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The Best Charcoal Smoker: Guide and Reviews

best charcoal smoker

Today we talk about charcoal smokers for smoking amazing BBQ feasts. Charcoal BBQ smokers are excellent for cooking authentic smokehouse-flavored BBQ at home.

We like charcoal smokers because the combination of burning charcoal and hardwoods yields the richest, most authentic BBQ smoky flavor. If you master charcoal and fire control, these smokers will deliver the best temperature control and amount of smoke to add a smoky flavor to meats.

I’ve tested numerous smokers in my two decades of grilling and barbecuing, and many after hours of cooking and smoking meats. The list below is a result of my research and tests.

What Should you Consider When Buying a smoker

When researching smokers, many users will look at brands, names, and pricing, but other quality factors should also be considered. Some smokers are basic and do not cost much money. Others offer more features, better quality, and are more complex, increasing the price. Here are the factors you need to evaluate to find a good smoker for you.

Available Square inches of Cooking Surface (inches of Total cooking area)

charcoal smoker infographic

A charcoal smoker will cook foods low and slow for long hours. This means the cooking area will be occupied for hours, and no other foods can be placed on the cooking grates until the cooking area becomes available hours later.

It is essential to have ample square inches of space inside the smoker’s main chamber to fit plenty of food for your party. If you are cooking for your family and are the occasional backyard warrior, then a smaller smoker will work well.

When smoking pork shoulders or brisket, the total cooking time can be 5 to 12 hours and sometimes even longer.

The point here is that when you are smoking foods, the cooking area will be occupied for long periods, and it will be hard to add more food at a later time. If you like to cook for large crowds, be sure to buy a smoker with a spacious cooking area.

The total cooking area capacity is important to consider when purchasing a smoker.

Build Quality and Materials

Like every other cooking appliance in our kitchens, quality and the materials used to construct the smoker are essential. BBQ smokers have to handle long hours of heat, steam, and smoke. Unlike charcoal grills, smokers operate at low cooking temperatures; but still, need to endure the abuse of cooking for long hours.

Common materials found in smoker grills are stainless steel, cast iron, and other heavy-duty metals. The smoker’s firebox is usually built of thinker gauge steel, while the main cooking chamber can be made using stainless steel.

Smoking grill grates can be found in cast iron, porcelain-coated stainless steel, or iron. Cast iron grates do a better job at transferring heat but need to remain “seasoned or oiled” to remain rust-free.

Good quality charcoal smokers with well-insulated cooking chambers will do a better job retaining heat and smoke. Well-insulated smokers will do better at keeping a steady temperature throughout the cook.

In contrast, less quality smokers with thin smoking chamber walls will leak heat and smoke, needing more attention and constant fire adjustments to maintain temperature. Smoke leakage is not necessarily bad but too much leakage will lead to wider temperature fluctuations.

Poorly designed smokers with fewer air vents for temperature control will be more challenging to keep a steady temperature.

For Texas Famous Pitmaster Aaron Fraklin, keeping a constant temperature is important for good smoked meat results.

Seasoning the smoker is a must regardless of the quality of the materials and workmanship. Even the best commercial-grade smokers require seasoning before use.

Smoker grates

The grates in the cooking chamber are the cooking surface for your food. Where you place the food is as important as the grill quality itself.

Some grill grates are manufactured using heavy-duty steel, cast iron and can also be found porcelain coated.

Some grates materials retain and transfer heat better, are easier to clean, plus last longer, while others are good enough for the average backyard warrior.

Iron grates require some maintenance and need to remain oiled to remain rust-free but can last a long time. Cast iron cooking grates are the best at heat transferring. Porcelain-enameled coated grates also work well, but one must be careful not to chip or scratch the coating during cleaning. Use a porcelain-safe grate brush to clean porcelain-coated grates. Cooking racks in smokers tend to last as they are not exposed to high heat as often.


