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Home » BBQ Smokers: Everything You Need to Know for Perfect Barbecue Cooking

BBQ Smokers: Everything You Need to Know for Perfect Barbecue Cooking

The 5 Best Smokers (2022) - This Old House

How Does Smoker Work?

Using a smoker is a great way to cook meat outside since it can keep the temperature low for long periods of time while creating smoke and keeping it around the meat for consumption. All of this is made possible by an excellent smoker, which is both efficient and spacious.

You may smoke low and slow in a variety of ways and there are a number of different types of smokers and smoker/grills available for purchase. It is possible to acquire wood smokers, charcoal smokers, gas smokers, electric smokers and pellet smokers. However, the most crucial consideration is what sort of barbecue you want to smoke and how much time and money you are willing to devote to it.

1. Offset Smokers

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A two-part smoker, the offset smoker is also known as an offset. With a lift door and chimney at the top, the primary cooking chamber is often a long, grated metal barrel or box. The firebox, which has an adjustable vent and a top- or side-access door, is attached to one end of the cooking chamber. A tiny gap between the firebox and the cooking chamber allows heat and smoke from the fire to enter the cooking chamber. The chimney, which is usually located at the opposite end of the cooking chamber, is the final destination for the exhaust fumes.

In the battle between pros and cons

You’ve probably already bought an offset smoker by the time you realize you can identify a good one from a poor one by lighting it up. Smoke escapes from the firebox and the smoking chamber when the offset is off. The chimney is the sole area where smoke should come out of an offset smoker. Second, offset smokers have a tendency to overheat. In badly engineered offsets, the temperature near the firebox may be 100 F (38 C) higher than the temperature at the opposite end. Also, some low-cost offsets are made of thin metal, which does not retain heat well at their core.

Most cheap offset smokers on the market have poor engineering and hence cannot be considered decent. These smokers will need to be reworked before they can be used efficiently. As a result, some individuals have given up using offset smokers altogether, which is a pity since some of the greatest smokers on the market are offset smokers.

Offsets That Work Best

The doors and seams of a superior offset smoker type are firmly sealed. This not only keeps the smoke where you want it, but it also optimizes the smoker’s airflow, increasing its efficiency. Reverse flow is used to tackle the issue of uneven heating and eradicate the infrared heat from the firebox in a better offset. Modifying the architecture of the cooking chamber by inserting a thin sheet of metal at its bottom. The heat and smoke from the firebox beneath this sheet now go to the other side of the cooking chamber before rising to the food and returning to the firebox where the smokestack should be installed.. As a result, a cooler smoke taste is imparted to the meat by using a reverse flow cooking method. Look for a smoker with a chimney that is close to the firebox that is offset.

Paying For What You Get

When it comes to offset smokers, you may want to think twice before purchasing one since they may be so difficult to use. Instead, make use of a water smoker that is vertical in nature. When it comes to competitive barbecue, offset smokers continue to be the most popular method of cooking. The smokers made by Lang and Jambo are of high quality, create a lot of delicious food, and look fantastic while doing it.

Beyond the Barrel Smokers

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to offset smokers. However, despite their more toolbox-like appearance, the Good-One Smoker and Good-One Open Range may be considered offset smokers. For example, the Good-One has the same airflow, but a square firebox running parallel to the cooking chamber. Good-One Smokers also include thick metal, which is the vital element for a superb offset. It is impossible to keep a metal smoker warm.

2. Drum Smokers

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Due to its simplicity and low cost, the drum smoker (sometimes referred to as an Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS) has grown more popular. In most cases, you can put together a 22.5-inch smoker with a little expertise and wind up with a Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker-sized smoker from this kit. For the price and portability, drum smokers are a great option whether you’re doing it yourself or buying a pre-assembled one.

How It Operates

Using a steel drum, a fireplace, and a cooking rack, the drum smoker creates a simple yet effective smoking method. The entire device is sealed to avoid smoke leaks, with vents in the base and lid to regulate the temperature. In this case, there is no water pan, thus the heat from the charcoal will cook the food directly. In terms of brisket and pig roasts, the drum smoker is okay, but not great, for chicken and ribs. When the meat reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius), it should be wrapped in aluminum foil. Otherwise, it will dry out. This is a solid general guideline, although other smokers don’t have the problem of direct heat.

