A month ago I was making the same decision. I was using a weber kettle with simple mod
, I actually got some pretty decent results. However I did screw up a meal or two also. The kettle isn't a true smoker so required a lot of almost constant work tending:
-proper wood/smoke, proper heat / vent control.
The loss of heat each time I opened to add wood or fuel, just getting back to temperature was tough. Turning & rotating the meat to keep even cooking, etc, etc, etc.
As a result even though I liked to try and smoke the traditional smoked foods, ribs, brisket, chicken, pork shoulder, it was so much work, I confined my smoking to once a month and mostly grilled. BUT I wanted real BBQ, smoked BBQ, and I wanted to improve on being able to cook it, I just want to be a decent backyard cook, nothing more, further I didn't want the hassle of constant tending, plus I put a cap on my initial outlay at $300.
A decent charcoal / wood smoker needs to be pretty heavy to hold temp. That left the only choice in my price range, the weber Smokey Mountain. I like em, wanted one, except the quantity of meat it would hold seemed low, ok for just my family, but not for a gathering of 15-20 which we do about 3 or 4 times a year.
I didn't really look into propane, reason - the fuel cost, dang over $20 to re-fill a LP bottle. I would rather put the money into meat. I have smoked a little with my weber genesis, using a rotisserie, smoked 2 pork shoulders for my daughter's HS grad. and they turned out great. So I'm not opposed to propane, I just didn't consider it because of the fuel cost.
A few features that I wanted:
-decent capacity, plus I wanted to be able to lay a rack of ribs out flat, and not have to coil em.
-some form of heat and temperature control, that would allow me to do other things, without having to check every 30 minutes how things are.
-easy access for adding wood, and not compromise heat/temp.
-I did mention a price not over $300.
-cheap to operate, meaning fuel/wood.
Somewhere I came across the MES "Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse". While the reviews are a bit mixed they are pretty consistently good. If you didn't get it damaged in shipment it was a good unit.
-Price under $300 for Sam's club 40" stainless model, I added one year extended warranty, I could have paid $25 more and got a 3 year warranty.
-Digital control for heat / temp.
-Easy exterior wood chip access, no need to open cabinet.
-insulated cabinet, will hold heat.
-20" wide inside, I can lay down a whole rack of ribs.
-enough capacity for those bigger parties.
-fairly light, if had to I can take it to a remote cook-out if they have electricity.
-Sam's club version comes with a very nice cover, if you had to buy it easy $40+.
-cheap to operate, about .08-.10 cents an hour.
So far I'm happy with my purchase (mid June), I have used it 5 times with decent results. On July 4th I cooked 10 racks of ribs for 19 or 20 people, I knew it was good when the girls were going back for 2nd and 3rd helpings. While some have said they like to tinker and get down the skill of tending fire & smoke, I'm right there too, I used to do it, but now I can relax and enjoy and do other things while cooking, and focus on getting other dishes ready, I now spend time tweaking the extra dishes instead of fire/smoke.
Here is a good site to compare electric, charcoal, propane. Whatever you purchase, I'm sure you will enjoy it and cook up some great Q'.amazingribs