Skip to content

What’s the Best Type of Smoker? Understand The 6 Options

PELLET SMOKER

Traeger Ironwood 885

CHARCOAL SMOKER

Weber Smokey Mountain 18 Inch

KAMADO

Kamado Joe Classic II

OFFSET SMOKER

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker

ELECTRIC SMOKER

Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker

PROPANE SMOKER

Camp Chef Smoke Vault

When you start looking into the best smokers, or what type of smoker should I buy, the info you’ll get can be more than a bit overwhelming.

From pellet smokers to electric, charcoal smokers to kamados, UDS’s (ugly drum smokers) to offsets, and electric to propane, there’s enough choice to make your head spin and keep your backyard empty.

The reality is that there’s no single one best type of smoker. Instead, it’s all about finding the best type of smoker for YOU and your needs. Your experience level, how much time you want to spend smoking, your preferred fuel type, and how much space you’ve got to house it are all factors you should consider before shopping further.

This article makes that easy.

Here you’ll find an outline of the major types of smokers along with a description of what they’re really like to use, and the pros and cons of each. There’s also info on how much you can expect to spend on each particular type of smoker, and links to our favorites once you decide which way to go.

Burning Brisket is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read our affiliate policy to learn more.

Why Trust Us?

We’re barbecue experts.

We review barbecues for a living and have used every type of smoker there is.

Burning Brisket bbqs lined up for review

So, instead of just spelting off the standard info, in this article we’ll share with you what each of these types of smokers is really like to use.

Whether you’re an absolute beginner, are looking to step into the world of competition, or simply want to experiment with another type of barbecue, we’ve been in your shoes and want to help make, not break, your barbecue game.

Table of Contents

The 6 Types of Smokers for Barbecue

Most smokers will fall into one of these 6 categories. And, although there can be exceptions to the rules, most brands and models will adhere to the commonalities listed in each category below.

Offset Smokers

Fuel type: Charcoal or wood

Suitable for: Smoking & grilling

Price guide: $$ – $$$$$

An offset smoker is simple, two-piece smoker that originated from the Texas oil fields and is commonly thought of as the most traditional type of smoker. You’ll also hear them being called barrel smokers, horizontal smokers, pipe smokers or stick burners. But, they’re all the same thing.

With a basic set-up where a smaller pipe or box houses the fire and feeds smoke through holes into a larger cooking pipe or box, offset smokers use indirect heat and smoke to cook almost anything low-and-slow to perfection.

Offset smokers are a top weapon of choice on the competitive barbecue circuit.

They run off charcoal and/or real wood, and, although they do take a bit of practice to master, there’s no reason you can’t be your own backyard pit master on one of these, IF (and only if), you’re alright with putting more time and effort into cooking on here.

An offset smoker is in no way set and forget. You’ll be checking the temperature often, adding more fuel as required, and may even need to move your meat around.

Grilling on an Offset Smoker

Most horizontal offset smokers can be set up as a grill as well. This could be in the main cooking chamber for a large capacity, or in the firebox for a smaller grill.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy an Offset Smoker?

Offset smokers are the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does an Offset Smoker Cost?

Pellet Smokers

Fuel type: Hardwood smoking pellets

Suitable for: Smoking & grilling

Price guide: $$ – $$$$

If you like the traditional wood-smoked taste but aren’t too keen on the dedication that an offset smoker demands, a pellet smoker is the answer to your prayers!

Using one of these innovative machines is a true set and forget smoking experience. And, although the results aren’t exactly the same as you’d get on a stick burner, pellet smokers are being used more and more often on the competitive circuit simply because they’re top-notch.

Although a pellet smoker looks very similar to an offset smoker, they work quite differently. While both have two separate chambers, the smaller of the two on a pellet smoker is actually the pellet hopper. This holds compressed hardwood sawdust that is fed into the bottom of the cooking chamber by an auger. The pellets are then lit by a hot rod and a fan helps to keep the fire going while also distributing heat and smoke evenly around the cooking chamber, much like a regular oven works.

