Smoking is a delicious way to cook food. Modern appliances provide smoking enthusiasts with multiple options for more versatility whether they’re cooking indoors or outdoors. However, if you’re on a tight budget, things can get a bit tricky.
If you’re looking for the best cheap smoker, then you’ve come to the right place. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to start smoking for your family and friends. In this article, you’ll learn everything about cheap smokers in addition to my top 5 recommendations within the $200 range.
What is the Difference Between a Charcoal and Electric Smoker?
When you’re shopping for smokers, there are various types of fuel to consider. Here I’ll discuss the differences between charcoal and electric models because they’re the ones I’ll focus on in this article.
Charcoal smokers produce that traditional flavor of smoky food when you add wood chips or wood chunks to your smoker. However, preparing the coal for your smoking experience might be a bit challenging, especially if you’re still a beginner.
After choosing the right charcoal and setting it on fire, keeping an eye on the temperature will be necessary. Most smoking enthusiasts don’t mind because it’s part of the fun. Cleaning up, however, isn’t that easy.
Removing the ash is necessary to make sure that your smoker is ready for the next use.Generally speaking, charcoal smokers are cheaper than electric smokers.
Electric smokers depend on a heating element that heats the wood chips. No preparation is needed so you can simply plug your smoker into a power source and it will be ready for work. This feature appeals to beginners because it makes electric smokers easier to use.
Moreover, you won’t worry about cleaning up after your dish is prepared. Beginners and experienced smoking enthusiasts don’t want to spend much time cleaning up after preparing the food because they want to have fun with their friends and family.
You don’t need to keep an eye on the electric smoker. As long as you have enough wood chips and have placed them near the heating element, you’ll have a steady heat to cook your food until it reaches the desired state.
However, electric smokers are more expensive than charcoal smokers. Even when we’re talking about cheap smokers under $200, you can still get a decent charcoal smoker for less than $100.
How to Buy the Best Cheap Smoker?
With the right smoker and the desire to experiment, there’s nothing that can stand between you and preparing the most delicious dishes. Here are a few factors to consider when you’re shopping for the best cheap smoker.
Not only will this help you deliver your meal on time, but it will also help you make sure that your food is cooked to the desired state. A built-in thermostat will help you determine the right temperature. This is what makes electric and pellet smokers so desirable.
However, if you’re using a charcoal smoker, you’ll have to control the temperature manually. Look for a model with vents or dampers that enable you to control the amount of heat and smoke so you can maintain the right temperature.
Most good smokers are made of steel because it can withstand the heat. Pick a model that won’t rust so you can use your smoker for a long time.
When you’re shopping for a smoker, you should make sure that it seals well. Otherwise, the heat and smoke will escape while you’re cooking. You can still cook good food even if your smoker isn’t perfectly sealed, however, the results will be unpredictable and inconsistent.
The cooking capacity determines how much food you’ll prepare. A small bullet smoker can do the job if you’re cooking for yourself and your partner. However, if you’re preparing food for a big event, you’ll need more space.
In addition to the cooking area, you should take the prep space into consideration. This is where you can keep your cooking utensils and sauces to prepare the most delicious smoked recipes.
Reviews of the Best Cheap Smokers
Here are my top 5 recommendations for smoking enthusiasts who are on a tight budget.
This model from Masterbuilt offers 395 square inches of smoking area divided into two smoking racks. Both racks are porcelain-coated which I prefer so that food particles don’t get stuck. The smoker is also very easy to clean.
With a built-in lid thermometer, your smoking experience will be a lot easier so you can determine the right temperature for cooking your food to perfection. This is a charcoal smoker that doesn’t need any access to electricity, so I recommend it to users who love to smoke food away from home.
It weighs 15 pounds, so it’s easy to pack and transport. I recommend that you buy this model if you like to spend time camping or tailgating. The charcoal pan and the water bowl are also porcelain-coated. You can easily change the coal by lifting the lid when you’re done.
The only issue I have with this smoker is that the coal pan is too small. This means that you’ll have to add coal frequently to smoke your food. As a result, the temperature of the smoker is likely to drop while smoking.
At the same time, the water pan is too shallow, so you’ve got to fill it often. If you don’t do this, your food will burn.
- Compact and lightweight charcoal smoker.
- Requires no assembly.
- Convenient space for small gatherings.
- The cooking racks, lid, and water bowl are porcelain-coated.
- Coal pan is too small.
- You need to add water several times.
This traditional-looking smoker from Char-Broil provides 605 square inches of primary cooking area so I recommend it to users who want to smoke food on big gatherings. This area is enough to smoke 30 burgers for your next tailgating adventure.
With three versatile grilling grates, this smoker can be used as a charcoal grill when needed. It’s made of sturdy steel so it’s built to last and will retain heat.
I recommend this smoker to beginners because it separates the coal chamber from the cooking space. This will guarantee that your food won’t get accidentally burned. There’s a built-in thermometer on the lid to help you keep an eye on the cooking temperature.
