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Buyers Guide & Information

Smokers Under $500 Reviewed

Get a high-quality smoker without going over budget with these top-rated brands!

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Are you thinking about venturing outside your comfort zone to try slow-smoking meats at home but aren’t sure where to start?  If the possibility of smoking meats from the comfort of your backyard has piqued your curiosity, we’ve put together this guide to help you sort out the best budget smokers for under $500.

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Product

Temperature Range

Cooking Area

Check Price

Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal...

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 731001

100 – 400°F

726 Sq. In.

18-1/2 in. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package

Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

270 – 320°F

324 Sq. In.

Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill w/New PID Gen...

Camp Chef SmokePro DLX

160 – 500°F

570 Sq. In.

Smokin-It Model #1 Electric Smoker

Smokin-It Model #1

100- 250°F

468 Sq. In.

Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty...

Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1283VCS-D

100 – 500°F

1,382 Sq. In.

Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24

Camp Chef Smoke Vault

50 – 350°F

900 Sq. In.

Camp Chef SmokePro XT Wood Pellet Grill Smoker,...

Camp Chef SmokePro XT PG24XTB

160 – 500°F

570 Sq. In.

How Smokers Work: Are They Different to Grilling?

Smokers are outdoor cooking appliances built to maintain a low temperature throughout the cooking process. They produce a significant amount of smoke that is held around the meats for absorption and flavor. Temperature is controlled through vents and dampers that allow more or less airflow over a chamber of hot coals.

On the other hand, grills are designed to apply direct heat to the food so that it cooks at a faster pace. However, cooking with a grill, regardless of fuel source, will not give you the smoky flavor that so many people love.


Buying Quality Smokers Under $500

Smoking/Grilling Needs

How you intend to use a smoker is the first thing to check off your list. Knowing what kinds of meat you want to smoke, the quantity, and how often you intend to use the unit are all things to consider as a beginner. Look for a unit that’s easy to use and has multiple racks to make your experience enjoyable.

Smoker & Fuel Type

Charcoal is the most common fuel type for smokers, and we suggest you learn to smoke with this heat source before moving on to others such as a pellet or gas smoker. An electric smoke may be convenient, but if your goal is to have flavorful, juicy, and smoky meat, then stick with a charcoal smoker.

Durability

The durability of a smoker is important. Look for a sturdy aluminum or porcelain structure that offers rust-resistance and sits firmly on three or more legs. If you want to be able to take your smoker to tailgates or other party events, look for one on wheels that you can lock so the smoker doesn't roll away.

Performance, Smoking/Grilling Consistency & Capacity

The performance of a smoker under $500 is a big deal. Horizontal and vertical smokers will cook your meats differently, and the capacity is different for all smokers. Know where the heat source is located and how that affects your smoking experience before you purchase a unit.

Temperature Adjustment

Higher temperatures mean you can smoke different meats at the same time or smoke a single slab more quickly. Look for a unit that offers an internal temperature gauge reading from the outside and one with easy to adjust vents and dampers to control the heat better.

Cooking Space

Some smokers come with a single rack as their only available cooking space. But if getting more meat in there is important to you, then purchase a smoker with different levels and a larger cooking area, so you don't have to spend more time smoking than needed. You should also consider a unit that offers space for smoking hooks.

Storage & Footprint

Smokers come in a variety of sizes, which means you’ll need to know where you’re going to store it when it’s not in use. A larger smoker may require more space on the patio or in the shed compared to a smaller, egg-shaped unit. Keep this aspect in mind so that you don’t get a smoker that’s too big or too small for your needs.

Mobility/Portability, Ease of Use, Easy Cleaning

If you're a beginner, look for a unit that's easy to use and is a little more forgiving. Getting the airflow and timing down can be a challenge, so look for something that has an extra vent or two and a removable ash tray for easy cleanup. If you want to take it with you to family gatherings for tailgates, invest in a smoker with wheels and one that's lightweight for easy portability.

Extra Features/Accessories

Different smokers come with various accessories such as built-in temperature gauges, extra seals and dampers, and even cooking aprons or gloves. Some of these can make all the difference between smokers and your cooking experience, so make sure you understand what makes a unit different, and if that feature matters to you.

Warranty Coverage

Different brands come with different warranties, so make sure you read the manual that comes with your smoker. It will have plenty of information on the length of the warranty and how you can make warranty requests. Look for a warranty that covers external construction as well as internal components.


