Best Beginner Smokers under $500 for 2018: Smoking meat involves the process of cooking a piece or cut of meat slowly on low heat. There are times when the cooking time can be as long as 24 hours. The temperature is just around 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using smoke and indirect heat, the meat becomes juicy and tender. Due to the smoke generated by wood chunks or chips, the meat absorbs the flavor which makes it more delectable than just grilling or roasting.
When looking for a smoker, you must take into account the smoker type and its features. In this article, we shall be looking into the different types of smokers. Also discussed below are some of the best beginner smokers under $500 in the market now. We aim to help you get the most out of your money by purchasing one of the best beginner smokers and working with them well even if you are a beginner.
Click to jump straight to each topic:
- 1 Grilling and Smoking Difference
- 2 Process of Smoking
- 3 Barbecue Tools and Accessories
- 4 Types of Smokers
- 5 1. Smokey Mountain 18-Inch Charcoal Cooker Smoker from Weber – Best charcoal smoker for beginners
- 6 2. Liquid Propane Vertical Gas Smoker from Char-Broil – A budget gas smoker for bargain hunters
- 7 3. Pit Barrel Classic Cooker from Pit Barrel Cooker Co. – Best charcoal alternative to the Weber Smokey Mountain
- 8 4. Kamado Ceramic Grill from Pit Boss
- 9 5. Digital Electric 30-inch Smoker from Masterbuilt – Best affordable electric smoker
- 10 6. Junior Elite from Traeger – Best pellet smoker for beginners
- 11 7. 2-Door Propane Gas 44-Inch Smoker from Smoke Hollow – Best gas smoker for beginners
- 12 Things to Remember for First Time Smokers
Grilling and Smoking Difference
Grilling involves high temperatures for a lesser duration time. Your temperature can go as high as 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It may include the use of wood smoke as needed in the smoking activity.
There are some grillers which uses a lid dome. This needs to be closed during the cooking process to allow better cook on food. Moreover, it keeps the temperature steady and controlled.
On the other hand, smoking utilizes low heat temperatures ranging from 225 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. It involves slow cooking process. Moreover, wood smoke is utilized to provide more flavor to the food.
Most smokers are equipped with a temperature gauge and water pan. The temperature gauge allows the user to control the temperature better. The water pan, on the other hand, maintains the moisture of the food during the smoking process. If you are still a newbie, it is recommended to get the best smoker for beginners.
Process of Smoking
Slow cooking under low temperature is the core process involved in smoking. It might be easy to think of but this old-fashioned way of cooking is difficult to master. This is essential when purchasing the best smoker for beginners.
Smoking starts with gathering fuel sources such as gas, charcoal, electricity or wood pellets. The food gains flavor as you add wood chunks or chips on the source of heat. This creates the smoke which envelopes the meat inside the equipment, leaving it with a unique taste.
To maintain a constantly low temperature, you need to control the amount of oxygen inside the smoker. With this, you can achieve low heat for slow cooking using the best smoker for beginners.
Barbecue Tools and Accessories
Aside from the smoker equipment that will be used, you need tools and accessories to aid you in your cooking activity. If you are still a beginner, it is essential to equip yourself with appropriate tools. Here are some tools and accessories which you can gather to use along with one of the best beginner smokers.
This tool allows you to constantly monitor the temperature of the meat you are cooking. With this, you can easily adjust it should it goes above or below your desired temperature. You can get a dual wireless probe thermometer which is a popular choice among smokers nowadays.
Most smokers are run using charcoal to get that smoky flavor. If you have a charcoal smoker, natural charcoals are a good fuel to start with. Aside from the fact that it gives good flavor and aroma, it produces better smoke along with wood chips or chunks.
This accessory is a must-have item in smoking. You can use knives in trimming your meat to the desired size and portion.
Gloves and claws
If you are a fan of pulled meat, gloves and claws are your best friend. You can easily handle hot food without the risk of burning your hands using your gloves. On the other hand, the claws are a great tool for pulling meat with ease.
