Best Smokers for Beginners & the Money

by Top Geek  

monitoring the smoker
Great tasting BBQ begins with a well-designed smoker. In this article we explain what makes a good smoker and then present our eight best smokers based on performance and cost. Click here to jump down to the winners and their reviews.

If you have experience with smokers and you want to make the case for your favorite smoker to make our ‘Affordable Smoker’ list, leave a comment below. We’ve been known to purchase and test smokers based on our readers’ experiences and feedback from manufacturers. Keep in mind, this list is based on our favorite smokers based on value – not necessarily “the best that money can buy”. Here’s our best budget smokers.

BEST SMOKERS FOR THE MONEY: RANKED
So, you’ve been smoking meat on your backyard grill for a while, but now it’s time to upgrade to a real smoker. You just don’t have a lot of money to drop on one.

Fear not, Meat Geeks – there are still some great smokers that you can snag for under $500.

$500 is a doable amount for most people, giving you your pick of reliable and quality-built smokers. Some of our top picks cost half that, while yielding a great tasting smoky piece of meat that is no different than what you would get from smokers that cost three times as much.

Here are our lean, mean, smoking machines. We break down what we like, don’t like, and everything you need to know when looking for the best smoker for your money or the best meat smoker for a beginner.

How to Buy a Smoker for Beginners

5 Things to Look for in a Budget Smoker to Avoid a Getting a Poorly Designed One

If you’ve never had your own dedicated smoker before, how do you know what you need in one – and what style to get? Drum Smoker, offset, pellet smoker? We selected our favorite smokers under $500 based on how each accomplished the basics we look for in a quality meat smoker. These are:

Build Quality and Design:

A good smoker must be heavy-duty, durable and well-sealed to keep heat and air in. Most quality smokers are built from steel and have either a powder-coating or enamel for protection against rust, rain and high heat. The enamel on the Pit Barrel Cooker and Weber Smokey Mountain particularly good, and the steel build to be tough-as-nails.

Consistent Temperatures:

If a smoker can’t hold a low-and-steady ambient smoking temperature, it’s no good. For beginners, you want a consistent, smooth 225°F to 250°F, and you want it all day long. Smoker design, choice of fuel, construction, seal, and air intake, all play a role in how well a smoker can maintain consistent temperatures. For example, drum and bullet smokers make for smoother cooking than offset smokers.

Of our picks, the Pit Barrel Cooker and the Weber Smokey Mountain were once again the top dogs. The Pit Barrel Cooker ran a bit hotter than 225°F but burned consistently and ended up cooking meat a lot faster than most low-and-slow smokers. The Camp Chef DLX also performed well, by virtue of its pellet smoker design. The Dyna Glo was the least consistent, as it doesn’t seal as well (but it’s under $300).

Size and Cooking Area:

If you’re smoking meat all day long, you might as well smoke a ton of it – especially when the whole family is coming over. Small cooking grates are gonna throw a wrench in those plans, so unless you plan on traveling often, make your first charcoal or even wood smoker one with plenty of space.

The affordable smoker award goes to Dyna-Glo, with over 1000 square inches of cooking area spread out over 5 stacked racks – this is the cheapest smoker on the list with the largest cooking space. The Pit Barrel Cooker makes up for its smaller cooking area with the ability to hang slabs of meat. The Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett had the least of all, with only 219 square inches – making it best saved for portable meat smoking-on-the-go. The rest of the smokers on the list come in around 560 – 300 sq. in. of cooking space.

Price:

We wouldn’t be here if price wasn’t a factor, after all. We evaluated our top smoker picks based on how much they cost, relative to both each other and higher-end competition. At $349 shipped, the Pit Barrel Cooker was the clear winner when considering quality, reliability and ease-of-use, but all our picks stacked up well. If you’re on a serious budget, the Dyna-Glo offset smoker was the absolute cheapest.

