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Despite the advancements in kitchen technology, the distinct flavor of food cooked in a smoker is hard to replicate—nothing quite beats slow-cooked, smoke-kissed pork ribs or melt-in-your-mouth barbecue brisket. The "low and slow" cooking technique breaks down collagen and melts fat, resulting in a piece of meat that is tender and juicy with excellent texture. Meats (and even vegetables) cooked in this fashion take on the unique aromas of charred hardwood and become incredibly flavorful.
If you're searching for a home smoker that will help you perfect your technique and get you one step closer to becoming a pitmaster, look no further for the best smokers under $400.
Best Overall: Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker
Easy setup for smoking
Large water bowl regulates internal temperature
Assembly instructions slightly unclear
Water level difficult to see when using
It would seem almost insane to change a smoker as popular as Weber's Smokey Mountain (WSM) Smoker, but Weber has listened to the fans and made only slight (requested) changes to this unit, which earned a top spot on our list after testing. The addition of a lid-mounted thermometer and a bottom-mounted heat shield doesn't affect how this unit works but gives you a better smoker. In the past, you either had to drill a hole and put in your own thermometer or set one inside and lift the lid to check the temperature. Now you can see the cooking temperature easily. The heat shield will protect whatever surface you put your smoker on. Altogether, a better WSM.
In addition to the vents, this smoker has a "very sneaky trick up its sleeve" (in a good way), according to our product tester: a large water pan that sits directly above the coals helps keep the temperature stable by absorbing heat and releasing it slowly. Not only that, but it also helps prevent flare-ups by creating a moist cooking environment and serves as a tray for catching fats and juices. A bonus? You can use the water bowl to add flavor to whatever you're cooking (such as adding apple cider vinegar to it).
While this smoker is usually priced slightly above $400, you may be able to find it on sale. Or, for an even more affordable option, opt for the 14-inch model.
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking area: 481 sq. in. | Racks: 2 | Weight: 39 lbs. | Dimensions: 21 x 19 x 41 inches
"While this is definitely designed to be a smoker, I found it interesting that it’s so easy to convert it to a standard grill." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Electric: Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker
Compact enough for small spaces
Lightweight and portable
No high-heat option
Uses up smoking fuel quickly
Char-Broil is, of course, one of the leading names in outdoor cooking. This model, part of a large line of electric refrigerator-style smokers, has digital controls and an insulated construction that promises to make it easy to use and efficient—and generally, it is. This little smoker has good capacity and a great line of features, and if yours works well, it can be a pretty good investment. The biggest caveat with all electric smokers of this type is that smoke production can be limited, so if you are looking for a heavy smoke flavor, look somewhere else.
Our reviewer does like that the digital interface of this smoker is intuitive to use and that he is able to pique his curiosity about how the food is progressing with the glass on the door. While a big drawback of this electric smoker is its lack of high-heat options, he says that it has its steady temperature control going for it that's more reliable and stable than pellet smokers.
Fuel: Electric | Watts: 750 | Cooking area: 725 sq. in. | Racks: 4 | Dimensions: 16-1/2 x 32-1/2 x 18 inches
"The digital interface is so simply and intuitively designed, I was able to use it without a single glance at the user’s guide." — Justin Park, Product Tester
Best Versatile: Camp Chef SMV24S 24-Inch Smoke Vault
Easy to set up and use
Temp range of 160 to 400 degrees
Parts are sturdy and well-built
Heats up quickly
Door isn't very airtight
Temperature dial isn't always reliable
One of the problems with gas smokers is that the heat output can be limited by a factory that thinks they know best. While smoking is done in a specific temperature range, it should be up to the user if they want to "flash" smoke or do a low-temperature smoke. This Camp Chef smoker has a temperature range from 160 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is much more versatile than many gas smokers on the market. However, like most box-style gas smokers, the body isn't insulated, and although the door fits well, you may still get some smoke leakage. People say this smoker heats up quickly and is easy enough to set up and use, but they warn that it takes a bit of practice to get the temperature stable with the temperature regulator knob.
