Is Smoking Meat Expensive? We Walk You Through a Basic Setup

So you’re thinking of getting into meat smoking, but not sure where to begin. You have hundreds of questions, and a big one is affordability. Whatever you do, don’t let money hold you back from smoking meat. Yes, you could spend thousands of dollars on fancy smokers, dozens of accessories, and prized cuts of meat, but you can also smoke meat on a budget.

Is Smoking meat expensive? No, it doesn’t have to be. You can get setup with a $50 secondhand kettle grill, a bag of charcoal and a bag of smoking wood. That’s all you need. And you don’t need to buy expensive cuts of meat, you can smoke chicken, sausages, burgers, etc. There are smoking accessories that I highly recommended, but you can get started without them.

Common Meat Smokers and Accessories

AccessoryAverage Cost
Offset smokers$800-$1,500
Pellet smokers$500-$1,500
Ceramic kamado smokers$500-$2,000
Gas smokers$200-$1,000
Electric smokers$100-$1,000
Meat smokers$50-$800
Kettle grills$50-$400
Drum smokers$50-$200
Bullet water smokers$30-$150
Instant read thermometer$30-$100
Leave-in wireless remote thermometer$50-$200
Charcoal starters$10-$40
Lump charcoal$10-$30
Charcoal briquettes$8-$20
Wood chunks$6-$20
Wood splits (logs)$6-$20
Wood chips$5-$20
Wood pellets$5-$20
Fire lighters$3-$10
Butcher paper$5-$10
Aluminum pans$2-$10
Zip lock bags$1-$5
Barbecue sauce$3-$10
Yellow mustard$2-$5

Common Smoking Meats

Whole packer brisket8-14 lbs
Brisket flat4-8 lbs
Pork ribs2-3 lbs
Beef ribs2-3 lbs
Pork butt5-7 lbs
Turkey10-20 lbs
Chuck roast3-5 lbs
Salmon1-2 lbs
Whole chicken3-5 lbs
Chicken pieces1-2 lbs
Pork belly2-3 lbs
Sausage1 lb
Burgers1 lb

Running Costs of Different Smokers

FuelAmount per Cook
Wood pellets (electric smokers)1/2-1 lb per hour
Charcoal (charcoal grills)6-8 lbs per cook
Wood chips (electric smokers)1/2-1 lb per cook
Wood chunks (charcoal grills)1-2 lbs per cook
Wood splits (offset smokers)2-4 lbs per cook


Not all smokers require charcoal, and the type of fuel used will depend on the type of smoker. Charcoal grills and offset smokers typically use lump charcoal, briquettes, or wood chunks as the fuel source.

Electric smokers and pellet smokers, on the other hand, use electricity or wood pellets as the fuel source. Gas smokers use propane or natural gas as the fuel source. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using the appropriate fuel for your smoker to ensure optimal performance and safety.

Charcoal is a popular fuel choice for smoking meat because it burns hot and clean, providing a consistent and controllable heat source. There are several types of charcoal that can be used for smoking meat, including lump charcoal, briquettes, and wood chunks.

Lump charcoal is made from hardwood that has been burned down to remove impurities, and it burns hotter and faster than other types of charcoal. It is a good choice for grilling and smoking because it lights quickly, produces minimal ash, and gives off a natural wood flavor. However, it can be more expensive than other types of charcoal and may be harder to find in some areas.

Charcoal briquettes are made from ground-up charcoal and other ingredients, such as sawdust and binders, that are compressed into uniform shapes. Briquettes burn slower and longer than lump charcoal, and they are more widely available and less expensive. However, they may contain chemicals and additives that can affect the flavor of the food, and they produce more ash than lump charcoal.

Charcoal is a must-have unless you have an electric, gas or pellet grill. You can use either charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. Charcoal is inexpensive, especially if you stock up when its half price.


You can’t just use any old wood to smoke meat, you need specific food grade smoking wood. Scrap wood may contain chemicals and some trees are toxic. You can buy smoking wood in the barbecue departments of major stores, and it’s usually sitting next to the charcoal.

