Electric smokers remove the guesswork and labor that’s inherent with standard charcoal smokers. Traditional smokers require constant attention. The user must continuously feed it with more fuel throughout the day while fussing with ventilation to ensure the smoker maintains an optimal temperature for smoking. An electric smoker offers set-it-and-forget-it ease of operation. It lights at the flip of a switch and maintains an even temperature throughout the cooking process without the need for constant monitoring.
The electric version of the classic smoker uses heating elements instead of charcoal or wood to create the required heat for cooking the meat and warming the wood chips that release smoky flavor into the meats. These smokers feature a tower-shaped design with three or four racks, a heating element, and a tray that holds flavor chips. Digital or analog controls allow the user to adjust the temperature. Electric smokers are typically smaller than their charcoal-powered brethren, but they are still suitable for small family gatherings.
If you’re looking to expand your barbecuing hobby to include a smoker, then read on to learn more about what features you should consider when shopping for an electric smoker and find out why the models below are some of the best electric smokers you can buy.
- BEST OVERALL: Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker
- BEST VALUE: Masterbuilt MB20070210 Analog Electric Smoker
- BEST UPGRADE: Bradley Smoker BTDS76P 990216 Digital 4 Rack Smoker
Features to Look for When Choosing the Best Electric Smoker
There are a variety of factors to consider when selecting an electric smoker, including the amount of food it can smoke and how easy it is to use and maintain.
Size and Capacity
Most electric smokers have a small capacity compared to their larger wood-burning cousins, but their size is still suitable for an average-size family. The average smoker is about 3 feet tall, 19 inches deep, and 19 inches wide, with three or four racks for cooking. This small size means they aren’t suitable for larger meats, such as a full rack of ribs, which require the broad width of a charcoal smoker. A standard electric smoker has enough capacity to cook six half-racks of ribs, six chickens, or two good-size turkeys.
Electric smokers have several features that make them easy to use. Smokers have trays the user can fill with chunks of wood such as apple, cherry, hickory, and oak that enhance the meat’s flavor. Some trays can be refilled from the unit’s exterior, allowing the user to reload the chips without opening the smoker and causing heat loss.
While many electric smokers use analog dials for setting the temperature, others use digital controls, which allow for precise settings. Most smokers have a thermometer mounted in the door that allows the user to monitor the temperature throughout the cooking process. Some feature thermometers that enable you to monitor the meat’s internal temperature, making it easy to determine when that smoked chicken breast or brisket is ready.
Portability and Weather Resistance
Electric smokers are bulky and heavy, with an average weight of around 50 pounds. This makes it challenging to move them around. Given that they require an electric outlet, they also aren’t ideal for use as portable grills. While most electric smokers are made with durable materials, they are still electric appliances not intended to endure open exposure to the elements. If you plan on keeping your electric smoker outdoors year-round, purchasing a good cover to protect it would be a wise investment.
The number one reason grill enthusiasts select an electric smoker over a wood-burning model is ease of use. Unlike charcoal smokers, electric versions don’t require constant refueling. These models allow you to set the temperature and let the smoker do its job, leaving you to carry on with your day until dinnertime. It is, however, advised to stay in the vicinity while an electric smoker is in use to ensure everything continues on safely.
Electric smokers are also easy to light, as there is no need to ignite a fuel source. Simply flip a switch to turn on the unit. Electric smokers by design function more like an oven than a grill, with a cooking box that is entirely enclosed except for small vents for releasing smoke. Since they’re better insulated from wind and cold temperatures, they’re an excellent option for use in cold weather. However, they are electric appliances, so they will not survive being left out in the rain.
No wood fuel also means less mess. There are no ashes to clean up once you’re done smoking with an electric smoker. The interior walls and cooking grates consist of polished stainless steel that resists grease. Once the smoking is over, simply remove and clean the grates individually, then wipe down the inside.
While many smokers have temperature ranges from 100 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature range required for smoking is relatively small. The ideal temperature for smoking meat is between 225 and 250 degrees.
While a broad temperature range may be inconsequential for an electric smoker, its ability to maintain the optimal temperature is crucial. Wattage is the best indicator of how well a smoker performs this task. A smoker with a 1,500-watt heating element can better maintain the internal temperature than a lower-wattage model. This is especially the case during cold weather when the smoker is battling outdoor temperatures.