There’s a drip tray that sits over the pellet fire to diffuse direct heat and prevent flare-ups that naturally tarnish the flavor of your ‘cue.

All of this is automated by an electronic temperature monitoring system so you can watch the game, play with the kids, or, even clean up the yard if you really must.

Some people criticize pellet smokers because they’re too darn easy. But, we love em’! What’s wrong with using a bit of technology to make smoking easier and your results better?!?

Grilling in a Pellet Smoker

With a wide temperature range, you can grill on a pellet smoker too.

But, just be aware that grilling on most pellet smokers means doing it over indirect heat.

It’s a bit like sticking your steak in a really hot oven. But, some pellet smokers do have a sliding heat deflector plate that opens up or a separate side burner for a hotter and better grilling experience.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy a Pellet Smoker?

Pellet smokers are the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does a Pellet Smoker Cost?

Charcoal Smokers

Fuel type: Charcoal

Suitable for: Smoking

Price guide: $ – $$$

A plain old charcoal smoker is one of the most popular types of smokers out there.

They’re generally cheap, create good flavor, and give you a true smoking experience that can’t be argued about.

The term charcoal smoker is pretty much a catch-all for any charcoal-run smoker that’s not a kamado or an offset. It therefore includes drum smokers, vertical smokers, charcoal cabinet smokers, and water smokers.

But, whatever the outside looks like, what’s going on inside any of these barbecues is pretty much the same.

At the bottom of the pit, there’s space for a charcoal fire. Get this going and hang or set your meat out above it on racks. Some vertical charcoal smokers have a water tray and/or tray for wood chips as well. Others don’t.

Regardless, they’re well designed smokers that are usually very affordable and do a good job at turning out delicious smoked meat. They will however, need pretty frequent monitoring throughout your cook. Charcoal smokers are not set and forget.

Grilling on a Charcoal Smoker

Whether you can grill on a charcoal smoker or not is really dependent on which model of charcoal smoker you’re looking at.

Some are set up to be dedicated smokers only while others are more multi-purpose with grates and rack heights that can be set for either low and slow smoking or high heat grilling.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy a Charcoal Smoker?

A charcoal smoker is the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does a Charcoal Smoker Cost?

Kamados

Fuel type: Lump charcoal

Suitable for: Smoking & grilling

Price guide: $$ – $$$$$

A kamado grill or kamado smoker is a modern take on a clay dome-style oven that was used more than 3,000 years ago in many early civilizations. During WWII, Ed Fisher, the man behind the Big Green Egg, brought the concept back to the States and it became the glazed ceramic oval shaped backyard grill and smoker that it’s known as today.

While most kamado’s are still made from thick ceramic that’s so good at holding the heat that it doesn’t use much fuel, some are made from lighter materials such as insulated double walled stainless steel.

Kamados preferred fuel of choice is the naturally low ash, lump charcoal. But, natural charcoal briquettes can be used as well.

Lit charcoal is placed at the bottom of the dome where the heat can either be cooked over directly to grill. Or, a heat diffuser plate can be set above the fire to distribute the heat for a low and slow smoke.

Because of this, kamado grills are extremely versatile. There’s not much that you can’t cook on one. And, they do an excellent job of doing it all.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy a Kamado?

A kamado is the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does a Kamado Cost?

Electric Smokers

Fuel type: Electricity

Suitable for: Smoking

Price guide: $ – $$$

Electric smokers work in a similar way to your regular oven. Electricity powers a heating element that’s housed inside an insulated box along with your cooking racks.

But, because there’s no fire, any smoky flavor you want has to be created by adding wood chips to a tray above the heating element. From there, they smoulder to release smoke that’ll flavor the meat.

We absolutely love electric smokers for fish. Their low and slow temperatures with sealed in moisture are perfect not to burn or dry out fish. But, meat smoked in an electric smoker won’t turn out the same as meat cooked in just about any other type of smoker.

