Last Updated on
From delicious grilled veggies to perfectly charred cuts of meat, nothing tingles our taste buds quite like a good old-fashioned BBQ feast. However, having access to all these drool-worthy bites is almost impossible when wintertime rolls around. But, this doesn’t have to be the case anymore.
It turns out that charcoal smokers can make our BBQ dreams come true all year round. These bullet-shaped outdoor appliances use charcoal to smoke our favorite slabs of meat or vegetables, promising a mouth-watering ‘cue feast even during the colder months of the year.
So, if you want to get your BBQ fix no matter the season and (why not?) have some fun in the process, here are the five best charcoal smokers on the market today plus a bunch of other information you’ll need to get the meat smoking cracking.
What Is A Charcoal Smoker?
As its name suggests, a charcoal smoker is an outdoor appliance that uses charcoal (or sometimes wood) to smoke any food your heart desires, from meat to vegetables. This device is also known as the bullet smoker, a nickname which is 100% attributed to the appliance’s long and round-edged shape which resembles an actual bullet (no joke!).
You may also hear some people refer to it as the vertical water smoker. That happens because this device is equipped with a water bowl that plays a crucial role in the smoker’s overall function. In fact, this tool serves multiple purposes, from keeping the smoke chamber humid and maintaining optimal temperatures to helping capture the melted fat and preventing flare-ups.
By using charcoal as the primary source of fuel, this device generates a hefty amount of smoke and heat, which along with the water bowl’s humidity, add a smoky flavor to the food without stripping it of other flavorful juices.
Why Use A Charcoal Smoker?
From enjoying delicious, juicy cuts of meat to experiencing a sense of satisfaction when you cook your food to perfection, there are a lot of reasons why you should own a charcoal smoker. In fact, here are the most important reasons why your backyard and stomach are all types of empty without a charcoal smoker in their lives.
One of the most significant benefits of owning a charcoal smoker is that it is temperature-stable. Unlike other smoking devices, this one is designed to maintain a steady temperature from day 1. That happens because it utilizes a source of fuel (charcoal) which naturally burns evenly for hours and produces a steady stream of smoke and heat.
Due to its simple design, charcoal smokers tend to be less expensive than other types of smokers such as electric. By using charcoal instead of gas or electricity, these smokers also tend to keep a low overall budget without making any discounts on taste or efficiency.
If you’ve ever used or seen a charcoal smoker, then you know that it consists of various parts such as cooking grates which are easy to remove from the device’s main body. That means that the smoker’s tools and main chamber can be easily cleaned. To quote many smokeheads out there: “There is nothing here that a garden hose, a grill brush and lots of water can’t clean.”
Charcoal smokers owe their decade-long success to a simple trick. Unlike gas or electric smokers, this type of smokers make the best of every smoking session merely by combining the meat’s dripping juices with the unique vaporized aroma and flavor of the fat-soaked charcoal. So, if you are in for a decadent meat-eating experience, then charcoal smokers are the only choice.
Requiring no extra electric equipment or space for a tank of gas, charcoal smokers are the epitome of a compact design. Usually weighing less than 50 pounds, these appliances are super easy to move around and store. That makes them a perfect fit for regular campers and small backyard owners.
Don’t Break Down Easily
Since charcoal smokers are equipped with little to no electronic parts, they tend to last longer than their electric-based counterparts. That said, you can get your money’s full worth down the line and some peace of mind as they don’t break down quickly.
What Type of Charcoal to Use?
Wanna know something weird? Not all charcoal is created equal. In fact, there are four different types of the fuel, all of which leave something unique to the table. That said, choosing which kind of charcoal to use is a matter of personal taste and preference. But, since knowledge is power, we’ve gathered around everything you need to know about all four types of charcoal to make an educated decision. So, let’s hear it.
Briquettes are a specially designed form of charcoal which consists of wood scraps, saw, and coal dust. Unlike other types of charcoal, briquettes contain a bunch of additives such as petroleum binders and borax which are used to hold the ingredients together and form sturdy blocks. These blocks are often roundish and squarish in shape, making them easy to stack.
Since they are infused with chemicals and accelerants, briquettes are the perfect way to start your charcoal smoker if you are in a hurry. Plus, they are known for burning longer than other types of charcoal. In fact, briquettes can maintain a very high temperature of 600oF for up to an hour. Keep in mind, though, that they do not burn as actively as their counterparts, prolonging the whole process. Briquettes are also a very affordable charcoal option.
Also referred to as charwood, lump charcoal is often considered the safest option when smoking. This type of fuel is made merely by burning trees or logs, so you know you’re in for an additive- and petroleum-free kind of charcoal.
Due to its chemical-free structure, lump charcoal burns hot. However, due to its pure nature, it tends to burn unevenly (real hot at the beginning, slightly cool at the end) and more quickly than other types of charcoal, requiring you to refuel the smoker every 30 to 40 minutes.
Not often used in the U.S., think of binchotan as Japan’s premium lump charcoal. This type of fuel is made using wood from ubamegasho oak which is usually found in southwest Japan. Considering it’s hard-to-find, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that binchotan is a bit pricey compared to other types of charcoal.
