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5 Best Smoker For Beginners Under $500

Avatar Written by p1cooking · 8 min read >

You’ve browsed and collected various cooking recipes. You’ve also done your homework and picked the right piece of meat. But without the right smoker, you can’t get the job done.

In this article, I discuss why you should get a smoker and what it can do for you. You’ll also find the pros and cons of my top recommendations so you can easily choose the best smoker for beginners.

What is Smoking Meat?

As a beginner, it’s quite easy to get confused with different terms. Searing is when you use high heat to cook your meat directly. It takes a few seconds or minutes, browning the outer crust of your meat.

When you’re grilling, you’ll use direct heat to cook your meat, then indirect heat to let it rest. Constant attention is needed when you’re searing or grilling meat because you can easily burn it if you’re not careful e enough.

When you’re barbecuing, you can spend some time without keeping an eye on your meat. Smoking involves using low temperatures for multiple hours to cook your meat. Some cuts can take up to a day.

Unless you smoke your meat well, you can make yourself and your family very sick. It’s important that you choose a high-quality smoker that will deliver consistent heat for best results.

Smoking means that you’re using indirect heat. The flames don’t touch the food while you’re cooking. You’re heating wood chips or chunks and the resulting smoke will cook the food.

What are the Advantages of Buying a Smoker?

When you’re not that experienced with cooking, you might be a little overwhelmed by the number and types of cooking appliances available on the market. Here are some reasons why a smoker should be on your shopping list.

  • Smokers usually offer much more cooking space than a grill of the same size. With a grill, you need to put the food on the cooking grates. Smokers require that you put food away from direct heat, so you can use multi-level racks to cook different types of food at the same time.
  • The risk of overcooking your food isn’t as high as grilling. Smoking typically takes a few to several hours so you can move around, and even take a nap until your food is ready. When you’re grilling food, you need to keep an eye on the temperature, or your food will get burned.
  • Smoking adds this amazing flavor to the food you’re cooking. You can change the flavor of your food using wood chips or chunks. You can also add vinegar, apple cider or any beverage to the water that you’re using to smoke food. This will infuse your food with the most delicious flavors.

What are the Different Types of Smokers?

Smokers come in all shapes to cater to the needs of all smoking enthusiasts. Here are the main types that you can find on the market.

Vertical Smokers

These are compact smokers, offering a decent cooking space with a small footprint. A vertical smoker is divided into 2 main parts, the cooking chamber, and the heating chamber where you’ll place the wood chips and water. Charcoal smokers will have a pan for charcoal.

This smoker will have a door on the side to add wood, water or charcoal as needed. It’s recommended to keep the lid down all the time so that smoke and heat don’t escape.

Offset Smokers

These are traditional models that come with a separate firebox chamber. These units can be used as grills when you’re not using the firebox and keeping the lid up. They’re so versatile.

Offset smokers offer a bigger cooking space and might not be suitable for camping and tailgating. You can control the temperature using the vents.

Cabinet Smokers

These look like vertical smokers but they come with adjustable racks. This means that you can customize the cooking space depending on your needs. Cabinet smokers also have their heat source at the bottom, but they allow you to smoke multiple dishes at the same time.

Which Types of Meat Can be Smoked?

Before buying and prepping an expensive piece of meat, it’s best to know whether it’s suitable for smoking or not. This piece of information can help you save lots of cash, especially if you’re a beginner. Here are some of the best cuts that you can smoke.

  • Pork butts.
  • Pork shoulders.
  • Beef and pork ribs.
  • Beef brisket.
  • Turkey breasts.
  • Chuck roast.
  • Chicken.

In addition to meat, you can also smoke fish, lobsters, shrimps, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and nuts. Other types of food will typically take less time to smoke. However, they will make amazing side dishes.

5 Best Smokers for Beginners

Here are my top recommendations under $500.

1. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18 Inch Smoker

If you’re new to smoking, this model from Weber will be the perfect foundation stone to build your outdoor kitchen. It’s easy to set up and comes with a smaller footprint.

The thing I like about this smoker is the ability to control the temperature. This will come in handy, especially if you’re not that experienced. Using the vents and adjusting the water level, you’ll be able to stabilize the temperature to suit your smoking needs. It also comes with a heat-proof thermometer for easy monitoring.

This unit is made of three sections; the lid with the integrated thermometer, the mid-section with 2 cooking grates and a water bowl to keep your meat moist, and the base with 3 legs for stability and three vents to regulate the heat. You can easily separate the three sections while transporting this charcoal smoker. It weighs 39 pounds in total so this shouldn’t be a big problem.

You’ll get 481 square inches of cooking area divided into 2 grates. This is enough to cook for a big gathering as long as you choose the right cuts that would fit. The grates are porcelain-plated and easy to clean. This versatile model can also be used as a charcoal grill when needed.

When filled to the maximum level, the water bowl will give you 10 hours of smoking. However, you can’t monitor the water level while you’re using the smoker. Setup instructions aren’t that clear so you’ll take some time to put this smoker together.

Pros

  • Versatile smoker that can be used as a grill.
  • Easy setup with water bowl to keep your meat moist.
  • Adjustable vents to control the heat.
  • Smoker can be broken into 3 pieces for better portability.

Cons

  • You can’t monitor the water level while smoking food.
  • Assembly instructions aren’t clear.

2. Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker

Most beginners prefer this electric smoker from Masterbuilt because it’s straightforward to set up and use. It comes with 4 cooking racks for all your cooking needs, providing a total cooking surface of 730 square inches. This is enough to prepare food for a big event.

What I love about this smoker is the ability to set the timer from 0 up to 24 hours. You can have fun and enjoy your party while your smoker does the job and you won’t have to check on the food every now and then. The thermostat will keep the temperature under control and within the range of 100 to 275 degrees and the 100% insulation will make sure that the heat will remain stable.

Loading the wood chips is easy thanks to the side door. This will allow you to add the desired flavor to your smoked food with minimum effort. The smoker is made of powder-coated steel and comes with a reliable control panel with buttons for fast and easy use. However, this is not a fancy model that will confuse you with too many details and technicalities, so it’s suitable for first-timers.

Thanks to the blue LED display, you can read the temperature of the smoker even in direct sunlight. The smoker weighs about 46 pounds so it’s easy to move around. However, the cord is a bit short. You’ll need to plug it into a nearby power source to get it to work.

It offers much versatility as you can add apple cider or vinegar to the water to enrich the flavor of your food. You can also adjust the air damper to let more smoke escape. If you need to keep this unit outside, you’ll have to buy a separate cover to protect it from the elements.

Pros

  • Big cooking space and 4 cooking racks.
  • Easy setup and temperature control.
  • Digital timer and LED display.
  • Perfect insulation to retain the heat.

Cons

  • The cord is a bit short.
  • Needs a cover to protect it from dust, sun, and rain.

3. Traeger TFB29LZA Junior Elite Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker

This is a perfect choice for cooking beginners as it provides 6 functions in the same unit. For the same price, you can use this Traeger cooking appliance to grill, smoke, bake, roast, bbq, and braise food. It comes with digital temperature control so you can guarantee the best results every single time.

You’ll have 300 square inches of cooking surface. While this might not be what you’d expect at this price range, it’s still enough to cook 12 burgers or 2 whole chickens at the same time. This unit comes with a digital controller so you can adjust the grilling temperature or choose the “Smoke” function. Thanks to the LED, you’ll be able to read the temperature in any light condition.

It starts using a simple button. I think this is a great advantage, especially for beginners who would normally struggle with setting up a charcoal grill. You can add the desired flavor to your food by picking the right pellets. The hopper’s capacity is 8 pounds.