Smoking wood comes in different forms:

  • Chunks
  • Pellets
  • Woodchips
  • Logs
  • Sawdust

The most common are chunks, pellets, logs and wood chips. Chunks work best on regular charcoal smokers and will provide a consistent flow of smoke for a few hours. Woodchips are best for gas and electric smokers, while pellets (compressed sawdust) are designed for pellet grills like a Traeger.

There’s a variety of wood flavors, but the most common are:

  • Hickory
  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Pecan
  • Mesquite (more common in Texas)
  • Fruit wood varieties (Pear, plum, peach, etc).

You can mix-and-match different wood flavors with every cook. There’s the fruit woods like apple and cherry, and the hardwoods such as hickory and oak. Every wood adds a different flavor profile to the meat, so it’s best to experiment and find the flavors you like.Wood is inexpensive, and you only use about two chunks per cook. A bag of wood chunks will last you a while.

Smoking wood is used to add flavor and aroma to food that is being cooked or smoked. Different types of wood can be used to produce different flavors, and the type of wood that is best for a particular recipe will depend on the type of meat and the desired flavor profile.

Wood chunks are larger pieces of wood that have been partially burned to create charcoal. They are typically used in combination with lump charcoal or briquettes in charcoal grills and offset smokers to add a smoky flavor to the food. Wood chunks are more expensive than other types of smoking wood and may be harder to find, but they can provide a unique flavor that is not possible with other fuels.

Wood chips are small pieces of wood that are used in electric smokers and some gas grills to add a smoky flavor to the food. Wood chips are typically soaked in water for a few hours before being placed on the heating element or in a smoke box to produce smoke. They burn quickly and are generally used for shorter cooking times, such as smoking ribs or chicken.

Wood pellets are small, cylindrical pieces of wood that are made from compressed sawdust and other wood waste. They are used in pellet smokers and some electric smokers to provide a smoky flavor to the food. Wood pellets are easy to use and provide a consistent, controllable heat source, but they can be more expensive than other types of smoking wood.

It is important to use the appropriate type of smoking wood for your grill or smoker to ensure optimal performance and safety. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using smoking wood, and be sure to use only wood that is safe for cooking and smoking. Avoid using treated or painted wood, as these can contain chemicals that are harmful to humans and may affect the flavor of the food.

Meat Thermometers

If you’re wanting to take smoking seriously, a thermometer will be your most important tool. There are two types of thermometers and both serve different purposes. First, you need a wireless ‘leave-in’ thermometer, and second, you’ll need an instant-read thermometer. If you want to know which thermometers are best for you, read my ‘Beginner’s Guide to Meat Thermometers’.

Most smokers will have an inbuilt thermometer, but these factory thermometers are notoriously inaccurate. The only way to guarantee that the temperature is accurate, is with a good thermometer. A ‘leave-in’ wireless thermometer will help you track the temperature of your smoker and monitor the internal temperature of your meat at the same time.

A wireless thermometer has at least one probe, but I would highly recommend getting a thermometer with two probes. This will allow you to stick a probe in the meat and attach another probe to the grill to measure the cooking chamber. 

With low-and-slow forms of cooking like meat smoking, we cook to internal temperature, not time. When we smoke meat, we need to hold the temperature between 220°F and 250°F, so thermometers are crucial. Fire is unpredictable. If you open the vents too much, the coals will burn too hot and send the temperature soaring. But if you adjust the vents to far back, the temperature can swing too far back. So vent control is critical and can only be measured with a good thermometer.

You also need to know what’s going on inside your meat. Low-and-slow cooking is about cooking to internal temperature, not time. Meat is done when it reaches 165°F with most meat, but around 200°F for tougher cuts like brisket and pork shoulder.

You can get a great thermometer in the $50 range. Or, you could spend two or $300 on a fancy Wi-Fi thermometers. I prefer to use a straightforward, simple, but accurate thermometer. The TP20 is the number one selling thermometer on Amazon. It’s simple and easy-to-use, it only costs around $50. See the latest price here. 

