I wanted to surprise my husband with a smoker for an early birthday present. Yeah, you can make good food on a charcoal or gas grill, but the best smoked meat is going to come from a smoker. My husband is a meat lover and a hunter – this would be totally up his alley. There are SO many on the market though and what I learned is that I needed to figure out what kind of fuel we wanted first, as that would guide my decision-making.
- Charcoal: Charcoal smokers use a combination of wood and charcoal that is easy to understand, affordable and customizable with combinations of wood chips for your own smoky flavor. The masters tend to use charcoal, but it also presents its own difficulties. Charcoal smokers rarely have precise temperatures, require a lot of experience in positioning and lighting and make the cleaning process really rough. If you don’t mind spending a lot of time on your smoking project, think about this option.
- Electric: Electric smokers use a lot of energy, but have high-tech sensors and controls that allow for careful programming and temperature balance which ensures even flavouring. However, they tend to produce less smokey flavors out of all the fuel options.
- Gas: Propane smokers are faster and easier to control than charcoal and produce decent flavours, but temperature is wildly difficult to maintain – still a very popular choice for beginners.
- Pellet: We’re also seeing a lot more pellet smokers these days, which use electricity or gas to burn wood pellets—essentially adding modern tech to the charcoal approach. These have become more popular by the Traeger line of products, which are basically grill hybrids that can be used for a variety of purposes, including smoking. The all-in-one approach has a lot to offer buyers. Because of their small size and composition, food-grade wood pellets burn cleanly, producing a light smoky flavor. Wood pellet varieties include oak, maple, apple, alder, mesquite, cherry, maple, hickory, and pecan.
Lots of things to consider – what was my budget? What fuel did I think was best? Would it be for home use, or would we want portability? How big did it need to be? Would we want a horizontal, egg, or vertical smoker? Wi-fi or no wi-fi? What temperature range would we need? What brands brought the best reviews most consistently?
It didn’t take me long to settle on an electric wood pellet smoker. An electric smoker brought the stability of high end temperature balance, but wood pellets would bring the rich smokey flavour we would expect to achieve in a smoker. Because my husband hunts, I knew smoked sausages and racks of ribs would be at the top of his “must smoke” list – and vertical smokers offer so many options for these particular meats. Because you can “hang” meat in a vertical smoker (but also use the horizontal racks for standard smoking), I knew he would most likely prefer this to style. I had narrowed it down to an electric wood pellet vertical smoker.
During my research, I learned that Traeger (long considered the biggest name in smokers) had an exclusive patent on electric pellet grills for 20 years making them the best in the business, but it expired in 2006 – and since then, other manufacturers have been able to replicate and expand upon the Traeger technology. It’s name still commands a lot of authority, but I read a lot about them being overpriced. Traeger also does not make vertical smokers.
I had read a TON of amazing things about Green Mountain Grills – but the price tag was a hindrance. They are packed to the gills with amazing electronic features including high end wi-fi, an app, electronic alerts and timers and cooking profiles – very fancy, but not sure what I thought my husband would want. Where was the fun in setting it and forgetting it? While I knew he wouldn’t want to be outside tinkering with a smoker for hours and hours on end, I knew he would want more control over it that the fancy wi-fi smokers offered.
I finally settled on Pit Boss (this isn’t sponsored, by the way – I wish). They had a LONG history of quality workmanship and a reputation for a good reliable line of smokers, millions of amazing reviews – and they had an entire line of vertical smokers (and accessories including winter covers – a necessity – grill tools, their own line of wood pellets, and much more).
So, the Pit Boss Series 5 Vertical Electric Smoker was ours. From the Pit Boss website: “Innovation meets the outdoors with Pit Boss’ all new 5 Series Vertical Pellet Smoker. Never before has smoking been this versatile. The double walled insulation lets you smoke from 150°F to temperatures reaching 450°F, unlike any other smoker on the market today. The large front window eliminates the need for peek-a-boo cooking and its elevated frame makes transferring your meal from the smoker to the table a breeze. With the PB 5 Series Pellet Smoker there is no need to fret about cooking lengths – its 40 pound plus hopper allows you to cook for up to 24 hours! Its sleek design is not only unique, it is also functional. The PB 5 Series Pellet Smoker features 1,659 square inches of porcelain coated cooking racks, locking caster wheels, an easy to read digital controller and a notable hammer tone copper finish. The multiple position racking system ensures you’ll have enough room to smoke anything your heart (or stomach) desires“.
The difference in price between the 3 series and the 5 series was only $100 more, but the surface area inside DOUBLED. The additional upgrade in price to the 7 series didn’t bring enough features for us to feel it was worth it. The 5 series would allow us to do ribs, sausages, wings, brisket – almost any meat we wanted – as well as fit a full-size turkey for holiday smoking. We could smoke long and slow, or jack the temp right up if needed. Being vertical, it gave us a ton of space to smoke without a giant footprint on our back deck. It was an easy sell for me after that. Probably most importantly – they ship to Canada and their website was in Canadian dollars, so I didn’t have to worry about additional duties or taxes or charges when it arrived. It also showed up 12 days after I ordered it!
So far, we have done wings (probably 5 times now – and we’ll never go for another wing night again because we can do them better ourselves at home), brisket, and ribs – and we’re trying beef jerky, spatchcock chicken, and pork belly burnt ends this week. For Thanksgiving, we’re doing our very first smoked turkey!
I thought there would be a steep learning curve, but there is SO much info on the internet with a million recipes, and an electric pellet grill is a HUGELY popular option so tons of online support. If you have been on the fence about getting one – I can now attest to it and highly recommend it!