We Americans are a passionate lot. Whether it’s baseball or barbecue, we put our hearts into what we love. And if you know me, you know that I am particularly drawn towards barbecues. Yum, those barbecues.
I participate in bbq championships all the time and typically end up hosting at least one bbq night every month. My friends often compliment me on my smoked meats and say they could never get it right even after using my recipe.
The secret is actually quite simple.
It isn’t the recipe that matters but a good charcoal smoker. Don’t get me wrong – recipe does play it’s part but more often than not, the difference between word shattering smoked meats and passable fair is your smoker.
We have already written extensively about the charcoal grills and it is only fair that we now cover charcoal smokers extensively as well. In this guide, you will find everything there is to know about charcoal smokers as well as our recommendations.
Our Recommendations at a glance: The Best Charcoal Smokers in 2019
- Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18 – Best Overall
- Classic Pit Barrel Cooker – Best Ugly Drum Style
- Kamado Joe Classic II – Best Kamado
- Char Grill Akorn – Best Budget Kamado
- Dyna Glo GDX780BDC-D 36 – Best Vertical
- Oklahoma Joe Highland Reverse Flow – Best Offset
- Weber Original Kettle Premium 22 – VFM Combo
- Weber Smokey Joe 14 – Best Cheap Combo
- What is a Charcoal Smoker? & How exactly does it work?
- Buying Guide
- 8 Best Charcoal Smokers in America – My Recommendations
- 1. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18″ – Best Overall
- 2. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker – Best Ugly Drum Style Smoker
- 3. Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow – Best Offset Smoker
- 4. Kamado Joe Classic II – Best Kamado Style Grill Smoker Combo
- 3. Char Griller Akorn – Best Budget Kamado
- 5. Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ – Best Vertical Cabinet Smoker
- 7. Weber Original Kettle Premium 22″ – Value for Money Grill Smoker Combo
- 8. Weber Smokey Joe – Cheap & Portable Grill Smoker Combo
- Some tips that will be helpful
- Final Thoughts
What is a Charcoal Smoker? & How exactly does it work?
At its very essence, a charcoal smoker allows you to cook your food in a low and slow fashion and is designed to operate in a temperature range of 225 F to 275 F and. Charcoal smoking, as you already may know, has two distinct advantages – it adds a distinct smoky flavor to your meats and it maintains their juiciness.
The overall design is fairly simple. Most models have three key parts – a firebox, a water chamber and a cooking chamber. The firebox holds the burning charcoal and has legs fixed at the bottom. A water chamber (or bowl) is placed between the coals and the cooking chamber maintains the moisture within the unit. The wire grates at top hold your food. Finally, for the purpose of air circulation, these smokers also have vents in the unit. That’s it.
How is it different from your standard grill?
The answer lies in the difference between grilling and smoking.
Smoking happens when your food is cooked slowly in the smoke and the indirect heat of burning coals. It is a great way to prepare tough meats like briskets and pork. Smoking is done at low temperatures in the range of 225 to 250⁰F and can take as long as 12 hours.
Grilling, on the other hand, is all about cooking your food at much higher temperatures, and more often than not in the direct heat of burning coals. It works better with tender meats like steak and chicken.
The difference lies in what function is the equipment optimized for. Smokers, by design, can maintain a constant temperature for a long period without much intervention. This is perfect for those long BBQ cook outs where you don’t want to check your brisket every 30 mins or so.
A standard grill on the other hand will need manual intervention if you want to maintain a constant temperature over a long period of time.
Having said that, there are some designs that excel at both. And we will cover them in this review.
What you will love about charcoal smokers?
It is an undeniable fact that charcoal adds that authentic southern bbq flavor that no other smoker can beat. You can even mix different flavors of charcoal and woods to get a more complex taste.
Charcoal smokers can give you a great degree of control on temperatures as they are excellent at retaining and distributing the heat.
Increasing the temperature is simple and you can achieve it by simply adding more charcoal or by adjusting the vents. In the same manner, you can remove a few pieces or close the vents and it will reduce the heat.
Owing to its fairly simple design, charcoal smokers are solid and durable. There are almost no mechanical parts and not much maintenance is required. Even over many years of use, the only typical problem is the rusting or chipping of grates – entirely avoidable if you do basic maintenance after every cook.
Pleasant summer days call for outdoor activities like camping and tailgate parties. The good thing about charcoal smokers is that they will help make these activities even more fun.
They don’t need a power connection and you don’t have to lug those huge propane tanks.
Goes without saying that the size of the smoker still matters – you can’t buy the biggest kamado and expect it to be portable. Get a small sized version and you will find it becoming a picnic favorite very very quickly.