We recommend you check out your local smoker and tool shop for these accessories which can help you with your cooking activities. These will make your smoking experience faster and better with the best smoker for beginners.
Types of Smokers
There are a number of smokers in the market. Each type has a set of features which you can look into when purchasing one. With this, it is important to identify which best smoker for beginners suits your needs.
The most common but not the easiest one to operate is a charcoal smoker. It is usually taxing to set up, use and clean up this type of smoker. Nevertheless, it provides the most flavorful meat with true smoky flavor cooked slowly in low temperatures. It works better than propane or electric smoker.
Provided below are the common types of smokers in the market. You should consider their features, pros and cons before deciding which one to get.
The fuel utilized in this smoker is charcoal. Among other smoker types, it provides a classic flavor of smokiness with a smoke ring. It has been around for years now and is being used all around the world.
Charcoal smokers utilize wood chips or chunks to provide an extra flavor to your meat. It comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. Charcoal is known to be a good fuel for the process of smoking. Nevertheless, it requires close monitoring and attention compared with electric or propane smokers
You can get great results from utilizing charcoal smokers. However, you should prepared with a high amount of effort you need to give in terms of preparing, cooking and cleaning.
- Good tasting barbecue with smoky flavor
- Cheaper compared with more advanced smoker types
- Versatile as it can be used on a variety of meats and vegetables
- Can be used with tools and accessories that can aid in the smoking process
- Hard to maintain temperature as charcoal needs more work to start and control
- Difficult and potentially dangerous to clean up if the ashes are not cool enough
- Some places may not allow you to use a charcoal grill because of the mess it can create
The most convenient and easy to use are gas or propane smokers. They provide good value out of your money. This type of smoker is a good choice for first-time or beginners. You just need to set it up and let it do its trick
Its construction is similar with that of metal boxes. It has a set of legs which allows it to stand well. Moreover, it resembles the design as that of a vault or locker.
Gas smokers utilize a simple design which provides a large cooking space. It is easy to operate and includes a burner at the bottom and tray for your selected wood chunks or chips.
- Inexpensive compared with other smoker types
- Provides good quality despite being at a low price point.
- Offers a sturdy and good build
- Generally has a huge cooking space which increase along with its price
- Needs less time to set up and you can leave it while waiting for the food to cook
- Great option for outdoor cooking with less space
- Easy to maintain temperature and requires less labor in setting up and usage
- Simple cleaning process as the soot in propane burners are easier to get off
- Does not provide a heavy smoky taste to your food compared with charcoal smoker
- No insulation and low build quality for some gas or propane smoker models
- Has potential to leak heat and smoke which produces uneven cooking
- May require frequent refills on gas at it runs out quickly
- Provides small foot print which can hamper you in cooking large meat sizes.
This type of smoker is known to use wood pellets that are small but are high in energy. They utilize a digital controller, usually built in which allows the user to monitor the inside temperature.
The temperature gauge aids in feeding the pellets automatically in your fire port. This keeps the smoker at the designated temperature. Because of this, pellet smokers have been one of the popular smoker types.
The best pellet smokers for beginners provides a classic smoky wood flavor. You can get these advantages without spending too much time tending a grill. With this, it is known to be a great smoker type for first-time and beginner users. It requires little to no experience but offers a good cook to your favorite meals.
- Versatile smoker which you can use for smoking, barbecue, braising, baking and roasting
- Has a large temperature range which aids in even and fast cooking
- Easy to preheat which takes for at least 10 minutes
- Delivers consistent flavor throughout the meat
- Allows precise temperature setting for unforgiving meat selections
- Do not need complex setting up techniques as you can just leave it while it is doing its job
- Can accommodate different pellet flavors for various food requirements
- Dependent on the source of electricity which makes it hard to bring along on trips
- Generally more expensive than other smokers due to its premium features
- Does not offer a grilling functionality in small pellet smokers
- Requires proper handling on pellets as moist ones are susceptible from disintegrating
This smoker type is a new variety in the smoking equipment family in today’s time. It aims to enable more people in starting in an easy way. It does not utilize flames unlike the traditional electric and BBQ smokers.
