Have you ever wanted to create your own smoked meat, vegetables, cheese or even nuts? But don’t want the hassle and mess of traditional fire based smokers. Perhaps where you live, having a live fire is not an option, electric smokers could be the solution to your problem.
When looking for a smoker there are some important facts to consider. One of the most important ones is that not all electric smokers are made equal. Follow along as we discuss some important aspects of electric smokers before purchasing your own. Join us as we help remove the smoke from your eyes.
In this buyers guide we will discuss the following:
- General Overview of Electric Smokers.
- Different Kinds of Electric Smokers.
- Components of an Electric Smoker.
- Adding Smoke with Wood Chips.
- Hot or Cold Smoking.
- Smoking Temperatures.
- Maintaining Moisture.
- Monitoring Temperatures.
- What to Smoke.
- Different Meats to Smoke.
- Pros and Cons of Electric Smokers.
- Reviews of the Top 5 Best Electric Smokers under $300.
- List of the top 10 Best Electric Smokers under $300 .
General Overview of the Best Electric Smoker under $300
Have you ever smelled the mouthwatering aroma of smoked meat, tasted melt in your mouth scrumptious smoked brisket or perhaps had to desire to smoke your own high end cheese or even salts?
Perhaps you live someplace where having a live flame is not an option, or you don’t want the hassle of tending to the more traditional BBQ pits. If this is the case then an electric smoker could be your new backyard best friend.
When it comes to smoking there are multiple things you should consider before purchasing your own electric smoker. Some of those are:
- What style of smoker is best for you?
- What size smoker do you need?
- Does it have a thermostat or is it an analog?
- Is the body insulated?
- Does it come with a water pan?
- Is it a hot or cold smoker?
- What type of food will you be smoking in it?
- How many racks are included?
Let us demystify the answers and help find the right smoker for you.
Different Kinds of Electric Smokers
There are basically 2 types of electric smokers or let’s be more specific. There are two styles of smokers that are run by two different heating control systems. The heating systems are known as analog and digital. The structural designs are known as Vertical and Cabinet smokers. Each one has its own merits.
An Analog smoker has what is called a rheostat controller. A rheostat is a mechanism that controls and restricts the amount of electricity that is allowed to run to the heating element in the unit. This is similar to what we have on an electric frying pan, with high, medium and low setting.
A rheostat controlled smoker does not allow you to set a specific temperature. Let us be very clear on that point. How it works is that the rheostat sends electricity to the heating element which determines the temperature inside the smoker. Other factors that determine the heat inside the smoker are the amount of meat inside and the outdoor weather conditions and temperature.
For example, taking a couple of large ducks on a nice sunny day and then placing a couple of Cornish hens on a cold windy day. You will have 2 different temperatures even though your smoker is set on the exact same setting.
This can be a drawback for some as it does take time to learn your smoker and its settings. Perks of going with an analog smoker is that it is relatively cheaper than a thermostatically controlled smoker. Having less technical parts not only is it simpler to run, it is generally dependable and had less to go wrong with it thus less repairs or mechanical failures.
A Digital smoker is controlled by a thermostat. A thermostat knows exactly what the temperature is inside your smoker and controls the amount of electricity going to the heating element in order to make maintain a stable temperature inside according to what you have set it at. This is similar to what you would find in your over. Set the temperature to a certain degree and it’s done.
Digital smokers can be more expensive than an Analog controlled smoker. However it allows you to have control over the temperature inside. For some this is a very important factor.
Vertical Water Smokers
Vertical Water smokers are smokers that have water pans that you can fill with water, beer, soda pop, or whatever liquid it is that you intend to use to impart flavor and moisture to your meat. The use of a water smoker also allows for the smoke to penetrate deeper into the meat.
Water pans or bowls are set between the heat source and the meat. The bowl of liquid slowly evaporates as well as catches the drippings, keeping them off the heating element. You can find vertical water smokers with both digital and analog controllers.
Smokers can usually be kept at temperatures around 220 degrees. You should always verify the accuracy of your smoker with a reliable oven thermometer or similar thermometer. You can in hot weather help ensure that it does stay within the proper range by adding ice cubes to the water tray.
