Charcoal smokers provide a perfect way to slow cook meat, fish or poultry, and give it that genuine barbecue aroma and taste. However, to recreate that rich flavor, you are going to need one of the best charcoal smoker available on the market.
They come in various shapes and sizes from portable ones to small tabletop units to large commercial rigs that smoke enough food to feed an entire hall.
After many hours of research and testing various models, we’ve put together this complete guide to give you an insight on the best charcoal smokers out there and everything you need to know about getting the right charcoal smoker that meets your cooking needs.
In our selection, we examined the quality, performance, and efficiency of each unit including other positive features particularly capacity, portability and ease of use.
The charcoal smokers we picked below strike that nice balance of features.
Let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Charcoal Smokers - Comparison Table
- 2 Charcoal Smoker Reviews
- 2.1 Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain
- 2.2 Features We Like
- 2.3 Our Review
- 2.4 Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36" Vertical Charcoal Smoker
- 2.5 Features We Like
- 2.6 Our Review
- 2.7 Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D
- 2.8 Features We Like
- 2.9 Our Review
- 2.10 Backwoods Chubby 3400 Outdoor Charcoal Smoker
- 2.11 Features We Like
- 2.12 Our Review
- 2.13 Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro
- 2.14 Features We Like
- 2.15 Our Review
- 2.16 Char-Griller E22424 Table Top Charcoal Grill
- 2.17 Features We Like
- 2.18 Our Review
- 2.19 Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
- 2.20 Features We Like
- 2.21 Our Review
- 2.22 Char-Griller 6520 Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill
- 2.23 Features We Like
- 2.24 Our Review
- 2.25 Weber 15502001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
- 2.26 Features We Like
- 2.27 Our Review
- 3 Buyer’s Guide
- 4 Conclusion
The Best Charcoal Smokers - Comparison Table
|Name||Image||Smoker Style||Total Cooking Area|
Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain
|22-inch Bullet Smoker||726||Check on Amazon|
Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC Vertical Charcoal Smoker
|Vertical Charcoal Smoker||784||Check on Amazon|
|Dyna-Glo Signature Series||Vertical Offset Smoker||1382||Check on Amazon|
|TOP CABINET CHARCOAL SMOKER|
Blackwoods Chubby 3400
|Combination Offset, BBQ and Charcoal grill||1023||Check on Amazon|
Char-Griller Smokin Pro
|Charcoal Grill with Side Fire Box||830||Check on Amazon|
|BEST TABLE TOP|
Char-Griller Table Top Charcoal Grill and Side Fire Box
|Table Top with Side Fire Box||250||Check on Amazon|
Weber 1211001 Jumbo Joe
|18-inch Portable Kettle Grill||240||Check on Amazon|
|Char-Griller 6520 Akorn Kamado Kooker ||Kamado Kooker with cart||314||Check on Amazon|
|Weber 15502001 Performer Deluxe||Deluxe Grill||363||Check on Amazon|
Charcoal Smoker Reviews
Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain
Features We Like
The Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain stands out as one of the top bullet-style smokers on the market today. It easily won our best overall choice because it strikes a nice balance between quality, performance, capacity, and ease of use.
The first incredible thing about this unit is that it has a compact bullet-style design but offers a large cooking space. It has a total cooking area of 726 sq. in. which is pretty sufficient and it’s divided over two 22.5 inch-wide grates.
These two large grates make the cooking space look even much bigger and provide plenty of room for cooking multiple foods at the same time that’s enough to feed a big family. You won’t need your full-size grill.
The grates themselves are not the flimsy ones. They are very robust, heavy-duty cooking grates made from nickel-plated steel, so they can hold the weight of almost any kind of food.
Now the most impressive part of the Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain is that it cooks meats so well and keeps that authentic smokehouse flavor.
It uses a simple but effective setup. At the bottom part is the firebox where the hot charcoal and wood combo sits, the middle section consists of a water bowl which is then followed by the two cooking grates and a trap door for refueling.
