
- Getting the most out of your new electric smoker
- Frequently asked questions
Best all around electric smoker – Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
Read our full review.
If you’ve read our guide to the best smokers for beginners then you already know we are big fans of the Masterbuilt electric smoker (MES for short).
The built in digital thermometer allows you to select your preferred temperature from 100 – 275°F without worrying about maintaining charcoal.
The smoker is controlled by a digital panel on the top of the unit. You set the temperature you want to smoke at and let the integrated thermostat take control.
The main cabinet of the smoker is made from steel with plastic trim, while the interior is made from aluminum.
With four chrome plated cooking racks and 730 square inches of cooking space, the 30″ model should be a perfect size for most people. That’s enough to fit 8 small racks of ribs or 6 chickens.
If you need to cook for a crowd you can get a 40″ model for a little extra cash.
What we like:
- The MES is better insulated than a lot of other cheap smokers, which definitely helps performance if you need to smoke in colder weather.
- The 30 inch digital model comes with a generous 730 sq inches of cooking space, almost the same as the largest 22″ Smokey Mountain.
- The chip tube system is a convenient way to add chips without opening the door if you want to get more smoke. This helps keep your temperature constant.
What we don’t like:
- Unfortunately the wood chip insert is a bit flimsy so you have to be careful or it can break off.
- The cooking racks are not quite big enough for large slabs or ribs or a big brisket without cutting or rolling them.
The only other main drawback is the stingy 90 day warranty.
You can choose from a range of options including with and without the front window and different temperature control options:
- Basic digital temperature and timer controls with no window
- Top Controller with window
- Front Controller with no window
- Top controller + Cusinart Wireless Dual Temperature Probe
There’s also a 30″ Bluetooth model that we cover in more detail further on in this guide.
You can get the latest price for each of these options by selecting different options on Amazon.
The differences are actually pretty minor, so in this case we suggest going with the most affordable no window option and investing your savings in a good temperature probe setup.
The front window looks kind of cool until you’ve been smoking about 10 minutes and realize there isn’t really anything to see! It also tends to get dirty which defies the point.
There are also lots of other better smoker thermometers than the Cusinart, so we would suggest grabbing yourself a Maverick ET-733 or similar instead.
You can check out the Masterbuilt 30″ in action cooking pork ribs in the video below. You can skip straight to the section where Jeff talks about the smoker at the 5:40 mark.
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.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best mid-range electric smoker – Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
Read our full review.
If you’re not sold on the Masterbuilt, this 725″ electric smoker from Char-Broil is a decent alternative. Virtually identical in size, the Char-Broil is a bit more of a “smart” smoker. The unit comes with a remote that lets you adjust your temperature from the comfort of your home.
This unit comes with a glass door which lets you see every rack in the smoker. While watching your food smoke isn’t the most exciting past-time, being able to check the appearance without opening the door is a useful feature.
Construction wise the Char-Broil looks like it will hold up well. The exterior walls are made of stainless steel and provide decent heat retention. The glass door is durable but do note that some heat does radiate out so be careful if you have kids around.
What we like:
- Ease of use and clean up – The digital controls make using this smoker super simple. You can easily add wood or water during a smoke, and because every part fits in the dishwasher cleanup is very easy.
- Flexible setup allows you to fit a lot of food – Because you can adjust each of 4 15″ x 12.5″ racks, it’s easy to come up with the right arrangement to fit whatever you are cooking. If you have something large like a turkey and something smaller like ribs just adjust the racks to accommodate everything.
What we don’t like:
- The remote control functionality is nice, but the distance is a bit limited. It will depend on your individual setup, and how many walls are between you and the smoker.
If you’re looking for a smoker that’s easy to run, doesn’t require a lot of clean up, and comes with a few bells and whistles then the Char-Broil is an excellent choice.
