If you are looking for that really low profile and slow moving barbecue, the best smokers under the $400 mark are for you. There are many options ranging straight from charcoal to electricity. Needless to mention, each smoker has a set of unique features. If it is the first time you are in the market for a smoker or another similar appliance, the $400 marks is the ideal place to start. We reviewed some of the best performing smokers within this range and here are five among them. And yes, we tell you why each one of them is unique.
What is a smoker?
A smoker is an outdoor or indoor cooking appliance in which low to medium cooking temperatures can be maintained for an extended period of time. At the same time, the smoker is responsible for producing smoke and surrounding the meat with smoke so that the smoke is absorbed by the meat. Most good quality smokers do not just do these. They also ensure that there is enough space in the device so that large chunks of meat can be held at a single time. Some smokers even have three or more racks, where each rack receives varying measures of smoke.
Types of a smokers:
- Charcoal smokers:
Charcoal smokers or water smokers are also at times referred to as water smokers. The shape is that of an upright bullet and operation of these smokers is generally breezy. This is often used by cooks who run for competitions. The small footprint of these smokers suits those who have limited space in their patios.
- Offset smokers:
In the offset smokers, the chamber for cooking is generally in the shape of a cylinder. Another cylinder that is shorter and smaller is attached toward the bottom atop a firebox. A small fire in the firebox is used to cook the meat inside the cylinder. The airflow within the device is controlled rigidly.
- Vertical water smokers:
The vertical water smoker resembles the upright drum smokers in shape. Heat and smoke is generated by wood or charcoal. A bowl is placed between the cooking grates and the fire. This bowl contains water and ensures optimum cooking temperatures inside the smoker. This also enhances the humidity of the chamber.
- Upright drum smokers:
The upright drum smoker is just a steel drum that is placed upright and has been somewhat modified to become a meat smoker. While many people employ different methods, the very basic is to use an upright steel drum and a basket that would hold the charcoal near the bottom of the drum.
- Propane smokers:
These smokers were designed to create a more controlled environment in which meat could be smoked. The sources through which the smoke and heat are produced constitute the major differences. The gas burner produces the heat while the smoke comes from wood or charcoal. There are some vent holes on the steel body.
- Smoke box method:
A two-box apparatus is employed in the orthodox method. A finer degree of control can be achieved on the firebox, which is generally placed next to the cooking box. The fire box generates enough smoke and heat that then move to the food box, thus smoking the meat inside.
- Commercial smoke house:
These are generally built from stainless steel. There are separate systems that look into cooking and smoke generation. To generate smoke, sawdust is ignited through friction, flame or an electric coil.Live steam or water sprays are used to balance heat from gas flames or steam coils.
Top 5 reviews
The Bradley Smokers Original Smoker has stainless steel interiors which feature 4 adjustable interiorracks. The temperature control options are simple even for the use of teenagers. These team up to generate consistency in temperature and smoke. The device can also be used in the form of a mid-level roasting oven or cooker.You can also use the Bradley Smokers Original Smokers at a maximum temperature of 250 Degree F. The automatic woodwork system of work throws the guesswork out of the kilter and gives you that near perfect smoke.
The relentless eight-hour smoke holding capacity of the machines means that you can bank on the device to do its job even when you are away. The smoke generator works automatically and is covered under a 4-year warranty. The manufacturer has packed separate burners that help generate more smoke along with over heat. This means you can try different permutations and combinations of smoke and heat, which actually breaks boundaries.
- Stainless steel interior.
- 4 internal racks.
- Separate burners.
- Attractive price point.
- Heat without smoke and smoke without heat.
- No thermostat control.
- Usage issues with first timers.
- Food quality depends on control comprehension.
The Weber 721001 comes across as a charcoal smoker that has been designed for those who want the smokehouse flavor right at their homes. There is a heat resistant nylon handle attached to the body, which is made from porcelain steel. There are 2 cooking grates, measuring 18.5 inches each. The grates are nickel-plated and cover a total area of 481 square inches. Other quick features would include a built-in thermometer, a water pan, separate air-vents on the lid and bowl and an individual cover atop the storage compartment.
The approximate measurement of the device is 21x19x41 inches. So it is not exactly the kind of small pop, but it fits well in most kitchen slabs. True to its flavor, the smoker runs on charcoal.There are three distinct compartments in the smoker. The charcoal is placed in the bottom compartment and the top two compartments are used for smoking food.
- Built-in thermometer.
- Water pan is porcelain-enameled.
- Three distinct compartments.
- Tough cooking grates.
