If you’re interested in smoking meat, you may have noticed that there are a wide variety of smokers available on the market. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out which one is the best fit for you, especially with the various categories and sub-categories of smokers to choose from. In this guide, we’ll go over the different types of smokers and the sub-categories within each type, as well as provide some questions to consider when deciding which smoker is right for you.
There are five main types of smokers: offset, pellet, electric, gas, and charcoal. Charcoal smokers can be further sub-categorized into kettle grills, bullet smokers, ceramic egg/kamado smokers, and drum smokers. When choosing a smoker, consider factors such as the size of the crowds you want to cook for, your preferences for managing a fire, your budget, the quality of smoked meat you want, the climate you live in, fuel efficiency, and the ability to transport the smoker. Other things to consider include whether you want a “set-and-forget” smoker, the ability to grill, bake, and roast, and whether you want to avoid regretting your purchase.
What You Need to Know
- Five main types of smokers: offset, pellet, electric, gas, and charcoal
- Charcoal smokers can be further sub-categorized into kettle grills, bullet smokers, ceramic egg/kamado smokers, and drum smokers
- Consider factors such as the size of the crowds you want to cook for, your preferences for managing a fire, your budget, the quality of smoked meat you want, the climate you live in, fuel efficiency, and the ability to transport the smoker
- Other things to consider: whether you want a “set-and-forget” smoker, the ability to grill, bake, and roast, and whether you want to avoid regretting your purchase
|Type of Smoker||Description|
|Offset||A type of smoker that uses indirect heat to cook the food, with a separate firebox where the fuel is burned and the smoke is then channeled into the cooking chamber.|
|Pellet||A type of smoker that uses wood pellets as fuel, which are fed into a burn pot by an automatic auger. The pellet smoker is electronically controlled to maintain a consistent temperature.|
|Electric||A type of smoker that uses electricity to heat the elements that generate the smoke and cook the food.|
|Gas||A type of smoker that uses propane or natural gas as fuel to generate the smoke and cook the food.|
|Charcoal||A type of smoker that uses charcoal as fuel to generate the heat and smoke for cooking the food. Sub-categories of charcoal smokers include kettle grills, bullet smokers, ceramic egg/kamado smokers, and drum smokers.|
What Smoker Should I Buy?
When deciding on the best smoker to buy, there are many things to consider. Some questions to ask yourself include: the size of the crowds you want to cook for, whether you want a “set-and-forget” smoker, your preferences for managing a fire, your budget, the quality of smoked meat you want, the climate you live in, whether you want to avoid regretting your purchase, whether you want a smoker that can also grill, bake, and roast, fuel efficiency, and the ability to transport the smoker.
So what’s the best smoker to buy? This depends on several things because there are so many things to take into consideration. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself:
- Do you want to cook for large crowds or just your family?
- Do you want a “set-and-forget” smoker?
- Do you enjoy spending the day managing a fire?
- Do you want to spend $100 or $1000 plus?
- Do you want good, great or fantastic smoked meat?
- Do you live in a colder climate?
- Do you want a smoker that you will regret immediately?
- Do you also want a smoker that can grill, bake and roast?
- Do you want something fuel efficient?
- Do you want a smoker you can transport?
Charcoal smokers are a popular choice for smoking meat due to the distinct taste they impart on the food. They can reach high temperatures, which is ideal for creating crispy skin and bark. While they require some attention to manage the fire, many people find this to be part of the enjoyment of using a charcoal smoker. There are several styles of charcoal smokers available, including kettle grills, drum smokers, ceramic smokers, and bullet (water) smokers. They include:
- Kettle Grills
- Drum Smokers
- Ceramic smokers
- Bullet Smokers (water smokers)
|Fuel||Kettles use charcoal briquettes as the primary fuel source. The Minion Method and The Snake Method are the best charcoal arrangements for low-and-slow cooking. Lump charcoal can also be used, but it should be chopped into smaller pieces.|
|Cooking Method||Indirect cooking is the best way to cook low-and-slow on a kettle grill, which can be achieved by placing a full charcoal chimney of briquettes on one side and a water pan on the other side, with the meat placed on the opposite side of the fire.|
|Pros||Kettles are an affordable and versatile option for smoking meat. They are also known for their grilling and roasting capabilities.|
|Cons||Kettles can be difficult to hold at a consistent temperature, especially in winter or windy conditions, and have limited space for cooking multiple roasts, but this may not be an issue if you are only cooking for a small crowd.|
|Best Wood||Wood chunks are the best wood to use for smoking meat in a kettle, as wood chips or pellets will burn too quickly on hot charcoal. Two or three wood chunks on lit charcoal will provide smoke for a couple of hours.|
Kettle grills, such as the Weber Kettle, are an affordable and versatile option for learning the basics of smoking meat. They can be used to smoke a variety of meats, including brisket, ribs, turkeys, and pork butts. Kettle grills are also known for their grilling and roasting capabilities, and can be used for smoking with the addition of wood chunks. Kettle grills can be purchased used for a lower price or new for around $150-$200.
