Types of Smokers (Finding the Perfect Match for You)

Well, well, well, look who’s ready to take their meat game to the next level! That’s right, we’re talking about smokers – the ultimate tool for achieving that perfectly smoky, melt-in-your-mouth flavor.

But with so many types of smokers out there, how do you know which one is right for you?

Fear not, my fellow carnivores, because today we’re breaking down the different types of smokers and what sets them apart. So sit back, relax, and get ready to become the barbecue boss you were always meant to be.

Types of Smokers

There is a common misconception that there is only one type of smoker out there, and you either have one, or you don’t. This couldn’t be further from the truth! From fuel sources to layouts, you truly have your choice when it comes to selecting a smoker. 

Read on to learn all about the different types of smokers and which is best for your household!

Propane/Gas Smokers

Gas smokers are those which are heated using propane or natural gas. If you have a natural gas hookup at home, you can easily use it to power one of these smokers, or you can purchase a propane canister at most gas stations. 

These smokers are typically designed to look like a cabinet, meaning there is a door you open and shut and various shelves for smoking meat. These smokers are usually high-capacity and can smoke many meats at once. 

In addition to the propane canister, you will also need some wood chips in order to get the smoke going in this smoker. While gas smokers are fairly easy to use, there are easier options. It’s easy to control the temperature, and these smokers head up quickly. 

One downside is propane canisters don’t last long, meaning you’ll need to have a few on hand if you plan to smoke low and slow. Also, these smokers, while they are light enough to take on the go, require so many additional things (wood chips and propane) that you may decide it isn’t worth the hassle to take it on the go. 

Lastly, you’ll need to understand how to store your propane tanks to avoid explosions. If you find a leak, here’s how to fix a leaky propane tank.

Key Features:

Fuel Type: Propane/Gas and Wood Chips

Cost: mid-range

Portability: 4/10 (you have to bring the propane and wood chips everywhere)

Easy to Clean?: Yes

Easy to Use?: Yes

Size: Large, you can smoke many items at once

Our Top Picks >> Best Propane Smokers

Masterbuilt Propane Smoker with Thermostat Control, 40 inch
Buy Now On Amazon
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05/25/2024 05:57 am GMT

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers are a favorite because there is so much variety to them. You’ve got small charcoal smokers that can easily go camping and large ones that you wouldn’t dream of moving. 

Charcoal smokers are great because everything you smoke will come out with a delicious charcoal taste without you even needing to try. These smokers do require some babysitting, though, making it difficult to leave the house during your smoking session. Additionally, you might find that charcoal smoking produces uneven cooking results. 

With a charcoal smoker, you can also use wood chips to enhance the flavor of your meats and customize your smoking experience. But because of all the babysitting involved, as well as the difficulty in getting most charcoal smokers started, we don’t recommend these for beginner smokers. 

Because charcoal smokers come in so many sizes, some can fit lots of meats, while others will leave you wishing for more space, so be sure to consider what you plan to smoke before you buy. 

There are also gravity-fed charcoal smokers to consider, which give you the ease of a pellet grill with the smoke of a traditional charcoal smoker.

Editor’s Note: A Kamado grill is a type of charcoal smoker and have an egg shape (like the Big Green Egg). This specific type of charcoal smoker is additionally difficult to take on the go because the ceramic is incredibly heavy. 

Key Features:

Fuel Type: Charcoal

Cost: low to mid-range

Portability: 7/10 (depends on the size you choose)

Easy to Clean?: Yes

Easy to Use?: No

Size: Variable, pick the one that suits you

Our Top Picks >> Best Charcoal Smokers

Masterbuilt MB20041220 Gravity Series 1050 Digital Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combo, 1050 sq. in, Black
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05/24/2024 08:33 pm GMT

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers are one of our favorite types of smokers, and for a good reason. They are easy to use and can also be used for other methods of cooking like grilling and as an oven. 

Because pellet smokers use wood pellets for fuel, you can easily adjust the taste of your food by switching out the pellets. These smokers also self-regulate, making it easy to get them set up and then leave them for the day while your precious dinner smokes. Many of them also have wi-fi connectivity for this exact reason, so you can watch your smoker from afar. 

Pellet smokers need to be plugged in, making them a bit difficult to take on the go, but it is possible. There are some smaller pellet grills, such as the Davy Crockett that makes on the go smoking (and grilling) a cinch! If you buy a large pellet grill, it will likely be too large to move. 

We also like the easy cleaning of this grill, and they are great for first-time smokers who don’t have much experience as they are easy to light and adjust the temperature as needed. 

Key Features:

Fuel Type: Wood Pellets and Electricity

Cost: mid to high

Portability: 3/10 (Some are, but most are quite bulky)

Easy to Clean?: Yes

Easy to Use?: Yes

Size: Variable, but can fit as much as a grill usually

Our Top Picks >> Best Pellet Smokers

Z GRILLS Wood Pellet Grill, 550C
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05/24/2024 03:42 pm GMT

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers are the perfect smoker for those who truly want to leave their smoker unattended. Because it is electrically powered, there is no flame you need to worry about getting out of control. There is also no need to carry around wood pellets, charcoal, or a propane tank when using your smoker. 

Most modern electrical smokers have Wifi connectivity which allows you to watch your meat from afar. While these smokers aren’t the lightest, they are typically easier to move than other smokers, as long as you are going somewhere with an outlet! 

You will still need some wood chips to create smoke, however, but you’ll need much less than a pellet grill since the smoker isn’t relying on these for heat. Most electrical smokers are set up in the vertical, cabinet design similar to propane smokers. 

