Weber Smokey Mountain
Weber Smokey Mountain

Best all-around smoker

Reviewers rate the bullet-shaped Weber Smokey Mountain the best charcoal smoker. (BBQ connoisseurs say charcoal smokers produce the best-tasting smoked food.) The Weber Smokey Mountain smoker wins praise for its durable porcelain-enamel finish and its ability to maintain a constant temperature for hours at a time. Owners also rave about the smoky, tender food it turns out. Its 10-year warranty attests to its durability. Some critics say the 18.5-inch Weber Smokey Mountain is too pricey, but most are delighted with this consistently popular smoker, which is also offered in a 22.5-inch size (*Est. $400).
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Big Green Egg
Big Green Egg

Luxury smoker/grill combination

Though some come close, no smoker can match the temperature control afforded by the thick-walled, charcoal-fueled 18-inch Big Green Egg. This Kamado-style cooker not only smokes meat at low temperatures, it can also get searingly hot, so you can use it to bake bread or pizza or put a proper crust on steaks. The ceramic Big Green Egg, which also comes in 24-inch, 15-inch, 13-inch and 9-inch sizes, can maintain its temperature in pretty much any weather. It's heavy and very expensive, but if you're looking to invest in a versatile smoker and grill, the Big Green Egg is ideal, reviewers say. Because it's ceramic, however, it is not indestructible. This makes it important to buy from a licensed retailer, so the lifetime warranty from the manufacturer will be in effect.
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*Est. $750 Estimated Price
Brinkmann Vertical Gas Smoker
Brinkmann Vertical Gas Smoker

Budget propane smoker

The cabinet-shaped Brinkmann Vertical Gas Smoker runs on propane. It's not only less expensive, it also requires less tending to and is generally easier to use than either the Weber Smokey Mountain or the Big Green Egg smokers. With four cooking racks, the Brinkmann gas smoker can prepare enough food for large gatherings. Its main heat source is a propane burner, which heats a pan containing wood chips. Some aficionados complain that food prepared in gas smokers has a slight propane taste, but most reviewers say the Brinkmann cooks evenly and gives food a good smoky flavor.
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Bradley Original Smoker
Bradley Original Smoker

Outdoor electric smoker

According to reviews, the Bradley Original Smoker is a hands-off smoker that needs no tending whether you're hot- or cold-smoking, slow-cooking, or roasting food. This electric smoker (which is meant only for outdoor use) looks like a mini-fridge. Its four racks hold a lot of food and are also dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup. The Bradley Original produces smoke by burning discs of compressed wood, or bisquettes, which are automatically fed onto the burner and extinguished in water once they're spent. The bisquettes cost 30 to 40 cents each, however, so costs can add up. Owners say food smoked in the Bradley Original is moist and flavorful.
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*Est. $250 Estimated Price
Savu Smoker Bags
Savu Smoker Bags

Easy indoor smoking solution

Reviewers say that Savu's Finnish-made aluminum smoker bags are the best way to smoke food indoors. In addition to their ease of use and cleanup, the Savu Smoker Bags keep smoke nicely contained so it doesn't permeate your home's carpeting, draperies and furniture. Reviewers say food prepped in the Savu bags is tender, with a genuine smoky flavor. These disposable bags can be tough to find in stores, but they're readily available online. They cost around $3 to $4 apiece, however.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Smokers Runners Up:

Old Smokey Electric Smoker *Est. $125

2 picks including: About.com, Amazon.com…

Finding the ideal smoker

Most smokers (sometimes called BBQ smokers) aren't as versatile as grills, and the best ones cost more than $150, no small price to pay for what many outdoor cooks see as mostly a summertime hobby. As long as it's not too windy or rainy, however, you can use most smokers year-round. It's a great cooking method for boosting flavor and tenderizing meat and vegetables without adding fat or calories. Experts say properly smoked food is rich, juicy and tender, with a balanced smoky flavor.

Barbeque connoisseurs aren't shy about identifying smokers that can really cook and calling out the ones that leave them feeling burned. We found plenty of owner-written reviews at retail websites such as HomeDepot.com, Cabelas.com and Amazon.com, as well as at dedicated user-review site Buzzillions.com.

Overall, AmazingRibs.com is the most credible review source for smokers. The website's founder, Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn -- a frequent barbeque judge, former food columnist and culinary school instructor -- bases many of his reviews (he covers dozens of smokers) on personal use and observation. Chefs at Cook's Illustrated magazine rate indoor and outdoor smokers on usability, design and overall food quality. Barbeque veteran Konrad Haskins weighs in at ProPitmaster.com. Haskins' wife, Phyllis, offers reviews and advice in a seven-part article for TheNibble.com. Finally, Derrick Riches, About.com's guide to barbecues and grilling, recommends the best smokers in the under-$400 and over-$400 price ranges based on his analysis.

Avoid the Char-Broil H2O Smoker, unless you like a challenge

Some smokers, like the dirt-cheap Char-Broil 06701289 Charcoal H2O Smoker (*Est. $60), simply aren't recommended. It takes plenty of flak from reviewers posting at  AmazingRibs.com and Amazon.com. "It has a lousy thermometer, no top air vent or damper, and no door for adding water or wood," complains AmazingRibs.com's Goldwyn. Owner reviews at Amazon.com complain that this Char-Broil vertical smoker doesn't retain heat effectively and that ash buildup actually chokes out the fire. Some say that drilling holes through the bottom of the firebox improves airflow and helps keep the fire burning, but it's a bit ridiculous for owners to have to pull out tools and modify the product just so that it actually works as advertised. Unless you're willing to tackle such a project, you should avoid the Char-Broil 06701289 Charcoal H2O Smoker. Note that this model is no longer available at Amazon.com (though reviews there are still posted). You'd have to order it directly from Char-Broil.

Recent smoker recalls

Another Char-Broil model was voluntarily recalled by Char-Broil and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in August 2010. According to the CPSC website, Char-Broil's 07701413 Vertical Gas Smoker allowed gas to build up when it was operated at low temperature, and several consumers reported that their smokers exploded as a result. The recall involved about 18,500 of the vertical gas smokers sold between March 2008 and August 2010.

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