Updated: Oct 30
Barbecue (BBQ) is the backbone of American cuisine, but where do you start? What type of smoker should you buy and what is the difference? The market is saturated with confusing insider jargon that makes it difficult to now where to get started.
BBQ is as American as apple pie and you should know a little history. The first tribe encountered by Christopher Columbus on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, using green/wet wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning while the tribe continued to forage.
In 1540, close to present-day Tupelo, Mississippi, the Chickasaw tribe. showed explorer Hernando de Soto how to cook a pork feast over hot coals. Eventually, the technique made its way to the original colonies, traveling as far north as Virginia. In 1755, the word “barbecue” was entered into Samuel Johnson’s The Dictionary of the English Language.
America's BBQ was created out of necessity but has evolved into a craze all across the country. Every time there is favorable weather, a gathering of 6 or more, or a national holiday... the grill is fired up. American BBQ is not easily defined and is as ritualistic as a religion. The flavors and ritual aspects provide a scene of calm, normalcy, and comfort for many Americans.
A simple online search instantly shows you the vast range to choose from, and it’s easy to get bogged down with analysis paralysis.
The team at Smoked Bros, we’ve made things a little more simple for you. We’ve put together a Beginner's Guide to Smokers, along with their pros and cons. Picking the right smoker is as simple as choosing the right tool for your needs that is within your price range. Below is a break down of the seven different styles.
1: Propane/Gas Smokers
SURPRISE!!! Gas smokers, use natural gas or propane to generate heat through a gas burner. Gas and propane are terms that are often used interchangeably. Propane smokers come in a fixed or portable system. A fixed system is fully plumbed with gas lines and is typically bricked in. Portable systems often are fueled by a detachable portable propane cylinder with a gas line.
How do they work?
The majority of propane smokers come in a "vertical cabinet style." A vertical gas smoker works by heating a cooking chamber and charing wood chips in a pan and the circulates, heating food via convection.
Propane smokers are as simple to use and propane is a widely available.
The temperature of a gas smoker is controlled similar to a gas grill or stove, and it’s quicker to make changes to the temperature than with a charcoal or pellet burner.
Propane is much faster to get started than a charcoal one. Lighting the fire to cooking in around 10-15 minutes.
Although gas does produce more combustion gasses, and therefore more slightly more flavor than an electric grill. But some people do complain of a weak or faint smoke taste. Gas doesn't always bring the bold smoke flavor people look for in BBQ.
Always have an extra tank, just to ensure you don’t run out of gas mid-smoke.
2: Electric Smokers
Electric smokers are a great starting point for those starting out. The are truly a Fire and Forget product, which allows you to focus on other aspects of your BBQ. There is no messy charcoal or lugging around cylinders. Electric smokers can be as easy as setting the temperature, potentially from a Bluetooth app with some higher-end models, setting a time, and then feeding the pit boss beers while the work is done for you.
How Do They Work?
An electric smoker consists of a cooking chamber, an electric heating element, grill racks, a water pan, and the option for wood to burn alongside the electric heaters and give the meat its smoky flavor. Very similar to how the propane smokers work, just your heat source is now an electric coil.
Electric smokers are the easiest smokers to use, which makes them a great intro tool.
You don’t require an additional costs in fuel sources, like gas, pellets, or charcoal.
Don't go too cheap when it comes to a quality electric smokers. You need to ensure the smoker is able to retain a consistent temperature.
Truly a plug and play product that doesn't require hours of babysitting a fire.
The moist atmosphere inside an electric smoker, which is excellent for smoking delicate food like fish, cheese, ve