Best Beginner Smokers Under $500 For 2021 – Ultimate Buyers Guide

My girlfriend’s father is big into smoking their meat. It increases the overall life and gives that meat a great flavor. The smoker wasn’t much more than a drum with a handle, making it pretty easy to understand. 

Meanwhile, their neighbor has a smoker that has an unnecessary amount of bells and whistles. It didn’t take long before that neighbor ended up replacing their overcomplicated $1000 smoker with a $200 piece that will find itself on this list of the best beginner smokers for under $500.

Unless you plan on becoming a professional backyard chef, there isn’t much reason for you to be spending over $500. Because of this, I’ve composed a list of smokers that you can put your first investment into easily.

Rather than guess at the features and terminology that smoker companies offer, it is best to use something great for beginners.

Check out my list below.

Top 6 Beginner Smokers Comparison Table

PictureProductStorage Capacity (sq in)What Makes It GreatRating (1-5)
Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker730Best overall beginner smoker4.4
Z Grills Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker450Best combination of smoker and grill4.4
Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker1176Beginner smoker with excellent heat management4.5
Cuisinart Vertical Propane Smoker785Best beginner smoker for propane lovers4.5
Pit Boss Gas Smoker676Best natural gas beginner smoker4.5
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker286Best small smoker for beginners4.8

1. The Best Overall Beginner Smoker: Masterbuilt MB20071117 Electric Smoker

The most straightforward overall smoker to handle is the Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker. Despite not being beloved by many smoker purists, Masterbuilt makes high-quality products.

An electric smoker is also known to be “wood chips optional.” As a result, this is the most straightforward smoker concerning both the use and the cleaning process.

The price point is below $200, making it a comfortable first investment for those who want to try out a smoker. While you can add wood chips as an option for improved flavor, you aren’t required to add those chips. As a result, this is easily the most flexible option available.

Those who like LCDs should not expect to get that with this model. Also, you will have to buy a separate meat thermometer if you want to measure the temperature.

Pros
  • Below $200
  • Accessible and easy to clean
  • Optional wood chip tray
  • Water bowl for moisture and flavor
  • Much less messy than other kinds of smokers
Cons
  • No visual cues for completion
  • No included meat thermometer

The one “extra” you have is a water bowl, which you can use to flavor your food. Those who like to add a bit of sweetness to their meat are encouraged to pour various juices here.

Regardless of some missing features, it still manages to produce high-quality meat and retain simplicity. If you are looking for your first smoker, Masterbuilt has the smoker for you.


2. The Best Combo Grill and Smoker: Z Grills ZPG-450A Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker

Some people avoid getting smokers because they don’t want to invest In something they won’t use. However, many of those people would also agree with the tastiness of grilled meat. Enter the Z Grills ZPG-450A Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker.

This innovative piece of technology combines the smoker’s wood chip-burning features with the power of a new grill. 

This product has the same level of capacity as small smokers, with 450 square inches. However, 128 of those inches are devoted to a warming rack, making it a bit of a lukewarm product that doesn’t qualify to be the best smoker or most fantastic grill. People who use a smoker that is only a smoker will appreciate the additional space.

Pros
  • Easy to assemble
  • A combination of grill and smoker
  • Cooks from 180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Digital controls
  • 324 square inches of grilling space
Cons
  • Expensive compared to our other options
  • Single rack grill gives you limited smoking space
  • Low efficiency

The combination does result in some unique elements. It also takes up far less room than a separate smoker and grill, making for a great combo application.  The combo is a bit more expensive, but the grill’s inclusion is a huge difference maker as to why.


3. The Best Beginner Smoker With Good Heat Management: Dyna-Glo DG01176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker

At almost 1200 square inches of space, the Dyna-Glo DG01176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker is the best large smoker for beginners on our list. The wide version is also under $500, making either option a steal for high-capacity projects.

As a result of its larger space, this one is a bit heavier than many of the other models here. Also, the larger area means a more significant amount of cleaning, making it a bit less easy to handle, but still an overall great product.