- Kettles use charcoal briquettes as fuel and can smoke for 10 hours at 225°F to 250°F with the right setup, such as the Minion Method or The Snake Method
- Lump charcoal can also be used in a kettle, but it should be chopped into smaller pieces
- Indirect cooking is the best way to cook low-and-slow on a kettle grill, which can be achieved by placing a full charcoal chimney of briquettes on one side and a water pan on the other side, with the meat placed on the opposite side of the fire
- Kettles can be difficult to hold at a consistent temperature, especially in winter or windy conditions, and have limited space for cooking multiple roasts, but this may not be an issue if you are only cooking for a small crowd
- Wood chunks are the best wood to use for smoking meat in a kettle, as wood chips or pellets will burn too quickly on hot charcoal. Two or three wood chunks on lit charcoal will provide smoke for a couple of hours.
Why Kettle Grills Are Perfect For The Beginner
Kettle grills are a popular choice for smoking meat due to their versatility and affordability. They can be fueled with charcoal briquettes and, with the right setup, can smoke for 10 hours at 225°F to 250°F. The Minion Method and The Snake Method are effective ways to set up the charcoal for low-and-slow cooking, and lump charcoal can also be used, but should be chopped into smaller pieces.
Indirect cooking is the best way to cook low-and-slow on a kettle grill, which can be achieved by placing a full charcoal chimney of briquettes on one side and a water pan on the other side, with the meat placed on the opposite side of the fire. However, kettles can be difficult to hold at a consistent temperature, especially in winter or windy conditions, and have limited space for cooking multiple roasts. The best wood to use for smoking meat in a kettle is wood chunks, as wood chips or pellets will burn too quickly on hot charcoal. Two or three wood chunks on lit charcoal will provide smoke for a couple of hours.
For more information about smoking meat on a kettle grill, check out this article: Can You Smoke Meat On A Kettle Grill?
Common Kettle Grill Brands
- George Foreman
- Royal Gourmet
- Kamado Joe
Bullet Smokers ( Water Smokers)
Water smokers (also called bullet smokers) are a type of charcoal smoker that uses a vertical cylinder shape with a water pan to help regulate temperature and moisture. The water pan goes below the cooking chamber and above the heat source, with the food going in the cooking chamber above the pan. The water pan helps maintain a consistent temp and humidity, which can lead to tender and moist meat. These smokers are generally easier to use and maintain since the water pan helps stabilize the temp and reduces the need for frequent adjustments. They’re also pretty portable and can be used in a variety of outdoor cooking settings.
For more information on WSM’s, check out this article: Weber Smokey Mountain Buyer’s Guide.
- Bullet smokers are a type of charcoal smoker, with a vertical cylindrical shape and a water pan to regulate temperature and moisture
- The Weber Smokey Mountain is a well-regarded and popular bullet smoker, known for its ability to produce high-quality smoked meat and its ease of use
- The Weber Smokey Mountain is made from solid materials and is able to maintain steady temperatures for long periods of time
- It is compact in size and available in three different sizes: 14.5″, 18.5″, and 22.5″
- A full chimney of charcoal can get the Weber Smokey Mountain to a temperature of 300°F, and it has four vents to regulate temperature
- The Weber Smokey Mountain may require extra fuel in colder months and may take longer to reach temperature, but it is otherwise easy to use, with simple steps such as lighting a charcoal chimney, filling the water pan, adding the charcoal and wood chunks, and adjusting the vents.
Drum Smokers (UDS)
A drum smoker, aka UDS or ugly drum smoker, is a low-cost alternative to more expensive meat smokers that can still produce high-quality smoked meat. They operate at high temperatures, are well insulated, and are fuel efficient, with a basket of coal able to burn for 10-15 hours.