It is also known for burning hot for a long time and very clean as it’s free of additives or chemicals. As a result, it doesn’t infuse your meat or veggies with any discernible charcoal flavor or aroma. Note that it comes in branch-like cylinders which fit perfectly to a traditional smoker’s cabinet.
Coconut Shell Charcoal
Mainly used throughout Asia, coconut shell charcoal is hard to find in the U.S., but it’s totally worth the shot. This type of charcoal burns more quickly than others, but it gives off a unique flavor that no other charcoal type can replicate. Plus, it’s easy to fire up and very affordable.
What to Check When Shopping For A Charcoal Smoker
There are a lot of things that make a charcoal smoker great. However, few of them are as important as the criteria below. So, if you are on the market for a high-quality charcoal smoker, make sure the one you choose checks all six of the following requirements. This way you know you’re in for a winner.
Charcoal smokers are all about efficiency and simple designing. So, most of them are lightweight by default. That and the fact they use charcoal to cook food make them a perfect addition to any camping trip or outdoor excursion. So, make sure the charcoal smoker you buy is easy to carry around.
Efficient Air Flow
The bullet-like size of these smokers may seem goofy at times, but it serves a higher purpose. Thanks to its vertical shape, these devices allow air to flow throughout the cooking area, heating the food over and over again.
That said, charcoal smokers are usually equipped with bottom vents which allow the air to move more efficiently in the chambers. If the appliance doesn’t feature such vents, the charcoal is most likely to burn out, and the food will remain uncooked. So, opt for smokers with an efficient air flow system.
Reaching the right temperature also plays a vital role in the whole process. However, your smoking attempt is doomed to fail if, for some reason, both the heat and smoke leak outside the cooking chamber. That’s why you should make sure the smoker’s doors and general design prevents leakages as much as possible.
Whether you are new to this or have been smoking food for years, the chamber’s capacity is one of the first things you should check when shopping for a charcoal smoker. The size is especially important if you have friends and a family who love BBQ food as much as you do.
A surefire way to well-smoked foods every time is to keep the temperature as steady as possible. But, when you open the door to add more charcoal to the smoker, you end up lowering the temperature and struggle to get it back up. To avoid all these, a built-in thermometer lets you know the exact temperature at which your food is being smoked. So, in a way, that makes it easier for you to it steady, even when you refuel.
Despite providing your food with an unbeatable smokey flavor, charcoal smokers produce many by-products such as ash. While it sounds like too much work to clean after every cookout, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Many modern charcoal smokers are equipped with removable trays which gather the ash, making cleaning much more manageable. To avoid spending hours cleaning after you use the smoker, opt for one with easy-to-clean features such as removable trays, vent sections, etc.
5 Best Charcoal Smokers, Reviewed
Now that you know how to use a charcoal smoker like a pro, you have every right to get your hands on the best one ASAP and get the smoking started. To save you the time, confusion and probably headache, we present you with the top 5 charcoal smokers on the market today. We also focus on every smoker’s impressive and could-be-better qualities to help you make a more accurate decision. So, here’s what you need to know.
Not to exaggerate, but Weber is a pioneer company in the household smoker industry. Due to their high-quality products, this company has introduced us to a lifestyle of relaxed backyard barbecues. The Smokey Mountain Cooker is one of the company’s masterpieces, combining efficiency with a compact design. Let’s take a look at some of its pros and cons.
- Cutting-Edge Airflow Design
Equipped with one bottom and three top vents, this smoker features a one-of-a-kind airflow design which allows you to maintain a steady temperature for hours.
- Built-In Thermometer
It also has a built-in thermometer which makes things easier by showing you the exact temperature at all times. This way you know when you need to throw some more charcoal into the chamber.
- Tight-Sealed Feature
This smoker is equipped with a tight-sealed feature which prevents the heat and smoke from leaking and contributes to a steady temperature. Not only that, but this design allows you to shut the smoker down more efficiently. This way you save more charcoal down the line.
- Large Cooking Area
With two 18.5-inch grates, this smoker offers a total of 481 square inches of cooking area. That’s perfect for large, family-sized barbecues.
- Rust-Resistant Material
Having durability in mind, the company coated this smoker with a rust-resistant material. This way you can also use it during winter without worrying about it peeling its outer coating.
- Tricky Front Door
If you are a charcoal smoker newbie, then you may have a hard time handling the device’s front door. In some cases, customers claim that due to their inexperience, they bent it out of shape. However, you can always custom fit to prevent smoke leakage.
Having the smoking rookie in mind, Mastebuilt designed a charcoal smoker that is not just easy to use but is also equipped with a bunch of add-ons which will make the life of any aspiring smokehead a breeze. So, if you are looking for convenience wrapped in an easy-to-use smoker, the Charcoal Buller Smoker is a no-brainer. But, let’s find out more about this smoker’s wow-worthy and not-so-great qualities.
Unlike others, this one costs around 50$ which is practically a steal considering the many features it holds.
- Sturdy Front Door
Unlike others, this smoker has a sturdy front door which makes refueling a breeze. Not to mention that it prevents heat and smoke from leaking.
