Top 5 Electric Smokers that Produce Consistently Good BBQ
In this post you will learn:
- How different electric smokers work
- Why some smokers are good for “cooking” and some are only for smoking
- Which electric smoker models offer the best options for different smoking methods
If you’re here, it’s likely because you’ve heard about electric smokers and are interested in preparing smoked meats, veggies, cheeses and the like at home, but are not sure you want all the muss and fuss of a charcoal smoker.
Perhaps you have a condo and your Homeowners Association prohibits live fire cooking on your back deck or patio. Maybe you just don’t want to mess with tending the firebox of an offset smoker, vertical gravity fed smoker, or bullet style smoker.
General Overview of Electric Smokers
This page outlines the pros and cons of using electric smokers. I will link to several electric smoker reviews featuring some of the more popular electric smoker brands like Masterbuilt, Bradley Smoker, Smokin Tex, Char-Broil, and Smokehouse Products.
What Are Electric Smokers, and How Do They Work?
Getting Your Electric Smoker Smoking!
Electric smokers are pretty simple by design. Regardless of the style (vertical or cabinet), the basic operation of these smokers involves heat produced by a heating element and smoke produced from wood chips.
Adding Smoke to Your Electric Smoker Using Wood Chips
In most cases, you’ll need a very small amount of wood chips to get the smoke profile you’re looking for. The way you load your wood chips into the smoker varies by manufacturer. It’s common to have a very basic setup for loading in the chips – consisting of a tray that can be awkward getting to if the need to refill to extend the smoking period arises.
The better electric smokers will have an “easy access” loading port or tray that allows you to add in your wood chips even if the smoker is hot. Not having to wait for your electric smoker to cool down, or grab a pair of heat resistant gloves to ensure you don’t get burned, is a huge plus.
In terms of capacity, electric smokers normally come with three to four racks, designed to hold enough meat to feed a family of between four to six. Obviously, the capacity will vary based on the whether you’re cooking chicken, brisket, pork butts, etc.
Maintaining Moisture In Electric Smokers with a Water Pan
No one likes dry meat. To ensure that your smoked meats retain the right amount of moisture, your electric smoker may be equipped with a water tray or water pan. As the heat from your heating element increases, the water in the water pan turns to steam. This steam is what keeps your meat from drying out.
If you like, you can add flavor components to your water pan. I’ve added bits of citrus peel, spices, and even beer to my water pan with great results!
Average Smoking Temperatures with Electric Smokers
Smoking meat, especially bigger or tougher cuts of meat requires the application of low heat over a long period of time. That’s where we get the term “Low and Slow!” Normally, you’ll operate your electric smoker at between 225 and 250 Fahrenheit.
A note about monitoring the temperature of your meat:
Electric smokers maintain steady heat levels throughout the cooking session. Some units use a timer to shut off the smoking process, while others simply advise amounts of wood chips to use and advise not adding any more once that level is achieved.
Monitor Meat Temperature Remotely with a Maverick Thermometer
Using your electric smoker is otherwise a hands-free “Set it and forget it” process. I advise using an external probe-style thermometer. I really like the products put out by ThermoWorks. If you are interested in a remote / wifi style probe thermometer, consider the ones made by Maverick.
Other than that, you’re free to enjoy the ease of using electric smokers. Focus on your meat selection, using the best rubs, injections, and sauces, and of course – enjoying time with friends and family.
Electric Smokers: Pros and Cons
As with all types of BBQ smokers, it’s important to examine the pros and cons of electric smokers. Buying an electric smoker of decent quality means that you’re going to be shelling out at between $100 and $300, so it’s important that we cover some of the basic positives and negatives where these units are concerned.
The Pros of Using Electric Smokers
Electric smokers are about as close to set it and forget it as you’ll find in the BBQ smoker world. As such, they’re virtually effortless in terms of heat and smoke management. Below are my observations of the main advantages to using electric smokers.
- Easy to light – Electric smokers use a powered heating element that’s “instant on” as soon as you flip the switch. Just fire it up, load in your wood chips, and you’re good to go.
- Simple heat and smoke management – electric smokers are designed to reach a programmed temperature and produce predictable amounts of smoke. This said, some models perform these tasks more reliably than others.