7 Best Smokers Under $500 Reviewed

1. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 731001

Best Smoker Under $500 (Top Pick)

Dimensions

24D x 23W x 48.5H in.

Weight

68 Lbs.

Temperature Range

100 – 400°F

Cooking Surface Area

726 Sq. In.

Material

Porcelain-enameled

Warranty

Yes; Bowl/Lid/Ring-10 yrs.; Plastic Components-5 yrs.; All other parts-2 yrs.

As our top pick for smokers, the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is the best smoker under $500, especially for those new to smoking. Most beginners have the best luck with the 22-inch smoker since it offers more cooking space and easy to access vents. The porcelain-enameled lid, bowl, and center are perfect for retaining heat and won't rust or peel.

Known as a bullet smoker, this Weber cooker features a charcoal ring and three adjustable vents so you can control the airflow and temperature. A water pan and two grilling grates make up the middle section, giving you easy access to the meats and a side door so you can easily add charcoal or smoking wood.

The best smoker under $500 comes with multiple grates to give you ample room for all of your slabs or ribs or pork shoulders. With more than 726 square inches of cooking space, you can easily prepare meals for a large family gathering or party.

Weber supports all of their smokers with a 10-year warranty on the bowl, lid, and rings. As a beginner, it’s important to purchase a unit with a good warranty so you know you’ll be getting plenty of use while being covered for years.

Pros

  • Two cooking grates
  • Rust-resistant aluminum doors
  • Built-in thermostat

Cons

  • Heavy and inconvenient to move

2. Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

Top Rated Smoker Under $500

Dimensions

21 x 21 x 31.1 in.

Weight

56 Lbs.

Temperature Range

270 – 320°F

Cooking Surface Area

324 Sq. In.

Material

Steel and Porcelain enamel coating

Warranty

Yes; 1-yr. on any accessory

The Pit Barrel Cooker has received consistent awards for being the top-rated smoker under $500. As the top competitor to the Weber brand, the PBC works like a convection oven and provides consistent heat from top to bottom. Similar to the DIY Ugly Drum Smoker, the PBC feature a 30-gallon drum, eight stainless steel hooks, and two metal bars for hanging.

The sturdy and well-insulated drum can handle high internal temperatures while external cooling creates condensation to put moisture back into the barrel, keeping your meats tender and juicy. With the “Hook-and-Hang” cooking method, your meats will cook vertically and be entirely surrounded by the smoke fog, which negates the need for a water pan.

If you're looking for a sturdy smoker, the PBC often beats out all of the other smokers. It rests flat on any hard ground or surface, making it difficult to tip over or move while it's in use. It also offers beginners an air-tight cooking experience that doesn't require a lot of babysitting.

Although the preferred method for smoking your meat using the PBC is to use the hanging hooks, there is also a removable grate that comes with this drum-style unit, giving you more room for steaks, chicken thighs, or fillets of salmon. Many people also purchase an additional ash pan for easy clean-up and a cover for proper storage. 

Pros

  • Hanging hooks included
  • Large cooking capacity
  • Even cooking

Cons

  • Not portable

3. Camp Chef SmokePro DLX

Best Pellet Smoker Under $500

Dimensions

20.5D x 50W x 47.5H in.

Weight

140 Lbs.

Temperature Range

160 – 500°F

Cooking Surface Area

570 Sq. In.

Material

Steel, Aluminum, etc.

Warranty

Yes: 3-Year Warranty

If you’re looking for a convenient and easy-to-use smoker, Camp Chef makes it easy to switch over to a pellet smoker with their SmokePro DLX. With a hopper capacity of 18 pounds, you'll enjoy several uses before refilling pellets. The cleanout system makes it easy to clean out the hopper without a vacuum, and the ash tray is removable to make cleanup a breeze.

The 570-square inches of cooking space is divided between an upper rack and a lower rack for easy access. Slow cook fish, chicken, or other delicate meats on the top rack while your beef briskets and pork ribs smoke slowly on the bottom.

The SmokePro is jam-packed full of extra features and accessories. Each unit comes with a meat probe, a warming rack for more cooking space, an ash cleanout system, and a dual LED temperature readout. With all of these extra features, your smoking experience is made easy, especially if you're a beginner. 