It also comes with an integrated meat thermometer, taking another thing off your list of stuff to purchase.

Pros
  • Vertical offset smoker
  • An extraordinary amount of room
  • Integrated meat thermometer
  • Incredible retention of temperature
  • Offers a wide option that’s great for ribs
Cons
  • Somewhat more prominent and unwieldy
  • Large capacity means bigger messes
  • Somewhat difficult to clean

4. The Best Beginner Propane Smoker: Cuisinart COS-244 Propane Smoker

With a variety of fuels available globally, it only seems right to feature a propane smoker. With this in mind, our findings went to the well-known brand Cuisinart and their best propane smoker for beginners: Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36″ Propane Smoker.

Cuisinart puts out high-quality and thoughtful products; this is one of their simplest ones. Provided that you already have access to a 20-gallon propane tank, you will be able to use the Cuisinart with great ease. 

It also comes with a built-in meat thermometer, but it has an analog gauge on the front that is more prone to potential errors. Many smokers have this issue; however, it is a well-known problem for older, or more simplistic, smokers.

Pros
  • Propane is clean, making Hank Hill proud
  • Built-in thermometer
  • A fair amount of space
  • Has a long propane hose
  • Easy to clean
Cons
  • You need to purchase a 20-gallon propane tank
  • Drippings from meat can cause ignition issues
  • Temperature reader upfront can be inaccurate

The advantage that propane has overall potential grill and smoker fuels is cleaning. While you can still add wood chips for flavor, the amount required is much lower. So if you already happen to have the propane tank available, this is easily one of the best choices you can have.


5. The Best Natural Gas Beginner Smoker: Pit Boss 77425 Gas Smoker

The Pit Boss 77425 2.5 Gas Smoker is another fuel added to our list. As the only smoker on our list that supports natural gas, you can probably tell it is our choice for one of the best natural gas smokers in the world.

Pit Boss has a total BTU of 13,500 BTU: a 3,500 BTU burner dedicated for the wood chips and 10,000 BTU for cabinet temperature.

With a see-through porcelain window, it is also the only smoker we feature that allows you to see the meat actively cooking. This feature is pretty appealing for people who get used to using visual cues to look at your food.

Regardless, a meat thermometer is your best friend when determining a safe temperature.

Pros
  • Digital display for simple viewing
  • A giant inside for larger families
  • Integrated meat thermometer
  • Easy access to cleanable grease tray
  • Cooks up to 350-degree temp range
Cons
  • Wood chip container expands and gets stuck
  • Touchy controls

It is simple and has many appealing features that make it easy to use — one of these being an included meat thermometer that will display on the digital faceplate.

Its biggest flaw comes from the expansion of the wood chip container causing it to get stuck often. The stuck tray isn’t a deal-breaker, so it is still an overall great product for the low price.


6. The Best Small Smoker For Beginners: Weber Charcoal Smoker

When searching for a beginner smoker, you shouldn’t go out and purchase something the size of an oil drum. Instead, your goal should be something closer to the Weber 14-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker. Its small size may not be appropriate for huge gatherings, but it will feed a big family.

Regardless of its small size, it is still around at about the same price as many smokers five times its size. That is likely from high-quality construction, but don’t expect the small size to be a bartering point.

It also doesn’t come with a thermometer, which typically isn’t part of smaller smokers. Instead, it comes with unique 3D instructions to ensure you can assemble it with ease. No other smoker comes with detailed instructions, ensuring you can build it.

Pros
  • Incredibly simple to clean and use
  • Includes cover
  • Has 3D assembly instructions with app
  • Large enough space to feed small gatherings
  • Good customer service
Cons
  • Too small for many projects
  • Priced the same as many more extensive options
  • The door sometimes has sealing issues
  • No thermometer

Despite your best efforts on the built, there are multiple reports of the door faulting it. However, Weber has addressed these reports with reliable customer service. Overall, this is the best option for those seeking a smaller smoker.


Frequently Asked Questions

How Does A Meat Smoker Work?

