So you want to smoke meat, but sitting out in the rain tending a fire doesn’t sound like fun to you?
Electric smokers are the perfect choice if you want a set it and forget it approach.
You get a good balance between ease of use and flavour. Most electrics are super simple to use. The temperature is easy to control and they typically maintain a steady temperature for a long period of time.
While electric smokers are a great low stress way to smoke meat, plenty of people claim that “you can’t produce” real barbecue on an electric. In this guide we break down the pros and cons of buying an electric smoker, and highlight which smokers are worth investing in.
Click to jump straight to each topic
- Best all around electric smoker
- Best quality electric smoker
- Best bluetooth electric smoker
- Pros and cons of buying an electric smoker
- How do electric smokers work
- Lack of smoke ring on electric smokers
- Getting the most out of your new electric smoker
Best all around electric smoker – Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
If you’ve read our guide for the best smokers for beginners then you already know we are big fans of the Masterbuilt electric smoker (MES for short). You can choose from a range of options including with and without the front window and different temperature control options.
The built in digital thermometer allows you to select your preferred temperature from 100 to 275 degrees F without worrying about maintaining charcoal.
- The MES is better insulated than a lot of other cheap smokers, which definitely helps performance if you need to smoke in colder weather.
- The 30 inch digital model comes with a generous 730 sq inches of cooking space, almost the same as the largest 22″ Smokey Mountain.
- If you need to cook for a crowd you can get a 40″ model for a little bit extra, but we think the 30″ is big enough for most people.
The 30″ MES comes with the following options:
- Digital temperature and timer controls with no window
- Top Controller with window – get price
- Front Controller with no window
- Top controller + Cusinart Wireless Dual Temperature Probe
You can get the latest price for each of these options by selecting different options on Amazon.
The differences are actually pretty minor, so in this case we suggest going with the most affordable no window option and investing your savings in a good temperature probe setup.
The front window looks kind of cool until you’ve been smoking about 10 minutes and realize there isn’t really anything to see! It also tends to get dirty which defies the point.
There are also lots of other better smoker thermometers than the Cusinart, so we would suggest grabbing yourself a Maverick ET-733 or similar instead.
The Masterbuilt isn’t a perfect smoker, and it definitely wouldn’t impress a traditionalist. But if you want to eat barbecue without the fuss it’s a good cheap option to get started. Because it’s so popular you’ll also find a lot of fantastic resources for it like the Unofficial Masterbuilt Cookbook, and the Masterbuilt owners forum.
Best quality electric smoker – Smokein-it Model #2 Electric Smoker
Unlike the Masterbuilt smoker reviewed above, the Smokein-it is a relatively under the radar electric option. Available for just under $500, the Smokein-it represents a significant quality upgrade over the Masterbuilt.
While we were impressed with the insulation on the Masterbuilt, this thing is built like a tank. You can tell by looking at photos that this smoker is well finished.
Unlike some cheap electrics which are built with flimsy, lightweight metal, the Smokein-it comes well insulated and doesn’t require any modifications to hold a steady temperature. The build quality to price makes this still an excellent value electric smoker, and if you can spend that little bit extra you’ll be rewarded with far better barbecue.
- 12 feet long cord is handy if you need to have the smoker a bit back from the house power
- Comes with 4 dishwasher safe racks
- Wheels on the bottom are handy if need to move your smoker around
- Really efficient wood consumption helps you save on wood chips. You should only need 2-5oz of wood depending on what you’re cooking.
While some people have pointed out that the low position of the thermostat means the smoker runs a little colder at the top, we would remind you to always measure the temperature where the meat is actually sitting.
There really isn’t anything bad we have to say about this unit. This is the best combination of value and quality construction out of all electric smokers we’ve seen. Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best bluetooth electric smoker – Masterbuilt Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker 40 Inch
Electric smokers are best for people who want the set it and forget it approach. So Masterbuilt did something really clever and created this bluetooth smoker that lets you control your smoker with an app on your phone.
While there are plenty of bluetooth thermometers on the market, the Masterbuilt allows you to actually power on / off as well as adjust and monitor the temperature.
The capacity is definitely one of the highlights of this smoker. Available in both 30 inch and 40 inch models, we would recommend the 40″ as you get 975 sq inches of cooking surface compared to just 721 sq inches with the 30″ model.
Both models come with 4 smoking racks which should give you plenty of room even when cooking for large groups of people.
But let’s get serous. The reason you’re interested is the bluetooth. So how well does it actually work?
The app itself is very handy. If you’ve used a wireless thermometer before then the temperature monitoring won’t be new to you. What we really liked though was the ability to adjust temperature without leaving the house.
The bluetooth technology isn’t perfect though. The actual range is only about 12 – 15 feet, and if you have walls in the way this can decrease even further. If you’ve used bluetooth before you will understand how frustrating it can be to keep loosing connection.
On the other hand if you can keep your phone relatively close to the smoker it works well. And this feature is all about not having to leave the comfort of your house, so even if you have to leave your phone close to the door it still beats going outside into cold or wet weather!
Even without bluetooth this is still a decent electric smoker. You don’t have to open the smoker to add new wood chips / pellets which is convenient and prevents you loosing heat or smoke.
Pros and cons of buying an electric smoker
So you’ve read all about the best electric smokers available and you’re almost ready to buy, but maybe you’ve read some bad things about them.
If you buy an electric one thing is certain. You’ll need to get used to hearing silly comments from your friends about how much better charcoal tastes (unless your friends don’t smoke meat in which case they will rave about your food and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten).
