Smoke Show April 30 2014
Part One: The Decision
There are few options better spent on a weekend around the house than firing up the smoker, piling on a bunch of your favorite grub and smoking out the neighborhood with the glorious smell of apple wood and hickory. I’m new to the world of smoking but so far I absolutely love it, so here is my journey.
First was convincing my wife that we should forgo buying each other Christmas gifts this past holiday and instead we should buy our first brand new smoker. Well my brilliant plan actually worked and a couple months ago we finally pulled the trigger (better late than never) on our new Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker and in turn we became the envy of the neighborhood.
Like everything in life you can spend as much or as little as you would like, so I began my research with a budget of roughly a few hundred dollars to spend. There are numerous smokers on the market and many of them have fan boys the likes of those Apple vs Android people we all love. So needless to say there are countless opinions on the “best” smokers available. There are also several types of smokers…. gas, electric, charcoal, pellet, steel, ceramic...you get the point.
After reading many reviews and scouring the internet for recommendations (spoiler alert) I ultimately found the 18.5” Smokey Mountain to be the most bang for my buck fitting perfectly within my budget and allowing me to smoke the way I would most enjoy because I wanted the thrill of working with charcoal and maintaining the heat with careful vent adjustments. Simply put the Weber hit all my needs in a smoker. I could have went the easier route and bought a gas or electric smoker, but half of the fun of smoking for me personally would have been lost. Regardless of how I got to my personal decision, the journey to find the right smoker was a very rewarding and eye opening experience and along the way I found there were several great options for anybody and with any type of budget. Here are some of the best smoker options I found during my research that may fit into your personal wants and needs.
The Best Budget Options...
The first option on the low end of the scale is to turn your current 22” Weber kettle grill into a top of the line smoker option by simply adding the Smokenator. This ingenious piece of equipment can be had for a mere $70 and offers a few benefits over every other smoker I was considering. First off the price factor is impossible to beat and will save you well over a hundred dollars on even the cheapest, decent smoker option. You also won’t lose any additional deck or storage space since you use your current Weber grill as the base unit and now you turn your charcoal grill into a true multi-tasking workhorse.
The other great advantage of this setup is the higher setup of the Weber grill versus many of the other smokers which you must continually bend over to fill the charcoal and add wood chunks. The Weber kettle is set up at waist level and therefore preparing and maintaining your smoker throughout the smoking process couldn’t be easier, especially on your back. Ultimately this would likely have been the direction I would have went if we already had a Weber kettle grill, but since we have a gas grill which obviously wouldn't work with this setup, I had to eliminate the Smokenator as an option. However to anyone who does have a kettle Weber, I think this setup is a no brainer for the price point and convenience level.
My next consideration was the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24” Smoker. I considered going with a gas setup for ease of use and since this particular model was able to offer temperatures down to 160⁰ and all the way up to 500⁰, it would provide easy temperature control and versatility. The smoker is easily started with the simple push of the ignition button and offers a easy cleanup option with the removable porcelain base tray. The smoker is also remarkable at holding the temperature you desire for hours once you get it dialed in. There was a lot to like about this option and the ease of use and ability to set it and forget it are quite attractive, I ultimately wanted a smoker that would require a little more attention along the way. Plus I would have lost my favorite part of the smoking process...enjoying a nice cold beer on the deck while dialing in a smoker temperature. This is another fantastic option for under the $300 budget I set up. If I was more interested in a smoker that required little attention and easy setup, this would have been on the short list, but I enjoy a good challenge and I already have a gas grill…. so I was looking forward to working exclusively with charcoal.
The Final Decision...
While there were many options out there, I ultimately decided the best suited for my needs, budget and how I wanted to use my smoker was going to be the Smokey Mountain from Weber. This bullet shaped smoker has the quality build the Weber name is known for. The body and lids are made from solid sheets of steel so no worries about rust or leaking air. The durable powder coated baked on porcelain enamel will hold up for years or use and abuse and keep your smoker looking shiny and new. The door and lid fit well enough to keep a consistent temperature once you get your heat dialed in and will hold steady for hours. I’ve also been amazed at how little charcoal this smoker uses during a smoking session and in fact I have been able to roll over leftover charcoal after each use. The size is just right for smoking for two, yet big enough to load up when entertaining. The footprint of the smoker takes up very little room and is easy enough to move back forth to my shed when not in use.
Truth is, I could have bought a number of smokers and would have very likely been happy with many of them. It ultimately comes down to a few key factors to find the smoker that best suits your needs. Budget, available space, easy of use and fuel preferences will go along ways to point you in the direction to finding the right smoker for you. But as a smoker snob in the making, I just couldn’t say no to the Weber name and build quality and the use of charcoal.
Stay tuned for more "Smoke Show" blog posts including our favorite smoked recipes, must have accessories and tricks of the trade.