Charcoal smokers are useful for those who want to take backyard barbecuing to the next level. They can offer a flavor not available with backyard grills or the oven. Before, the only way to achieve a smoky flavor was to send meat to an old-fashioned smokehouse. Today’s smokers make achieving the smoky taste a simpler process. These best charcoal smoker reviews and buyers guide will provide useful information on the best models available.
Here are our Top 10 Best Charcoal Smoker Reviews
Being passionate about smoked food, we have researched the best charcoal smokers that are on the market at this moment in time. We have come up with a list of the ten we think are the best and we will tell you why.
1. Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker
The Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker offers an 18-inch wide cooking surface. It comes with 2 cooking grates, water pan, and built-in thermometer. It features vents on both the lid and the cooking bowl. It also comes with a protective cover to keep it clean when not in use. The water pan is porcelain enamel. Users say this smoker can cook a good sized turkey, though it may come close to touching the sides. The smoker itself is made of porcelain enameled steel and comes with a 10-year warranty. This model has been tested in cooking competitions and has performed as desired. If you’re searching for the highest rated, best charcoal smoker, you can check out this one.
2. Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker
The Dyna Glo DGX780BDC-D is a 36″ high vertical smoker with a cooking area of 784 square inches combined over 4 adjustable cooking grates. The grates are 14″ wide by 13″ long. It comes with its own charcoal chamber and a bottom grate for removing ashes. The cooking chamber is made of porcelain enameled steel. It features double doors for access to the charcoal chamber and the meats separately. This helps prevent heat loss while tending to the charcoals or checking on the meat during the cooking process. An optional cover is available for this model but must be purchased separately.
3. Masterbuilt 20060416 Charcoal Bullet Smoker
This Masterbuilt bullet smoker comes with over 395 square inches of cooking space, 2 porcelain coated cooking racks, a charcoal access door, and built-in thermometer on the lid. It’s a more basic model and is designed for portability. It also features a porcelain-enameled water bowl and three legs designed in a tripod configuration. Users say it can cook a brisket or a couple racks of ribs on the top levels. This smoker is ideal for people who want to have smoked meats on camping trips and outings away from home. It does require close monitoring, as there is no lower vent to help with temperature control.
4. Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
This model is made of heavy gauge porcelain enameled steel. It also features a cast iron burner and dual doors for both the cooking area and the charcoal box. The cooker can process up to 100 pounds of meat at one time and comes with 784 square inches of cooking space. It comes with heavy duty stainless steel cooking grates. The Offset charcoal box allows users to direct the smoke and heat efficiently. An optional cover is available at an additional cost. The smoker is 47 inches high including the 4 legs, making it best suited for backyard cooking and entertaining.
5. Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
This model comes with the same construction features as other Dyna Glo signature vertical offset smokers. However, it also features a rack for grilling in the charcoal compartment. It features 5 sturdy stainless steel cooking racks and heavy gauge porcelain enameled steel construction. It provides 1,382 square inches of cooking space among the five racks. It features two legs and two wheels, so the unit is somewhat portable. Its large size may prevent it from being taken on outings unless a larger vehicle like a van or truck is used to transport it. It can be moved around a backyard or outdoor living space.
6. Char-Broil Oklahoma Joe’s Bandera Smoker and Grill
This model is another smoker and grill combined, with an offset charcoal box. The main smoking area includes 3 cooking grates, meat hooks, and a rib rack. The grilling surface comes with an adjustable grate as well. The combined cooking surface is 992 square inches. The cooker has 2 legs and 2 wheels, so it can be moved. It also includes a rack below the cooking compartment and charcoal box for storage of additional supplies. The chrome plated handles on both lids are designed to stay cool to the touch throughout the cooking process. The entire unit from wheels to the top is 66″ high. If you like old school smokers and grills, check out this product.
7. Camp Chef Smoker 18-Inch Smoke Vault Large with Stainless Door
The Camp Chef smoker is designed like a vault, including the stainless steel door with the large turn handle. It comes with a stainless steel heavy gauge tray for wood chips, a thermometer that reads from 50 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, two adjustable smoking racks, a jerky smoking rack, and three adjustable damper valves for greater temperature control. This model is 44 inches high, including the 4 legs. It also features a matchless ignition. The overall weight is 65 pounds. The smoker is suitable for backyard and camping situations and may be used on outings away from home, due to its portability.
8. Lamberts Sweet Swine O’Mine Red Box Charcoal Smoker
This smoker is a smaller model designed with double wall construction. The insulating factor is meant to retain heat and maintain efficiency in cooking. It comes with double doors for access to the cooking compartment and the charcoal box. It comes with a stainless steel cooking chamber and features a red, powder coated exterior. This cooker comes with four legs and stands 14 inches high. The front vents below the bottom door allow for temperature and air flow regulation. It comes with 3 cooking grates and can cook a smaller turkey or 3 chickens. Buyers say it gets the job done well for a small, basic backyard smoker.