- Easy to maintain – provided you keep your electric smoker out of the elements, cleaning it up after each use is a breeze. Simply wipe down the exterior and interior (preferably using a safe, biodegradable cleaning agent like Simple Green), and you’re all set.
- Good for Small Families – most electric smokers have a relatively small capacity. They’re the perfect size if you’re single or typically cook for two.
- Great for apartment or condos – If you’re prohibited from using ‘live fire’ grills or smokers, electric smokers are great for many people living in condos or apartments, so long as you have a well-ventilated outdoor patio area in which to use them.
- Functional in wind and cold weather – cabinet style electric smokers like those made by Masterbuilt and Bradley smoke within fully enclosed environments that are protected from wind and insulated against wind and cold weather. (Note: I’d advise against using any electric smoker in the rain!)
The Cons of Using Electric Smokers
The cons of using electric smokers don’t make up as extensive of a list as the pros in my opinion. Of primary concern when using these units are their capacity as compared to other types of smokers, the potential for the electronic components to fail, and some issues pertaining to the depth and quality of smoke flavor they impart. I’d say these concerns break out as follows:
- Limited cooking capacity – if you’re looking to feed a large family or cook enough food for a good sized party, electronic smokers might not be your best choice. Typically, these smokers rank among the smallest capacity cookers in the BBQ world. If ease of use and more capacity are desired, consider looking into electronic wood fired pellet smokers. I did an extensive collection of pellet smoker reviews you can read here.
- Potential for electronic failure – though relatively simple, most electronic smokers use mechanical means to generate heat and smoke. Heating elements and rods give out over time, as do digital controls. In cases, like with Bradley Smokers, where wood fuel is fed into the burn chamber, auger devices can become jammed or simply stop working. Though repairable in most cases, this is still something to consider before buying an electronic smoker.**
- Lack of a robust smoke profile – Compared to charcoal and wood fed smokers (gravity fed smokers, Weber Smokey Mountain cookers, and offset smokers) electric smokers have somewhat of a weaker smoke flavor profile. In some cases, users have reported difficulty achieving much in the way of a “bark” or crust on the outside of smoke meats.
- Some Models Not Adequate for Big Meats – If you’re going to be cooking ribs, brisket, pork butt, or tri-tip, smokers like the Smokehouse Products’ “Chief” models aren’t for you. I suppose you might start off bigger meats in these units, but they’ll need to be finished in an oven or hotter outdoor cooker. Masterbuilt, Char-Broil, Bradley, or Smokin-It models might be a better choice for you. (See below)
** The automatic bisquette feed is a great plus for ease-of-use. Another great plus is that the entire smoke generator can be lifted off the cabinet (part that looks like a fridge). It’s recommended to take the generator apart from the cabinet every once in a while and clean any extra wood particles. This goes a long way in avoiding any issues with the wood advance.
Electric Smokers: Target Audience
Based on my personal experience with electric smokers, coupled with comments from friends of mine who have used them, I’d say that they’re best suited for you if you fit the following profile:
- You enjoy smoked meats and vegetables
- You want a smoker that’s easy to use and clean
- You typically cook for less than four people
- Your budget is between $500 and $1,000
There are definitely those who truly enjoy the barbecue they’re putting out using electric smokers. To that point, here are a few posts from social media from folks who love theirs!
— Mike Sipple Jr. (@mikesipplejr) November 27, 2015
Ribs in my Smokin Tex smoker. See you in 3 hours. pic.twitter.com/v8SeuePnEQ
— vine02 (@gene5982) January 17, 2015
As you can see, people are quite happy with their electric smokers. Search Twitter or Instagram for the hashtags #smokintex #bradleysmoker or #masterbuilt and you’ll find many more.
Electric Smokers: Best Selling Brands and Models
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking at electric smokers, you no doubt have come to realize that a handful of brands lead the pack in terms of popularity and performance. The best selling electric smokers by brand are as follows:
- Masterbuilt Electric Smokers
- Smokehouse Products Electric Smokers
- Char-Broil Electric Smokers
- Bradley Electric Smokers
- Smokin Tex Electric Smokers
Masterbuilt Electric Smokers
The story of Masterbuilt electric smokers involves the McLemore family’s journey from welding plant stands to making fish cookers and fryers, and only more recently as of 2005, making the electric smokers they’re known for today.