Accuracy is also an essential factor. Smokers with thermostats are generally preferred over smokers with rheostats. Thermostats monitor the temperature inside of the smoker, allowing you to make precise temperature controls. Rheostats, on the other hand, will only allow you to adjust the temperature to broad presets, such as low, medium, and high, making it difficult to fine-tune the internal temperature of the smoker.
Given the amount of time it takes to smoke foods, it’s unlikely that you’ll be standing right next to the electric smoker during the entire cooking process. Some smokers feature Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to monitor your smoker remotely, enabling you to turn the smoker on and off, adjust the temperatures, and even monitor the meat’s temperature from your smartphone.
Tips for Buying and Using Best Electric Smoker
When shopping for an electric smoker, it’s crucial to keep a few things in mind. The type of fuel it uses, size, and even its racks are all critical elements to consider.
- Look for low-fuel smokers. Although electric smokers use a heating element for cooking, they still require fuel in the form of wood pieces to create the smoke needed to flavor the meat. Check to see what kind of wood fuel the unit uses. If you look for models that require the least amount of wood fuel, you’ll prevent having to continually refill the wood chip tray.
- Keep size in mind when purchasing an electric smoker. Smokers that are too small will be frustratingly inadequate for feeding your family, while smokers that are too large won’t cook as evenly when only partially loaded with meat.
- Grates are often preferred over trays. Grates allow for more even cooking of the meat while leaving the sought-after smoke ring.
- When smoking, be careful not to oversmoke the food. Typically only one tray of chips is required to imbue plenty of smoky flavor into milder meats, such as chicken and fish. Oversmoking the meat runs the risk of making it inedible.
Our Top Picks
The list below includes some of the best electric smokers you can add to your barbecuing arsenal, whether you’re an expert or newcomer to the art of smoking meats.
Ease of use is often the top feature people look for when shopping for an electric smoker. With its spacious capacity and 1,500-watt heating element, this model from Masterbuilt offers features that will appeal to experienced smokers while being functionally easy to use for beginners. A digital control panel takes the guesswork out of temperature, allowing you to set the temperature between 100 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit with ease. An integrated thermostat and hefty insulation ensure an accurate internal temperature throughout the smoking process.
A simple-to-use tray system that slides out of the front of the door lets you load flavor chips without requiring you to open the smoker. This model boasts four racks, which is enough space for four half-racks of ribs, two turkeys, or six chickens. A stainless steel interior and removable racks make this model easy to clean once the day’s cooking is over.
With ample capacity and a price tag much lower than other smokers, this model from Masterbuilt lowers the barrier to entry for grilling enthusiasts looking to get into smoking meat. A 1,500-watt element provides a powerful heating source, while a door-mounted thermometer allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the smoker.
This smoker features three racks—enough space to handle three chickens, pork butts, or half-racks of ribs. A tray located at the bottom of the unit makes adding wood chips easy without opening the smoker. While it doesn’t include the precise programmable controls of higher-end electric smokers, it’s a small trade-off for a significant price difference.
This tower-style electric smoker from Bradley Smoker has a high capacity and an innovative automatic chip-loading feature. Its four cooking racks provide ample space to smoke enough meat for large family gatherings. A digital display allows for easy control of cooking time and temperature.
A wood smoking hopper automatically loads smoking bisquettes into the smoking chamber throughout the cooking process for up to nine hours. Simply load the hopper, set the temperature, and your work is done until it’s time to eat. However, this feature does require purchasing the brand’s Wood Smoking Bisquettes. That is, the smoker is not compatible with just any type of wood chips.
Additional features include a diffuser that evenly distributes smoke to the meat and a basin that catches grease, making cleaning afterward easy.
FAQs About Electric Smokers
If you still have questions about smokers and smoked meat, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Q. Is smoked meat bad for your health?
While smoking meat is a process that preserves meat, smoking methods also involve carcinogens, which can increase your risk for cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. With this in mind, it’s best to eat smoked meats in moderation.
Q. What is the difference between an electric and a regular smoker?
A regular smoker uses charcoal to cook the meat and create smoke from the wood chips to flavor the meat. Electric smokers use electric heating elements to cook the meat and create smoke from the wood chips to flavor the meat.
Q. How long do electric smokers last?
An electric smoker is expected to last between five and 10 years, depending on how often you use it and how well you clean it after each use.