Smoke Flavor and Final Meat Results:

In the end, it’s all about the meat. All the smokers we picked made some juicy, soft barbecue when cooked low-and-slow. Since electric smokers tend to come up short when it comes to flavor, none of them made our top 5. The Pit Barrel Cooker and the Weber Smokey Mountain had the smokiest flavor and best bark. As a pellet grill, the GMG Davy Crockett had the lightest smoke. We didn’t include any gas smokers on this roundup due to lack of testing. We’re never impressed with smoked meats from gas grills without adding a smoke tube of some type. As for electric grills, there’s something to be said for simplicity, instead of featuring traditional electric smokers, we’ve decided to include a few pellet grills. Our favorite electric smoker through, Masterbuilt’s Gravity Series, works like a pellet smoker, but instead of wood pellets you can load up charcoal. If you’re looking for a traditional electric smoker, jump over to our testing and review of some of the best electric smokers here.

Best Smokers for the Money (AKA Best Smokers for Beginners)

Enough Talk. Where’s the value to be had when it comes to traditional meat smokers?

1. Winner, Pit Barrel Cooker by Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

#1 Pit Barrel Smoker (PBC) Winner


See Price @ PIT BARREL COOKER CO.

Note: The Pit Barrel Cooker is not sold on Amazon, beware of generic drum smoker knock-offs.

Our top pick for The Best Smoker under $500 is the Pit Barrel Cooker (AKA PBC).

This pre-assembled Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) nails everything that Meat Geeks are looking for in a smoker:

  • it’s easy to use
  • holds a consistent smoking temperature for hours on end
  • makes perfect juicy tender barbecue, faster
  • and is super affordable smoker
  • $349 shipped to your door

Sweet, Efficient Design and Build

As a UDS, the PBC known for simplicity and smooth heat. But at a 30-gallon drum size, it’s way smaller than the classic 55-gallon UDS; that’s because the narrower width and height are the perfect smoking environment. It’s compact size and effective design make it the best barrel smoker we’ve used. The Pit Barrel Cooker Co. refers to PBC as the “Original Vertical Smoker”.  A vertical design allows for a convection style cook, with heat, smoke, and flavors evenly circling around the meat.

heat inside a barrel
weber style grill heat

The difference is in the science. In a well designed barrel smoker, a vortex of heat circulates the meat evenly, even the meat closest to the coals cooks in unison with the meat at the top.

The newest model is made from an 18-gauge steel with a heavy-duty enamel coating. It feels solid and ready to go right out of the box, it doesn’t need seasoning. The enamel coating is the same type used on that old Weber grill sitting out on your back porch (or shown in the above image) and those can last practically forever.

Assembly takes less than 5 minutes (see our video review below). Just unpack it, slide in the charcoal tray, hanging rods or grate, and screw the handle onto the lid, place it on the stand. You’re off to the barbecue races.

Hanging Slabs: Even Cooking All The Way Around

The ability to hang meat for cooking is one of the best parts of the PBC. It comes with stainless steel meat hooks that hang from the two metal rods, placing briskets, shoulders, ribs and or birds right in the center of the convection heat.

roast in barrel smokerBeef Roast in Pit Barrel Smoker with a View of Charcoal Basket and Vent Below
This way, they cook evenly on all 4 sides – and the results are off-the-charts good. Hanging slabs of meat directly over the coals also means juices can drip directly on that hot fire, creating more smoke and an ultra-meaty flavor.

The PBC also includes a grill grate for loading in meat without the need for hanging it. Additionally, they sell several addon accessories, our favorite is their hinged grate for hanging and grilling at the same time.

top of the barrel with upgradeGrate w/ hinge is an upgrade accessory that can be purchased from Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

Ease-of-Use and Consistency: Smoking in Action

The Pit Barrel Cooker is easy to fire up. Fill the charcoal tray up with high-quality charcoal and scatter in some wood chips, light some in a charcoal chimney, and dump it on top. Put the meat on and you’re ready to go; the charcoal and wood chips will burn slowly while keeping a steady temperature.

The PBC usually runs hotter than the classic 225˚F – usually about 255˚F for us. This could be due to how much air is coming into the vents or how much charcoal was lit. Either way, meat comes out finished much quicker than usual; a 16-pound brisket can take about 6 hours – that’s about half what it takes at 225˚F.

Still, the high heat doesn’t affect the final product much; briskets come out just as juicy and delicious, and with the perfect amount of smoke flavor and nice smoke ring. The kind of BBQ Meat Geeks are after.

our video review
Watch our video review of the Barrel Cooker on YouTube.

At $349, the Pit Barrel Smoker is well under $500 – and practically a steal. It also made our Best Gifts for Grillers list.

