Many home chefs fall into the trap of thinking that smoking is just like grilling. It isn’t! When you invest in a charcoal smoker you open up a whole new world of culinary possibilities. Smoking infuses food with wonderful flavor and keeps it incredibly moist. Smokers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and many have large capacities so you can feed all of your friends!
The best charcoal smoker will have a temperature gauge so that you can monitor the smoking process and will be easy to recharge and clean out. Some are static but others can be moved around. To help you decide on a charcoal smoker for your home, here is a comprehensive guide.
The Best Charcoal Smoker
A reliable smoker that cooks foods for long periods at low temperatures. It is available in three sizes and has a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl. It has great heat retention and is resistant to peeling and rust. To make it easy to add charcoal or wood, the fuel door comes off.
Inside, there are two cooking grates which give you enough room to smoke two large food items. The silicone temperature grommet allows you to check on the internal temperature and you can control it by adjusting the damper system which controls the amount of oxygen that enters.
Resistant to heat and rust
Door makes it easy to add fuel
Silicone temperature grommet
- Weight39.1 pounds
Will smoke loads of food
Good build quality
You don’t have to pre-season
Excellent air control
May be too big for small families
Takes some time to assemble
This is a sophisticated charcoal grill with its own stand and mounted backlit LCD timer which is removable. The stand has built-in workspace for tools and food and a shelf. The charcoal is placed in a 22-inch diameter bowl made from enameled porcelain. The actual cooking area is 363 square inches. To open it up, the lid slides backwards and tucks down into a hook so it does not get in the way. There is a handy heat shield so the handle does not get too hot.
There’s a gas ignition to quickly and cleanly light the charcoal by simply pressing a button and then you can control the temperature by adjusting the dampers. The temperature is displayed on a thermometer dial. After cooking, you use the aluminized steel cleaning system with just one touch and it deposits the ash into the aluminum tray for easy disposal.
Sophisticated charcoal grill with its own stand
Made from enameled porcelain
Cooking area is 363 square inches
- Weight91 pounds
Gas lighting system is very convenient
Easy to assemble
Stands up to wear and tear
Does get very hot
You have to replace the gas
If you are looking for a traditional charcoal grill, this is the product for you. It is a classic Texas style barbecue that features a grill barrel with a side firebox. It is a sturdy grill made out of heavy-gauge steel which has been powder-coated. The cooking surface is a cast-iron grate which is non-stick and gives you a total of 580 square inches of cooking surface. You can also use the 250 square inch fire box for smoking with charcoal.
Adding charcoal and removing ash is easy because there are removable charcoal drawers and there is a useful temperature gauge. The stand includes a storage rack and it has two wheels so that it can be moved around easily.
Grill barrel with a side firebox
250 square inch fire box
580 square inches of cooking surface
- Weight142 pounds
Thermometer is accurate
Plenty of cooking space
Easy to assemble
Smoker may leak a bit
Paint can burn off with use
An excellent vertical charcoal smoker that uses charcoal and includes four height-adjustable cooking grates which give you a total of 784 square inches of cooking area. It’s easy to manage the charcoal and ash thanks to the management system which includes a charcoal chamber and grate. There is also a removable ash pan.
The vertical charcoal smoker chamber is steel and porcelain-enameled and will keep the briquettes stacked tightly. This improves the burn efficiency. To keep you in control, there is a stainless temperature gauge which indicates the best temperature for maximum flavor infusion.
784 square inches of cooking area
Charcoal chamber and grate
Stainless temperature gauge
- Weight56 pounds
‘Smoke zone’ indicator very useful for beginners
Vertical design makes it more efficient
Smoke stack feature gives extra flavor
Door may leak some air
Built in thermometer may not be totally accurate
This compact kettle grill cooks on charcoal and has 363 inches of cooking space on which you can fit around 13 burgers so it’s great for family gatherings. The cooking grate is made from plated steel and is hinged to aid access and cleaning.