Camp Chef designed this smoker with the classic backyard BBQ in mind. Not only is it easy to start up with the electronic auto-start ignition, but an automatic auger continues to feed pellets into the flame to give you accurate temperature control with very little supervision. You can easily control temperatures from 160-degrees to 500 degrees with the push of a button.

Pros

  • Electronic auto-start ignition
  • Automatic auger
  • Digital temperature readout

Cons

  • Heavy

4. Smokin-It Model #1

Best Electric Smoker Under $500

Dimensions

15 x 19 x 20.4 in.

Weight

59 Lbs.

Temperature Range

100- 250°F

Cooking Surface Area

468 Sq. In.

Material

18-gauge 201 Stainless Steel

Warranty

Yes: 3-Year Warranty

Electric smokers have become a favorite among beginners since they are easy to use. The Smokin-It Model #1 is the best electric smoker under $500 that we could find on the market. Made from NSF Certified stainless steel that’s suitable for restaurant use, this unit will more than get the job done.

Inside, you’ll get three stainless steel grilling grates that give you more than 468 sq. inches of cooking space. Although this unit is small, don’t let the size fool you as it can hold up to 22 pounds of meat at once. If you’re looking for a smoker that you don’t have to tend to, then stick with the electric Smokin-It Model #1.

The nice thing about getting an electric smoker is that the temperature is easy to set and then forget. With insulated fiberglass walls and a 400-watt heating element at the bottom, you can set this smoker to the temperature you want and get perfectly cooked meats every time. The only downside to an electric smoker is that you can’t get the smoke ring that so many experts rave about.

The design of this smoker is simple. Its outer shell is constructed from 18-gauge 201 stainless steel that’s suitable for restaurant use. You’ll even get four attachable wheels so you can either wheel this unit around or take them off and let it set in one spot in your kitchen or garage.

Pros

  • Flawless cooking
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Ideal for apartment use

Cons

  • Can’t get smoke ring
  • Small

5. Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1283VCS-D

Best Offset Smoker Under $500

Dimensions

24.9 x 45.5 x 58 in.

Weight

124.3 Lbs.

Temperature Range

100 – 500°F

Cooking Surface Area

1,382 Sq. In.

Material

Steel

Warranty

Yes: 1-Year Warranty

With the help from the Dyna-Glo brand, you can easily take your backyard BBQ to the next level with their Signature Series Offset Charcoal Smoker and Grill. Made from heavy-duty gauge steel, you’ll be glad you invested in this budget smoker. With 1,382 sq. inches of total cooking space, you can fit plenty of food in on the grates for the whole family.

As the best offset smoker in our guide, this unit comes with a vertical cooking chamber that features five chrome-plated cooking grates and pre-installed sausage hanging hooks so you can cook up a variety of meats at different temperatures, all at the same time.

With the offset chamber, you can either burn charcoal or wood to give you the best smoking flavor while controlling the temperature. The heat-resistant door and lid handles make it easy to check on your grilling or smoking meats without burning your hands. The temperature gauge is also equipped with the perfect “smoke zone” or “grill zone” reading.

With this Dyna-Glo, you get flexibility in your cooking methods. You can easily enjoy grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and smoke your brisket at the same time. This unit is perfect for those looking for a combo unit or for anyone who likes to entertain large parties. It’s also great if you’re looking for a new unit and want to take your smoking expertise to a new level.

Pros

  • Plenty of cooking space
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Removable ash tray

Cons

  • Big and bulky

6. Camp Chef Smoke Vault

Best Gas Smoker Under $500

Dimensions

16 x 24 x 30 in. (w/o legs)

Weight

75 Lbs.

Temperature Range

50 – 350°F

Cooking Surface Area

900 Sq. In.

Material

Steel

Warranty

Yes: 3-Year Warranty

If you’re concerned about working with a gas smoker, Camp Chef has designed a stunning smoker vault that gives you ample control over the heat. The Smoke Vault is the perfect backyard addition for anyone looking for flavorful and juicy meats. Start up this unit with the matchless ignition button and fill the water pan with your favorite cherry, mesquite, or hickory flavoring.

The easy to read thermometer on the outside of the door makes it simple for you to know when to turn down or crank up the heat. With a reading that goes all the way up to 350-degrees, you can even bake a pie inside this little box. Because this unit runs off LP or a stand-alone gas tank, you can easily take it on your yearly camping trips or to the tailgate. 

