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Smokers can range anywhere from a $100 up to $10,000! Talk about a huge price range. Like most hobbies though, there is something for everyone regardless of their price range. Sure, having an expensive smoker may be nice, but that is not going to make the BBQ any better. The quality of the BBQ lies in the skills of the cook not the smoker being used.
When I first got into smoking meat, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a smoker. I can tell you from experience, you don’t need an expensive smoker to make great BBQ. Whether you are looking to test the water before jumping in or don’t have a bunch of extra cash lying around right now, you can use these tips below to get started with smoking meat on a budget.
The cheapest way to smoke meat is to use a pellet smoke tube and cook indirectly on your grill. For around $15, you can turn your gas grill into a makeshift smoker; however, for a more authentic and traditional smoke flavor, the cheapest way is to get a Weber Kettle and use the two zone cooking method.
Use a Pellet Smoke Tube And Your Grill
Yes, you heard me right, you can use your grill to smoke meat. Chances are you already have a grill lying around somewhere and grills can easily be converted into a makeshift smoker. And while the smoke flavor will not be as great as a dedicated smoker, this is the most affordable way to start smoking meat (given you already have a grill). Smoking meat on a grill can be done a couple ways:
Pellet Smoke Tube:
Found online and in most retail stores for around $15, pellet smoke tubes (Amazon link) burn cooking pellets to help add that smoky flavor to your meat. These tubes are easy to use as you fill them up, light them on fire, and let it sit on your grill next to the meat. As the pellets burn, they will give off a flavorful smoke.
DIY Wood Chip Packet:
Another popular method is creating your own wood chip packet. All you need is some tin foil and some wood chips. Lay your tin foil out flat on the counter and add a handful of woodchips to the center. Fold the tin foil over to create a pouch and poke some holes in the top. Then remove your grill grate and place the pouch directly on the burner.
Get a Weber Kettle
The Weber Kettle (Amazon link) has been around for a long time, and for good reason. They are affordable, with a price tag at $119, simple to use, and built to last. If you are looking to get into smoking meat on the cheap, or test the hobby out before buying a more expensive smoker, the Weber Kettle is hands down the way to go.
While technically a grill, the weber kettle can easily be turned into a smoker using the 2 zone cooking method. And because you are cooking with charcoal and wood chunks, you are going to get a much better flavor than using a gas grill. With its ease of use, low price tag, and great flavor output, it checks all the boxes for smoking meat on a budget.
Build Your Own
If you consider yourself pretty handy, you might enjoy building your own smoker. DIY ugly drum smokers have become extremely popular as of late. Essentially you grab a 55-gallon drum, throw a charcoal basket and some cooking racks/hooks inside, throw a lid on, and drill some holes for air flow and you have yourself a great smoker on the cheap.
Oh, and as far as flavor, Ugly Drum Smokers produce some of the best flavors a smoker can produce. This is because unlike any other type of smoker, the fat that renders off the meat falls onto the fire creating more smoke and more flavor.
Get A Used Smoker
You do not always need to buy a new smoker! One of my first smokers was an old and rusted offset smoker I found for free on the side of the road. I took it home, cleaned it up and it has worked great ever since. Looking at garage sells, online at craigslist, checking Facebook marketplace, or around your neighborhood, there should be plenty of opportunity to pick up a smoker that needs some love for cheap and sometimes even free. This is also a good option if you are looking to get a nicer smoker for a discounted price.
When buying a used smoker, you are going to want to clean and prep it before you start using it. If your smoker is heavily rusted, you are going to need to remove as much as you can. I used a wire brush and some rust remover. Once most of the rust has been removed, simply wash your smoker with soapy water and allow it to dry. Next you are going to want to season your smoker. Spray a light layer of oil on the walls and grates of your smoker and run your smoker as hot as you can get it for a couple hours.
Smoker’s Under $400
|Smoker||Type Of Smoker||Price (New)||Price (Used)||Notes|
|Weber Kettle||Charcoal Grill||$119||$50-$80||Most Popular starting setup. Allows for grilling and smoking. Use 2 zone cooking method.|
|WSM 18”||Charcoal Bullet smoker||$350||$150-$200||On the smaller side but will produce great flavor. Easy to use but is strictly a smoker.|
|Pit Barrel||Charcoal Drum Smoker||$350||$200||Great flavor and easy to use. Hard to control low temperatures.|
|DIY UDS||Charcoal Drum Smoker||$50-150||N/A||A more affordable version of the Pit Barrel. Great flavor and easy to use. Customizable.|
|Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse||Electric Smoker||$100||$60-80||Cheap and easy to use. Lacks flavor and size. The “microwave” of smokers.|
|Pit Boss Lexington 500 sq. in||Pellet Grill||$292||N/A||Easy to use but small cooking area. Set it and forget it type of smoker. Pellet grills also lack flavor compared to charcoal or stick burners.|
|NextGrill Smoker||Offset Smoker||$130||N/A||Quality issues. Thin and flimsy metal, paint peels off when hot, small fire box, no grease drain. Offsets are harder to manage temperature. You can still create great BBQ on this smoker though.|
If you are looking to get into smoking meat on the cheap, I would definitely recommend starting with the Weber Kettle. It is a versatile and affordable grill that will allow you to learn how to smoke meat without sacrificing any flavor. They are great units for beginners until you are ready to move to a more expensive smoker.