9. Brinkmann 852-7080-C Gourmet Charcoal Smoker Value Pack
This double grill smoker comes with a heat indicator on the lid, two chrome plated, steel cooking grates, and a hinged door with access to the charcoal and water pans. The smoker value pack comes with a digital thermometer, a protective cover, and a bag of hickory chips. Users say it can cook a medium sized turkey. The smoker comes apart to be used as a grill, by using the base with charcoal. It also comes with a side clean out the door for the firebox.
10. Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS962CBO-D Barrel
This smoker features a side model firebox and fits some Dyna Glo barrel grills with the smokestack. It features a total of 962 square inches of cooking space. The side cooking area is 287 square inches of cooking space. The cooker is made with 1.5 mm thick steel and comes with a 3-year warranty. Buyers have been pleased with both the grilling and smoking functions of this model.
What Is A Charcoal Smoker?
A charcoal smoker is a device used much like a backyard grill to cook meat. The difference is that a smoker cooks meat using indirect heat produced by the coals while giving the meat a more noticeable smoky flavor. The smoker looks somewhat like a charcoal grill, but will typically be cylindrical or round in shape and will have a much deeper reservoir for adding the meat to be cooked. Charcoal smokers usually come with legs. Shorter legs are designed for tabletop models, while longer legs are designed for standalone smokers that can be used anywhere in the backyard, as long as they’re used with safety in mind.
Different Types of Charcoal Smokers
There are different types of smokers which use charcoal as fuel. They are perfect for foodies who want a classic smoky flavor.
Offset Smokers – When it comes to smoking barbecue, offset smokers are one of the best. What do offset smokers look like? They are horizontal smokers with a firebox on one side. The heat and smoke from the firebox and are then directed towards the smoker to cook food.
Vertical Smokers – This type of smoker stands vertically. The fire is at the bottom while the smoke rises up and cooks the meat. A vertical smoker will allow you to cook in bulk so you can serve food to a lot of people.
Bullet Smokers – As the name suggests, there are cylindrical, vertical smokers that look like bullets. They are great smokers for beginners as they work really well. Also called water smokers, they usually use water pans to regulate temperature.
Smoker Grills – These are grills that can also be used as smokers. Besides being versatile, charcoal smoker grills are affordably priced, thus making them a viable option for many people.
Ugly Drum Smokers – Usually made from metal drums, ugly drum smokers or UDS are a great way to get into smoking without spending too much (if you make it yourself). But if you don’t have the time and expertise to build one, you can buy a fantastic drum smoker from Pit Barrel Cooker.
Kamado Style Smokers – Kamado smokers are a great way to cook outdoors. They’re oval ovens that “look like” eggs. They can grill, bake, roast, and smoke. If you want something more than just a smoker, a Kamado is a great option. If you want to learn more about Kamado smokers and grills, click here.
How Does A Charcoal Smoker Work?
In a charcoal smoker, the charcoal is typically heated in a chimney first, then added to the smoker when it’s ready to do its job. The way the charcoal is set up and the amount of water added are two tasks that are important to consider when using a charcoal smoker. The temperature of the smoker is usually maintained between 220 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, to maintain flavor and tenderness. Use of a charcoal smoker requires frequent attention, especially for new or inexperienced users. It’s not absolutely necessary to use a chimney. If a chimney is not used, however, the user must make sure the charcoal in the smoker gets hot, before adding the meat. Users can also add some wood chips, to get different wood flavors. Choose hardwoods, like Oak, Apple, Cherry, or Hickory. Softwoods will create too much smoke and may ruin the taste of the meat.
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Using A Charcoal Smoker
Using a charcoal smoker has its advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious disadvantage is that charcoal is messier than using gas. An advantage is that a more authentic smoky flavor can be achieved in any cut of meat, by cooking it in a smoker. Another advantage to a charcoal smoker is the convenience of not having to worry about replacing a gas tank prior to heading for an outing or having a backyard barbecue. Some smokers take several hours, which can require plenty of advanced planning if guests are invited or a special family gets together is planned.
Charcoal is less environmentally friendly than gas, so some consumers may not choose a smoker as their first choice for barbecuing and cooking outdoors. However, smokers usually come with a pan to make catching the ashes an easier and cleaner job. The smoky taste is not for everyone. However, different flavors can be achieved by adding wood chunks or chips to the charcoal or in a separate box. There are many smoker models available, from smaller portable tabletop cookers to larger models that can be used for larger groups.
What Are The Top Brands Available?
Weber offers smokers in several sizes. There are models suitable for camping and taking along on outings. Larger models provide plenty of cooking surface space. Most models offer additional convenience features, like double doors for both cooking areas and charcoal boxes. Weber is one of the best charcoal smoker brands on the market today.
Dyna Glo offers several smoker models, made with heavy gauge stainless steel. Some models also come with grilling capabilities, to make the most of hot coals. While these smokers are heavy, some models come with features that make them more portable under certain conditions. Overall, the smokers are well made and designed for durability.
Brinkman offers smokers and accessories, with features users value most, such as durable construction. The products are easy to use and come with the most important features, such as adjustable vents and durable hardware, for reliability.
This brand is designed with quality most users find more than adequate. Double walls and stainless steel chambers make it a highly desirable smoker brand, for occasional backyard use for smaller amounts of meat. This charcoal smoker packs many quality features into a smaller model and its cooking capacity is surprising.