Thanks to the one touch cleaning system, the ash is dispensed quickly into the ash catcher for removal. There is a built-in thermometer on the lid and the lid also has a hook so you don’t have to put it on the ground. The lid and bowl are made from porcelain-enamel to retain the heat and prevent corrosion.
Will accommodate 13 burgers
One touch cleaning system
Bowl made from porcelain-enamel
- Weight32.3 pounds
Dampers give you precision heat control
The grate can withstand high temperatures
Very useful to hang the lid
Lid has sharp edges
Legs can be tricky to get on
This is a sizable combined smoker and grill that lets you experiment with different cooking styles and expand your technique. It has a durable heavy-gauge steel construction and a total cooking area of 1382 square inches. There are five chrome plated cooking grids so that you can spread the food out evenly and separate sausage hooks.
Access to the interior is easy and safe because the unit has a cool-touch handle. The oversized wheels give it portability and stability. There is a stainless-steel gauge which indicates the ‘smoke zone’ to get the best results.
Total cooking area of 1382 square inches
Five chrome plated cooking grids
Stainless steel temperature gauge
- Weight124.3 pounds
Sausage hooks are very useful
Takes a while to put together
Can get dented in transit
A portable yet sturdy device that will smoke anything from cheese to meats. All you have to add is charcoal. There is a water bowl made from porcelain enameled steel and a side door so that you can top up the water and fuel.
Inside the 3.45 square inch capacity chamber, there are two wire racks made from steel that can be stacked. The two vents give you increased control over the smoke and the heat levels inside.
3.45 square inch capacity chamber
Two wire racks made from steel
Two control vents
- Weight25 pounds
Simple to put together
Uses little charcoal
Excellent build quality
Door latch is a bit flimsy
Can leak a little
A simple and compact stand-alone charcoal grill smoker. It provides you with a cooking area of 333 square inches and stands only 27 inches tall. It’s made right here in the US from aluminized steel and is exceptionally simple to put together and use.
It is a basic barrel shape with two side handles and the lid also has a handle. This traditional charcoal grill can also be used for smoking.
Stand-alone charcoal grill
Simple to use
Can be used for smoking
- BrandOld Smokey
- Weight19.9 pounds
Heats up quickly
Maintains temperature very well
Very light and portable
Does not look as good as some other grills
May rust with time
This is a shiny black bullet-shaped Masterbuilt charcoal smoker that provides 395.4 square inches of smoking space. You have two smoking racks on which to arrange your food which are coated in porcelain.
You simply have to add charcoal and water. It is easy to add more charcoal through the front-access door. So that you can keep an eye on the smoking temperature, there is a built-in lid thermometer. The air damper allows you to control the moisture and the temperature.
Provides 395.4 square inches of smoking space
Two smoking racks
Built-in lid thermometer
- Weight15.26 pounds
Reaches a high temperature
Will smoke a brisket cut in half
Food has great flavor
Needs to be protected when not in use
You may need to elevate the grate
This off set smoker is constructed from steel and offers a full 605 square inches of cooking space so that’s enough for a lot of food! It will accommodate 24 burgers on the porcelain-coated cooking grates. There are three charcoal grates so you can use this as a grill if you wish.
There is a temperature gauge on the front and a side and bottom shelf for food preparation and storage. The smoke chamber helps to air draft and has a damper so that you can adjust the oxygen intake and hence that heat.
A full 605 square inches of cooking space
Off set smoke chamber with dampers
Temperature gauge on the front
- Weight69.4 pounds
Great tasting meat
Plenty of space
Easy to season
Paint at bottom can melt
Assembly instructions could be clearer
This is a 1950s reproduction grill with all the retro charm that you can handle. It has a unique capsule design with four vents that give you superb versatility – you can use it for fast or slow grilling or for smoking.
The cast aluminum shell encloses 300 square inches of cooking space which is big enough to handle your Thanksgiving turkey. It is corrosion-proof and durable yet lightweight and is able to conduct heat up to four times more efficiently than steel models.
It will easily detach from the stand and is portable enough to take camping or on a fishing trip.
