Of all the outdoor cooking products we carry, barbecue smokers might be the hardest for customers to sort through on their own. Different fuel types in the same category are one thing, but BBQ smokers also present varied configurations, cooking systems, and body types. Many manufacturers (along with your DIY drum smoker-obsessed cousin) have created their own version of the perfect smoker over the years, resulting in an offering of products as hazy as the smoke they produce.
We tackled all those differences while explaining how to buy a BBQ smoker, but we suspect you’re still looking for a guide to which models are better than others. That’s why we asked our experts, who have more than 20 years of experience testing and selling barbecue smokers, to separate our selection into 4 classifications — Luxury, Premium, Practical, and Entry-Level. We sorted each smoker according to its quality, performance, and features to give you a complete picture and simplify your shopping experience. Once you’ve identified which class best fits your lifestyle, most of the work is done!
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Luxury BBQ Smokers
- Constructed entirely from stainless steel, generally 304-grade for maximum durability
- Well-designed, long-lasting cooking machines make for a great investment
- Lifetime warranties from trustworthy brands like Cajun Grill and Lynx
- Unique cooking systems provide tons of unexpected cooking versatility
- Extra features like digital control panels and Wi-Fi connectivity provide a luxury experience
- Sealed cooking chambers and thick insulation hold in heat for efficient smoke sessions
Luxury barbecue smokers are built for years of high-level cooking before showing signs of deterioration, even for pitmasters who never take a weekend off. Most of them are constructed from all-304 stainless steel, with the lone exception being the 201-grade body of Cookshack Fast Eddy’s pellet smoker. Warranties in this class are slightly more varied, but there are a few standouts: Lynx Sonoma smokers come with lifetime coverage on the body of the smoker, while Cajun Grill Combeaux barbecue smokers carry a lifetime warranty for the entire unit.
High-quality materials do more than just provide durability — when paired with tight seals and thick insulation, they help these smokers retain heat extremely well. Heat retention is especially crucial for low-and-slow smoking, not to mention that it leads to greater fuel efficiency. With such solid performance, Luxury smokers have the chance to experiment with some truly interesting cooking systems.
BBQ smoking can be a very involved process, but Luxury models are packed with convenient features to make it easier than ever. The most notable feature might be found in Lynx Sonoma Wi-Fi Smart Smokers, which include a companion smartphone app so you can monitor and control internal temperatures without babysitting the smoker. And while Cookshack Fast Eddy’s pellet smokers have a proprietary time and temperature controller of their own, perhaps their most impressive feature is the oversized pellet hopper that can keep a 250-degree smoke going for 24 hours.
Premium BBQ Smokers
- Sturdily constructed from stainless steel or powder-coated steel
- Well-built using quality materials to perform for years without breaking down
- Most have solid warranties of up to 10 years
- Dependable cooking systems provide consistent results and tasty BBQ
- Smokers with digital control centers make smoking simple
- Thick insulation and tight seals help stabilize temperature for efficient cooks
- Can be built or slid into an outdoor kitchen island
Cookshack electric smokers and Smokin Tex electric smokers set the bar for Premium quality with respectably strong all-201 stainless steel, though it’s a clear step down from the 304-grade metal found in Luxury smokers. The Good-One offset smokers, meanwhile, have thick-gauge, powder-coated steel that retains heat while offering solid longevity outdoors. Warranties vary from as many as 10 years to as few as 2 years, so be sure to carefully weigh coverage when selecting a Premium BBQ smoker. When you have a high-quality smoker with solid protection, BBQs become that much more enjoyable.
Smokin Tex and Cookshack electric smokers perform at a high level without the hassle. Simply set the temperature and ensure there are wood chips inside the unit to create smoke, with the addition of a water pan to generate humidity if your vertical cabinet smoker allows for it (most do). The Good-One charcoal smokers require a bit more work, but their offset fireboxes contain cooking grates so they can be used as a grill alongside the smoking chamber. This incredible versatility lets you quickly switch between grilling and smoking, a scenario in which there are no wrong answers!