Because there’s no real flame, it’s scientifically not possible to get the same sort of crispy bark or smoke ring on meat cooked in an electric smoker. We find that meat smoked in one always turns out really moist and tender but, it’s just not the same.

That being said, a lot of people love the ease of electric smoking. And, if you live in an apartment or condo where you’re not allowed to have an open flame, electric smokers are still an excellent option that are quite capable of producing delicious meals.

Even though electric smokers are like an oven, they are for outdoor use only. This means you’ll need access to power wherever you’re planning on cooking.

Grilling on an Electric Smoker

Electric smokers are designed to keep the temperature low and slow. That means that they’re dedicated smokers and you CAN’T grill on them as well.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy an Electric Smoker?

An electric smoker is the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does an Electric Smoker Cost?

Propane or Gas Smokers

Fuel type: Propane or natural gas

Suitable for: Smoking

Price guide: $ – $$$

Gas smokers make use of a vertical, cabinet-style design with a gas bottle connected to a burner at the bottom of the cooking chamber. Above that sits a tray or two trays; one for some water and the other for wood chips to add that smoky flavor to your food.

Because they’re run off propane, gas smokers are easily portable. But, you might want to opt for a smaller model if you’re planning on taking it camping.

Unlike electric smokers, most gas smokers don’t do automatic temperature regulation. Instead, you need to give it enough gas to heat and maintain the temperature you’d like and make any adjustments necessary throughout the cook e.g. bump it up if the weather cools down while you’re cooking.

Some newer models such as the Masterbuilt ThermoTemp Propane Smoker do regulate the temperature throughout the cook for you for a complete set and forget experience.

And, if you’re dreaming of hooking up your gas smoker to the mains at home, just be aware that most gas smokers are set up for propane only. The exception to this is the Camp Chef Smoke Vault which has an optional natural gas conversion kit you can use to tap into the mains.

Grilling on a Gas Smoker

Although it would be nice if your gas smoker could double as a gas grill, most don’t. Because the burner is situated at the bottom of the cooking chamber, inside the cabinet, it’s not easy to just whip the trays out and cook up a steak.

But, because you’ll already be set up with propane bottles, you could just invest in a separate gas grill as well.

Pros

Cons

Who Should Buy a Gas Smoker?

A gas smoker is the ideal barbecue for anyone who:

How Much Does a Propane Smoker Cost?

Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Type of Smoker

It’s never as simple as there being one, clearly best option for everyone. Think about these things when you’re deciding which type of smoker is right for you:

A top of the line pellet smoker is going to cost you a lot more than a high-end electric smoker. So, while there can be quite a few different price points to choose from for each barbecue type, there are general rules.

From least to most expensive, you’re probably looking at electric smokers, propane smokers, charcoal smokers, pellet smokers, offset smokers, and then kamados.

There’s a noticeable difference in how meat tastes when it’s been smoked with real wood logs, charcoal, or flavored with wood chips on an electric or propane smoker.

If you already know what you prefer, stick to that. Otherwise, as a general rule, wood logs give off the strongest smokey flavor, followed by charcoal, wood pellets, then wood chips.

If you’ve got the time and the inclination to get up early and tend to the barbecue every hour or so, an offset or charcoal smoker is completely doable.

But, if you’ve got kids running around, work around the house to do, or just don’t want the barbecue to run your weekend, look for a type of smoker that’s more hands off. Pellet smokers are the least set and forget, followed by kamados.

It’s all very well to like the sound of pellet or electric smoking. But, not having a power outlet in your backyard can kill that idea pretty quickly.

If there’s no easy access to power, and it’s not practical to run an extension cord, you’ll need something that doesn’t need any juice to run. Think charcoal, kamado, propane, or offset.

But, if you wanted hands off too, a kamado is your best bet.

What Type of Smoker Should I Buy?

Looking at all the details is all very well. But, if you want a quick pointer as to which type of smoker you should buy, check out this chart.