Masterbuilt makes smokers that can be used in a variety of places. They don’t have many of the extra features of larger or more expensive models. But for the price, the smokers are designed to do a lot within a smaller space.
Things to Consider When Buying a Charcoal Smoker
When deciding on which charcoal smoker to buy, construction quality and capacity are the two most important features. If you’re spending money on a larger model or one with more features, you will want one that’s built to last. Well-built smokers tend to come with warranties. Capacity is important for those who do plenty of entertaining and want to cook plenty of meats or a variation on a single day. Size is important in terms of capacity and design only. Many of the large models have a side firebox. Some users believe a side firebox is better, but many people use other vertical models with no problems.
Features like double doors make it easier to get meats cooked just right and maintain the right temperature of the coals. Dampers or vents aid in controlling temperature. Smokers come with either built-in thermometers or manual digital thermometers, in most instances. What you need depends on how much work you’re willing to do and how frequently you plan on checking the smoking process. With double doors, the right temperature can be maintained while checking progress, without too much heat loss.
How to Manage the Temperature on a Charcoal Smoker
First, you have to set up your charcoal smoker correctly. If you like to cook low and slow, you can use the minion method. This involves filling the firebox with unlit charcoal, then firing up some briquettes. Allowing the briquettes to ash over for 15 minutes then spread them over the top of the unlit charcoal. This will allow you to smoke for hours at a low, steady temperature. As the lit charcoal burn, they slowly ignite those below them.
Once you’ve set up your charcoal smoker, you can make adjustments by opening/closing the intake dampers. Here are other helpful tips on how to manage the temperature on a charcoal smoker:
Keep track of how fast the temperature is rising. Make small adjustments before so you don’t overshoot your target temperature.
You may want to keep the top exhaust damper fully or partially open. It will help keep the fire burning clean. The absence of oxygen can cause “dirty fire” which can result in a buildup of creosote, a bitter-tasting byproduct.
Avoid making too many changes to the vents. When you make a minor adjustment, give it time to work its magic before making further adjustments.
What You Need to Know About Charcoal
The two types of charcoal are briquettes and lump charcoal.
Charcoal briquettes cost less, burn longer, are uniform in shape, and maintain steady temperatures. However, briquettes are made from scrap wood and sawdust, held together by additives. So in essence, they’re not chemical-free.
Also, briquettes don’t burn as hot as lump charcoal, plus they produce more ash.
Lump charcoal is ideal for people who like smoking meat the natural way. This type of charcoal is made by burning down wood (without oxygen), leaving only carbon. Free from chemicals and additives, lump charcoal burns hotter and cleaner than briquettes. Additionally, it’s quick and easy to light up.
However, lump charcoal is irregular in shape, so you need a little bit of patience when stacking it. It also burns more quickly than briquettes (especially when plenty of oxygen is present). The best thing about lump charcoal is the taste. There’s no chemical aftertaste because this fuel is all-natural.
How to Use a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker
Yes, you can use your charcoal grill as a smoker. Just follow these steps: Fill a chimney starter about 1/3 full with briquettes. When they’re fully lit, place the charcoal on one side of the cooking grate. Then, put an aluminum water pan on the other side (the size of the pan should be less than half of the cooking grate). Add 2 to 3 cups of water to the pan. The water helps achieve a low cooking temperature. Allow 30 minutes to one hour for coals to burn and the water to heat up. Put damp wood chips directly onto the coals. Place the food on top of the grate (over the water pan). Cover your grill. Add more coals periodically to maintain the heat.
How to Properly Maintain Your Charcoal Smoker
If you maintain your charcoal smoker correctly, it can last a long time. Maintenance doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. The key is consistency. Here are some basic maintenance tips for your charcoal smoker.
Dispose of ashes
Ashes left sitting in the charcoal smoker can attract moisture, and this may cause rusting. Therefore, it’s essential to remove ashes after each use. Make sure everything has cooled down before doing this.
Cleaning grill grates
Grease left on the grates can go rancid and make food taste bad. Also, charcoal on the smoker grate can stick to food and make it taste bitter. Because of this, it’s important to clean the smoker grates. Clean the grate right after you’ve finished cooking your charcoal smoker recipes.
Cleaning the Cooking Chamber
When the inside of the cooking chamber already has a layer of crust, it’s time to take action. Cleaning that area periodically will prolong the life of your charcoal smoker. If you just need a light clean, you can use a plastic putty knife to scrape off loose bits. Make sure the smoker had a chance to cool down before doing this.
If you think that a more thorough clean is needed, use steel wool, grease-cutting dishwashing liquid, gloves, bucket, softer scrubbing brush, paper towels and, garden hose. Since this job involves grease and grime, don’t do this in your driveway or lawn to prevent staining these areas. The backyard is a better option.
Final Review of the Best Charcoal Smoker
Hopefully, this best charcoal smoker buyers guide and reviews can help you narrow down the long list of options available. By knowing which features are most important and which you can live without, you’re more likely to find a model that satisfies your specific needs in outdoor cooking, while also fitting your budget.