A smoker can unlock levels of flavor and complexity in homemade jerky unattainable by traditional cooking methods.
While we enjoy making jerky in our home ovens and dehydrators, there’s something special about firing up the smoker to make a fresh batch of delicious jerky.
Check out our step-by-step guide to How to Make Jerky in a Smoker (coming soon).
The search for the best smoker for jerky making can be daunting. There is an endless array of options on the market and even more opinions by “experts.”
We’ve simplified the process by providing an overview of the different types of smokers with specific recommendations on the best brand and model for each type. The easiest way to think about smoker units is to focus on the heat source: wood-fired, charcoal, gas, electric, and pellet.
Our recommendations come from 90+ years of commercial jerky experience as well as extensive hands-on testing of homemade jerky equipment. Even though smokers can be used for a variety of smoked foods, we’ve evaluated our recommendations with a focus on jerky making.
We’ve spent weeks researching the best options based on consumer reports, customer reviews, and industry forums. We then conducted our own, in-person testing to see how the smoker types stack up in our Test Kitchen. We already make lots of smoked jerky at home, so this project was a blast.
Here are the key considerations when considering the best jerky smoker option for you.
- Ease of Use
- Potential Flavor
- Time & Energy Required
All of our recommendations have been vetted for build quality and insulation, versatility, quality manufacturer and guarantee, as well as social proof from other jerky smokers.
For those that want great flavor with moderate work…Bullet Smoker, Weber Grills Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18” - $419.00
For those that want versatility with minimum effort...Pellet Smoker, Traeger Pro 575 - $799.99
For those that want to set it and forget it…Electric Smoker, Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker - $379.99
For those looking for an affordable entry point…Propane Smoker, Masterbuilt ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker - $379.99
For the most serious of jerky smokers…Offset Smoker, Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker - $599.00
*Pricing recorded at the time this article was published. Make sure to check the listing for updated price.
Let’s dive into the different types of jerky smokers with our recommendations.
For those that want great flavor with moderate work…Bullet Smoker
Charcoal is the most common type of smoker and bbq heat source. There's definitely magic and romance when it comes to firing up the charcoal smoker. It reminds us of summertime, family cookouts, and the outdoors.
A charcoal smoker is great for someone looking for just the right amount of work when smoking jerky. Charcoal smokers for jerky require some hands-on set-up and monitoring without the full-blown effort of wood-fired smokers.
There is a wide range of charcoal smokers that range from Kamado Grills to Kettle Grills, and Bullet Smokers to Drum Smokers. Each of these charcoal smoker types offer different benefits and drawbacks.
When it comes to smoking jerky with charcoal, we prefer a vertical bullet smoker.
A vertical bullet smoker features three sections. The lower section contains the charcoal and wood. The middle section contains the water pan and cooking grates for the jerky. The top section contains the dome lid with the thermometer. The charcoal and wood burns from below giving off heat and smoke. This slowly cooks the jerky.
In general, a charcoal smoker is definitely less work than a wood-fired, offset smoker. The charcoal is much easier to light and will stay warm for much longer than wood.
When compared to electric or propane smokers that rely exclusively on burning wood chips or pellets, charcoal smokers burn a broader range of flavor molecules. The smoke created by the combination of charcoal and wood chips creates a noticeable difference in flavor. This difference in flavor can be especially noticeable on jerky.
Another benefit of charcoal is there's no need for power or gas. You just need some charcoal and a lighter to get these smokers going.
It is worth noting that electric smokers, propane smokers, and pellet smokers are much easier to use when smoking jerky than charcoal smokers. There's also a bit more clean-up with the leftover charcoal.
Charcoal smokers will take some practice to figure out the temperature control, but with a few tricks and practice you can easily become familiar. The ideal temperature for smoking jerky is between 165°F and 175°F.Charcoal smokers are a great in-between option for those that want the romanticism and flavor of wood-fired offset, without all the work.
Charcoal also delivers a much more nuanced and complex flavor for your jerky when compared to electric, gas, and pellet.