A good smoker will include at least two cooking grates, a warming grate, a large smoking space, and a built-in lid thermometer to monitor the temperature inside the smoker throughout the smoking process. A built-in lid thermometer is important and avoids having to open the smoker often to check the cooking chamber temperature.

However, the best smokers will include features such as reverse flow cooking chambers, adjustable dampers, built-in digital thermometers, insulated cooking compartments, cold touch handles, and well-engineered air vents to control and feed fresh air to the firebox, large water pans, and good size wood boxes.

Typically, a smoker can handle different types of charcoal, including lump charcoal. Look for smokers that can handle a good amount of lump charcoal.

The number of cooking racks is another feature you should evaluate when buying a smoker grill. If you like to cook lots of different foods at once, then having multiple grates is useful.


So likely, you won’t be taking your smoker backpacking or hiking, but maybe you want to be able to move the smoker around your backyard or take it on your next trip.

A smoker with a large cooking chamber and a huge cooking surface will be heavy and hard to move around. But, smaller charcoal smokers with fewer square inches of smoking space will be easier to move around and even load up in the back of a pickup truck and take on a road trip.

If portability is important to you, We wrote a guide on small portable smokers perfect for camping and road trips. Big smokers will be hard to move around, but this is expected.


Price influences just about every purchase we make in life, including charcoal smokers.

Although price should not be the sole deciding factor when buying a smoker, it should be considered. Some smokers can cost hundreds of dollars, while others can even reach the thousands. The good news here is that charcoal smokers tend to be less expensive than, for example, pellet smokers. These are simple grills and can be simple to manufacture.

types of charcoal smokers Explained with Pictures

Offset Smokers

offset smoker

An offset smoker gets its nickname because the firebox is out of the main cooking area and, on its side, an offset firebox. Professional pitmasters favor these smokers because of their large cooking surface and the benefits of slow smoking meats using indirect heat, burning charcoal or wood.

Offsets are great for cooking large feasts, and with some practice, you can learn how to use these big smokers. A traditional offset can weigh a few hundred pounds, making it hard to move around your backyard. However, these smokers are great for low and slow cooking and cooking with a wood fire.

These machines can fit the bill if you need a large smoker and want good temperature control, smoke, and tender meats.

Read More: Find the best Offset Smokers.

Kamado Grills or Kamado Smokers

Kamado grill

Another popular smoker type is kamado-style grills. Kamados can do it all, grill bake, and smoke foods. Kamados have gained a good reputation for being the preferred grill for outdoor cooking due to their versatility and durable ceramic shell. Kamados are great for cooking ribs, chicken, and even pizza.

Unlike other charcoal barbecues, Kamado-style cookers are built out of ceramic, making them very durable and efficient. Very efficient and excellent heat control! Kamados can cook many times using leftover charcoal or unlit lump charcoal from previous cooks.

The ceramic shell exterior is very durable but can crack if hit hard enough otherwise, the ceramic shell can last for years. Kamado Joe is a popular kamado brand that has incorporated modern features into their kamado grills.

Drum Smokers (Ugly Smoker)

barrel drum smoker

Another popular type of charcoal smoker is the drum smoker. Yes, you heard that right! These grills are made using a standard 30-gallon steel drum (ugly smoker). Barrel smokers are great for cold smoke cooking ( 160 degrees F ).

These cookers are pretty interesting and work with lump charcoal and wood. A barrel smoker is a good fit for those users with some experience handling smokers but want something straightforward to use. The Pit Barrel Cooker charcoal smoker is a popular smoker brand with a huge following and an amazing support community.

vertical cabinet smokers

vertical smoker

Vertical smokers feature an upright cooking chamber, and upright smokers are very popular. The firebox, smokebox, and water bowl are inside the bottom of the smoker.

These grills work well and are effective. As hot air rises, smoke, heat, and steam cook the food.

Vertical smokers are very common and usually offer the most square inches of cooking for the money. Vertical smokers are often referred to as “water smokers” because there is a water bowl above the charcoal box and the meat. A cabinet-style upright smoker is great for those with limited space.