This versatile unit weighs 60 pounds, so it’s a little bit heavy. However, it comes with 2 wheels so moving it around shouldn’t be a big problem.

I have a little issue with this unit as it sits a bit low. This means that you’ll have to bend over while preparing your food. This can get a little uncomfortable, especially if you’ll be smoking for a long time.

Pros

  • Versatile unit with 6 functions.
  • No setup is needed.
  • Button ignition.
  • Digital controller with LED.

Cons

  • Cooking space is a bit small.
  • The unit sits low to the ground.

4. Char-Broil Vertical Liquid Propane Gas Smoker

For camping and tailgating lovers, this propane smoker from Char-Broil offers the versatility and reliability needed for outdoor cooking. It’s made of steel and weighs 25 pounds but it has no wheels. It comes with 3 cooking grates so you can smoke different types of food at the same time.

This smoker provides 16,500 BTUs, enough to heat up your 595 square inches of cooking area and 7,566 cubic inches of cooking space. Temperature control is easy thanks to the dial knob. This saves beginners lots of time so they can focus on preparing delicious food, without worrying about adjusting the temperature.

A well-built damper at the top of the smoker will help you control the internal temperature even better. The top grate can be used to heat up your sauce or your marinated meat. All the cooking grates are chrome-plated and the handles are cool to touch, which is something you’d really appreciate if you’re still a newbie.

Using the water pan, you’ll guarantee that your meat will be juicy as it’s cooked to perfection. The pan is used for water and wood chips that add flavor to your food. This, however, can be an issue if you prefer to use dry wood chips because without water, the temperature will get too high for proper smoking. This smoker is easy to use, but setting it up can be a little tricky.

Pros

  • Big cooking area with multiple racks.
  • Lightweight model.
  • Easy temperature control.
  • Top warming grate.

Cons

  • Same pan is used for water and wood chips.
  • Assembly is a bit time-consuming.

5. Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36″ Propane Smoker

This propane smoker is big enough to cook food for 8 people at the same time. The 4 stainless steel racks are adjustable so you can prepare a whole turkey if you need to. At the same it, it’s quite compact and comes with a handle so you can move it around. It weighs 40 pounds.

You’ll get about 785 square inches of cooking space so you can prepare larger cuts of meat easily. The racks are dishwasher safe and this is something that most users appreciate so they can save time while cleaning up. All the interior parts are porcelain-coated to withstand heat and repeated use.

The smoker comes with a built-in thermometer on the front door that allows you to read the temperature and accordingly make any necessary adjustments. Adjusting the gas supply is easy so you can increase or decrease the amount of heat and smoke emitted.

To make sure that no heat will escape, the door will be sealed tight using a handle. The 40-inch propane hose will attach quickly to a propane tank to get your smoker to work. This smoker also comes with a recipe book to get you started.

One of the disadvantages of this smoker is that the thermometer isn’t that accurate. However, this is a common issue with most smokers and most probably, you’ll need to buy a separate thermometer for best results.

The wood chips tray is placed right under the cooking grates and drippings can set the wood on fire. You’ll need to place another tray under the grates to catch the drippings and maintain temperature of wood.

Pros

  • Big cooking space at an affordable price.
  • Cooking grates are dishwasher safe.
  • Sealed door to maintain the heat.
  • Adjusting the temperature is easy.

Cons

  • Fat drippings can set the wood on fire.
  • Thermometer doesn’t provide accurate readings.

Conclusion

As the best smoker for beginners, I choose the Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker. It’s an electric smoker that takes no time to get to work and you can easily adjust the temperature while cooking.

Moreover, it comes with a big cooking space and 4 racks so you can smoke multiple cuts of meat at the same time. This smoker will help you improve your smoking skills because it’s reliable and easy to use.

Different smokers will suit different people. Think about your cooking needs and take a look at various options on the market. Smoking is a fantastic way to cook food for your loved ones, so don’t rush it. Buying the right smoker will help you enjoy your time the way you should.

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