Another Thanksgiving is in the books. This most revered holiday means full plates, full stomachs, naps and football. It also means turkeys of all shapes and sizes cooked in all manner of ways, for better or worse.
Valiant efforts aside, when it comes to turkeys, sometimes you just get the short end of the stick. Your in-laws’ big, burnt heritage gobbler that was left in the oven too long; filling the kitchen with smoke and your eardrums with the squeal of a high pitched alarm. Your sister’s dried out runt of a supermarket bird overdone in her downtown condo. Your cousin’s deep fried adventure on his pool deck.
Never again, you told yourself.
Next year, you’ll take matters into your own hands. Next year, you’ll show them who’s boss with the electric smoker you buy yourself for Christmas. The same one you’ll use all summer long – your beer as your only assistant – to feed your neighbors food so flavorful, they’ll never leave your backyard.
So go ahead. Keep reading and learn everything you need to know to take charge next Thanksgiving with a smoker of your own.
The Big Picture
Smoking meat has been around since your forefathers started telling campfire stories. It’s an ancient art that bears food rich with delicious textures, flavors and aromas. For those souls lucky enough to consume it, smoked food is a pure indulgence of the senses.
It wasn’t that long ago when there was the time to pay respect to this slow art in its original form: with just fire, wood, smoke and a watchful eye.
Today, things are different. You haven’t got the hours to tend the barbecue from sunup ’til sundown. That doesn’t mean you can’t experience food the way your ancestors did when they first laid eyes upon a fire. Way back, when they had the time to do it right.
Why An Electric Smoker?
You can produce that authentic smoked flavor with zero hassle.
Electric smokers harness the power of the moving electron to distill the art of smoking food to its essence.
Result? Convenience, control and safety.
With an electric smoker, it really is simple. All you have to do is season your food and place it in the smoker. Push a button or two, twist a knob here and there and be on with your day until it’s chow time.
The smoker will control the two most critical variables for you: smoke temperature and density. So go ahead and get all your chores done and run all your errands while dinner is cooking. These things are safe too, so you can take a nap or go to bed for the night while your electric smoker is doing its job. Forget about babysitting a fire all day, ash all over your patio or changing empty propane tanks.
Electric smokers can be plugged into any outlet in your garage or outside your house – wherever there is an electrical hookup. A word of warning: since the smoking process produces carbon monoxide, smokers should only be used outdoors where there is plenty of ventilation.
Nuts and Bolts
Electric smokers rely on an electric heating element (think the filament in a light bulb or the burner on your electric stove) to smolder wood. The heating element is located beneath a container where you add wood chips or pellets of your choice. When the smoker is turned on, so is the heating element, which causes the wood you’ve added to smolder. This is in contrast to a gas or charcoal smoker, which uses combustion to cause the wood to smoke.
The smoldering wood creates smoke. This smoke travels through a manifold and series of perforated pipes within an insulated smoke box, bathing your food in hot smoke which both cooks and flavors it. The smoke box looks like a little refrigerator. Like a refrigerator, it has racks where you place your food inside. Some smoke boxes even have a glass front so you can watch the miracle happening inside.
When the smoker is turned on and the temperature is set, a thermometer inside the smoke box talks to the heating element – telling the heating element to heat up or down to maintain a constant temperature. A timer will tell the heating element when to turn off. No worries about any flame going out in the middle of the smoking process or smoking your food too long.
The convenience, control and safety offered by an electric smoker isn’t without a few drawbacks. Nobody said these things were perfect! One of the obvious disadvantages is that you won’t be taking your electric smoker to the beach or tailgate party with you, unless you bring a generator along. And if the power goes out, forget it, but how often does that happen?
Smoking purists might also give you some guff, but for a complete novice or experienced smoker who only cares about the result, who really cares?
Versus Other Forms of Cooking
So how does the electric smoker compare to other forms of cooking? Use your Thanksgiving Day turkey cooking adventure as an example.
The traditional method of cooking a turkey the way grandma used to do. If done right, you end up with something wonderful. Oven roasting, however, doesn’t allow you to vary the flavor of the bird like you can using an electric smoker by changing up the type of wood you smoke. Another disadvantage is that it takes up kitchen space and makes for a hot kitchen.
Deep frying a turkey yields delicious meat. It’s also an extremely quick process (typically less than an hour or so). The downside of deep frying versus smoking with an electric smoker is the safety factor. If you don’t keep a close on the deep fryer, you’re at risk of boiling the oil which leads to grease splattering all over the the place. So keep a close eye on the young ones.