Most of the best electric smoker for beginners are run by regulating electricity Wi-Fi through a heating component or element. It does not make use of flames and air flow to as a source of heat. With this, they are more controllable which makes it very ideal to beginners.
- Needs a simple set-up and you can leave it running until the food completely cooks
- Provides no mess compared with wood pellets and charcoal
- Has the ability to smoke any type of food such as fish, pork and beef
- Great alternative to charcoal especially on areas where the latter is prohibited
- Can only reach a certain amount of temperature which can be an issue on some food which require high heat
- Needs a source of power or outlet which makes it less portable
- Does not provide a pink smoke ring on the meat
Based from traditional Indian and Chinese cookers, this type of smoker is in an egg-like or oval shape. They are known to be versatile as it can smoke, grill, bake and roast any type of food.
Commonly made from Ceramics, the best Kamado Smoker for beginners are made from materials that have great insulation. It can effectively radiate and store heat, making them great for any cooking activity. This type is also great for outdoor cooking as it is lightweight and portable.
- Made with high quality build using robust materials like ceramic and steel,
- Offers great conduction of heat as the heat radiates evenly making it easy to regulate and maintain the temperature
- Provides good tasting food which resembles the quality with that of an oven
- Versatile product which can be used along with accessories for ease in cooking
- Takes a long period of time to heat up as the side walls retain heat effectively
- Made from ceramic which is known to be a brittle material
- Needs several accessories which can be costly compared to other ready to use smokers
There are grills that also function as a smoker. The best smoker grill for beginners is a great alternative to people who already own a grill and do not want to buy a separate smoker. With little modifications, you can utilize your grill as a smoker in no time.
- Versatile product as you can use the grill as a griller and smoker
- Provides the same BBQ taste especially on charcoal grill
- Inexpensive as it may require little to no money at all to get a smoker
- Requires work and several modifications to utilize a grill as a smoker
- May not work as good as off-the-shelf smokers in the market
These are the common smoker types that are available in the market in today’s time. It is essential to note their differences to identify which ones can address you requirements. We recommend you look into the pros and cons to fully weigh the options before deciding to purchase one.
The Best Beginner Smokers
When looking for a smoker, you should look into its features to determine your preferred brand and model that fits your needs. Here are some of the best smokers for beginners. Also provided below are the pros and cons identified by customers which can help you weigh your options well.
1. Smokey Mountain 18-Inch Charcoal Cooker Smoker from Weber – Best charcoal smoker for beginners
Great for beginners, this smoker is recommended due to the value it provides for your money. The quality of its build is better than regular smokers in the market. It comes in three (3) sizes from 14 to 22 inches.
We recommend the 18-inch size variation as most users find it performing better when it comes to temperature stability. The larger size may provide a higher temperature during the cooking process. This size can feed a group of up to eight (8) people.
Despite its construction being slim, you get a big cooking area as it utilizes two racks. This best smoker grill for beginners doubles the space you can consume while cooking.
- Rust-resistant construction – This product utilizes an aluminum sheet that is heat and rust resistant. This makes the product robust and can last for a long time.
- Heat resistant handle – You can easily lift the lid using the heat-resistant handle. This allows you to quickly check on the food you are cooking without the fuss of getting mittens.
- Porcelain-enameled steel – Made from high quality materials, you can surely get the most out of your money.
- Built-in thermometer – This equipment has a built-in temperature gauge. You no longer need to purchase an additional tool just to check the heat temperature.
- Temperature control – The smoker has vents on both the lid and bowl. With this, you can easily control the temperature by opening or closing these vents.