The lower part creates the heat and smoke but the real magic happens in the middle section. The water bowl adds steam to the smoke chamber through the water vapor that it produces.
This simple process not only helps to keep the temperature consistent but also allows the smoke and the heat to slowly and efficiently tenderize and moist the meat while cooking it.
What makes it even more effective is the fact that the body, as well as the cooking chamber components, are all coated with porcelain both inside and out including the water pan.
The porcelain allows the unit to retain in the heat much better than other similar models. So it’s able to maintain a stable temperature throughout the cooking process.
We found that the smoker also does retain that BBQ flavor so well plus Weber has made monitoring the temperature easier too by incorporating a built-in lid thermometer into the unit.
You get to monitor the temperature of the food inside the smoker without having to open the lid hence keeping the heat stable since the lid is not opened periodically.
Weber has also designed the smoker with a set of adjustable vents that control the airflow into the charcoal chamber. They are quite necessary and important as they help you easily regulate the heat of your smoker and ensure it’s within a proper range.
From the robust grates to the porcelain-enameled steel body and parts, the overall construction of the unit is excellent. It’s a quality smoker that can serve you for many years with proper care.
We can say with confidence that the Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain is a top-notch smoker that offers great value for money. It’s a highly reliable unit when it comes to preparing large delicious smoked treats.
Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36" Vertical Charcoal Smoker
Best Vertical Charcoal Smoker
Features We Like
Following the Weber 731000 Smokey Mountain closely is a smoker from Dyna-Glo, the DGX780BDC.
This is arguably the best vertical charcoal smoker you can find out either in terms of quality, performance, convenience, and ease. It’s a great all-around smoker.
To start, the unit is equipped with four adjustable cooking grates that offer a total of 784 sq. in. of cooking space. It has a couple more inches of space than the Weber 731000 which gives you enough room to smoke a decent amount of meats at once.
The four grates give you even more flexibility in terms of what you can cook as you can adjust the heights to accommodate different types and sizes of food your heart desires. Each great has a 25-pounds capacity.
The Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC is made to cook meats low and slow, it’s well designed to ensure that the meat cooks properly and gets that tasty smokehouse flavor.
The unit utilizes a heavy-duty 15,000 BTU burner that’s made of cast iron. It maintains a consistent temperature throughout the cooking time whether it’s in warm or cold weather.
Furthermore, the vertical design of the Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC is made specifically to allow the air to flow efficiently and enable the heat to naturally rise, and be distributed evenly throughout the cooking chamber.
There’s a large water bowl below the grates made of heavy gauge porcelain-enameled steel. It’s a useful addition that not only helps keep the heat low but ensures your meat turns out juicy and tender with maximum smoke flavor.
The unit also has sliding dampers on the top and the sides which you can use to improve airflow in the chamber.
The double design is another commendable feature that contributes to the great cooking performance of this unit as it minimizes loss of heat whenever you access the food or add more wood chips and water.
Now the highlight of this Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC model is the electronic pulse ignition system. It makes using this unit completely hassle-free because it provides a quick and reliable way to start it.
All it takes is a push of a button and the system will emit a rapid pulse that lights up the burner instantly. That’s all, no worrying about chimney starters.
Dyna-Glo has included a built-in thermometer on the model with “Smoke Zone” to show the ideal temperature for smoking. It’s a convenient feature but not that reliable since the thermometer itself is not that accurate.
With that said, the quality of the entire unit is quite good as it’s made using heavy-duty steel with a powder-coat finish for optimal durability.
The wood chip box is a durable heavy gauge, porcelain enameled steel too and it’s large, so it will give you hours of maintenance-free cooking. The DGX780BDC is fairly lightweight as well weighing around 54 pounds. Assembling it is quick and doesn’t take more than an hour.
Simply put, the Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC is definitely something worth considering if you are looking for the best vertical smoker that’s capable of delivering great-tasting food.
Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D
Features We Like
In the third spot is yet another model from Dyna-Glo, the Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D. From its design to its performance, the DGSS1382VCS-D is really a highly functional and efficient offset smoker and griller that offers one of the most flexible options for cooking.
To begin with, what set’s this unit apart from the rest is none other than its massive cooking space. It provides a whopping 1,382 sq. in. of cooking space plus another 128 sq. in. of offset grilling area.
This is the largest cooking space on our list and the best part is that it has been spread over five height-adjustable grates. It’s basically designed to hold a wide range of food types and sizes, and you can customize the space as wish which is a big plus.
On top of that, Dyna-Glo has added several sausage hooks that hang from the top inside the cooking chamber. Therefore, it not only gives you a big cooking space but also more cooking flexibility.
In terms of cooking performance, the Dyna-Glo DGSS1382VCS-D doesn’t disappoint either. The vertical design coupled with the offset firebox facilitate a more even distribution of heat and smoke inside the cooking chamber.
Furthermore, the whole body of the unit is made of a fairly thick stainless steel with chrome-plated steel grates. These materials are quite efficient at maintaining heat for a long time which is distributed evenly onto your food.
The outcome is that there are no hot and cold spots, so your food gets to cook properly every time. However, the unit does not come with a water pan but the grates provide plenty of space where you can put one to tenderize and moisten your meat if you want to.
Both the main cooking chamber and the offset firebox have a large cool-touch spring handle. They make it much safer and easier to access and check on your food as well as tend to your charcoal.
The unit is also equipped with a very useful temperature gauge with three clearly marked zones, a smoke zone, barbecue zone, and grill zone.
It’s a convenient tool that allows you to accurately monitor and maintain the ideal temperature for infusing just the right amount of smoking flavor.
The overall construction is good too. It’s a unit that’s not going to get damaged easily and while it’s quite large in size, the legs are big and strong to support the entire set-up. It’s stable and sturdy which is why it’s able to hold larger capacity.
You won’t face much difficulty moving the whole unit even though it’s big and weighs over 120 pounds. Dyna-Glo has equipped it with a set of large wheels just underneath the firebox and they make moving it from one place to another easy.
To sum it all, there is very little to dislike about this Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D. It’s an efficient multi-functional unit that’s highly suitable for big events as well as small gatherings too.
Backwoods Chubby 3400 Outdoor Charcoal Smoker
Top Cabinet Charcoal Smoker
Features We Like
The Chubby 3400 is amongst the top cabinet charcoal smokers available in the market today and it’s one of the most versatile models in Backwood’s smokers lineup due to its multiple uses.
Although it looks compact, the Chubby 3400 features four cooking grates which offer a total of 1023 sq. in. of cooking space. It’s the second-largest smoker on our list. The cooking space is sufficient enough to prepare food for up to 10 people.
The only slight downside in the design is that the space between the grates is pretty narrow with all four of them installed. The good thing is that the manufacturer has included an extra slider, so you can customize the grates to fit any cut of meat.
In addition to the ample cooking space, this Chubby 3400 smoker delivers incredible cooking results. It has a clever double-wall construction that’s fully insulated.
This is a very effective design that ensures the temperature inside the cooking chamber remains consistent throughout because heat radiates through the walls first before entering the chamber.
Furthermore, Blackwood designs its smokers as true Reverse Flow cookers and the Chubby 3400 is no different.
The unit has an additional metal plate that not only protects your food from intense heat but also directs the smoke across the whole cooking chamber before venting through the chimney.
The outcome is improved flavor and moisture as well as extremely even cooking. This design also allows the smoker to return to cooking temperature much faster after opening the chamber door.
The unit is equipped with a removable water pan made of stainless steel which is essential as it helps tenderize the meat and keeping the temperature consistent.
Another nice thing about this Blackwood model is that it’s a dedicated smoker with a two-door system. Therefore, you get to tend to the fire or add water without having to open the main smoking chamber, so no heat or smoke gets to escape.