It’s super simple and easy to set up and use, holds a consistent temperature for hours on end (even if it does burn a little hot) and creates juicy, tender barbecue every time. It can also cook a side of ribs or an entire brisket in no time.

We love it – and recommend it as the Best Smoker under $500.

2. Weber Smokey Mountain 18” Smoker

#2 weber smokey mountain


See Price @ Amazon

The Weber Smokey Mountain is the bullet smoker counterpart to the Pit Barrel Cooker’s UDS design. Some consider it the perfect smoker — it’s also the oldest, and most well-known smokers on our list — Weber introduced the first model back in 1981, and they’ve garnered quite a loyal following in the meantime.

We like the Smokey Mountain because it holds a steady temperature for hours on end, is easy to use, and is built like a tank. It’s among the most versatile smoker on the list. It makes some finger-licking good barbecue, too.

Build and Design: Rock Solid Weber Reliability

The Weber Smokey Mountain is a bullet smoker. It burns charcoal and has a cylindrical “bullet” shape and domed lid, which are perfect for even cooking – just like a UDS.

Bullet smokers also have water pans in the middle; adding a layer of water helps regulate temperature and acts as a barrier between the hot coals and the food. This helps keep temps low and steady by letting heat radiate instead of hitting food directly and adding moisture.

You can pour water into the pan from the top beforehand, or you can add more through the large access door in the front while smoking. There are two dampers – one at the bottom and one on the lid. The top damper is usually left open to let smoke vent, and the bottom is used to control how hot the fire burns.

Build quality itself is rock-solid. The porcelain enamel finish is tough as nails and we think it will last decades of heavy use. The legs are solid steel and have an aluminum heat shield for protecting whatever you stand the smoker on.

Consistent Temps and Long Cooking Times.

The Smokey Mountain is a pro at keeping a low-and-steady temperature for hours on end. Temps run a bit lower than the Pit Barrel Cooker; while the PBC usually ran between 250˚F and 260˚F, we can easily keep the Smokey Mountain at right about 225˚F.

With the right amount of water and fuel, you can keep that temperature all day – for 12 to 14 hours, which is long enough for most briskets or roasts.

Since the Smokey Mountain doesn’t run as hot as the Pit Barrel Cooker, it takes longer to smoke the same pieces of meat. But the food comes out just as good, which is the whole point.

Ease-of-Use

The Smokey Mountain is easy to get setup and maintain during cooking. To light, you simply add charcoal to the bottom portion before cooking and use a charcoal chimney to start it – just like the PBC.

But it also has that large access door in the front, which makes adding more charcoal or water super easy. Cleaning everything up is quick and easy, too, as all the grates are stainless steel.

Large Cooking Space

The 18” Smokey Mountain has two grates with a combined 481 square inches of cooking area. If smoking vegetables, stick those on top.

Cult of personality

One interesting aspect of this smoker is how devoted the fan base is to the unit. Sure, it bears a resemblance to R2D2 of movie fame, but it has to go deeper than that. When you see this piece of equipment showing up at competition barbecue and placing, in spite of the overwhelming number of choices in the market, there must be something going on. We’ve already listed a variety of reasons to like the unit. But it has to go deeper to explain just how long this smoker has remained, not just relevant, but popular.

It really comes down to a couple very important aspects of how this works. First off, very few moving parts. A cylinder, a bowl, a grate and some racks; very basic but very effective. Endurance is next. People actually restore these models from the eighties, and get decades more use from them. With a very short learning curve and the ability to consistently produce good results, it all adds up to a special place in the market. And, you could rightly say, that is the legacy of Weber in general, their kettle grills are oft imitated and ubiquitous in the market, it is no surprise to see the same staying power in the Smokey Mountain.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

  • The door on the front doesn’t seal well, letting lots of heat and smoke escape. There are aftermarket doors available if that’s a problem.
  • The bi-metal thermometer in the lid is unreliable and inaccurate. Weber put a silicone grommet on the side so you can easily place a thermometer probe for reading temps.
  • You can’t always fit full racks of ribs on a single grate.

Our Take:

We love the Weber Smokey Mountain. The 18” model maintains a perfect 225˚F all day long, there’s plenty of cooking space for smoking anything, and the quality and craftsmanship is pure Weber. Asking price is just a little bit more than the Pit Barrel Cooker, but it’s still well under $500. A worthy competitor to the PBC.

3. Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker

offset charcoal smoker in grass


See Price @ Amazon

This is our best budget smoker. This is the only offset smoker that is part of our value group. First off, this is not really an introductory product for smoking, you should know your way around smoking meat to move into this. If you do, this may be the best smoker for meat with good cooking capacity.

Tough Build, Simple Design

At 124 pounds this is no lightweight item. It is also very spacious, with over 1300 square inches of cooking space. Being that large, the steel is spread a little thinner instead of being built like a tank. Perhaps it won’t be an heirloom you pass along, but getting a decade of regular use seems likely. The details are part of what makes this a nice product; wire wrapped handles, large wheels for moving about, pre-installed hooks for sausage and such, along with other features. Seeing thoughtful design components in this price range is refreshing.

Quintuple layered Cooking Space

That’s right, five layers of cooking giving you the largest smoking space of all the smokers on our list. They are all removable so all that flat space is easily converted to vertical space, as in enough to smoke the entire carcass of some critters. At 17 inches in diameter, you could fit most whole briskets or racks of ribs on each shelf. Our view is if you are going to fire it up, you might as well cook a bunch.

How It Performs

The biggest trade off to this smoker is that it does require some attention during the smoking process. It has a good firebox for loading up fuel such as charcoal, wood, wood chunks or wood chips. This will also work as a small grill if needed.

veggies in smoke box
Smokers that provide an easy way to sear is always a welcomed amenity.

However if you remove that grill, you now have a monster firebox. Obviously you can’t pack it for a 12 hours smoke, but for adding lump style charcoal or wood, it doesn’t get much easier. You do need to stoke it a bit higher than you may expect, as is the nature of offset smokers.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

  • A number of folks didn’t think it sealed well, and they are not really wrong. You can buy a gasket kit that will seal it up tight, or just understand that it may add to cook times and fuel usage.
  • The slide out fuel drawer also makes clean up and ash removal easier
  • Offset style allows for easy low temperature smoking

Our Take:

If you are ready for the next step in pit smoking, this is a great product. If you already have that skill level, this will allow you to show off, and do it with a large amount of cooked food in one session. It is still a value product, only time will tell if that shows up to diminish longevity, but it seems to deliver for the price point.

4. Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill


See Price @ Amazon

About Kamado cooking

Before jumping into our review on this affordable Kamado style smoker, I want to spend a second on these types of ceramic smokers.

With a history that dates back millennia, it is great to see real staying power exhibited. The idea of kamado devices came to the US after WWII. Kamados were specialty and commercial cookers that mainly prepared rice for special occasions. Fueled by charcoal or just sticks and twigs, the heavy ceramic construction has amazing heat retention for even temperatures over extended periods. The oval shape facilitates natural convection patterns to allow just enough airflow and heat movement for great cooking.

The Big Green Egg

The Big Green Egg

It is hard to actually find enough adjectives for how good this product is. At well over 150 pounds, it is a seriously built unit. The interior ceramic tiles are the same thing you will find in a kiln that works in four-digit temperature ranges. They in turn nest inside the beautifully crafted egg itself. Thankfully they have an assist to open the domed lid without pulling a muscle.

Kamado cooking on grill

The things work too. The venting top and bottom allows excellent control of the airflow and therefore the heat production from your fuel. The shape captures smoke to allow the flavors to infuse. This product is also quite proficient at actual grilling, a combination not many devices execute well.

The problem, and it is sizable, is the price point. We are firm that you get what you pay for, but we don’t always need a Rolls Royce when a domestic rig will do just fine. So, the Green Egg does not fulfill the value equation we are seeking here. That doesn’t mean we are eliminating the egg category entirely.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s continue with our review of the Akorn smoker.

Char-Griller’s Akorn Kamado-Style Smoker Offers Excellent Value

Char-Griller may not have thousands of years of history like the kamado cookers, but they have been around for nearly seventy years, giving them some veritas. If they keep bringing out products like the Akorn series of kamado grills, they will insure themselves an even longer life in the market. Here’s why we can give it a “Recommended” Rating as a cheap smoker.