1950s reproduction grill
For smoking or grilling
Corrosion-proof and durable
- BrandPK Grills
- ModelPK 99740
- Weight45 pounds
Large wheels make it easy to move
Quick to assemble
Room to store utensils in stand
More shelves would be useful
No ash tray
Best Charcoal Smoker Buying Guide & FAQ
Things to Consider When Buying a Charcoal Smoker
There are several styles of charcoal smoker to choose from and many brands out there. Here are a few things to consider when making your choice.
How many people do you want to cook for? The cooking capacity is usually given in square inches and there will be several cooking grids inside.
Do you want to add water to the smoking process? If you do, you need a bullet or vertical smoker.
This is handy to check that you are at the best smoking temperature.
Do you want to be able to move the smoker around (on wheels) or do you want a large, static model?
One touch cleaning and an ash tray at the base make it a lot easier!
Why You Should Use Charcoal Smoker
Perhaps you think you are quite happy with an outdoor grilling experience and that you don’t need a charcoal smoker. Think again! There are plenty of reasons why you should have a bbq smoker and once you have one, you’ll wonder how you did without it! Here are just a few reasons you should use a charcoal smoker.
- Steady and low temperatures
A smoker is designed to maintain a steady, low temperature. A grill cooks at a high temperature that can be fairly unpredictable. By cooking on indirect heat, your food will be incredibly tender and retain all of its natural flavor.
This imparts a delicious and unique taste that grills just cannot replicate.
With a smoker, water is involved in the cooking process which keeps the meat moist.
Difference Between a Smoker and a Standard Grill
There is some confusion around the terminology used regarding smokers and grills. Some people use the terms interchangeably but they are not actually the same thing. Some devices are combined grills and smokers.
Whilst both use charcoal, they cook in very different ways. A smoker uses indirect heat (in the smoke) to cook the food. The fire is usually in a separate space and so the food is cooked for a long time at low temperatures. A grill, in contrast, uses a high heat and cooks fast and the fire is close to the food.
Types of Charcoal Smokers
There are several different types of charcoal smokers that you can choose from. The main categories are listed here.
- Water / bullet smoker
These are a great option for beginners. They look like a big, upright bullet and are simple to operate. They take up a limited space but maintain a constant temperature. Because they always have a water pan, they keep the food moist during long smokes. The water acts as a barrier between the fire and the food – giving a long and slow cook. Adding beer, wine, onions, garlic or herbs adds to the flavor. They are very portable and relatively cheap.
The disadvantages are that the cooking area is small compared to some other smokers, they don’t all have a front access door and they are rarely completely airtight.
- Kamado smokers
Kamados are Japanese in origin and have a distinctive egg shape. They will usually be found on a stand and may have work surfaces around them. The charcoal goes in the bottom and there is usually a built-in thermometer in the domed lid. The vents at the top and bottom are used to regulate the temperature. Most of them are made from ceramic but some are metal. They are quite expensive but they will last for years and feature precise temperature control which gives excellent results.
However, they are quite small and you can’t fit a lot of food in. They are also very heavy to move around can flare up when you open them.
- Offset barrel smokers
An offset barrel smoker has a lidded barrel-shaped cooking chamber and a separate firebox that is connected to one end. There is also a chimney. Smoking experts rave about them and they do have several advantages. You can add charcoal without opening the cooking chamber. You can use the unit for grilling if you put a grill grate across the firebox. The cooking chambers are large.
On the downside, they cost a lot and can take a while to preheat. They need regular monitoring and the performance is greatly affected by wind and weather. They are large and cumbersome and cannot be moved around easily.
- Vertical cabinet smokers
Vertical cabinet smokers work on the same principal as bullet smokers in that they use water to keep the food moist. However, cabinet smokers are larger. Inside them there are several racks and these can be moved to different positions. This makes them more versatile.
Cabinet smokers also have more vents so there is more accurate control of the heat. However, they cost more and represent a bigger investment.
Tips For Using a Charcoal Smoker
Most smokers are pretty foolproof and even beginners can get some good results. However, by following these tips you can achieve expert smoking right from the start.