- Huge Cooking Space
Equipped with 395.4 square inches of cooking space, this smoker can handle large quantities of food at a time which is perfect if you often host large BBQ parties.
- Built-In Thermometer
The built-in thermometer helps you adjust the chamber’s temperature and also maintain. In other words, it contributes to the smoker’s maximum efficiency.
Thanks to its small size and lightweight, this smoker is easy to carry around, making it an ideal choice for long-distance camping trips.
- Upgrade Thermometer
While many of the built-in thermometers work just fine, you may need to upgrade it as it often doesn’t show the exact temperature. That may cause you to fuel the smoker with more charcoal when you shouldn’t have to. Just invest in a high-quality charcoal smoker thermometer, and this problem will be solved in no time.
Are you a BBQ pro who loves to invite friends and family over for dinner? Then, this smoker is your only option. Thanks to its large cooking area, this device can cook massive amounts of food at once, helping you with all the cooking multi-tasking. Plus, its unique features can maintain a steady temperature for hours which guarantees a high-quality smokey aroma and taste. But, enough talk, here’s everything you need to know about this smoker.
- Easy to Clean
Thanks to its double chamber design, this smoker is very easy to clean. All you need is water, damp cloths and perhaps a grill brush and you are done in minutes.
- Large Cooking Chamber
Equipped with 784 square inches of cooking space, this device is reported to smoke up to 100 lbs of foods at a time. Now, you can invite the whole family without slaving for hours in the kitchen.
- Snap Ignition
Even though you can still start using it the traditional way (just light up the charcoal), this appliance has a built-in electronic ignition system. This way you can skip the matches and go for a safer option.
- Dual Door Design
This smoker features an innovative dual door feature. That hard-to-beat characteristic allows you to put the charcoal and food in two separate chambers and thus avoid losing some of the heat and smoke when you refuel.
- Rusts Quickly
Even though it’s made heavy-duty steel, this smoker is a bit heavy, so you can’t move it around as much. Now, if you don’t put it in a place where it’ll be protected from corrosive weather elements such as the rain, heat, and wind, it will break down pretty quickly. That’s why you should invest in a custom-fit cover to prevent it from rusting down the line.
Sporting a unique barrel-like look, this smoker is as beautiful to look at as it is to smoke with. Thanks to its simple and compact design, it can be a great addition to any small-sized backyard that needs a spruce up. Not to mention that it tends to maintain a steady temperature of about 300oF for hours at a time. So, what’s not to like? But, here’s a detailed review of the smoker’s best and could-be-better traits.
- Simple Design
This smoking device consists of a steel barrel which stands upright on specially designed legs, a couple of vents at the bottom to enable a smooth airflow, a basket for charcoal at the bottom and a bunch of hooks and racks to place the food. It’s as simple as that.
- Easy to clean
The smoker has a bunch of removable parts which make cleaning much more comfortable.
- Novice Cook Equipment
This smoker comes with various extra tools such as a hook remover and hanging rods which can make the smoking process even more accessible, especially for a novice cook.
- Standard Temperature
This barrel-like smoker can hold a steady temperature for hours and hours thanks to its porcelain coated steel construction.
- Limited Customisation
While the device’s easy-to-use and straightforward design is a blessing for newbies, it can be a curse for smoking veterans. Thanks to its cut-and-dried features, this smoker doesn’t allow many customized changes, frustrating pros worldwide.
Kamado-style smokers are some of the most expensive charcoal smokers out there, and this one is no exception. However, money shouldn’t be much of an issue, considering the smoker’s high-temperature cooking properties as well as its ability to switch to a low-and-slow mode which is ideal for smoking all types of meat.
But, this is just nothing compared to everything else that this smoker has to offer. Let’s take a closer look at its potential and a few things you need to watch out for.
- High-Temperature Capacity
Unlike many smokers on the market today, this one is designed to handle high temperatures, even up to 700oF. That means that it can cook your foods twice as fat as other smokers.
Besides its light weight, this smoker is ideal for those of you who camp quite often but still want to taste a well-smoked slice of meat. It also comes with a three-leg stand on a wheeled cart, making transportation much more relaxed.
- Easy to Clean
This device features a removable bottom vent section which allows you to get rid of ashes very easily. Its smooth finish also makes grease removal quite easy.
- Large Cooking Area
With a total of 447 square inches of cooking space, this smoker is excellent for family-sized BBQs.
- Learning Curve
Even though its design is deceivingly simple, this smoking appliance needs some time to get used to. So, don’t expect to get a hold of it over the course of a weekend. Spend some time smoking various foods so that you get a solid feel of the temperature variations.
Unlike their electric or gas counterparts, charcoal smokers are more on the traditional side of the smoker spectrum, requiring some of your attention throughout the process. However, this is a small price to pay considering the unique flavor that comes with every smoking session.
Not only that, but these traditional smokers can be a lot safer to use as the charcoal may not contain any chemicals. If you are ready to indulge your taste buds into the unique flavors of smoked meat and veggies, a charcoal smoker is a no-brainer. So, why not get your own today?