So, you’ve decided to start making your own jerky? The first step of the process is obviously finding the right smoker. However, that’s also every smoking rookie’s first obstacle – with so many different choices available, how can you make sure you pick the one that’s perfect for making jerky?
While the right choice depends a lot on your personal preferences, especially when it comes to size and shape, there’s one thing that’s important when it comes to jerky. Unlike most types of meat, it’s smoked on temp as low as 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so the smoker you choose needs to be able to go that low. With that in mind, we have selected five smokers whose features stand out, which should help you narrow down your choice
This is, hands down, the best smoker for jerky. Smokehouse’s Big Chief (or its smaller counterpart, Little Chief) is the first product that comes to mind to many Americans when it comes to jerky-making. It’s the superstar amongst smokers. It’s even been on a national TV for smoking beer!
We’ve chosen the bigger smoker version for this top pick because of its capacity of 50 pounds, which is twice the size of the Little Chief, so you have enough room for all the jerky your family might need.
This is a classic “cold smoker,” whose temperature doesn’t go above 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that it doesn’t allow you to every once in a while smoke, let’s say, a chicken. However, constant low temp makes sure your jerky comes up perfectly.
Big Chief has two different load types – top and front load. There isn’t any difference in loading difficulty, so it all comes down to your personal preference.
With Big Chief being so affordable, it’s expected to be made out of thinner material, in this case it’s embossed aluminum. However, to say it’s mediocre in quality would be an understatement. In fact, many people still own their Chief bought decades ago, which only proves its durability.
Big Chief smoker comes with 5 Chrome-plated grills, an electric cord, drip pan and wood flavor pan. You also get a bag of alder wood chips, along with a recipe booklet, which is especially handy for first-time smoking.
Easy to use
Perfect jerky smoking temperature
Affordable but sturdy
Low temp makes it not great for smoking many other things
While Smokey Mountain comes in 3 different sizes (14, 18 and 22 inches), we believe that 18-inch size is optimal for families of four, a size on par with our other choices.
The design is rather sleek – with pitch-black glossy finish and bullet-like design, it looks like you paid a pretty penny for this beast. It is, in fact, more expensive than the other smokers listed here, but it’s money well spent.
WSM is made out of steel, which is perfect for enduring high temperatures. The aluminum pan under the smoker protects your patio from the heat. The damper system gives you easy control over the heat without the need to lift the lid. In the middle part, it has a water bowl located above the coal that helps to regulate the temperature while catching dripping juices, as well as the door for adding charcoal or wood.
Weber Smokey Mountain is a great choice for making jerky (and even to smoke a fish). Add ice cubes in the water pan, which will help you absorb the heat and reach the perfect temperature. On the other hand, WSB can also serve as a standard grill, which is always great to have.
Slim design that fits anywhere
A water bowl that regulates heat
A lengthy, 10-year warranty for bowl, lid and center ring
Many customers found it a bit difficult to assemble
Smoke Vault is a propane smoker that unlike other gas smokers, has a rather big temperature range. It goes from 160 to 400 F, which is great for smoking just about anything that comes to mind. Smoke Vault comes in two different sizes, and the 18-inch one has made this list.
This smoker is made out of sheet steel, which makes it rather light and easy to move and transport. The doors, however, are made out of aluminum, unlike the rest of the body, and some customers have found that the heat is a bit higher at the back of the smoker than at the front. For making jerky, this won’t be that noticeable, but if you use it for something that smokes on a much higher temperature, you might want to rotate the trays every few hours.
The design of this smoker is a piece of art – it looks like an old-fashioned vault, and it definitely is eye candy for every back porch. Inside, it has two removable smoking racks and one jerky smoking rack which you can adjust at a level of your choice.
The downside is that, like almost all built-in thermometers, Smoke Vault has one that’s often off for more than 10 degrees. It’s advisable you use your own food therm.
No separate door for the water pan and the wood tray
Red Rock is another gas smoker that claims it can reach temperatures from only 100 F to 350 F. The customers, however, mostly agree that it doesn’t really go above 300 F, which is still probably more than enough for whatever you might need. The temperature though depends a lot on the weather conditions. Therefore, smoking outside during colder months might make it more difficult for you to reach the desired temp.