- Heat the charcoal first – you will reach smoking temperature quicker
- Enhance with wood chips – the flavor will be amazing!
- Arrange the food in order – smaller pieces at the top because this gets less heat
- Position the vents – if the flow of air is directly over the meat it will get more smoke
Best Charcoal Smoker FAQ:
Q: How the main types of charcoal smokers work?
A: All of the main types of charcoal smokers work by cooking meat (or fish and vegetables) in indirect heat that is created by the charcoal. The end product is extremely moist and tender. This is because smoking does not dry it out in the way that traditional baking and grilling dries out food. This also means that the food is full of flavor. The charcoal must be set up correctly and there must be water to keep the meat moist. It is important that the charcoal smoker is monitored to ensure that the correct temperature is maintained. Anything around 220 degrees F is fine but it must not creep above 250 degrees F.
Q: How do I manage the temperature on my charcoal smoker?
A: It is essential that the temperature of the smoker grill is maintained at between 220 degrees F and 250 degrees F which is considered to be the optimum smoking range. If there is no thermometer on your smoker, you will need to poke a probe thermometer through one of the vents.
If the temperature drops too low, add new charcoal. However, it’s best if you add ‘live’ coals that are already alight. You can keep some on standby in the chimney or in a foil baking pan. If it rises too high, close the bottom vent of the smoker. This reduces the air entering the chamber and lowers the temperature by reducing the intensity of the fire. Don’t keep taking the lid off because this will drop the temperature.
Q: How do I maintain my charcoal smoker?
A: To keep your charcoal in tip top condition, it is important that you look after and maintain it. Start by reading the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance and follow them carefully. Here’s a suggested maintenance routine.
Maintenance After Every Use
There are some smoking enthusiasts who claim that the build up of carbonized grease inside a smoker grill is seasoning and enhances the flavor of your food. However, the truth is that these are by-products of the smoking process and include tar and soot. Eventually, they will build up to the point that they drop into your food. To prevent that happening, you will need to do some cleaning!
As soon as you remove the food, brush the racks with a grill brush. Once it has cooled down enough for you to touch it, scrape out grease that has collected at the base of the smoke chamber. Then tip out the drip pan or grease bucket. Finally, give the gasket around the lid a wipe with a damp cloth. When the smoker is completely cold, you should empty out the ash tray. Every now and again, scrape off the scale from the interior surface and re-oil the smoker to prevent corrosion.
Maintenance Once a Year
For the annual charcoal smoker clean, you need to put on protective clothing and protect the area around the smoker with tarpaulin because it is going to get very messy! This method is only for smokers that have no LED display or electrics of any kind.
- Take out any unburnt charcoal.
- Get a large plastic container full of hot water and mild detergent.
- Use a grill brush to clean the grates. If they are porcelain-coated you must use a brass bristled brush to protect them.
- Put the grates, chimney dome and heat diffuser plate in to soak as well.
- Clean the inside of the chimney using a long wooden stick.
- Using a putty knife or paint scraper, scrape the inside of the firebox/cook chamber. If there are any pools of grease or food debris in the base, loosen them with the scraper and then wipe away with paper towels.
- Loose ash and debris can be removed with a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
- Clean out the grease catcher and put it to soak also. Then, hose down the whole unit with hot water or a pressure washer. Stubborn debris may need to be tackled with a scrubbing brush and degreaser.
- Using paper towels, wipe it out to remove excess water and let the unit dry with the lid and vents open. Any corrosion spots need to be removed with sandpaper and primed before spraying with a special paint that can withstand high temperatures.
- Dry off the parts that were soaking and reassemble. Allow it all to air dry. Oil the smoker inside and outside with vegetable oil and lubricate the vents if necessary.
Our Top Pick
Our top pick of the best charcoal smoker is available in three sizes with a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl. It resists peeling and rusting and retains heat very well.
The smoker has two cooking grates which is enough for two large food items. There is a thermometer and you can control the temperature with adjustable dampers.
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