For novice grill masters, you don’t want to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on a new smoker that you may mess up. But, you’re also leary of buying a cheap smoker that will break in a week. To help you separate the quality from garbage, we’ve conducted a full review of the best budget smokers on the market.
The 10 Best Affordable Smokers in 2021
Pit Barrel Cooker Junior
The Pit Barrel Cooker Junior is a smaller version of the Pit Barrel Cooker. With this portability, the 14" Cooker Junior is ideal for traveling if you're planning to go on a camping trip or tailgating.
The 360º All-Round Heat Dynamics™ also makes it possible to cook some of the best-tasting grilled or smoked food.
Based on our review, this portable cooker is great for both beginners and experts as the lighting process is pretty straightforward to follow. The instructions are likewise easy to understand.
If you already own the 18.5" Pit Barrel version, you can also easily interchange the accessories.
- 360º All-Round Heat Dynamics™
- Highly portable
- Easy to follow cooking instructions
- Perfect for beginners
- Barrel may not be deep enough
Z Grills Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
Z Grills is a lesser-known but still highly rated manufacturer of pellet smokers.
They are known for being some of the best pellet grill makers for lower-cost options.
The company originally began as a manufacturer for other companies but began producing its brand smokers in 2017.
This model is one of the best pellet grills for entry-level users and comes in a stylish coating. It features easy digital temperature control making it more convenient to deal with monitoring.
The cooking temperature ranges between 180 and 450 degrees giving you the ability to bake, smoke, roast, and BBQ food.
- Best model for pellet smoking
- Easy digital fire management
- 6 in 1 cooking option
- Stainless steel materials
- Less portable model
Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Smoker
The Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset smoker is Amazon’s editor's choice in the category of the best smoker.
What we specifically like about it is the large cooking area and versatility it provides to either smoke or charcoal grill if you want.
Since this is a vertical offset smoker, the heat is distributed more evenly so that you can monitor and control temperatures with greater ease.
This is also a better smoker in cooking space size with over 1170 square inches of cooking space. The unit has an easy to use built-in thermometer so you can make sure you're cooking at the correct temperature.
- Top rated by over 1,500 reviewers
- Stainless steel lid thermometer
- 1,176 square inches of cooking space
- Best smoker for value buyers
- Not easily portable
- No water pan
Char-Broil Electric Smoker Deluxe
Char-broil has been a popular brand in business since the late 1940s.
Their electric digital smoker is one of the more popular smokers they sell and one of the best electric smokers on the market with four smoking racks.
One of the nice things about the Char-Broil Electric Smoker Deluxe is the easy to use control panel and heat settings. The panel has large buttons with a clear LED display that’s clear and easy to read.
The unit comes with meat probes for more accurate temperature readings. Over 300 people have given this a 5-star rating on Amazon along with an Amazon editors choice rating for best electric Char-Broil smoker.
- Digital LED control panel
- Easy to refill water bowl
- Warming rack feature
- Four smoking racks
- Smaller cooking area
- Less portable
Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker
Char-Griller is a newer company, but one that is developing a good reputation as having some of the best smokers for budget-minded grillers.
Their Akorn Kamado Kooker is a good option if you want something portable and can use more than one fuel type, such as charcoal or wood chip pieces.
The only downside is that the total cooking surface is a bit smaller than some of the other best smokers on this list. With the Akorn Kamado Kooker, you get 153 square inches of total space on the cooking racks. This isn’t enough to cook racks of ribs but enough to make plenty of other food.
- More portable than gas grills
- Temperatures between 200 and 700 degrees
- Top and bottom adjustable dampers
- Made from 22 gauge steel
- Small cooking surface
- Harder to cook racks of ribs
Weber Original Kettle
Weber was founded in 1952 and has become a major manufacturer of charcoal and gas grills.
Their original Kettle is one of the best charcoal entry model grills. It is a traditional style charcoal grill with the ability to smoke smaller foot items as well.
The model has two air vents on the top and bottom to help regulate temperatures, whether you want high heat or low and slow.
This is a 22-inch charcoal grill, which makes it reasonable in terms of portability if you're going to take it on the road for preparing food. For more models of portable smokers we recommend click on this link.
- More easily portable than other smokers
- Easy to cook different food like sausage links
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Use wood chips or charcoal
- Smaller cooking surface
- Hard to cook big food like ribs
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a pit barrel cooker with over 2,500 five star reviews on Amazon and an Amazon Editors Choice endorsement.
It’s the only pit barrel cooker model on this list due to the affordable price yet quality construction and performance.
The total size is 14-inches, which is a bit below the 18-inch Smokey Mountain model next in line.
You can use charcoal or wood chips with the Smokey Mountain for smoking meats such as ribs and brisket or grilling burgers. It’s a smoker best for those who cook average amounts of meat but may not be the best option for heavy use.
- Versatile cooking options
- Two to five-year warranty
- Rust-resistant materials
- Preferable over Smoke Hollow grills
- Not as portable
- No wood chip tray
SmokeHouse Big Chief Electric Smoker
This is one of the more unique smoke units on our list. The SmokeHouse Big Chief electric smoker looks like a metal box with shelves.
It comes in either a front loading or top loading model and is on the list as a top pick for electric smokers due to the versatility.
You can make a wide variety of food types from ribs to steaks to even cookies if you choose.
The smoker is best if you need a lot of cooking space as there are five smoke racks that you can use for smoking and grilling. In total, you can smoke up to 50 lbs of food.
- Lots of smoking space with five racks
- Top loading or front loading options
- Smoker best for large cooking needs
- Low-temperature heat settings
- Bulky and not as portable
- Heating elements non-adjustable
Camp Chef Smoker Vault
For budget-minded grillers looking for an affordable gas smoker, the Camp Chef Smoker Vault can be a good choice.
This is one of the best propane smokers when it comes to durability as it's made from heavy gauge steel and assembled for optimal low and slow heat cooking.
The Camp Chef Smoker Vault gas grill has four racks for cooking everything from burgers to briskets.
It also comes with a jerky rack for making jerky infused with tasty smoke flavoring which is why it is one of our favorite jerky smokers. The only major downside with this smoking unit is its lack of portability. Aside from needing a propane tank, this isn’t the best smoker for taking camping and traveling.
- Comes with a jerky rack
- Best for slow and low cooking
- Stainless steel woodchip and water tray
- Adjustable smoking grates
- Not the best for portability
- Not the best warranty
Char-Broil Analog Electric Smoker
The Char-Broil Analog Electric is the slightly lower-end version of the deluxe electric smoker above.
This is best if you want a medium-sized electric smoker for cooking burgers and steaks or briskets and bacon.
The primary thing that we like about this smoker is that it has easy to clean trays and grates, making maintenance easier than on similar models like Smoke Hollow electric smokers.
This is not the best option if you are looking for portability as it’s made from heavy materials and is slightly bulky.
- Sturdily built smoker
- Best for easy maintenance
- Easy to monitor thermometer
- 1-year warranty
- Not the best for portability
- Smaller cooking area
What to look for when buying an affordable smoker?
Type of Smoker
The type of smoker you choose will have a massive impact on how easy it is to cook with, ease of maintenance, and portability (1). A small charcoal smoker, for example, will be easier to move around than an affordable gas-powered smoker that needs a propane tank.
On the other hand, you will have less control over temperature with the charcoal smoker than with the gas or electric. Some of the different smoker options include:
A pellet smoker uses compressed wood pellets as a fuel source instead of traditional charcoal, gas, or wood smokers. Many people prefer pellet smokers for their ability to slow-cook foods such as ribs or brisket with greater precision and potential health benefits (2).
Pellet smokers are generally more expensive, but it is still possible to find budget pellet grills. If you want to find out which vertical pellet smoker we think is the best be sure to read this review.
- Easier to slow cook
- Traditional smoke flavor
- Easier to regulate temperature
- More versatility when cooking
- High priced than other budge grills
- Need electricity for auger
- Bad for high temp cooking
- Bad for humid environments
A gas smoker or propane smoker is a better option if you want more in the way of temperature control. These use gas that can easily be monitored by a temperature gauge for a more accurate smoking experience.
Many people also find that gas grills can be easy to clean as there is not a lot of ash and residue left over after grilling.
- Easier to use than charcoal grill
- Easier to reach high cooking temperatures
- Cheaper to operate
- Good in all weather conditions
- Less of a smokey flavor
- Propane tanks can be bulky
- Gas smokers are less portable
- More expensive than charcoal smokers
A digital electric smoker uses an electric heating element that makes it easier to monitor the temperature range.
The major downside of electric smokers is that you don’t get that charcoal or traditional wood taste as a digital electric smoker will produce less smoke than charcoal grills.