Build and Design: Sturdy and relatively light weight

At just under one hundred pounds, the Akorn comes in heavier than many smokers, but much lighter than traditional kamado cookers. Instead of ceramics, Char-Griller uses double wall steel construction. Think a thermos bottle for smoking food, you get all the insulation to hold your temperatures without the heaviness. And, heaven forbid, if it got knocked over, the steel walls will not crack like ceramics can.

Consistent Temps and Long Cooking Times

Keeping with the traditional design, this egg has vents at the top and bottom offering very precise control of the airflow. The basket has enough space to accommodate charcoal that will easily deliver 8-to-10-hour cooks at 225. Because it is so well insulated, you have to watch the temperature rise, it is significantly easier to heat than to cool it down while cooking.

Ease-of-Use

These have a relatively easy learning curve. And once you learn the best settings for airflow and the temperatures, you’re seeking you have close to a set and forget device. Between the control and the insulation factor you will be smoking great food quickly.

Decent Cooking Space

They rate this at 447 square inches, which is technically true, if you include that upper rack, which they do call a warming rack. The real number is just over 300 square inches. Combined with the high dome you can do pork butts, briskets and whole turkeys pretty easily. Ribs will fill it up pretty quickly however.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

This isn’t meant to be a portable device. The three wheeled rack is pretty good for scooting around, caution is needed with uneven terrain and the top-heaviness, but with a little attention you can easily move the unit from point a to point b. The warming rack is the only piece of so-so engineering in the unit, with one point of attachment that weight limit is quickly met. The side racks are a nice touch that definitely come in handy.

Our Take:

The Akorn functions very well as a smoker. It is also one of the best cross over devices we’ve seen, able to hit an easy 600 degrees for searing and pizza cooking. Buy it as an excellent smoker, and you will find it has a great niche as your go to outdoor cooker.

5. Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560


See Price @ Amazon

This is in the realm of a chicken or the egg joke. Pellet smokers are great with their ability to keep a regulated flow of fuel moving to keep your cook going. These guys treat charcoal briquets like big ol’ wood pellets moving into position. Cool. Which came first? Who cares, it works.

Build and Design: Fairly solid

At nearly 150 pounds dry weight, this is not a featherweight piece of equipment. Sure, some may quibble about certain aspects of the build being lighter duty, but the overall quality is pretty high. Certainly it is strong enough to have a long life as a backyard piece of cooking equipment. It also has a couple nice touches like a silicone opening for thermometer cords and fittings to add the rotisserie if desired.

Consistent Temps and Long Cooking Times

This unit excels at both aspects of making barbecue. The hopper seems big enough to accommodate a lifetime of cooking. The insulation factor is enough to hold temps, and the fan controls keep the temps in range quite well. It really is one of the first charcoal set and forget feeding units. Plus, it comes up to speed quite quickly.

Ease-of-Use

The unit itself rates very highly in our book for ease of use. The only negative is assembly, plan well over an hour, just shy of two realistically. Once that is through you are off to the races. The digital controls are very intuitive and work well. It offers Bluetooth compatibility, and some may argue that the app is not ready for prime time. Yes, there is a learning curve with the app, but it is not insurmountable by any means.

Good Cooking Space

At 560 square inches of cooking space, this unit is above average. This space is with the porcelain clad steel racks, reversable if you choose for smoking or searing. Uniquely, Masterbuilt offers the warming racks as an add-on, or with specific packages. These racks are secure, and certainly usable if you want to smoke extra racks of ribs or such, adding 240 square inches of usable space.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

The speed with which this unit comes up to temp is impressive. It is rated for grilling at temperatures up to 700 degrees, and if you have it running at smoke temp it will fire up that high in mere minutes. However, if you are grilling with the lid open, as you should for steaks, you will get a temperature variance from the end closest to the coals to the other end. You can integrate small wood chunks and lump charcoal to enhance the flavors of your food which we appreciated.

Our Take:

It’s hard to make fun of the guy using an electric smoker when you dump in loads of coal. While we’re all for the manual process of smoking and lean towards traditional smokers like the Pit Barrel and Weber Smokey Mountain, you can’t deny the value with this electric style smoker. You’re getting a hands-off smoke, but not having to sacrifice on flavor like you do with pellet smokers. This is a great smoker for experienced pit bosses but it makes an even better smoker for beginners – if you can spend a little extra cash than some of the others in our list.

