9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?

From propane and pellet to hybrid models, we discuss the most common types of smokers with the advantages and drawbacks to each.
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Last updatedLast updated: August 21, 2021
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The interesting thing about outdoor cooking is that you open yourself to a wide array of options for cooking meat, vegetables, and more. Buying a smoker will undoubtedly expose you to a whole new level of experimentation and great tasty results. Yet, having the right information can be very crucial before taking the first step into the barbeque world.

Do you know the kind of smoker you wish to buy? What flavor is of interest to you? There is a great selection of smokers that are tailored to your satisfaction. It’s only natural that getting the right smoker can be hard for the first time. However, after reading this article, you will not only learn a lot about the common types of smokers, with their pros and cons, but buying one will be of great interest to you.

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing the right smoker. Based on the difference in certain features and functions, there are six major types of smokers we will talk about in this article, along with their pros and cons.

Propane Smokers

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This is an outdoor cooking device that makes use of propane gas as a source of fuel for smoking foods. This makes it clean, fast, and easy to handle and maintain (gas is fairly priced and readily available). It is also called a gas smoker. Just like its charcoal counterparts, a propane smoker is integrated with wood.

Furthermore, it is quite easy to control the temperature as they consist of well-designed in-built knobs which are required to increase or reduce heat in the twinkling of an eye. They vary in design, features, temperature control, smoking racks, and lots more.

Besides these, it is important for you to have the right information before you decide on the right model to purchase. Now, to make things so easy for you below is a step-by-step guide and tips on how to use a propane smoker to prepare delicious meals.

How to Use a Propane Smoker

To use this smoker, a cooking chamber where air circulates is heated, which in turn heats food through convection. It doesn’t end there. The smoke enriches a cut of meat with intense heat and a tasty flavor. To explain this further, the components of a propane smoker are discussed below:

  • Grill racks

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This one of the most undervalued parts of a smoker, but yet, a salient part. People spend little time considering a reliable grill rack when they purchase a smoker. These come in different varieties: cast iron and stainless steel, chromed and enamel, and aluminum. You can place your meat on them and they can also hold the iron skillets where your food can roast.

  • Gas burner

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?You can find the gas burner – fuelled with propane gas – at the bottom of the gas smoker. It provides heat via the lava rock to the food chamber. The rock is needed to smolder the wood chips and create smoke. The live flame it provides serves as the heat source.

  • Wood chip tray

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?Surrounding the burner is a wood chip tray, which helps in burning wood chunks to give smoke.

  • Water bath

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This separates the smoke and heat from the food and provides humidity to the process. It also helps in stopping fats from dripping onto the source of heat and ensures dispersing of smoke – albeit, to an extent.

  • Dampers and vents

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?The oxygen, which feeds the flame ensures that the temperature settings can be easily controlled. The smoker dampers that are located at the bottom, when opened, can allow air into the device. As mentioned earlier, as the oxygen feeds the flame, the temperature is raised. In sharp contrast, the dampers at the top, when opened can allow heat to escape. Furthermore, heat can also be released when the door at the front of the smoker is opened.

The information is only complete when you are made aware of the advantages and shortcomings of this type of smoker. These are explained below:

Pros

  • One of the most important advantages of a propane smoker is that it provides a clean source of heat
  • It is also fast and easy to use due to its portability in the form of LPG
  • It is controllable – you can easily turn the burner to get any size of flame (which determines the extent of the temperature) that you want

Cons

  • One of the by-products is water and since smoking is intended to reduce dry weight as much as possible, this is undesirable
  • Sometimes, it might prove difficult to turn down the flame without extinguishing it despite being easy to control
  • In the presence of a strong wind, the flames might blow off
  • Despite LPG being odorless, it still gives the food a different flavor.

Bottom Line

It is a good kind of smoker with some desirable features. However, it is perfect for camping, small family gathering, picnics, and cookouts. It is important you regularly check your equipment to prevent any form of leakage.

Pellet Smoker

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This is a modern-day upgrade of an offset smoker. Typically, the fire in this kind of smoker runs on 100% hardwood pellets. These are required to maintain the temperature set on the display panel.

It does not require much physical presence but needs access to power. Oftentimes, the smoking results you get from it are less smoky and moister than other conventional smokers. Furthermore, it has become a common choice among others in a competitive barbeque world due to the amazing features and convenience that it offers. The next question you might ask is, “How does it work?” This is answered below

How Pellet Smoker Works

The wood pellets, which are added into a hopper, are fed into a chamber via an auger, powered by electricity. Then, the pellets light up and heat the chamber – raising its temperature. The intake fans are then used to supply air which disperses heat and smoke throughout the cooking area.