- UDS can be built at a low cost and perform just as well as more expensive meat smokers
- They cook at high temperatures and are well insulated, making them fuel efficient
- It’s best to avoid opening the lid of a drum smoker as much as possible to prevent the temperature from rising too quickly
- The vents can be closed off before and after opening the lid to help regulate the temperature
- Drum smokers are economical to use, especially in cold and windy areas, and have a deep cooking chamber that is good for hanging ribs but can only accommodate one brisket at a time
- The Minion Method is an easy way to light a UDS, by filling the coal basket with unlit lump charcoal and lighting half of a charcoal chimney in the middle of the basket
- Digital thermometers can be helpful in managing the temperature of a drum smoker, and wood chunks work best as the fuel source
How To Control A Drum Smoker
It’s best to minimize opening the lid of a drum smoker to prevent sudden temperature increases, and the vents can be closed off before and after opening the lid to help regulate the temperature. UDS are economical to use, especially in cold and windy areas, and have a deep cooking chamber that is suitable for hanging ribs but can only accommodate one brisket at a time. The Minion Method is an easy way to light a UDS, and digital thermometers can be helpful in managing the temperature. Wood chunks are the best fuel choice for drum smokers.
Common Pre-Made Drum Smokers
- UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker)
- Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker
- The Good-One Open Range
- PK Grills PK360
- Barrel House Cooker
- Horizon Smokers
- Klose BBQ Pits
- The BBQ Brethren Drum Smoker
- Lang BBQ Smokers
- Louisiana Grills Ceramic Kamado Grill
- Shinerich International Drum Smoker
How To Build A Drum Smoker
Building a drum smoker can be a fun and rewarding project for those who enjoy DIY and outdoor cooking. They are also relatively simple to build, as long as you have the right tools and materials. Here’s a general overview of the steps involved in building a drum smoker:
UDS Parts List
To make a drum smoker, you will need the following parts:
- A metal drum or barrel – This will be the main cooking chamber of the smoker. It’s important to use a food-grade drum or barrel that is in good condition, as you will be cooking food in it. You can often find these at a local metal recycling center or through online classifieds or forums.
- A cooking grate – This is the surface on which you will place the meat to be smoked. It’s important to use a sturdy cooking grate that can support the weight of the meat and withstand high temperatures. You can use a pre-made grate or create your own using metal rods or bars.
- Vents – Vents are essential for regulating the temperature and airflow in the smoker. You will need at least two vents: one at the bottom to allow air to flow in and feed the fire, and one at the top to allow smoke and heat to escape. You can use metal pipe or sheet metal for the vents.
- A thermometer – A thermometer is essential for monitoring the temperature inside the smoker. You can use an oven thermometer, a digital thermometer, or a probe thermometer with a long cord that can reach into the cooking chamber.
- Charcoal tray or basket – You will need a tray or basket to hold the charcoal or wood chunks that will provide the heat and smoke for the smoker. This can be a simple metal tray or a more complex basket with multiple levels.
- A water pan – A water pan is optional, but it can be helpful in keeping the temperature and humidity inside the smoker at a consistent level. You can use a large metal pan or bucket for the water pan.
- Hardware and tools – You will need various hardware and tools to put the smoker together, such as bolts, nuts, washers, screws, drill, hammer, and pliers. You may also need a welder if you plan to create a more complex smoker.
For more information on building drum smokers, check out this article: The Complete Guide To Building An Ugly Drum Smoker
How To Put The Drum Together
- Gather your materials: You will need a 55-gallon drum, a cooking grate, some metal rods or pipe, a couple of ball valves, some nuts and bolts, some wire, and some high-temperature paint. You may also need a drill, a cutting tool, a hammer, a screwdriver, and some pliers.
- Cut the drum: You will need to cut the drum in half lengthwise to create the cooking chamber. Use a cutting tool or a saw to carefully cut through the metal.
- Install the cooking grate: You will need to attach a cooking grate to the inside of the drum. You can use metal rods or pipe to create a frame for the grate, and then secure it in place with nuts and bolts.
- Add the ball valves: You will need to install ball valves at the bottom of the drum to control the airflow. These will act as the intake and exhaust vents for the smoker.
- Wire the ball valves: You will need to wire the ball valves together so that they can be opened and closed simultaneously. Use some wire to connect the valves and create a handle for opening and closing them.
- Paint the drum: Once you have all the parts in place, you can paint the drum with high-temperature paint to protect it from the heat. This will help to prevent rust and ensure that your smoker lasts for many years.
- Test it out: Once your drum smoker is complete, it’s time to test it out. Fill the drum with charcoal and light it up. Add some wood chunks and wait for the temperature to stabilize. Then add your meat and enjoy the delicious, smoke-flavored results!
Ceramic Kamado/Egg Smokers
Ceramic cookers, also known as kamado cookers, are dome-shaped charcoal smokers that are made of ceramic materials. These cookers are known for their versatility, as they can smoke, roast, grill, and bake food at high temperatures. They are well-insulated and efficient, making them a good choice for cold-weather cooking. Kamado cookers are heavy and difficult to move, so it’s important to choose a spot for it carefully. They come with or can be purchased with a heat deflector plate, which allows for low-and-slow cooking in the 230-400°F range.