People tend to love the footprint of the Smoke Vault since it doesn't take up a lot of room and is easy enough for two people to move. Its cube design makes it easy to tuck back in the corner of the shed or store it covered by the side of the house. 

Smoking with gas tends to be a lot easier for beginners since you don't have to watch a fire and adjust the temperature as much. With this smoker, you'll need to make sure that propane or natural gas is accessible to you and that you have plenty of it each time you smoke, so you don't run out in the middle of the cooking process.

Pros

  • Matchless snap-ignition
  • Three adjustable dampers
  • Jerky smoking rack

Cons

  • Limited rack space
  • Hard to use in cold weather

7. Camp Chef SmokePro XT PG24XTB

Best Smoker Grill Combo Under $500

Dimensions

24.5 x 37 x 47.5 in.

Weight

133 Lbs.

Temperature Range

160 – 500°F

Cooking Surface Area

570 Sq. In.

Material

Steel

Warranty

Yes: 3-Year Warranty

The Camp Chef SmokePro XT is our best smoker grill combo under $500 and is a great cooking utensil to add to your arsenal. With Smart Smoke Technology, this unit automatically maintains a consistent temperature, so you don’t have to worry about under-cooked meats. This same feature allows you to use either wood or pellets for the best burning and smoking flavors.

You can quickly start up a fire with the wood pellets and the electronic auto-start ignition. The automatic auger will continuously feed pellets into the fire, so you don't have to. With grease and ash management systems, cleanup is a breeze with this unit. You can easily discard your ash after a smoke or grilling session, and the unit is immediately ready for the next use.

The SmokePro XT comes with a variety of extra features. When you purchase a unit, you'll get a meat probe and an LED temperature readout. People are also opting in for the side sear box that’s sold separately and easily bolts to the right of the unit.

With several different Camp Chef models on our list, we’ll take this opportunity to point out that they all come with three-year warranties that cover the outer shell as well as any internal cooking parts. Other than the Weber units, Camp Chef is a brand the offers one of the best warranties with their products.

Pros

  • Plenty of cooking Area
  • Serves as both a smoker and grill
  • Nice smoke ring

Cons

  • Lack of smoke flavor in large cuts of meat
  • Heavy

Types of Smokers: Which One Suits Your Budget?

Pellet Smokers

As the name would suggest, a pellet smoker burns small pegs of wood (pellets) rather than large chunks of coals. Pellets are stored in a box set off to the side of the smoking chamber, and then an auger helps deliver them to the fire pot that's located directly below the cooking chamber. A hot rod is usually responsible for setting the pellets on fire, and then a fan stokes the flame to create convection heat, like an oven.

Gas Smokers -Propane/Natural Gas

Similar to a charcoal unit, a gas smoker burns propane or natural gas instead of coals, but you can still get the same smoking effect. However, these units require a watchful eye as you'll need to adjust the flow of your gas fairly often to keep a consistent temperature. Natural gas and propane can get rather expensive, especially if you’re planning on smoking meats all day long.

Electric Smoker

Rather than relying on the heat from charcoal or wood elements, an electric smoker simply plugs into an outlet and runs off electricity. Unfortunately, these units are pretty stationary, limiting where and how you can use them, but they are perfect for cold smoking meats. They're also popular for those that would like to set it and forget it since you don't have to check a flame or make any manual temperature adjustments.

Offset/Reverse Flow Smokers

Offset smokers consist of a large cooking chamber with a smaller chamber connected on the side for charcoal or your favorite flavored cooking woods. They are usually one of the most popular units for those who have mastered the art of smoking meats. These smokers are larger in size and made out of heavy steel or aluminum. In reverse flow smokers, an additional metal plate helps protect the meat from too much direct heat exposure and helps control the flow of smoke around the meat before it exits through the chimney.   

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers are usually the most preferred method for smoking meats. These units rely on the burning of charcoal and the adjustment of airflow to create the perfect smoking temperature. It's also easy to throw in your favorite flavored woods with a charcoal smoker so you can easily add spice and flavor to your finished meats. 