We also liked the fact that the unit also features a Tel-Tru analog thermometer that sits on the door. It’s very accurate and helps you maintain the right heat level so that your meal can cook to perfection.
The only concern you may have is the weight. The whole unit is built like a tank. It weighs 130 pounds which is quite heavy.
However, Blackwoods has drilled holes on the bottom part of the feet where you can install casters, so that can simplify things for you when it comes to moving it around.
Like I mentioned just above, this smoker is built like a tank with double-wall design and then powered coated. Therefore, it will last for a long time and there’s no worrying about paint flaking off.
If you prefer cabinet-style charcoal smokers, then this is a great choice we would recommend. It’s very easy to operate and the cooking results are incredible.
Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro
Best Combo Grill – Charcoal Smoker
Features We Like
If you are looking for the best combo grill-charcoal smoker, then the Char-Griller E1224 Smoking Pro might just be the right option for you. It’s one of the most versatile units on the market offering a lot of nice features you would find in many professional-grade models.
Using a traditional barrel grill design with a side firebox, Char-Griller E1224 offers a total cooking surface of 830 sq. in. The main grill has 580 sq. in. space while the side firebox offers 250 sq. in.
It’s the third-largest unit on our list in terms of cooking space which makes it ideal for smoking or roasting meat in bulk to serve the entire family or more people at the same time.
Moreover, the unit gives you lots of additional storage space as its equipped with two wooden shelves and a rack below the grill. They provide a convenient area for keeping all your grilling accessories and essentials within easy reach.
Now the part that this Char-Griller really shines is the cooking performance. First, the traditional barrel design allows it to optimize heat convection and circulation. Thereby it gets to cook food more evenly and efficiently.
Besides the design, the grill grates are made of nonstick cast iron. The good thing about cast iron grates is that they tend to distribute heat much better and as such, you are guaranteed even heating and will sear your meat very well to lock in the flavor.
The side firebox gives you even more flexibility as you can either smoke meats in the main cooking chamber or grill them directly in the firebox.
Furthermore, you can adjust the grate height for different dishes and to control the heat which you can also do with the adjustable dampers.
Char-Griller has as well made adding charcoal fast and hassle-free by incorporating a charcoal drawer in the side firebox which slides in and out. You don’t need to remove the entire grate to add charcoal and the ash pan even makes ash disposal quick and efficient.
The built-in thermometer on the hood lets you know the internal temperature but again like the Char-Boil American Gourmet smoker above, it’s not as accurate. You may have to invest in a digital thermometer so as to monitor the temperature more accurately.
The whole unit is crafted in heavy-gauge steel that’s powder-coated and features a double bottom design. It’s highly durable and guarantees long-term use. Plus the cast-iron grates are equally very durable and will certainly not warp.
However, it may need seasoning before use and thorough cleaning after each use to ensure their efficiency and longevity since they are made of iron.
The smoker stands on four legs made up of two wheels and two sturdy feet. It weighs 146 pounds and it’s the bulkiest unit on our list, so it might be a bit difficult to move around for one person but the wheels should offer some level of flexibility.
The only setback aside from the thermometer is the fact it comes unassembled and putting it together might be a challenge if you not very handy although the instructions are provided.
All in all, the Char-Griller E1224 is definitely worth every penny and it’s a wonderful choice for anyone searching for a reliable and efficient combo grill-charcoal unit for smoking and grilling in bulk.
Char-Griller E22424 Table Top Charcoal Grill
Best Table Top
Features We Like
For those who want something compact as opposed to a full-size smoker but can still deliver a decent performance as far as smoking meat and other means is concerned, the Char-Griller E22424 would be a good investment.
Despite being a small grill, the E22424 gives you a primary cooking surface of 250 sq. in. It’s the smallest capacity on our list but perfect for use in areas with limited space like apartment balconies or patios.
Space is enough to prepare meals for a small family or group. Its compact size and weight of just about 41 pounds make it even more ideal for taking out for picnicking or camping.