Cabinet smokers are box shaped similar to a small refrigerator and often have at least three to four racks to set your meat or other food on. They have a heating element that is in the base of the cabinet that heats the cabinet to whatever setting you have choose. This is something that is determined by whether you have an analog or digitally controlled smoker.
Cabinet smokers are quite popular regardless of what control system is being used. They are versatile, easy to use and clean. They are capable of smoking and cooking a variety of meats such as fish, sausage, nuts, vegetables and cheese.
Components of an Electric Smoker
Now that we have discussed the varieties of smokers let’s look at the components involved. Not every smoker has the same components so keep that in mind as we look into what makes an electric smoker.
- Smoker Body.
- Digital Controller Pad.
- Water Bowl.
- Wood Chip Bowl W/Lid.
- Drip Tray.
There are a few different styles for you to choose from. These are the cabinet, bullet, or a water electric smoker.
The cabinet as stated before resembles a small refrigerator or a box with several racks. Has front door access in which to place your meat and wood chips. These come with either glass doors or solid ones.
A bullet electric smoker is vertical smoker that is cylindrical shaped. You access your meat through the top by lifting the lid off. They come with 2 racks on which to place your meat. The front has an access to place your wood chips without having to lift the lid or remove your meat.
A Water Electric Smoker has a vertical body similar to that of the bullet smoker. Cylindrical in shape with a lid on top in which you access your meat. The smoker has two side doors in the body to access water and wood chips.
Regardless of what kind of smoker you have you will have temperature controls of some sort. You may have analog controls and setting your smoker is as easy as setting it on high, medium or low. If you have a thermostatically controlled smoker then you will be able to regulate the temperature by setting it to a certain degrees setting.
Some smokers come with timers which enable you to set the timer for a certain amount of time. When the timer is up then the smoker will automatically shut off.
Does your model come with a water bowl or pan or the option to use one? Many do, this allows you to provide moisture to your meat with a variety of liquids, water, beer and so forth. This is really great asset as it allows you to provide moisture in your cabinet or bullet smoker. Try using different pops such as root beer or cola for flavorful meat. You can also add spices to the water to add flavor, sage, bay, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and cloves are just a few that you can try adding to your water for a unique flavor profile.
A drip tray help prevent messes from occurring in the bottom of your smoker. Make sure your model has one or has the ability to house one in the unit.
Wood Chips and Smoking
When it comes to smoking let’s face there are as many different smoke blends, chips, ideas and opinions on what wood is best to smoke with as there are chili cooks.
Through the centuries smoke has been used to help preserve meat. In this day and age smoking is more commonly used as a delicious way to add flavor to our food.
Here is a cookbook for electric smokers “The Complete Electric Smoker Cookbook: Over 100 Tasty Recipes and Step-by-Step Techniques to Smoke Just About Everything” to help you get started on making delicious recipes in your electric smoker.
Some more commonly used wood chips for smoking are Hickory, Pecan, Apple Mesquite and Maple. It is interesting how some wood goes better with certain types of meat. Somewhat like wine red wine goes better with beef than white.
You can find wood chips in a variety of different places. Often your local stores like Home Depot or Menards will carry them even local grocers may have them in stock. If you want to skip the hassle and guess work here are some that are available online.
Go ahead and try mixing the different types of wood chips to come up with your own special blend of smoke. I have often used maple, apple and oak to make great tasting chicken. If you enjoy a sense of adventure in cooking the sky is the limit here. I have also used cherry and hickory on pulled pork. It really is a user preference. I love to play around with flavors and see what I end up with.
When using wood chips follow the instructions according to your specific smoker to ensure proper safety
Hot or Cold Smoke Electric Smokers Under $300
First things first, do you need a cold smoker or a hot one? There is a great debate in regards to hot smoking versus cold smoking.
Back in the day before people had refrigerators folks would cold smoke their meats in the smokehouse, usually late in the year when temps were low. There is a lot more that goes into cold smoking meats than just hanging it in the smoker though.
