Published November 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
We cooked salmon fillets and whole chickens on four models, evaluating the smokers on the quality of the foods’ smoky flavor and how easy they were to use and clean.
Stovetop smokers, which smoke meat and other foods indoors, are metal vessels fitted with a wire rack set over a drip tray and covered with a lid. To see how they compare with outdoor smokers, we cooked salmon fillets and whole chickens on four models (priced from roughly $40 to $100), evaluating the smokers on the quality of the foods’ smoky flavor and how easy they were to use and clean.
Smoke flavor and cook times were more or less equal across the board; the difference mainly boiled down to ease of use. On the plus side, indoor smokers use special fine wood chips (sold separately) that don’t require soaking. Size, though a manageable obstacle, is where they came up short. All four smokers (designed to rest over a single burner) fit just four fish fillets, and only those with domed (versus flat) lids could house a whole bird. For the others, we crimped aluminum foil over the chickens per the manufacturers’ instructions, which worked fine.
Cleanup was a challenge with some smokers. All were somewhat discolored after the first use (think of the inside of a grill), but one model needed much more scrubbing than others to remove baked-on soot. And although smokers with nonstick surfaces were easier to clean, they also scratched easily, and the nonstick surface wasn’t necessary anyway: We were able to make traditional surfaces just as nonstick using vegetable oil spray. We preferred racks that had parallel—rather than gridlike—wires because grids trapped food. Lining the drip tray with foil, as one manufacturer instructed, made cleanup easier with all of the smokers. Ultimately, we preferred smokers with flat lids like that of our winner, whose promise of clean smoke flavor, moist meat, and easy cleanup and storage made it our champion.