- Keeps your meat and vegetables moist due to the water pan
- Easy to control temperature which provides even cook
- Offers versatility as it has several functions that other cookers do not have
- Inexpensive compared with specialized smokers
- Robust and can last a long period of time with 10-year warranty
- Hard to follow instructional guide for set-up and cooking process
- May easily get dents if not handled properly
2. Liquid Propane Vertical Gas Smoker from Char-Broil – A budget gas smoker for bargain hunters
This vertical smoker from Char-Broil is generally less inexpensive than established brands like Weber. It is considered as the best propane/gas smoker for beginners. If you are looking for a smoker with excellent functionalities, this product is preferable for you as a beginner.
With a large space or capacity of 595 sq. inches, it is comparable with the 18-inch smoker from Smokey Mountain. You can cook for a big group without worrying about the time it will take to smoke them. You can fit large portions of food and cook them simultaneously.
The major downside to this equipment is that it is heavy. Thus, it is not portable. It is not advisable to bring it along in camping trips or outdoor travel. This is a common problem from the best propane/gas smoker for beginners.
Looking into the quality, this equipment is made from high quality steel with decent insulation. It also has a thermometer but you might need to set it up properly to let it perform well.
- Water tray – This equipment has a water tray which aids in keeping the moisture of the food. The water will evaporate due to the heat. The water vapor shall moisten the food throughout the cooking process.
- Wood pan – In the middle of the water tray, there is a space where you can put the wood chunks or chips. This provides a smoky and deep flavor to the food inside.
- Large cooking space – You can cook huge portions of food at the same time. With the 595 sq. inch cooking space, you can utilize this smoker for large gatherings.
- Chrome-plated grates – The grates are chrome plated which makes it great for high temperatures. It is also preferable for slow-cooking as it can withstand the heat for a long period of time. This truly makes it one of the best propane/gas smoker for beginners.
- Gas feature – The fuel used in this smoker is gas. This feature allows the equipment to provide consistent heat throughout the smoking experience.
- Keeps the food moist due to the porcelain water pan and wood chip tray
- Allows you to warm the food through the use of the warming rack found on top
- Provides good cook and flavor to your favorite food
- Easy to learn functionalities which makes it great for beginners
- Accommodates large meat cuts and cooks it evenly
- Utilizes small wood chip tray and water pan
- May not last for a long time if not handled properly
- Encounters sealing issues on the door
3. Pit Barrel Classic Cooker from Pit Barrel Cooker Co. – Best charcoal alternative to the Weber Smokey Mountain
This product is a great alternative to the Weber Smoker as it is cheaper but provides the same functionalities. Do not fall for the trap on low-priced smokers which may offer poor insulation and difficulty in usage. This smoker from Pit Barrel Cooker Co. will not give you these issues which makes it ideal for beginners.
This one of the best smoker grill for beginners utilizes hooks to hang the food inside instead of the common racks used on smokers. It allows you to cook even the largest meat as the drum acts as your whole space. In fact, you can fit up to eight (8) rib racks in this cooker.
The method of hanging your meat allows the heat to flow evenly and freely inside the drum. There are no conduction points as you are not lying the meat on a grate.
- Hooks made from Stainless steel – This product includes heavy-duty hooks made from stainless steel. You can easily hang your meats for searing and grilling.
- Coal basket – This component allows you to contain the appropriate amount of charcoal required for the cooking process. It is a great way to hold the coal securely while still not in use.
- Grill Grate – If you are used to utilizing grill grates when smoking, fret no more. There are still grill grates available in this equipment. Aside from the hooks, you can also lay your food in the grates during the cooking process.
- Provides easy cooking process as you can just set it up and leave it
- Offers portability due to its lightweight construction
- Easy to assemble for quick cooking set-up
- Maintains low and consistent temperature
- Easy to control temperature with the use of vents at the bottom of the smoker
- Does not have a built-in thermometer which may require you to purchase one
- May not perform well in terms of cooking capability
This product from Pit Boss is at a higher price point than other smoker types. If you are looking for the best beginner smoker under $500, this is not the product you are looking for.