This video provides a great overview of Dawson McLemore’s journey from Goodyear tire sales, to welding fern stands, to making cookers and smokers. Give it a look see:
The three main hallmarks of the Masterbuilt electric smokers line are:
- Quality construction
- Ease of use
- Consistent performance
The company does a great job engaging with its customer base, enjoying a loyal following with many fans owning one of their Butterball Turkey Fryers (Masterbuilt was the first to promote propane turkey fryers) as well as a Masterbuilt smoker.
By far, the most popular Masterbuilt electric smoker as ranked and reviewed on Amazon.com for price, consistency, and value is the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker with Top Controller.
With a digital temperature setting that peaks at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, users report event temperatures and predictable smoke output. The 730 sq. inches of cooking space gets a B- from a few users as they would prefer a bit more interior space on the top rack so that a full pork butt or brisket flat could easily be accommodated.
All in all, the 30-inch Masterbuilt electric smoker gets top marks for ease of use. Customers especially like the easy access provided by a side door wood chip loading feature that keeps you from having to open up the main cabinet while smoking.
Pros and Cons of Masterbuilt Smokers
Most customers who purchase Masterbuilt electric smokers find them easy to use, with few problems.
Complaints I feel are worth mentioned where Masterbuilt electric smokers are concerned deal with a less than stellar instruction manual. The smokers require some assembly, and users find that it’s easier to put these units together by watching videos. You can find one such video here:
The water pan is also a bit hard to keep filled due to its size, but it’s easy enough to get to as needed. Overall, these smokers are well designed and should provide for hassle free smoked goodness.
Smokehouse Products Electric Smokers
Situated within the beautiful surroundings of the Columbia River Gorge – just near Cascade Locks, OR is the headquarters for Smokehouse Products, makers of The Big Chief, Little Chief and Mini Chief Electric Smokers.
Dating back to 1968, fans of the electric smokers built by Smokehouse Products who introduced the very first Electric Smoker with the Little Chief model. These little guys are icons of Americana for sure, and I’m glad they have done little to change the look and feel of their Smoke Chief models.
Pros and Cons of Smokehouse Products Electric Smokers
One of the things many owners of either the box-style smokers in this line have to say is that they are great for fish, jerky, or sausages, which can be cooked through and safely at relatively low temperatures. However, bigger meats like ribs, tri-tip, or pork butts might best be finished off in a cooker or maybe even in the oven.
So, for things like jerky, fish, etc. that don’t require “hot smoking” at temperatures around 225 to 275, these smokers are great. If you want to do big meats, consider
Smokehouse Products – Big Chief Smoker
Today, they sell a complete line of electric smokers – as well as other products including:
- Gas smokers
- Wood chips & chunks
- BBQ pellets
- Wood grilling planks
- Jerky & sausage supplies,
- Brines & mixes
Recently, Smokehouse Products introduced the Smoke Chief cold smoker generator designed to convert any grill you may already own – like a gas grill – into a smoker. The concept is similar to one I outlined in the post I wrote on the Pellet Pro and their Magnum P.I.G. cold smoke generator attachment.
Smokehouse Products Smoke Chief Cold Smoke Generator
Keep in mind that cold smoking is not cooking. Temperatures remain between 68 to 86 degrees Farenheit. As such, be careful about smoking meat or fish at this temperature. Cheese is one thing you can cold smoke at low temps with limited to no risk. Again, these models also do well for fish, too.
What’s nice about the Smoke Chief cold smoke generator is that it gives you an easy cold smoking option for several types of grills. I own a Char-broil gas grill that this would work well on, and I think it would do nicely on a Weber gas or even charcoal grill, too.
Char-Broil Electric Smokers
I’m a history buff, so I take a special interest in the history of the Char-Broil Brand. It’s one of the oldest brand names in America. If you enjoy history like I do, be sure and check out this great timeline of the W.C. Bradley company, which founded Char-Broil and serves as its parent company today.