This is yet another smoker that comes in two sizes, and our choice is 77435, a model with 4 porcelain coated cooking racks. At 884 square inches, this Red Rock version has quite a spacious cooking area.
As the name suggests, Red Rock smoker comes in red, and it has a semi-gloss finish, which makes it a stylish, modern addition for your patio. The front has a large windowed door, which is a great addition that allows you to see your food. Underneath, it also has external access to the wood chip drawer and grease tray. Both of these features are designed to prevent the unnecessary opening of the door, which would cause a change in heat.
Red Rock smoker has a dual valve burning system that warms up wood chips, while the other steel burner takes care of the overall temperature.
Dual burner system which provides an even smoking process
Easy to set up and use
The separate wood chip area
A bit expensive for a gas smoker
Doesn’t quite hit the high temperature it claims it does
With 1,382 square inches cooking area, this is the giant on our list. It weighs over 120, which is around twice the size of any other smoker selected for this list. And even though it has two big steel wheels, it’s no easy task moving this smoker around. Since it’s not that portable, a smoker cover is highly recommendable to protect it from the bad weather conditions.
This Dyna-Glo smoker has the look of a signature grill with an offset smoker (being a grill and smoke combination unit), but the tables are turned now – the smoker is the main part, with the offset grill, which is also the main heat supply. It has a side tray where you put charcoal or wood chips.
The smoker part has five chrome-plated grates, which are placed closely together. That’s great for placing the jerky horizontally, but if you ever decide to smoke a turkey, you’ll need to remove a grate to fit it in.
This is a versatile smoker, as it can serve as both grill and smoker. Convenient in theory, but in practice, it’s not that great. Since chambers are connected, every time you open the grill chamber, you’re losing heat in the smoke zone. That’s a big issue, especially on those colder days when reaching higher temperatures is already difficult. That means you probably shouldn’t grill while you’re making jerky.
One of the things to consider when picking the right smoker for making jerky is the type of heat source it uses. Should you go with charcoal, gas or electric? Here are some advantages and disadvantages of every type that will help you make the final decision.
The main asset of a charcoal smoker is the unique flavor it gives, which gas and electric smokers can’t provide.
On the other hand, it requires a lot of your attention throughout the cooking process. Some people enjoy the whole process, but some simply want their food done, so it depends on which side of the specter you fall on. Furthermore, charcoal leaves behind ashes, so there’s quite a lot to clean after use.
This is the most mobile version out of the three, so it’s great if you want to take it with you. It works well in all weather conditions, although it requires more care when it’s windy.
Gas is more suitable for beginners since it’s simple to use. Push the button to start, and turn the knob to set the temperature. It takes a while to heat up, but you don’t need to keep a close eye on it like you would a charcoal smoker. That being said, you need to check up on it every once in a while, as the temperature can fluctuate, especially when it’s cold and windy.
Even charcoal fans agree that the jerky taste comes quite close to the charcoal one.
When it comes down to reliability, this is a rather predictable option. However, leaky hose or a broken connection can be a thing.
The downside to having a gas smoker in the backyard is the fact that a gas tank is inflammable and shouldn’t be left out in hot weather. It’s also a portable option, but since you have to carry the gas tank around, it’s not the most compact one.
It doesn’t get easier to use than this. Once you start it, you can forget all about it since it will do all the work by itself. It’s perfect for no effort jerky, since this kind of smoker easily produces low temperature needed for making jerky, and overall cold smoking.
If you live in an apartment, this is probably your only option. When it comes to backyard usage, an electric smoker is highly dependable on the weather, and you won’t be able to use it on a rainy day. When it comes to security, an electric smoker is the safest to use. But,
since you have to plug it in, forget about taking it with you in nature.
The outcome of your smoked jerky really depends on a lot of factors, and picking the right smoker is quite the burden. Smokehouse Products Big Chief Electric Smoker is, in our opinion, the perfect choice for the task at hand. Decades of popularity speak in its favor. It’s affordable but does the job. However, if you’re ok with spending a bit more on such an appliance, Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker has everything you’ll ever need, and more. But whatever smoker your pick, it will surely be the one you’ll enjoy.
To find the most enjoyable smoker, check our articles: