This is our guide to the best smokers for beginners in 2023.
Every pitmaster was a beginner at some point in their lives. Like anything worth doing in life, it takes time and patience to get great results. Plus the reward for sticking with smoking meats is some great homemade barbeque on demand even if it can be frustrating while learning.
Choosing the right smoker as a beginner can help lessen the learning curve.
Traeger Pro Series 22
Good Price for Quality/Features
Large Support Community
Best Budget Smoker
Pit Boss 2.2 Analog
Very Affordable Smoker
Simple to Use
Likely to outgrow quickly
Best Charcoal Smoker
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560
Best Features for Price
Automates Charcoal Smoking
Only 1-Year Warranty
Jumping straight into an expensive, high tech smoker can be tempting. However, without mastering the basics, the features on expensive smokers won’t make much difference in the outcome.
When buying your first or second smoker, it’s important to balance the price, quality, and usability. These are the items we reviewed carefully when compiling this list of best smokers for beginners:
Price: We don’t recommend spending $1,500 before you know if you’ll like smoking and barbequing. However, buying a cheap smoke of low quality is a quick way to get frustrated and give up. The smokers we choose are a good balance of price and quality.
Quality: Online review, Facebook, Reddit, and others platforms are littered with customer complaints about low quality smokers. It’s impossible to learn if your smoker breaks non stop! The smoker we choose to recommend below have ranked high for quality. Testing a smoker once is ok but we combed through customer reviews to verify smokers of high quality from a pool of 1,000’s of reviews.
Ease of Use: Our guide took into consideration features (or the lack thereof) which make a smoker easier to use for a beginner. We used our own experiences at the beginning of our smoking journey to provide some hindsight into what we wish we knew when buying our first smoker.
Read on to check out our top recommendations for the best smokers for beginners.
Table of Contents
The Traeger brand is well regarded as the pioneer of the pellet smoker (commonly known as a “Pellet Grill”) and their smokers/grills are the most popular in the pellet-burning world. As a well regarded brand with quality products, Traeger pellet smokers can be expensive especially for a beginner.
HOWEVER, Traeger does offer a budget friendly option with the Traeger Pro Series 22.
The main reason we recommend the Traeger Pro Series 22 as a great smoker for beginners is the features and quality it offers for the price.
Not to mention that due to Traeger’s massive following, there are literally endless social media communities and pages to turn to for detailed advice specific to Traeger products.
The Pro Series 22 has 572 square inches of grate space which is large enough for everyday use and middle size gatherings while you practice your smoking game. While you learn the timing for low-and-slow cooking, the 18 lbs hopper can last for hours with refilling in case you get sidetracked.
As we mentioned in the intro, buying right first is typically more affordable than buying cheap twice. The Traeger Pro Series is a good choice for those that can stretch the budget a bit and want a smoker they won’t outgrow in a year.
- The amount of features for the price
- Massive Traeger support community online
- Quality products with a 3-Year warranty
We Don’t Like:
- Not the most affordable option if on a budget
- Doesn’t have a sear plate for direct flame cooking
If you are looking for the best budget smoker, the Pit Boss 2.2 Analog Smoker is a good place to start.
After reading through a 100 personal reviews or so, the overwhelming theme for folks who brought the smoker is its “easy to use” and “great value for money”. Two qualities we’d like to see in every smoker but even more important if you are just starting out.
The Pit Boss 2.2 Analog Smoker is an electric virtual smoker with 593 square inches of cooking area. Which is considerable rack space given it is very compact and lightweight (only 58 lbs). It’s size is perfect for those with limited patio or storage space.
As the name suggests, this smoke doesn’t come with any digital bells and whistles. Everything on this smoker is analog (spinning dials for the temperature probe and control knobs). We wouldn’t be too worried about the old-school tech on this smoker as it smokes just fine without the LED screens. The analog setup also makes it very simple for beginners.
While the 2.2 Analog Smoker may be simple, it doesn’t have the necessary features for a successful smoking setup. The first feature we like is the external access for the wood pan. It’s a draw that slides out in the front making refilling the tray easy and without dropping the temperature. The second feature or capability is the temperature range between 150 F – 325F. Those temperatures cover the vast majority of low-and-slow barbequing recipes.
- Very affordable
- The vast majority of owner reviews are positive and mention how easy it is to use.
- It’s simple, “No Frills” setup makes it a perfect smoker to learn on.
- Pit Boss has a large following on social media for community support.
We Don’t Like:
- Likely to outgrow quickly to a model with more features.
- Reports of temperature gauge not working properly over time.
The Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 is a charcoal grill+smoker that is a cousin to the pellet grill but instead of using wood pellets, it uses charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. Charcoal smokers tend to give your food the best charbroiled, smoky flavors but can be difficult to easy and a mess to clean up.
The Gravity Series from Masterbuilt is a jump in innovation that makes charcoal smoking more user-friendly by using the hopper method for fuel delivery similar to wood pellet grills.
