Which Type of BBQ Smoker is the Best?
In this article, I will help you choose the perfect low-and-slow BBQ machine – a BBQ Smoker. We’ll first go over a few questions you have to ask yourself and then explore the different types of smokers.
By the end of this article, you will know how each type of smoker works, understand their pros & cons, and have all the information to make a well-informed buying decision.
If you’re just looking for a quick comparison, click here.
Let’s get right into it!
What Is BBQ Smoking?
BBQ smoking is the art of cooking and flavoring food by infusing it with wood smoke. This can be heated quickly (hot smoking) or cured slowly (cold smoking). Placing meat in a controlled, smoky environment helps preserve the meat.
It is popularly believed that BBQ smoking was most likely discovered by accident. As people living in caves hung the hunted meat inside a cave (away from ground predators), the smoke rising from the fireplace cooked helped preserve the meat for longer.
However, there is also a science to BBQ smoking. When wood is burned, it breaks down the cellulose found in wood. This cellulose then turns into sugar, which helps break down the fat and collagen of the meat. Learn more about the science of BBQ smoking.
When done correctly, this results in a tender, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth cut of meat with a tasty exterior surface (BBQ bark). This combination can’t be achieved with other cooking methods.
There is also a Chinese method of smoking meat called ‘Tea Wok Smoking.’ It uses a mixture of uncooked rice, sugar, tea, and spices to produce exciting flavors. Check out this article for more information.
What Is A BBQ Smoker?
A smoker is a culinary device that uses smoke for cooking food with indirect heat. The smoker’s low temperature and smoky environment help produce tender meat that has a tasty, smoky crust.
Smokers are conventionally fueled by charcoal and wood chunks, but lately, propane and electric smokers have become quite popular. The former are known for their flavor while the latter are known for their convenience.
Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying A Smoker
No matter what the local salesmen or the online experts say, it’s best to stick to your priorities when considering a purchase. Don’t get smooth-talked into buying something you don’t need. Despite what they want you to believe, nobody understands your needs better than yourself.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to understand what is important to you:
How Much Do I Want to Spend?
Buying a smoker may be an investment, but you need not go for the shiniest price tag! Ask yourself how much you are willing to shell out. Doing this will help narrow down your list a great deal.
If you’re just starting out, stick to the basics. You may not need the models with advanced rotisseries or multi-fuel/ multi-zone grilling. Once you have your budget chalked out, you can choose a smoker within that price range.
How Many People Do I Usually Cook For?
This second question will help you figure out the cooking capacity you need on your smoker. Do you own a catering business or food truck? Or do you simply want to prepare a meal for your family? Pick the right-sized smoker depending on the amount of food you will be smoking.
Pick a smoker that is slightly bigger than your requirements. You do not want to end up overcrowding your grill when you’re having the occasional party!
How Much Space Do I Have?
The next factor to consider is your footprint. How much space do you have on your patio or backyard to accommodate your smoker? If you are going in for a vertical smoker, think of the vertical space constraints you have.
If you only need your smoker for special occasions like a church gathering or a county fair, do you have enough storage space to put it away when not used?
What Kind Of A Cook Am I?
Knowing your cooking habits is critical in determining the right cooking equipment.
- Do you like to set-it-and-forget-it, or do you prefer tinkering around while cooking?
- Are you always on a tight schedule and need to get meals ready in a hurry, or do you savor the whole BBQ experience?
- Do you want to master the art of managing a wood fire, or do you prefer letting an app do all the work while you catch up on the game?
Figuring this out will help you choose the grill that offers you the right mix of features and convenience.
Will I Be Moving the Smoker Often?
If you’re in love with outdoor picnics or own a food truck, smoker portability is key. Take account of the boot space in your vehicle, and ensure that your smoker works with a fuel source that is accessible to you.
Types Of Smokers
Since there are many factors to think about when choosing a smoker, there are also many types of smokers. The options vary depending on fuel type, size, and price. This section groups the different types of smokers based on the primary differentiator – the fuel type.
A Quick Comparison
Before we get into the basics, benefits, and drawbacks of each smoker, here’s a quick comparison between the different types of smokers:
|Ease of use||Challenging||Fair||Easy||Easy|
|Portability||Depends on Model||Depends on Gas Source||Good||Poor|
|Functioning||Grill and smoker||Smoker only||Smoker only||Grill and smoker|
||$500 – $1000|
Gas Or Propane Smoker
These are the most convenient of smokers. They typically come in a rectangular-shaped metal box. The vertical smoker’s spacious cooking chamber allows you to smoke a significant amount of food at one go.
