Smoking can be one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable ways to cook. It is certainly unique, and the flavors associated with smoked foods are very difficult to recreate in any other way.
As barbecuing, grilling and smoking all become more and more popular, we’re looking at the best equipment for these areas. Here, we focus on the best budget smokers under $300.
|Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker||$$|
|Masterbuilt 20050116 Portable Gas Smoker||$$$|
|Masterbuilt 20071117 30″ Digital Electric Smoker||$|
If all you need is a smoker for home use then it doesn’t have to set you back a fortune.
Types of Smoker
Electric smokers are pretty popular. They’re very simple to use and are more like an oven. The food can taste really good, but it isn’t necessarily the traditional smoky flavor.
The attraction is ease of use and a steady temperature as opposed to more difficult methods which can yield a better taste.
Electric smokers aren’t necessarily bad, and there are certainly other ways to add some smoke to the flavor. If you are specifically interested in electric smokers you can have a look at our reviews here.
Charcoal smokers are perhaps the most ‘traditional’ method, and the charcoal is often combined with wood.
This is the way smokehouses and pit masters in competitions will often smoke and is arguably the best method in terms of taste.
These smokers can be difficult to control dependent on their design, and some of them have thermostats which can make life easier. If you are specifically interested in charcoal smokers have a look at our reviews here.
Gas smokers are another option, and are relatively easy to just set off and forget about. The flavor once again is affected by the gas, so whether this is the best choice may depend on what sort of taste you are looking for.
Many people absolutely love the flavor of a gas smoker. Just like a gas oven, it is easy to keep a stable temperature, which is one of the reasons these smokers are really popular.
Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Cooker
Weber is a name which goes hand in hand with barbecues and smoking. Their range of smokers is impressive, and the Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain may be the best of any charcoal smokers you can buy at this price.
It is available in a few different sizes, and the smaller 14 inch or 18 inch designs are likely to fit the $300 budget, whereas the larger size may be more expensive.
For a smoker at this price, the features are impressive. Weber has prioritized temperature control. Getting temperatures wrong or not being able to keep a steady temperature is one of the most common ways smoking can be ruined.
This smoker tackles this with a porcelain charcoal chamber which concentrates the charcoal and wood in one smaller area, this helps the temperature to stay steady.
In terms of controlling the temperature, the aluminium door is designed for quickly and easily adding more fuel when you need to. If you need to adjust the airflow there are dampers for this and the process couldn’t be simpler.
Tracking the temperature is easy too. Not only is there an inbuilt thermometer in the lid, there is also a grommet designed for easy access to probe the meat with a meat thermometer.
The Smokey Mountain cooker also has space for a built in porcelain-enameled pan which is designed for adding water to and keeping moisture in the meat. Some have even experimented with other liquids such as apple juice and beer.
In terms of the size, the fact that there is a 22 inch model of this may make you think you need the larger size, but the 14 and 18 inch are actually pretty decently sized, and enough for lots of different cuts of meat including shoulders and briskets.
- Easy to track the temperature.
- Concentrates charcoal for a more even smoke and traditional charcoal smoked flavor.
- Easy to include wood, wood chips and water for better moisture and flavor.
- Available in different sizes to suit your needs.
- Temperature can fluctuate, as is normal for a charcoal smoker. This means you need to keep a closer eye on it.
- A little on the expensive end of the ‘budget’ market.
Masterbuilt 20050116 Portable Gas Smoker – Best Portable Smoker
It is easy to see why portable smokers are so popular. They’re great for camping trips and for taking to the beach or other days out, but they can also be used at home.
A portable smoker such as this is enough to smoke a significant amount of food. This isn’t the smoking equivalent of a disposable BBQ, and there is plenty of room in spite of it being easy to transport from place to place.
This amazing portability comes from the folding legs and the ability to wheel it around. In spite of being relatively big, it also only weighs 20 lb which is next to nothing for taking out on a camping trip.
In terms of fueling your Masterbuilt smoker up, you can either use 1 lb propane cylinders which will work with it automatically, or there is the option to purchase an adapter and use it with a larger gas tank.
This is probably recommended if you’re going to use the smoker at home a lot as the smaller cylinders will run out fast.
This has a thermostat which can be set at smoking temperatures of around 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit with ease.
