My Top Picks for Best Electric Smoker – And Why
There are many excellent electric smokers out there, and many more opinions on which one is best.
If you ask me (and a lot of other people) though, the following deliver the most bang for your buck. The picks are split up by the following price categories:
1) up to $200; 2) up to $300; and 3) up to $600.
Sound good? Here we go!
Best Smoker For Under $200
Old Smokey Electric Smoker
This was the easiest price class to decide. In my opinion, if you are on a tight budget, definitely go with the Old Smokey Electric Smoker.
The Old Smokey is a simple drum-style vertical smoker that’s about 29 inches high, 15 inches in diameter, and comes with two smoking racks. But don’t let its simplicity fool you – it smokes food wonderfully!
As many astute shoppers will notice, the Old Smokey does not use any insulated wall. This is a big difference compared to the thick-walled higher price-class smokers below, which are very good at keeping temperatures stable in the face of fluctuating external conditions. So, why doesn’t this lack of an insulated space make the Old Smokey ineffective?
The countervailing factor here that largely mitigates the thin wall of the Old Smokey is its virtually airtight construction and very powerful heating element. Specifically, the 1,250-watt element, coupled to the simple yet effective electric thermostat, allows the cooking chamber to battle temperature drops. The unit is reported to be able to reach and maintain an operating temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also impressive is this smoker’s overall quality and durability. The reviews of this model are replete with comments from users who’ve used theirs for many years without issue.
So what’s the downside?
Even with a powerful element, the lack of an insulated cavity may cause some measure of temperature flux, particularly in volatile weather. Also, there are some isolated reviewers who complain that the smoker is too airtight, which they say prevents it from smoking properly and makes food rubbery. This minority view seems odd, particularly in light of the long history of outstanding reviews among die-hard smoking forum members. In any event, as we explain in our review of this smoker, all you would need to do to compensate is crack the cover a bit to get more oxygen into the chips. You can also skip the water tray altogether (and we’d recommend you do), since humidity is much easier to control in the Old Smokey.
Also keep in mind that with only two roughly 14 inch-diameter cooking grates, you are limited as to how much food you can smoke, but for those cooking for a few people or a small group, it should be sufficient.
Finally, please don’t forget that this model does not come with a temperature gauge standard. We strongly to use any smoker with a gauge; it’s nearly impossible to have consistently good results without one. You can pick up an inexpensive Old Smokey compatible 2-inch gauge here.
In sum, I think the Old Smokey is an easy choice for those seeking a very budget oriented smoker that can still perform and last. For more info, click here for a full review on the Old Smokey!
Best Smoker For $300 or Less
Smokin-It Model #1 Electric Smoker
This was a difficult choice, but I’m confident that the Smokin-It Model #1 is the best electric model you can buy for around $300. Yes, the obvious honorable mention here is the Masterbuilt 20070213 GEN II 30″ Electric Digital Smokehouse, which is a bit cheaper and loved by many; it also has a digital thermostat. Nevertheless, you simply cannot compare it to the value, quality and all-around durability of the Smokin-It Model #1.
Let me explain.
While the Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse is a one of the most often-mentioned electric smokers in the smoking forums in terms of its performance and value, a great many of these mentions surround its various points of failure. For example, while the digital thermostatic control adds a large measure of convenience, the internal probe is notorious for at times being way off the actual set point, sometimes up to 30 degrees off! As a result, many veteran smokers who use the Masterbuilt do so with an aftermarket remote control probe. Many users also complain of low smoke production, and strongly recommend using the Masterbuilt with the A-maze-n Pellet Smoker – a specially designed tray that burns sawdust or pellets to dramatically increase smoke production. Of course, all of these extra items will add about $100 more to the purchase price!
Finally, the word on the street is that Masterbuilt seems to have some issues with the heating element. In all fairness, this is often the weak point in most smokers; however, failure of the heating elements in the Masterbuilt is a topic that litters the forums. Replacing an element is possible, but usually quite costly.
In contrast, while the Smoking-It Model #1 does not have digital thermostatic control, the electric rheostat is very capable and true. In addition, the construction of the entire unit, including the fiberglass-insulated 18-guage all-steel cabinet, two steel racks, rolling casters, and the cabinet door is very solid and just feels well-made.
It’s a fairly lightweight (57 pounds) and compact electric smoker (12-1/2″ by 13-1/2″ by 17-1/4″), but can smoke up to 22 pounds of meat at a time, which is plenty for the average smoking enthusiast. The 350-watt heating element draws 3 amps and 120 volts, and is coupled to an LED indicator. The firebox, like the rest of the unit is stainless steel. And while the heating element draws very little electricity, the very well-insulated steel cabinet allows the smoker run at operating temperatures between 100F to 250F, making it an efficient model for very long smokes.
It comes fully assembled (except for the casters) and with a heavy-duty 12-foot power cord.
