The Best Charcoal Smokers

In the world of barbecues, charcoal reigns supreme when it comes to flavour and ease of use. There’s nothing better than cooking with authentic charcoal in a good charcoal smoker. Though we must admit that firing up a charcoal smoker requires some skill to do properly. Unlike grilling, smoking will take time and patience, but it is so worth the reward.

The 3 Best Charcoal Smokers
The 3 Best Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers create very rich smoky flavours in your meat. It will also tenderize the meat through slow and low cooking. You can make even the toughest cuts of meat fall off the bone easily. This is why, unlike grilling, smoking takes plenty of time, a lot of patience, and skill. Some even consider charcoal smoking an art. The top BBQ joints in your area are most likely using charcoal smokers themselves.

Hosting a BBQ smoking session not only produces mouth-watering food, but also encourages you to slow down, gather with loved ones, and create long-lasting memories together.

Types of Charcoal Smokers

There are plenty of designs when it comes to charcoal smokers. However, the Texas-style offset smokers have been the traditional go-to model for years now. Here is a breakdown of the different kinds of charcoal smokers on the market.

Offset Smokers

Offset smokers are the O.G. charcoal smokers. These traditional smokers feature two compartments. The first is the horizontal and cylindrical-shaped main compartment. The second compartment is the smaller of the two, usually found to the right or left of the main compartment. The charcoal is burned in the smaller compartment, then the heat and smoke move to the larger compartment through a vent. The main cylindrical compartment is where the food is placed and cooked/smoked.

Offset smokers usually use charcoal to operate, but you can also use wood. Offset smokers do require a lot more attention to their airflow and fire. You’ll need a lot of patience and some practice before mastering this technique. This is why offset smokers are widely used amongst barbecue experts.

Vertical Cabinet Smokers Or Box Smokers

Cabinet smokers are designed with charcoal located at the bottom, a water pan above it, and racks for the food at the top. Cabinet smokers also feature front-load doors. Some models have glass windows on these front doors so that you can see the current situation of your food without opening the doors, thus avoiding wasting valuable heat.

Cabinet smokers may also have a separate pan to hold wood chips over the hot charcoal – if not, some grill masters place wood chips directly on the charcoal. Managing everything from airflow, fire, and the exhaust on top is critical in keeping consistent heat on a cabinet smoker.

Barrel or Bullet Smokers

Barrel/bullet smokers are named so because of their shape. They are tall and narrow but larger models may resemble more of a metal drum, than a bullet shape. In this type of vertical smoker, the charcoal fire is stoked at the very bottom, similar to the cabinet smoker. The heat and smoke travel upwards, to the top where the food sits on one or more racks to smoke.

Bullet smokers are also alternatively known as water smokers. This is because a pan or bowl of water is placed between the heat source and the food. The water pan acts as a shield for the food from direct heat and produces steam that keeps the meat moist. The size of the fire, temperature and smoke output is controlled by managing the airflow coming in from the bottom and limiting the exhaust at the top of the smoker.

Types of Charcoal

It is also important to know what type of charcoal you are cooking with, as it is a key component in a smoker. Let’s look at the different types of charcoal you’ll likely come across when using a charcoal smoker.

Lump Charcoal

One of the top favourites of smoking enthusiasts and experts is lump charcoal. It looks like blackened chunks of broken wood. To make lump charcoal, pieces of wood are burned within a very low-oxygen environment. This results in volatile compounds such as hydrogen, water, and methane being released. What is left after the process is pure carbon. Lump charcoal burns without flames and is almost smokeless. It also reaches higher temperatures compared to ordinary wood.

Because most of the wood has been burned off during the making process, lump charcoal doesn’t produce as much ash compared to raw wood. Seeing as lump charcoal doesn’t produce a ton of smoke, wood chips are sometimes added on top of the charcoal to achieve the desired amount of smokiness.

Briquettes

Charcoal briquettes are made from wood byproducts, sawdust, and binders. The ingredients are processed and compressed into a cube or pillow shape. Some briquette brands may add chemicals to bind them more efficiently and make them easier to light up; so be sure to read the labels when you’re out shopping. Like lump charcoal, most people add wood chips to achieve their desired amount of smoke.