Though the W.C. Bradley name dates back to 1895, it wasn’t until 1948 that the first Char-Broil charcoal grill came to market. Char-broil electric smokers were introduced much later – sometime in the 2000s after a series of acquisitions including the New Braunfels Smoker Company of Texas and the grilling division of the Thermos company.
Two popular models of the Char-Broil electric smokers are:
- Char-Broil Vertical Electric Smoker
- Char-Broil Digital Electric Smokers
All reports I’ve read from consumers who own Char-Broil electric smokers are generally very positive. People really like the versatility offered by the Big Easy models and the ease of use found in the newer Char-Broil digital electric smokers.
Each of the Char-Broil electric smokers provides for the use of wood chips. I’ve read where people have used wood pellets instead, and in some cases, Bar-B-Cubes minis – which I am personally a very big fan of.
Char-Broil Vertical Electric Smoker
Pros and Cons of Char-Broil Electric Smokers
The Char-Broil vertical electric smoker receives good reviews from most users. Reports of well-prepared smoked fish and meats are common – so you should expect satisfactory results with this model.
Two of the most common complaints I see about this smoker are about its use of magnetic strips to hold the door shut (which don’t do the best job) and the lack of a handle to easily pull open the smoker chip box.
Each of these problems are remedied easily by adding DIY bought latches and handles from your neighborhood hardware store. That said, these may be things Char-Broil might want to remedy with their next iteration of this model.
Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
Pros and Cons of Char-Broil Smokers
For an upgraded option, the Char-Broil digital electric smoker (725 square inch) gets really good overall ratings. Users report consistently well-prepared ribs, chicken, and pork. As I’ve reported previously, most users enjoy the smoke flavor they get from pellets than wood chips.
The good news here is that there are countless varieties of pellet smoker pellets available on the market for you to try – so finding a flavor profile you like best should be just a matter of doing some test cooks! Oh darn… you have to eat more BBQ! See my pellet smoker review post for more detail here.
The glass front of this smoker tends to get dirty during each smoke session, so you’ll want to be sure and wipe it down after each use.
Lastly, both this and the standard Char-Broil electric vertical smoker shown above require the door to be opened in order to add more wood pellets or wood chips. An exterior drawer or chute of some kind could remedy this and prevent the need for the units to ramp back up to the desired temperature.
The Bradley Smoker brand electric smokers story is pretty cool from a historical perspective. According to the company’s website, the founder – an avid salmon fisherman – made a deal with a “master smoker” who taught him the basics of smoking meat in exchange for some fishing lessons.
After a great deal of trial, error, and a lot of good old American ingenuity, the first Bradley Smoker electric smokers were brought online. The one guiding principle followed during the construction of those first Bradley Smoker electric smokers was to create smokers that produced clean smoke within a controlled environment.
Unlike the other electric smokers I’ve referenced in this post, Bradley Smoker electric smokers offer an automated fueling system by which compressed Bradley Smoker “biscuits” made of cube cut sawdust are fed into a burn pot, consumed by fire to produce the desired amount of smoke, and are then dropped into a water pan, which extinguishes the spent biscuit.
It’s a pretty slick system from a logistics standpoint. Though, one wonders what you do if or when the feeding system gets jammed or becomes faulty in some way.
This is an issue similar to what you might face when using pellet smokers — so to be fair, I wont belabor it here too much. Just accept that with moving parts and electronics, you’re liable to suffer the occasional malfunction.
Two popular models of Bradley Smoker Electric Smokers are:
Bradley Smoker Electric Smokers – Original Smoker
- Easy to use heat and temperature controls for improved smoke consistency
- Maximum temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit
- Eight hours of smoke via the automatic loading system
- Two individual burners – one for smoke generation and one for interior heating
- Insulated stainless steel interior that’s easy to clean and maintain
- Four fully supported racks that won’t tip or rock when loading and unloading meat
- 1-Year Warranty from date of purchase
Improved Rack Construction and Support System
The original Bradley Smoker electric smoker has undergone a few updates over the years. Though operating in much the same fashion as it always has, it boasts a new stainless steel interior, with rack supports that prevent racks from tipping over or popping up when you pull them out for meat removal.
Relocation of Heating Control Unit for Better Durability
Customers in the past have complained about moisture getting to the heat controller, so Bradley Smoker has moved the control unit to the exterior smoke generator as a means of solving this problem.