Instant-Read Thermometers

You can get by without an instant-read thermometer, but I highly recommend them. When you’re done cooking, an instant-read will allow you to probe multiple areas of the meat. Meat doesn’t cook evenly, because it has thick parts and thin parts. For example, a turkey breast might measure 165°F, but the thigh might read 155°F. So an instant read is a handy tool because it keeps your food safe and allows you to to cook it to perfection. 

There are loads of cheap instant read thermometers, but many of them are inaccurate and slow. So buy a quality instant-read or don’t bother at all. If the thermometer is inaccurate and slow, then what’s the point.

ThermoWorks and ThermoPro make the best thermometers. The best instant-read thermometer on the market is the MK4, but expect to pay $100. I’d recommend something in the $30 price range. ThermoWorks have some fantastic instant-reads that are affordable, such as the Dash and ThermoPop. ThermoPro has the TP19 which performs like the MK4.

Different Meat Smokers

Don’t be fooled by those cheap smokers at Walmart or Home Depot. Trust me, they’ll just give you a headache. They’re made of thin metal and are full of leaks, making it almost impossible to maintain a consistent temperature. It’s easier to just steer clear of them.

If you’re looking to smoke on a budget, try picking up a secondhand kettle grill from Craigslist. Kettle grills are versatile and hold temperature well. Another affordable option is building an ugly drum smoker. Drum smokers have a devoted following and can smoke just about anything that a $1000 smoker can.

If you have a bit more cash to spend, my top recommendation is the Weber Smoky Mountain. You can get one for around $300-400, depending on the size. The Smoky Mountain has a huge following in the smoking community and was made famous by competition meat smoker Harry Soo, who has won numerous world championships using his trusty Weber.

Alternatively, you can go electric with a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. While the meat from electric smokers doesn’t have the same smoky flavor as charcoal smokers, they make up for it in convenience. They’re great for beginners and can be used even after you move on to other smokers. Plus, you can smoke meat on days when you normally wouldn’t be able to with an electric smoker. They usually sell for around $300.

For those with even more money to spend, there are options like Egg/Kamado smokers, pellet grills, offset smokers, and more. But be prepared to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for these high-end smokers.

You can buy a cheap secondhand smoker for $50, or you can pay $5000 for a fancy pellet smoker or offset pit. For a more in-depth guide, check out this article: “9 Different Types of Smokers : The Meat Smoker Guide”

Here is a list of common meat smokers:

  • Offset smokers are traditional barrel-shaped smokers that use a separate firebox to generate heat and smoke. The heat and smoke are then drawn through a long chamber, where they come into contact with the food, which is placed on racks inside the chamber. Offset smokers are popular because they can produce a deep, rich smoky flavor, and they are relatively inexpensive. However, they can be difficult to use and require a lot of attention to maintain a consistent temperature.
  • Pellet smokers are electric smokers that use wood pellets as the fuel source. The pellets are placed in a hopper and fed into a heating element, where they are ignited and burned to produce heat and smoke. Pellet smokers are easy to use and provide a consistent, controllable heat source, but they can be more expensive than other types of smokers.
  • Ceramic kamado smokers are large, egg-shaped smokers that are made from heavy-duty ceramic or clay. They use lump charcoal or wood chunks as the fuel source and are known for their ability to hold a consistent temperature for long periods of time. Kamado smokers are versatile and can be used for grilling, smoking, and roasting, but they can be expensive and heavy.
  • Gas smokers are electric smokers that use propane or natural gas as the fuel source. They are easy to use and provide a consistent, controllable heat source, but they may not produce as much smoke or flavor as other types of smokers.
  • Electric smokers are electric appliances that use an electric heating element to produce heat and smoke. They are easy to use and provide a consistent, controllable heat source, but they may not produce as much smoke or flavor as other types of smokers.
  • Kettle grills are small, portable grills that are shaped like a kettle and have a round, dome-shaped lid. They use lump charcoal or briquettes as the fuel source and are popular for grilling and smoking small cuts of meat. Kettle grills are inexpensive and easy to use, but they may not be suitable for larger cuts of meat or long smoking sessions.
  • Drum smokers are large, cylindrical smokers that are made from a metal drum or barrel. They use lump charcoal or briquettes as the fuel source and are known for their ability to hold a consistent temperature for long periods of time. Drum smokers are inexpensive and easy to use, but they may not produce as much smoke or flavor as other types of smokers.
  • Bullet water smokers are small, vertical smokers that use a water pan to regulate the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber. They use lump charcoal or briquettes as the fuel source and are popular for smoking small cuts of meat, such as ribs and chicken. Bullet water smokers are inexpensive and easy to use, but they may not be suitable for larger cuts of meat or long smoking sessions.