Made from a cheaper quality of ceramic, this grill from Pit Boss is different with other Kamado models which are made from steel grills. Nevertheless, it provides the highest heat retention amount. This makes cooking food easier and efficient.
The ceramic material aids in keeping your fuel efficient. However, running on a lump charcoal is still more efficient tha other fuel sources. Nonetheless, it is considered as one of the best Kamado Smoker for beginners.
In general, the quality of this smoker is good. It maintains a sturdy ceramic which has an excellent finish both internally and externally. This best Kamado Smoker for beginners offers features that some other smokers may not provide. With this, you can get the most value out of your money.
- Stainless-steel hinges and bolts – The smoker is constructed with stainless steel hinges and bolts. This means that it will not rust especially on its weak points. It will last for a long time even after multiple uses.
- Bamboo shelves – It features two bamboo shelves that are strategically placed on its sides. This aids the person cooking when keeping the tools, accessories and ingredients in place for easy access. They also fold down for portability and ease in movement.
- Stainless-steel grates – The grates are made from stainless steel which are easy to clean and rust-resistant. It also provides a huge cooking space of 567 sq. inches. Moreover, you get two levels for cooking multiple dishes simultaneously.
- Cast-iron top damper – The dampers allow you to control the airflow. With this, you can regularte the temperature accordingly.
- Easy to clean as it is equiped with an ash removal cover and tool
- Offers ability to include charcoal without removal of grates
- Provides good heat retention and easy regulation
- Versatile product which can be used with different cooking techniques
- Portable as it is lightweight and compact compared with other smoker models
- Takes a long time to install tables on the sides
- Has several quality issues in terms of fittings
5. Digital Electric 30-inch Smoker from Masterbuilt – Best affordable electric smoker
This digital smoker from Masterbuilt is one of the best beginner smokers for first-time users and beginners. For starters, it has a built-in thermometer which makes monitoring and maintaining temperature easier. Moreover, you can adjust the temperature through the digital scale, eliminating the fuss brought by traditional charcoal and pellets.
There are several cheap smokers in the market that do not perform well compared with products from Masterbuilt. This specific smoker utilizes good insulation which works well even in the cold weather.
This product provides value for your money as it offers a large cooking space of up to 730 square inches. You can use it with a variety of wood chips such as cherry, apple, pecan and hickory. With this, you can get great tasting food that are flavorful and evenly cooked.
It might not be as powerful as highly specialized smokers, but it can work well. It is one of the best electric smoker for beginners. We recommend you check out this product if you are looking for an inexpensive alternative but still offers the major smoker functionalities.
- Control Panel with RF Remote – This product is equipped with a control panel and an RF remote. You can utilize these to set the temperature and cooking time. After configuring these, you can just lounge around and wait for your food to cook.
- Large cooking capacity – This product can fit up to 12 chickens or four rib racks. You can surely cook for everyone in your party.
- Chrome-coated racks – The smoking racks are chrome coated which makes it ideal for high temperature cooking. You get four pieces when you but this equipment. With this, you can cook multiple meats and vegetables at the same time.
- Wood chip or chunk loading system – This patented design allows you to load wood chips on your smoker without the need to open the door. This will help you maintain the temperature as no heat or smoker may escape.
- Easy to control temperature using the digital panel and integrated thermostat
- Provides good cook and flavor to your food
- Offers less hassle when setting up compared with propane and charcoal smokers
- Allows you to cook huge amount of food simultaneously
- Has consistent smoking capability for an even cook and flavorful food
- Irreparable should the internal thermostat fire off
- Drip pan warps after some time
6. Junior Elite from Traeger – Best pellet smoker for beginners
In general, the best pellet smokers for beginners are more expensive than other types of smokers. However, it is the most convenient and easy-to-use smoker because you need not monitor it every now and then. You only need to set it up and just forget it.
This product from Traeger provides you the advantages offered by a pellet smoker for a cheaper price. It has a 300-sq. Inch cooking space which is good enough for a medium-sized group. If you are cooking for a huge gathering, you might consider getting another one which is more spacious.