Start by filling the firebox of your smoker with charcoal and lighting it. Food should be placed on the top rack when the charcoal is ready (not actively burning and with white and ashy rims). Adjust the vents to the appropriate cooking temperature once you’ve secured the cover in place. The oxygen flow will be kept low enough so that drips do not cause flare-ups if the device is kept at a low temperature.

3. Kamado Grills

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After the Second World War, American troops were sent to Japan as part of the occupying army and had to adapt to a new way of life. The Kamado cooker was invented as a result of adapting a centuries-old rice cooker. In the 1970s, the Big Green Egg firm was founded in the United States as a result of the popularity of ceramic charcoal grills. Slowly but surely, this form of charcoal barbecue gained popularity, and now there are more than a dozen manufacturers competing for your business. For low and slow cooking, consumers soon recognized that this kind of grill had a lot to offer. These grills make excellent smokers because to the effective ceramic shell insulation and the grill’s easy airflow design.

A Minor Adjustment

Most of these grills need something to protect you from the direct heat. It’s a “plate setter” according to Big Green Egg (other Kamado makers have similar products). Using an indirect baffle, you may cook without being directly exposed to the heat of burning charcoal. With a few adjustments to the vents, you may create a smoker that is suitable for use in any barbeque tournament.


With its temperature range of up to 750 F (400 C), Kamado grills are superb cooking tools. A low-and-slow cooking option rounds out this multipurpose outdoor stove. Kamado grills are known for their durability and attractiveness.


With other charcoal barbecues, Kamado grills are a lot more costly than their rivals. However, if you’re a heavy user, the benefits might outweigh the drawbacks. The size is yet another drawback. While Kamado grills are great for backyard barbecues, they don’t have the capacity to cook a lot of food at once, thus you’ll often see them in barbecue contests when participants bring several grills in order to have adequate surface area.

Metal As a Substitute

The Big Steel Keg is a metal Kamado barbecue available for purchase (as opposed to Big Green Egg). Like many other Kamado grills, this 18.5-inch model utilizes high-temperature insulation placed between an inner and outer metal covering for heat retention. Although ceramics have greater insulation than steel, the Big Steel Keg’s lid seal is superior than most of its rivals. However, since it is made of metal, it must be taken care of to avoid corrosion.

When it comes to a grill capable of both high-temperature grilling and low- and slow-cooking, the Kamado is the greatest option. When purchasing from a respectable and well-established dealer, you can expect assembly and delivery, as well as assistance and accessories. Despite this, there are several manufacturers on the market.

4. Vertical Water Smokers

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The most popular smokers on the market are vertical water smokers like the Brinkmann Gourmet Charcoal Smoker shown. This is partly because they’re the most affordable option. The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is a vertical water smoker at the upper echelons of the market (referred to online as the WSM).

How They Function

There are three separate chambers in a vertical water smoker, with the lowest one containing the heat source. Charcoal is used as a heat source in Brinkmann and Weber smokers, whereas gas burners or electric heating elements are used in other smokers. In order for the system to function, a water pan must be placed over the heat source. Keeping the meat wet and preventing it from drying out is a primary function of the water pan, which stores and controls the smoker’s heat while diverting the direct heat from the source. The smoking chamber is located on top of the water pan. To use, just prepare a fire, add water to the pan, then add meat to the pan.


Because they are compact, vertical water smokers don’t take up much room. They utilize less fuel and electricity because they are more efficient than bigger smokers due to their smaller size. Additionally, they’re among of the cheapest smokes on the market. If you’re looking for a way to get into smoking but don’t want to spend a fortune, a vertical water smoker is an excellent choice.


