Which electric smoker is best?
Nothing compares to the rustic, complex, slightly sweet flavor of properly smoked food. While typical smoked meats get most of the glory, mesquite-infused fish, vegetables and even cheeses are delicious and can elevate a meal to the next level of deliciousness.
The problem with many traditional smokers, like pellet grills or barrel smokers, is that they can be messy, full of tar and soot and take a considerable amount of work to maintain. Electric smokers overcome that by minimizing flames and maximizing smoke output for a consistent and satisfying end result.
The most advanced electric smoker on the market is the Masterbuilt Bluetooth, which comes in two sizes and lets you monitor progress from anywhere your Bluetooth-enabled device is in range.
What to know before you buy an electric smoker
Hot smoking vs. cold smoking
The basic smoking process involves exposing uncooked food to heavy smoke for at least a couple hours to impart flavor. While the smoke itself is a necessary component, high heat isn’t required. You can smoke foods one of two ways.
Hot smoking: The simplest way is to start the smoking and cooking processes at the same time and keep the heat high enough, so when you’re finished smoking, your food is also done cooking.
Cold smoking: The alternative is to introduce the smoke at a low temperature in order to add flavor without beginning the cooking process. While this adds the extra step of actually cooking raw meat and vegetables later, it offers an important benefit.
Cold smoking can provide greater control over the amount of smoke flavor imbued and the ultimate temperature of your meat. For example, you can’t really hot smoke hamburgers. You could try, but they’d come out either gray and mushy or leathery and inedible. Instead, you can cold smoke the raw patties and then toss the burgers on the grill or stove when it’s time to cook dinner. Similarly, cold smoking is basically a must if you’re working with fish, which has a very short cooking time compared to large cuts of meat. Using an electric smoker at low temperatures also lets you add delicious complexity to foods, such as cheeses and raw salad vegetables, without melting or overcooking them.
There are some dedicated cold smokers that are perfect choices if you plan to finish your meals using a grill, stove or oven. On the other hand, you can set most hot smokers to low enough temperatures for cold smoking, but not all, so pay careful attention to a unit’s minimum temperature if you think you’ll be using both methods.
What to look for in a quality electric smoker
Pay attention to the door and seams
A smoker’s general construction can make a big difference in the final product. Most premium options have rolled and welded seams that reliably hold smoke in. There are a couple popular cold smokers with front-loading designs that have small gaps between the door and the walls. Some users take a DIY approach to slightly modify and improve the seal, while others just live with it. On the other hand, if a hot smoker tends to leak smoke, it’s best to avoid it.
Analog vs. digital controls
Naturally, analog controls ensure there are no electronic parts to break. However, beware of digital controls on lesser-known smokers. If you want something with advanced controls, it’s best to stick to highly reputable brands.
If you’re OK with the actual controls being analog, a digital thermometer like the Bluetooth-enabled NutriChef Smart adds a massive amount of convenience. As long as you place it carefully in the smoker and have a compatible device with Bluetooth connectivity, you can monitor temperatures from the comfort of your home. One of the top smokers on the market from Masterbuilt offers integrated Bluetooth functionality that includes remote temperature control.
How much you can expect to spend on an electric smoker
The least expensive options are available for around $100, while the best of the best top out at $400 or more.
Electric smoker FAQ
Can I use an electric smoker on my apartment balcony?
A. Usually you can, and in fact they’re often the only type of smoker you can use. Many states and municipalities have laws against open flames on balconies in multi-dwelling residences. Even if your locale doesn’t have those laws, there may be a similar clause in your lease. Electric smokers are specifically designed to eliminate gas or wood heat sources, and they skate around the “open flame” classification that lawmakers and landlords refer to. With that in mind, it may still be worth double-checking your lease or even asking your landlord, because even cold smokers still produce soot that can damage building materials.
Do electric smokers work in the cold?
A. They can, but you might need to take some special measures. The classic, 8-hour slow smoking process relies on a consistent heat level. It’s not a high heat level, but for best results, it needs to stay at the same level from start to finish. If you live in a very cold area or are smoking during winter, it can be remarkably difficult to maintain that temperature. Some smokers offer matching heat shields (usually sold separately), but many leave you to fend for yourself with a DIY wind screen.
What’s the best electric smoker to buy?
Top electric smoker
What you need to know: From a well-known manufacturer of grills, this deluxe electric smoker offers reliable digital controls.
What you’ll love: It offers 725 square inches of space, so you shouldn’t have any trouble smoking enough food to feed the whole family multiple times. Its double-walled construction ensures good performance in most weather, and the LED control panel is easy to read and monitor.
What you should consider: It is among the most expensive choices.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top electric smoker for the money
What you need to know: Very little of the competition does cold smoking as well and as easily as this moderately priced option.
What you’ll love: It doesn’t cost much and comes in both top- and front-loading versions. Because it doesn’t actually cook anything, it’s the ideal choice for smoking burgers, fish and even cheese and raw vegetables. If you don’t have quite enough space for it, consider the Smokehouse Little Chief, which is every bit as great, but just a little smaller.
What you should consider: Its power source is AC/DC, which is less convenient than most others that are corded electric.
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This midrange smoker works at high and low temperatures and doesn’t cost a fortune.
What you’ll love: It’s especially simple, as there aren’t any digital controls to go haywire. It holds up relatively well in cool and windy conditions, thanks to its above-average construction quality and dependable corner seams. Inside are multiple removable racks and a 1,000-watt element, and the whole thing sits on four sturdy feet to help avoid damaging or burning the ground beneath it.
What you should consider: You might as well assume that the thermostat on an analog model is going to be off by a decent amount. Because temperature precision is important, a digital thermometer like the ThermoPro TP-16 is a must-have.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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