Quick Overview Of The Best Charcoal Smokers


Dyna-Glo 36” Vertical Charcoal Smoker [Editors Pick]

Dyna-Glo 36” Vertical Charcoal Smoker
Dyna-Glo 36” Vertical Charcoal Smoker
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The Dyna-Glo 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker features 784 square inches of cooking space spread across four height-adjustable cooking grates. This is an affordable model that will feed a whole party with ease. The biggest advantage of vertical smokers is that they allow easy access to the food you’re cooking. This model goes a step further and offers a double-door design to help minimize heat loss when it’s time to monitor temperatures or add charcoal.

With sturdy cooking racks and a porcelain-enamelled cooking chamber, you can rest assured that this unit is built to last. The charcoal chamber is designed to keep your charcoal lumps or briquettes packed tightly for high burn efficiency, saving you time on constantly stoking.

The charcoal and ash management system means easy clean-up every time. The removable steel ash pan can handle large amounts of ash so you do not have to worry about emptying it mid-cook. Enjoy hours of maintenance-free cooking with the Dyna-Glo Vertical Smoker.

PROS

  • Large cooking space
  • Affordable unit
  • Easy access to food
  • Easy clean-up

CONS

  • May leak smoke

Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch [Best Overall]

Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch
Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch
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The Smokey Mountain 18-inch Charcoal Smoker is large enough to cook for a good number of people, but if you’re looking for more or less cooking space, there are 14-inch and 22-inch models as well. Weber is a very reputable manufacturer when it comes to everything barbecue-related and is consistently provided high-quality charcoal smokers, so it’s no surprise that they’re our choice for Best Overall.

This is a very popular model for both expert and beginner pitmasters because of its impressive construction quality and ease of use. The porcelain-enamelled lid and bowl are rust-resistant and won’t peel away, plus it offers excellent heat retention for consistent smoking. Easy access dampers allow you to control the internal temperature while smoking food and a lid thermometer makes it easy to keep steady temperatures.

PROS

  • No excessive dials or controls
  • Built-in lid thermometer
  • Lightweight
  • Quality construction material

CONS

  • The aluminum side door may leak before smoke-seal builds

Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker [Best Small Budget]

Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker
Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker
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The Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker is a great option for budget-conscious charcoal grilling. With 370 square inches of cooking space spread across two porcelain-coated cooking grates, this budget-friendly bullet smoker has a cooking surface area big enough for a small family. The porcelain-coated steel body is durable and long-lasting and the removable ash pan allows for easy clean-up.

The innovative air control system makes smoking meat easy as it simplifies setting and maintaining the internal temperature of the charcoal smoker. As an added bonus, there is a temperature gauge on the lid that helps to monitor temperatures. Plus, it can be easily moved around by its two handles, allowing you to place it wherever works best for you.

PROS

  • Budget-friendly
  • Well-constructed body
  • Innovative air control system

CONS

  • Lid may leak smoke

Masterbuilt Gravity Series Digital Charcoal Grill & Smoker [Best Luxury]

Masterbuilt Gravity Series Digital Charcoal Grill & Smoker
Masterbuilt Gravity Series Digital Charcoal Grill & Smoker
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The Masterbuilt Gravity Series Digital Charcoal Grill and Smoker is a powerhouse offset smoker with all the bells and whistles that you would find on the best charcoal smokers but at a fair price. Because this unit is a charcoal grill and smoker combo, you get the best of both worlds in one place. Charcoal grills are used for cooking at a higher temperature, and this unit facilitates that by reaching a cooking temperature of 700°F in under 15 minutes. On the other hand, you can practice low and slow cooking at a slow smoking temperature of 225°F in just 7 minutes. You can even put a pizza stone inside and make the best charcoal-fired pizza.

Whether you want to smoke, grill, sear, bake, or roast, it’s all possible by easily setting the desired temperature on the digital control panel or on your smartphone that connects via WiFi or Bluetooth. Achieve precise temperature control with the trademarked DigitalFan™ that moves air from the hopper to the cooking chamber, automatically maintaining your chosen temperature.