It smokes and grills pretty well too helped by the thoughtful positioning of the vents. There’s one positioned on one end of the unit neat the top and another below the charcoal box.
They facilitate great cross-ventilation inside the unit and as such, smoke is efficiently drawn across the food. Moreover, the grate is made of cast iron enabling even heat distribution across the cooking surface thereby ensuring that your meal gets cooked properly.
The two vents are adjustable which helps you to control the heat and keep the temperature steady throughout the cooking process. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a thermometer, so you will have to get one so as to monitor the temperature inside the unit when smoking.
The E22424 also features a sliding charcoal drawer with a stay-cool handle which makes adding charcoal and emptying ash quick, easy and safe. Even much better, the simple design of the unit enables easy access to every area.
Another commendable thing about this Char-Griller tabletop model is that it can serve multiple uses. You can use interchangeably as a horizontal Texas-style smoker or as a tabletop grill. You can as well connect it as a side box to a Char-Griller barrel charcoal grill.
Constructed using durable, heavy steel, the unit is bound to give you many years service plus the cast iron grate won’t tarnish or warp even when subjected to a lot of heat.
The thing that didn’t impress us with regards to the design is how too close the grates are to the coals. This may end up affecting their durability in the long run.
Overall, this is clearly a convenient grill for those who love smoking or grilling some meat but have limited space. It’s one of the best tabletop charcoal smokers/grills in the market.
Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
Features We Like
The Weber 1211001 Jumbo Joe makes it to our list as the best portable charcoal smoker. It’s a fun and functional portable smoker designed for those who want something that offers great portability but it’s more advanced and has a slightly decent cooking area.
Weber has utilized the exact bowl design they used on their Kettle grills on this 1211001 Jumbo Joe model but without the wheels and the legs with the size reduced to only 18 inches.
Even so, the unit offers 240 sq. in. of cooking space which is quite decent for a smoker of this size. Cooking for 3 to 5 people is not a problem plus the gap between the grates and the lid is 4.5 inches, so it will accommodate various sizes of meats.
As with almost all Weber’s smokers, the 1211001 smokes everything to an amazing standard. Its performance is much similar to Weber’s Original Kettle grills due to the same bowl design they have employed.
The unit features steel grates that may not be as efficient as cast iron grates in terms of retaining and distributing heat but they get the job done well.
The good thing though is that Weber has incorporated an excellent air-flow system inside this specially designed bowl smoker.
It allows air to circulate freely which helps spread the heat and smoker all around the cooking area and as such, you get wonderfully evenly cooked food.
Unfortunately, the unit doesn’t come with a thermometer which is rather sad but understandable considering that the cooking chamber is incredibly tight. Getting a meat thermometer would help you keep an eye on the temperature.
The overall quality of the 1211001 is awesome too as it’s steady with strong steel construction that’s rust-resistant.
It’s a durable smoker and the best part is that it’s compact and weighs only 18 pounds making it the lightest and most portable unit on this list. No straining at all when moving or transporting it and you can even tighten the vents when moving it around.
It requires assembling which is pretty straightforward and can take around 10 – 15 minutes. In short, Weber’s intention seems was to make a highly portable and functional grill for campsites and they no doubt succeeded.
Weber 1211001 Jumbo Joe is an option we would certainly recommend particularly for a reliable smoker with great portability.
Char-Griller 6520 Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill
Features We Like
The Char-Griller 6520 is no typical Kamado grill. It comes in a very unique design that makes it one of the most efficient smokers out there. In fact, it might as well be the best kamado-style smoker currently on the market as it comes with a couple of nice extra features.
It’s not the largest or the smallest unit. It’s a relatively-sized smoker with a cooking capacity of 314 sq. in. which is plenty enough to allow you to smoke a good amount of meat concurrently.
Besides that, Char-Griller has incorporated a convenient cart design which gives you an extra 133 sq. in. of warming rack that you can also use as food prep space.