Meat would have to be placed in brine or covered in salt with curing agents then hung to smoke for days or weeks. For cold smoking people would hang the meat. Outside the smokehouse there would be a fire chamber far enough away with a pipe or chimney going to the smokehouse. This was to ensure that the smoke going in was cool.
The smoke coming from this pipe would be colder than 90 degrees. The meat was not cooked in the smokehouse. It was cured and smoked to help provide a longer shelf life to enable people to have meat through the long winter and beyond.
When it comes to cold smoking meat there is an associated health risk if done incorrectly. I won’t go into all the pros and cons or how to do it. There is already plenty of literature available on the subject by those with much more experience on the subject.
However if you do want to smoke to preserve your own cured smoked sausage or fish a cold smoker is needed or cold smoker add on.
That being said there are things like cheese, veggies, butter, salt, nuts, eggs that can be cold smoked with little to no problems and are better suited to being cold smoked as opposed to hot smoked. Smoked cheese is divine and smoked salt is a fun way to spice up a meal.
If you’re looking to make smoky, moist and tender meat have some cook that is ready to serve, you will need a hot smoker. This meat is meant to be eaten or preserved in the refrigerator or the freezer. There are a large variety of hot smokers out there. Some smokers have insulated walls, thermostats, rheostats, water pans, variable temperatures or have one setting.
Hot smoking means that the food is smoked and cooked at the same time. It has been kept at temperatures above the danger zone in which bacteria grows. This is essentially the direct opposite of cold smoking.
If you are in search of a cold smoker, look at these add on kits
Most of your meats that you are smoking in your electric smoker will be smoking and cooking at temperatures of 225 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to consult your models instructions for the proper cooking times and temperatures.
In order to maintain moisture in your smoker it is important to keep water in the water pan. When the water in the pan is heated it creates steam, this helps provide moisture to the meat. Nobody likes to eat dried out meat. Using a water pan can also enable the smoke to penetrate deeper into the meat allowing a smokier flavor.
Electric smokers have been built to supply consistent heat throughout the cooking period. Some smoker units have a built in shut off timer that stops the smoking process. Other models have instructions as to the amount of chips to use.
In order to check your meat I would suggest using an external probe thermometer. There are some good ones out there here is one by ThermoPro…
What to Smoke with Your Electric Smoker
What to smoke? I say what not to smoke! Having an electric smoker can open up a whole plethora of food to smoke. Smoked cheese is one of the first things that come to my mind. Can you envision smoking your own homemade Gouda or Cheddar? Why stop there? Try some Mozzarella or even Brie, Swiss, Monterey jack and even Gruyere. I can already taste mouthwatering homemade French onion soup with smoked Gruyere ooh lala!
Not only can you smoke cheese, you can smoke nuts, vegetables, salt and even eggs. You can even smoke macaroni and cheese. The possibilities are endless is you don’t mind experimenting and love adventures in cooking.
Different Meats to Smoke
About any kind of meat can be smoked although some are better suited to smoking than others. These are the top ten best meats for smoking, Pork Butts, Pork Picnic Shoulder, Pork Ribs, Pork Chops, Chuck Roast, Brisket, Beef Ribs and Tri-Tips. Let us not forget about turkey, chicken and fish though, just because they don’t rank in the top ten doesn’t mean that they are not worth smoking. You can even smoke bacon and ham. I mean seriously have you ever considered making your own stuffed chicken breasts smoked and cooked to perfection? My mouth is literally watering at the thought of it.
Pros and Cons of Electric Smokers
Let’s be brutally honest here. When compared to traditional fire pit smoking there is no comparison there just isn’t. That being said not everyone has the time to spend tending a BBQ for hours and hours and not everyone can have open flames where they live. Then again maybe you just don’t want the hassle of it all. So lets us look at the pros and cons of electric smokers.
- Functional in Cold and Windy Weather – Cabinet style smokers can be used in cold and windy conditions. I would not advice using any electric smoker in the rain as it is powered by electricity.
- Easy to Use – Electric Smokers are simple to set up and run. With easy to program temperatures and smoking times. They are built to provide consistent heat and smoke.