You can use the meat temperature probe included to set a desired temperature, and then leave the smoker running until your food is ready. The unit will even cool down once the done temp is reached.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Our favorite budget electric smoker – Smoke Hollow 26-Inch Electric Smoker
At full price the 26 inch Smoke Hollow costs around the same as the basic 30″ Masterbuilt. Luckily this unit can often be picked up for much less.
In terms of specs it’s quite similar to the MES. Available in both 26 and 30″ you can choose to save a few bucks if you won’t be cooking large volumes, or pay a tiny bit extra for more space. The 26 Inch model packs a 1500-watt electric heating element and 1.3 cubic feet of cooking capacity.
The unit comes with two chrome-plated cooking grids that can be adjusted to variable heights. For example if you are smoking a brisket and ribs at the same time you can modify the racks to fit everything in.
Design is similar to other electric smokers, with a heating element at the bottom, then wood chip and water pan sitting above that. The cabinet style makes operation very simple, and the spring wire handle with the latch door allows you to easily get in and out without burning yourself.
What we like:
- While a little larger the the Old Smokey, the 26″ is still a great compact smoker. The 36.5 x 19 x 16.5″ footprint means it doesn’t take up too much space on patio.
- Great for novice smokers. Setup is straight forward and controlling temperature is very easy.
What we don’t like:
- The 90 day warranty is definitely on the stingy side.
- You can get some meat juices dripping on the heating element which makes clean up a little bit harder. Would have been nice if the water pan did a better job catching drips. You can easily fix this by adding a wire rack with some foil under the second shelf.
While the MES comes with more options to customize, the Smoke Hollow is a no frills electric smoker with great temperature control that represents excellent value, specially when it goes on special.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best bluetooth electric smoker – Masterbuilt Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker 40 Inch
Electric smokers are best for people who want the set it and forget it approach. So Masterbuilt did something really clever and created this bluetooth smoker that lets you control your smoker with an app on your phone.
While there are plenty of bluetooth thermometers on the market, the Masterbuilt allows you to actually power on / off as well as adjust and monitor the temperature.
The capacity is definitely one of the highlights of this smoker. Available in both 30 inch and 40 inch models, we would recommend the 40″ as you get 975 sq inches of cooking surface compared to just 721 sq inches with the 30″ model.
Both models come with 4 smoking racks which should give you plenty of room even when cooking for large groups of people.
But let’s get serous. The reason you’re interested is the bluetooth. So how well does it actually work?
The app itself is very handy. If you’ve used a wireless thermometer before then the temperature monitoring won’t be new to you. What we really liked though was the ability to adjust temperature without leaving the house.
The bluetooth technology isn’t perfect though. The actual range is only about 12 – 15 feet, and if you have walls in the way this can decrease even further. If you’ve used bluetooth before you will understand how frustrating it can be to keep loosing connection.
On the other hand if you can keep your phone relatively close to the smoker it works well. And this feature is all about not having to leave the comfort of your house, so even if you have to leave your phone close to the door it still beats going outside into cold or wet weather!
Even without bluetooth this is still a decent electric smoker. You don’t have to open the smoker to add new wood chips / pellets which is convenient and prevents you loosing heat or smoke.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best large electric smoker – Smokein-it Model #2 Electric Smoker
Unlike the Masterbuilt smoker reviewed above, the Smokein-it is a relatively under the radar electric option.
What it lacks in name recognition, the Smokein-it makes up for in quality and size.
While we were impressed with the insulation on the Masterbuilt, this smoker is built like a tank.
Unlike some cheap electric smokers which are built with flimsy, lightweight metal, the Smokein-it comes well insulated and doesn’t require any modifications to hold a steady temperature.
When you first fire this smoker up you should see a 40 to 50°F spike in temperature. Once the chamber heats up the temperature will level off and will stay at your desired temperature for hours on end.
The build quality to price makes this still an excellent value electric smoker, and if you can spend that little bit extra you’ll be rewarded with far better barbecue.