Grilling is great, because like smoking, it can be done outdoors which frees up valuable kitchen space for preparation of a large meal and delivers a crispy, tasty flavor when done right. The challenges of grilling versus smoking with an electric smoker include less precision. The grill will have to keep a close eye on both the grill and meat temperature. If you’re not careful, the bird could dry out.
Features and Budgets
Let’s run through some differences you’ll find among electric smokers and how they affect price. The basic differences are size – or how much food you can smoke – and temperature range – how many watts your heating element cranks out. And then there are all the bells and whistles you can find to really spice up your smoking experience. The good news is, you can get a great electric smoker for all your personal needs, for under $500.
Size boils down to how much food you want to cook in an electric smoker at one time. The bigger the electric smoker, the bigger the budget you’ll need. At the smaller end, you can find something like the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Smoker, which boasts 730 square inches of cooking area and will set you back around $169. At the larger end, there’s the Masterbuilt 40-Inch Electric Smoker, which contains around 975 square inches of space to smoke and cost you $400 plus.
How big is your electric smoker’s heating element? This will dictate how hot you can smoke, how long it will take and how often you’ll need to refill your wood chips. Of course, it will also affect your electricity bill.
The Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Smoker has an 800-Watt heating element. This will allow you to smoke food up to a temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Contrast that with something on the high commercial end, like a CookShack SmartSmoker Sm160, with a whopping $4,500 price-tag, that houses a 1500-Watt heating element allowing you to smoke 24-7 at temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bells and Whistles
There are a lot of nifty features on electric smokers these days. Many of the price differences here come down to analog versus digital control of your smoker’s internal temperature. The Masterbuilt 30-Inch Black Electric Analog Smoker uses an analog thermostat at a price of around $150. For $20 more, you can upgrade to a digital thermostat with something like the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker.
There’s also the option of controlling your smoker with your smart phone or iPad with the Masterbuilt Bluetooth Smart Digital Electric Smoker. Technology like that will set you back around $400. This smoker even has a built in meat thermometer, so you can monitor your meat temperature during the smoking process.
Want to see your food while it cooks? Why not add a glass door like Char-Broil’s Deluxe Digital Smoker has for $230. There’s also the Masterbuilt Sportsman Elite Stainless Steel Smoker for $380.
A Smoker Just For You
Time to boil it down a bit more based on your experience level and budget.
If you’re new to smoking (or cooking, in general) check out the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Smoker. This top-rated smoker comes in your choice of four gorgeous colors and sports beautiful chrome racks. A glass door lets you keep your eye on your food as it smokes and the built in meat thermometer ensures nothing will be over cooked. All this can be had for a reasonable price of $260 on sale.
For the budget conscious, you can’t go wrong with the stripped down Masterbuilt 30-Inch Analog Smoker. You don’t get any bells or whistles, but you get all the essentials you need to try your hand at the smoker. This has an easy to use analog thermostat, 3-chrome coated racks and uses dual wall construction to improve smoking efficiency.
If you have some experience with an unplugged smoker, be it charcoal or gas, and you want to go electric take a look at the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker with Window and Bonus Pack. This sweet little smoker adds all the convenience to the process you know and love for a tough-to-beat price of around $500. Comes with a glass door, a built-in meat thermometer and an 800-Watt heating element for even smokes up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Best of all, you get a remote control so you can adjust temperature, time, turn the smoker and its light on and off, and monitor meat temperature from the comfort of your couch.
Money to Burn
Got some extra cash in your pocket? Then check out the all-stainless Cookshack Smokette Elite Electric BBQ Smoker. Modeled after the electric smokers made for commercial kitchens, this bad boy comes on wheels so moving it from the garage to the patio is no sweat. A futuristic LED display keeps lets you monitor the cooking and meat temperature during the smoke. All this can be yours for a cool $900.
Adding an electric smoker to your cooking arsenal is a wonderful idea if you’d like to enter the amazing world of smoked food. Even if you’re already an experienced food smoker, the convenience, control and safety that electric smokers add to the cooking process for a relatively low cost is a no-brainer. You can get as fancy as you want with these, but for something really solid that will meet most of your needs, look to spend $200 – $500. The low cost electric smokers will get the job done, the rest is really how much you want to impress your friends. The bottom line is: using an electric smoker to prepare delicious food for you and those you care about can’t get much easier and the fun you can have it with it is second to none.
Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker, Top Controller
- 730 sq. inches of cooking space with 4 chrome-coated racks and 800 watt heating element
- Digital temperature and timer controls
- Thermostat temperature control for even cooking from 100 to 275 degrees F
- Convenient side loading wood chips, removable drip pan and top air damper
- Ideal smoker for all experience levels