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Portable Smokers for Camping with Analysis

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

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I would love to bring a portable smoker camping. I’ve checked out a lot and reckon I’ve come across the best. A fair bit of analysis went into portable smokers, and some smokers are best for different types of scenarios.

As an update, I’ve now included RV camping options and expanded on what would suit different styles of camping, whether in a vehicle, at a hut/cabin, or in the wilderness in a tent.

I love to smoke trout and other fish on camping trips (but I have discovered many different things you can smoke in a portable smoker, too).

Camping trips can take many forms, so the smoker you want will vary greatly.

Sometimes, it’s a bit more remote camping trip to the mountains or forest (“bush-whacking” in a 4WD)

As I mentioned, I did a bit of analysis with the smokers and created a rating system to compare them, so the criteria:

  • Weight
  • Portability
  • Ease of Use
  • Fuel You Can Use

Portable Smokers for Camping Options

Direct heat hot smoked on a portable smoker. Picture of smoked fish sliced on a white plate.
Direct Heat Hot Smoked on a Portable Smoker

I’ve picked out two direct heat smokers and one indirect smoker.

I’ve mentioned these different methods of hot smoking throughout this website, but I will give a quick summary.

When it comes to portable smokers, if you’re really after the smallest, most compact unit, direct heat is the way to go.

The direct heat portable smoker is something I’ve been using for about 20 years, there is a little bit of a learning curve but as long as you don’t use too much wood, that is the key to getting some tasty outcomes.

There are cheaper portable smokers with direct heat, but you’ll find where they are riveted together, not in a one-piece basket-type design. Then, dependi g on your fuel, the flavor can also be influenced.

With a direct portable smoker, you just have to play around a little bit with the temperature and, now and then, have a bit of a look to see how your smoking and cooking are going.

Another one of the big things about direct portable smokers is that it’s not about airflow going through the smoking chamber, like many other types of low & slow smokers.

I’ve had the best success with direct portable smokers for fillets and whole fish like trout or salmon. Even fresh sa sages, which you want to cook and give some smokiness to, work really well in a portable smoker.

Quite often, I have brined and then smoked some wild turkey breasts in a portable smoker, using a temperature probe to monitor when the breasts reached the finished internal meat temperature.

Indirect Smokers

As mentioned, indirect smokers generally diffuse the heat, so the heat doesn’t go directly into the cooking area or straight onto the meat.

Electric smokers or pellet grills are excellent examples of indirect smoking/cooking, as is the classic offset barbecue low and slow smoker.

But I’m not talking about these; I’m talking about camping and portable smoker options, so here they are, followed by the primary rating system—then finally, tips and trips for each type of smoker.

Why Are These the Best Smokers for Camping

Camerons Large Stovetop

Weight A+
Portability A+
Ease of Use B
Fuel You Can Use A+
Versatility C

The Cameron ‘Stovetop’ Smoker is pretty sure about as portable as you can get.

It’s sleek and as narrow as you can (different sizes; the smallest is the Gourmet Mini (7″ x 11″ x 3.5″), which fits everything you need inside the smoker.

It has a folding arm and excellent build quality.

When camping, all you need is heat generated from the wood fire, propane, or any other little heat system. This is simpl the easiest and best direct-cook smoker I know about, especially for fish or sausages, which are my favorites.

Charcoal Companion KitchenQue Smoker

Weight B+
Portability A-
Ease of Use B+
Fuel You Can Use A+
Versatility B

Again, this is very compact and portable, but what it does have that the Cameron smoker doesn’t is the clearance/height inside the cooking area & a built-in temperature gauge.

This means that if you want to smoke and cook a chicken or other more significant chunk of meat, this gives you the next level of flexibility but is still portable for the camping trip.

The built-in thermometer is useful because it gives you a good idea of what’s going on inside the cooking area and also gives you the option of longer baking or roasting.

They say this is kind of built for kitchen smoking, but I think it’s better in the outdoors. You do want t note that it can run on induction, gas, or electric (a small open fire on the embers as well, though, will need something to wrap it up with).

This type of device’s versatility means it can also be used as a straight baking oven or a sealed unit. You can add w ter to the bottom, just like you do with the roast, to provide some moisture for pork or chicken (and for smoking, that’s where you put the wood).

You can’t barbecue grill on the KitchenQue, but you can do oven-style cooking or smoking—so it’s in the middle of the picks for versatility. If you want a searing grilling option with your smoker, then you can look at the charcoal acorn kamado below.

Chargrill Akorn Smoker Grill

Weight C
Portability C+
Ease of Use B
Fuel You Can Use B
VersatilityA+

If you have never heard of a green egg grill or kamado cooker, it’s basically a very efficient insulated smoker grill that the Japanese invented. These are qui e the envy of many BBQ smoking communities; they are an awesome way of grilling or smoking (my brother has a giant version of this one).