Along with all other charcoal grills and smokers in the Masterbuilt Gravity Series, there is a gravity hopper that can hold up to 10 lbs. of lump charcoal or 16 lbs. of briquettes for a continuous 12-15 hours of smoking. This is an excellent smoker and grill combo that allows anyone to smoke food to perfection every time.

PROS

  • Reaches desired cooking temperature quickly
  • Maintains steady temperatures
  • Easy cleanup

CONS

  • Complex system
  • Must be plugged into electrical outlet

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill and Smoker [Best for Beginners]

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill and Smoker
Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill and Smoker
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Though we have an entire post about the best Kamado Style Cookers, the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Grill & Smoker was a must-add to this list of best charcoal smokers. Its aesthetically pleasing design will impress your guests and its ability to double as a charcoal grill makes it extremely versatile. The fuel-efficient triple-walled steel design is durable and retains heat phenomenally while still being lightweight enough to move around.

Choose between high-heat charcoal grilling or choose to smoke at low temperatures with indirect heat using the Kamado Smoking Stone which turns your grill into a fully functional smoker. The Kamado Grills smoking stone circulates air around your meat while protecting your food from direct heat and flame. Note: the Kamado smokers stone is sold separately.

Enjoy a large 447 square-inch cooking space where you cook up to 27 burgers at once on durable cast iron grates. This is also the perfect smoker if you have a lot of grilling accessories that you like to work with. It features a bottom storage shelf, two foldable side table workstations, and hooks for hanging your BBQ tools.

PROS

  • Lightweight and stylish
  • Offers good cooking area for large families
  • All-terrain wheels
  • Cast-iron cooking grates

CONS

  • Smoking stone sold separately

The Verdict


Things to consider when buying a charcoal smoker

There are plenty of charcoal smokers out there with differing features, quality, and more but finding the best smoker for you doesn’t have to be hard. Here are a few things to consider when choosing the right charcoal smoker for you.

Performance

The performance of a charcoal smoker is essential if you want to produce high-quality smoked meals. Look for a charcoal smoker with excellent heat range, high fuel efficiency, tight seals, and even cooking. BBQ smokers that are used in barbecue competitions are always a safe bet in terms of performance.

Charcoal Tray

The size of the charcoal tray can make or break your smoking experience. Charcoal grills are different than a standard grill, in that they use charcoal to produce smoke that cooks your food slowly at low temperatures. Because smoking is done low and slow, the cooking time is quite lengthy. You must assure that the charcoal tray is large enough to accommodate hours of burning so that you’re not constantly topping it up.

Ash Tray

Charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal produce much less ash than wood chips or wood chunks, but there are of course some leftovers to take care of. Having an easily removable ash catcher system will make your cleanup process quick and simple. After all, cleaning your charcoal smoker after every use is an imperative task that can prolong the life of your grill.

Features

In its most basic and primitive form, charcoal smoking was just an earthen pit and some charcoal. Now, advancements in technology have provided various features that enhance performance and convenience.  Look for models that have the right bonus features to make your grilling experience as effortless as possible.

Some bonus features include a drip pan to catch dripping fat, an easy access door to prevent heat loss when checking on your meat, and a charcoal tray to hold enough charcoal to fuel your entire smoking process.

BBQ Hero Tip: Don’t forget to preheat your charcoal smoker. After igniting your charcoal lumps or briquettes, close the lid and let it sit uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes to get the most out of your cooking experience.

Features to consider when choosing a Charcoal Smoker

Here are a few more essential features to consider when choosing the right charcoal smoker for you.

Construction Materials

The overall build quality is something you should consider when choosing a charcoal smoker. A well-built charcoal smoker will be made of premium stainless steel, heavy gauge steel, or cast aluminum. A charcoal smoker made of thicker materials will provide more smoke and heat retention leading to a truly authentic taste.

Dimensions

Dimensions are important for both cooking capacity and storage space. If you’re planning on hosting dinner parties to show off your new smoker, it’s recommended to go with a larger unit that can fit an appropriate amount of food. Adjustable and removable cooking racks are also a bonus because you can rearrange the interior to fit large pieces of meat.

