There was a time when the thought of hitting the road with a smoker wasn’t just crazy, it was completely impractical.
As much as we all love our backyard smokers, they’re cumbersome, large behemoths that were built to cook a feast fit for royalty, and designed to feed an entire family and taking them camping with us, or being able to whet the appetites of our tailgating buddies with all of our favorite smoking recipes never even occurred to us.
At least it didn’t until we saw a portable smoker in action in the parking lot of a football game a couple of seasons ago, and it just about blew our minds.
Just like us, you probably assumed that you were doomed to never be able to fire up your smoker while you were on vacation with your nearest and dearest and that rustling up a batch of smoked wings and steaks at the game from the comfort of your own truck was a dream too far.
The biggest regret of every backyard barbecue and griller's life is that their beloved smokers are just too big and much too heavy to pack up and throw in the back of their F-150s. We’ve been there, we understand and we feel your frustration and pain.
The games and camping trips would be much more fun if you could set your smoker up, and enjoy all the comfort of some familiar smoked food while you were spending some serious quality time with your family and your friends far from home.
At least, that was the way things used to be until the smoking and grilling gods responsible for designing and creating some of the greatest outdoor cooking apparatus in America, answered the prayers of their faithful and started making lightweight (well, relatively lightweight by smoking standards), portable smokers that you could, and can, take anywhere and everywhere with you.
We know, we were just as excited as you are now and we dived headlong into this new and wonderful world of smoking and grilling.
And so that you don’t have to wade through an endless parade of potential portable smokers before you join us on this new smoking adventure, we’ve reviewed five of the best tailgating and campsite-friendly smokers that you can arm yourself with.
All you have to do is select your chosen smoking weapon and get ready to start cooking…
OUR TOP PICK
If you like the deep, rich taste of charcoal and believe in doing things the traditional way, just like Weber does, then this two and a half foot tall cylindrical smoker could be the answer to your prayers.
And as it weighs somewhere in the region of twenty-four pounds, depending on whether or not it’s covered up and on its way to wherever it is that you’re going, it isn’t any heavier than a Basset hound, and as it won’t wiggle around when you pick it up, it’s much easier to ferry from your yard to your truck and back again than your faithful canine companion is.
Even though it’s just fourteen and a half inches wide, its two cooking racks provide it with close to three hundred square inches of combined cooking space, which means that you can slow smoke a brisket at the same time as you’ve got half a dozen burgers soaking up all that incredible dark, charcoal flavor.
And the built-in thermometer on the porcelain coated, steel lid of the Smoky Mountain Cooker makes sure that you always know what’s going on inside of the smoker, and how hot it really is in there.
The easy-open, simple to close and lock fuel door makes it straightforward to add extra charcoal to the smoker, and when you’re done and the smoker has cooled down, it also ensures that the Weber is painless to clean.
You won’t spend hours scrabbling around inside it in an attempt to get ready for your next game or camping trip, you can just scoop out the ash, give it a quick wipe down and it’ll be ready to load on your truck, so you can hit the road and go wherever your next smoking adventure takes you.
- Double The Pleasure, Double The Fun - Two separate cooking racks provide nearly three hundred square inches of total cooking space, which means that this cooker has more than enough smoking space to provide an endless variety of smoked treats for you, your family, and your buddies.
- Weighing In At Twenty Two Pounds - The Weber weighs less than our hound does, and it’s infinitely easier to carry which makes it a mobile smoker’s dream machine, as it’s effortless to carry around and set up where you make camp or decide to park.
- The Weber Warranty - Let’s talk about the Weber warranty for a minute, as depending on what part of the smoker goes wrong (even though it won’t as Weber makes everything to last), it’ll be guaranteed for anywhere from two to ten years. That means you’ll get at least twenty-four months of peace of mind with this machine, which is enough to put a smile on even the most hardened smoker’s face.
