I love the smoky flavor of smoked meat and, just like you now, I used to also have a problem choosing the right charcoal smoker.
The problem is that there are many types of charcoal smokers and each of them comes with its upsides and downsides that we need to know about. It will allow you to pick the best charcoal smoker that fits your cooking style, budget and skills.
In order to be able to start smoking meat in a versatile manner, it is worth having few of them. I do realize, though, that many people have to choose just one or two smokers due to their budget.
I decided to pick one ( two at most ) model of each type of charcoal smokers that I consider to be the best. First I’ll present my suggestions, and below them you can find all the information on each type.
I most certainly recommend starting by learning more about each type of charcoal smoker before finally choosing the right model.
Weber Smokey Mountain
Pit Barrel Cooker
Kamado Joe Classic II
Weber Original Premium Kettle
Best Charcoal Smoker Reviews - ( Updated List )
1. Best Overall Charcoal Smoker - Weber Smokey Mountain 18"
Weber Smokey Mountain, which has a long history by now, is still undoubtedly number one among all charcoal smokers. Let me now explain why it is so.
WSM is characterized by simple yet very effective, high-quality structure, is built perfectly and very easy to use. The price, quality, simplicity and great results are the key aspects of this smoker, which it owes its success to.
I value it for the ability to easily maintain a fixed temperature over many hours.
I can honestly say that Weber Smokey Mountain is the most popular type of charcoal smokers.
I need to make the obligatory remark that WSM is used during multiple competitions, giving top-notch results and successfully competing with teams equipped with a much more expensive setup.
At this price, you can expect everything you need plus whole 10 years of warranty. The advantage of WSM’s popularity is a huge offer of different types of modifications and a very large number of guides.
What I like:
What I don't like:
The community of Weber Smokey Mountain owners is so big that you will easily find plenty of interesting guides that can surprise even the advanced BBQ enthusiasts.
I could recommend the universal 18” size, which should meet the expectations of most people, but the offer also includes the slightly smaller 14” model and the bigger 22”.
2. Runner Up - Pit Barrel Cooker
Another suggestion just as great as WSM, it differs in PBC not having a water bowl, among other things. You can build the ugly drum style smoker on your own but luckily it is also possible to buy it from the manufacturers, who know their stuff.
As you can see, the structure is simple, but also incredibly effective, and that’s what matters the most.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is versatile, the package includes grill grates but smoking mostly utilizes the hooks you hang meat on. PBC, just like WSM, is popular and it also comes with a vast selection of different types of interesting accessories.
You will also find plenty of guides and videos on the Internet, which makes it great even for beginners.
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What I don't like:
PBC and WSM together represent the top level and are among the most popular charcoal smokers ( and for a reason ). Which one of them to choose? In terms of quality, both models are perfectly made of high-quality materials.
The key difference is that WSM was designed for the food to be put mostly on the grill grates, whereas with PBC it’s quite the opposite, it was designed with smoking meat in mind, mostly when hanged from hooks ( of course it is possible to use grill grates ).
3. Best Ceramic Style - Kamado Joe Classic II
This time it’s something completely different, the ceramic kamado joe classic II grill. It is a versatile grill and smoker in one, but it is the best for grilling at high temperatures.
Sadly, right at the start I have to add that it is one of the most expensive options. Ceramics come with many valuable advantages, but their main downside is the price and being prone to cracking, like when the grill gets dropped.
If you take proper care of your grill, it can easily last for as long as few dozen years as ceramics can withstand water and snow. Thanks to their great insulating properties they are very good at holding heat while consuming much less fuel and making it possible to cook even during winter or very bad weather conditions.
When it comes to the quality of workmanship, Kamado Joe Classic II is up to the challenge, offering a product fully adequate to its price. It comes with all the necessary features and plenty of interesting accessories sold separately.
What I like:
What I don't like:
In terms of results of cooking, I mostly like grilled food such as steaks or hamburgers, but I have to admit that it is great at smoking as well. After closing the lid, Kamado Joe Classic II effectively holds the heat and smoke inside its airtight structure, thus creating perfect conditions for smoking and grilling.
A small downside is that once it warms up, it takes a lot of time to cool down. That’s an important fact when smoking so that you don’t overdo it with temperature, or else you’re going to have a little problem getting it down.
4. Best Charcoal Smoker Grill Combo - Weber Original Kettle Premmium
This grill doesn’t really need being introduced, the kettle from weber is an icon of the BBQ world by now. It works great when grilling, but is equally as great for smoking.
The space under the lid allows to create heat zones, and with the right methods it is possible to smoke comfortably for even few hours.
Out of the entire list, this is the cheapest suggestion, which I recommend to those looking for a very versatile grill and the characteristic smoky flavor that can be achieved with charcoal as well as with wood.
After all these years, its popularity resulted in many interesting modifications and accessories being available at stores that only expand the versatility of your grill, converting it into a smoker for example. On top of that, there is no shortage of guides on the Internet that will let beginners prepare top-notch BBQ.
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What I don't like:
Available in several sizes, it will meet everyone’s expectations, being covered with whole 10 years of warranty. High quality of workmanship leaves no doubts, it is a reliable investment for years to come.