- Impressive total cooking area of 18.5 inches.
- Separate storage lid.
- Hi-tech design, greater durability.
- Operational oddities.
- Not too newbie-friendly.
The Masterbuilt 20070411 30-Inch Top Controller is one heavy customer that offers you 730 square inches of cooking space upfront. There is an 800 watt super heating element along with 4 racks that are coated with chrome. There is an RF remote control for temperature monitoring, time regulation and power controls. The remote also monitors the meat temperature. The device comes with a built-in thermostat control that provides consistent cooking between 100 and 275 degrees F. The probe for the meat temperature is also built-in for the device.
The spacious interior of the smoker offers smoking capacity in the upward of 2 cubic feet. This means that there is ample space for most foods including ham, chicken, sausage and fish. So if you are used to hosting many guests on celebrationsthe Masterbuilt 20070411 30-Inch Top Controller makes up for the smoke. You can add cinegar or juice as well if you need another layer of flavor in the food.
- Newbie- friendly usage.
- In-built digital thermometer.
- Great overall insulation.
- Four racks for superior capacity.
- Economy-oriented smoker.
- Effective customer support.
- Too big for standard kitchens.
- Power issues.
- Upper temperature limit of 275 degrees F.
The Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smokeroffers a huge space of 975 square inch that can be leveraged to carry out a lot of activities. The system of loading wood chips in the system is indeed smooth. The drip pan in the device can be accessed from the front. Cleaning the device is very easy with the neat drip catching system that the manufacturers have installed in the device. Other positives for the device include an internal light for enhanced visibility and 4 cooking racks.
Controlling and monitoring the Masterbuilt 20075315 Front Controller Smoker is even easier with the help of an RF remote that can regulate the light, time, power and meat temperature inside the device. The items inside the smoker can be easily removed if there is a need for cleaning up. Every detachable item inside the smoker is dishwasher safe.You will not need an external metal probe as there is a built-in one.
- Inbuilt metal probe.
- RF remote for light, power and meat temperature monitoring.
- Front-access drip pan and water bowl.
- Large cooking space.
- Can take some time to start performing.
- Issues with remote battery spring.
The Masterbuilt 20070115 Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker represents the usual cuboid-shape large smoker that you would prefer when smoking food for a large gathering. There is a built-in space of 975 square inches that houses 4 chrome coated racks which can be used to smoke or slow-smoke a variety of small and large food portions. The internal meat temperature can be monitored with the help of a built-in meat probe thermometer. The wood chips loading mechanism is initiated from the side of the smoker. This makes sure you do not lose smoke when loading wooden chips.
The strong 1200 watts heating mechanism of the Masterbuilt 20070115 Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker generates up to 275 degrees F heat. The digital control board of the smoker is lit from within by a blue LED light. The integrated Bluetooth technology means you can control the functions of the device from your smartphone or tablet.
- Bluetooth smart technology for control with phone.
- 975 inches of cooking space.
- 1200-watt heating element.
- 4 smoking racks coated with chrome.
- Back wheels for easy movement.
- Limit of 275 degrees F.
- Bluetooth range fluctuation.
What should I look for in $400 smokers?
- Excellence in temperature control:
As you would have already guessed, temperature regulation plays a vital role in determining the cooking in smokers. While some smokers are built to regulate meat temperatures only, there are others that can also handle fish. There are metal probes that categorically help in determining the temperature inside the smoker.
- Proper insulation and seals:
Insulation and sealing are really important for smokers. The smoke and heat that are generated in the base of the smoker must be contained around the meat and not allowed to escape. You must ask the retailer you give you a trial so that you may ensure proper insulation.
- Quality materials:
The quality of the body of the smoker and the internal racks and water bowl make a huge difference on the overall performance and durability. Some smokers are great when looked at from the built perspective. These are generally made of stainless steel or chrome plating. Naturally, these smokers tend to last longer.
- Eminent durability:
The durability of smokers depends on two factors: quality of machinery and material used in the body. While the material that the manufacturer uses in the smoker can be reviewed immediately, you will have to wait a while before commenting on the equipment’s machinery. Take a few tests before deciding.
- High quality thermometer:
The quality of thermometer is again something that most manufacturers have worked on of late. This is largely because of the precision that most smoked recipes now demand from users. This is why you just cannot take a risk on the quality of thermometer used in the device.
- Even heat circulation:
There are many good smokers that deliver only average performance in this regard. If the heat is not circulated evenly within the smoker, you cannot expect the meat to cook evenly. This is another reason you consider testing the smoker and tasting the meat after that.