Since it is automated, pellet smokers give you an exact temperature control – this ranges from 180°F to 500°F. This provides you with a good option of either cooking slow and low or intensely hot.

So great is the convenience that most pellet smokers have a meat probe that is connected to the control boards to determine and monitor the internal temperature of the meat.

The advantages and disadvantages that are associated with this kind of smoker are discussed below.

Pros

  • Efficient automated temperature control means that there will scarcely be temperature spikes or dips during cooking which can affect the result.
  • There are some with WiFi that enables you to control your cooking from your mobile phone.
  • It is ideal for a first timer
  • Some of these pellet smokers can also be used as a grill
  • It has a good fuel usage efficiency
  • The convection fan enables even heat distribution and allows it to be used for roasting and baking as well

Cons

  • This requires electricity to operate and you might need an extension cord if you want to cook on the go
  • It is relatively expensive to purchase
  • There are lots of pellet smokers out there that can’t grill

Bottom Line

They are efficient and highly durable. It is perfect for first-time users. There is a great selection of pellet smokers that are designed to meet your satisfaction, and if you are looking for a smoker that is easy to handle, then this is the right choice for you.

Electric Smokers

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This kind of smoker uses heat from electricity to cook your food. Electric smokers are well-known across the globe. They are not only amazing at providing supreme flavor for the palate to savor, but they are quite dependable and easy to handle. They come in different sizes, styles, designs, and settings. This variation in features and functions provides you with several options that will meet your demands.

It is, yet, important to note that having the right characteristics is not enough, there is a great science behind making an exquisite meal with it, and below is a guide on how it works.

How an Electric Smoker Works

An electric element will heat the smoker once it is plugged in. You fill a pan with wood chips and this element will heat this pan. Consequently, this causes the wood chips to smolder. This results in a buildup of smoke and the heat this produces will cook the food for you.

Furthermore, there are several smokers that come with a pan on the electric element to produce steam. When steam is added to a smoker, the meat it produces is moist. This steam can also make the inside easy to clean.

As electricity passes through the high-resistance electric element, heat is produced and this travels upwards through the wood chip pan. As the wood chip is heated up, they ignite and produce smoke. This smoke travels upward next to the water tray. This heat –  which vaporizes the water in this tray that also travels upwards – will cook the food. The resulting food remains moist and the smoke and steam give it a unique flavor.

Typically, foods that are cooked with an electric smoker are almost similar to the way it is in propane (gas) smokers. Yet, they have their differences.

There are several advantages and downsides of using an electric smoker and these are discussed next.

Pros

  • Good temperature control and easy handling are some of the major advantages of electric smokers.
  • Several electric smokers have set temperature, which offers great convenience
  • They are safe to use as they do not make use of combustible gases in their operation
  • It can easily be converted into a cold smoker
  • It is allowed in most apartment blocks

Cons

  • It is difficult to produce high heats as a propane smoker would
  • For an area that is prone to a power outage, using this device can prove difficult and inconvenient
  • It is also quite difficult to get smoke rings from these devices.
  • Repairs can be hard to be done on them

Bottom Line

Electric smokers are easy to use and maintain. They can be used to prepare tasty food and are safe to use. However, you can only get the best experience if there is a constant supply of electricity. There is a great selection of high-quality electric smokers with remarkable features and functions.

Offset Smokers

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This is also called a horizontal smoker, a barrel smoker, a side firebox smoker, or a stick smoker and is one of the basic types of smokers. Typically, many offset smokers come with a little firebox that joins to a bigger barrel where the cooking is carried out.

Besides these, they are revered for their supreme standard when it comes to smoking food. They are best used for smoking meat and other kinds of food at a lower temperature for a long period. During this whole process, heat and smoke that are produced from the fire travel through the chamber and out through the chimney.

They can operate on a charcoal fire or a wood fire. Wood chips can also be added to provide a unique smoky flavor. Armed with the right information, the guide below will discuss how they work.

How an Offset Smoker Works

An offset smoker is equipped with vents that help in controlling the smoke and the heat. The best of them are even designed to adopt the reverse flow technique. This technique involves using a sheet metal that is placed at an angle away from the surface. This place ensures that the heat and smoke are directed downwards before they are guided to the surface. This helps in maintaining a steady heat level.