Smokers are generally versatile. You can use them to smoke a variety of meats at different temperatures and with a few easy hacks, it can even double up as a grill. You can do a lot with your smoker as you gain experience with it.
What you may not like about charcoal smokers?
The performance of your charcoal smoker will be as good as your understanding of its functionality. To put things straight, you will probably suck at first few sessions. These smokers are not as easy to control as let’s say the electric or gas smokers.
A little extra inflow of oxygen and the extra heat will turn your meat into toughened chewy strips. A little low and your meat is going to stay raw even after hours and hours.
A lot of us dislike cleaning – especially when you have to do it just after a delicious bbq party. But there is not getting away here with charcoal smokers.
You will have to clean and dry your smoker after every single use. You will also have to scrub the grates and clean the vents and the fire bowl. The ash that comes out from burning charcoal has to be thrown away too.
It is a harsh reality that grilling poses a fire hazard. Due to this reason, grilling and smoking may be governed by specific rules and regulations in your city and/or the apartment complex.
For example, Virginia has a strict law on using open-flame grills on patios or wooden balconies. Other states have banned the use of propane tanks completely.
Check the relevant laws and apartment rules before you decide to buy a charcoal smoker. It is a good idea to check with the property management office in case of any doubts.
If your apartment complex doesn’t allow a charcoal smoker, go for an electric or a gas version as they are relatively safer and are allowed by most regulators.
6 types of Charcoal Smokers
Water or Bullet Smoker
Bullet smoker (also known as a water smoker) is amongst the most popular charcoal smokers and is a good option if you are new to smoking or are on a budget. The name comes from its shape – cylindrical and looks like a bullet.
This smoker has three distinct parts – a cooking chamber, a water pan and a fire tray. The bottom-most part is the fire chamber and has a perforated metal ring to separate the burning charcoal from the side walls. The topmost part is the cooking chamber which also holds the cooking grates. Vents are provided at the bottom and access doors make it easy to refill water or charcoal during cooking.
With water smokers, meats don’t dry out and you can maintain the temperature with little effort, hence making them a great choice for the beginners.
Ugly Drum Style – Cousins to Bullet Smokers
This vertical smoker looks like a drum and is made of steel. It is a good option for beginners who may not want to spend a lot.
It can be easily DIYed at home if you have a 30 or 50-gallon drum handy. There are no removable parts as such and the firebox is made of steel which can be lowered into the drum using a chain. Apart from the usual racks, you can also place your food on hanging rods. Unlike water smokers, this drum smoker doesn’t have a water bowl.
Since this smoker is closed from all sides, you can easily control the flow of oxygen and maintain a low temperature. This design is effective at self-regulating the temperature and you won’t have to watch it every now and then. However, you may want to monitor the temperature on cold days as there is no insulation as such.
We have covered Kamados elsewhere on this site in quite a bit of detail. In brief, these egg-shaped all-in-one machines are equally good at grilling and baking as they are at smoking.
They are a lot like bullet smokers but have a much more sturdy build.The walls are made of ceramic or terracotta and are heavily insulated. A thick ceramic plate goes below the grates and protects the food from direct flame. It also deflects the smoke and heat inside the smoker for even heat distribution.
They are more expensive as compared to water smokers but are certainly much more versatile.
These smokers look like a small refrigerator and you can either load your food from the front or from the top. Vertical smokes are excellent at maintaining their temperature provided you do not open the door very frequently.
These smokers are great if you are entertaining a party and need to smoke large quantities of food at once.
Kettle grills are recommended if you don’t want to invest in a separate smoker. Smoking on kettle grills may initially require some practice but it becomes a cakewalk after you do it a few times.
To use these grills as a smoker, start by setting up a 2-zone fire and burn only a few pieces of charcoal in the beginning. Kettle grills are not airtight, but you can adjust the vents to get the right temperature more or less.
Offset Barrel Smokers
The offset unit attached to this horizontal smoker differentiates it from all others designs covered till now. The offset is actually a firebox that contains the charcoal while the grilling happens in the connected cooking chamber.
Since the firebox is on the outside, you can easily add more wood or charcoal. You can monitor and control the temperature by adjusting the vents and the chimney in the main chamber allows you to let out the smoke if needed.
I won’t suggest this model if you are a beginner and do not want to invest in a high-end offset smoker. Most cheap models have leakages, don’t heat evenly and will leave your frustrated.
11 Important Aspects you should keep in mind while purchasing a charcoal smoker
1. A dedicated smoker or a Combo smoker & grill? Which one do you prefer
Decide what do you prefer? A dedicated smoker to enjoy the most authentic flavors? Or a combo grill plus smoker that will save you some money and space?