Better Support and Easy Access to Electronics
You’ll appreciate additional support and structural enhancements in this unit, as Bradley Smoker has added extra large feet to this electric smoker. Additionally, the smoke generator has removable side panel for ease of cleaning and preventative maintenance.
Bradley Smoker Electric Smokers – Digital Smokers
The Bradley Smoker digital electric smoker models like this one carrying the Jim Beam offers all the convenience and durability of the original model, but provides additional control of heat and smoke levels via the Bradley Smoker digital management interface.
I noticed that more than a few users moved to the Bradley Smoker digital electric smoker model after owning one of the previously mentioned Masterbuilt electric smokers. The consensus seems to be that they sometimes found the Masterbuilt models challenging as far as keeping consistent smoke levels going.
With the patented Bradley Smoker briquette/biscuit feeding system in place, you’ll enjoy consistent smoke levels for up to 8 hours on average. Some of the literature says 9 hours, but 7 to 8 seems to be more the norm. In any case, these electric smokers from Bradley seem to provide much the same “set it and forget it” experience as the pellet smokers I’ve reviewed here on the BBQ Beat.
NOTE: The automatic bisquette feed is a great plus for ease-of-use. Another great plus is that the entire smoke generator can be lifted off the cabinet (part that looks like a fridge). It’s recommended to take the generator apart from the cabinet every once in a while and clean any extra wood particles. This goes a long way in avoiding any issues with the wood advance.
Pros and Cons of Bradley Electric Smokers
As previously mentioned, Bradley Smoker provides a great deal of ease in managing the heat and smoke output via their fuel delivery system. It’s a nice feature to have, and it provides as many as 8 hours of automatic operation.
The downside of this system is that it’s yet another area of potential mechanical failure. I’ve received reports of both positive and negative feedback where Bradley Smokers’ customer service is concerned. On the whole, users report better than average assistance when problems with these electric smokers do arise. Again – proper cleaning of this part of the smoker by removing the feeding mechanism and clearing out any debris should do a lot to keep the unit is proper working order.
One last area of concern is that the temperature settings on the digital units sometimes vary between 10 and 15 degrees from what the insulated body of the electric smokers actually experiences. As with any smoker, you’ll need to adjust to the quirks and variances of these Bradley smokers as they arise. We all learn the ins and outs of our equipment (i.e., where hot spots exist, temperature variance, etc).
Again, most users report positive experiences with Bradley Smoker’s customer service. I’m sure they’ll assist in cases where such variances become too much of a problem.
Smokin Tex Electric Smokers
Though not as well marketed or well-known to the masses as the models I’ve mentioned previously, Smokin Tex electric smokers have a strong and loyal following among those “in the know.” The first thing you notice with these well-built units is just that – they’re built to last.
Smokin Tex Electric SMoker – Pro Model 1400
The Smokin Tex electric smoker model Pro 1400 pictured above is a great option. With an 800 watt heating supply, this unit has no problem holding steady temperatures.
Each Smokin Tex electric smokers model is made from stainless steel and is designed for ease of use and portability. The cabinets in these units are also well-insulated and require minimal amounts of wood in order to achieve very good amounts of clean, consistent smoke.
How to Smoke Brisket Using the Smokin Tex
Users report that they use as little as 4 ounces of wood (one ounce being approximately the size of a golf ball’s worth of wood chips) to do a rack of ribs! This is because there is little air circulation inside the smoker, which also helps keep your meat from drying out on you.
Of all the smokers listed in this electric smokers buying guide, I’d say the Smokin Tex Pro ranks among the top for ease of use and, more importantly, longevity of use.
True fact, users say that this bad boy operates just as well in cold weather as it does in summer, due to the insulated lid and walls.
Electric Smokers Buying Guide – Final Thoughts
I hope you’ve found this post on electric smokers useful. Whatever model of electric smoker you choose, I hope you’ll consider the points made here as being delivered with a great deal of thought. My goal here with BBQBeat.com is to provide honest insights that really do help you make a decision you’ll be happy with – whether it be with purchasing electric smokers, pellet grills, or any other piece of useful BBQ gear.
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