Then, the moment you stoke the fire, it begins to work on your meat. This heat then travels to the cooking chamber to cook your meat. You can control the amount of smoke produced by adjusting the vents. The benefits and downsides of using an offset smoker are discussed below:

Pros

  • It gives an exquisite, unique barbecued taste
  • It is perfect for cooking a large quantity of food
  • It is flexible to handle as you can choose to grill in the firebox or you can arrange for a bigger grill by garnering charcoals in the bottom of the chamber
  • More fuels can be easily added
  • It is not just flexible to use, is also easy to maintain
  • It does not require much electricity
  • They are relatively cheap to acquire

Cons

  • It is not easy to use for first-timers and it might take a while to practice and learn how to get the best results from an offset smoker
  • It might prove stressful as you need to constantly check on the temperature of the device and adjust the fire manually and appropriately
  • There might be great difficulty in controlling the temperature when cooking in cold weather
  • Many models are plated with steel, which is prone to rusting

Bottom Line

It offers great flexibility in its usage. However, you can only get the best results with good practice and experience. This makes it not suitable for a beginner. An offset smoker is readily available and it comes with different features and functions that are designed to meet your needs.

Drum Smoker

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This model – as you would expect – is designed with an old drum as its base. This allows a great distance between the fuel and the grill. The grill is placed across the open top of the barrel to smoke the meat slowly.

It presents several amazing culinary experiences and great taste variations. It can also preserve your meat.

It can be tricky to handle as they can get really hot, and if not properly handled, the increase in temperature might get out of control.

It is relatively easy to learn, and once you do so, the results you get will be remarkable. To learn more, below is the process of how they work.

How a drum smoker works

Before you start cooking, fill the charcoal basket and use the minion method to lay out the coals. Then, you light up the charcoal. After opening up the vent, you bring the temperature to 250°F. Once you reach the set temperature, you adjust the vent space to a quarter of its initial size. Then, you place a water pan just beneath the smoker. You wait for an hour before you add the meat. This ensures that the temperature is stabilized. Then, just as you are about to add the meat, you place some wood chunks on the coals. Then, you add your meat for smoking. It is important that you close the vents a couple of minutes before and after you open the lid.

Tips for using a drum smoker

  • It is important for you to be predictable when handling a drum smoker. This implies that you should always try to do the same thing as many times as possible until you master the smoker
  • You must also know how to get your smoker to the target temperature
  • Keep a note and go through it after smoking sessions
  • You must also be aware of the weather because this can affect the amount of heat you should supply
  • Keep the equipment in good working condition

Below is a beginner video guide on how to set up and use a drum smoker.

Pros

  • They are compact and they do not use up so much space
  • They are the cheapest types of smokers out there and they can be easily built with part lists
  • They can retain their temperature for a long period
  • They are easy to understand – once you stick to a procedure (as a beginner)
  • They can also be used to grill

Cons

  • It has a limited capacity for cooking

Bottom Line

It has simple designs and because of this, several people build their drum smokers themselves. This makes it very cheap to acquire. It is easy to handle and maintain. It can also be used by a beginner since it is easy to understand.

Smoker and Grill Combo

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?Generally, smokers prioritize low and slow smoking of meat to ensure tender results. Grilling, however, is fast, hot and can be used in preparing fish, burgers, and lots more. A smoker grill combo provides you with experience in both processes.

It is a single unit that is built to carry out the work of two units. This implies that you can carry out fast, hot grilling, or slow, low smoking. It has two cooking chambers: one for smoking and the other one for grilling. It can be powered by charcoal, gas, wood pellets, or electricity. Its versatility makes it a good choice for many homeowners.

How to Use a Smoker and Grill Combo

After purchasing the device, you set it up. How do you do this? You open up the firebox and you throw in charcoal pellets and you ignite them. For the grill, use wood that is properly soaked in water for 30 mins. Smokes are then produced by tossing that on the hot coal. Then, you set the temperature to 400oF and then reduce it gradually to 200oF. This renders the grill safer to use.

Then, you add spices to a hard foil bowl that is full of water and then you mix them up. You can then place a bowl just below the meat under the grill grate. This provides the meat with moisture that helps the meat absorb the smoky flavor. This process requires some practice.

Then, before you start cooking, make sure you place your meat over the spiced water. Set the temperature and ensure it is right. Close the lid, and leave it for about 60 minutes to 90 minutes. Then, you can check and control the temperature, but do not open the lid too often. Once the meat is prepared, you can clean up and serve. The benefits and shortcomings of this device are listed below.

Pros

  • They are so versatile. Many of these types of smokers are not just restricted to grilling and smoking alone. They are also used for baking, roasting, searing, and more.
  • They are cost-effective.
  • They also save time as there are two available cooking chambers instead of one.
  • They are compact and are designed not to occupy much space.

Cons

  • Many of them have a small cooking surface
  • Cleaning their interior can prove difficult oftentimes.