While I can drone on and on about this great little electric smoker, to sum up, the reason why it’s my favorite electric smoker for $300 or less is that it’s extremely well-built, durable, and, most of all, simple.
Best Smoker For $600 or Less:
Smokin-It Model #2 & Model #3
Let me start by saying that if you can afford to buy the Cookshack Smokette Elite, then I encourage you to do so, as it is widely considered to be the top-of-the-line model among the most die-hard electric smokers. However, if you want a comparable level of build quality/performance; are not wedded to digital controls; and want extra capacity, the Smokin-It Model #2 or Model #3 are easily the best electric smokers available for under $600 in my opinion.
The CookShack and Smokin-It models are actually very similar – at bottom, they’re both high-quality insulated steel boxes with a controlled heating element. The major distinctions of the CookShack are two: 1) the digital controls; and 2) that the CookShack can get hotter, up to around 300 degrees F. However, as a practical matter, the Smokin-It’s analog controls are very solid and, while they don’t hold temperature to the same degree as the CookShack, are very consistent and are likely to exceed the expectations of most users. And with respect to the higher temperatures of the CookShack, this is not really a material advantage in my view since smoking at 300 degrees F is typically not warranted for most foods anyway. If you’re interested, here’s a brief forum exchange discussing the subject.
So there’s no big disadvantage of the Smokin-It compared to the CookShack Smokette Elite – but what about its advantages?
The big advantage of both the #2 and #3 Smokin-It models (besides price of course) is capacity. For example, the CookShack Smokette Elite has a maximum rated capacity of 25 pounds. Coincidentally, this is roughly the same capacity as the Smokin-It Model #1 discussed above; compare this to the #2 and #3 Smokin-It models, which have 35 and 45-pound capacities, respectively! That’s a big difference if you are cooking for a big group.
As a general matter, I like the Smokin-It Models #2 and #3 for similar reasons as stated for the #1 Model. Aside from capacity, the Model #2 differs from the #1 in that it comes with a 700-watt heating element and uses three wire shelves. The Model #3 goes farther, featuring a 1200-watt element and four wire shelves. Like the #1, both use a rheostat control that operates between 100 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Just keep in mind that these are considerably more heavy units: specifically, the #2 weighs about 79 pounds and the #3 – a whopping 135 pounds!
Both Models #2 and #3 are typically available for less than $600, with the #3 being only about $100 more than the #2 at the time of this writing. Quite frankly, if you are anticipating cooking for lots of people, then there is no reason not to go for the Model #3, since dollar-for-dollar, it provides the most smoking capacity and value of all three. However, if you have more modest needs, it is probably wise to go smaller, a #2 or #1, as they will be easier to manage and more efficient (no sense smoking an empty space).
Very Honorable Mentions
I would be remiss if I failed to discuss two very capable and great value smokers, which just barely got edged out by the models discussed above. Either of these would be great electric smokers and unlikely to disappoint.
Masterbuilt 20070213 GEN II 30″ Electric Digital Smokehouse
You really have to love the Gen II Digital Smokehouse for all of the technology it brings for the price.
The digital thermostatic control is a very convenient feature that really does allow the unit to run almost unattended. And while the internal probes do sometimes read off, once you figure out by how much, you can usually just set it higher or lower as needed to compensate.
Also nice about the Digital Smokehouse is that it’s remarkably well-constructed, with a thick insulated cabinet that holds temperature well. It’s also very roomy with four racks that provide 730 square inches of smoking surface. Add to that an impressive 800-watt heating element that can get the box up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have a one electric smoker well-designed to maintain consistent temps despite fluctuating and cooler outside temperatures.
Finally, on the issue of the heating element noted earlier, we understand that this part is more easily replaceable on this second-generation version. That’s great news, and could force us to rethink our pick for best electric smoker under $300, if it otherwise holds up. Given that this is a relatively new model, however, only time will tell for sure.
In short, I think that this is an outstanding smoker that, while not quite as durable as the Smokin-It, offers excellent value and should be strongly considered by anyone who prefers digital controls and seeks nearly hands-off operation.
SmokinTex 1400 Pro Series Electric Smoker
The SmokinTex 1400 matches up almost identically with the Smokin-It Model #2: same all-steel box construction with casters; same smoking capacity; same 700-watt heating element; and same 3-shelve rack setup.
The only notable differences are, as far as we can tell, that the SmokinTex has been around longer and seems to be slightly more expensive than the Smokin-It models.
So why did it get the honorable mention spot? I just couldn’t find a good reason why you should spend more for it, rather than going for the virtually identical Smokin-It Model #2. It’s as simple as that. Moreover, the Smokin-It models have really been getting rave reviews lately.
At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of brand preference. Here’s a forum thread that highlights some of the opinions on the SmokeTex vs. Smokin-It. As you will see though, people seem to like both smokers fairly equally!