Storing your charcoal smoker is also a consideration to keep in mind. If you have a small outdoor space, it’s suggested to go with a smaller or vertical smoker to save space. The vertical cooking surface gives you more room to work with without taking up too much space on your patio. Furthermore, some charcoal smokers also have a space for hanging meat which could provide additional space that others could not.

Warranty

The warranty period of a smoker is also an imperative factor to consider. Many charcoal smokers provide excellent, consistent temperatures and are also great when it comes to adding smoked flavour to your food. But do they have a good warranty that reflects a manufacturer’s confidence in their creation?

A long warranty period means that your chosen smoker is durable, and if you want to replace its components, you can do that for free within the warranty period. However, a warranty period alone shouldn’t be your focal point when choosing a smoker. It does add value to the final product, but there are more important features to keep in mind.


Safety Tips for Charcoal Smokers

Smokers of any kind should be handled with care and caution. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when handling your new charcoal smoker.

Allow Ashes To Cool

As a precaution, it is recommended to let ashes cool for up to 48 hours before disposing of them. Though your used charcoal lumps may appear to be extinguished, it’s possible that they are still warm and a sudden gust of wind could ignite them, risking a fire. If you cannot wait 48 hours, wrap them in heavy-duty foil, soak them with water, and dispose of them in a non-combustible waste container.

Set Up On Sturdy Surface

Setting your charcoal smoker on a solid, flat, and sturdy surface is very important. Having a sturdy base for this extremely hot unit will minimize the risk of it falling over and catching fire.

Clear the Grilling Space

It’s recommended to ensure there is nothing within 5 feet all around your smoker to prevent accidental fires. This includes fences, tables, and chairs.

BBQ Hero Tip: After you’ve finished smoking your food to perfection, close the air vents. By closing the air vents you’re cutting off oxygen to your lump charcoal, helping to extinguish them quickly.

Charcoal Smoker FAQs

Can you turn a regular charcoal grill into a smoker?

Yes, you can, though it will not operate as smoothly as a real charcoal smoker. To create a smoker using your charcoal grill, simply build a heat source on one side of the grill and put the meat on the other side. By using this two-zone fire method you’ll be able to cook your meat at a low and indirect temperature using mostly smoke!


Can I add wood chunks and wood pellets to my charcoal tray?

Yes, in fact, it’s recommended for a delicious wood smoke flavour. Once your coals reach an even, hot temperature, add a thin layer of wood pellets or a few wood chunks on top. The ignited charcoal will light the wood and start creating a wonderful smoke.


Why should I stay away from cheap offset smokers?

It’s recommended to stay clear of cheap grills or smokers of any kind. Usually cheap means cheap construction material. If your smoker is not made of strong material like heavy gauge steel, you risk losing heat due to leaks. If you have leaks in your smoker, it will be next to impossible to maintain steady temperatures.


Is a big green egg worth it?

If you have the budget for one, then yes, a Big Green Egg is worth the investment. Built out of long-lasting material and providing a luxury grilling experience, the Big Green Egg is a luxury smoker that will last a lifetime.


What is an ugly drum smoker?

An Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) is a simple barrel-drum smoker that can cook a variety of meats. The cool thing about ugly drum smokers is that many BBQ fanatics can actually make them themselves! This DIY project is easy to do if you have the right tools and can save you a lot of money otherwise spent on a traditional smoker.


What is a pit barrel cooker?

A Pit Barrel Cooker is unique in that it uses a meat hanging method to smoke your meat. By hanging meat to smoke, you create a convection cooking operation that leaves your meat unbelievably tender and juicy.


What is a kettle grill?

Kettle grills are named after their spherical shape and were pioneered by Weber Grilling Company in 1951. They have a round body, complete with a rounded lid for excellent heat distribution.


What are Kamado Style cookers?

Kamado Style Cookers are named after the Japanese earthen cooking urn. Most Kamado grills are made completely from ceramics and are extremely insulated. Having such extreme insulation makes them a popular choice for many grill masters, especially those living in cold climates.