Pellet

These set & forget beauties give you all the results with almost none of the work! They’re great for anyone who loves a traditional wood-smoked taste but doesn’t want to have to babysit the brisket.

Charcoal

For anyone who can’t go past the oh-so-irresistible flavor of charcoal, a charcoal smoker is inexpensive, yet durable, doesn’t take up much room, and a lot can be used as a portable smoker too.

Kamado

Suitable for beginners to professionals, kamados are fuel efficient, pretty hands-off, and can handle the cold weather too. One of these definitely ticks a lot of boxes, and they’re excellent for grilling too.

Offset

If you like versatility, a more hands-on barbecuing experience, and want to do things the traditional pit master way, an offset smoker is an unbeatable backyard addition that’ll last you years to come.

Electric

Like an outdoor oven but better, an electric smoker gives you simplicity while getting the job done. Easy to use for even the most green beginner, electric smokers come in all sorts of sizes and are very affordable.

Propane

Portable, inexpensive, and effective, gas smoking is the way to go for people who appreciate a clean and efficient fuel type that’s easy to take on the go. You can even use the tank from your gas grill.

FAQs About the Best Type of Smoker

There’s six main types of smokers that we discuss in this guide. These are:

  • Pellet smokers
  • Charcoal smokers
  • Kamado smokers
  • Offset smokers
  • Electric smokers
  • Propane smokers

Charcoal, real wood, wood pellets, and wood chips all give food a slightly different flavor. What tastes the best is completely up to your personal preference.

As a guide, real wood logs and charcoal both give off a stronger, smokey profile, while hardwood pellets in a pellet smoker give off a moderate flavor, and wood chips smoked in an electric or propane setup impart the least amount of flavor.

Different varieties of wood, charcoal, wood pellets, and wood chips will also impact how strongly smokey your meat will taste.

Check out our guide on the best types of wood for smoking for more information on that.

All six different types of smokers can be the best depending on your personal preferences and what you’re cooking.

When we’re smoking a batch of fish post-fishing, we love electric or gas smokers. Their lower temperatures and gentle nature means the meat stays moist and is hard to burn. But, we’re personally not a fan of electric or propane smokers for heavier cuts of meat.

Offset smokers are unbeatable if you want to do it the ‘real’ way.

Charcoal smokers and kamados give off a distinctive and strong flavor.

And, pellet smokers produce the best possible food for the amount of effort you put in. That’s why they’re so popular. Anyone can make really great barbecue on one.

We always recommend that any beginner should get the type of smoker that they’re most excited to use.

Offset smokers are definitely the hardest to use. But, if you’re really keen on learning to smoke the traditional, Texas way, there’s no way to learn other than to just do it.

But, if you’re a beginner and you want the easiest way to make really great meat, there’s simply no beating a pellet smoker. They’re very simple to use and can make competition worthy food.

Because wood hasn’t been burnt down, it has the power to give more flavor to your food than charcoal does. But, wood also burns faster and at a less steady temperature than charcoal. So, there’s pluses and minuses either way you go.

If you’re not sure what you prefer, a lot of charcoal and offset smokers can run on both charcoal or wood so you could get one and try both.

A pellet smoker is easier to use than a charcoal smoker and gives you real, hardwood smoked flavor (because the pellets are made from compressed hardwood sawdust).

A charcoal smoker gives meat a stronger, smokier flavor. But, they’re generally a bit more hands on to use.

Kate Brown, the founder and voice behind Burning Brisket, is not your typical pitmaster or restaurateur. Her expertise in barbecue grew from a humble desire to cook exceptional meals for her family. From overcoming burnt brisket mishaps to establishing her boutique cattle ranch, Kate shares her passion to help 'ordinary' individuals cook extraordinary barbecue, believing that simplicity often yields the best flavors. Kate is committed to making great barbecue accessible to all with the right resources and some tasty practice.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

Browse BBQ Reviews
Cook Better Barbecue

Get our latest reviews, guides, and recipes to help you move from burnt to simply brilliant!