Vertical Smokers

In vertical smokers, the heat source is located directly below the food, which means your meats will cook a lot faster. They also provide several tiers of cooking space so that you can prepare a variety of foods. The hotter temperatures will be at the bottom, while the cooler temperatures (perfect for shrimp or seafood) will be at the top.

Smoker/Grills Combos

Smoker/grill combos are large and bulky units that are constructed to have two different chambers: one for all-day smoking, and one for quick grilling. These units provide the best of both worlds, which means you won’t have to invest in two separate units, saving you time, energy, and money. These can either be powered by propane or charcoal coals or both, so you can find the right cooking method and style for you.

Kamado Smokers

Kamado smokers are becoming more popular and often referred to as big giant eggs. The shape is similar to a Japanese earthenware urn and has a chamber at the bottom for smoldering charcoal embers. Most of these units tend to be made out of high-resistant ceramic, cement, or lava rock materials, making them great cooking insulators and keep a steady temperature throughout the cooking process.


Budget Smokers vs. Expensive Ones

Smokers come at a variety of price points and with a variety of extra features, but it really comes down to the user and your level of smoking expertise. Often, people think you need to spend a lot of money for a quality smoker, but that isn't the case when you know what brands to consider.

For a beginner, starting small and simple is usually the best course of action until you're ready to invest in the high-priced smoker you've had your eye on. It's best to learn how to manage temperature, airflow, and what kind of fuel you prefer on a unit that didn't break the bank.


How to Use Smokers

1. Starting the Fire

If you’re new to using a smoker, starting the embers and coals can be tricky the first few times. The easiest and most efficient way to start burning the coals in your smoker is to use a charcoal chimney and pour those hot embers over the top of the cold ones in your smoker. Keep the vents or door open to the air to allow a flame to heat up the coals. 

2. Airflow Management

Managing the airflow of your smoker is how you control the temperature of the coals. If you want a lower temp, shut the vents and dampers so that very little air can pass through. If you want to ramp up the heat, open the vents and damper completely to allow for oxygen to pass over and feed the fire.  

3. Monitor Temperature

Until you get a feel for how your smoker works and what kind of airflow is best, start off small and simple. Most beginners find that they have success when they start with a single slab of beef or pork ribs and then build on their expertise from there. You’ll need to learn how to manage the temperature correctly so you can get that smoky flavor but fully cooked meats.


Smoker Cleaning and Maintenance

When it’s time to clean your charcoal smoker, take a damp rag or brush and wipe down the grates, the inside walls, and wash any hanging hooks with a mild dish soap and warm water. Most of the units in our guide of the best budget smokers come with removable ash trays, making it easy for you to discard ash when you’re done.

Depending on how often you use your charcoal smoker, we recommend that you do a thorough cleaning at least twice a year. This included taking all of the elements apart and washing them to remove any excess meat juices or ash. Stay away from bleach and other household cleaners as their residue can stick to the inside of your smoker and cause harmful fumes during the next use.  


Frequently Asked Questions

How long do smokers last?
Like any cooking utensil, a smoker can last for several years when taken care of properly. Cleaning it after every use is essential to extending the life of your smoke. Most people get about 8-12 hours of smoking, depending on the type of coals used.
Where is the best place to buy inexpensive smokers?
Check out Amazon for all the best prices and deals on charcoal smokers.
What are the essential accessories for smoking?
Some essential accessories include the type of charcoal you prefer to use, hanging hooks for turkey or chicken, a charcoal starter so you can easily light coals, and a cover to protect your smoker when you’re not using it.
Is it safe to just leave my smoker outside?
No. Weather elements such as rain or snow can eventually lead to rusty smoker parts. When it’s not in use, be sure to have a cover for it or store it in your garage.
What are the best budget smoker brands?
All of the best budget smoker brands have been listed in this guide. Please read above for all the information concerning budget smokers. Personally, I’m partial to Weber and Camp Chef as my go-to brands.
Is smoked meat healthy?
Consuming raw or undercooked meat can cause an upset stomach. Like anything we eat, smoked meats are best consumed in moderation. Be sure to incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet along with the smoked meats you love to enjoy.

Conclusion

As beginners, finding the right smoking unit for you and what you have planned is the most important part. The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is at the top of our list because of function and price, but any of the other best budget smokers will yield the same results. So, before you buy, set some cooking goals, consider your storage and lifestyle, and then choose a smoker that will make you happy.

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