What we like:
- 12 feet long cord is handy if you need to have the smoker a bit back from the house power
- Comes with 4 dishwasher safe racks
- Wheels on the bottom are handy if need to move your smoker around
- Really efficient wood consumption helps you save on wood chips. You should only need 2-5oz of wood depending on what you’re cooking.
While some people have pointed out that the low position of the thermostat means the smoker runs a little colder at the top, we would remind you to always measure the temperature where the meat is actually sitting.
There really isn’t anything bad we have to say about this unit. This is the best combination of size and quality construction out of all electric smokers we’ve seen.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
The rest of the competition
You can safely pick any model of smoker from the list above and be sure you’re getting a great smoker. But if you’re still not convinced the following might be worth considering.
The Old Smokey trashcan style smoker is is a great example of a no-frills affordable smoker that can still get the job done. With 280 square inches of cooking space and a 29 x 17.5 x 17.5 inch foot print this is definitely a compact smoker.
The manufacturer is based out of Houston Texas, and has been in business since 1923 so you’ve got some added peace of mind that if anything goes wrong or you need a replacement part they will be around.
While the Old Smokey has an eye catching design, the actual construction is pretty straight forward. You have a heating element that connects to your electric outlet at the bottom, with a chip tray for adding wood on top of that.
The rest of the smoker is divided between the upper cooking level and grill, and the lower cooking level that has a drip pan to catch meat juices. There’s also no water pan.
The main issues you get when you drop to this price point is poor insulation and temperature control.
Unlike most smokers this unit doesn’t include a temperature gauge, although they do sell them as an optional accessory. This isn’t a deal breaker, as you’ll want to invest in a quality dual probe thermometer setup anyway.
Char-Broil already made it on to our list with the 725 Square Inch Deluxe Digital getting the nod as our top rated mid price smoker.
The Vertical has had a lot of the smarts stripped out. And with 505 square inches of cooking surface it’s also smaller and cheaper.
For a cheap smoker the insulation is surprisingly good and it’s simple to operate. Like any budget smoker you’re going to have to deal with some low quality parts. Especially the door which can require a little extra effort to close.
I wouldn’t recommend this smoker for cooking in any kind of extreme conditions as it’s simply not well insulated enough.
However if you’re looking for a budget smoker to learn on you could do a lot worse.
Pros and cons of buying an electric smoker
So you’ve read all about the best electric smokers available and you’re almost ready to buy, but maybe you’ve read some bad things about them.
If you buy an electric one thing is certain. You’ll need to get used to hearing silly comments from your friends about how much better charcoal tastes (unless your friends don’t smoke meat in which case they will rave about your food and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten).
We agree that food cooked in a charcoal smoker by a skilled pitmaster will have a better flavor, 95% of people won’t be able to tell the difference, and the small bit of flavor you’re giving up is more than made up for by the ease of use.
And if going electric means you can smoke every weekend instead of twice a year, then it’s a no brainer
Rather than just let you know which models to look out for, we’ve included a detailed look at the pros and cons of going electric.
- Electric smokers are “set it and forget it”. This could be a pro or a con depending on what you enjoy and what you hate about barbecuing
- If you plan on smoking a variety of food types like fish or sausage then electrics excel. You can also easily convert them into a cold smoker for making bacon and cheese
- If you live in a apartment or unit that doesn’t allow cooking with charcoal then electric might be your only smoker option
- Electricity is less harmful to the environment than burning charcoal. Studies like the ones done by Iowa State University have shown the harmful effects of CO and CO2 emissions from burning charcoal.
- The name probably gives this one away, but you’ll need a readily available power outlet or weatherproof extension cord
- Because electric smokers can contain a lot more parts than more traditional smokers, you’re more likely to run into problems that can result in expensive repairs.
- You won’t get a smoke ring (more on this below)
- Electric are really dedicated smoker. Unlike other types of smoker which can work OK in a pinch, an electric smoker cannot achieve the higher heats needed to get crisp skin roasting a chicken or grilling meat.