How It Works
The vertical propane smoker has three essential components: the burner at the very bottom, a water pan above it, and a cooking chamber with stacked grill grates. Wood chips and coal are placed on a tray placed in between the burners and water pan.
Once the gas smoker is turned on, it quickly heats up, rising to the pre-set temperature. The gas flame causes the charcoal and wood chips to smoke, giving the food an authentic barbeque flavor. At the same time, the water pan regulates the smoke chamber’s moisture, distributes it inside the cooking chamber, and prevents overheating.
Smoking with Gas grills
You can also smoke food if you have a horizontal gas grill. You will have to employ the two-zone grilling method to produce smoke for indirect heating. On one side, place a burner box filled with wood chips. Cover the box with a tin foil and poke some holes to allow the smoke to escape. You can also place some water in a pan above the burner to maintain moisture in the smoker. On the other side, place your meat, and close the lid.
The flavors achieved with a gas grill isn’t as good as a smoker, but it is a quick hack for when you’re craving for smoky meat, and you don’t have a smoker.
Pros of Gas Smokers
- Vertical smokers have a relatively small footprint, which helps you save space.
- They are energy efficient.
- They are fairly simple to use.
- They save you a lot of hard work.
- The temperature can be easily controlled on them.
- They are available at reasonable prices for those with smaller budgets.
- They are built like a cabinet, making it easy to access the food inside the cooking chamber.
- Some models are portable too.
Cons of Gas Smokers
- You can run out of fuel if you use a gas bottle instead of a gas pipeline.
- You can’t get a smoked BBQ flavor without adding charcoal and wood chips.
- The maintenance costs can be high for replacing damaged burner tubes.
- They cannot be used for grilling.
- The water pan requires cleaning after every cook.
- You lose heat when checking on the meat if you don’t have a temperature probe.
Electric smokers also called, smoker oven, look and function pretty much like a conventional oven. Of course, except that they produce smoke to cook the food and cannot be used indoors.
Electric smokers are the epitome of the ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ method of smoking. Some high-tech models come with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi services that allow you to monitor your cook while sipping a beer. The other low-end models have dials that will enable you to pre-set the temperature.
How It Works
Their function is as simple as their usability. It has a three-part structure: the heating device at the bottom that ignites the wood chips and creates smoke. Between the cooking chamber and the heating device is a metal funnel-like device that deflects the direct heat and collects the drippings, avoiding flare-ups.
Most models have an internal computing device that helps regulate the temperature inside the smoker. This makes the cooking process a whole lot easier!
Pros of Electric Smokers
- They are straightforward to use, which is convenient if you have only recently begun BBQ smoking.
- They are great at maintaining a steady temperature.
- They can be found in different shapes and sizes. Some are big enough to feed a whole crowd.
- Vertical smokers have a small footprint, making it easy to store them.
- They don’t need any additional fuel like charcoal or gas.
- They are an excellent choice for the set-it-and-forget-it type of cook.
Cons of Electric Smokers
- Some BBQ enthusiasts miss the charcoal-smoke smell since only wood chips are used in these BBQ smokers.
- Cheaper models do not last long.
- Electronic parts subjected to heat don’t last very long. Be prepared for pricey replacement parts.
- Because it works on electricity, it can only be run in a water-free environment.
- They can only be used as smokers.
Pellet smokers are an excellent example of BBQ smoking convenience. This extraordinary device is where tradition meets technology. They rose to popularity when BBQ pitmasters began using them in competitions. They are similar to offset smokers, with a trick (or an auger) up their sleeve.
Pellet smokers are primarily run on electricity. But the tastes are authentic because the smoke is generated by small pellets of compressed sawdust that is derived from different types of flavored wood. A pellet smoker can be used as an oven and a grill too!
How It Works
The firebox that you see on an offset grill is replaced by the hopper for loading pellets. An auger mechanism slowly and steadily transfers the pellets from the hopper to the firebox. The wood pellets are then kindled by a metal rod in the firebox, producing the smoke required for the cook.
A thermostat inside the hopper controls the temperature by regulating the speed at which the auger releases the pellets. Pellet smokers are the best at producing a consistently delicious smoky flavor because of this mechanism.
Pros of Pellet Smokers
- They are easy to use and don’t require much effort.
