The best budget smoker provides good value for money. Smoking enthusiasts on a tight budget can still buy good cooking appliances that would last for long.
When you’re shopping for smokers, the price shouldn’t be the only thing to think about. There are other factors that set good models from the bad ones including the cooking space, reliability, and overall durability.
In this article, I will explain everything about picking a durable smoker that doesn’t cost more than $200, in addition to my top budget-friendly recommendations.
How to Buy the Best Budget Smoker?
When you’re tight on cash, there are certain things that you need to focus on to make sure that you’re still buying a high-quality product.
Buying a versatile product that can do more than one function will save you lots of cash in the long run. Today, there are several products that can be used as smokers and grills at the same time.
Getting one of those means more value for your money because you’ll be enjoying the benefits of two appliances for the price of one. However, if you choose to do so, you should make sure that your unit is designed to do both jobs perfectly. You don’t want to buy a poorly-made unit that works as a grill but doesn’t retain enough heat for smoking purposes.
A bigger unit will automatically cost more. But you don’t always need to buy a big smoker. If you’re cooking for your family or a small group of friends, you can easily buy a small and compact model that doesn’t offer much cooking space.
Even with medium-sized cooking space, there’s a lot that you can do if it can be adjusted. Vertical and bullet smokers come with several cooking grates that can be used on top of each other. They don’t occupy much space but will provide enough cooking area to cook several types of food at the same time.
You should also take the prepping space into consideration. While you can only use it for warming or storing your food, it comes in handy, especially when you’re cooking outside. You need a place to keep your cooking necessities within reach and side shelves save you the hassle of looking for a tabletop for your marinades and tongs.
Smoking means maintaining a low temperature for a long time. You don’t necessarily need a high temperature on your unit, but you need to be able to control the temperature to keep it as low as needed to smoke your food properly.
Dampers allow you to control the amount of heat and smoke inside your smoker. Not having enough of them means that the temperature can accidentally increase inside your smoker, which can burn your expensive meat. Unsealed dampers will let smoke escape.
Most smokers come with built-in thermometers, but you probably need to buy a professional smoker thermometer with multiple probes to keep a better eye on your food. Charcoal smokers are the most difficult to control because you might need to add more charcoal and wood chips while smoking your food.
My Top 5 Best Budget Smoker Recommendations
To save you the hassle of checking out tens of products, I’ve narrowed down the research and came up with my favorite top 5 budget choices.
This model from Masterbuilt should be your pick if you’re tight on money and don’t have enough ground space to set up a smoker. This is a bullet smoker providing 395.4 square inches of cooking area in a compact design that has a small footprint.
It has a front access door which facilitates adding charcoal and wood while smoking. It also comes with a built-in thermometer so you can keep an eye on the temperature. Having a reliable thermometer is definitely a plus especially if you’re not that experienced with smoking.
In spite of its compact size, this model surprises me with its ability to produce juicy meat that is full of flavors thanks to the water pan. It comes with 2 porcelain-coated racks that are very easy to clean after you’re done.
If you’re looking for a lightweight model, then this smoker will work for you. It weighs 15 pounds so you can easily pack it for an outdoor dinner. It doesn’t have wheels but setting it up away from home shouldn’t be a big problem.
The only issue I have with this smoker is that you’ll need to keep a constant eye on the temperature. It doesn’t have a lower vent, and this means that your temperature can accidentally rise. Assembling this unit is a bit difficult.
- Compact model with big cooking area.
- Lightweight model.
- Two porcelain-coated racks for fast cleaning.
- Front door for fast access to charcoal and wood.
- Regulating temperature is difficult.
- Putting this unit together takes more time than other models.
Off-set models like this one from Char-Broil provide excellent control over the temperature because the charcoal chamber is away from the cooking space. This unit is a 3-in-1 model because you can use it for grilling, bbqing and smoking.
With 660 square inches of cooking area and a side shelf, this smoker is big enough to prepare food for a big gang. The fire chamber has an area of 355 square inches so you won’t have to lift the lid to add more coal while smoking food. This is a good feature because it allows you to retain the hot air inside the chamber.
It comes with chrome-plated handles that are cool to touch and wheels that you can use to move this unit around. It weighs 102 pounds and comes with a lid-mounted thermometer.
There’s an additional warming rack that you can use to keep food or store your cooking utensils. This is something I love about outdoor cooking appliances because you don’t have to look for a tabletop to store your necessities.
What I don’t like about this smoker is that the painting tends to chip and flake with repeated use. Moreover, the firebox is not directly welded to the body of the smoker which means that some heat will be lost.
- Can be used as a smoker and a grill.