This is the most miniature version, and it can keep very effective airflow control (the key); once you set it at the temperature you want, it will stay there for a considerable amount of time. I’ve been tal ing hours and hours; easily, 7 – 12 hours of low and slow smoking is regular—which is incredible for a small device. The key is to use good quality lump charcoal to get this long smoking time.

So, if you want to have ‘the best’ and get the best quality, you will need more room in the car or truck. But these kam dos are stylish in design as well. You will use minimal amount of lump charcoal per session, but you can also use this as a traditional grill barbecue for searing in the thing you want. They can get p to 700°F/370°C – which is fantastic for whatever you want to caramelize; getting crispy pork chops is easy with this machine.

Details on Each of These Smokers

Camerons Large Stovetop Smoker

These are made sturdy and believe it or not, my mother has one. She uses it o a simple gas cooker outside her apartment porch patio.

Although the funniest thing I remember she smoked was carrots oroversmokedd. They were utt rly un-edible because she made the mistake of using too much wood chips, it’s so common.

I learned the hard way, too, with this. I also used t over-smoke many beautiful-condition fish that I caught when I was younger in body (never older in mind).

A little bit goes a long way with this type of portable smoker.

A French gentleman made the most fantastic smoked seafish I have ever tasted. He said he on y used one tablespoon of solid smoking hardwood—I think it was oak—a sprinkling of chili, cayenne, pepper, and I’m pretty sure he never told us about something else.

You can use an open fire if you are pretty hard-core; you have to micromanage a fair bit and do it over not-too-hot embers.

I like to have some wall structure or material to wrap up the smoker; if you use an opened fire as a fuel source, it’ll get black and charred on the outside.

The cleanest way to use the Cameron smoker is a gas cooker or propane cooktop, and portable camping ones work perfectly. I just put th gas on medium and use less than half a handful of woodchips.

I leave the lid off and wait until it starts to smoke, then I turn it down to as low a heat as possible (while still producing some smoke). Usually, I pu in the fillets of fish that have been lightly cured or brined using the equilibrium method to choose the salt level (though I need to measure the salt very accurately).

The old method I used was to add a light sprinkling of sea salt and a very light sprinkling of brown sugar and leave it in the fridge overnight. Then, it was eady to smoke the next day.

My brother sometimes prefers no cure or brine, for a fine trout specimen, he wants the authentic taste to come through.

If you don’t know the equilibrium curing and brining, you can check out the post here.

I find that most fish fillets that are half an inch or less take about 10 to 12 minutes on this direct-heat smoker.

I’ve tried many types of smoking wood for a portable smoker, such as wood pellets, sawdust, woodchips, grapevine branches that have been chipped, and even a little bit of black tea leaves. You don’t nee much, and you can play around with the mixtures of smoking woods, of course.

If you are starting, go for light fruit woods like apples, peaches, etc.

Charcoal Companion KitchenQue Smoker

You can do everything that the Cameron Smoker above can do with this bad boy, but it is much more versatile in the kitchen or camping, with that higher clearance for larger chunks of meat or vegetables.

The reason you are paying a bit more money for this option is as well as the insulation being better, it’s enamel coated, so you got something that will last a lot longer and be a little bit easier to clean as well.

I still consider this a portable camping apparatus, but its tight seal gives it a bit more flexibility when it comes to kitchen use.

Char-Griller 6714 Akorn Jr Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill

Check out these dimensions: 20.5 x 21.5 x 25.3 in

That is ridiculous for a Kamado egg-style ceramic smoker.

This brand is popular. Char-Griller as been around for ages, and this little Junior Kamado Acorn is much talked about in the barbecue smoking community as an exceptional small compact smoker and griller.

Whether you want to get some searing steak happening or whatever low & slow smoking you want to do, this little beast has room for it. With a rib r k, you can get a few sets of pork ribs or a small brisket for a long smoking session.

You need lump charcoal, which can be transported inside, which helps add to the portability and keeps the messy charcoal somewhere. I’ve never fo nd it hard to start a kamado just using the basic techniques with charcoal lighting.

As mentioned, the seal around that lid is important. It is tight a d helps keep the airflow. Once you have the bottom vent control set, you are really just adjusting the top vent.

It is a little bit heavier than these other options, but the versatility and success of kamado barbecue smoking and grilling give this device a lot of versatility and portability.

If you’re going seriously off-road to get camping, it may not be best—being made of ceramic—but it could work very well if you’re heading to the lake camping ground or a cabin.

In terms of weight, we are talking about around 40 pounds or 20 kg. So bear in mi d that it has a bit of weight. But if you’re on sealed tarmac roads to the camping spot, then this is a great option.

Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.


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