The best fuel source for these cookers is lump charcoal, as briquettes can burn out and choke the fire. The temperature of the cooker can be controlled by adjusting the vents and adding the appropriate amount of charcoal to the fire basket. Big Green Eggs are a popular brand of kamado cooker, but they are expensive and require the purchase of additional accessories.
- Ceramic cookers, also known as kamado cookers, are dome-shaped charcoal smokers that are made of ceramic materials
- These cookers are known for their versatility, as they can smoke, roast, grill, and bake food
- They are well insulated and efficient, making them a good choice for cold-weather cooking
- Kamado cookers are heavy and difficult to move, so it’s important to choose a spot for it carefully
- They come with or can be purchased with a heat deflector plate, which allows for low-and-slow cooking in the 230-400°F range
- The best fuel source for these cookers is lump charcoal, as briquettes can burn out and choke the fire
- The temperature of the cooker can be controlled by adjusting the vents and adding the appropriate amount of charcoal to the fire basket
- Big Green Eggs are a popular brand of kamado cooker, but they are expensive and require the purchase of additional accessories. The Kamado Joe make ready-made grills.
Common Ceramic/Kamado Brands
- Big Green Egg
- Kamado Joe
- Grill Dome
- Vision Grills
- Kamado King
- Saffire Grill & Smokers
- KJ23RHC Kamado Grill
- Monolith Grill
If you want to see a side-by-side comparison between the Kamado Joe and the Big Green Egg, check out this article: Big Green Egg vs Kamado Joe
El’Cheapo Brinkman Smokers
Cheap bullet/vertical smokers, also known as El’Cheapos or Brinkmans, are a popular entry-level option for many people, but they are difficult to control due to their thin metal construction and lack of heat retention. While these smokers are not recommended, there are some modifications that can be made to improve temperature control, such as removing the legs, increasing airflow, sealing gaps with sealant, or using thermal blankets. These modifications can help maintain a temperature of 250-275°F for 2.5 hours.
- Cheap bullet/vertical smokers, also known as El’Cheapos or Brinkmans, are a popular entry-level option
- These smokers are difficult to control due to their thin metal construction and lack of heat retention
- Temperature control can be improved through modifications such as removing the legs, increasing airflow, sealing gaps with sealant, or using thermal blankets
- These modifications can help maintain a temperature of 250-275°F for 2.5 hours
Offset Smokers “Stickburners”
Stickburners, or offset smokers, are loved by smoking enthusiasts because they produce a pure wood smoke and are the best smokers for indirect cooking. These smokers have a firebox on one side and a cook chamber on the other, and use wood as the primary fuel source. Smoking with logs can be challenging and requires some practice to produce clean smoke at a consistent temperature. Stickburners are not recommended for beginners due to their difficulty to control and high cost, and cheap imitation offset smokers are a waste of money. Expensive offset smokers, on the other hand, are made of thick metal and are able to retain heat effectively.
- Stickburners, or offset smokers, use wood as the primary fuel source and produce a pure wood smoke
- They have a firebox on one side and a cook chamber on the other, and are designed for indirect cooking
- Smoking with logs can be challenging and requires some practice to produce clean smoke at a consistent temperature
- Stickburners are expensive and not recommended for beginners, and cheap imitation offset smokers are a waste of money
- Cheap offset smokers are made of thin metal and are not able to retain heat, while expensive offsets are made of thick metal and are more effective at retaining heat.
Some Popular Offset Smoker Brands
Here are some common offset smokers that are worth looking into:
- Gator Pit
- Pits and Spits
- Meadow Creek
- Mill Scale
Pellet Grills (Pellet Smokers)
Pellet grills are a type of outdoor cooker that use wood pellets as fuel and offer a range of cooking capabilities, from grilling to smoking to baking. They are fully automated and allow for precise temperature control, and are more convenient and efficient than charcoal grills. However, they also tend to be more expensive, with prices ranging from $400 to $5000.