- Some Assembly Required - There’s no way to avoid the self-assembly issue, so we’ll just get straight to the point. It won’t arrive in one piece, so you’ll need to break out your best tool kit and get to work. It isn’t hard or difficult to put together, but it does soak some of the time that you could otherwise have used to start smoking.
Okay, let’s clear something up straight away. We know that technically it’s a wood pellet grill, but the cream of Green Mountains crop also doubles up as a smoker and uses the pellets that fuel it to imbue whatever you’re cooking with all kinds of wood-fired, smoke-filled taste.
And when you do fire it up when you reach your destination, you can turn the heat it’ll make all the way up to five hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t too shabby for a grill that’ll fit in the trunk of your car.
Best of all though, the Davy Crockett is fully WiFi-enabled, so you can control every step and stage of the smoking and grilling process from the Green Mountain app which you can install on your smartphone.
Well, we say every step, the app won’t actually load the two hundred and twenty square inches of cooking space that the Davy Crockett has for you, but then you wouldn’t want it too would you? That would take all of the fun out of smoking, and besides, you’re the only one who knows where and how you like to lay whatever it is you’ve decided to smoke on the grill, so it cooks the way you want to.
Did we just say that the app-controlled WiFi was the best thing about this smoker and grill? Sorry, what we meant to say was that it was the second best thing about this grill, as the best thing about it is that it can be plugged straight into, and run off the twelve-volt adapter in your car or your RV’s electrical supply, which makes it ideal for camping and tailgating.
Just like the hero of legend that it was named after, Davy Crockett is the King of the Wild, Smoking Frontier.
- WiFi Enabled - As soon as it’s set up and powered up, you can control everything that this smoker will do from your smartphone, and that’ll leave you free to hang out and spend more time with your family and friends.
- Sense-Mate - We’re glad you noticed the Sense-Mate part of Davy Crockett’s name, as we were just about to tell you all about it. Sense-Mate is Green Mountain's patented thermal sensor which constantly monitors and helps to control the temperature inside the smoker. You want to set the heat just right? Sense-Mate will make sure that the heat sits at and stays within your strict parameters
- Hopper Time - The hopper holds around three and a half pounds of pellets which should be enough for two to three hours of smoking time, depending on how high you turn up the heat on the Crockett, and with a single refill you should be able to smoke all day long and cook as much as you want, and need to, with this grill.
- Heavy Is As Heavy Does - While we love the folding legs that are designed to make it easy to carry around, the fact that it weighs sixty pounds means that unless you’re a gym rat, you’re going to need a little assistance from one of your friends to carry to and from the bed of your truck or the trunk of your car.
You’re not wrong, this all stainless steel smoker does look like it was designed to slide right into one of Gordon Ramsey’s kitchens, and almost as if it should be the star of its own cooking show.
And like you, we didn’t have the first clue who Smokin-It was before we fired this deceptively large on the inside, but small on the outside smoker up, but after we’d used it a couple of times we were, and are happy to confirm that we’re fully paid up members of the Smokin’-It fan club.
Granted, it doesn’t look like much more than a box on wheels, but this portable smoker has, over its three included cooking shelves, a grand total of four hundred and sixty-eight square inches of cooking space.
While Smokin-It claims that it will cook up to twenty-two pounds of meat at a time, we’re slightly less sure that it will, as that would mean packing it fuller than a can of sardines and we dread to imagine how long it would take to get the job done if you stuff it full of that much meat.
If you aim for anywhere between half and two-thirds of that amount, you’ll still be able to smoke enough food for everyone at any tailgating party you roll up to with it,
Smokin-It has a unique, and slightly crazy solution to the portability issue, they’ve put their smoker on wheels. The Model #1 balances on three casters, which makes it easy to push around and move into position, especially if you use the handles that are fitted on each side.
And the fiberglass insulation that’s been fitted also means that when you do wheel it into place and fire it up, it won’t lose any heat, and it’ll just direct it all toward the job it should be doing, smoking whatever it is that you’ve decided to cook that day.