- Easy Lighting – With no flame involved, you simply plug it in and set the smoker to desired settings.
- Easy to Maintain – Most smokers are easy maintenance and cleaning.
- Good for Small Families – Ideal size for families of 2-6 people.
- Simple Heating and Smoking – With knobs or digital controls these are easy to heat by setting controls at specified settings. Smoking is simple with easy to fill containers, and the option to shut off smoking with timer on certain models.
- Good for Apartment Dwellers – Not having a live flame enables apartment and condo dwellers the ability to smoke their own food without breaking the rules.
- Not the Same as Fire Smoked – Electric Smokers do not provide the same smoky profile you expect to see from other forms of smoking, namely heavy smoke ring and bark.
- Limited Capacity – Some smokers are built to provide smaller amounts of smoked meat or food and are not built to hold large cuts of meat.
- Possible Electronic Failure –As with anything electronic product, there is the possibility that parts can fail at some point in the life of the smoker.
- Not made for Large Crowds – Electric smokers do not have the size capacity to serve large crowds.
Reviews of the 5 Best Electric Smokers Under $300
Here are brief reviews of five smokers that are within the top ten models under $300.
Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker Review
The Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker, 725 Square Inch by Char-Broil is an electric smoker worth having. One of my favorite aspects of this model is its insulated double wall construction. This enables the unit to retain its heat easier than models that are not insulated.
It has an advanced blue LED easy to read display to enable you to easily see and control functions.
This smoker has a glass front door so it is easy to see what is going on inside. Watch your food while it smokes, how great is that? The cabinet has a stainless steel dual tone finish giving it a nice clean modern look. Not to mention easy to clean.
It is built with a large stainless steel locking latch for a tight seal, keeping the smoke in where it belongs.
The electric smoking has a nice 725 square inch capacity spread out over 4 adjustable racks. These can easily be removed to accommodate larger meats. Additionally it has a removable food thermometer.
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With its integrated handle and wheels it is mobile allowing you to move it around as needed.
A great feature is that it has removable and washable integrated meat probe that lets the smoker alert you when your meat has reached a predetermined internal temperature. It has a large capacity smoke box that allows 4-7 hours of smoking time and has a large capacity grease tray in the bottom. When your food is done the smoker will keep your meat warm until you are ready to serve.
The only drawback that stands out is that in order to add more chips or pellets you have to open the door.
If you are looking for some great smoked meat this smoker is well worth giving a shot.
Currently, out of 350 plus reviews of this model it has a 3.8 rating and 55 percent of consumers have given it a 5 star rating. Be sure to check out the following video.
Old Smokey Electric Smoker Review
The Old Smokey Electric Smoker is a vertical electric smoker it is a superb electric smokers. While it may not win any awards in the beauty department it certainly makes up for it in multiple ways.
Being a vertical smoker you access the smoker through the top. It has two racks with handles allowing you to easily get a grip on them to lift out.
One of its great features is that no water is needed. The flat tight fitting lid allows trapped moisture to fall back down basting the meat keeping it moist and tender during the cooking and smoking process.
The smoker itself has handles to allow you to easily move it into place or from place to place.
The Old Smokey is thermostatically controlled and has adjustable controls allowing for a wide range of temperatures as high as 300 plus degrees. This smoker does get very hot so keeping children under close supervision while it is use is imperative.
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Simple construction allows for less mechanical failures, and more dependability. Wood chips can last for a long time in the smoker and should not need replenished except for super long cook times. Pretty much a set it and forget it smoker.
Equipped with a drip pan, a wood chip pan two racks and wood chips, the smoker is made in USA. Manufactured out of corrosion-resistant aluminized steel, it is also vented so definitely not something you will want to use in an enclosed area. The Old Smokey is reported to be a fast cooker with great results.
Drawbacks that I have found
- There is no thermometer with it. You can purchase one for it separately.
- No side door to add wood chips (If you need to add chips you will need to lift everything out, so it is best to make sure you have enough the first time around.)
All in all this is a great smoker at a great price. Produces delicious meat and is a pretty much a set it and forget it smoker.
