My first smoker was a red electric Brinkmann bullet smoker. The smoker had a simple dial thermostat, dual grates and came with a water pan and lava rocks.
I loved that cheap little smoker for a few months until I figured out that it was actually a piece of junk 🙂
Reasons That You Will Love an Electric Smoker
You will finally get started.
Electric smokers are a typical entry point for people who want to start learning to smoke meats. Beginners see these smokers as a way to skip the step of learning how to build and manage a fire in a traditional smoker. Ideally you can just “flip a switch” and you are ready to smoke some ribs.
As we will see later on, there is a flaw in this logic but the important thing is that if this is the push you need to finally get started learning how to barbecue then go for it!
Set It and Forget It
Electric smokers offer the possibility of continuous unattended operation. I love the idea of putting a pork butt on the smoker in the morning, going to work and then coming home to a platter of perfectly smoked pulled pork.
Let’s be clear, most manufactures will tell you to NEVER leave your electric smoker unattended due to the possibility of a grease or electrical fire. That is probably good advice 🙂
In reality though, many folks do buy an electric smoker for just this reason.
Many folks would love to have a massive Oklahoma Joe traditional offset smoker but simply do not have the space or are not allowed to have a fire burning barbecue at their apartment or condo.
Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and make the most of your situation. If this describes you then go ahead and get a nice electric smoker. You will learn how to deal with it’s quirks and will be able to turn out some nice barbecue on a consistent basis.
Lower and Slower
One of the best reasons to buy an electric smoker is the ability to smoke at lower temperatures than are easily attainable with traditional smokers.
If you buy a digitally controlled electric smoker then you will have the perfect piece of equipment for smoking jerky and Summer Sausage. These meats are ideally smoked at around 150F and those are temps that are almost impossible to hold with something like a Texas style offset smoker. This is an EASY temperature for a high quality electric smoker.
You can get an extremely nice electric smoker for around $300. While some folks want to find the best electric smoker for under $200 I really suggest you spend a little more and get one with a little insulation and digital controls.
That being said, getting a nice smoker for $300 is an easy way to jump into the barbecue game without breaking the bank.
Reasons That You Will Hate an Electric Smoker
When things get cold outside it is really hard for cheap electric smokers to get to the right temperature. The heating elements on these things can only put out so much heat…and remember, these are designed for Low and Slow. If you want these smokers to suddenly turn into High Heat generators to compensate for freezing outside temperatures then you will will be disappointed.
Cheap electric smokers will also struggle under extremely windy conditions. A cold wind will suck the heat out of these smokers like nobody’s business.
Think twice before you plan on cooking your Christmas turkey on a thin, inexpensive electric smoker. Many folks have found out the hard way that this is an easy route to ruining a holiday meal.
You can get around this problem by buying a model that is well insulated. The insulation and ability to perform in cold conditions is one reason that I recommend the Masterbuilt products.
Watch Out for Rain
Another enemy of an electric smoker is rain. Simply put, electricity and water are not a good combination and many times a slight drizzle will cause these smokers to trip a GFCI or throw a breaker.
This was the final straw that made me throw away my Brinkmann. The smoker tripped a GFCI and I didn’t know until three hours later. I had to throw away a big pile of meat that day and I swore that would never happen again.
You are going to be hard pressed to get a decent smoke ring of any kind using an electric smoker. Getting a smoke ring requires the combustion of fuel and the smoldering wood chips in an electric smoker will not make a difference. You can get a decent smoke flavor with an electric smoker but not a decent smoke ring.
Most electric smokers are designed to be affordable and easy but are not designed for large capacity cooks. Some of the most popular electric smokers like the Masterbuilt 30 inch are great for sausages, jerky and chicken but are not large enough for a full slab of ribs without cutting them in half.
If you want to smoke whole slabs of ribs or a full packer brisket then make sure you get a 40 inch electric smoker or you will not be able to manage large scale cooks.
There are pros and cons to every type of smoker. You can make some nice barbecue with an electric smoker but be aware that ambient temperature, rain and wind will make life hard on you if you buy a thin, cheap product.
An electric smoker can be a easy way to get started learning to barbecue but make sure you get one that is large enough and has digital controls.