There are many types of charcoal smokers which is why today we’re going to try to explain to you their upsides and downsides so that you can pick the best charcoal smoker for yourself fast and easily.
Cooking on charcoal is valued the most in the world of BBQ, maybe it’s about the flavor, or maybe about the whole process that accompanies all of it. There is no arguing that it certainly requires having at least the basic skills for all of it to work.
Due to a large number of different types of smokers, we had a hard time choosing few best models. In the end, we opted for five options that we believed could earn a following. We spent a lot of time analyzing all our previous tests as well as the offers at stores in order to prepare this guide for you together with a ready list of top models.
Keep in mind that certain types of charcoal smokers cost a whole lot of money which is why we have chosen so many options.
The right charcoal smoker will not only make you incredibly happy with your purchase, but also enable you to prepare a great barbecue every time. In order to fit people’s expectations as best as possible, we have chosen several different smokers that differ significantly from one another not only in price, but the entire construction, quality, size or features.
If you have a problem with choosing the type that will be the best for you, you should definitely check out our tips in the “buyers guide” section. In the meanwhile, check out the table below for our reviews of the best charcoal smokers in 2019.
The Best Charcoal Smokers Reviewed
1. Best Overall Weber Smokey Mountain 18″
Let’s start with a model that has probably won over the biggest number of hearts including ours. It has everything that is needed for a top quality barbecue. The entire construction was very well though-out and made of high quality materials plus the model comes with whole 10 years of warranty.
If this version is too big for you ( about 480 square inches ) there are also 14” and 22” versions available for those who want even more space.
A great choice regardless of whether you’re a beginner or advanced user, it makes it possible to easily prepare delicious barbecue of the top level.
It comes with all the essential elements that a decent charcoal smoker should have. Inside you will find a water bowl (makes temperature control significantly easier), it is located right at the very bottom.
Next let’s move on to what is the most important which is properly located air vents, few of them are placed at the side of the smoker’s lower part, and one on the top of the lid. The air vents make easy and effective air flow control possible, thus influencing the temperature control and the whole meat smoking process.
The lid also features a thermometer ( a pretty good one ), although every experienced pitmaster knows that there is nothing better than a decent smoker thermometer with probes.
A huge advantage is the ability to buy plenty of accessories, Weber Smokey Mountain is popular enough to have a whole lot of interesting accessories made for it that expand its possibilities.
2. Runner Up Pit Barrrel Cooker
Another phenomenal charcoal smoker, completely different when it comes to the appearance. Pit Barrel Cooker together with WSM described above are the best typical charcoal smokers. They dominate in this category in every regard and if you really want a genuine dedicated smoker then focus on those two suggestions the most.
The construction, despite being simple, comes with all the essential elements and solutions. Once again, we are very pleased with the quality of workmanship in this model, we’re sure that it is a solid and non-malfunctioning charcoal smoker to last for years.
We really like the ability to smoke meat hanging on hooks. There are whole 8 stainless still hooks included, competitive models have such accessories sold separately. Of course, besides the hooks there are also standard grilling grates that make it possible to grill.
Sadly, you won’t find a water bowl inside, we know that it is not exactly good news to many but our tests show that it isn’t really needed here.
When it comes to cooking results, PBC is just as great as WSM, both are brilliant in what they were made for. It works great for smoking meat on hooks, we had several great repeatable results.
The final decision is left to you, though, choose for yourself what you like better. One thing is for sure, both models are worth your money and regardless of what you choose, you are certainly going to be satisfied.
3. Kamado Joe Classic II
This time it’s something completely different, the results, food and flavor are top notch in a kamado. Someone who has already come across a ceramic grill knows what we’re talking about, those reading about it for the first time are advised to focus for a moment.
Kamado Joe Classic II is a versatile grill that is great for quick grilling of steaks or hamburgers and in slow meat smoking. It is exceptionally phenomenal in two cooking methods, and it’s all thanks to its construction and the materials it was made of.
The airtight construction made of ceramics is great at insulating heat which makes it possible to reach very high temperatures in a short time. Great insulation translates to small heat losses and significantly lower charcoal consumption. Such perfect construction allows to smoke meat over a very long period of time without adding charcoal, no other grill comes with this kind of heat insulation.
Sadly, compared to other charcoal smokers, a large downside of the ceramic kamado is its high price. Still, those who get a chance to cook on this grill will want to have it in their backyard as soon as possible.
Kamados are at first slightly more complicated than a regular charcoal smoker but most people shouldn’t have any problems with them. The key is the right control of the air vents that are responsible for air flow ( just like in other smokers ).
When it comes to their basic handling, there is nothing difficult about them. The ash removal system makes it much easier to clean up when cooking is over, plus all the other elements are made of good quality materials. Which makes it an upside to the price being so high that the quality is high and it’s an investment for years to come.
