Best smoker for ribs | Full buyers guide for slow ‘n low smoking

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  July 3, 2021

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Succulent, tender ribs are one of the tastiest foods you can make in your smoker.

While some people will boil and then grill the ribs, a true barbecue lover knows that smoking ribs low and slow is the best way to cook them.

Whether you want to marinate them in a glaze or use a special dry rub is up to you, but first, you need a good smoker for the job.

Best smoker for ribs | Full buyers guide for slow 'n low smoking

Since low and slow cooking is best for ribs, you need a smoker with easy temperature control. The best smoker for ribs is the Masterbuilt Electric or the Masterbuilt Propane smoker because they cook on low heat settings, so you can set the desired temperature and leave them for several hours.

While you can use smokers for cooking any kind of meat, ribs are delicious and usually pretty hard to get right. Many people overcook them, and they slip off the bone completely.

But, with a good smoker, you can make the most tender and flavorful ribs for your next party or get-together.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Take a look at my top picks, then read on for full reviews of each smoker.

Best smoker for ribs Image
Best electric smoker for ribs (for beginners): Masterbuilt MB20070210 Best electric smoker for ribs (for beginners)- Masterbuilt MB20070210

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Best propane smoker for ribs: Masterbuilt MB20051316 Best propane smoker for ribs- Masterbuilt MB20051316

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Best charcoal smoker for ribs: Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro Best charcoal smoker for ribs- Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro

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Best pellet grill for ribs: Cuisinart CPG-4000 Best pellet grill for ribs- Cuisinart CPG-4000

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Why ribs are special

Isn’t cooking ribs the same as cooking any meat cut? Well, not really because ribs are unique.

There are two kinds of ribs you can smoke: pig or cow ribs. Also, ribs are “combination meat” because they contain fat, bone, meat, and lots of connective tissue.

All of these cook and behave differently when exposed to heat and smoke. When cooking ribs, the fat and connective tissue must be turned into gelatin, and a long smoke at a low temperature is the best way to do that.

Ribs are best smoked using the low and slow method, which means low temperature for a long time.

If the cooking temperature fluctuates in your smoker, some of the meaty parts will end up burned while the fibers are going to be too hard and chewy.

If overcooked, the whole meaty part can be way too tender, and so it loses that “chew off the bone” texture you’re after.

The perfectly smoked rib rack has juicy meat that clings to the bone firmly so you can pull it apart with your teeth.

After all, that’s part of the joy of eating ribs. It’s a messy dining experience, but the smoky taste makes it worth it!

Buyer’s guide: how to choose the best smoker for ribs

Before you spend your money, you need to consider that perfectly smoked ribs require some knowledge from your part and the right equipment.

Thus, there are 3 important factors to take into account.

I am discussing each of these factors so you can be better informed and know what to look for.

Temperature

When cooking ribs, temperature control is essential, or else your meat won’t be cooked perfectly. If you’ve been cooking ribs in the BBQ pit, you know that temperature control truly matters.

Another critical point is that ribs need to be smoked at low heat.

It’s hard to smoke on low heat if you use a charcoal or pellet smoker. Those are recommended for pros only.

But I know many of you are seasoned pitmasters, so I’ve got two smoker options for you too!

Also read: At What Temperature do Wood Chips Smoke? Guide to Getting it Right

Best for beginners

If you’re a newbie, you need an easy to control smoker, like an electric vertical model.

An electric smoker is best for beginners because you set the desired temperature, and the smoker keeps it steady, and you can leave and go about your day.

Most electric smokers have WiFi or Bluetooth feature, and you can control the temperature via smartphone.

Most versatile smokers

If you like to smoke ribs but also want to smoke other foods, you can get a propane smoker. This type of smoker is pretty good for temperature control, especially if it has a propane flame that burns the wood chips at controlled rates.

Also, some models have a port where you can place your external temperature probe to check the heat inside the cooking chamber.

Wood pellet smokers are another great way to get wood smoke flavors. You can set the desired temperature, and the smoker burns the pellets so that the heat doesn’t fluctuate.

The pellets burn at controlled rates because there is an internal fan, and this regulates the airflow inside the cooking chamber.

Check out this Scrumptious Pellet Smoker Baby Back Ribs Recipe (+ Pellet Choices)

For pros only

Offset smokers are not the best choice for ribs because the temperature is hard to control, so it tends to fluctuate too much.

But, if you consider yourself a true pitmaster, and you don’t mind tending to the smoker constantly, the flavor is pretty much unbeatable.

Charcoal smokers are kind of hard to control when it comes to regulating the temperature. You need to master the use of dampers and vents to control the airflow inside the cooking chamber.

In addition, the charcoal smoker should have an easy loading niche where you can add charcoal and smoking wood without altering the temperature in the cooker.