It may have a lesser space than other competing models buy it excels in portability. Weighing only 60 pounds, you can easily bring it along with you on camping trips and tailgating.
This is truly one of the best beginner smokers for first-time users and beginners. It is easy to set up and bring along especially on cooking activities and gatherings. It offers a number of features at a lower price point.
- Temperature Control – Equipped with a thermostat, you can easily control its temperature to an accurate setting. In this way, you are assured that your food is cooked well and evenly.
- Heavy-duty construction – Considered as one of the best pellet smokers for beginners, its construction is made from heavy-duty and excellent quality steel. With this, you can get away with a lot of wear as well as tear.
- Electronic Ignition – You no longer need fire starters or charcoal chimneys to start running your smoker. With just a flip of the switch, you are good to go with your smoking and cooking activities.
- Porcelain grates – The grill grates are made from porcelain that is non-stick. It is easy to clean even with a saucy meat or juicy patties. With this, you can easily clean it, saving you time for other activities you want to pursue.
- Easy-to-monitor temperature due to the digital controller and LED display
- Provides excellent wood-fired flavor similar with what charcoal and gas produces
- Offers consistent results as you can just set it up and wait for the food to cook
- Ideal for camping and home use as it is heavy-duty and portable
- Versatile as it can perform different cooking processes such as smoking, baking, grilling, roasting and braising
- Unstable legs which may cause accidental spills and difficult cooking experience
- Hard to find smoker pellets compared with charcoal
7. 2-Door Propane Gas 44-Inch Smoker from Smoke Hollow – Best gas smoker for beginners
The manufacturer Smoke Hollow has been providing affordable electric, offset and gas smokers for more than a decade. With this, the products they create are of good quality and will last a long time.
This product provides good temperature control. With this, you can easily maintain the temperature in a stable setting which is essential for an even cook. If you are a beginner, it is essential to learn the basics in temperature control during the process of smoking.
The construction has a window which is not necessarily needed. Nevertheless, it is a good way to check the appearance and cook of the meat. You can do this without opening the door of the smoker.
If there is one thing that is considered a major issue, most consumers deem that the gas regulator, if not connected correctly on the tank, may lead to issues. It can also cause the flame to go out easily. With this, it is important to assemble the equipment properly.
- Large cooking capacity – With 6.5 cu. feet of space for cooking, it can cook a huge amount of food for gathering. With its multiple racks, you can cook different meats and vegetables simultaneously.
- Multiple cooking grids – This product is equipped with two jerky grinds, one sausage hanger, one rib rack and four standard cooking grinds.
- Dual door – Made with high quality tempered glass, it viewing window allows you to see how your food is cooking. The door is a handy way to place and remove food easily.
- Burners – The burners utilized by this product is made from stainless steel. It can be operated independently to optimize the performance of the smoker. You can also control the temperature to maintain the heat during the smoking process.
- Has a large construction which is preferable when cooking for a large group
- Easy to assemble and no issues encountered during the process
- Provides easy temperature control management
- Has a drip pan which makes it easy to clean
- Lasts for a long time due to robust construction
- Has a tendency to get scratches
- Better suited for wood chips instead of chunks
It is essential to look for smokers that are equipped with the basic functionalities such as smoking capability, temperature control and adequate cooking capacity. With the information provided above, you can start selecting the appropriate one for your smoking needs. Make sure to read the manual and notes from the manufacturer to get the best use from your smoker.
Things to Remember for First Time Smokers
There are a number of steps when smoking food. As a first-time smoker, you must not be afraid to try new things and explore with different tools and accessories. These will make your smoking experience better and easier.
You can start with inexpensive pork or any meat cuts that are deemed unforgiving. These can be a good start to learn how to control the temperature and take a look at the smoker’s other features.
From here, you can start investing on various types of sauces and rubs for your meat. You can also research some recipes and create your own.