Water smokers cook tender, moist meats because there is a steady stream of steam cooking the food and saturating the cooking chamber with smoke and steam.

Electric Smokers

electric smoker

An electric smoker doesn’t burn pellets, charcoal, or propane. Instead, an electric heating element serves as the heat source. Electric smokers are great for those with limited space, who do not want to deal with charcoal or combust any materials. They don’t yield the same flavor as a charcoal barbecue, but they are cleaner to use and easy to operate, plus they are ok for outdoor cooking.

These smokers typically include good tech like a digital built-in thermometer and a temperature control dial. Talk about a relaxing cooking experience.

However, don’t expect electric smokers to be powerful enough to burn large wood chunks. You might also not get that authentic BBQ taste and smoky flavor from traditional charcoal smokers. ( You can use wood chips to add additional flavor.)

If you do not have enough space for a bigger smoker and want something easy to use, an electric BBQ smoker could be a good fit for you.

Our lost of great Charcoal Smokers

1. MEADOW CREEK BX25 – Best Overall bbq grill academy

best charcoal smoker

The Meadow Creek smoker models are reasonably one of the best BBQ smokers in the market. These smokers are built using high-quality materials and heavy-duty steel. The Meadow Creek BX 25 is a large smoker, even as the smaller brother of the Meadow Creek BX50.

The door handles, a well-insulated cooking chamber, sealed cabinet door edges and large frame tires show attention to detail, superb design, and quality.

Most importantly, this smoker performs great thanks to its double-wall construction with 1-inch thick insulation. This is important for heat retention and efficiency. Unlike cheap smokers, the Meadow Creek comes with gas seals on the doors to keep heat and smoke in the food smoking chamber and avoid heat leaks.

The door handles design is commercial-grade and the type of quality you find in commercial kitchen appliances.

The quality of this smoker is outstanding. Think steel and solid doors create an excellent seal. Unlike cheaper smokers, this smoker retains heat and smoke superbly.

The water pan system in the Meadow Creek is unique. A 5-gallon bottle of water feeds a water pan inside the cooking chamber using nothing more than gravity.

Quality and heavy-duty metal construction do come at the price of weight. This is a heavy smoker, but if you are looking for the best smoker, take a look at these Medow Creek Models. The Meadow Creek lineup is impressive.

These smokers offer enough square inches of space to feed 75 hungry friends or smoke 6 pork butts or ribs.

What we like:

  • This is an excellent smoker, an impressive cooking area with plenty of cooking surface to feed large groups.
  • The quality is impressive, with heavy-gauge steel body construction, a well-insulated cooking chamber, and big wheels.
  • The bottle water system is genius. With 5 gallons of water, this smoker can cook for long hours without running out of water.
  • The heat gasket around the doors helps seal the cooking chamber and improves heat and smoker retention.
  • This smoker design offers great temperature control.
  • The door handles are among the best we’ve seen on the market. Dual doors mean it is also easy to add lump charcoal and wood chunks or add wood without opening the food chamber door.
  • The rubber wheels help move this smoker around.
  • This is a serious machine and can be used in barbecue competitions.

What we don’t like:

  • There isn’t much we can dislike about this smoker. The price is in the higher range, but this is expected when buying any high-quality product.
  • These are heavy smokers, but this is expected when high-quality steel is used on the constriction of cooking appliances.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 10 | 10

Quality 10 | 10

Features 10 | 10

Portability 6 | 10

Price 8 | 10

2. The Pit Barrel Cooker – Runner up

pit barrel cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker is a product that catches your attention because of its looks. But looks aren’t the only thing that brings attention to these cookers; their simplicity, handing hook cooking system, and large cooking capacity are also talking points.