There’s also an extra lower storage rack which also gives you another convenient space for keeping you smoking or grilling accessories or anything else you need. it gives you sufficient space as far as cooking space and storage are concerned.
When it comes to performance, the Akorn 6520 Kamado smoker actually performs pretty much good like the other top smokers in the market.
It has a triple-wall insulation design that allows the cooking chamber to retain more heat while minimizing the airflow.
This means more consistent insulated temperature which results in a more juicer meat heating not to mention the grates are made of cast iron, so the meat gets to cook evenly.
Another thing we liked about this Char-Griller Komado model is that it provides an easy and efficient way of controlling the heat inside the cooking chamber.
It has two adjustable dampers. One at the top and another at the bottom. These two dampers help you control the airflow inside the cooking chamber.
You can adjust them so that they can maintain a balanced airflow inside the cooking chamber in order to keep the heat steady throughout while you are smoking or cooking the food.
You can easily maintain a temperature range of 200 to 700 °F with these dual adjustable damper which makes the Akorn 6520 ideal for slow smoking or high heat grilling. It’s insulated design also makes it very fuel-efficient compared to most other similar models.
You often use less charcoal because it allows you to maintain either a low hear or high heat when smoking or grilling your food. It comes with a built-in temperature gauge that’s fairly accurate, so you won’t have much problem keeping an eye on the temperature.
This efficient smoker is equally built to last. It features a tubular 22 gauge steel construction with a powder-coated exterior finish and a porcelain-coated interior finish.
It’s a durable unit and in addition to that, it’s equipped with an easy dump ash pan that makes cleaning a breeze. At 106 pounds, it’s certainly not the lightest model we have here but you won’t break much sweat moving around.
It stands on four wheels with two large ones and two other small ones, so moving it is a bit easy plus the. Plus you can lock the small wheels in place to keep the unit stable while in use.
As you can see from all these great features, the Char-Griller 6520 is quite different from your ordinary kamado-style smoker and its quality and performance make it a very worthy investment.
Weber 15502001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Features We Like
The Weber 15502001 is arguably one of the easiest charcoal smoker on the market to use and perhaps one of the few models that go beyond the basic contemporary design we see in most smokers and grills.
The cooking space is 363 sq. inches in size which pretty decent for a medium-sized unit like this as it gives you sufficient space to smoke a couple of meats that’s enough to feed a dozen people.
A sturdy metal work table for prepping food is just beside the cooking chamber. It’s a nice place for keeping your seasonings, platters and other tools within arm’s reach.
There’s also a wire bottom shelf that gives you more storage space and hooks too for hanging grilling tools like tongs and spatulas. Having this extra workspace is invaluable as it facilitates organization and easy access to your tools which is very essential for a grill master.
Another unique and very convenient feature of this Weber 15502001 model is the integrated charcoal storage bin.
It’s a very convenient addition for storing your charcoal and tilts to the side to give you easy access to retrieve your charcoal. Your charcoal will not get wet either when you leave the unit outside exposed to the outdoor elements. It’s weather protected.
The cooking performance of this Weber’s smoker is equally one of it’s best qualities. It utilizes the innovative Weber’s Gourment BBQ System grates which are a two-part cooking grate system.
They are quite heavy-duty steel grates and they have the perfect thickness to retain the right amount of heat that will facilitate a more even cooking.
Furthermore, the center section of the grill is removable, so you can replace it with various add-on accessories whenever you want to give the smoker greater versatility. The shield handle is a nylon handle reinforced with glass which helps keep cool and safe to hold.
The defining feature though is none other than the one-touch ignition otherwise known as the electronic Touch-N-Go ignition system.
It’s a very easy to use and highly convenient charcoal ignition system that sets this Weber’s unit apart from its competitors.
You will be able to control the heat with ease too as the unit comes with adjustable dampers and a built-in lid thermometer that displays the temperature inside the cooking chamber.
Same as most of the thermometers of other smokers we’ve mentioned herein, this one may not give you precise temperature readings. So, again you may need to invest in a digital thermometer if you plan to get this smoker too.