- Some sizes are large enough to cook ten pork shoulders in one go.
- They can work as both a smoker and a grill.
- You can control it wirelessly using your Wi-Fi /Bluetooth enabled device.
- The wood pellets burn out completely, leaving little cleaning to be done.
Cons of Pellet Smokers
- They are quite expensive.
- You will need a source of electricity to power the smoker.
- They have a lot of moving parts and fragile components that can spoil quickly.
- Finding replacement parts can be difficult.
- The pellets can become tough to combust when they absorb moisture in humid weather.
Charcoal And Wood Smoker
Charcoal and wood smokers are old school but still the most widely used smokers by BBQ enthusiasts. It can take some time to get used to using a charcoal smoker. BBQ smoking with these smokers can go on for over 24 hours. It may seem like a very long time to most people, but this is music to the ears of a BBQ perfectionist!
Let’s see the different varieties of charcoal smokers!
This type of smoker is sometimes referred to as the vertical water smoker. They are small, glossy, and compact smokers that work just as a regular vertical smoker. They are the most copiously owned smoker by beginners who love the flavor of charcoal. They derive their name from their bullet-like shape: a tube with a dome-shaped top and bottom!
How It Works
The bullet smoker is fueled by charcoal and wood chunks at the bottom. Above it lies a water pan that regulates the smoker heat, collects the food drippings, and creates a moist environment in the smoker. At the top is a rack on which the meat is placed. The lid and bottom have vents that are used to control airflow.
Pros of Bullet Smokers
- They are compact with a small footprint.
- They are easy to use.
- They are affordable, making them perfect for those who don’t want to make a huge investment.
- They don’t need as much fuel as other types of charcoal smokers.
- They are portable since their parts can be disassembled.
Cons of Bullet Smokers
- They have a limited cooking capacity because of their small size.
- The temperature is difficult to control.
- They work only as smokers.
- The water pan has to be washed after every cook.
- It can get challenging to access the lower rack as the grills are stacked one over the other.
These grills were introduced to the United States market in the 1940s, but traces of the kamado grill can be found as far back as 1000 B.C. in Japan. This smoker is more than just an elegant looking device. It is a grill that is designed for slow cooking perfection.
It has a recognizable egg-shaped design that is made from ceramic. This makes it excellent for holding high temperatures, and they can be used both as a grill and a smoker. Therefore it is no surprise that these are one of the priciest smokers on the market.
How It Works>
Cooking in a Kamado grill is relatively straightforward. The firebox at the bottom of the grill can be filled with charcoal, wood chunks, and woodchips of your choice. Read more about choosing the right smoking wood.
A heat deflector plate sits between the firebox and the grill grate to eliminate flare-ups and protect the food from direct heat when smoking. This plate can be removed to make it work as a regular grill. This is perfect when you want to sear your meat directly over the open flame.
Kamado grills have vents that help regulate the airflow to control and maintain the cooking temperature. A small Kamado grill can cook around three 10-pound pork shoulders. Larger grills can hold more food.
Pros of Kamado Grills
- They can last you for many years.
- They can heat up to 700°F (370°C).
- They can serve both as a grill and a smoker.
- They are pretty compact.
Cons of Kamado Grills
- They are expensive.
- It is difficult to control the temperature.
- Refueling can be tricky because the firebox is situated at the bottom.
Looking to Buy Kamado Charcoal Grills?
Here are the best Kamado Charcoal Grills you can buy in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.
Ugly Drum Smokers
Oil Drum Smokers, more commonly known as the ‘Ugly Drum Smokers,’ are smokers in their purest form. If you are skilled with tools and know how to choose the right drum for BBQ, you can build yourself a Drum Smoker with ease.
They are essentially steel drums, like the ones used for shipping oil, modified with grilling accessories. These smokers can be fitted with grill racks, meat hooks, air-vents, and everything else you need. They are fueled by charcoal and wood chunks, which give your food a lovely, smoky flavor. Learn more about the basics and benefits of Oil Drum Smokers.
How It Works>
The drum smoker is a very basic smoker comprised of a steel drum, a firebox, and a grilling rack. The base and lid have adjustable vents for controlling the temperature. These grills can be used both as grills and smokers by excluding or including a water pan when cooking.
The drum smoker is excellent for cooking chicken and beef ribs, but cooking the brisket and pork roasts can be challenging because of the lack of a separate firebox.