This smoker is nothing more than a steel drum with a lid. However, every Pit Barrel Cooker charcoal smoker includes a charcoal basket, welded handles that can double as grate holders, and steel meat hooks. The meat hooks attach to steel rebars that run across the diameter of the smoker. However, simplicity is what makes this smoker so good and great for beginners. The Pit Barrel Cooker is simple to set up and configure for smoking meats.

Light up some charcoal, pour it into the charcoal basket, set the air vent system according to the Pit Barrel’s instructions, and enjoy a beer.

We wrote a full review on the Pit Barrel Cooker with detailed information, including the company’s history.

What we like:

  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is SIMPLE to use and great for beginners.
  • Not too many vents to worry about water pans to refill, gadgets or gizmos to get in the way of a good time.
  • 8 stainless steel hooks are included which allows you to pack this smoker with plenty of meat.
  • It has a beer bottle opener – priorities people! 🙂
  • The Drum shape offers plenty of inches of cooking space.
  • Affordable and three different sizes are available.
  • Easy to transport.

What we don’t like

  • A built-in internal temperature thermometer would be nice, but a meat probe can be used.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Space 9 | 10

Quality 8 | 10

Features 5 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 10 | 10

3. Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Smoker & Grill – Good Choice

vertical offset smoker

The Dyna Glo Signature charcoal smoker is a vertical offset smoker. The combination of the offset mounted firebox, and its vertical cabinet means this smoker cooks using indirect heat, offers a large cooking space, and can fit in smaller places.

The Dyna Glow offers a large cooking area chamber with over 1200 square inches of grilling space, and it is built out of heavy-duty steel.

The quality is suitable for a smoker in this price range. Some users like to install a BBQ Smoker Seal gasket to the main cooking chamber door to reduce smoke and heat leaks and improve efficiency.

The Meadow Creek and the Kamado Joe are the only smokers on this list with factory-installed smoke seal or gasket.

However, these gaskets can easily be purchased online and installed on almost any smoker or grill door.

This BBQ smoker packs many great futures, including good door handles, an excellent built-in thermometer, a large total cooking area, and a removable ash pan. Our favorite feature is the built-in sausage hooks. The Sausage hooks can be used for hanging meat and even vegetables.

Portability is not bad, but realistically speaking, this is a big grill. It does have big wheels, and with some help, you can move this thing around your backyard. However, at 124 pounds, it might be hard to move this smoker without help, even with the large wheels.

This unit offers excellent value and is priced very competitively.

What we like:

  • Dyna Glo manufactures this vertical charcoal smoker using thick steel, and the smoker feels solid.
  • Plenty of square inches of cooking space with five smoking racks in the cooking area; the grates are chrome coated.
  • This is an offset vertical charcoal smoker, which means it cooks with indirect heat, and then the heat rises upwards in the cooking chamber.
  • We like features like oversized wheels, a built-in thermometer, and sausage hooks to hang meat.
  • Great value – good quality and good features.
  • This Dyna Glo includes a removable ash pan helps when is time to clean this smoker.
  • A vertical cabinet smoker takes up less space than large horizontal or barrel smokers.
  • The smoke zone label in the temperature gauge helps you stay in the right temperature zone when smoking meats.

What we don’t like:

  • Is a big grill; some muscle is required to move around but to be expected.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 10 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 7 | 10

Price 10 | 10

4. Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain

Weber charcoal smoker

The Weber Smokey Mountain is simple, small, but mighty. The reason this Weber smoker makes it on our list is that it simply works great. Some say less is more, and the same applies to this smoker. These smokers are also known as bullet smokers and come ready with everything you need to smoke food.

The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker can be purchased in different sizes. The Weber Smokey Mountain is a classic and one of the best overall smokers used by beginners and professionals. Weber has made a few improvements to The Smokey Mountain over the years, but the design remains the same. What makes this smoker so appealing is its quality, simplicity, and affordable price.

Although it is not heavy-duty steel, the quality is good; it keeps its shape after a hot fire. The metal is a bit thin and can get hot to the touch, but the thin metal construction makes this smoker light.