The built quality of the 15502001 Performer Deluxe stands out as it’s constructed using a strong, steady and durable steel that sits four equally strong wheels that allow you to move the unit around with little effort. It weighs 100 pounds, so having the wheels is very convenient.
Weber incorporated a digital cooking timer on this model which was to be a great feature but it has a limit of only 99 minutes which makes it not useful for long cook times like smoking, which we are certain many grill enthusiasts would love.
The good thing though is that it’s detachable, so you can replace it with a more convenient timer. Other than this and the thermometer, the Weber 15502001 Performer Deluxe is a perfect option for anyone looking for a hassle-free smoker that cooks well.
Who are The Charcoal Smokers For?
For anyone who enjoys that authentic smoke-infused flavor, getting a charcoal smoker is the best thing you can do. It’s a taste that you can’t find with any other type of smoker, not even the electric models.
These charcoal smokers are also ideal for those who are after portability because they don’t require any electricity or heavy propane tanks like other types of smokers.
You can take them and use them almost anywhere as the only thing they require to heat them is charcoal.
However, the portability will partially depend on the size and weight of the unit but the fact that you need no power source makes them an ideal choice for many camping and outdoor barbecuing enthusiasts.
Features to consider when buying a Charcoal Smoker
While the reviews above give you an insight into some of the best charcoal smokers you can find in the market, there are certain features and factors that you will need to keep an eye on to ensure that you pick the right unit that will meet your needs and preferences.
Here are the key things you should consider before making your choice:
The Type of Charcoal Smoker
The first thing you want to consider before moving on to evaluating different options out there is deciding the type of smoker you want. There are basically two major categories of smokers where almost all the models you will find in the market fall into.
Vertical smokers are quite popular and they often partitioned into several spaces using grates.
This type of smokers is designed such that the firebox that holds the charcoal sits at the bottom part with a water pan above it, then followed by the smoking chamber.
With this design, the smoke and heat rise from the bottom, out to the top almost in a straight line like in a big chimney. The water pan right above the firebox helps regulate the heat to keep it low.
The advantage of vertical smokers is that they have a very small footprint. Therefore, they tend to take up little room which makes them an ideal choice if you have limited space on your patio or deck.
Horizontal smokers which are often referred to as offset smokers come in two parts. They have the firebox for the charcoal standing on one side attached to a horizontal smoking/cooking chamber for the meat.
Having the fire off on one side allows the smoke and heat to move from the firebox to the chamber and circulate throughout before heading out the vents which are the ones that help draw the smoke and heat from the side firebox.
The best thing about horizontal smokers compared to vertical ones is that they are great for smoking large quantities of meat and other foods. They are not limited by the space between grates like in vertical smokers.
The side firebox also makes it easier to tend to the fire without having to open the main cooking chamber and interfere with the flow of smoke and heat.
The firebox often has doors separate to the cooking chamber for accessing the fire and additional grate which can also be used as a grill. They are quite versatile compared to vertical smokers.
Total Cooking Area Size
The second thing you need to pay attention to is the total cooking area of the smoker. One thing you should keep in mind here is that most meats which you are going to smoke often come in big chunks like Boston butts, pork shoulder, racks of ribs and cuts of brisket.
Therefore, you want to go for a unit that accommodates well meats of different types and sizes and has enough cooking space to meet your needs. Horizontal or offset smokers are normally the best for large pieces of meat.
If you have a small family or you are not planning to smoke a lot of meat, then a unit with cooking space ranging from 300 to 800 would work for you.
However, for hosting large barbecue parties or feeding a dozen people, you may need a smoker with over 1,000 sq. in. of cooking space.
If you are going for a vertical smoker, ensure that it at least has two grates so that you have more space to accommodate more food.
A small bullet model can work for you if your family is small. If it’s a big family, then you will need something with more capacity like the Dyna-Glo DGSS1382VCS-D above which gives you a massive 1,382 sq. in. of cooking space plus another 128 sq. in. grilling area.