However, the upside is that there is generally less in the way maintenance as less smoke leads to less residue.
Electric smokers are also more versatile as these can be used for roasting as well as smoking and are becoming more popular (3).
- Easy temperature control
- No need for any fuel type
- Electric smokers are easy to use
- Better for compact areas
- Lacks traditional smoke flavor
- Not easily portable
- Hard to get a smoke ring
- Harder to maintain
“With a large number of people living in apartments, the need for compact barbeque grills will increase which will boost demand for electric barbeque grills.”
- Yogesh Shinde, Business Intelligence Market Research Insights (4)
A charcoal grill or smoker is the best option for people who are wanting the classic smoke flavor in their food. Unlike gas smokers or electric smokers, a charcoal grill produces more smoke, which gives it the taste many are used to.
These are typically a bit harder to maintain because of the excess smoke and ash produced, which can build up around the unit (5). A major upside of a charcoal smoker, though, is that they can be better for portability.
- Can be better for portability
- Traditional smoke flavor
- Higher temperature ranges
- Typically less expensive than gas
- Can be harder to maintain
- Ash can get in food
- Not many extra features
- Takes longer to use
Capacity will be important to look at depending on how much meat you plan on making in a single smoking session.
Most smokers will be fine for the average three or four-person family cooking burgers or steaks on the weekends.
However, if you plan on cooking giant briskets overnight or cooking for larger gatherings, you want to pay particular attention to the total cooking area.
The cooking area refers to the total space on the cooking grates or rack that can hold meat. We like to look for at least 500 sq in.
How you control the temperature will vary depending on the type of smoker that you use. For example, with a wood smoker, you typically will need to adjust the damper to let in more or less oxygen. This will involve more monitoring of the thermometer and greater skill.
An electric smoker, on the other hand, will usually have a knob with temperature settings displayed. These are usually better for newer users who may not have the experience to correctly work with a wood smoker.
If you are a new griller, we recommend you try and stick with a gas or electric smoker for ease of use. For the more initiated, wood and coal smokers can be the better way to go.
“Too much heat can leave you with shoe leather, so controlling temperature is paramount.”
- Tim Moynihan, Wired (6)
There are a variety of additional features that you can find with smokers, even the budget kind. Some of the more important features we recommend you look for are:
- Water trays
- Wood trays
- Thermometers and meat probes
- Extra shelving
- Grill covers
These are all items that can either make the cooking process easier in probes and thermometers or help with infusing flavor.
In the case of grill covers, if you live in an area with lots of dirt or snow and rain, this can protect your smoker better.
Ease of Maintenance
Different smoker types will be more or less easy to maintain. Some of the easiest in terms of maintenance will include gas and electric type smokers. These typically produce less smoke and will have less residue than coal.
Another thing that will affect the ease of maintenance will be any extra parts, such as water trays or wood trays. These, along with grates, all need to be cleaned periodically to prevent the buildup of smoke and fat.
If you don’t have a lot of extra time for maintenance, it may be best to stick to options such as electric or gas smokers.
Is buying a budget smoker worth it?
Yes. A budget smoker is worth the cost if you choose a model built by a reputable manufacturer, and you put in the work to maintain it. This means seasoning it properly and covering the grill during potential bad weather. Taking care of even an affordable smoker will help it last for many years.
What is the best budget smoker for a beginner?
The Dyna-Glo DGO117 is the best budget smokers for a beginner looking to get the best value. It’s a vertical smoker, which means heat and smoke go to the top, making grilling and smoking meat easier as you have better heat control. The cooking capacity is also reasonable for the price.
How long will a budget smoker last?
Budget smokers will typically last for between 5 and 10 years, depending on how often it’s used and how well it’s maintained. If you use your smoker every day and don’t take care of it, expect it to last for a few years less than average.
What’s the Best Affordable Smoker?
After a full review of over a dozen grills, we’ve narrowed down the Pit Barrel Cooker Junior as our top pick for the best budget smoker.
We’re big fans of vertical drum smokers as it makes controlling the heat and smoke easier due to the design. This makes it possible to do a low and slow cook.
Another point that we like about the Pit Barrel is its portability. We took it to one of our tailgating parties and we didn't have a hard time setting it up.
Our #1 Recommendation
- Portable and straightforward design
- Ideal for camping and tailgating
- 360º All-Round Heat Dynamics™ technology
- Easy-to-follow lighting process
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