Highlighted by the digital controls from Cookshack and Smokin Tex BBQ Smokers, Premium features are there for your cooking enjoyment and convenience. These forward thinking brands designed warming modes to properly rest food after smoking, a thoughtful touch we can all appreciate. We’re also fond of the Smokin Tex Commercial BBQ smoker because of its 80-pound capacity, enough for the whole party. Not to be outdone, The Good-One Marshall Gen III charcoal offset smoker boasts 4 rib racks and an amazing 2,850 square inches of cooking area. Even the most ravenous rib-lovers won’t go hungry.
Top Premium Smoker Brands
Practical BBQ Smokers
- Made from lower-grade stainless steel, powder-coated steel, & painted steel
- Built of mixed but moderately thick steels that still retain heat decently
- Moderate warranties up to 10 years in length offer some peace of mind
- Vertical smokers that are budget-friendly, easy to use, & available in every fuel type
- Fun cooking systems & helpful features separate these smokers from the Entry-level class
- Some have digital controllers, but most use analog thermometers & simple controls
Practical smokers aren’t built for longevity, but rather to produce consistently great barbecue without breaking the bank. Unsurprisingly, this is the class in which quality starts to dip into lower-grade stainless steel, powder-coated steel, painted steel, or a mix of each type. Warranties also vary significantly — several brands offer just 1 year of protection, Pit Boss vertical smokers and Broil King smokers provide 5 years of coverage. Expect to replace these barbecue smokers more often than higher-class models.
Thanks to decently thick steel, Practical smokers retain enough heat to do their jobs well. Practical electric and pellet smokers in particular have solid insulation to help conserve fuel and hold stable temperatures. With every fuel type represented, though, cooking systems differ greatly from product to product. Most charcoal cabinet and vertical smokers are straightforward, but others have unorthodox methods of smoking. For instance, some solutions might involve packing charcoal around the exterior of the cooking drum to simulate a pressure cooker, which can present fairly juicy results.
These smokers have easy-to-use controls and intuitive interfaces that remove significant guesswork from BBQ smoking. Analog thermometers and control systems are the norm, as are simple damper settings for heat production and airflow. Notable features in the Practical class are the digital electric interfaces and Bluetooth connectivity of Pit Boss barbecue smokers which can be monitored from a connected device. Pit boss even includes a large viewing window so you can check on food without opening the door and losing precious smoke and heat.
Top Practical Smoker Brands
Entry-Level BBQ Smokers
- Designed mostly to meet a certain price point rather than a standard of performance
- Weber Smokey Mountain highlights the class in terms of construction and longevity
- Generally built from thin stainless steel, powder-coated steel, painted steel, and plated steel
- Limited warranties, except for Weber’s 10-year coverage package
- Lacks features that make smoking easy and increase versatility
Because Entry-level smokers are designed to meet low price points, their manufacturers make sacrifices in construction by using thinner materials of lower quality and investing less in seals and insulation. Expect to see mixed materials that top out at 201-grade stainless steel, along with short warranties covering only manufacturing defects. Unless it’s the Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker, that is — it boasts more solid construction, thicker-gauge steel, and a 10-year warranty from a trusted brand. This model is super reliable at a phenomenal price point, making it the king of Entry-level smokers.
Brands like Masterbuilt, Meco, and Cuisinart manufacture units with thermostats that make smoking easier for beginners, but the performance of Entry-level smokers in general depends heavily on the user’s knowledge and skill. While something like the Weber Smokey Mountain is an incredible smoker even in the hands of novices, most charcoal drum smokers have a steeper learning curve. It’ll take more time and effort to tend the fire and control the airflow of Entry-level barbecue smokers, so it might be best to look elsewhere if you need a more dependable and consistent cooker.
Masterbuilt has the most technologically advanced features: digital control centers, food-viewing windows, and internal thermostats, to name a few. Otherwise, Entry-level units have only analog systems that leave the user responsible for managing fuel, heat, airflow, and smoke. This makes for constant babysitting, which some may find daunting and others might view as simply part of the process. If you’re just starting in the BBQ smoking scene and want to practice on an inexpensive model with no frills, you couldn’t ask for a better cooker than the Weber Smokey Mountain.