Pros of Drum Smokers
- They are simple to use.
- They are inexpensive.
- You can build your drum smoker.
- They don’t require constant attention.
- They can also be used as grills.
Cons of Drum Smokers
- The temperature is not easy to control.
- They aren’t suitable for cooking all kinds of meat.
- The cooking capacity is less, despite its large size.
A cabinet, or box smoker, is similar to a bullet smoker in its working principle and simplicity. It is called a cabinet smoker because it is constructed like a metal box/locker. Some models even have two doors that make it look just like a cabinet. The double-door setup helps you manage meats at different temperatures.
How It Works>
The cabinet smoker is fueled by charcoal and wood chunks. The charcoal goes inside the firebox at the bottom of the box. There is another door at the bottom for the firebox, which makes refueling easier.
Above the firebox is a buffer that may or may not have a water pan. The cooking chamber at the very top has several racks to place the meat on. The expensive models have top-notch insulation that makes them ideal for long cooks.
Pros of Cabinet Smokers
- They are durable if looked after properly.
- They do not take up much space.
- Depending on the size, they can cook food enough to feed a large crowd.
- Low maintenance as there are few parts.
- The second door for the firebox helps you maintain steady temperatures even while refueling.
Cons of Cabinet Smokers
- They can be expensive.
- Because of their large size, heating can take longer.
- They need continuous vigilance.
- They can only be used as a smoker.
They were traditionally made out of old propane tanks and scrap metal. Doors were cut out on the tank, and a firebox was welded to its side before the container was placed horizontally onto a stand.
How It Works>
The charcoal and wood chunks are tossed into the firebox where they are lit. The smoke then traverses from the firebox to the cooking chamber and then exits through a small chimney at the top.
Pros of Offset Smokers
- They come in many sizes.
- The cooking capacity on the smallest type is 8-10 pounds of pork shoulder.
- They enable you to get the most authentic smoke flavor.
- You can enjoy the whole process of low and slow cooking.
- They can be used as grills too.
Cons of Offset Smokers
- Temperature control isn’t easy.
- The meat furthest from the firebox doesn’t cook as fast as the one nearest to it.
- They require a lot of attention as the meat placement must be rotated for even cooking.
- They also need to be refueled almost every hour.
- The cheaper ones have terrible builds and can dissuade you from smoking again.
- The good models are expensive.
Looking to Buy an Offset Smoker?
Here are the best Offset Smokers you can buy in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.
A kettle grill is one of the popular charcoal grills on the market. It is dearly loved by all BBQ enthusiasts. If you already own one, the good news is that you can smoke meat on it with just a few tweaks!
How It Works
The simplest way to set up your kettle grill for smoking is by creating a two-zone fire. Put your hot charcoals on the side and your meat on the other. Place a water pan over the side with the charcoal to prevent the meat from losing too much moisture. If you don’t have a water pan, make one using tin foil. Make it about an inch tall and fill it three-fourths of the way with water.
Looking to Buy Kettle Charcoal Grills?
Here are the best Kettle Charcoal Grills you can buy in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Grills Can Be Converted To A Smoker?
Charcoal and gas grills can be converted into a smoker by setting up two-zone grilling, adding wood chips to the fire, and placing a water pan above the heat source. This gives you the indirect heat and smoke needed for BBQ smoking.
Can I Get BBQ Flavor On An Electric Or Propane Grill?
It is possible to get authentic BBQ flavor on a gas or electric grill if you add charcoal and smoking wood to the smoker.
Is Smoking Easier Than Grilling?
No, smoking is more complicated than grilling. It takes practice to master the art of smoking. But most BBQ enthusiasts agree that the amazing results are worth all the time and effort!
Which Smoker Is The Simplest To Manage?
The electric smoker is the most straightforward smoker type. Equipped with modern technology, the electric smoker is perfect for those who do not have the time to babysit the smoker.
Are Electric Smokers Any Good?
While electric smokers do not give you the impeccable taste of barbecue, there is no denying that they are the most easy-to-use models. Their consistent combustion rates mean that you don’t have to become a full-time chef every time you feel like having smoked meat.
Whether BBQ smoking is a fun hobby or you are a BBQ smoking aficionado, don’t succumb to groupthink when buying a smoker. Choose the one that perfectly suits your needs. Armed with all the information in this post, you are sure to make a great buying decision.
If you liked this article and would like to know more, let me know in the comments section below.
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