In recent years, low-and-slow has become a favorite staple on menus everywhere. Whether it's authentic brisket and ribs at a BBQ joint or smoked salmon at an upscale eatery, people love the rich and tender flavor that only smoking offers. Now, more than ever, it's easy to bring that mouthwatering flavor to your backyard, with options for every price range and skill level, including:
- Kamado grills (read more about Choosing the Best Kamado Grill.)
- Pellet grills (learn how to choose the best pellet grill for you with our updated guide)
- Competition smokers
So you are thinking about taking your grilling to the next level! Congratulations, because we think cooking with a smoker makes some of the best food out there. In the South, this is what they call Barbecue and it is a type of food or way of cooking food "low and slow" that creates tender, moist, and smoky meats. This is the type of food cooked at barbecue competitions and usually includes ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, and whole hogs; however, you can smoke just about any thick cut of meat. There are three basic styles of smokers: Ceramic Grills/Smokers, Pellet Grills/Smokers, and Competition Smokers. You will find many folks use the word smoker and cooker interchangeably. We recommend carefully reading the instructions that come with your smoker to fully realize all of its potential.
Choosing the Best Kamado Grill
Ceramic grills, also called kamado grills, have been used for thousands of years and for good reason. These are the true "jack of all trade" grills. These smokers can be used as grills, hi-temperature ovens, or low and slow smokers. Their thick ceramic walls retain heat better than ANY other type of smoker while using very little charcoal. Ceramic smokers are almost as easy to use as pellet grills but have better insulation and use less fuel.
When choosing a smoker you want to look for the thickest ceramic wall possible. The thicker the walls the better the heat and moisture retention. The best smokers use corrosion-resistant hardware like stainless steel. Most manufacturers offer several sizes, but we recommend the industry-standard large size. We find that most customers who purchased a small or medium-size smoker almost always wind up "upgrading" after a season or two. The large size seems to offer the right amount of cooking space for most grillers.
There are some accessories or options most ceramic grillers find useful. We recommend the following accessories as a good basic package:
- Cart with wheels
- Lid-mounted thermometer
- Electric charcoal lighter
- Adjustable vented lid
- Side shelves
Choosing the Best Pellet Grill and Smoker
Pellet Grills are the easiest type of smoker to use. Many say that pellet grills offer the ease-of-use of a gas grill combined with the flavor of a competition-style smoker or charcoal grill. These cookers feed small wood-pellets onto a small burner via an auger. The heat cooks the food while the smoke from the pellets gives the food that fantastic BBQ flavor. Most pellet grills use some sort of electronic control to feed the pellets onto the burner and adjust the temperature. In short, fill the grill with pellets, set the computer, and walk away!
When choosing a pellet grill look for a unit made from thick-gauge steel coated with a corrosion-resistant finish like powercoat, hi-temperature paint, or porcelain. The best pellet grills have easy-to-clean grease drip trays or buckets and straightforward electronic controls. Some grills allow the griller to set an exact temperature.
Choosing the Best Competition Smoker
Competition-Style Smokers vary in size, shape, and use. The two most common styles are Water Smokers and Horizontal Smokers. These are the types of cookers commonly used in competition and produce some serious smoke. They are designed with maximum food capacity and really infuse meats with great smoky flavor. Water Smokers are simple devices, usually not that much larger than a classic Weber Kettle Charcoal Grill. The pit-master lights a fire in a chamber just beneath a filled water pan. The heat from the fire cooks the food, the steaming water keeps the food moist, and the smoke from the fire infuses the food with flavor. Water smokers are easy to use and produce very even and moist heat. However, some pit-masters find adding extra charcoal to the fire to be a cumbersome process. One of the most popular water smokers around is the Weber Smokey Mountain, which is great to learn on and can be used in competition are the
Horizontal Smokers are often shaped like a sideways barrel and have a firebox attached to the side of the main cooking chamber. The grill master lights a fire in the firebox, which allows heat and smoke into the cooking chamber to cook and flavor food. Horizontal smokers have been around a really long time. They have HUGE cooking capacity and easy access to the firebox to add more charcoal. The downside to these smokers is that some folks find the side of the cooking chamber closer to the fire much hotter than the rest of the cooking chamber. If you're looking for a versatile competition-style smoker that allows you to smoke and grill, The Good One makes heavy-duty innovative cookers that can be used in the backyard or for competition.
Competition-Style smokers are usually made from the same materials as charcoal grills and you should look for the same build-quality in one of these units as you would in a charcoal grill. Note that unless you buy an insulated Competition-Smoker, these cookers will burn through much more fuel and charcoal than a Ceramic Grill or Pellet Grill.