Fuel: Gas | BTU: 18,000 | Racks: 2 + Jerky rack | Weight: 75 lbs. | Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 44 inches
Best Value: Char-Griller Smokin Pro 830-Square-Inch Charcoal Grill With Side Fire Box
Distributes heat evenly
Side smoker also works well for offset grilling
Ash trays are removable
Some say paint on bottom of grill peels off after a few uses
Grill is quite heavy
The Char-Griller is another classic offset firebox smoker. This design is so popular because it works. The Char-Griller is easy to use and you can even get a rotisserie kit for it. Like all units of this type, it also doubles as a charcoal grill. It is also one of the least expensive of this type of smoker.
This smoker also got raves from several customers for how evenly its cast iron grates distribute heat and how well its side smoker works, particularly for offset grilling. It's also easy to assemble and the grates last for a while if taken care of properly.
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking area: 830 sq. in. | Racks: 1 | Weight: 146 lbs. | Dimensions: 29 x 50 x 62 inches
Best Gas: Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36-inch Propane Smoker
Easy to assemble
Temperature stays relatively stable
Meat comes out juicy and smokey
No drip tray
Water/wood chip combo pan works inconsistently
This midsized smoker from Cuisinart features 784 square inches of oven space, giving you plenty of room for smoking ribs, chicken, and much more. Its compact footprint means it won't take up too much room on your patio, and a convenient 40-inch hose gives you enough length to keep your propane tank out of the way. This smoker also has four 14-inch stainless racks that are ideal to use with large cuts of meat, whole fish, or your favorite vegetables and can be removed to be washed by hand. Two doors provide access to the inside of the smoker, and a vent on the back lets you easily adjust your temperature.
Several users say they had an easy time assembling this smoker because of its clear instructions, and they're pleased with its sturdy build and that it keeps a relatively stable cooking temperature. A few do advise to use the water and wood chip combination pan solely as a wood chip pan, and using the extra pan as a water pan and placing it on the lowest shelf of the smoking chamber for the best results.
Fuel: Gas | Cooking area: 784 sq. in. | Racks: 4 | Weight: 69-1/2 lbs. | Dimensions: 19 x 18 x 38-1/2 inches
Best Charcoal: Pit Barrel Cooker Co. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package
Set it and forget it
Cooks in a relatively short period of time
Ash pan is sold separately
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a simple, easy-to-use charcoal unit that can cook up to eight racks of ribs at once. Designed to operate consistently at around 300 degrees, this smoker needs very little attention and can be relied upon to turn out some great food in a relatively short period of time. While there are those that might argue that it isn't a real smoker, others say it does create smokey flavors and great food.
If you need more helping finding the right product, our guide to buying a smoker can help. There are many things to consider before making a purchase, such as price, features, and fuel type.
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking area: 324 sq. in | Racks: 1 | Weight: 56 lbs. | Dimensions: 36 x 25 x 25 inches
Best for Smoke Flavor: Smokehouse Big Chief Electric Smoker
Great for smoking fish and cheese
Easy to use and clean
Does not include a stand
For smoking large cuts of great barbecue, buy a different smoker. For nearly 55 years, the Big Chief and its little brother, the Little Chief, have been designed for smoking all those things that don't traditionally fall into the strict category of barbecue. For smoking fish, jerky, sausage, and cheese, this is the perfect smoker, say many satisfied users. The lower cooking temperatures that can't be adjusted and decent smoke production is great for preserving foods and adding smoke flavor to things you might not cook, or might finish off someplace else.
Fuel: Electric | Watts: 450 | Racks: 5 | Dimensions: 24-1/2 x 18 x 12 inches
Best Large Capacity: Dyna-Glo Vertical Wide Body Offset Charcoal Smoker
Easy to assemble
Total of 1,890 square inches of cooking space
Holds temperature well
Could use door seal
This vertical smoker has an offset smoke box that helps keep excess heat away from the food to avoid overcooking the items at the bottom, while also sending tasty smoke to the entire cooking box.
