There are very few things in this world that taste equally as satisfying as smoked meat. My boys are absolutely crazy about them!
Unfortunately, this delicacy is not that easy to make. You know how they say: “If you want something done right, you got to do it yourself.”
When talking about smoked meat, I learned this one the hard way, buying smoked meat that was too salty, paying it like it’s a unicorn’s meat, and getting some not-as-advertised, suspicious-quality products.
If you want the finest smoked meat, you need to get the best meat smoker you can find on the market and smoke it yourself.
After we’ve tested several smokers and bought the best one, John is really thrilled to smoke meat almost every week. What a good way to stimulate your man to get involved in the kitchen!
A crappy meat smoker won’t get you anywhere. Here’s how to get the best one.
Things You Should Know Before Buying a Meat Smoker
Historically speaking, smoked meat showed some pretty amazing legs.
Even our Bronze Age ancestors knew that smoked meat could resist spoilage and survive freezing much better than meat prepared with any other cooking method.
But that’s not all. Smoked meat is very tender, requires little chewing, and has an irresistible taste that can’t be competed with. Also, because it’s devoid of any additives, smoked meat is one of the healthier nutrition options you can find.
It should be evident that to meet these high demands, smoked meat has to be very carefully prepared and granted, different food smokers address this issue in a variety of manners.
Here are a couple of things you should know in order to find the top-rated smoker that suits you the best.
1. The Type of the Meat Smoker
A gas smoker is cheap and efficient, but it is nowhere near as versatile as an indoor electric meat smoker.
Charcoal smokers produce the best natural flavor, but they are demanding, and make controlling the temperature very hard. (See also: Best Charcoal Grill Reviews)
A stovetop smoker is the most economical, but it requires an external heating source.
What you’ll have to do is to put all these things on the paper and see what solution works best for you and your kitchen.
Unless you are buying a stovetop smoker, you have to be aware that meat smoking units tend to be quite large, which can effectively render them immobile. And that is perfectly ok, as long as that’s your conscious decision.
If you are, on the other hand, looking for a versatile unit that can perform its duty in the kitchen as well as in the backyard, it is highly recommended that you pick some of the small smokers.
Not to be confused with size because, sometimes, even the large and robust smokers for meat have a very lackluster capacity. Since smoking requires a good airflow, this issue should not be ignored.
Also, be mindful of your eating habits. If you like to prepare large turkeys, ribs, and long slabs, you have to be aware that not every unit will be able to meet these needs.
4. Construction and Durability
A well-made smoker should last nearly forever. Poorly made smokers have to be replaced after just a couple of years. Although it is possible to get a pretty good idea of the smoker’s durability simply by observing materials and the details like:
Build quality – No matter how careful you are, over time, your smoker will endure a lot of abuse, especially if we are talking about a portable unit. Solid build quality will make sure that the smoker can take a few punches, doesn’t pick odor, is resistant to rust, etc.
Insulation – It is in your best interest that your smoking unit keeps heat inside. If you are buying a tabletop smoker, poor insulation can cause a lot of problems.
How tight are the seals – You can’t make smoked food without smoke. What you can do is to make sure that the smoke stays where it was supposed to – inside the unit. Also, some seals tend to wear off over time. The more durable they look less likely will they allow smoke to escape the smoker as the years go by.
5. Temperature Range
A lot of smoked dishes are prepared over an extended period at a very low temperature. Other recipes (e.g. caramelized food) will require that you pump your smoker up to 500 degrees.
The best smokers are capable of doing both of these things, but, as always, choose the unit that suits your eating habits.
6. How Even is the Heat
Sometimes the difference in temperature between the opposite sides of the smoker can be as large as 50-75 °F. This is especially symptomatic of large meat smoking units.
Although it is impossible to check this out firsthand until you buy the smoker, you have nothing to lose if you ask the retailer or read a couple of meat smoker reviews.
Ideally, a thermometer shouldn’t be located high on the lid, but rather at the grate level where the food will eventually go.
If anything, make sure that the built-in thermometer is at least as accurate as possible because some cheaper units tend to be off for as much as 50°F.
