Best electric smoker under $300 | 7 reasons to avoid


Smokin-It Model 3 electric smoker
Smokin-It Model 3 electric smoker

Does $300 buy a good electric smoker? Does $300 buy the best electric smoker? What are the brands to avoid? What are the best features in an electric smoker? Is Home Depot or Lowe’s the best place to buy? Are they as good as charcoal, gas, pellet or offset smokers? Is there really a “best”? Definitely not.

But when you consider what goes into making an electric smoker, $300 should be plenty to get yourself something reliable, fairly well built, and with some pretty nice features. So in this best electric smoker review, you’ll learn about the most popular brands we think are the best.

Electric smokers consist of just a few manufacturers, and at this price range the market is dominated by Masterbuilt digital smokers, Char-Broil digital smokers, and Bradley digital smokers. There are really only a few models that stand out. They all do some things fairly well and come up short on a few other things.

Before we get to the reviews, if you’re like most folks, you may be thinking about what an elite electric BBQ smoker would look like and what would it cost. The very best outdoor electric smoker we have ever owned is the Smokin-It Model 3.

Built and sized like a commercial electric smoker or smoker-oven. Made of stainless steel, it’s a well insulated electric smoker that has a huge capacity to handle a half dozen beef briskets, at least 8 racks of SLC fall off the bone ribs, and can be used for smoked salmon, smoked sausage, and pulled pork. I’ve even used it to smoke almonds and cheese.

Does that mean you should avoid electric smokers brands like Bradley, Masterbuilt and Char-broil? The short answer is no and I believe the Masterbuilt 20077515 Front Controller Electric Smoker is the best electric smoker you can find in this price range. It’s relatively well built, very popular, and gets many excellent reviews.

It’s also got a number of very cool features including a remote that allows you to control and monitor box temperature from a distance. It doesn’t have a PID controller, but nothing in this price range does. A PID controller like an Auber will run a couple hundred dollars all by itself.

Regardless of which model you choose, the most important features are:

  • Size – Is bigger really better? Most of the electric smokers in this price range are pretty small and require you cut racks of ribs in half in order to make them fit. You are probably thinking, why would I want a smoker that small? Perhaps you don’t have space, or the budget for a larger unit. Perhaps you don’t plan on smoking ribs or brisket. Regardless, it’s probably important that you consider whether it can it handle a full rack of ribs or a whole packer brisket. Cutting racks in half isn’t the end of the world but it’s much cooler to smoke the whole piece of meat at once.
    • Remember, the size of your smoker isn’t going to change the quality or taste of the smoked meat you make – regardless of the recipe you use for BBQ ribs or any other smoked meat. It’ll taste fantastic. In fact, after owning the Smokin-It Model 3 electric smoker, we realized some drawbacks to a larger unit. The first was the amount of surface area to clean or cover with aluminum foil. It was way more than necessary for the amount of smoked beef brisket or pulled pork butt we were smoking at one time.
  • Power – power is a big deal with an electric smoker. Element wattage can range from 400-1200 which will have a big effect on how fast it heats up, and it’s ability to maintain temp in cool or cold weather. So checking out the specifications of the electric smoker you choose is a key consideration before buying.
    • The important question: Does it have enough power to keep the box heated even in cold weather? We used electric meat smokers and gas meat smokers in a variety or weather conditions and temperatures. Please don’t kid yourself, outdoor temp will definitely change the way you smoke meat in one of these cookers. Unlike an offset smoker, or a charcoal, or pellet smoker – these electric and gas smokers simply lack to power to overcome extremely cold ambient temperatures. It’ll take longer to warm up, take more – perhaps more than you have – power to maintain desired temp, and take longer to recover each time you open the door.  An under-powered electric smoker is a frustrating experience. So be sure and ask yourself, how many watts is the heating element?
    • Another design choice that can make under-powered electric smokers a problem is inadequate insulation and door sealing. The more heat you lose, the more dependent you are on heating element power to sustain your cook. Even the Smokin-It Model 3, which is insulated quite well, and has a very tight sealing door, was affected by extremely cold temps or being in the hot sun here in the Southwest. It had enough power to overcome the cold, but you are at the mercy of insulation when it’s really hot out there. So, power matters, and it matters more if you’re buying a tin can of a smoker – whether Bradley, Char-Broil, or Masterbuilt.
  • Temperature controller – the mechanism and technology used greatly affects how precisely your electric smoker maintains temp and is perhaps one of the most important things to consider. Some controllers are old-school analog/digital while others are much more high-tech proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controllers.
    • The old-school analogs work like your oven or home thermostat does. For a given temp there is a range. Fall below and the element is on. Once desired temp is reached, the element turns off. The issue is, it’s not very precise so your desired temp will be overshot on the heat cycle and undershot on the cool cycle. We’ve seen temps vary by over 40 degrees using these types of controllers. Many folks will tell you it doesn’t matter and the results are the same. Others will say it does matter and recommend a PID controller.
    • PID controllers continuously calculate an error value and apply a correction based on proportional, integral, and derivative terms: P + I + D. They are calibrated to your smoker and thus have the intelligence to manage temps within a degree or two.  We purchased an Auber PID controller for our Smokin-It Model 3 and it kept cooking temperatures to within a few degrees. It’s a marvelous thing to see but requires some calibration and effort to make it work properly. You can set all kinds of cooking plans that have multiple steps and temps. But, it also requires a bit of effort, perhaps and hour, to set-up and calibrate. It also requires you to set-up for each cook. You know, plug it in, insert the probes into the meat and Auber then turn it on and confirm it’s running the correct program. As opposed to electric smokers with the older analog type of thermostat which, although less precise than a PID controller, only requires you to dial and smile – set it and forget it. Just pick your number and get back to whatever you were doing – that’s the Lazy-Q lifestyle of great barbecue.
    • It’s often debated whether holding temp within a couple of degrees versus allowing ranges up to 40 degrees makes any difference in the final product. But it’s unclear to us how much it matters. Like most people who want to do things the easy way when it’s time to relax, the analog thermostats work just fine.
  • Lights – many cooks start or end in the dark. We start briskets the night before, or find ourselves checking on things after dark. Having lights on your smoker is really nice and lights make a flashlight unnecessary. If your smoker doesn’t have built in lights, we recommend you consider rigging up something to ensure you can see what you’re doing.
  • Materials – smokers are obviously made out of metal, but the grade of steel and amount of insulation (if any) is going to make a big difference in how well your smoker holds heat. In this price range you won’t have many choices but it’s still worth considering. Again, trying to use a smoker that can’t maintain temp is a frustrating experience.
  • Fit and finish – besides the type of controller and the wattage of the heating element, the fit and finish of your smoker is going to make a big difference in how enjoyable and successful you are at smoking fantastic BBQ. Most of the smokers in this range will leak smoke (and thus heat) due to poor fit and finish. As you are considering various models, be sure and check out the reviews as they pertain to leaks. The Smokin-It Model 3 illustrated to the right (cost is over $300) is made of stainless steel, is insulated, and has a door that seals incredibly well – no leaks, no temp loss – it works like a charm. So, again, be sure and consider whether it will leak heat and smoke.
  • Wheels – smokers without wheels just aren’t any fun. Unless you know you can park it in one spot and leave it there, you’re going to want wheels – and I mean some pretty  large wheels that lock. We find ourselves wheeling the smoker into the open when using it, then wheeling it back under the patio roof when not in use. It’s electric after all and depending on the model you choose, insulation from the elements may be inadequate to leave it exposed to the elements year-round. We are constantly moving ours around. So be sure to make sure it’s got some nice wheels on it, or plan to put it on a moving dolly or cart.moving it around much easier, and you’ll want to move it around