I would recommend investing in a combo if you are on a budget or won’t smoke meats that frequently. All the extra cost on dedicated smokers can’t be justified if you only use it once or twice a year.
You can easily convert your grill into a smoker by adding a water pan and creating a 2-zone fire. Conversely, you can remove the water pan from your smoker and add grates over charcoal to grill your meats.
2. Cooking Capacity
Choose the right size for your needs. Buying a large smoker for a small family is not advisable. It will not only cost more but will also occupy more space in your home.
As a rule of thumb, 200-300 square inches of cooking space is enough for a small family. However, you will need at least 400 square inches and a more solid smoker if you want to entertain large crowds.
Tip: For an approximate visualization, divide the cooking capacity by 25 to get to number of burgers that can be grilled simultaneously. For e.g., with 300 square inches of cooking capacity, you should be able to grill 12 burgers simultaneously.
3. Temperature Control
How good your meats taste is directly going to be dependent upon how good is your unit’s temperature consistency.
With most basic smokers, you will have to monitor and adjust the temperature every now and then. If you are not comfortable with that, consider getting a smoker that allows a digital temperature control. These digital smokers will allow you to set the temperature, start the smoker and forget about it till the food is done.
4. Insulation, Seals & Fuel Efficiency
Your smoker will leak heat and smoke without a proper sealing. It will be far less efficient, and you will have to burn more fuel to make up for the leakage. Moreover, your food may lose most of its smoky flavor.
Look for user reviews around the quality of insulation and how good the smoker seals are. You can however reduce the leaks by covering all holes with sealants and using some additional gaskets. You may also consider getting a welding blanket.
5. Build Quality
The durability of your smoker will depend upon its build material and the quality of workmanship. Cheaper models are made of thin-sheet metal and have bad insulation. Maintaining temperature in such units is a nightmare as the smoke escapes from those nooks and crannies. These cheap smokers can also get scalding hot and burn your hands if you are not careful.
Good quality smokers have thicker walls and tighter seams. Thick walls do a good job at holding the heat even if it is really cold outside.
Space is an important consideration before you go shopping for a smoker. Think about where you are going to place your new smoker. And how much space does that balcony or backyard actually have.
Remember that you will need to leave some extra space around the smoker – a good thumb rule is about 2 feets from the wall.
Charcoal smokers are a great option for outdoor cooking. You don’t have to lug a gas cylinder with you and neither do you have to worry about the electricity connection.
Having said that, smaller the smoker size, easier it will be to pack and carry. If you want a portable model, take into account if you can put it inside your car trunk or can other wise move it over long distances. Also look for sturdy wheels if you need to move the smoker around in your home.
8. Ease of Use
Smoking is a slow process and, in all probability,, you will have to restock fuel and water at least once during those long cookouts. Check if you have access doors that enable this. Remember that every time you open the smoker, some smoke will escape. Again, as a thumb rule, every single furtive glance will cost about 15 minutes of cooking time.
You will have to remove ash periodically and fats and seasoning will inevitably drip. Having a removable drip pan and ash catcher is a convenience that can’t be appreciated enough. In fact, I use a drip pan to collect those drippings and use them to create sauces.
Other than covers, tool hooks and racks, you will benefit from following tools:
- A thermometer
- A solid pair of tongs
- Heat resistant gloves
- A chimney fire starter
- A solid wire grill brush
See if the package you are buying has some of these accessories pre-bundled. Even if they are not pre-bundled, consider buying them separately (and add the cost of same to your budget).
10. Warranty & After Sales
How long the warranty is should be seen as a sign of credibility and product quality. A decent after sales too is a pre-requisite in case of those unforeseen problems. While looking at warranty, don’t forget to look at exclusions. Look at after sales network and feedback about same from the existing users.
11. Value for Money/Price/Budget
If you are a beginner, instead of investing a lot in a sophisticated smoker, test yourself with a basic version first. It is easy to get charmed into buying that super expensive model with all the latest bells and whistles, but the prudent thing to do will be to first establish that you need all those bells and whistles.
Also, remember that you will have to spend a bit on charcoal. It can get expensive if you smoke a lot and take this into account while budgeting.
Charcoal Smoker vs Electric Smoker?
Many beginners as well as some enthusiasts swear by electric smokers. You will probably hear following three factors that go in favor of electric smokers:
- Electric smokers are safe as there is no direct fire as such.
- Temperature control is as easy as it gets and most electric smokers have an app to boot, hence making the use super simple.
- Cleaning these units is much simpler when compared to charcoal smokers.