Currently, out of the 148 reviews this has a strong 4.2 rating and has received a 5 star rating from a whopping 72 percent of customers.
Smokehouse Little Chief Front Load Smoker
The Little Chief Front Load Smoker has definitely earned a place in the top ten electric smokers available. Smokehouse Products came out with the first Little Chief Smoker back in 1968. Still going strong this smoker is a genuine American Made smoker.
This smoker is great for fish and jerky. In fact its ability to smoke fish is one of the reasons it is so famous. Let us be real clear here. This is an actual smoker not a smoker and cooker. If you are doing meats this is a 2 stage process, smoking first then finishing in oven or wherever you intend to finish cooking it.
Once loaded and door is in place you can check you chips or add more without having to open the door. The smoker is vented and is meant to leak smoke out, this helps provide proper dehydration.
The Little Chief has no bells and whistles. The smoker stays a consistent 165 degrees. It comes with 4 grills, a dishwasher safe drip pan, recipe booklet and complete instructions and a 1.75 pound of Smokehouse Natural woodchips. It also has a 2 year warranty.
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There are no real drawbacks with this smoker. It is what it says that it is.
If you are looking for a dependable smoker to smoke your fish, meats, cheese and other foods, look no further this handy dandy smoker that has stood the test of time. Very reasonable in price The Little Chief Front Load Smoker is definitely worth trying.
Currently, out of 308 reviews it has a 3.7 rating and has received 5 stars from 58 percent of Amazon consumers.
Smoke Hollow 3016DEWS Digital Electric Smoker with Window Review
The Smoke Hollow 3016DEWS 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker with Window, is a large capacity 2.0 cubic foot electric smoker. It has a nice tempered glass front window to enable viewing food smoking inside.
This is a very nice looking model that stands on 4 legs. The smoker comes equipped with Digital Electronic Controls which included LED Display Cooking Temp/Time Push Button On/Off to make life easier on the cook.
It comes with 3 chrome pated cooking grids which you can adjust within the smoker. The Smoke Hollow is also meat probe compatible. The external chip loading tray allows you to easily add your favorite wood chips without opening the door.
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Made of Stainless Steel this is a very nice looking 1500 watt smoker. It comes with a 1 year limited parts warranty.
If you are looking for a modern smoker with digital controls that can smoke plenty of meat then this may just be the model for you.
Given 4 stars it has a 5 star rating from 58 percent of consumers.
Landmann USA Smoky Mountain Electric Smoker with Viewing Window
The Landmann USA Smoky Mountain Electric Smoker with Viewing Window is a rather unique electric smoker. A cabinet smoker with a nice black finish offers 443 square inches to smoke your favorite foods.
It has a double wall glass door for convenient viewing. It comes with an independent plug in controller that allows you to set and maintain temperatures. This smoker has a 3 in 1 tray that allows you to place your wood chips, water and drip pan in the same compartment. This can allow you easy access to all three without hassle.
The electric smoker also features 4 adjustable feet that allows you to place it on uneven surfaces. The handles are made of wrought iron and allow you to move the smoker around as needed. Smoking temperatures can be set as low as 100 degrees and as high as 260 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoker comes with 3 removable racks.
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The drawbacks that I found are:
- It is not insulated.
- Have to purchase warranty separately.
If you are looking for a lightweight easy to use smoker that is low in price this one may be for you.
Currently, out of 45 consumers it has a 3.8 rating and 56 percent of consumers gave it a 5 star rating.
Top 10 Best Electric Smokers under $300
30″ Digital Electric Smoker
Front Controller Smoker
Smoke Hollow 3616DEW
36-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
Smoke Hollow 30162E
30-Inch Electric Smoker
Landmann USA Smoky Mountain
Digital Electric Smoker
Smoke Hollow 3016DEWS
30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
Little Chief Front Load Smoker
Best Electric Smoker under $300
I hope that you found this buyers guide to be helpful and useful in your search for the best electric smoker under $300. No matter what Electric Smoker you decide to purchase down the road I am sure you will be smoking until your heart is content time after time, year after year, through any season.