We love working with charcoal smokers for jerky and strongly recommend this method.
Best Bullet Smoker for Jerky
The Weber Grills Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18" is a great option for beginners, but offers enough versatility and quality that it's not uncommon to find this smoker at barbecue competitions.
Shop on Weber Grills: $419.00
For those that want versatility with minimum effort...Pellet Smoker
Pellet smokers seem to be taking over the world. They are popping up on patios and in backyards across the country — and for good reason.
A pellet smoker offers fantastic barbecue smoke flavor without all work, but it does come at a price.
Pellet grills burn wood pellets in a hopper next to the main smoking chamber. Once plugged-in and turned-on, the pellet grill pushes pellets into a burn pot where an ignitor rod heats the pellets generating heat and smoke. Set-up is adding the pellets, plugging in the machine, selecting your temperature, and waiting for the device to heat.
Pellet smokers offer unrivaled convenience and versatility. They are famous for popularizing the "set it and forget it" method to smoking.
Pellet grills are often equipped with advanced technology that allows you to remotely monitor and adjust the temperature. Some pellet smokers have smart phone integration that allows you to adjust the temperature right from your phone.
One possible limitation of pellet smokers—when it comes to smoking jerky—is the capacity. You can easily expand the cooking space of your pellet smoker with jerky racks. These smoking racks allow you to fit more jerky onto shelves in the smoking chamber.
Compared to charcoal or wood smokers, pellet smokers are very fuel efficient. You will spend less on pellets than charcoal or wood.
Pellet smokers are expensive. There's no way around it.
They also won't scratch that itch if you're looking for the traditional smoking experience of firing up charcoal or wood. Pellet smokers are a fantastic solution to make smoked jerky. There's a reason they are taking over patios and backyards across the country.
We have a pellet smoker in our home and love to fire it up for some jerky.
Best Pellet Smoker for Jerky
The Traeger Pro 575 is one of the top-selling wood pellet grills in the country, and for good reason. The Pro model comes with a WiFi remote that allows you to control the smoker from a distance. Just don't forget to run out of pellets.
Shop on Traeger: $799.00
For those that want to set it and forget it…Electric Smoker
An electric smoker is a great option for the entry-level jerky smoker or for anyone that doesn't want to fire up a charcoal or wood-fired smoker.
Electric smokers offer great temperature control, ease of use, and reliable energy.
An electric smoker uses electricity to power internal heating elements. Electric smokers have controls to change the amount of electricity. The heating element burns wood chips that are added to a wood chip holder at the bottom of the smoker.
The ease of temperature control is one of the most important benefits of an electric smoker. Turn the dial to your desired temperature and that's it. It's the most convenient smoker type out there.
Another advantage is their compact design and operation. If you are looking to make smoked jerky, but live in an area that forbids gas or charcoal smokers, an electric smoker is a great workaround.
Most electric smokers are cabinet-style or vertical smokers. When you make smoked jerky in these types of smokers, you can either hang the jerky pieces or lay them flat on the racks. Most electric smokers come with multiple smoker grates.
Pro Tip: Make sure to add a bottom tray to the smoker when smoking jerky to catch all the drippings.
One drawback is the lack of portability. You'll need a power source to plug in the smoker.
You also won't get the same flavor complexity offered by the other options.
Electric smokers contain more parts than traditional smokers and can run into more problems with use.
Electric smokers are about evaluating what's important. If you're willing to give up a little bit of flavor, you will gain ease of use. Don't get us wrong, you can still get amazing smoked flavor on your jerky with an electric smoker.
Best Electric Smoker for Jerky
The Masterbuilt Smoker Digital Electric Smoker is one of the top options when it comes to electric smokers for its great insulation, smart wood chip tray system, and competitive price.
Shop on Masterbuilt: $379.99
For those looking for an affordable entry point…Propane Smoker
A propane-fired smoker is a great entry point to smoking beef jerky that won't break the bank. They produce great tasting results, can accommodate a large amount of jerky, and don't use up a lot of space due to their vertical design.