A vertical water smoker has a few drawbacks, including a lack of temperature control and a compact footprint. While the Brinkmann has no adjustable vents, it is meant to operate in a certain temperature range and might be challenging to handle until you get the feel of it. Even though these smokers are tiny, they usually feature two racks, one in the center and one on top. In order to get to the bottom rack, you must take off the top one. This might be hard if there is food on that rack. Vertical water smokers can only smoke a tiny amount of food at a time due to their small size. Two racks of ribs, two briskets, or two pork roasts would suffice. Even if you prepare all day and use leftovers, this isn’t enough for many barbecues, even if you have a large family.

The vertical smoker’s major drawback is that every time you open the lid, you lose a significant amount of heat. Even if the water pan can retain heat, it takes time for the temperature to rise to its original level after being dropped.

A Distinction Between Weber and Others

As far as I can tell, the Weber Smokey Mountain is an exception to this list of drawbacks. Even the smallest model is greater for most people’s needs, and the 22.5-inch smoker is enormous. There are three vents in the Weber, one in the lid, to adjust the temperature. Weber is the only vertical water smoker that is often used in barbecue competitions because of its superior temperature control.

5. Box Smokers

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A box is one of the most basic objects in the universe. When it comes to box smokers, they’re simply a box with a heat source on the bottom and cooking chamber on the top. Using a vertical water smoker conserves heat by putting the heat source right below the food, as opposed to above. When it comes to box smokers, the insulation is the deciding factor between a good one and a terrible one. However, although all box smokers have many characteristics, a Pitmaker Vault, Stumps Vertical and an FEC-100 are all completely distinct smokers.


Better box smokers are more expensive, but they create more delicious food in a more precise atmosphere. These smokers might be the most reliable and simple to operate smokers on the market whether you need to smoke barbecue for a competition, catering, or a restaurant.


Some box smokers available at large box retailers are just inferior than more affordable vertical water smokers. No insulation, thin metal, and an ill-fitting door account for this. Box smokers, whether gas or electric, consist of nothing more than a burner or heating source enclosed in a metal container into which you may place meat and place smoldering wood chips. These smokers lose heat quickly if there’s even a little wind or light rain. With a round smoker, you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

In this case study, we will look at the FEC-100

Even though inventor-designer Ed “Fast Eddy” Maurin objects to the term “box smoker,” have a look at this example. An airtight door, thick insulation, and a computer-controlled temperature control system distinguish the FEC-100 pellet smoker, a stainless steel “refrigerator-style” design. With the external pellet hopper and meat probes, you can fill this smoker up and not open the door until the temperature control system notifies you that the meat is done cooking.

Stumps Vertical: A Study in Practice

Like all fine box smokers, the Stumps Vertical Smoker is well insulated. Gravity feed charcoal is the smoker’s most notable feature. Back-loaded charcoal flows into combustion chamber allowing for extended smoking durations. Charcoal usage is controlled by the smoker’s oxygen level. This is a brilliantly simple idea. Barbecue champions like using stump smokers, such as the FEC.

Simply said, this is it.

In order to get the most bang for your buck, you should consider investing in a bigger, better-built, and more costly box smoker. To be serious about barbeque, you’ll need a more costly one with better engineering.

6. Smoker Ovens

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In comparison to other types of smokers, smoker ovens seem more like a typical home appliance. However, they must be used outside (because of the smoke production). These smokers resemble your oven in appearance and operation, but they perform better. In most cases, like as the Cookshack Amerique shown, computer controls and temperature sensors are built-in, making it possible for you to smoke brisket while you’re at work. These smoker ovens resemble those seen in many restaurants.

They Do What?

With an electric heating element positioned in the bottom, smoker ovens are constructed of a thickly insulated metal box. The smoldering of wood particles in the pan above is caused by the heating element. To avoid fires and keep the heating element clean, a channeled piece of metal is positioned between the heating element and the food. In a smoker oven with a meat probe, meats are placed directly on the racks, where they are monitored and cooked by the computerized oven, which maintains the ideal temperature until you are ready to eat. Smoker ovens are the perfect blend of technology and barbeque and are suitable for those who like barbecue but don’t want to put in a lot of effort.

Cookshack is the leading maker of these sorts of smokers, both at home and in the food service industry. They’re essentially the same as Cookshack, but at a lesser price point and quality.

It’s All About Value For Money

Even if they were cheap, electric smoker ovens should not be considered a good value for your money. While a smoker oven may be purchased for as little as $500, it is the more expensive, feature-rich models that provide the functionality that makes a good smoker oven. In addition to being smaller, lower-priced devices include fewer features. Cookshack Amerique is an excellent choice for a smoker oven since it can be filled up in the morning before you go for work and have completely cooked barbecue waiting for you in the evening.

If you’re smoking a single rack of ribs or 50 pounds of brisket in a smoker oven, the expense and work remain the same. This sort of smoker is ideal for those who wish to grill a single rack of ribs on a regular basis, but only require a bigger capacity smoker on rare occasions.

In a way, outside

Because these ovens create smoke and carbon monoxide, they cannot be used outside unless they are specifically vented. Electric appliances can’t be kept outside year-round, therefore they must be protected from the weather. Because of this, it is advised that they be used in an enclosed but open location, and that they be kept out of direct sunlight. As with any other home item, a smoker oven represents a significant financial commitment.

7. Pellet Grills

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Natural hardwood sawdust is compacted and extruded into little 1/4-inch spherical bits for use in pellet grills. Predictable BTU production and a little smoke taste are two of the benefits of burning wood pellets. Since the 1980s, when Joe Traeger began up Traeger Grills, wood pellets have made their way into the outdoor cooking arena. The smoke and taste produced by a grill or smoker using wood pellets are as genuine as those produced by cooking over split logs of premium hardwood.

Grilling with a Pellet Burner

Pellet grills have a hopper, which is an external storage container, into which you put the wood pellets. The pellets are drawn from the hopper into an internal firepot by an auger, which is essentially a corkscrew driven by a variable low-speed motor. The speed of the auger may either be set manually by the operator or automatically by a computer in more advanced variants. More advanced pellet grills incorporate temperature controls and meat sensors that automatically lower the grill’s heat to a safe holding temperature after the meat is done cooked. Pellet grills are comparable to gas grills in terms of structure and function.


Grills that use pellets may be used as both a smoker and a grill. Pellet grills are great for both grilling and smoking since they utilize hardwood pellets, which generate a lot of smoke. To use a pellet grill, all you have to do is fire it up (some units heat up in less than 10 minutes), load the meat, connect the meat probe, turn on the computer, and walk away while the pellet grill does its thing. This is how simple it is to use a smoker oven.


In the long run, pellet grills’ mechanism has proven to be a serious drawback. There are several moving components in pellet grills, and problems like auger jams and motor failure are not uncommon. If the warranty does not cover the issue, this might lead to significant repair fees, or at the very least, the appliance will shut down and cease cooking. It’s another issue with pellet grills that many of them appear like they were built in a garage. While there are a number of producers, the majority are tiny businesses without the benefits of mass manufacturing that can provide a high level of quality control for their products. Smoking is a strong suit for most pellet barbecues, but they’re not all that great at grilling, seldom getting beyond 500 degrees F (260 C). Pellet grills allow you to cook, but if you want a deep sear on your steak, this may not be the grill for you.

Generally, pellet grills are fantastic grills and excellent smokers, but you need be picky about the one you choose. There are a dozen firms producing this kind of barbecue, so do some research before you buy.

Is It Possible to Smoke on a Grill?

The 9 Best Smokers and Smoker-Grill Combos in 2023 | The Manual

Do you need a smoker if you already possess a gas or charcoal grill, given all of the smoker options? Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are better smokers than gas grills. With a proper design, charcoal grills can maintain low temperatures for lengthy periods of time.

The size of a charcoal barbecue used as a smoker is what restricts its versatility. If you want to smoke more than two racks of ribs or a hog roast, you’ll need a smoker, which is bigger than a charcoal grill and hence more efficient. Using a charcoal barbecue to smoke meat requires a grill big enough to keep the meat away from the flames. This may either be done by cooking the food in an indirect manner or by utilizing a baffle.