Smokers

From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Great Grilled Roast Beef

Overview:

Though plenty of rib and brisket enthusiasts convert their grills into makeshift smokers—we’ve made do with an indirect fire, a pan of water, and soaked wood chips—proper lower-temperature smoking is best achieved with a designated appliance. Giant truck-towed smokers can run as much as $5,000, so we shopped for more affordable alternatives and came home with a trio of significantly cheaper (between $60 and $750) “bullet” models: smaller, cylindrical-shaped vessels, about the size of a kettle grill, that feature a large cooking surface atop a charcoal pan.

Other than introducing wood to the fire, smoking is all about holding the heat at a low, steady temperature for a long time—a full day, in some cases—a process that not only bathes the meat in smoke flavor, but also helps tenderize it by breaking down its tough connective tissue. The appeal of a smoker over a rigged kettle grill is its promise of prolonged, steady heat retention. Smokers typically have the advantage of a larger fuel capacity (for a longer-burning fire), a… read more

Though plenty of rib and brisket enthusiasts convert their grills into makeshift smokers—we’ve made do with an indirect fire, a pan of water, and soaked wood chips—proper lower-temperature smoking is best achieved with a designated appliance. Giant truck-towed smokers can run as much as $5,000, so we shopped for more affordable alternatives and came home with a trio of significantly cheaper (between $60 and $750) “bullet” models: smaller, cylindrical-shaped vessels, about the size of a kettle grill, that feature a large cooking surface atop a charcoal pan.

Other than introducing wood to the fire, smoking is all about holding the heat at a low, steady temperature for a long time—a full day, in some cases—a process that not only bathes the meat in smoke flavor, but also helps tenderize it by breaking down its tough connective tissue. The appeal of a smoker over a rigged kettle grill is its promise of prolonged, steady heat retention. Smokers typically have the advantage of a larger fuel capacity (for a longer-burning fire), a water reservoir (to absorb and retain heat and produce moister results), and more vents (to control the air flow and temperature within a smaller, more precise range). According to manufacturers, these features keep the ambient temperature in the necessary 225- to 250-degree range for up to 24 hours with little tending of the fire.

We settled for a 12-hour temperature test, recording the temperature of each model every hour while smoking turkey breasts, ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder. Design flaws in one model immediately became apparent. This smoker had neither air vents to control temperature nor an ash grate for its charcoal pan, so that burnt charcoal bits continually smothered the fire. Even with constant tending, its temperature plunged below 200 degrees after only three hours. Furthermore, the charcoal pan was accessible only by removing the 17-inch cooking grates and water pan first—an awkward and potentially hazardous maneuver. One other gripe: Its imprecise thermometer read “hot,” “cool,” and “ideal,” instead of exact temperatures.

Meanwhile, two others hovered comfortably in the 250-degree range from start to finish. One not only boasted exceptionally precise temperature control, but due to the excellent heat retention of its ceramic construction and vents that opened all the way, it was able to reach temperatures as high as 700 to 800 degrees, allowing it to double as a grill and brick oven. However, it came up short on the basics: The single, 18-inch grate was cramped. It also lacked a water reservoir, so that meats turned out drier across the board. In the end, a mid-priced competitor smoked out the competition. It included twin 18.5-inch grates, which provided ample room for four pork butts, two whole turkeys, or four rib racks; a water pan; and a multitude of vents for excellent temperature control. Our only complaint? A lack of handles made transport and cleanup difficult.

less
  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker - 18½-Inch

    Save for its lack of handles, this model literally smoked the competition: Plenty of cooking space, a water pan, and multiple vents that allowed for precise temperature control added up to meat that came off the fire consistently moist and smoky with little tending necessary.

    • Design ★★★
    • Temperature Consistency ★★★

    $298.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    Big Green Egg

    This ceramic smoker’s excellent heat retention and vents that opened all the way, allowing it to reach temperatures as high as 700 to 800 degrees and double as both a grill and brick oven, still couldn’t make up for its cramped cooking surface or the lack of a water pan, which yielded markedly drier meats. It’s also twice the price of our winner.

    • Design ★★
    • Temperature Consistency ★★★

    $799; stand extra

  • Not Recommended

    Brinkmann Smoke ‘n Grill Charcoal Smoker & Grill

    A litany of design flaws—no ash grate (meaning burnt charcoal bits smothered and eventually extinguished the fire), no air vents to control temperature, and a hard-to-reach charcoal pan—sank this cheap smoker to the bottom rung.

    • Design ★★
    • Temperature Consistency

    $59.95

In My Favorites
Please Wait…
Remove Favorite
Add to custom collection