4. Weber Original Kettle Premium 22
Just as versatile as the kamado, or even more, and available at the lowest price compared to all the other suggestions. It is great for grilling and for smoking meat, the big space under the lid allows for any given charcoal arrangement which makes it possible to cook food using the indirect method.
High quality of workmanship, durability, basic essential features such as an ash removal system and great manufacturer warranty.
It is not a typical charcoal smoker like Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber Smokey Mountain for example, but it does make it possible to achieve similar results at the expense of some of convenience. A large upside is the ability to grill on top of meat smoking which this particular model is just as good at. It’s a good idea to invest in many useful accessories that only increase the grill’s possibilities, especially when it comes to meat smoking ( we recommend Slow ‘N Sear ).
Which therefore makes it an interesting choice for those who want to get a versatile charcoal smoker with a grilling option for low money. If you mostly care about meat smoking, though, it will be a much better solution to purchase an actual dedicated charcoal smoker.
Another upside of this model is its low weight and mobility. For those who struggle with the problem of limited space in the backyard it might be a good solution.
5. Dyna-Glo 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker
An interesting design compared to other, typical charcoal smokers, if you’re looking for something completely different from PBC or WSM then check this model out. The design and concept of this smoker are interesting whereas the final quality of workmanship and durability leave much to be desired compared to competitive models.
We have whole 784 square inches of the main cooking area at our disposal. One neat solution is the separate door for two grilling areas, one of them for food and the other for the furnace. It makes it possible to add charcoal or wood when cooking without losing heat inside the smoker.
In the lower part you will also find plenty of useful things like a wood chips container, charcoal/wood container or removable ash drawer that makes easy cleaning possible when cooking is over.
The poorer quality could by explained by the significant difference in price, but if we really are to buy something, it is better to invest a little more and get a product for years to come.
Considering the entire project and the results of meat smoking, we are very pleased, our main complaint on the other hand is durability and quality, sadly for this kind of money you can’t expect miracles.
We believe that it is not an investment quite as reliable as WSM so if you’re looking for something to withstand a whole lot then sadly we advise against buying the Dyna-Glo 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker. For this kind of money it is a great smoker, but it is not an investment for eternity when it comes to durability.
Charcoal smokers, as can be seen, differ a lot, it all depends on whether you want a dedicated smoker or maybe a versatile grill that will also work great at smoking meat. We tried to only list the best models that stand out by being innovative, good-quality and well known among larger crowds of people.
Their prices vary a lot depending mainly on the type, then size and features. Still, our list includes something for everyone’s budget, big or small. Most types of charcoal smokers have many years of history, being perfected each year until reaching their today’s form.
We are lucky enough that technology in this field has progressed enough to make it possible to buy a great smoker in a relatively low or quality-adequate price. If you have a lot of experience in BBQ then you may have noticed our list is nothing but famous brands. It was no accident, we aimed for quality at a good price, and all those manufacturers have been developing their products for a very long time now and they know our needs very well.
The purpose of this guide is to help you choose the right charcoal smoker. On top of our list of recommended models, you will also find all the tips here that will help you discover each type of charcoal smokers. The guide was made not only for beginners but also for advanced users to find lots of valuable information here.
Types of Charcoal Smokers
- Kamado – It is a versatile smoker / grill, a real kamado is build of ceramics that are great at insulating heat. Sadly, ceramic grills are very expensive, but they’re good to have in your backyard. Their great insulation makes it easy to maintain a fixed temperature at a much lower charcoal consumption. On top of that, they are very good in winter and windy conditions. A kamado smoker & grill is a suggestion for experienced people that don’t mind the price being so high.
- Water / bullet smoker – The most popular type of charcoal smokers, one example of it is Weber Smokey Mountain. Unlike the Kamado, this type is not versatile, it was made solely with meat smoking in mind. This type of charcoal smokers is very popular, their construction is effective and durable.At the very bottom, there’s a place for the source of heat ( charcoal or wood ), above it there’s a water bowl, and above it there’s a smoking chamber for your food.
- Vertical cabinet smokers – It is not a very popular type, it stands out with its vertical construction with a separate access to the food space and the furnace. That way you can add charcoal/wood when cooking without opening the main door which causes a quick temperature loss.
What to Pay attention to before buying a Charcoal Smoker
Type of smoker – First check out our tips on the types of charcoal smokers. Learn about them, then choose the type that best suits your cooking style and environment.
Size – The size of a smoker impacts a lot of things, first and foremost the bigger it is the more charcoal you’re going to need in order to maintain a fixed temperature.
The more charcoal is used, the more ash to remove when cooking is over. A bigger model means less space in the backyard which is why you should carefully analyze your needs and if you’re not sure about your decision, just choose an universal medium size.