Like many of the other smokers out there, this has some extra features to give you control over the taste.
A water pan and wood chip tray are included so you can experiment with more flavors and ingredients that the professional smokers are using.
The price point of this smoker is attractive for many of us too. Not only is this under $300, it can be picked up for under $100.
Of course, it does have a few shortcomings due to the price and the fact that it is portable, but generally this is a top quality smoker.
- Easy to keep temperature roughly in the same place for long periods of time.
- Lightweight and portable, great for road trips and camping.
- Large capacity, enough for a whole turkey or a whole ham!
- The temperature does fluctuate slightly and needs to be kept an eye on.
- Checking the flame requires the door to be opened which may lower the temperature temporarily.
Masterbuilt 20071117 30″ Digital Electric Smoker – Best Electric Smoker Under $300
Whatever your thoughts on electric smokers, they certainly are convenient, and their sales have grown a lot in recent years.
Some smoking purists will say they’re not the same, and electric smokers won’t be allowed in any competitions, but if you are looking for convenience then look no further.
The Masterbuilt 20071117 is one of the top electric smokers on the market, and allows you to swap awkward, fluctuating temperatures for a steady flow of heat.
Contrary to what you may believe about electric smokers, they can’t be used indoors, and they are still able to generate a smokey taste in the food, it is just tougher to get the authentic BBQ style (though there are ways around this).
If ‘set and forget’ is the name of the game for you, then this could be the smoker for you. The control panel is like something you would see on a slow cooker or similar appliance, all you have to do is set the time and temperature and come back to it when it is ready.
The capacity of the smoker is impressive too. The manufacturer description claims it can hold six whole chickens or up to eight racks of ribs. There is plenty of room for enough meat to feed a lot of people.
How does the smokey flavor come into play with a product that is clearly electric? Well, this is quite clever. The Masterbuilt lets you put wood chips into a tray designed for creating smoke which flows up and through the meat.
Wood chips can be added via a clever system on the side of the smoker which means you don’t even have to open it up, you can add chips mid-smoke.
Choosing between applewood, hickory, alder and other woods can give you different classic barbecue flavors.
The moisture in the smoker is controlled via an air damper system. This is a brilliant way of ensuring the meat is smoked thoroughly and keeps its succulent and moist texture when it is time to serve it up.
- One of the easiest smokers to use you could ever imagine.
- Wood chips can be added to alter the flavor and smoking style.
- Loads of room spread over four removable racks.
- Difficult to replicate traditional smoker flavors.
There is a lot of variation in the taste provided as well as different quirks of use for each type of smoker. There are, however, some constants that you need to look out for. The very basic features and functionality every smoker should have.
Temperature Control, Stability and Range.
Anyone who has done even a small amount of smoking before will know that one of the most vital aspects is controlling the temperature.
Ordinarily, you will want the temperature to remain more or less the same throughout the whole cook, this is where the ‘low and slow’ tagline comes from.
The three things to look out for in terms of temperature are:
- Control. How easy is it to alter the temperature? Can you control the airflow and fuel during cooking? Is there a thermostat to simply set the temperature and let it reach it on its own?
- Stability. The downfall of many smokers is the fact that the temperature can fluctuate a lot. This means you’re constantly trying to adjust and you can’t let the smoker do its thing while you sit back and relax. A little fluctuation is okay, and won’t significantly alter the final result, but if the temperature is constantly moving around then don’t expect an even cook.
- Range. Though most of your cooking can be done at around the 250 degrees Fahrenheit range, there are some times when you need to crank the heat, for warming sauces, ensuring poultry is cooked through or for finishing different cuts of meat. A smoker that you can crank up the heat on is vital and means everything can be done in the smoker with no need to use a grill.
The capacity of your smoker is another vital element. If you are smoking for a small family or perhaps just a few of your friends then most smokers, even smaller bullet-style smokers, will have room for your food.
However, smoking and entertaining go hand in hand and one of the main benefits of having a smoker is being able to cook large amounts of food with ease.
All of the smokers listed above have their capacity mentioned. Realistically, it is better to get a larger smoker than you anticipate needing so that when the day comes that you want to use it for a larger event then you have the option.
The best designs of smokers often have racks, which you can remove at will. This allows you to smoke multiple types of food without it coming into contact, and also means that you can maximize your space.