Similar to the electric smoker, gas smokers are oriented vertically. There's a gas burner at the bottom of the unit connected to a propane tank. Both the electric and the propane smokers are fitted with a wood chip tray.
Gas smokers offer many of the same benefits of electric smokers with a few key differences. Gas smokers can reach higher temperatures and are far more portable.
Gas smokers also have less parts than electric smokers, meaning less can go wrong. Our testing revealed that some of the gas smokers did fluctuate from the set temperature, which required some monitoring, but nothing drastic.
Similar to electric smokers that burn wood chips, gas smokers don't achieve the same level of complexity when compared to charcoal or wood-fired smokers.
You will also have to make sure you have sufficient propane to last for the jerky cook cycle which generally shouldn't be a major issue if you're checking the amount of gas before starting.
If portability and smoking at higher temperatures (not necessarily essential for jerky smoking), are important to you, then a gas smoker is a great option to break into the jerky smoking game.
Best Gas Smoker for Jerky
The Masterbuilt ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker 40 Inch offers a large cooking capacity, robust thermometer control, and intelligent chip tray door. It's a great solution for an entry-level smoker in the propane family.
Shop on Masterbuilt: $379.99
For the most serious of jerky smokers…Offset Smoker
Wood-fired, offset smokers are the real deal when it comes to smokers. These are the smokers used by barbecue competition winners and TV pitmasters.
As indicated by their industry name—stick burners—offset smokers are wood fueled. Heat and smoke flow from the burning wood in the firebox into the main smoking chamber and then out the smoke stack. This applies indirect heat that ensures low and slow cooking with a steady stream of smoke.
The wood smoke offers the greatest range of flavor complexity for your jerky. You will get mad props from barbecue enthusiasts in the know.
Offset smokers also provide the volume required to make large batches of smoked jerky. They offer the largest cooking area for making jerky.
Offset smokers are for experts only. The process of lighting, setting, monitoring, and maintaining the smoker is a very hands-on process. Images of pitmasters waking up at 2am to check batches of large-scale brisket come to mind.
Thankfully, smoke times for jerky are not nearly as long, but it will still require lots of attention.
A thin, crisp blue smoke should be emitting from the smoker. This indicates the wood is burning at the correct temperature. If the smoke is a heavy, cloudy white color, you need to increase the temperature of the smoker. This white smoke gives the meat a bitter taste and can ruin your batch of jerky.
Offset smokers are also much more expensive than the other types of jerky smokers. You're looking at $500 for entry-level and up to several thousand dollars for custom rigs.
Additionally, offset smokers are not lightweight or portable. Some of the larger models can weigh hundreds of pounds.
For those serious smoked jerky makers that yearn for the approval of hardcore pitmasters, there's no other option. If you have the space for a large and heavy piece of equipment, combined with the time and patience to learn how to use this smoker, then an offset smoker is for you.
Unless you're ready to dedicate some serious time and energy to smoking jerky, then an offset smoker is overkill for most amateur jerky makers.
Best Offset Smoker for Jerky
The Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker is a great offset smoker option that is under $1,000. It has gauge steel for solid heat retention and stability. It's certainly not cheap but a great way to break into the stick-fired smoker world.
Shop on Oklahoma Joe’s: $599.00
A jerky smoker is a great way to elevate your homemade jerky. The combination of meat, seasoning, and smoke is a match made in heaven. It’s delicious beef jerky at its finest.
No matter what smoker you select, you’ll be well on your way to making smoked meats, smoked foods, and jerky!
For more tips and guides like this, check out our Homemade Jerky Project which offers tips, tricks, and detailed guides to make the best beef jerky possible.
Looking for the best dehydrator to use in your home kitchen? Check out our guide for the best dehydrator here.
Also, don’t forget to check out our custom blends of beef jerky seasoning. (Coming Soon! Sign-Up For Early Access). We conducted hundreds of batches to find the perfect all-in-one jerky seasonings.