The Handmade BBQ Smoker Buying Guide
Discover why the handmade BBQ smoker will always have a place in American barbecue and who they are designed for.
What is a handmade smoker?
In many parts of the US, there are welding shops—both mom and pop shops and small factories—building BBQ smokers and grills by hand. Today this is far more common than it was even a decade ago. While the growth of the barbecue industry has helped drive this trend, mass-produced equipment sold in “big box” stores has taken a large share of the business too.
Nearly anyone can drive to their nearest shopping town and purchase an entry-level smoker for the cost of several days’ wages. Throw in a discount like the big stores are known to do, and a BBQ smoker is now an impulse buy, at least for many barbecue enthusiasts.
Yet, the shiny, mass-produced smokers and grills at stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, will never completely replace the handmade BBQ smokers built in small shops around the country.
The handmade BBQ smoker lives on...
What is it about a handmade smoker that continues to give them an edge against the odds of mass-production?
- Size: As a rule, handmade smokers have more cooking area than a typical backyard smoker most backyarders start out with, such as a Weber Bullet smoker or a Masterbuilt electric smoker. A handmade BBQ smoker will often have enough room to cook at least 6–8 pork butts or that many racks of ribs, and that's a small smoker.
- Quality: Generally speaking, handmade smokers are made with thicker steel and are more durable then the "tinny" stereotype of mass-produced smokers. In mass production, brands face a lot of pressure to produce a competitively-priced product for the majority of consumers, and this pressure often leads to cutting corners on the quality of the product, whether it's food, cars, or all kinds of commodities. There are still a lot of people who prefer investing more up-front for old-school quality that will stand the test of time.
- Culture: A lot of handmade barbecue smokers in the USA are built by family-owned businesses, and some of these businesses are deeply rooted in a culture of hard work and excellent service, resulting in friendships with many of their customers. Some people appreciate buying from a company with a story or they enjoy supporting a family-owned business.
So, who is a handmade smoker for?
When choosing a smoker, you will need to consider your priorities and budget. Some cheap smokers are a great investment, but do your research carefully. Would you rather spend $200 on an offset smoker that will rust out in several years and is difficult to maintain during a long cook or invest $1,000+ in one that you can pass on to the next generation and is fun to use?
There is a reason for the difference in price. If you’re only researching online, compare the listed weights of the smokers, for example, and you will find that a higher-priced smoker generally comes with a lot more steel.
The big box stores have not only brought us cheap shoes and groceries. Here in the US, the market is flooded with consumer-level smokers designed for family use, and the lower perceived value of these entry-level smokers makes it harder for a handmade brand to compete on that level. A lot of backyarders start off with a smaller, cheap smoker, but eventually start feeling like their smoker is inadequate, so they start looking for something bigger and better.
If you can't figure out which type of smoker you like or whether you'll be using it much, it's quite alright to start off with a cheap smoker and grow into it. If you know that you will be doing a lot of cooking and you want the best, take the plunge and invest in a smoker that will give you a pleasant experience for years to come.
Caterer or Entertainer
A handmade BBQ smoker is a perfect solution if you're interested in cooking for crowds, whether as a caterer or a barbecue enthusiast who loves to entertain guests and occasionally cook for an event, such as a family gathering, church function, or wedding.
How to choose the right style of smoker
As with any hobby or sport, such as golf or hunting, it can take a while to make sense of all the different cooking methods, but it's not that hard once you get into it. Here are some of the most common types of handmade cookers that use indirect heat for low and slow barbecue:
Cooking style is a personal choice you’ll have to make, and quality, capacity, automation, budget, and mobility are all factors to consider in addition to your presentation and menu goals.
A well-built charcoal/wood-fired smoker is like a powerful 4x4 pickup truck—there is no shortage of heat or smoke. Besides, playing with fire will get you the badge of pitmaster a lot quicker than pushing buttons will!
"The old Girl Just Kept on Going..."
"The greatest experience I’ve ever had with my Meadow Creek was cooking for Operation BBQ Relief out in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. My barrel ran around the clock for almost 40 hours, putting out over 2,000 pounds of chicken quarters and shoulders. The last day we were on-site is when the northeaster hit. Wind, heavy snow, and ice, and the old girl just kept on going. Knowing we were helping out some folks that really needed it made the whole trip worthwhile, and we could never have done it without our Meadow Creek TS250."
Pitmaster Johnny Van
Here at Meadow Creek Welding, we build a full line of handmade smokers, pig roasters, and grills. Our charcoal smokers feature great-looking designs, heavy-duty construction, non-rusting grates, smooth welds, secure latches, and most of all, a fun and easy cooking experience that will keep you fired for years to come.
Here are some resources to help you choose the smoker that's right for you:
Meadow Creek Buyer Guide
Confused about all the grills and smokers on the market? This guide will help you define your goals and choose a smoker or grill with confidence.