Construction and Cooking Performance
Built quality, efficiency and cooking performance go hand in hand when it comes to charcoal smokers. Shoddily constructed smokers leak smoke and heat making it difficult to manage and stabilize the temperature and smoke inside the cooking chamber.
This is particularly common with cheap offset barrel smokers and the results are that it significantly reduces the efficiency of the smoker and the amount of smoke flavor.
For these reasons, you need to pick a charcoal smoker that’s built very well. Go for a unit that’s made using a heavy-duty or thicker steel with cast-iron grates. These are the best because they are highly durable and retain heat better.
Heavy gauge steel body and cast iron grates not only hold heat well but also distributes it better thin steel. They help keep the fire steady as opposed to thinner steel and as such encourage even cooking.
The unit should be properly sealed too to ensure that all the smoke reaches the cooking chamber without escaping.
The more screw holes, seams or openings the smoker has, then the more likely it can leak which means you meat won’t get the right amount of smoke to bring out that tasty flavor. Therefore, it should be well sealed or insulated.
Water and/or Drip Pans
Almost every charcoal smoker comes with a water pan that sits right above the heat source. You can fill it with water, beer, wine or fruit juice.
They are very essential to the smoking process as the liquid helps moderate fluctuations inside the cooking chamber.
Plus they lead to a rise in moisture inside the chamber which in turn helps keep the meat moist and tender allowing the smoke and aromatics to penetrate inside more and add the flavor.
So make sure your smoker comes with a water pan preferably made from heavy-duty steel and it’s porcelain coated. You might want to look out for a drip pan too as it helps catch the droppings like fat and other fluids that drip from the meat which you can use for source.
Controlling the temperature inside the cooking chamber is essential when it comes to smoking meat as the heat needs to be consistent and low within the range of 200 – 250 °F.
However, the ease of controlling the heat inside smokers varies widely and one thing you want to keep an eye on is the vents.
You want to pick a unit that has at least two adjustable dampers of vents as it will give you the ability to control the temperature more effectively than fixed vents.
A smoker that you can move indoors during the winter or when it’s raining is a big plus as you can skip the insulation. Furthermore, a highly portable smoker allows you to prepare and enjoy your delicious smoked meals almost anywhere whether it’s at home, campsite or picknick park.
Bullet style, tabletop and a couple of other vertical smokers like Weber 1211001 Jumbo Joe are some of the most portable options you will find in the market.
They are the best choice if you plan to do a lot of outdoor activities with the smoker or plan to take it out on the road more often.
However, if you are going for larger offset smokers intended to stay in the backyard, then you will certainly need a model that at least has two large wheels. They will make moving it much easier for you.
The last thing you should check out for is the bonus features or included accessories that can be useful when it comes to using the smoker.
One essential accessory you should consider is the thermometer. Pick a smoker that comes with a built-in thermometer so that you can avoid having to open the lid to check the temperature.
Most built-in thermometers aren’t that reliable, so make sure that the unit pick has one that it’s reliable and as accurate as possible.
Another useful feature you should look out for is a removable ash pan. It will make cleanup much easier and quicker.
Care and Maintenance
Proper care and maintenance are essential in order to prolong the life of the smoker. Like any other ordinary griller, a charcoal smoker will require initial seasoning and regular deep cleaning at least every time you use it.
Regular cleaning will help prevent carbon or ash buildup on the grill as well as protect the grates from accumulating rust. With this in mind, you want to pick a unit that makes cleaning easy and almost effortless on your end so that you can always keep its great shape.
There’s no denying the fact that a charcoal smoker is a great investment, especially if you are a meat enthusiast that loves to smoke and grill different kinds of meats and meals.
While all the models we’ve reviewed above are really impressive, we hope that after going through this article, you will be able to narrow down your choice.
No matter which one you go for, ensure that you’ve considered the factors we’ve highlighted in the buying guide and that it meets your needs.