All true, all important. But despite these advantages, charcoal smokers will win hands down for most enthusiasts. The reason is all important taste of your food. An electric smoker can’t create those smoky rings or it’s tough to get the smoky flavor out of them.
Electric smokers are also relatively more expensive as a decent unit will cost you around $400 while an good quality charcoal smoker can be hand for as low as $200-$300.
My recommendation – if you can and your apartment complex allows it, get a charcoal smoker.
Charcoal Smoker vs Gas Smoker?
Gas smokers run on propane (LPG) or natural gas and are easier to use. I.e. they are closer to ‘set and forget it’ relative to charcoal smokers – you will have to check the flame and moisture levels once in a while but it is not as frequent as charcoal smokers.
On the flip side, gas smokers need a propane tank or a gas line which may mean that the initial installation costs can be a bit high. They will also be much more expensive when compared to a similar performance charcoal smoker.
Finally, there is a difference taste wise (less smoky meats in case of gas smokers) but it’s finally down to your own preference.
My recommendation – Go for gas smokers if you want convenience over everything else. If smoky taste matters to you, stick to charcoal smokers.
Top smoker manufacturer brands
Weber is the most recognizable BBQ brand in America. It has stood the test of time and commands the same respect it did all those years ago. Their products are known for their build quality and after sales service. The weber smokers are no different.
Pit Barrel is gaining quite a bit of recognition for its disruptive innovation. The owners took inspiration from ugly drum cookers and took that design some notches higher. The brand is known to focus on their customer service and you won’t hear many complaints there.
Dyna-Glo is another popular BBQ brand. They are part of GHP group that mostly deals in electric fireplaces and accessories, electric log sets and portable heating products in addition to their presence in BBQ arena. Dyna-Glo offers a strong line-up of smokers and you should find something that fits your needs from their line-up.
Kamado Joe is a brand that prides itself as the ‘best ceramic cooker’ in the world. And to be fair, they are really good when it comes to build quality and smart innovative features. We at Nesthood are Kamado Joe’s fans and if you choose to buy one of their products, we are sure that you will get to enjoy same for many many years.
Char-Griller is probably a familiar brand for most BBQ enthusiasts. This brand is known for their value for money products and Akorn from their stable is a good budget Kamado option.
8 Best Charcoal Smokers in America – My Recommendations
1. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker 18″ – Best Overall
A good smoker should retain maximum heat and should distribute it evenly. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker excels at that. And for that reason, it is probably the most recommended smoker for beginners and experts alike.
This smoker comes in three sizes – 14 inches, 18 inches and 22 inches. I will review the 18 inches model which has the dimensions of 41″H X 19″W X 21”D. Cooking area measures 481 square inches and cost is quite reasonable for what it brings to table.
The smoker is built to last and comes with a high quality durable body made from porcelain enameled steel. The lid, bowl, center section and water pan are all porcelain enameled as well.
As mentioned before, it is excellent at retaining and distributing heat. The water pan helps in maintaining moisture within the smoker so that your cooked meat is tender and juicy.
This model comes with two nickel plated cooking grates. This construction material not only makes it strong but also makes cleaning a lot easier. The charcoal grates are made of heavy gauge steel.
A smoker loses its efficiency if you expose the cooking area to open air frequently – whether it is to add more fuel or to check the current temperature. This model comes with an access door to add wood or charcoal and thus avoids that trap. Further, this fuel door is made of aluminium and is rust-resistant.
There is a built-in thermometer to let you know the temperature, but as is the case with most of these smokers, it is not very accurate. Fortunately, you can insert your own probes through a silicon grommet. It means you won’t have to lift the lid to measure the temperature. Four dampers further help with regulating air flow and sustaining desired temperature.
If you further want a ‘set it and forget it’ mechanism, you can opt for a Weber Smokey Mountain temperature control system. It will automate the smoking and you won’t have to monitor the airflow every now and then.
This smoker comes with a heat-resistant nylon handle so that you don’t burn your hands while cooking. Moreover, a rust-resistant, aluminum heat shield protects the surface below from any heat damage.
There is a 10-year warranty on the bowl, lid and the center ring. The plastic components come with a 5-year warranty and all the other parts have a 2-year warranty.
The smoker is easy to clean. Just scrub the cooking grates and clear out the ash after each cooking session. As a precautionary measure, you can also try covering your water pan in a foil to protect it from the inevitable fat drippings.
- Easy to assemble
- Excellent heat retention
- Large Cooking Area
- Easy to Clean
- Isn't exactly Portable
- Inaccurate Thermometer
If you are looking for a bigger smoker, I would suggest you take a look at the 22 inch model. It has a larger cooking area (726 square inches) and as expected the cost climbs up too.
2. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker – Best Ugly Drum Style Smoker
A lot of people swear by Ugly Drum style smokers as they are inexpensive and can be really efficient if made well. Pit Barrel Cooker Co. picked up the basic design and created a better efficient version of a standard DIY drum cooker.
The beauty of this smoker lies in its cylindrical shape. Because of this shape, the cooker distributes the heat evenly and works well even in very cold climates. Contrary to most other smoker designs which have at least two air inlets, Pit Barrel Cooker comes with only one air inlet but that doesn’t take away anything from how well it regulates the heat.
One key differentiator of a drum style cooker is that you hang your meats vertically. Such placement ensures that your meats get cooked evenly. Vertical hanging also means you can place more food in your Pit Barrel Cooker, making it a double win situation.
Most Ugly Drum Smokers are mostly ‘set and forget’ it, Pit Barrel being no exception. There is no water pan as such, and the hanging meats baste in their own drippings. These drippings create a smoke. The lid seal is effective enough that you won’t have to worry about temperature fluctuations even on windy days.
This cooker is essentially a 30-gallon steel drum with a 36″ height and a 25″ outer width. The size is small enough to be placed in your balcony or patio. 64 lbs of weight makes it light enough that it can be carried around easily. The internal diameter is 18.5″ which provides you with a cooking surface of 240 square inches.
Both the drum and the lid are made of 18-gauge steel which is coated with porcelain enamel. The enamel makes the cooker durable and helps retain the heat inside. There are 8 stainless steel hooks which can be used to hang the meats on two steel rods. The box also contains a wooden hook remover, one charcoal basket and one grill grate.
The lid comes with horseshoe handles and is airtight. The handles look appealing visually, but can get blistering hot so wear heat-resistant gloves to avoid burning your hands. The smoker comes with a stand so that you don’t have to worry about air circulation or damp ground. As per some users, this free movement of air on the outside helps in maintaining moisture on the inside, though we haven’t tested the effectiveness of this claim.
Cleaning the Pit Barrel Cooker is easy but messy. You have to wait for the drum to cool down completely and then scoop out the ash. There is not water pan
Although cleaning the Pit Barrel Cooker is easy, it can also get messy at times. Wait for the drum and the ash to cool down completely and then scoop it out. You can even buy an ash pan separately for easy ash disposal. You may also notice some buildup on the insides of the drum after a couple of uses. Some will clean it up, others will let it stay as it adds to the flavor.
The Pit Barrel Cooker has a mid-range price and comes with a one-year warranty if you purchase it directly from the manufacturer or a participating retailer. The company also provides one of the best customer service and support.
- Fuel Efficient
- Value for Money
- Minimum Maintenance
- Looks Ugly
- Steep Learning curve
3. Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow – Best Offset Smoker
Made with a heavy gauge steel, Oklahoma Joe Highland Reverse Flow is built to last and is our offset smoker pick. This model is mostly meant to entertain large gatherings and carries a big footprint that reflects its cooking capacity.
Highland Reverse Flow has the dimensions of 57″ W x 33.5″ D x 53″ H and weighs almost 180 lbs. Fortunately, the steel wheels are designed well and will help you move this smoker around. Due to its huge footprint, it is advisable to look for a suitable space in the house before you bring this beast home.
Main cooking unit measures almost 619 square inches when it comes to surface area and the firebox adds another 260 square inches to that. A metal shelf at bottom can be used to place your utensils and other tools.
The black solid body of this smoker is made of high-quality steel. There are five cooking grates and all of them are enameled with glossy porcelain. This coating makes them easy to clean.
Oklahoma Joe has four baffle plates that help in evenly distributing heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber. Even the food placed at the corners will be nicely cooked and will have a consistent smoky flavor. Many experts like to fill these baffles with liquids to further flavor their meats. These baffles easily lock under the cooking grates and collect all the grease that comes out from your cooking. Fortunately, you can easily take them out and clean them.
Further, the smokestack is movable and you can choose to place it either on the left or the right. By changing the location, you can use it either as a traditional offset smoker or as a reverse flow smoker. The smokestack comes with adjustable dampers to help control the temperature. A temperature gauge is provided to monitor the temperature.
As the firebox is separate from the cookbox, you can open the access door on your firebox and add more fuel without disturbing your meats even a tiny bit.
Despite all these innovative features, there is one area where this smoker fails a bit. It isn’t leak-proof – most days it won’t be a problem but on particularly cold days, you may not get your desired cooking results. To mitigate this, you can fill any holes with a high-temperature sealant and get an extra gasket. These two measures should mostly solve for the leakages.