Like pellet smokers, electrical smokers are easy to use, and easy to clean. They also tend to hold temperatures much better than other types of smokers. The only problem we see with an electric smoker is that it’s much harder to get the skin to crisp than with other smokers. 

Key Features:

Fuel Type: Electricity (wood chips)

Cost: mid to high

Portability: 4/10 (These can be portable but they aren’t always)

Easy to Clean?: Yes

Easy to Use?: Yes

Size: Large, you can smoke many items at once

Our Top Pick >> Best Electric Smokers

Bradley Smoker Digital 4-Rack Electric Outdoor BBQ Smoker, Vertical Food Smoker
$429.00 $399.99
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05/26/2024 12:44 am GMT

Offset Smokers

Offset smokers are the largest of all smoker varieties and are commonly seen in commercial environments. But if you have a large family to feed, this is one of the few smokers you will find with enough space.

Offset smokers can be either wood pellet or charcoal powered and typically have a firebox similar to a pellet grill, but uses a much more complicated process to heat the food. Offset smokers often have lots of available accessories and upgrades that aren’t available for other smokers.

These grills are huge, however, so unless you get a trailer hitch, you won’t be taking this smoker anywhere. It is also not recommended for new smokers to purchase an offset smoker as they take some skill to master. You will also need lots of time to start the smoker as well as time to check in on the meat while it cooks. 

Key Features:

Fuel Type: Wood chips/pellets or charcoal

Cost: mid to high (don’t buy the cheap ones)

Portability: 1/10 

Easy to Clean?: No

Easy to Use?: No

Size: Massive, the biggest smokers available

Our Top Picks >> Best Offset Smokers

Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker
Buy Now On Amazon
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05/24/2024 10:08 pm GMT

Are Kettle Grills Considered Smokers?

While a kettle grill can certainly smoke some delicious food, it might not be the best choice for someone who’s serious about smoking.

Sure, you can make do with a kettle grill and get some great flavor, but a dedicated smoker will give you more control over the temperature and airflow – two key factors in achieving that perfect smoky flavor.

Plus, a smoker is designed specifically for smoking, which means you’ll have more space to smoke larger cuts of meat and even multiple items at once. So, while a kettle grill might be a good starting point for beginners, if you’re ready to take your smoking game to the next level, it’s worth investing in a dedicated smoker.

How to Choose the Right Smoker

Now that you’ve seen the full range of smoker options, it’s time to talk about how you pick. I recommend asking yourself the following questions and basing your smoker choice on your answers.

Do You Want to Take Your Smoker on the Go?

If you are planning to camp or travel with your smoker, this will have a huge impact on the one you pick. If you answered yes to this question, then you should start your search with a charcoal or electric smoker that is small enough to pack in your vehicle. Just remember the meats you want to smoke should be small too. 

You’ll also need to consider the amount of fuel you will need to carry with you and how you will power your smoker on the go. For those who truly want to travel, a small pellet grill might give you more versatility and options than other types of smokers. 

Related >> Pellet Smokers vs Electric Smokers

Do You Know How to Smoke?

Are you a master smoker? Or just starting out? Those who have experience can truly pick any smoker on the list. A beginner, however, should stick with a pellet grill or electric smoker as the other types of smokers can be difficult to get a nice, even, cook out of it even if you don’t know what you are doing. 

Related >> Propane Smokers vs Pellet Smokers

Do You Want to Use Your Smoker for Other Purposes?

If you already have a grill, skip this question. But if you are looking for something that can grill and smoke, you should consider either a pellet grill or a Kamado grill, both of which can grill, bake, and smoke! 

Related >> Kamado Grill vs Pellet Grill

What’s Your Smoking Style?

Do you like to check on your meat every hour? Or do you prefer a set-it-and-leave-it approach? Those who like to check, a charcoal or propane smoker is fine for you. But for those who want to set it and leave it, you’ll need to get a pellet grill or electric smoker. 

What Do You Want to Smoke?

If you are smoking a gigantic prime rib every weekend, then you will need a smoker that fits a prime rib–which will eliminate many of the narrow vertical smokers (typically propane, electric, and charcoal). But if you prefer to smoke beef jerky, salmon, and all kinds of smaller cuts of meat, then you probably want all the shelves you will find in a vertical smoker. 

Related >> Best Meats To Smoke

How Much Space Do You Have?

For those in an apartment, you will probably be restricted to a small electric or propane smoker. But if you have all the space, you can grab any smoker you want, even the offset one!

Related >> Best Portable Pellet Grills

What’s the Budget?

Clearly, if you have an unlimited budget, then we recommend a pellet grill that will give you the best bang for your buck. But if you need something to fit in a smaller budget, start with an electric or propane smoker that can be acquired for less. 

How Many Are You Cooking For?

Do you have a family of 9 like me? Or is it just you and your significant other? With just two of you, a small pellet grill will work just fine, but if you need to cook for a lot of people, then you’re going to have to spend up for a large pellet grill or go with a different type of smoker.

And for those who are smoking commercially, grab that offset smoker and put it to use! 

Photo of author

Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

2 thoughts on “Types of Smokers (Finding the Perfect Match for You)”

  1. I have a Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combo, and it can Smoke, Grill, Bake, Sear, Warm, BBQ, Roast and Braise. I so love it. My Buddy has a small Pellet smoker and we did a comparison cook on ribs, and all liked my ribs better than his

    • I love my Masterbuilt Gravity Series as well! It’s my favorite grill of all-time, and that’s saying a lot from a guy who has 9 grills currently in his garage.


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