If you are less concerned about a budget, the 1050XL is certainly worth the look with nearly double the cooking surfaces and a couple other nice features. Whichever you choose, a smoker from the Gravity series is well worth the money spent and earns a place in our list of best smokers for the money.

6. Camp Chef PG24DLX Pellet

3 camp chef pellet smoker


See Price @ Amazon

The Camp Chef PG24DLX makes our list as our favorite pellet smoker under $500. It is a mid-sized pellet smoker that cooks up real good barbecue with ease, thanks to an intelligent temperature control, automatic electric pellet hopper and tons of cooking space. It compares favorably to a Traeger but costs a lot less.

Design and Heavy-Duty Build

The Camp Chef DLX looks like a classic pellet smoker: half gas grill, half offset smoker. It is the best smoker grill combo on our list.  Built from heavy-gauge steel, it clocks in at hefty 140 pounds – so isn’t the most portable smoker, but it does have two wheels for moving around the deck.

On the left is a large electric pellet hopper, with an automatic auger feeding wood pellets to the firebox automatically according to the temp settings you’ve selected. The 18-pound pellet capacity can last entire smoke – twice the capacity of the portable Davy Crockett. There’s a handy trap-door if you need to empty the hopper anytime.

Digital Temperature Control and Automatic Features

The Camp Chef has a digital temperature control on the hopper to set and control ambient temperature. You can use the dial to select pre-set temperature notches from 175˚F to 500˚F, as well as “Shutdown”, “Feed”, “High”, “Lo Smoke”, and “Hi Smoke,” modes which have precise temperature and pellet auger timing settings.

front of camp chef

The dial controller monitors both ambient grill temperature and internal meat temperature (a stainless-steel meat probe is included) and displays both on the LED screen, which we like; it’s nice to see how everything is going with just a glance.

There have been some complaints from people who can’t get the DLX to cook consistently, with large temperature swings and problems with the auger feeding properly. So that is something to watch out for – perhaps a quality control issue, considering the DLX’s entry-level price tag.

But most people have no problems, and from our testing – we have faith in the Camp Chef to get the job done.

Easy Ash-Cleanout System

Cleaning grills and smokers can be messy, but not with the Camp Chef. Just pull the lever on the right-hand side, and all the ash empties into a basket that you can shake into the trash can. Quick and easy! We love it.

Large Cooking Area

The main rack packs 429 sq. in. of cooking space, and another 141 sq. in. on the top rack for a total of 540. That’s enough for a couple of large briskets or pork butts as well as several racks of short ribs, and almost as much as the Char-Broil vertical smoker below.

Mild Smoke Flavor

Electric pellet grills aren’t known for creating lots of smoke or a strong smoke flavor. The Camp Chef is no different; it creates a light – but consistent – amount of smoke that gives meats a mildly smoky flavor. That’s neither good nor bad – some people like heavy smokey flavor more than others. Many times I’ll toss in a cold smoking pellet tube filled with wood chips to offset the lack of flavor I end up getting without it.

 

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

  • It’s heavy – and kind of a bear to move on your own, even with wheels.
  • We think insulation could be better. The grill-and-lid design means there are some places where heat can escape, which can cause temperature fluctuations on very windy, cold days.
  • Being able to collect grease in a drip bucket is really nice and makes clean up easy.

Our Take:

The Camp Chef PG24DLX is a fantastic pellet smoker for the price, which usually hovers at just under $500. Pellet smokers are the closet thing you’re gonna get to an automatic, set-it-and-forget barbecue solution, and the Camp Chef DLX certainly doesn’t disappoint.

It’s built like a tank, has an intuitive and easy-to-use temperature controller, automatic auger and built-in thermometers, and a large hopper for cooking all day. That’s why it’s easily the best pellet grill under $500.

7. Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet

5 Green Mountain Pellet Smoker Davey Crockett


See Price @ Amazon

Another electric smoker; the Davy Crockett from Green Mountain Grills is a compact, WiFi-capable pellet smoker, and the best of the limited budget pellet smoker selection. If the Camp Chef is still out of your price range, go for the Davy Crockett. It’s totally portable, so you can smoke (and grill) all your favorite meats at the tailgate or the campsite.