The six adjustable cooking grates allow you to adjust the height of the cooking space for foods of different thicknesses, so you can have thin fillets on one rack, large chickens on another, and a wheel of cheese or a bowl of salt on another rack, with less wasted space between the foods. There is a total of 1,890 square inches of cooking space, so you can smoke up to 150 pounds of food in one session.
The exterior of this smoker is powder-coated steel, and the wood chip box is porcelain-enameled steel, so this smoker will still look good after many years of use. The sturdy handles make it easy to move the smoker to the perfect spot for cooking, and the integrated thermometer lets you monitor the temperature without opening a door. For sure you’ll appreciate the grease system that collects both food drippings and condensation from the inside of the cooking chamber, so cleanup is fast and easy.
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking area: 1,890 sq. in | Racks: 6 | Weight: 83 lbs. | Dimensions: 21 x 43 x 50 inches
What to Look for in a Smoker Under $400
Sure, you’ll use wood to create the smoke in any of these smokers, but you have choices as to how that wood gets its heat. Electric smokers are convenient, while charcoal is more traditional. Gas grills offer yet another option. Since it’s wood that provides the flavor, the fuel choice is more about personal preference.
While you likely won’t be moving your smoker very far, you may decide to keep it in storage when it’s not in use, or you might want the option to move it to a better spot in the yard when the wind suddenly shifts. Think about whether you’ll be able to move the smoker by yourself or will need a helping hand.
Ability to Cold Smoke
Most smokers have no problem with hot smoking but cold smoking is a little trickier. Do you want to cold smoke salmon or bacon, or are you more interested in smoking and cooking slabs of ribs or large hunks of brisket for dinner? If cold smoking isn’t something you plan on exploring, then you needn’t look for smokers with that option.
How do you use a smoker?
Unlike grilling, smokers are used to cook things low and slow, imparting smoky flavors and tenderizing cuts of meat. “Whether it’s a stick burner, pellet, propane, charcoal, or electric, all smokers are designed to cook food through smoldering low heat,” says Mike Lang, grilled food writer of Another Pint Please. Choose your meat and hardwood, soak the wood for an hour, and smoke at a low temperature (around 200 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six to eight hours.
Can you make beef jerky in a smoker?
You most definitely can. “Beef jerky is made by dehydrating lean cuts of meat, making it ideally suited for the slow cooking of a smoker,” Lang says.
What foods can you smoke?
When it comes to smoking, most people immediately think of barbecue: beef brisket, pork and spare ribs, beef short ribs, or pork shoulders. “Cooked at low temperatures for hours, these fat-laden cuts turn into tender smoke-infused delights,” Lang says. You don’t have to stop at barbecue, though. Fish, sausage, and cheese also yield delicious results when smoked.
How do you clean a smoker?
A wire grill brush, wet/dry vacuum, and a lot of elbow grease. “Smokers and their long cooking times make them susceptible to buildup from combustion,” Lang says. Because of this, he gives his smoker a deep clean after every four to five uses, taking things apart, removing excess debris, and giving everything a general clean. A small wet/dry vacuum is a favorite shortcut for getting leftover ash out of the smoker. “It saves a lot of time and keeps things clean for the next cook,” Lang says.
Are there any must-have smoker accessories?
Even if your smoker already has a built-in thermometer, a wireless digital thermometer is great for keeping track of the ambient temperature of the smoker as well as the internal temperature of your food. “Leveraging technology means you can still go about your day while staying in instant contact with your cook,” Lang says. You also need patience––a lot of it. “Unlike a grill, smoking is measured in hours and not minutes,” Lang says.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Derrick Riches is a barbecue and grilling expert, product tester, and writer. He's also co-author of two books on grilling: "The Rotisserie Grilling Cookbook" and "Kebabs: 75 Recipes for Grilling." Riches has been writing articles and recipes about all things meat for 20 years.