Choosing your first outdoor smoker can be a confusing task. There are perhaps hundreds of manufacturers producing every shape, size and price outdoor smoker imaginable. There are some key things to consider when shopping for an outdoor smoker. I'll discuss the various things to look for to help you find the best outdoor smoker for your needs.
What kind of fuel do you prefer your outdoor smoker use?
There are three main types of fuel an outdoor smoker can use. The type you decide to use will go a long way in determining how safe, portable it is as well as how much hands on time is required and how involved the clean up is.
- Gas, clean and easy, but does it produce real smoker flavor? Done right, yes it does. Easy to clean too, portable if you have a tank to take along.
- Electric, very clean, quick start up time, might be a problem using this in the rain though. Personally this is my favorite type, specifically the Bradley electric outdoor smoker (pictured above) Not portable at all but practically no cleanup is required.
- Charcoal, Takes a while to get up to temp, lots of cleanup, a purist would say this is the only way to go if you want real barbecue flavor. The most portable smoker there is, but cleanup is a big job.
How 'hands on' do you want your outdoor smoker to be?
As I alluded to earlier depending on the type of fuel the outdoor smoker uses you'll have to dedicate more hands on time to make sure the temperature stays where you want it.
- An electric outdoor smoker is the most 'set it and forget it' there is, just dial up the temperature and walk away.
- The gas fueled outdoor smoker requires a bit more attention. It doesn't run out of fuel, but may be effected by wind or even being in direct sunlight.
- The charcoal fueled outdoor smoker requires the most attention. You'll need to tend the coals, adjust the flu and add more coals when necessary. A charcoal smoker is generally best for a seasoned pitmaster, not a beginner. You'll really have your hands full using one of these.
How large an outdoor smoker do you need?
You need to balance the amount of available space for your outdoor smoker with the amount of food you want to smoke. Generally speaking the electric outdoor smoker is the smallest type and the charcoal outdoor smoker is the largest.
Determine how much space you have and choose the appropriate type of smoker.
Quality considerations for your outdoor smoker
When it comes to quality there are some critical things to look for regardless of how the outdoor smoker is fueled. In order to maintain steady heat choose an outdoor smoker with thick steel walls. An outdoor smoker made of thin, flimsy material will lose temperature quickly and be difficult to get a steady smoking temperature. Also look for an outdoor smoker that is sealed well so it can hold in the smoke and heat. An outdoor smoker that is 'leaky' will lose lots of smoke flavor and once again will be difficult to maintain the correct cooking temperature.
Final thoughts concerning the best outdoor smoker
Once again I'd like to stress that all good quality outdoor smokers will produce great barbecue. Regardless of fuel they all use wood to get that smoke flavor. Determine the size, fuel and quality level that fits your budget and work from there. If you still need help try reading outdoor smoker reviews from such sites as Consumer Reports or Consumer Search, they both have outdoor smoker reviews from real end users such as yourself. You will of course find many more links on this page to help you to find the best outdoor smoker.
Finally, if you still have questions about barbecue smokers read this awesome article, it's a 2 part guide to help you find the best first barbecue smoker for a beginner. It covers everything from fuel to shape and construction, a must read if you have any questions at all about beginner smokers.