The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker won’t break any records for square inches of grilling space but offers a total grilling area of 726 square inches. Two stacked grates share the space.

Features are simple, a built-in thermometer, a front charcoal chamber access door, air vents. Everything around this grill is thin and gets hot, but again, this little guy works! This is an easy-to-operate smoker bullet smoker.

Portability is excellent even though this grill does not have wheels; it only weighs 68 pounds, and when it is safe and cool to the touch, it is easy to move around. These Weber Smokey also break down into a few parts, making it easy to move around and transport.

Overall this is a compact smoker easy to move in and out of your back porch.

What we like:

  • The smoker is simple to assemble and works well. It can smoke but if the water pan is removed it can also do some high heat grilling.
  • This is a great smoker for everyone, including beginners.
  • The Smokey Mountain doesn’t have fancy cool touch handles and high tech features, but you get everything you need to smoke meats, including a good lid-mounted temperature gauge and a front charcoal chamber access door to access the charcoal box or add wood chips.
  • Is easy to use this smoker as a Barbecue grill. This smoker is easy to use with charcoal briquettes.
  • Great value.
  • Although small, you can still fit a small pork butt.

What we don’t like:

  • Ok, so this is not a commercial-grade smoker, but it is also not pretending to be one.
  • The Smokey Mountain is made out of thinner metal, which means it gets hot to the touch.
  • No removable ash pan.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 7 | 10

Quality 6 | 10

Features 6 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 9 | 10

5. Dyna-Glo Signature Series (DGSS681VCS-D) Vertical

Dyna offset smoker

This grill nearly lands on the fourth spot on our list. However, the Smokey Mountain is lighter and separates into separate partsmaking it easier to transport.

However, the Dyna Glow DG is built well using heavy gauge steel and is a great “value” charcoal smoker.

The quality is good, and this little guy feels solid.

What we like:

  • Good quality for this price range.
  • The Dyna Glow is built using thicker steel compared to other grills in this price range.
  • Enough space with 2 chrome-plated grates sitting inside a 681 square inch chamber.
  • The charcoal/wood chip box setup is pretty easy to use.
  • Good PRICE!

What we don’t like:

  • The charcoal box setup might present fire management challenges, but the vents should help with that.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 6 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 9 | 10

Price 9 | 10

6. Cuisinart COS-118 Vertical 18″

Cuisinart charcoal smoker

The Cuisinart COS 118 is similar to the Weber Smokey Mountain. This Cuisinart is just a tad smaller than the Weber but also lighter.

The cooking area is 510 square inches, shared by a top cooking grill grate and a lower stacked cooking grate.

This smoker is an excellent option for those wanting to smoke a small rack of ribs every now and then. The Cuisinart can also be used as a small charcoal grill which might make it attractive to some. Although I don’t expect this grill to outlast a Meadow Creek, the quality is suitable for a budget-friendly smoker.

This smoker is built using thinner steel which makes the grill lighter, but also, the thinner walls mean that heat retention is not the best, and the grill walls will get hot. Still, considering the price range of these smaller smokers, this is to be expected.

Nevertheless, this smoker will cook food well and is an excellent option for those not needing massive square inches of meat smoking space and looking for an inexpensive smoker to enjoy at home.

Features are minimal but at par with grills in this price range. A temperature gauge is mounted on the top lid to monitor the internal cooking temperature. Two air vents help with fire and heat control.

If you are interested in a portable charcoal smoker, this smoker might be a good fit. At only 25 pounds is easy to transport this smoker around. This smoker also breaks down into segments which is excellent when transporting this smoker in a small car. This is the lightest smoker on this list.

This smoker is also budget-friendly. Whether you want to get started in the grilling and smoking world or want a budget-friendly smoker, this smoker checks all the right boxes.