The price is mid-range and won’t set you back by much. There is no warranty on the burner while the grates and other parts have a 2-year warranty.
- Large Cooking Area
- Even Heat distribution
- Access doors
- Not for beginners
- Large Footprint
If you are looking for an offset smoker with a larger cooking area, look at Oklahoma Longhorn Reverse Flow. Longhorn comes with a primary cooking area of 751 square inches and a secondary cooking area of 309 square inches. It is a bit pricey though.
4. Kamado Joe Classic II – Best Kamado Style Grill Smoker Combo
Kamado Joe Classic 18 is probably amongst our favorite overall BBQ appliances. These egg-shaped units are extremely versatile and can be used as a grill, smoker or an oven.
Classic II is huge in size and has an 18″ cooking surface which translates to almost 256 square inches of cooking area. You can further expand that to 660 square inches with additional grates and expanders. Its weight is about 188 lbs and you can’t exactly move it that easily.
Kamado Joe has thick ceramic walls that almost completely lock the smoke and moisture inside the unit. The insulation is effective enough that you can use it on extremely cold days without much problem. The solid and heavy lid further improves the heat retention. Though even with its heavy weight, the airlift hinge means that it’s a child’s play to lift the lid.
Top air vent, also called the Kontrol Tower, can be used to set your temperature. It is made of Aluminum and its design prevents rainwater from dripping inside (so you can leave your cooks on even on those light rainy days). The bottom vent helps you control how much air the smoker uses and is of similar high quality.
The cooking grate system is multi-layered and gives you the option to place your food at different heights. This ‘divide and conquer’ system allows you to cook different foods at the same time. The grates are made of commercial grade 304 stainless steel. The same material has been used to make the ashtray which can be pulled out to dump all the ash once your cook is over.
In its most popular sales package, Kamado Joe Classic II comes mounted on a cast iron cart and has relatively sturdy wheels. A stainless-steel rack provided on the side can be used to place your accessories, sauces and tools.
Although it is a bit expensive, the Kamado Joe is built well enough to last almost a lifetime. There is a lifetime warranty on the ceramic components while the metal parts, the heat deflector and the thermometer come with a 5-year, 3-year and 1-year warranty respectively.
Overall, if you have money to splurge, and want something that’s an equally good grill and smoker, this is the choice to go for.
- Excellent Build Quality
- Air Lift Hinge
- Divide & Conquer System
- Excellent & Innovative Accessories
- Exceptional Performance
Kamado Joe comes in two additional sizes:
- If you want to entertain large crowds, you can opt for Big Joe which comes with 24″ cooking grates and almost 452 square inches of cooking area.
- If you need something portable, look at Kamado Joe Jr. It weighs just 68 lbs and comes with 14″ grates and a 148.5 square inches of cooking area.
3. Char Griller Akorn – Best Budget Kamado
Here is our pick if you are looking for a Kamado grill and smoker that is light on your pocket. To use Akorn as a smoker, however, you may want to invest in a separate smoking stone.
Char Griller Akorn is made of double walled 22-gauge steel and is painted with powder coated steel on the outside and has porcelain coated steel on the inside. One-inch thick insulation ensures that the units holds the maximum heat inside and does a fab job at distributing the heat evenly.
By the way, despite all its advantages, steel has a propensity to rust and that is something you may want to keep in mind. The steel body can also dent if not maintained properly.
Akorn comes in three color variants – red, black and brown. There is a total of 314 square inches of primary cooking area and an additional 133 square inches of warming rack. Akorn can give you a wide temperature range of 200-700 F and thus can prepare as versatile and exotic a recipe as you may want.
The cooking grates are made from cast iron and are sturdy enough to hold huge pieces of meat. The only problem you may face is is that they are uncoated which means you will have to season them after every use to avoid the rusting.
The grates have an innovative central section that can be lifted to add coals during cooking. While this addition is great in theory, this center section is not as handy as it should be. In fact, it is rather difficult to lift it with meats already cooking on the grates (which is the most common usage scenario).
This smoker can get really hot and the problem with kamados is that they are so well insulated that it is not easy to bring down the temperature quickly. My standard beginner advice is to gradually increase the temperature and avoid overshooting the ‘low and slow’ range in first place itself.
Once you get around your desired range, the two openable dampers can be used to adjust the air flow and control the temperature. The built-in temperature gauge is not accurate though, and you are better off buying a separate digital thermometer.
The unit weighs about 100 lbs and 8″ wheels make it reasonably portable. The wheels come with secure locks that can hold the smoker in one place.