- Enough accessories:
While accessories are not a must for smoking enthusiasts, now that most companies are supplementing the smokers so well with accessories, there is no point in missing as well. But you should not base your purchase on accessories only. While the accessories might come to use for some recipes, the basic performance of the device should be judged first.
If the smoker is fueled by charcoal or wood, the heat can be controlled by cutting off the supply of oxygen from the fire. To make this happen, one damper is needed in the chimney and another is required in the firebox. Ensure that the dampers are breezy in usage and seal firmly when you close them.
- High safety level:
Since smokers are generally used outdoors, it is the duty of the owner to pick a piece that is safe for children and pets. The electrical parts should not be affected by snow or rain. A good model will have wheels that jam when stationary. The stainless steel handle is a great addition as they cool off rather quickly.
- Affluent safety:
The safety should not start and stop at children and pets. You will also have to consider the safety of the device when you use it to smoke meat. There have been occupational hazards involving smokers in the past and you should not risk your safety for smoking.
- Warranty and support:
Ask the retailer about the manufacturer’s claims on support and warranty of the device. There are occasions when the warranty is covered by a third party. Enquire if that is the case for a particular model. Do not leave it too late. Also, check if the warranty can be extended later.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions & Answers)
- Electric vs charcoal smoker
The take is tricky on whether you should use an electric or a charcoal smoker. But both the types can be used to cook gripping barbecue.And no one should suggest otherwise to you.You should consider the primary goal of the smoker here. Even if you have a limit on the budget, you can get both charcoal and electric smokers at very reasonableprice points. In general, the electric smokers are easier to handle if you want to tend fire all night long.
- Electric vs gas smoker
While the electric and the gas smokers use heat from different sources, the cooking concept is largely preserved in the same manner. Heat inside gas smokers’ smoking chamber is produced by natural gas or propane. This cooks meat and at the same time smokes the hardwood chips. Metal heating elements are utilized in electric smokers to effect similar results. In both these types of smokers, water soaked chips tend to produce more smoke. Both these smokers are known to add a different sort of flavor in the meat.
- Propane vs electric smoker
Propane smokers are not too cumbersome on using up the gas. Often getting the wood to smolder istheir limited task. Since the propane smokers do not run on electricity, you have the advantage of portability with these. But if you are looking for a really high-end smoking exercise, an electric smoker seems to allow you a lot of extra control over the measure of smoke you get in the smoker and the temperature inside the smoking compartment. But that happens in real expensive smokers.
- Electric smoker’s vs wood smokers
There is often a big difference in meat that is smoked in wood smokers from that which is smoked in electric smokers. Most meat lovers are quick to spot that difference. There are several people to whom the meat that is smoked in wood has a better taste. And there are those who fall for the electric smoker smoked meat all too easily. While taste is subjective, most have agreed that wood smokers have a certain different flavor about them.
- How to maintain temperature in a smoker?
Temperature issues are among the most important aspects of cooking meat in a smoker. You will know that the right taste arrivesonly when the food is consistently smoked at low temperatures for a long while. The temperature can be controlled using the vents and dampers. There are generally two dampers in the smoker: an intake damper and an exhaust damper. Learning their individual and combined uses is the key to temperature control. Also, leaks and lack of insulation can upset temperature regulation big time.
- How to clean master built smoker?
To clean a master built smoker, you may remove the racks, water pan, heat shield and chop tray first. If these are dishwasher safe (which is the case for most Masterbuilt models) you may clean them inside a dishwasher. You may also clean them with your own hands. A razor blade can be used to clean the glass of the smoker. You can blow air from an air compressor to clean the heating element of the smoker. Once done, rearrange the smoker and heat it for 45 minutes.
- Is $400 dollar enough for a high standard smoker?
The question would have been irrelevant a few years back when most smokers where priced above the $400 range. But of late, many smokers have been released in the range below the $400 mark. But the better part is that these mid-range smokers are also high on features. You get a load of great features that are worth a higher price range, but are somehow available to you below $400. Also, keep a watch on higher priced smokers that are available below $400.
It should not be a really difficult exercise for you to buy a smoker below 400 dollars. The real difficultly according to us is the sheer variety that is available at present. Never before was this kind of variety available for smokers in this price range. But now most manufacturers have pressed upon the need to manufacture smokers within this price range. Go through some of the smokers we have reviewed above and you should likely find the one that lines up with your needs.
Do not just go for how a smoker looks. Check the features, inspect the warranty and come up with a list of reasons that support the purchase.