- Storage space and a side shelf for prepping food.
- Chrome-plated handles.
- Porcelain-coated grates for easy cleaning.
- Painting tends to flake with repeated use.
- Firebox isn’t directly welded to the body of the unit.
With 363 square inches of cooking area, you can grill or smoke 13 burgers with no issues. This unit from Weber has a lid that it’s 7.5 inches high so you can cook a big bird easily. It comes with a coated steel cooking grate that is very easy to clean.
The one-touch cleaning system is what I like about this grill. A simple touch will get rid of the ash once you’re done burning your coal. You can easily control the heat on this unit without lifting the lid using the dampers. This will help you stabilize the temperature if you’re using it as a smoker.
This is one of the versatile models that you can use for direct or indirect cooking as all the parts can withstand the high temperature to be used as a grill or a smoker. The lid and internal parts are porcelain-coated so that the painting doesn’t chip or flake as you use it every day.
There’s an angled hook on the lid so you can hang it if you want to take a look at your food, so you don’t have to put it on the ground. This is a portable model that weighs 33 pounds and comes with durable wheels so I recommend it to people who like to cook away from home.
However, this Weber unit comes with a few disadvantages. For example, the nut attaching the handle on the lid doesn’t fit properly and you’ll need to spend some time to secure it properly. The ash catcher is also too small so things can get a bit messy if you’re not careful while cleaning up.
- Versatile unit that can be used for indirect and direct cooking.
- Convenient cooking area.
- Painted body to withstand heat.
- Comes with wheels for portability.
- The handle on the lid takes time to secure.
- Size of the ash catcher is too small.
If you’re not cooking for lots of people, you can always go with the Akon Jr model from Char-Griller. This is a kamado grill so it’s more durable than all the other models on this list. It radiates the heat off the porcelain-coated surface to work as a pizza oven for the juiciest results.
This model offers 153 square inches of cooking area, which is enough if you’re cooking for two people. It comes with an ash pan that you can easily remove for cleaning up after you’re done. You can easily regulate the internal heat using the dampers to use this grill as a smoker when needed. It weighs 37 pounds so it’s a perfect choice for tailgating and camping.
Unlike other more expensive kamado grills, this one is made of steel and not ceramic. However, there are three layers of steel so it does a great job at retaining the internal temperature, covering a range between 200 and 700 degrees.
What I don’t like about this unit is that it takes time to set up. The quality of the bottom vent isn’t impressive so it might cause some heat to escape while you’re trying to smoke food. It doesn’t have wheels but it can be easily carried thanks to the side handles.
- Durable and versatile kamado grill.
- Three layers of steel for perfect insulation.
- Adjustable temperature thanks to the top and bottom vent.
- Easy cleaning thanks to the removable ash pan.
- Takes time to set up.
- Some heat might escape due to the design of the bottom vent.
The final product on this list comes from Camp Chef. This is a large vertical smoker that comes with 2 cooking grids and a jerky rack. It’s a bit more expensive than other models but it offers 903 square inches of primary cooking area.
What really impresses me is that you can easily adjust the position of the racks to customize this big space. This offers you multiple options to cook big cuts of meat with no issues.
This is a gas smoker, so you won’t worry about setting charcoal on fire or looking for a power source. Just connect the hose to a gas tank and you’ll have 18,000 BTUs to heat the interior of this unit.
It comes with a wood tray to infuse your food with the most delicious flavors and a water pan to keep your meat moist. There are three dampers to give you full control over the heat inside the unit and a thermometer on the door so you can keep an eye on the temperature. It’s designed to provide a temperature range between 160° F to 350° F for slow and juicy smoking.
Thanks to the matchless snap ignition, this is one of the most practical and easiest units to use. it weighs 75 pounds and doesn’t have wheels so it’s not that portable. Due to the big internal space, this unit could have used more shelves so you can prepare more items at the same time.
This unit isn’t properly insulated. If you’re cooking outside, you can expect some temperature fluctuation because the metal body is too thin.
- Big cooking area.
- Adjustable cooking grids.
- Matchless ignition for an easy start.
- Three dampers to control the heat.
- Not enough shelves.
- Metal body isn’t well insulated.
My top choice as the best budget smoker is Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill. This is a practical and versatile cooking appliance that can be used as a grill and smoker so it’s good value for money. You can also control the internal temperature to guarantee better cooking results.
Luckily, there are lots of good and affordable products to choose from. Evaluating your needs as a smoking enthusiast will help you choose a suitable smoker.
Of course, there are more expensive models on the market that come with extra useful features. However, if you’re on a tight budget, you can definitely do well with one of the options I suggested.