Cooking time

Cooking ribs is a long process, and you have to smoke them slowly for many hours at once. Usually, it takes about 5 hours at a low temperature of 225 F.

Most people use the 2-2-1 method to cook the ribs for 2 hours, wrap them in foil for 2 more hours, and smother them in BBQ sauce for the final hour without foil.

Size

You need a smoker that can accommodate large rib racks. Pellet smokers, for example, have a large cooking surface, and with most models, you can add secondary and warming racks.

Beef ribs can be as large as 8 inches, so you need plenty of cooking space.

Best smokers for ribs reviewed

I reviewed some of the best smokers for cooking ribs long and slow.

In this review, you’ll find my top pick for beginners, best set it and leave it propane cooker, and two smokers if you’re looking for the ultimate smoky BBQ flavors.

Best electric smoker for ribs (for beginners): Masterbuilt MB20070210

Best electric smoker for ribs (for beginners)- Masterbuilt MB20070210 in garden

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When smoking ribs, temperature control is absolutely essential.

An electric smoker like this Masterbuilt model is the perfect smoker for that because you simply set the temperature and let it do the smoking for you.

So, once you set the temperature, you can simply check the built-in temperature gauge once every couple of hours to make sure it stays the same.

The electric smoker is the best at keeping the temperature even. Therefore, I recommend this smoker if you’re just starting out with smoking and want to specialize in cooking ribs.

It takes the worry out of smoking because temperature fluctuations are very rare.

Here’s Marc showing how it’s done:

This electric smoker is pretty big so that you can smoke up to 3 large rib racks or a combination of ribs and other meats on any of the 3 racks.

It’s a well-insulated smoker with a powerful heating element to ensure even smoking.

When it comes to flavor, you can add wood chips with a front-loading chip tray to give the ribs your favorite wood smoke aroma.

Check the latest prices here

Best propane smoker for ribs: Masterbuilt MB20051316

Best propane smoker for ribs- Masterbuilt MB20051316 in garden

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Ribs need lots of horizontal cooking space to cook. Thus, you can cook more with a large smoker like the Masterbuilt 40-inch.

This smoker has 4 chrome-coated racks, and you can even add more if needed. The total cooking space is 961 square inches, so you can smoke about 8 rib racks at once.

It’s an excellent propane smoker that even beginners can use because it’s equipped with a temperature sensor that maintains the set temperature.

Since you no longer need to monitor the smoker all the time, you can set it and leave it for a few hours. In case the flame is extinguished, the safety valve shuts the burner flame off.

Therefore, this is one of the safest smokers for your family. It’s also suitable for beginners because you can ignite the flame instantly, and there is no need to worry about flareups.

Simply set the desired temperature, and it will stay constant throughout the smoking process.

Masterbuilt gives some more good tips in this video:

Like with an electric smoker, you can add water to the water pan located at the bottom of the smoker to make the ribs tender.

As well, you can add your favorite wood chips to give the ribs that tasty smoky flavor.

Check the latest prices here

Masterbuilt electric smoker vs Masterbuilt propane smoker

These two smokers have one thing in common: they are both excellent for beginners and straightforward to operate. You can set the temperature and then leave while the ribs are smoking.

The advantage of the propane smoker is that it has a large cooking surface, and you can smoke more ribs at once.

But, the electric model has great insulation, and the temperature always stays steady. It all depends on how many ribs you want to cook at once.

Since the electric option is much cheaper, it might be a better investment if you don’t think you’ll be smoking all the time. Keep in mind that propane smokers are generally more expensive to buy and operate than electrics.

The bottom line is that both offer that classic wood smoke aroma, but it’s not as intense as using a charcoal, offset, or pellet smoker.

Best charcoal smoker for ribs: Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro

Best charcoal smoker for ribs- Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro in the garden

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Smoking ribs with a charcoal grill is challenging because when you have to add more charcoal and wood, the temperature fluctuates.

A smoker like this one with a side fire box is just a bit easier to operate. However, you still need to figure out how to operate the adjustable dampers.

But there’s nothing like good old charcoal and wood smoke for authentic southern-style ribs.

You’ll be competing with the best of them if you master this!

There’s plenty of cooking space, 830 sq. inches, to be exact, on the flat horizontal grill.

Also, there are three adjustable fire grates for low, medium, and high heat. This is useful since you need low heat for the best ribs since you don’t want to char or burn them.

Another benefit is that the hood has a heat gauge so you can check the temperature while smoking, and you don’t have to lift up the hood.

The smoker is very affordable, and it’s pretty well made. It is made of cast iron which prevents warping over time. It also has a powder coating to prevent rusting.

Overall, it’s a well-built smoker for a reasonable price, and you can use it to make other delicious recipes, too, not just ribs!