Compact, Lightweight Design

This the first reason the Davy Crockett catches most people’s eye; it’s only 31” high, weighs 68 pounds (half that of the Camp Chef), and stands on folding legs that double handles so you can easily move it around the backyard or throw it in the trunk to go wherever you do. Set it up on the back of the truck for the best tailgate food you’ve ever made. It’s built from a combo of steel and stainless-steel parts to cut down on weight.

The only downside to the compact size is the lack of cooking space – only 219 sq. in. But it’s a trade-off; there’s enough room for about 2 racks of ribs, two roasts or 4-6 steaks.

Smart, WiFi-Ready Digital Temp Control

The Davy Crockett has a precise and easy-to-set digital temperature controller on the pellet hopper, and an integrated thermal sensor called Sense-Mate, which monitors the grill’s ambient temperature. Temperature adjusts in 5˚F increments from 150˚F to 550˚F and GMG includes meat probe for monitoring how close food is to completion.

Standard pellet smoker stuff, but the Davy Crockett also connects to WiFi – and it’s not just a gimmick. You can monitor and adjust those temp settings from your phone. Smoking meat just got a heck of a lot easier; you don’t even need to get off the couch to keep things burning smoothly. Server Mode connects through the cloud so you can monitor from far away.

Automatic Hopper For Hands-Off Cooking

Like the Camp Chef, the Davy Crockett has an electric pellet hopper with automatic auger, working with the auto temp control to feed wood pellets directly into the firebox and keep the fire burning smoothly. The hopper only holds 9 pounds versus the Camp Chef’s 18, so it doesn’t last all day.

Smoke, Grill, Sear: Versatile Cook Surface

Don’t want to spend the day smoking and just want to grill up a few burgers or sear up some steaks? GMG has you covered; just crank the Davy Crockett up all the way and get to it; it’s as good a grill as it is a smoker. Another reason to take it camping with you.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like About The Davy Crockett

  • It needs to be plugged in to run. That goes for all pellet grills of course. The good news is you can power it with your car from the accessory socket (cigarette lighter) via 12V, or 120AC.
  • Since it’s a pellet grill, it doesn’t create the strongest, smokiest flavor. You may not care.
  • Green Mountain Grills includes a 2-year warranty.

Our Take

Sure, it’s not as big as the Camp Chef, but the Davy Crockett is cheaper, portable, smartphone-connected and just as good as smoking meat. If you want a reliable pellet smoker well under $500, go for this one.

8. Pit Boss 700

Pit Boss 700


See Price @ Amazon

Pit Boss has done a great job of building a recognizable and quality brand. They also deliver a lot of features and size at attractive price points. They’ve been making pellet grills since 1999, so they have experience with the products. In this case a fully functional pellet grill that gets you smoking right out of the box.

Build and Design: Sturdy and the right weight

The 700 series is built to an appropriate weight and sturdiness for your backyard smoking and cooking. The powder coated metals will endure the elements just fine. The only negative we hear being reported is that the electronics may have an issue wearing out, but the structure is sound.

Consistent Temps and Long Cooking Times

Like all pellet grills, it could use some insulating factors, but with the constant supply of wood pellets it holds temperature through fuel consumption, which also brings more smoke flavor to the cooking process. They do offer an insulated blanket if you are working in colder climates. Otherwise, you get the benefit of set and forget cooking that has made pellet grills so popular. The hopper will hold pretty close to the 21 pounds stated, and that is more than enough for the longest cook time.

Ease-of-Use

This is why we like pellet grills. Hit the switch and away you go. Give the unit time to warm up, add food and sit back. The porcelain clad racks clean up easily. The ash removal is slightly easier than most pellet grills. We always line the heat shield between the flame box and the racks with foil for easy ongoing clean up.

Decent Cooking Space

The rating of over 700 square inches also includes about two hundred inches of upper rack. As usual, this rack is fine for ribs, chicken and such, a little tight and lightweight for a packer cut brisket or full pork butt. The short version, you have plenty of space to cook for family and friends.

Other Things We Like/Don’t Like

This is a straightforward no frills pellet grill. It delivers quite well. If you are expecting lots of bells and whistles this isn’t for you. Like all pellet grills, the manufacturer will say it sears at high temp. Typically none of them do this very well. However, for low and slow smoking, and baking or roasting in the 300-400 degree range (think chicken pieces!) this grill will make you and your guests happy diners.