On the bottom (or the side in offset grills) of your smoker is a chamber containing water, wood pellets, and your ignition source. On top of your meat smoker is your exhaust port.

Given that warm air tends to rise and escape, your meat smoker works by drawing the warmed air through the chamber. 

Much like a slow working oven, the heat works for cooking the meat inside slowly. As a result, your meat cooks over several hours instead of one or two in conventional fast-working ovens.

How To Use A Smoker With Wood Chips?

When it comes to using a smoker with wood chips, you need to keep a couple of things in mind. 

First, many wood chips are pre-flavored and soaked in such a way that they will reduce burning. While you might think that they are just standard wood chips, there is a significant difference between this and throwing a log on a fire.

Check to see if your smoker suggests soaking your woodchips before beginning. 

Second, not all smokers use wood chips. Many of them use charcoal, pellets, or gas. Some of them will have a wood chip container, which doesn’t typically require soaking due to the small space available.

Many of them don’t need wood chips, so make that decision based on whether or not you want the flavor of wood in your food.

How Much Wood Chips For Smoking?

Most smokers require you to add a couple of handfuls of chips every hour to keep the fire burning. However, smaller burners may need you to do so faster, given the small room for heating. Check your owner’s manual for details.

While doing this, do not check the food. The key to a successful smoke is to keep the heat sealed in your smoker consistently.

How To Use A Smoker Grill Combo?

Smoker grill combos will have a feeder on the left or right side of it. The idea is to fill the feeder until you reach the fill line inside. If there is no fill line, keep it a few inches below the top of your feeder. 

In many cases, this combo setup will clog up, where you will have to place something inside of it to stir it. Be sure that the feeder is not activated as you stir it, as you may end up ruining the feeder and the tool you use to start your wood chips.

Before you leave your grill, be sure that the exhaust tube is is 3/4ths covered. Your owner’s manual may have separate instructions on that, but this will ensure that your smoker retains heat.

It can be adjusted to determine how much heat you need for what you are cooking. Use online recipes to determine what you need. 

How To Use An Offset Smoker?

Much of what we already discussed still apply: 

  • Keep your exhaust stack 3/4ths closed 
  • Be aware of where is your chip container
  • Regular is typically not appropriate for situations calling for wood chips

With offset smokers and grills, people typically use a combination of charcoal and larger wood chunks. You see this because larger pieces tend to last longer than chips, and charcoal has a nice natural flavor.

You could also use entire logs in this case; be sure you have something in there to complement the taste.

How Long Does A Propane Tank Last?

It depends on the size of your propane tank. For most barbecuing appliances, it would be a smaller tank such as a 20-pound tank. A 20-pound propane tank provides about 18-20 hours if you’re grilling on a medium-sized grill.

For larger grills, the 20-pound tank lasts about 10 hours or less. For an in-depth guide to propane tanks, be sure to read my guide.

If you’re planning on inviting a few people, I recommend that you have an extra tank on hand.

What Are The Best Brand Of Wood Chips For Smoking?

If you aren’t sure about what flavor you want, your best bet is to buy a variety pack. The best overall variety pack comes from the BBQ’s delight wood smoking pellets.

They have a potent combination of all of the best flavors available:

  • Apple
  • Hickory
  • Jack Daniel’s
  • Pecan
  • Mesquite
  • Cherry 

Once you find your and your family’s favorite flavor, you can make an informed decision on the best wood chips for yourself.

Final Thoughts

When considering the above options, our vote has to go to the Masterbuilt MB20071117. Suppose you don’t want to worry about having too little or too many wood chips or spending hours cleaning out needless areas. In that case, the best beginner smoker has to go to Masterbuilt.

If an electric smoker isn’t an option for you, there are various choices on this list. The best advice we can give a beginner is to keep your purchase to something simple.

The biggest mistake any of us can make when getting into something new is to overcommit to something with overwhelming features.

Any of the products we feature on this list covers a wide variety of beginner areas and fuel sources. If you need it, chances are you are going to find it on this list.