Barbecue smokers are a wonderful addition to your summer cooking arsenal. While you may not get the charred flavor that you'd get on a traditional grill, the low-and-slow cooking method a smoker produces will have your next rack of ribs falling off the bone and loaded with flavor.
Before you pick your smoker, it's important to know what exactly a smoker is, how it works and which smoker will be the perfect fit for you.
A barbecue smoker is a cooking appliance that slowly cooks food with low heat. The food is smoked by burning flavored wood chunks, which enhances the food's flavor. A barbecue smoker can smoke meat, fish, cheese and vegetables (although cheeses and vegetables are cold smoked so the cheese doesn't melt and the vegetables don't dry out).
Smokers work by using fuel to create a heated, smoky environment that reaches a low temperature between 200-300 degrees. The heating source is placed far away from the food and wood chunks are burned slowly to create the smokey flavor. Wood chunks can come in a variety of flavors, such as hickory, applewood and mesquite.
When choosing a quality barbecue smoker, it's important to take few factors into consideration. You want a smoker that cooks food at a consistently low temperature and can slowly burn multiple chunks of wood to maintain a steady stream of smoke. Electric, propane and pellet models of smokers are simple to work with, as you only have to set the temperature and time, and it'll do the rest. Charcoal requires more personal maintenance, but the quality of flavor is superior to other models.
Smokers can cost anywhere from $200 to over $10,000. The pricier smokers tend to be for experienced home cooks and professional chefs, whereas the simple backyard smokers are much more affordable and work well. The cost will depend on the brand, model and quality of the appliance. Here are some of the highest quality barbecue smokers for under $300:
The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker tops the list of smokers under $300. This charcoal smoker is made of porcelain-enameled steel and has an aluminum shield that is rust-resistant. It comes in three sizes and offers a built-in thermometer that allows you to check on the food without opening the lid. There are two cooking racks and a porcelain-enameled water pan for keeping the meat moist. This smoker comes with a 10-year limited warranty.
The Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smoker is number one for electric models. At under $200, this smoker has four smoking racks that allow you to cook large amounts of food for up to 24 hours at a time. It also has a built-in digital thermometer, digital timer controls, and an automatic shut-off safety function to avoid the smoker overheating
The Big Easy Smoker, Roaster and Grill by Char-Broil is a propane-based appliance. This three-in-one barbecue smokes, roasts and grills a variety of foods. It comes with TRU-infrared technology that distributes heat in the smoker to cook your food evenly while also reducing flare-ups by creating a barrier between the heat source and your food. This smoker can house up to 25 pounds in the roasting basket and has an internal stainless steel smoker box. Additional benefits to this smoker include temperature control, a drip tray and rotary ignition.