So why did we pick the Gravity Series 560 as a beginner smoker? This smoker is packed with features that are not often found at this price point. The features that come stock on the Gravity Series make it a beginner-friendly smoker. Cast Iron grates are better at heat retention which promotes better searing and even cooking. Also you can add wood chucks to the Gravity Series 560 to get the best of both wood and charcoal flavors.
Another beginner friendly feature of the Gravity Series is charcoal fuel tends to maintain temperature better than wood burning smokers. We’d say a majority problem first-time smokers run into is trouble maintaining steady temperature. Charcoal fuel can minimize temperature swings especially in cold or windy conditions.
Charcoal can also be tricky to get started and more of a mess to clean up when compared to a pellet or electric smoker. The Masterbuilt Gravity Series does make it easier than others but can’t eliminate the start-up process entirely.
Also, with a 560 square inches of cooking area, a digital controller, WiFi/Bluetooth capabilities, and 4 temp probes, it’s unlikely that you will outgrow the Gravity Series 560 anytime soon.
- The temperature capabilities (up to 700F) which offers greater flexibility to cook a wide range of meals.
- Offers a ton of features that are useful specifically for beginners.
- Very affordable for its size and features.
We Don’t Like:
- The 1-Year warranty period is below industry average.
- Charcoal requires more work to start and clean up which could frustrate some beginners.
- Cast iron grates require seasoning and proper care to last.
If you are looking for the next level of affordable smokers, check out our guide to Traeger alternatives.
Types of Smokers
Pellet Smokers (often referred to as Pellet Grills) use wood pellets for fuel giving a smoky, wood-fired flavors. Pellet smokers use a temperature controller to regulate an auger that feeds pellets into the fire box. They tend to be easy to use and require less tending than other smoker types which make them a good smokers for beginners. Wood pellets are available in a wide variety of flavors (oak, pecan, apple, etc.) and there are even charcoal pellets.
Charcoal smokers use either briquettes or lump charcoal to fuel the smoker. Charcoal smokers provide a great char-broiled, smoky flavor to foods. Charcoal can be tricker to smoke compared to gas or pellet smokers; typically with lighting the smoker and clean up is messy. Charcoal smoking has been around for a long time and is regarded as one of the best fuels for smoking.
Electric smokers have heating elements much like an oven that heat the smoker. A typically electric smoker has a wood tray and a water tray. As the smoker heats up the wood chips begin to smoke and steam from the water tray helps to transfer the smoky flavor and keep the meat from drying out. Most electric smokers are lightweight making them easier to store or move around. They are also the easier smokers to keep clean.
Tips for First Smoke
Start Off Easy
It can be tempting to jump right into smoking brisket or other prized BBQ cuts. However, completing a 14 hour long cook to end up with dry brisket jerky can be disheartening. We suggest starting off your smoking journey with a few wins with more forgiving cuts of meat. Pulled pork from a pork butt/shoulder (Boston butt) is a great and rewarding recipe to start with.
For the first 2-3 times we try out a new recipe we take notes such as prep, temperature, time cooking, pellets used, when we wrap, and it sounds crazy but even the weather. Keeping track of what works and what didn’t is a great way to hone in your smoking skills. Plus once you get it dialed in perfectly you can save the steps for next time.
Don’t be afraid to add flavors/spices
Layer on the dry rubs and sauces! Don’t be afraid to add the flavors that make BBQ so great.
For the first dozen times you are smoking, stay nearby and check on the progress periodically. Until you have your process down such as fuel refills, temperatures, and grease management it’s best to be nearby to tend to the smoker. You don’t have to hover near the smoker for 10 hours straight but don’t leave the smoker unattended for long periods either.
Don’t Give Up!
Smoking takes time to learn! You will make mistakes and waste a few cuts of meat from time to time. No big deal, it happens to even the most seasoned pitmasters. Keep your head down and don’t give up, it’s worth it.
How do smokers work?
A smoker works by producing a low but steady heat that is circulated within a contained space to cook meat or other foods slowly. The fuel source puts off smoke as it’s burned and collectively with the steam from the food, the meat is tender with a smoky flavor.
How much does a smoker cost?
The typical price range for a personal smoker is between $300 – $1,200. Professional and commercial smokers can cost thousands of dollars.
What kind of smoker should a beginner get?
Pellet smokers or pellet grills are easy to use, require less tending to, and have helpful technology to make smoking more enjoyable for the casual pitmaster making them a good choice for smoking beginners.
How to get more smoke flavor?
To get more smoke flavor in your food, cook meats low-and-slow (low temperatures for long periods). Another method to increase smoke flavors make sure you pair the right wood type with the meat you are smoking. If all else fails, try a smoke tube to add more smoke flavor. We use smoke tubes for shorter cooks to enhance the flavors and they work as advertised.