The unit comes with two side shelves, which means, you don’t have to buy another table to keep your cooking tools and spices. An easy dump ash pan is provided at the bottom which makes cleaning an easy task, all small standard conveniences.
The price is decisively mid-range and Akorn is a great value for money. This unit comes with a 5-year warranty on the body, and a 1-year warranty on the firebox and the other parts.
Consider it if you want a value for money Kamado smoker.
- Value for Money
- Cast Iron Grates
- Excellent Cooking Results
- Flimsy Handles
- Flimsy Stand
5. Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ – Best Vertical Cabinet Smoker
There aren’t many ‘good’ vertical smokers and hence kind of no surprise that Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ stands out in that category. Vertical smokers, when they are built well, work extremely well. They retain the rising heat and will help you cook flavorful meats.
This vertical smoker is made of steel and has a sturdy build. It weighs only 56 pounds which makes it easy to move around. The main box comes assembled on arrival and requires minimal screwing of nuts and bolts.
There are four cooking grates and you can place them at varying heights to accommodate different cuts of your meats. Each of these four cooking grates can hold up to 25 pounds of food and in aggregate give you 784 square inches of cooking space. As you can see, it is great for those large BBQ gatherings.
The smoker uses a two-door system for loading. The top door is for food and the lower door is for burning fuel. The doors are however not airtight and can suffer from leakage despite the latches. You can resolve this problem to a large extent by buying a separate felt gasket. You can also purchase an insulated blanket to improve the overall insulation.
The smoker also has two heat-resistant handles for easy handling. A damper on the top part allows you to maintain your desired temperature range. There are two air vents on the sides to give you some additional control. A built-in stainless steel thermometer comes handy for those rough temperature readings.
The charcoal box is porcelain enameled and water pan comes as standard to provide that extra moisture. This pan, however, is a bit narrow and won’t catch all the drippings.
Cleaning this vertical smoker is fuss-free. The unit comes with a large enough steel ash pan to hold all the ash from one cooking session.
Dyna-Glo charcoal smoker is inexpensive and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. All other parts except the cooking chamber are covered with a one-year warranty, while the cooking chamber and the outside paint are covered for 90 days. Note that this warranty does not cover rusting so don’t leave it exposed to rain or moisture.
If you are a beginner though, I will recommended that you choose one of the other picks in this list. But, overall, if you want a cheap vertical smoker that’s large enough for those BBQ parties, not many models beat Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″.
- Large Cooking Surface
- Adjustable Grates
- Prone to dents
- Doors are not Airtight
- Limited Warranty
Weber has been making grills for more than 50 years and is probably the most popular bbq brand in America today. In the same breath, Original Kettle is an iconic range and it will be amiss for us not to recommend a smoker model from that family, so here is our pick.
Weber Original Kettle Premium 22″ is a great choice if you do not want to splurge on a separate smoker. It’s great for both beginners and experts and with easy DIY hacks that are available online, you can convert it into a pretty decent smoker. If DIY isn’t your cup of tea, you can buy separate accessories (like Slow N’Sear, Smokenator or Smoke EZ Grill Conversion Kit) that will help convert this great grill into a good smoker.
You may want to bear in mind that Weber Kettle is primarily designed as a grill and not as a smoker. As a result of that, it isn’t as efficient as some other names in this list. In fact, in all probability, you will have to replenish charcoals time and again. This is a pick for those times when you grill more often than you smoke, and a separate smoker isn’t an option.
This model has a total cooking area of 363 square inches and weighs only about 32 lbs. This is amongst the lightest models you can get. The heavy-duty wheels make it easy to move it around and size is just enough to cooking for a small family.
There are four color variants – black, green, copper and crimson – so there is enough choice out there. The bowl and lid are both porcelain-enameled and are reasonably sturdy. The lid sits perfectly on the body and is airtight. The glass-reinforced nylon handles on the lid are heat resistant and won’t burn your fingers.
The cooking grates are nickel plated and are made of steel. They are hinged to the main unit which makes it easy to add more coal. The charcoal grates are made of heavy-gauge steel and seem durable.
Weber Kettle stands on three aluminum legs. The unit may seem a bit unstable though handle it with care. A hook is provided to hang your cooking tools like tongs or spatula.
Weber Kettles have air vents at the top and the bottom and these can be used to control the temperatures reasonably well. The lower two vents can be opened or closed with a heat-resistant long handle. The top vent is an aluminum disc and it is equally easy to open or close it. The model also comes with an built-in thermometer but as expected it is not accurate.
Cleaning the Weber Kettle is simple too. Just scrub the food remains off the grates and wipe them clean. We would suggest seasoning the grates before each cook out so that food doesn’t stick to the grates. Weber’s one-touch cleaning system and the ash catcher makes cleaning a lot easier.
Weber Kettle is in-expensive and even with accessories that you will need to convert it into a smoker, you won’t create a hole in your pocket. The bowl and the lid come with an impressive 10-year warranty while the one-touch cleaning system has a 5-year warranty. All plastic components have a 5-year warranty too while everything else has a 2-year warranty.
All in all, a great choice if you are looking for a combo grill and smoker and your primary use-case is grilling.
- Durable and easy to use
- Hinged grates
- 2-zone cooking
- Heat resistant handle
- One touch ash collection system
- 10-year warranty
- Plastic Tires
8. Weber Smokey Joe – Cheap & Portable Grill Smoker Combo
It is hard to believe how cheap this grill is and still how well it works. If you are a beginner and are just getting your feet wet, get Weber Smokey Joe without thinking much.
It weighs only about 9.5 lbs and is as portable as it gets. A 14.5″ diameter means that you can fit it in a small balcony or patio with equal ease.
Smokey Joe has a simple and fuss-free design. You just have to put the cooking grate in, add fule and food and start, that’s it. Even with this simple design, the build quality is solid and bowl and lid are both porcelain enameled, hence keeping the rust at bay. The lid has a heat-resistant nylon handle that’s reinforced with glass.
The cooking grates are made of steel and are nickel plated. The cooking area of about 147 square inches can easily hold 5-6 burger patties. The charcoal grate is made of heavy-gauge steel. The legs are made of thin metal so that they do not add any extra weight to the unit. This could be a conscious choice to keep the weight down, but they are so thin that they will bend if you lean or put some extra weight on your grill. Also, be careful around pets and kids as they can tip the grill over.
The rounded top allows for good even circulation of the smoke hence making the grill easy enough even for smoking beginners. There are two adjustable dampers made of aluminum. These dampers can be opened or closed to get to your desired temperature. The bottom vent, however, may get clogged after a couple of uses and can potentially obstruct the airflow. So you will need to clean it regularly.
Talking about cleaning, the small size of the unit means an easy and quick cleanup. Further, the one-touch cleaning system from Weber helps in an easy ash removal and disposal. The ash catcher at the bottom is made of premium quality aluminum and is rust-free.
One point to note with Smokey Joe is that it doesn’t have any handles for the main body. This means that you will have to be careful when moving a hot unit. As you will expect at this price, there aren’t any bells and whistles and this is decisively a ‘starter’ unit.
Smokey Joe has a 10-year warranty on manufacturing defects and it covers the lid, the bowl and the nylon handles. All the remaining parts come with a 2-year warranty.
Finally, get this grill smoker combo home if you want something basic and cheap that still works reasonably well.
- Just Works
- Great Price
- No Side Handles
- No Bells & Whistles
Some tips that will be helpful
How to manage the temperature of your smoker?
It will probably take two or three attempts before you get a handle on managing the temperature of your smoker. Till you get there, a tip you can follow is to increase the heat gradually so that you do not overshoot the desired temperature. Remember that it is reasonably fast to increase the temperature but most good grills will take some time to cool down.
Most charcoal smokers come with adjustable air vents (or dampers) to allow an easy temperature control. The bottom vent allows fresh oxygen to aid the fire while the top vent allows the hot air to escape out. Your task is to learn how to balance these two vents.
Another tip to maintain the temperature for a long time is to use the minion method while lighting your charcoals. Light only a small number of charcoals first and then spread them equidistantly over the unlit charcoal layer inside your firebox. The charcoals at the bottom will burn only after the top level is burnt completely, hence maintaining the temperature for long.
How to maintain your smoker for years to come
With periodical maintenance, your charcoal smoker can last you decades. Some tips:
- My biggest recommendation here is to always clear out the ash soon after using your smoker. It is tempting to not clean it that one time but ash absorbs moisture and longer it stays there, harder it will become to scrub off later.
- Clean the cooking grates after each session. Hot grills are easier to clean anyway. This will also ensure that any leftover grease or gunk doesn’t impart a bad taste to your meats
- Don’t forget the cooking chamber. Sometimes a crusty layer can form on inside. Use steel wool or wire brush and clean these tough deposits as these layers are often full of bacteria.
I hope this guide has helped you answer which charcoal smoker to go for and the factors you should keep in mind as you are evaluating one. If you have any question that I haven’t answered or if there is an input you think our readers will benefit from, please drop a comment. I will get back.
Till then, happy BBQing!