Our Take:

The Pit Boss 700 absolutely meets the grade to be included in this list of best smokers for the money. It is straightforward and performance oriented; which is the long way to say it works, it does the job. As an introductory unit for the beginning pit boss, this is unquestionably a great value way to get started.

Upgrade Your Smoker

Tech tools for Cooking

It is an interesting state of affairs that the simplest of cooking styles (fire – flame – smoke – food) has so many tech gadgets to help you do it better. The reason is; they work. They give you the information you need to keep your food cooking correctly and safely. After all, brisket ain’t cheap, you don’t want to toast it by not knowing what’s happening. You also don’t want to spend hours on end watching the paint dry and the temperature stay constant. These are the tools that will free you up, broken into three categories; Wireless Probes, Bluetooth Monitors, Wi-Fi Monitors.

Wireless Probes

Wireless Probes

This category are the probes that have a smaller profile than the common analog ‘piercing’ thermometers we’re used to. At least at the top where the dial usually sits is smaller, the shaft is actually quite chubby, thicc if you want to be polite. You place them in the food to be cooked, leave them throughout the cook time and you can monitor the internal temperature via an app to your phone. The top two that we tested are the Meater+ and the Meatstick X. What they shared is a rating that they will also monitor the ambient temp of your cooking environment. They do, but not very accurately in our testing. For accuracy internally the Meater+ was slightly better. The Meatstick X will give you better range for Bluetooth signals. With both priced right around $100, either will serve you well.

Bluetooth Monitors

Bluetooth Monitor

The top two in our testing group are the Thermoworks Bluedot and the Inkbird IBT-6XS. Each will cost around $70, and both ranked highly for completely different reasons. Thermoworks is an industry standard for temp testing, as in the commercial gold standard. This device gives you that accuracy and response time. The app and device are easy to navigate, the base unit is water resistant. The probe is sturdy, with a silicone handle and wire coil to diminish bending at the probe junction. The down side is that it only supports one probe. Which brings us to the next contender, Inkbird, packaged with five piercing probes and one ambient probe. The app isn’t as great, but you truly can monitor six areas of your cooking including the air temp of your cooking environment. The base is not water resistant, it does have a rechargeable battery, and the probes a solid build quality with knurled stainless steel.

Wi-Fi Monitors

WI-FI Monitors

This category distinguishes itself by pushing real time data to anywhere in the world that you have internet connectivity. Run out of garlic? You’re covered for your trip to the store. Must show appointment for a beer with a friend…well you get the idea. Again, Thermoworks and their Signals product is our top choice. It offers four coded probes and a great base unit that can manage everything without the app. But their app is the best too. Fireboard is such a close second that the gap is hardly noticeable. It does have more accurate fan controls (yes, a blower attachment when the temperature drops), and an arguably better display. It is not as weather resistant however. Both units will cost around $200 comparably equipped allowing you to monitor, and if desired, control the burn rate of your smoking device. Upgrading your smoker to include some features you find on electric smokers is a great way to improve your meat smoking experience without the need for sacrificing the flavor your get from your favorite traditional smoker.

Gas Grills Just Don’t Cut The Mustard

If you only have a gas grill, then you definitely need a smoker. The mechanics of gas grills do not make for a good smoker. They are designed to pump heat through the chambers, reaching high temperatures; not what you want when smoking. In addition, the air flow rate is high which makes capturing the smoke difficult. Without making adjustments and ongoing monitoring, smoking on a gas grill will dry out your meat. You’ll notice we didn’t include any gas smokers on this list. We’re not big fans of using propane smokers for BBQ. With so many other options available when it comes to meat smokers, it’s best to skip on gas smokers unless you really need a portable option for smoking meat hands-off.

About the author Top Geek

I have always been a believer: “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I’ve been lucky enough to use my professional experience in the meat industry over the past 20 years to create a business where I love to go to work.

Smoking Meat Geeks is all about bringing people together that enjoy food as much as I do. We provide a place for everyone to share thoughts, ideas, and recipes; to be a go-to spot for cooking inspiration. Feel free to leave a comment, say hello, or provide any tips. There is no right or wrong input, as long as you’re engaging, you’re a Meat Geek!

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