So where’s the best place to buy your electric meat smoker?

There’s not too much debate on this topic perhaps because if you’re like most people you’re going to look for electric smokers at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, or Amazon. Is there an advantage to using one over the other? What difference does it make? We spent some time reviewing the different options, prices and other factors to give you an idea of whether shopping locally has advantages of disadvantages when it comes to buying an electric smoker. If you need you’re brand new electric meat smoker today, there’s not really a choice. Take a look at the reviews below and head on over to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Wal-Mart and take what they’ve got. Maybe they’ll have what you want, maybe not – that’s for you to find out.

If you don’t have to have your new smoker in the next couple of days then the online choice has much more to offer. Buying an electric smoker at Amazon has several advantages. Comparing the top brands and prices is easy and you can compare the features and differences within a single manufacturer. What’s the difference between the Bradley BTDS76P and the Bradley BTDS108P? Which is the 4-rack smoker and which is the 6-rack smoker? How are they different from the Masterbuilt line and which ones use brisquettes? Oh and what the heck is a brisquette?! You’ll also have access to many more brands and models than at a single big-box store. Even small electric smokers not carried at the big box stores. While we are all for supporting local businesses and shopping local when we can, we hardly think of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s as local.

So without further adieu, below are the electric meat smokers for under $300 we are able to recommend in good conscience.

 

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The top 3 electric smokers under $300

All 3 of these recommended models have an 800 watt heating element, digital temperature controller, and have received outstanding reviews. The downside to electric smokers in this range is you will have to cut your racks of ribs or a whole packer brisket to fit. If this is not something you are willing to accept, and have a bit more money to spend, you can step up to a larger electric smoker that can handle full racks. Check out my post on best electric smokers under $500 to see what the extra money can buy. In the meantime, on to my top 3 electric smokers under $300.

#3 Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker

  • 725 square inch capacity across 4 easily adjustable or removable racks.
  • Insulated, double-wall construction.
  • Removable food thermometer.
  • Glass door
  • Large, stainless steel locking latch for smoke-tight seal.
  • Wheels and integrated handle for easy mobility.
  • Stainless steel, dual-tone finish.

#2 Masterbuilt 20078715 Electric Digital Smoker Front Controller, 30-Inch, Black

  • 721 sq. Inch of cooking space with four chrome-coated racks
  • 800 watt heating element
  • Blue LED display for easy reading, even in direct sunlight
  • Thermostat temperature control for even cooking from 100 to 275 degrees F
  • Redesigned front-access drip pan
  • No wheels
  • Not stainless steel

#1 Masterbuilt 20077515 Front Controller Electric Smoker with Window and RF Controller, 30-Inch

  • 730 sq inches of cooking space with 4 chrome-coated racks and 800 watt heating element with full foam insulation
  • Blue led display makes reading temperatures and cooking time in direct sunlight easy
  • Rf remote controls and monitors temperature, time, internal light, on/off and meat temperature
  • Redesigned front access drip pan, smoother operating wood chip loading system and side/top air damper
  • Handle and rear wheels makes moving easy

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for an electric smoker and your budget is limited to under $300 then the best value for your money is going to be the Masterbuilt 20077515. It ticks all the boxes for features in this price range, and has over 4300 reviews with 81% being 4 or 5 stars. It’s really a no brainer. That said, there are limitations in terms of size and results with an electric smoker, and one of this size. If you’re certain you want, or need to go with electric in this price range, the research is done. If you want or need electric but want to be able to handle full rack of ribs and packer briskets, you’ll need to step up in size and price. If you aren’t sure if electric is right for you, definitely check out What Kind of Smoker Should I Buy?

 

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