The best camping gear for making simple meals really depends on the type of food you enjoy. If you like smoky-flavored recipes, portable smokers are a great addition to your tailgating and camp kitchen equipment, and, they come in all shapes, sizes and price points!
What Is The Best Portable Smoker’s Features And Specs?
There are several factors that make equipment good for transportation as a tailgate or camping smoker.
Here are questions you should ask yourself about each feature and specification…
How much does the portable smoker grill weigh including its carry case and accessories?
Size And Assembly
What is the size of the unit during transportation and while it is set up? What assembly will be required after you get to your destination?
Cooking Area Size
How much food will you be cooking? Will you be feeding a crowd or just cooking for a couple?
Does your portable BBQ smoker operate using combustion or electricity?
- Combustion fueled smokers can use charcoal, wood logs, wood pellets or propane gas.
- Electricity powered smokers use only electric.
Is the pellet grill’s hopper large enough to hold enough wood pellets to cook for long durations or will you need to restock the pellets during long cooks with big cuts of meat?
Do you want the ability to monitor and control your smoker remotely with an app on your personal electronic device?
Is your compact smoker able to accommodate one or all cooking methods at wide temperature ranges including being able to smoke, barbeque and grill?
- Grilling: Hot and fast, over fire.
- Barbecue: Low and slow.
- Smoking: Low and slow, with smoke.
- Note: Low and slow is best for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.
- Cold Smoking is a totally different technique that uses extremely low heat and long duration (sometimes days) using meat that is usually brined or cured with salt before cold-smoking.
Ease Of Use
How easy is it to regulate the cooking temperature? Is it simple to start and maintain the fuel source during the cooking process … can you easily access the smoker to add coals, wood logs, wood pellets and change propane or electric supplies?
Ease Of Cleaning
Is it easy to disassemble the smoker for straightforward cleaning and reassembly?
Is the smoker’s price affordable and within your budget?
Which Type Of Smoker Is Best For You: Combustion Or Electric?
There are two types of fuel used to cook food in different styles of smokers: combustion and electric.
Combustion smokers burn something to create the heat to cook food and create smoke for flavoring it.
Types Of Combustion Smokers
Pellet Smokers use both combustion and electricity to operate. They cook food with indirect heat created by burning wood pellets made from natural food-grade hardwood.
The wood pellets sit in a hopper until an auger transfers them into a burn pot where they catch fire and create a flame for cooking.
Ambient air comes in to the smoker through intake fans which blow heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber.
A digital temperature controller automatically regulates the amount of pellets and airflow to keep the temperature at a constant level.
The auger, intake fans, digital temperature controller, digital displays and Wi-Fi capabilities (if the model has it) are all powered by electricity.
Charcoal Smokers And Wood Log Burning Smokers
Charcoal Smokers and Wood Log Burning Smokers require no electricity to operate.
They cook food with indirect heat that is produced by charcoal or burning wood logs, respectively.
The smoke flavor also comes from the charcoal or wood.
These types of smokers require the most manual operations.
Monitoring the temperature inside the smoker throughout the cooking process is essential.
Adjusting the fuel and air supply is how the cooking temperature is regulated … that is accomplished by opening or closing the air dampers.
These types of smokers require a bit of art, science and practice to achieve a reliable finished product.
Propane Smokers use propane gas as the heat source for cooking which provides a consistent temperature.
The elements of a propane smoker include the burner, wood chip pan, water pan and cooking rack.
The smoke flavor comes from wood chips placed inside a tray that sits over the burner.
Many propane smokers are designed so a water bowl sits inside the cooking chamber to keep the air humid throughout the cooking process.
Most propane smokers run off of 20 pound propane tanks (the size you probably use on your home BBQ grill) but there are also models that operate using 1 lb camping propane bottles.
Types Of Electric Smokers
Electric Only Smokers
As we mentioned earlier, pellet grill smokers use electric for some of their functions.
That is very different than Electric Smokers (non-combustion smokers) that use only electric to cook the food.
A thermostat provides a consistent temperature in the smoker by heating a coil that heats the air to cook the food and smolders the wood chips creating a smoky flavor in the food.
Unfortunately, electric smokers don’t produce the smoke ring most BBQ enthusiasts expect.
One big benefit of vertically designed electric smokers is their ability to cook more food because of the larger cooking areas on the stacked multiple cooking racks.
A tabletop electric smoker is a nice compact option for campers.
Best Smokers For Beginners
The best starter smokers are the designs that are the most automated: pellet smokers and portable electric smokers are “set it & forget it” units.
Fully electric designs are not great when camping or tailgating without access to shore power.
We think the best pellet smoker under 500 bucks for camping is the Green Mountain Davy Crockett Foldable Portable Wood Pellet Tailgating Grill.
It usually runs around $350 and that typically contains the Wi-Fi controllable (through iOS or Android mobile application) grill, meat thermometer, thermal sensor and convenience tray with utensil hooks.
The really awesome thing about this portable meat smoker is that it can run on 12V or 120AC electricity which is great when camping in remote areas without electrical outlets … YES, you can run it off of a car battery!
It is light enough (approximately 57 pounds) to be manageable and small enough to transport in the trunk of a car BUT big enough to smoke two racks of ribs without adding any additional pellet grill accessories.
The legs are foldable which is great for transportation or if you want to use it as a tabletop smoker grill on your campsite heat-tolerant picnic table. Note: The smoker gets too hot to sit directly on a plastic table or other tabletop material that is heat sensitive.
Pellet Grill Accessories
There are some really nice accessory items that increase the functionality and convenience of portable pellet grills. Here are some of our favorites…
Green Mountain Grill Davy Crockett Wood Fired Pizza OvenGreen Mountain Grill Davy Crockett Pizza Oven PeelDisposable Smoker Bucket LinersGMG Pellet Grill Meat Temperature ProbeGMG Davy Crocket Pellet Grill Doubled Cooking Space Collapsible Upper RackGreen Mountain Grill Prime Grills Cord LockGreen Mountain Grills Davy Crockett 12V Power Converter AdapterGMG Davy Crockett 12V Power Cord, Cigarette Adapter PluginGreen Mountain Grills Davy Crockett CoverGMG Davy Crocket Heavy-Duty Weather-Resistant Insulated BBQ Grill Thermal BlanketGreen Mountain Grill Davy Crockett BBQ Black Tote BagGreen Mountain Grill Davy Crockett BBQ CAMO Tote Bag
DIY Camping Smoker Converting A Smokey Joe Grill
How do you make a small portable smoker?
If you are like many campers who have a little Smokey Joe grill you may have asked yourself, “Can I turn my grill into a smoker?”
The answer is, YES … you can make a DIY camping smoker!
You can basically make a homemade smoker out of any type of grill by adding a wood chip box and cooking with indirect heat.
It is easiest to make a DIY smoker using a full-sized grill but it is possible to use a small Weber grill too.
We have full instructions on how to make a smoker doing a Weber Smokey Joe smoker conversion.
Looking for ideas on what to cook in your smoker? Try these yummy smoked camping recipes on your next trip!
More Unique Camping Recipes
Make every meal a great one.