Pellet grills have a hopper that feeds wood pellets into a fire, and the pellets are made from compressed sawdust and come in various wood flavors. They burn cleanly and produce little ash, making cleaning the grill easier. Pellet grills can produce less smoke than charcoal grills, but enough to flavor the meat. In colder weather, pellet grills may burn more wood and may benefit from the use of thermal blankets to retain heat.
|Fuel source||Wood pellets|
|Operation||Load hopper with wood pellets and set temperature on digital control panel; built-in auger system feeds pellets into burn pot, ignited by heating element; burning pellets create heat and smoke circulated through cook chamber by fan|
|Temperature control||Precise temperature control with digital control panel and automatic adjustment of pellet flow to burn pot|
|Range of cooking||Low-and-slow barbecue to high-heat grilling|
|Efficiency||More efficient and produces less ash than traditional charcoal grills|
|Cleaning||Little ash production makes cleaning easier|
|Insulation||Insulated design helps retain heat and reduce fuel needs|
|Pellet source||Compressed sawdust and wood byproducts, available in various wood flavors|
|Ash production||Low, 1%|
|Smoke production||Less than charcoal grills, but enough to flavor the meat|
|Cold weather use||May burn more wood and may benefit from the use of thermal blankets to retain heat|
Common Pellet Grill Makes
Here are some common makes of pellet grills:
- Green Mountain Grills
- Camp Chef
- Pit Boss
- Z Grills
- Rec Tec Grills
- Yoder Smokers
- Bradley Smokers
- Louisiana Grills
- Broil King
This list is not exhaustive and there are many other brands of pellet grills available on the market. It is important to research and compare different makes and models to find the one that best meets your needs and budget.
Traeger is the world’s number 1 selling pellet grill. Check out the buying guide here: Which Traeger Should I Buy?
Electric smokers are super convenient and easy to use. They’re perfect for busy people or those who are new to smoking, because you don’t have to fuss with charcoal or firewood. And, they’re great for use in cold climates, because they’re more fuel-efficient than traditional charcoal smokers.
While electric smokers can certainly produce some delicious smoked meat, it’s important to keep in mind that they do have some limitations. One of the biggest disadvantages is that they don’t produce as much flavor as charcoal or wood smokers. Electrics don’t produce as much smoke, and the smoke they do produce isn’t as intense. So, if you’re really into the smoky flavor that comes from traditional smoking methods, electric smokers might not be the best choice for you.
The other problem with electric smokers is the can’t reach high temperatures. This is especially important if you want crispy skin on chicken and turkey. Finishing food in the oven is the most common workaround that people use to get a crispy skin on electrics.
However, if you’re just looking for a convenient way to smoke meat at home, electric smokers can definitely get the job done. They’re affordable, easy to use, and don’t take up too much space. Just make sure to invest in a good quality model with a stainless steel door, because the cheaper ones don’t tend to last very long. But overall, they’re a great option for anyone looking to start experimenting with smoking meat at home.
- Electric smokers are convenient and easy to use, making them a good choice for busy people or beginners
- They can be used in extreme climates, including cold weather, and are more fuel-efficient than charcoal smokers
- Electric smokers can still produce delicious smoked meat, but some people criticize them for being too easy and lacking the process and challenges of smoking with charcoal
- They are affordable and take up relatively little space
- Electric smokers use wood chips or chunks and may have a smoke tube for added smoke flavor
- Cheap electric smokers may only last a few years, so it is recommended to invest in a higher-quality model with a stainless steel door
- Electric smokers are not able to cook at high temperatures, so they cannot produce crispy skin on poultry
- They also do not produce a smoke ring, which is a pink ring around the outside of the meat, but this does not add any extra flavor
- Some critics argue that electric smokers do not produce as much smoke as charcoal smokers, but they still produce enough to flavor the meat.
Common Electric Smoker Brands
Some popular brands of electric smokers include:
- Smoke Hollow
- Camp Chef
Gas smokers are a convenient and easy option for smoking meat. They are relatively inexpensive and produce clean heat by burning wood chips or wood pellets. They have a cabinet-style design with a gas burner at the bottom and wood chips above it, as well as a water pan on a shelf above the wood. Gas smokers are easy to control the temperature and have vents at the top and bottom, but they do have limited shelf space and may not be able to fit larger cuts of meat. It’s important to keep an eye on the gas tank during long cooks and have a spare on hand. Gas smokers are capable of reaching temperatures up to 275°F, but the ideal smoking temperature is generally considered to be 225°F.
- Gas smokers are convenient and easy to operate
- They are inexpensive and produce clean heat
- Gas smokers generate smoke by burning wood chips or wood pellets
- They are mostly cabinet-style with a gas burner at the bottom and wood chips above it, and a water pan on a shelf above the wood
- Gas smokers are easy to control temperature and have vents at the top and bottom
- They have limited shelf space and may not fit large cuts of meat
- It is important to monitor gas tanks and have a spare on hand for long cooks
- Ideal smoking temperature is 225°F, but gas smokers can reach up to 275°F
Common Gas Smoker Brands
- Camp Chef
Articles On Smokers
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.