Check the latest prices here

Best pellet grill for ribs: Cuisinart CPG-4000

Best pellet grill for ribs- Cuisinart CPG-4000 in garden

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If you like to cook lots of ribs for friends and family, you need a big pellet grill with a large hopper capacity.

The Cuisinart is ideal because it has a 450 sq. inch cooking area and a big hopper with a 15-pound capacity, so you can still practice low and slow cooking.

The smoker is advertised as one of the best pellet grills for slow BBQ.

It has a two-tiered cooking grate so you can pile on the rib racks for maximum cooking space.

Here’s pitmaster Melissa Cookston showing how to smoke delicious baby back ribs on a pellet smoker:

 

What makes this a great smoker is that it’s made of weather-resistant materials and comes with a protective cover.

Also, it’s portable and has wheels, so you can move it around the patio without any challenges.

With so many pellet flavor options, you can find something like hickory or mesquite for that rich BBQ smoky flavor.

Don’t worry; the pellets don’t all burn at once because the grill has a special mechanism that automatically adds the pellets, so temperature fluctuations are at a minimum.

Check the latest prices here

Char-Griller charcoal grill vs Cuisinart pellet smoker

The charcoal and the pellet smoker are the best options for those looking for a rich wood-flavored BBQ. The burning pellets and hot coals, combined with the wood smoke flavors, give ribs the perfect flavor.

One major disadvantage of both is that it’s harder to cook at lower temperatures than with electric and propane smokers.

But, the pellet grill with a large hopper means you can add extra pellets, so you don’t have to come back so often to check.

On the other hand, the charcoal grill requires you to add more coals, and you’ll need to get a really good meat thermometer with at least 2 probes to make sure the ribs are cooking at the correct temperature.

So, if you want convenience, go for the pellet smoker. But, if flavor is your main concern and you need that deep wood-smoke aroma, monitoring your charcoal grill is worth it.

Smoking ribs FAQ

What ribs can I smoke on my new smoker?

You can use the smoker for pork and beef ribs, and they will taste amazing, I promise!

The secret is in the cut. It depends on your preferences. Do you like fatty ribs or meatier ones?

Here are the choices:

Pork

Spare ribs, also known as side ribs, are long cuts with 11-13 bones from the belly behind the shoulder. This cut has the least amount of meat on the bones, but people like them because these ribs are delicious when smoked.

St. Louis-style ribs also come from the belly area, but they’re trimmed from a bit further back, with no tips, cartilage, and breastbone. This type of rib rack is rectangular and not as narrow.

Baby back ribs are the smallest ribs and very easy to hold and eat. These are hard to cook right because they contain more fat, but they are probably the most delicious.

The meat comes from the loin, and these ribs usually weigh somewhere between 1 and 1.5 lbs.

Country-style ribs are cut from the shoulder end of the loin. These contain the most meat and the least fat, so they’re ideal for true meat lovers.

In fact, there’s so much meat on these ribs that you can probably use a fork and knife, but I still prefer holding them and biting off the meat.

Beef ribs

Although beef ribs are not as popular as pork, they are still very tasty and flavorful. Recently, they’ve started gaining popularity as people discover that rich meaty flavor is to die for.

The beef ribs for smoking come from the lower end and should have about 1 or 2 inches of meat on them. Remember that cows are large animals, and you only need the best section of ribs for smoking.

The best cuts are either chuck ribs with 4 bones that are shorter and have less meat or plate ribs with 3 large bones and more meat.

What is the best smoke flavor for ribs?

The best flavors are the classics like hickory, mesquite, and oak. These have a strong flavor profile for a rich BBQ taste.

But, if you want something light and fruity that doesn’t overpower the marinade or dry rub, go for a fruitwood like apple, cherry, or pecan.

Which brand smoker is the best?

Pitmasters will probably all have a different ultimate favorite brand but some of the most popular are:

What is the easiest smoker to use?

I would have to say the electric smoker is the easiest to use.

You can smoke all kinds of meat, vegetables, seafood, tofu, and cheese by simply setting the desired temperature, adding wood chips, some water, and let the smoker do its job.

Many newer models also have Bluetooth or WIFI functions, so you can control them from a distance, but this is not really necessary because the temperature rarely fluctuates.

Takeaway

If you think smoking ribs is challenging, then I recommend the Masterbuilt MB20070210 or Masterbuilt MB20051316. These require almost no monitoring and you can set the temperature you want before you start smoking.

But, if you want the absolute best smoky flavored ribs, a pellet or charcoal smoker will be more satisfying.

The truth is, ribs are a unique meat cut, and they must be cooked low and slow so that the fats, tissue, and meat all cook evenly.

Thus, the ribs are going to almost fall off the bone, but you can still enjoy biting the meat off with your teeth!

Read next: How to Cold Smoke Bacon at Home

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.