Like I said above, it is a versatile grill that can be easily converted into an effective smoker. If smoking meat is the top priority to you, however, you should better save up some money and buy a dedicated smoker like WSM or PBC.
First of all, what is a charcoal smoker?
It’s a smoker where the source of heat is combustion of mostly charcoal and often with added small pieces of wood or wood chips for richer flavor. The charcoal smoker is valued and recognized as a symbol of the real BBQ which is mostly about fun, control over the entire smoking process and great results.
It is indisputable that the charcoal/wood smoky flavor of meat is something one cannot simply ignore and in every poll it’s always this source of heat in smokers that wins in terms of food’s flavor.
There are many types of charcoal smokers which is why I have prepared the short summary below on each of them so that you can know them better and make your own decision on which one of them is the best for you.
Types of Charcoal Smokers
Bullet Smokers – A perfect example is the popular Weber Smokey Mountain, this type of smoker only works great for smoking. It is characterized by having a water bowl right above the charcoal chamber, and then above it the grates that food rests on. The water makes the smoking process much easier here.
Kamado Smokers – It’s a versatile smoker & grill combination, but in this situation I’m going to mostly focus on the smoking aspects. I’m basing my statements on the kamado made of ceramics (like Kamado Joe Classic II), which have great insulating properties. Thanks to great insulation, kamado keep heat and smoke under the lid, allowing for long smoking at a fixed temperature at the expense of low fuel consumption. A huge advantage is the ability to smoke confidently under unfavorable weather conditions ( cold days ).
Tips on Buying the first Charcoal Smoker
Budget – The first thing you have to pay attention to is the budget. If this is your first smoker and you don’t have too much money then I’d advise against buying something filled with different features. In such situation, look for the most basic charcoal smoker that only has the necessary features and is well built.
Versatility – Are you only interested in smoking and nothing else? Then buy a dedicated smoker. You’re looking for something versatile? Like a smoker and grill two in one? Such solution is good when you have a limited budget or space in the backyard. But if grilling and smoking are nearly a daily routine to you, I advise you to buy a dedicated smoker.
Size – Carefully analyze how much meat you’re going to smoke and using what method. Do it to avoid a situation where you buy a big smoker and don’t even use half of its potential. A bigger smoker means bigger price, bigger fuel consumption, more difficulties smoking on colder days, longer time of warming up and more to clean.
Mobility – Some of the smokers are not designed with mobility in mind ( no wheels and heavy weight ). If you move around a lot with your smoker then it’s better to check out models that are much lighter. For example, avoid the Kamado if you’re thinking about mobility, these are very heavy and prone to cracking when dropped which only increases the risk of damages.
Warranty – If you have any doubts about the quality then check out the warranty. In most cases the warranty is enough to evaluate whether a smoker is really durable. Plenty of manufacturers offer as many as 10 years of warranty, which is a great example. On the other hand, sometimes there are models that have a short warranty, but in reality they are very durable. In such situation it’s the best to search for information on a particular smoker online.
Upsides of Charcoal Smoker
Flavor – The smoky charcoal/wood flavor has no matches, no other type of smoker can achieve this kind of results when it comes to the flavor. Sure, some of them are pretty close, but it’s still a flavor that cannot be copied.
Durability – Charcoal smokers aren’t equipped with any advanced technology that the functioning of the entire smoker depends on. It leaves more room to work on quality of the structure itself, which results in ability to buy a durable smoker at a relatively low price.
Versatility –Plenty of models, on top of being great at smoking, also work great for grilling or even roasting. In fact, depending on the type of charcoal smoker, you can expect something more than just smoking.
Warranty – Compared to other types of smokers, it’s charcoal smokers that offer the best warranties ( longer period ). As I have mentioned before, it mostly comes from the low risk of malfunctions, simple structure and lack of advanced technologies.
Fun – Smoking meat in a charcoal smoker requires your presence and involvement. You need to take care of good conditions throughout the entire smoking process, as in getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the amount of fuel, controlling the air vents, temperature etc. All of that requires a lot of time, which gives you a chance to participate in a large part of the smoking process. To many people, it is a definitely positive thing, but there are plenty of those who will see it as a flaw.
Downsides of Charcoal Smoker
Time and convenience – Sadly, neither of those encourages to buy a charcoal smoker. A lot of time is spent on the responsibilities related to the entire smoking process, including the preparations for it and cleaning up after it’s over. On top of that, plenty of activities really require concentration, which means it’s hard to talk about convenience here.
Skills – Smoking meat isn’t quite so easy when you’re doing it for the first time. It’s easy to make simple mistakes that have a very negative impact on the results. The good thing is that plenty of smokers are popular enough to have a lot of guides written for them. If you’re just starting on your journey, it is better to choose a well-known model so that you can make use of easily accessible guides.
Lump Charcoal vs Briquette – Which is better?
I cannot clearly say which is better, because a lot actually depends on the situation. When it comes to smoking, though, in most cases briquette is much better, as it doesn’t burn as hot and fast as lump charcoal.
When it comes to kamado, on the other hand, lump charcoal is much better, as it produces less ash, which means it won’t clog the air vents so fast. Ceramic kamado are airtight enough for even lump charcoal to last for long.
Either way, I invite you to read my detailed analysis of lump charcoal vs briquette in a separate article.