Electric is all about compromise. You give up a little bit in the way of flavor, but you gain in the ease of use. While perfectly capable of making delicious food, other types of smokers can get an even better result.
If you’re OK with making a small sacrifice in flavor (to be honest most people won’t be able to tell the difference) then electric could be the right choice for you.
And if you’re like us and collect smokers like some people collect shoes then you can always try you hand at charcoal or pellet in the future…
How do electric smokers work
If you’ve never smoked on an electric before you’re probably wondering how these contraptions actually work. Unlike your traditional Weber smokers where you just fire up some charcoal and add wood, electric smokers have a lot more technology involved.
Instead of controlling heat by limiting the flow of oxygen, electric smokers have controls to change the flow of electricity (for you nitpickers they also have very tiny vents to help control temperature).
Think the oven in your kitchen, but with smoke (if your indoor oven is smoking a lot you should probably get it looked at by a professional).
This close up of the inside of the Masterbuilt 40-Inch Smoker shows a common electric setup with the heating element sitting under the wood tray. You then have the water container off to the side.
With el’cheapo electric smokers you will probably get less control (e.g. low, medium, high). This is due to the rheostat which controls the flow of electricity.
With the higher end models you’re more likely to get a temperature probe inside which connects to the thermostat to give you greater temperature control.
Obviously with smoking the better control over the temperature you have, the better results you are likely to get.
Meathead explains how this different method of smoking causes you to miss out on the smoke ring.
What’s better for smoking gas or electric?
We’ve already covered the pros and cons of going electric. But you’re probably wondering if what the main differences are between a gas or an electric smoker.
Both types of smoker share a lot of similarities:
- They both fall in to the ‘set it and forget it’ style
- There’s no need to manage a fire or light charcoal
- Smoke is created by adding wood chips
There are a few important differences to consider. Like a pellet or charcoal smoker, gas smokers produce heat through combustion. This process produces gases that give your food it’s smokey flavor and distinctive smoke ring (more on that below).
Meanwhile electric smokers produce heat from a glowing element.
This won’t matter for 90% of amateur pit masters. If you want to really hone your craft you might want to consider another type of smoker though.
For the rest of us, electric smokers still produce delicious barbecue.
With an electric smoker you’re almost guaranteed not to run out of fuel (unless you have a power cut or forget to pay the electricity bill). They’re also cheaper to run that propane.
Most people need to use an extension cord to power their smoker. It’s up to you if this is more annoying than running out of propane mid cook.
Lack of smoke ring on electric smokers
Smoking purists argue that the lack of a smoke ring on meat cooked on an electric is a major downside of this type of smoker.
So what the hell is a smoke ring and why do people get so fussy about it?
A smoke ring is the pink discoloration of meat just under the surface crust ( also called the bark). It can vary between 1/8 to 1/2 inch deep depending on several factors.
Image courtesy of Ryan McDonough on Flickr
You generate a smoke ring when nitric acid builds up in the surface of meat. Formed when nitrogen dioxide from the wood combustion to smoke mixes with the wet surface of the meat.
Basically it is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat that creates the coveted pink ring. Steven Raichlen goes into more detail about the chemical reaction that causes the smoke ring over at his Barbecue! Bible blog.
There is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat that creates the coveted pink ring.
Unfortunately many budding meat smokers have setup their brand spanking new electric, thrown on a brisket and 16 hours later been bitterly disappointed when they sliced into it and found no smoke ring.
Why don’t electric smokers produce smoke rings?
The simple answer is that because the wood chips in an electric smoke combust at a lower temperature than charcoal, you don’t get the gases necessary to produce the smoke ring.
Meathead goes into more detail about why electric smokers struggle with smoke rings.
If you simply must have a smoke ring, you can always use a more traditional smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain for the first few hours, and then move the meat to your electric.
Some people have also had some luck adding charcoal briquettes and using wood chunks to generate a smoke ring. That just seems silly to us though.