We agree that food cooked in a charcoal smoker by a skilled pitmaster will have a better flavor, 95% of people won’t be able to tell the difference, and the small bit of flavor you’re giving up is more than made up for by the ease of use.
And if going electric means you can smoke every weekend instead of twice a year, then it’s a no brainer
Rather than just let you know which models to look out for, we’ve included a detailed look at the pros and cons of going electric.
- Electric smokers are “set it and forget it”. This could be a pro or a con depending on what you enjoy and what you hate about barbecuing
- If you plan on smoking a variety of food types like fish or sausage then electrics excel. You can also easily convert them into a cold smoker for making bacon and cheese
- If you live in a apartment or unit that doesn’t allow cooking with charcoal then electric might be your only smoker option
- The name probably gives this one away, but you’ll need a readily available power outlet or weatherproof extension cord
- Because electric smokers can contain a lot more parts than more traditional smokers, you’re more likely to run into problems that can result in expensive repairs.
- You won’t get a smoke ring (more on this below)
- Electric are really dedicated smoker. Unlike other types of smoker which can work OK in a pinch, an electric smoker cannot achieve the higher heats needed to get crisp skin roasting a chicken or grilling meat.
Electric is all about compromise. You give up a little bit in the way of flavor, but you gain in the ease of use. While perfectly capable of making delicious food, other types of smokers can get an even better result.
If you’re OK with making a small sacrifice in flavor (to be honest most people won’t be able to tell the difference) then electric could be the right choice for you.
And if you’re like us and collect smokers like some people collect shoes then you can always try you hand at charcoal or pellet in the future…
How do electric smokers work
If you’ve never smoked on an electric before you’re probably wondering how these contraptions actually work. Unlike your traditional Weber smokers where you just fire up some charcoal and add wood, electric smokers have a lot more technology involved.
Instead of controlling heat by limiting the flow of oxygen, electric smokers have controls to change the flow of electricity (for you nitpickers they also have very tiny vents to help control temperature).
Think the oven in your kitchen, but with smoke (if your indoor oven is smoking a lot you should probably get it looked at by a professional).
This close up of the inside of the Masterbuilt 40-Inch Smoker shows a common electric setup with the heating element sitting under the wood tray. You then have the water container off to the side.
With el’cheapo electric smokers you will probably get less control (e.g. low, medium, high). This is due to the rheostat which controls the flow of electricity.
With the higher end models you’re more likely to get a temperature probe inside which connects to the thermostat to give you greater temperature control.
Obviously with smoking the better control over the temperature you have, the better results you are likely to get.
Meathead explains how this different method of smoking causes you to miss out on the smoke ring.
Lack of smoke ring on electric smokers
Smoking purists argue that the lack of a smoke ring on meat cooked on an electric is a major downside of this type of smoker.
So what the hell is a smoke ring and why do people get so fussy about it?
A smoke ring is the pink discoloration of meat just under the surface crust ( also called the bark). It can vary between 1/8 to 1/2 inch deep depending on several factors.
Image courtesy of Ryan McDonough on Flickr
You generate a smoke ring when nitric acid builds up in the surface of meat. Formed when nitrogen dioxide from the wood combustion to smoke mixes with the wet surface of the meat.
Basically it is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat that creates the coveted pink ring. Steven Raichlen goes into more detail about the chemical reaction that causes the smoke ring over at his Barbecue! Bible blog.
There is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat that creates the coveted pink ring.
Unfortunately many budding meat smokers have setup their brand spanking new electric, thrown on a brisket and 16 hours later been bitterly disappointed when they sliced into it and found no smoke ring.
Why don’t electric smokers produce smoke rings?
The simple answer is that because the wood chips in an electric smoke combust at a lower temperature than charcoal, you don’t get the gases necessary to produce the smoke ring.
Meathead goes into more detail about why electric smokers struggle with smoke rings.
If you simply must have a smoke ring, you can always use a more traditional smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain for the first few hours, and then move the meat to your electric.
Some people have also had some luck adding charcoal briquettes and using wood chunks to generate a smoke ring. That just seems silly to us though.
Electric smokers are all about consistency and ease of operating, so if not having a smoke ring is a deal breaker for you then we would suggest another type of smoker.
Getting the most out of your new electric smoker
So you’ve got a shiny new electric smoker and now you’re ready to fire it up. Before you do, here are a few simple tips to help you produce some fantastic barbecue on your first time.
- Make sure you season your new smoker before attempting to cook any food in it. We suggest following this guide to seasoning your masterbuilt electric smoker over at the smokingmeatforums. While the guide is aimed at masterbuilt the advice will mostly apply to other smokers too.
- Even if your smoker comes with a dial in thermostat, we strongly recommend investing in a dual probe thermometer setup. The temperature can vary a lot at different places in the smoker, so you need to measure the air temperature right where the meat is cooking. Check out our guide to the best smoker theromometers
- Make sure you allow your smoker enough time to get up to temperature first, before adding any food.
- We always recommend starting off with a pork butt or two for your first smoke. This more forgiving cut of meat will still taste good even if you make some mistakes while you are learning the kinks of your new smoker.
- You’ll want to keep your new smoker clean. The best way to do this is to take out any of the removable parts (racks, water pan etc) and give them spay with a good oven cleaner.
Other than that it’s all about practice practice practice. You should find managing the temperature a breeze, leaving you to experiment with different cuts of meat, rubs, injections and all that other fun stuff.