- Deceptively Large - Don’t let its relatively small size fool you, this smoker has an incredible four hundred plus inches of total cooking space inside. It might be little, but it’ll smoke up a storm.
- Restaurant Quality - Remember what we were saying earlier about it looking like it belonged on a TV show? Well, we weren’t too far off the mark as it actually is a restaurant-grade smoker and you might actually find it in Gordon’s kitchen. If you go looking for it and get caught, don’t tell Ramsay that we sent you as that guy is terrifying and the last thing we want is him turning up at our doorstep.
- On Wheels - You want portable, you got it. It might weigh sixty pounds, but its wheels make it easy to move. So wherever you go, the Smokin-It can go too.
- My Smokers On Wheels - Even though it’s on wheels, you’ll still have to lift it in and out of your truck or RV, and at sixty pounds it’s almost as heavy as a small moon, and thanks to its shape, is just as difficult to lift.
- Outlet Power - And then there’s the power issue. It runs off a one hundred and twenty volt outlet, so while it’ll be great for camping trips as you can plug it into the nearest generator or RV socket, it isn’t great for tailgating shindigs where one twenty volt outlets are slightly less common.
Where would the grilling world be without Traeger? It would probably be stuck halfway up a charcoal creek without a paddle. Traeger invented the wood pellet grill, and so they know a thing or two about grilling and smoking, and everything that they’ve learned along the way has been shoehorned into the Ranger, their first portable pellet grill and smoker.
Designed for outdoor life, this smoker has a single cooking rack which has a total cooking area of one hundred and seventy-six square inches.
We know, you’re probably thinking that’s kind of small compared to the other portable grills, and even though it’s enough to smoke a full rack of ribs, six burgers, or ten hog dogs in a single cook, you’re absolutely right. It is kind of small, but that’s because the Trager has a secret weapon stored up its sleeve. And that secret weapon is its hopper.
The Rangers hopper can hold eight pounds of pellets, which means that you can turn the dial all the way up to four hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and just let it smoke for six or seven hours.
A full hopper on the Ranger should be enough for a couple of good cooks at least, and if you do turn up to the party or the campsite with a Traeger in tow, you’ll probably spend all of your game, and down, time at the smoke face. But then, you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?
- Traegers Versatility - Every single Traeger grill is made with its six-in-one versatility in mind, and the Ranger is no different. You can’t just smoke and grill with the Ranger, you can also bake, barbecue, roast, and braise. It’s the height of outdoor culinary perfection.
- Keep Warm - What happens if you finish smoking and no one is ready to eat? Well, the Ranger has another trick up its sleeve called ‘Keep Warm’ which it can use to ensure that your food stays hot (without drying it out it or losing any of the flavors that you’ve slaved so hard to imbue it with) until you and everyone you’ve cooked for have worked up an appetite.
- Hopper Time - Then there’s that remarkable eight-pound hopper that will hold enough pellets to keep your smoker going for a whole day. Nobody does pellets better than Traeger, they built their brand around them.
- Gym Time - The folks at Traeger must have a very different idea about what the word portable means to us. As the Ranger weighs sixty pounds, if you’re going to move it around by yourself without risking a hernia or inducing permanent back damage, you’ll need to have spent every day for the last year working out in the gym. Carrying the Ranger around is definitely a two-man job.
- Cooking Area - We realize that the hopper size means that sacrifices had to be made in other areas, but the cooking surface? That seems like an unnecessary sacrifice and one hundred and seventy-something inches isn’t what any smoker would call ideal. It’s a little on the small side.
We kind of like the fact that Oklahoma Joe’s has called their portable smoker the “Rambler” as it highlights the fact that it’s meant to be taken with you wherever you go.
And, even though we know that we shouldn’t really have to mention it, while Oklahoma Joe’s refer to the Rambler as a grill, it’s actually a smoker. How could it not be?