Thanks to the adjustable cover, you can regulate the amount of smoke and heat escaping and thus control the internal temperature of the smoker. Being a single-level smoker guarantees that the hot air will be evenly distributed. The grates are porcelain-coated for fast cleaning. They’re also rust-resistant.
It weighs 69 pounds and comes with wheels for fast transportation. It features a storage rack to keep your cooking utensils and there’s a side shelf where you can keep your condiments and sauces for delicious food. I love this side prep space because you can keep all your needed necessities within reach.
Although there’s a side door, it will be difficult to completely remove all the ashes and coal through this small opening after you’re done. This smoker takes more time to assemble than other models on the market.
- Sturdy smoker with s storage rack and side prep space.
- Can be used as a charcoal grill.
- Adjustable cover to regulate the amount of smoke and heat.
- Comes with wheels for better portability.
- Cleanup isn’t easy.
- Takes time to assemble.
With 250 square inches of cooking area, this dual charcoal grill and smoker is the right choice for cooking food for a small party. It weighs 40 pounds, so it’s easy to carry around.
It’s easy to assemble and the body is made of steel to withstand heavy-duty use. It features two adjustable dampers to adjust the amount of heat and smoke. I like this feature because it gives you more control over the temperature of the food you’re preparing.
This unit from Char-Griller features an easy dump ash pan for fast cleanup. I recommend this unit for beginners who need a reliable product that doesn’t take much time to get ready to work.
Although this unit is supposed to be used as a grill or a smoker, it’s not versatile. Unfortunately, once you choose to use it as a grill or as a smoker, you can’t go back to the other function. You should think very well before you make a choice.
No matter how much you take care of this unit, it’s still prone to rusting because the steel body isn’t very well protected from the elements. However, I think that it’s good value for money, especially if you need a straightforward smoker for fast and easy smoking.
- Durable steel smoker and grill unit.
- Easy setup.
- Dump ash pan for fast cleanup.
- Adjustable dampers to adjust the amount of heat and temperature.
- Once you choose the grill or smoker setup, you can’t go back to the other function.
- Can rust easily.
This model from Weber is a little bit more expensive than $200 but is definitely an excellent choice for smoking enthusiasts. This is a multi-level or vertical smoker that allows you to smoke multiple food items at the same time. I love this feature because you can set up your smoker even if you don’t have much ground space.
It’s very easy to use and is suitable for beginners who don’t know much about smoking. It comes with a built-in thermometer and you can easily control the temperature by opening and closing the vents.
I think that this is an excellent choice if you’re cooking for a few people as it offers a cooking area of 286 square inches. Due to its compact size, it will also use less fuel which is something that I would appreciate if I’m using a smoker away from home. The unit weighs 23 pounds so it’s lightweight but it doesn’t come with wheels for easy transportation.
All the internal parts are porcelain-coated to prevent rusting. The smoker also comes with a cover so you can leave it in the backyard or patio.
The only issue with this smoker is that the door isn’t 100% sealed. This means that some of the smoke will escape which can affect the time taken to smoke your food and the overall quality of your smoked dishes.
Because of the bullet design, your cooking space is limited. You can’t smoke a turkey for example. The grates can’t be adjusted higher or lower.
- Compact bullet smoker.
- Easy setup.
- Lightweight model that uses less fuel.
- Comes with a cover for extra protection.
- The lid isn’t perfectly sealed.
- The racks aren’t adjustable.
In this Masterbuilt smoker, your 395 square inches of cooking area is divided into two porcelain-coated cooking racks. It features a 1650-watt heating element for even heat distribution, providing a maximum temperature of 400 degrees. I recommend this electric smoker to smoking enthusiasts who don’t want to worry about the hassle of using charcoal but it costs a little more than $200.
The body of the smoker is made of steel and weighs 23 pounds. It doesn’t come with wheels for transportation, but it’s not that heavy to move around. The cord is 6 feet long, so you can just plug it into a power source in the house or into your generator to start smoking your food in the backyard.
If you’ve never used a smoker before, you’ll take some time to put this together. It comes with some pictures but a few written instructions.
You can use wood chips to produce the desired flavor, but you should make sure that you have put them close enough to the heating element. Chips are more recommended than chunks to produce a good smoking flavor.
Placing the chips is a bit tricky, and some of them might accidentally drop to the base. Cleaning this unit is a bit problematic, but you can line the water bowl with foil to catch the grease and facilitate clean up once you’re done.
- Quick start electric smoker.
- Lightweight construction.
- Long cord.
- Compact design with plenty of internal space.
- Placing the chips is a bit tricky.
- Takes time to assemble.
As the best cheap smoker, I recommend the Char-Broil Offset Smoker, 30″. It offers a decent cooking space for an affordable price and it guarantees that heat and smoke will be evenly distributed.
Even if you’re not that experienced, you can still prepare amazing food for your guests because you can regulate the heat and internal temperature. Moreover, it offers some prepping space which is something that you’d appreciate when you’re cooking outside the kitchen.
Smoking food is fun but takes a little practice. There are so many recipes to explore and buying the right cooking equipment will provide you with enough confidence to do that.