Electric smokers are all about consistency and ease of operating, so if not having a smoke ring is a deal breaker for you then we would suggest another type of smoker.
Getting the most out of your new electric smoker
So you’ve got a shiny new electric smoker and now you’re ready to fire it up. Before you do, here are a few simple tips to help you produce some fantastic barbecue on your first time.
- Make sure you season your new smoker before attempting to cook any food in it. We have a guide you can follow for seasoning your electric smoker.
- Even if your smoker comes with a dial in thermostat, we strongly recommend investing in a dual probe thermometer setup. The temperature can vary a lot at different places in the smoker, so you need to measure the air temperature right where the meat is cooking. Check out our guide to the best smoker theromometers
- Make sure you allow your smoker enough time to get up to temperature first, before adding any food.
- We always recommend starting off with a pork butt or two for your first smoke. This more forgiving cut of meat will still taste good even if you make some mistakes while you are learning the kinks of your new smoker.
- You’ll want to keep your new smoker clean. The best way to do this is to take out any of the removable parts (racks, water pan etc) and give them spay with a good oven cleaner.
Other than that it’s all about practice practice practice. You should find managing the temperature a breeze, leaving you to experiment with different cuts of meat, rubs, injections and all that other fun stuff.
Frequently asked questions
1) Are electric smokers as good as charcoal?
The answer to this question all depends on your definition of “good”. If you’re one and only priority is flavor, and you have the time and dedication to learn how to operate a charcoal smoker, then you can get better flavor with a charcoal barbecue.
But if you want a smoker you don’t have to maintain, that’s easy to fire up then an electric smoker can be much better for YOU.
2) How do electric smokers make smoke?
Electricity heats up an element at the bottom of the smoker. Wood chips are placed above the heating element where they can smolder.
3) How long should wood chips last?
The amount of wood you need to add to your electric smoker will verify depending on a few factors such as the model your cooking on, how hot you are cooking and the size of chips you use.
According to Masterbuilt you should only add chips once and they should last for around an hour:
“We recommend that you only put your smoking wood into the chip holder after the smoker has reached temperature and the heating light has turned off.
You only need to add wood chips once in most cases in the first 20 minutes or so, it should last for around 1 hour or so.
You will find that once the meat has started to cook it will seal in the juices and the smoke flavour that will continue to be absorbed into your meat. If you keep on adding smoke after that point it will build up on the outside of the meat and will make it very strong.”
You will need to experiment. Just remember to start with less wood than you think, and slowly increase.
4) Can you use an electric smoker in the house?
I suppose I understand the temptation. Being outside you get rained on, snowed on, and it can be generally miserable.
But I still laugh when I see this question come up from time to time. Unless you are prepared to install some serious, restaurant grade extraction system, keep your smoker outside.
You probably don’t want the smell to be permanently in your house.
5) Do you have to soak wood chips before using them?
This is a total myth. For some reason the debate about soaking wood chips rages on though. At best soaking wood does nothing, at worst it can change the type of smoke that is produced. We have a full break down on the weird wood controversies people obsess over in our guide to smoke wood.
6) How do you clean an electric smoker?
It’s important to keep your smoker clean and dry after each use. Avoid using any strong cleaners or large amounts of water though.
All you need to do is wipe the surface after each use and remove any burnt food or creosote that might have built up.
Keeping everything dry inside will help you avoid mold.
If you’re smoker came with a window you can follow this simple video to get it clean.
Lots of people use magic eraser pads from Mr Clean that clean with no chemicals. Another good trick is to use a home made mix of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. You could also use alcohol, but why waste it?
To wrap it up
Hopefully this guide has helped you decide what model of smoker is best, and if an electric smoker is even right for you.
It’s true that electric smokers get a fair bit of flack for being “too easy”. But if you don’t want to deal with charcoal or shell out for an expensive log burning smoker, electric can be a great choice.
Last update on 2018-08-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API