What we like:

  • If you are new to BBQ grilling and smoking meats and do not want to spend thousands of dollars on your first smoker, this smoker can be an excellent first step. If later you decide you love smoking meats, graduate to an offset smoker or larger smoker.
  • Enough space for small meat cuts like ribs and even pork butts, but little butts 🙂
  • Light and easy to transport.

What we don’t like

  • Similar to the Weber, this smoker has a smaller cooking capacity.
  • The smoker’s thinner walls help with weight but can get hot to the touch.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 5 | 10

Quality 5 | 10

Features 6 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 10 | 10

7. The Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker

The Oklahoma Joe offset smoker

The Oklahoma Joe’s Long Horn reverse flow smoker is a very popular model. This offset reverse flow smoker offers a lot of cooking space for the money. If offset smokers interest you, we wrote an article on the topic of offset smokers.

Offsets are great for cooking large meat cuts and are well-liked because of their indirect heat cooking ability. Indirect heat cooking means there is no fire burning under the grates and therefore no flames touching and drying the meats.

An offset firebox sits outside the cooking chamber, which can burn charcoal or wood. Heat and smoke from the firebox then travel to the cooking chamber, smoking the meats slowly.

The Oklahoma Joe’s smokers have gained popularity in part to their cool rustic look, heavy-gauge steel construction, quality, and affordability. These things look like they were built in the ’30s but work well and are priced well.

The Oklahoma Joe’s Highland reverse flow smoker is also versatile, it offers the ability to remove the reversing baffles and move the location of the smokestack turning this reverse smoker into a traditional offset. Brilliant!

Related: Review article on offset smokers

What we like:

  • Offsets are large and can cook large amounts of food.
  • Offsets cook using indirect heat, which eliminates the chances of fire flames touching the meat and burning food.
  • Since the firebox sits outside and on the side of the main cooking chamber, it is easy to manage the fire without needing to open the main cooking chamber.
  • The top shelf is the perfect place to set your beer, grilling tools, and food trays.
  • The Oklahoma Joe’s Highland reverse flow smoker can be transformed into a traditional offset barrel smoker by removing the internal baffles and moving the smokestack.
  • There is a small side door that allows easy and quick access to the firebox.

What we don’t like:

  • These smokers are large and heavy.
  • These smoker grills can be more expensive due to their size and the amount of material used to build them.
BGA Score Card

Cooking Area 10 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 4 | 10

Price 8 | 10

other charcoal smokers: Bonus

8. Kamado Joe KJ15041021 Big Joe III 24 inch Charcoal Grill, Blaze Red

Kamado Joe red

The Kamado Joe is an excellent charcoal grill. Most grills have a hard time keeping up with these kamados. Features like the divide and conquer cooking system is amazing. However, this article aims to bring you the smoker options in the market, and we want to stay on that topic.

If you are in the market for Kamado but are looking for a budget kamado smoker, check out the Char Griller Acorn.

9. The Weber Original Kettle Grill Premium 22

The Weber Kettle

Sometimes less is more, but if you are looking for a way of getting a grill and a smoker to save in costs and space, well a grill smoker combo is a good option for you. A grill smoker combo will work well as a grill but will also work as a smoker with a few modifications and extra steps.

To use the grill as a smoker, set the charcoals on one side of the grill and use the other side of the grill for indirect meat smoking.

The Weber Kettle charcoal grill is a classic, and it offers an excellent balance between value and price. This grill is a great way to get started smoking meat and later upgrade to one of the smokers on this list. This Weber kettle grill is a great starting point for beginners.


What is a water smoker?

water bowl in smoker

The term water smoker is often used to refer to vertical smokers with a water bowl above the firebox. A water smoker cooks with steam making them great for smoking meats for long hours and keeping them moist.


We all want to find the best smoker at the best price with the best features. However, consideration has to be given to the fact that features, built quality, and performance will add to the cost of any charcoal grill.

We found the Meadow Creek to be an excellent charcoal smoker and the Pit Barrel to be an excellent runner-up.



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