Other Helpful Smoking Accessories

There are definitely some accessories that you’re going to need at some point, however, when you’re just starting out, you can get by without them. At first, I suggest smoking smaller, inexpensive cuts of meat. That way you can get away with not having any accessories while you’re still learning the ropes. If you smoke burgers, chicken wings, sausages, etc, you don’t need many tools. But if you’re wanting to smoke the big meats, such as brisket ribs, and turkey, then you’re going to need specific tools. 

Charcoal Chimney

You can get by without one of these, but a charcoal chimney will make lighting your smoker easy. A chimney is a metal tube with holes. You place the charcoal in the chimney and put a firelighter underneath. The holes in the chimney allow air to flow through which speeds up the ignition process. Once the coals are white hot, all you need to do is dump them in your smoker, and you’re ready to cook. 

So What’s the Total Cost?

Don’t waste your time or money on those cheap smokers from Walmart. They may seem tempting, but they’re cheap for a reason. They’re hard to control and will just give you a headache. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

And don’t skimp on the thermometer either. Cheap thermometers are inaccurate and will only lead to more frustration. It’s important to have a reliable thermometer when smoking meat to ensure it’s cooked to the right temperature.

As for the cost of smoking meat, it really depends on the type of smoker you get. You can find secondhand kettle grills or build your own ugly drum smoker for a more affordable price. But if you want something a bit more reliable, you can expect to spend at least $300-400 on a Weber Smoky Mountain or a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. And if you want to splurge, there are high-end options like Egg/Kamado smokers or pellet grills that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.


The cost of meat has been on the rise in recent years, making it harder to give a specific price for smoking meat. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the rising cost of meat, including demand, production costs, and the availability of resources like water and feed for livestock.

Additionally, the cost of meat can vary depending on the type of meat you’re smoking, as well as where you purchase it. For example, brisket and ribs tend to be more expensive cuts of meat, while chicken and pork shoulder may be more affordable. The location and type of store or market you buy from can also affect the price.

It’s difficult to give a specific price for smoking meat because there are so many variables at play. The best way to get an idea of the cost is to do some research and price out the different types of meat and smokers that you’re interested in. That way, you can have a better understanding of the costs involved and budget accordingly.

When it comes to the meat, start small. You don’t have to begin with brisket. Try smoking a whole chicken or something similar. When learning the ropes, smoke meat that only costs you about $10 because you’re going to make mistakes. There is a slight learning curve with smoking meat, so practice on inexpensive cuts. 

Here is a list of meat then I recommend you try smoking: 

  • Pork Belly Burns Ends
  • Sausages
  • Burgers
  • Chicken pieces
  • Whole chicken
  • Turkey breast

When you’re ready to smoke something big, start with the pork shoulder. Pork shoulders other easiest of the ‘big meats’. Brisket and turkey and don’t give you a second chance, if you get the temperature wrong, they will turn out dry. A Pork shoulder, however, is harder to mess up. 

Basic $150 Setup for Smoking Meat

Here is a table with a basic setup with a kettle grill and accessories.

Weber Kettle$50
Charcoal briquettes$10
Wood chunks$10
Charcoal starter$10
TP20 thermometer$30
TP19 thermometer$20
Dry rub$5
Butcher paper$5
Aluminum pans$10
Fire lighters$5
Grill brush$10


The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Meat Smoking

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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