Oklahoma Joe’s made their name with smokers and designing and building them is what they do better than anyone else. Which means that they are very, very good at what they do.
The Rambler is a portable, charcoal-fired and powered smoker that has two hundred and eighteen square inches of total cooking surface area, and a fully adjustable charcoal tray, which you can raise and lower according to how much fuel you want to fill it with.
When you light the charcoal, you can control the amount of heat and smoke that it makes with the easy to use, but difficult to master dampers that are fitted on the side of this smoker.
And, so you know what’s happening inside the Rambler when you close the dome lid, it has a temperature gauge that’ll show you just how hot it’s getting and a chimney to let the used up smoke out and help it circulate around whatever you’re smoking, which will ensure that’s filled with all the charcoal flavor that you spend the long winter nights dreaming about.
- Oklahoma Joe’s - There is one name that stands head and shoulders above all-overs in the smoking world, and that name is Oklahoma Joe’s. The fact that the Rambler bears their name tells you everything that you’ll ever need or want to know about this portable smoker. Joes by name, and Joes by nature. It’s a guaranteed stamp of excellence.
- Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em - Let’s break it down easily and gently. It’s a purpose-made smoker that uses charcoal to imbue whatever it is you’re cooking with an unbelievable degree and amount of extra flavor. And the Rambler makes smoking simple, even though it’ll probably take you a lifetime to master the art of smoking.
- Smoking Space - With two hundred and eighteen square inches of cooking space, the Rambler gets it just right. There isn’t too much or too little space, there’s just enough to smoke all the food that you, your friends, and family will need and want to eat, regardless of where you are.
- Affordability - Take a look at the price. Now take another look, because your eyes weren’t playing a trick on you the first time. The Rambler is an incredibly affordable way to equip yourself with a portable smoker and make all of your outdoor cooking dreams come true.
- It’s Heavy, But It’s Not The Heaviest - It’s another heavy smoker, and weighs in at close to fifty pounds. Sure, it isn’t the heaviest smoker on our list, but it's far from being the lightest either, and in order to move it to and from your truck or RV to where you want to go, if you don’t want to do yourself a mischief that’ll end in a trip to the emergency room, you’ll need a little help to carry it. The weight curse has struck again…
Best Portable Smokers For Camping And Tailgating Reviewed Buying Guide
Which Portable Smoker Is The Right One For Me?
That’s a tough question to try and answer as all of the portable smokers on our list are ideal for camping trips and tailgating, and will do exactly what they’re supposed to. However, if we were forced to choose one or two, and it was our money on the line, it would come down to two choices.
We’d either pick Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler or Weber’s Smokey Mountain Cooker. But don’t ask us to choose between them, as we just can’t do it. That’s a choice that you’ll have to make yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Smoker?
A smoker is a grill that uses a lower heat to slowly cook whatever meat or vegetables have been placed within its sealed cooking area.
The fuel source that it uses to cook with, which is usually either charcoal or wood pellets, creates and releases smoke while it’s being burned to generate the heat needed to cook (or smoke if you prefer) the food that’s being prepared.
The smoke then circulates inside the smoker, and in doing so engulfs and subsumes the food inside the smoker and helps to cook it while imbuing it with extra, smoke-filled flavor.
As smokers cook using, in some cases much lower temperatures than conventional ovens, it takes far longer for them to do the job that they were designed to do - that is cook whatever the person in charge of them has decided is on the menu that day.
Because they take far longer to cook whatever it is that has been consigned to their shelves and racks, smoking devotees tend to adhere to a simple grilling philosophy that they follow to the letter, “Long, low and slow”. It is, always has been, and always will be the fundamental guiding tenet of the smoking world.
What Is A Portable Smoker?
A portable smoker is a smoker that is purposely designed to be easy to take with you when you head out on a camping trip or are making a beeline for the nearest tailgating party. They’re smaller and lighter than their more traditional counterparts but are just as capable of smoking up a storm when they’re fired up. Sometimes, smaller really is better.