For example, Weber Smokey Mountain is available in three sizes ( 14”, 18” and 22” inch ) when choosing the middle one which is 18’ inch you can be sure that it won’t be too big or too small.
Ash cleaning system – We are perfectly aware that cleaning is not a pleasant task, but it just can’t be avoided.
Everyone has to get the ash out of the inside of the smoker when they’re done cooking, in models without an ash removal system it can be troublesome.
That’s why it’s the best for you to make sure if your model comes with such solution, it might be a regular ash catcher, a basket or some removable drawer.
Such solutions make ash removal easy and convenient.
Budget – Another important step is specifying how much you want to spend on buying a new charcoal smoker. It will also affect what type you will choose because some of them are very expensive.
Dedicated Smoker – As you may have noticed already, our list features suggestions that are great at grilling and meat smoking.
If you want to achieve the best BBQ results possible, we suggest buying a typical charcoal smoker only intended for meat smoking.
Such model has all the essentials and it’s much easier to operate.
Warranty – When we spend a lot of money, we always expect that our investment will be very durable for many years.
Sometimes manufacturing flaws or unexplained malfunctions can occur, which is why you should pay attention to what warranty the model you’re interested in has.
Why a Charcoal Smoker?
Flavor – What could remind the ever so characteristic BBQ flavor like a charcoal-powered smoker does? The aroma and flavor of food prepared with such smoker is so unique that you won’t experience it with any other type of grill or smoker. The characteristic smoky meat flavor is the main reason why people decide to buy a charcoal smoker.
Versatility – Besides dedicated charcoal smokers, there are also models that are great at grilling. If you’re looking for this kind of versatility, check out the kamado or the original premium kettle.
Fun – To many people, BBQ is the whole process that provides a lot of fun with the ability to participate in it from the beginning to the end. From the moment of getting the charcoal burning, the smoking process requires temperature control which consists of the fuel control and air vents adjustment. It is not an automatic pellet smoker or electric smoker, here you have to take care of everything by yourself which is a huge advantage to many.
Durability and quality – It is also no secret that a simple charcoal smoker is the least prone to malfunction. On top of that, if the manufacturer has made it of high quality materials, we can truly expect many long years of malfunction-free meat smoking.
Warranty – Most manufacturers who have been perfecting their models for a very long time give great warranties for their product. Certain models are covered with as many as 10 years of warranty which shows how good a model is quality-wise and it frees you from the worries related to its durability.
How did we test?
We actually only tested the models we hadn’t interacted with before. Most of suggestions on our list are models that we had already tested in the past in different tests. Some of them are also owned by us and we use them every week which is why this time the task was much easier for us when it comes to choosing few best charcoal smokers.
All we had to do was take the notes from previous tests and check if they were up to date, analyze them and pick the best out of each type of charcoal smokers. There are several different types, which is why there is a little more suggestions than usual.
When it comes to the remaining models unknown to us, the practical tests were as always. We bought several new charcoal smokers and once they were delivered we started assembling them as soon as possible. Then we got the charcoal burning and upon reaching the right temperature we started smoking ribs first and then a whole chicken.
Everyone knows that it’s a time-consuming process, but it was the only way we could find out in real life how each of the smokers functions. That way we could also check the most important thing which is how the air vents impact the temperature control, whether their position is effective. We also checked the usability of many solutions and features introduced by manufacturer to their models.
Once we were done cooking, we moved on to a very important activity that everyone has to perform, which is cleaning up. Charcoal produces ash that has to be removed when cooking is over. Most manufacturers offer their own cleaning systems, and we checked how useful they are in practice. All that was left was to analyze everything, discuss it and write down objective reviews together with tips for beginners by creating this guide.
Why trust us?
We have conducted plenty of tests recently and we keep conducting new ones. We aim not only to try something new, but also to check and update previous tests with new models of grills or smokers. That way our knowledge keeps growing, and our users enjoy the guides we provide them with.
We know that there aren’t many website like ours, and it’s a lot of fun as well as an opportunity to develop our skills and expand our knowledge while also helping others. Remember that besides tests you’re also going to find many other separate guides here devoted to specific topics. If you’re a beginner or simply you want to learn something new, you should definitely check out our other articles.
We love BBQ and enjoy practical tests that provide us with a large dose of knowledge on new models of grills. That way we can write objective reviews and consciously make a list of the top charcoal smokers here. Our goal is to help our readers by giving them few suggestions of the top models while justifying a particular choice.
We take into account that not everyone is rich and that everyone wants to have a product adequate to its price. That’s why we try to split our searches into different price ranges so that someone with a really limited budget can find something for themselves.
When it comes to charcoal smokers, their diversity made our tests easier than usual. We had already had an opportunity to test most of those models which means that our job mostly boiled down to going back to our old notes. On top of that, we have had owned some of the models for many years which makes the reviews even more based on substantial experience.