Bottom Line

This model of smokers can be used for several purposes. They vary in features and their functions are tailored to meet your full needs. There are a top-quality smoker and grill combos that are available at fair prices. It is cost-effective and it will give you your money’s worth.

Other Types of Smokers

Apart from the ones we have considered, there are other types of smokers we will discuss as well. These also vary in size, shape, design, mode of operation, and function. They are discussed next

Smoker Boxes

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?These are small metallic containers that are designed for use on a gas grill to produce a smoky flavor when grilling foods. They also ensure that the wood produces smoke for a longer period and it does not burn out quickly. There are different kinds of smoker boxes:

  • under-grate smoker box
  • over-grate smoker box
  • Disposable smoker box
  • A free-standing smoker box

The next question that comes to mind is “how do they work?”

If you are using one on a gas grill, it is used for indirect cooking. One side is used for the food you want to cook and the other side will be for the smoker box. With an indirect cooking method, the cooking is low and slow without leaving the food burnt or too dry. Only one burner is needed, but if it seems hard to achieve the right temperature, you might decide to make use of another burner.

Follow these steps whenever you are using an over-grate smokers box to achieve an indirect cooking method:

  • Make sure you warm up the gas grill before usage by switching on the burners for about 15 minutes.
  • Fill the smoker box with wood chips
  • Then, you arrange the smoker box over the lit burner.
  • Add the food to the grill after the box begins to smoke. Then. Close the lid
  • Then, you monitor the temperature of the grill and ensure it is steady between 220°F and 250°F.
  • You keep smoking the meat until its internal temperature records 160°F
  • Then, you remove the food from the grill and take away all smoldering wood from the box.
  • Turn off the grill burners

However, if you wish to achieve a direct smoking method with an under-grate smokebox, the following steps are necessary:

  • Fill the box reasonably with a wood chunk
  • Then, you ignite the charcoal
  • Then, you place your food on the hot coal just under the grill grate
  • About 15 minutes after this, the wood would start smoking
  • Then, you place your food on the hot grill and close the lid.
  • After the food is cooked, remove it from the grill and take away all smoldering woods from the box

The smoker box comes with some advantages, which are listed below:

  • A smoker box helps in adding tasty flavors to the food
  • There are several models with different sizes and style
  • It can be used on both charcoal and gas grills
  • It is easy to use and maintain

Despite all these favorable features, it has some downsides, which are listed below:

  • Some models can be expensive
  • Controlling the temperature might be time-consuming
  • It takes up a lot of space on the grill

Vertical Water Smokers

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?This is a common type of smoker that uses charcoal, gas, or electricity as its source of heat. It has good temperature control and is easy to use. This makes it ideal for beginners. There are three parts of vertical water smokers:

  • The cooking chamber
  • The water pan
  • The bottom

The water chamber is designed with a door that allows you to add more fuel or water to the smoker to maintain your target temperature. The bottom is where the heat source is located. This helps in heating the whole smoker. The heat travels upwards to heat the water pan. The water is needed to add moisture to the smoke which ensures the right environment to produce a tender result. Some of its admirable features are listed below:

  • They have high efficiency
  • Its small size ensures you use less fuel to operate them.
  • They are easy to handle. All you need to do is to light up the fire and place the meat.

Yet, the obvious downside of this smoker is that anytime you check the mean, smoke can escape which can harm your food.

Large Commercial Smokers

9 Most Common Types of Smokers: Which One to Choose?These are used in making different kinds of foods, including brisket, roasted meat, and smoked meat. They come in several capacities, features, and functions. How do they work?

You heat wet wood chips until they produce smoke. This cooks the food and gives it the perfect smoky flavor that is often typical of an open grill. They are mostly used indoors, and they are ideal for various establishments that are short on space.

There is a great selection of this model that is tailored to meet your full requirements. However, they are quite expensive to acquire.

Final Thoughts

The perfect use of a smoker opens you up to a new world of great culinary experience. There are several benefits that are associated with smoking your food. Apart from the supreme smoky flavor, some indigenous cultures keep their food safe from bugs by using wood smoking. Besides this, the drying effect of smoking helps in preserving food by rendering it inhabitable for bacteria. Smoking is best carried out by using the right smoker.

As already mentioned in the article, smokers come in different sizes, shapes, modes of operation, and designs. Their features and functions are perfectly designed to meet the requirements of different kinds of users: the beginners and the pitmasters. Hence, it is important to carefully consider the features that will suit your requirements before acquiring a smoker. They are readily available to purchase and getting the right one will give you the wonderful experience you desire.

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