Related: How to use wireless meat thermometer
Some die-hard smokers appreciate their units’ ability to properly smoke meat above anything else. The rest of the people who treat the culinary world more casually will appreciate the fact that a lot of units allow simultaneous grilling and smoking in separate compartments.
If you are buying such units, make sure that neither of these functions works at the expense of the other.
9. Indoor Meat Smoker vs. Outdoor Meat Smoker
Although the choice between the two sounds irrelevant because the smoker will ultimately work wherever you put it, you should know that the outdoor units should be made out of the materials that are resistant to elements.
On the other hand, if you are buying a stationary indoor smoker, vertical units have a distinct advantage because of the smaller footprint.
Further Reading: Most Recommended Offset Smokers
Little things that can make life much easier. They range from incredibly useful (removable interior shelves, grill add-ons, wheels, racks) to gimmicky (covers, tool hooks, etc.). How much you are willing to spend for such upgrades is entirely up to you and your cooking habits.
And now that we learned something about the properties of a fine smoking unit let’s take a look at some of the top-rated meat smokers on the market and see how they handle these requirements. We compared these before our purchase, and you should too.
Related: Best Smoker Thermometer
Most Recommended Meat Smokers: Detailed Reviews 2020
- A portable smoker that can be used both as an outdoor smoker and indoor meat smoking unit
- Measures 6-7/8 by 13 by 13-1/2 inches
- A very high dome that allows you to smoke even some bigger pieces of food
Nordic Ware 365 indoor outdoor kettle smoker is a neat and capable unit that provides very consistent, and efficient smoking performance. The kettle must be used in combination with an external heating source, but no matter where you are, and what’s the occasion, you will get the same result. Because of the smaller dimension, heat distribution is very even.
Although it doesn’t look spectacular, Nordic Ware 365 certainly has that “old pot” charm to it, and to be quite honest, it’s very easy on the eyes. The build quality is ok, and although the smoker pan turns darker after each use, it won’t affect the smell of food. The dome is huge, and it more than makes up for the kettle’s small size. You will be able to fit a whole chicken into this stovetop smoker. Maintenance-wise, Nordic Ware 365 is a blessing.
All in all, a very handy and efficient device. As soon as you master the technique of controlling wood chips, you will be able to do wonders with it.
Things I Liked
- Price, portability, and ease of maintenance.
- For a kettle smoker so small, Nordic Ware 365 can pack a lot of food.
- The thermometer works great.
- One of the top-rated smokers in its category.
Things I didn’t Like
- In spite of good portability, we are still talking about a very small unit.
- Charcoal smoker made for authentic smoked meat flavor
- Porcelain-enameled steel body, heat-resistant nylon handle
- The total cooking capacity of 481 square inches
- Measures of approximately 21 by 18 by 41 inches
Unlike the previous smoker that was aimed mostly at the casual cooking enthusiasts, Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker is an entirely different beast. This time, you won’t have any problem smoking ribs, whole birds, and slabs, even at the same time.
However, although pretty robust-looking, Smokey Mountain isn’t overwhelming. With the weight of only 39 pounds (17 kilograms) the smoker is still reasonably portable – my two boys were able to handle it with combined effort. The build quality is excellent, the thermometer is clear and precise, and the steel plates look sturdy so you won’t face any problems in the “hardware” department.
As for the performance, the device is meant primarily for slow cooking at the temperatures from 225-300°F. Although it can be used as a grill if you remove the upper gate, this is hardly the most convenient way to prepare your meat. Smoking works much better, and that is what you’ll use this unit the most.
See Also: Best Lump Charcoal Reviews
Things I Liked
- A very capable smoker that is not too heavy to be carried around.
- Excellent build quality.
- A smoker for meat you can actually put some meat in.
- Porcelain-enameled water pan makes sure the meat stays moist and tender.
- One of the best meat smokers in its category.
Things I didn’t Like
- The area where the unit excels the most, ironically, isn’t even smoking.
- Large, but not large enough to hold a full rack of ribs.
Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smoker with Viewing Window and RF Remote Control, 40-Inch – A Heavyweight Indoor Champion
- The cooking capacity of 975 square inches
- Easy to handle wood chip loading system
- Drip-catching system designed for more natural cleaning
- Four durable cooking racks
- Front viewing window
If Smokey Mountain was in the middle of the road between being a portable and stationary unit, I could easily say that 20075315 Front Controller Smoker is a full-blown indoor electric smoker. That comes with a fair share of benefits. For a start, there is a four-rack cooking space with the capacity of impressive 975 square inches which means that you can smoke whatever crosses your mind. Smoke, heat, and flavors are all safely contained inside the unit.
Second, the body is incredibly solid. The smoker is made out of sturdy stainless steel, the racks are coated with chrome, and everything looks like it was built to last. This time you have the benefit of digital controls and the front faced viewing window, so you won’t have a problem keeping an eye on your meat.
Remote controls allow you to operate the smoker even if you are busy somewhere else, and accessing the dripping pan is as streamlined as it gets. Easily one of the best smokers on the list.
Things I Liked
- An LED display is coupled with easy-to-handle remote controls.
- A very sturdy unit.
- Impressive cooking space.
- Good isolation.
Things I didn’t Like
- It takes a lot of space, and it’s quite heavy so you won’t be moving it around too often.
- Besides smoking Big Easy Smoker offers you the option to roast and grill your food as well
- Advanced infrared technology that evenly cooks food without leaving flare-up marks
- The cooking area of 180 square inches
- The temperature control from 9,000 to 18,000 BTU’s
It is very easy to look at Big Easy Infrared Smoker’s specs and to think that this small device tries too hard to do everything at once and ultimately fails on all fronts. However, although far from excellent, The Big Easy performs really well no matter what you throw at it.
Using the smoker is very easy – you don’t need charcoal or oil. Just put the wood clips in the convenient smoker boxes, and the unit will take care of the rest. The performance is consistent, and the meat comes off very moist, tasteful, and with a good smoky flavor.
Unfortunately, Big Easy Infrared Smoker is not without flaws. The cooking capacity is passable, but that’s it. The build quality could be much better. Smoker’s body feels very fragile, and what’s even worse, it’s prone to rust.
Things I Liked
- Elegant and efficient device.
- Versatility and portability.
- The meat tastes great and it’s evenly cooked.
Things I didn’t Like
- According to a number of meat smokers reviews, this unit becomes rusty very fast
- Great portability is paid by the low cooking capacity.
- Not that easy to clean after cooking.
- Portable unit suitable both for indoor and outdoor smoking, steaming and slow cooking
- The unit contains removable pockets for wood chips
- A removable enamel-on-steel pan that ensures even heat distribution
It should be obvious that this device is not a regular smoker per se, but more of a unit that can handle the duties of a kitchen smoker. And for what it is it performs exceptionally well. Smoking is very even and efficient, and although such a small unit can’t ensure sufficient flow of air, the pan carries the duty of equal heat distribution more than gracefully.
Speaking of the pan, the enamel-on-steel combination is excellent – the unit feels sturdy, and it’s incredibly easy to clean. Overall, the traditional design suits the smoker very well, and the build quality leaves an excellent impression. What’s not so great is that the device feels very bulky and looks like the available space could be used better. Sure, you can fit a turkey here, but barely. Also, heat indication is pretty rudimentary so you won’t have too much control over the heat in the oven.
Overall, although we are talking about a rather small smoker the unit is nice, efficient, and portable, so these little concessions are to be expected and don’t ruin the whole impression.
Things I Liked
- The oven looks and feels splendid.
- Nice, consistent performance.
- Very portable.
- If you know how to smoke meat in the oven, you won’t have any problems using this device.
- A versatile and easy to maintain table top smoker.
Things I didn’t Like
- The available space could be used better.
- Not exactly the number one option when it comes to smoking.
Conclusion & My Recommendation
All these five meat smokers couldn’t be more different from each other, which essentially makes them apples and oranges and nearly impossible to compare.
In this case that is a good thing because, although each one of them has certain flaws, they all offer good performance and excel in one area or another.
No matter what your cooking affinities may be, you will find something that suits your tastes.
As for the performance, being the only real power-house smoker on the list, Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smoker is the clear winner.
All of the other units have their pros, but if you are a real chef, you don’t have to look past this one.
All you have to do now is to pick the unit that suits you the best, find some good meat smoking guide and get to work.
Last update on 2020-10-01 at 17:23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API