The 9 Best Charcoal Smokers – The Top Choices for Your Backyard 2021

best charcoal smoker

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Today we talk about the best charcoal smoker for smoking amazing BBQ feasts. Charcoal smokers are great for smoking poultry, ribs, briskets, and everything in between.

We like charcoal smokers because the combination of charcoal and smoking wood yields the richest smoky flavor. If you master charcoal and fire control, charcoal smokers will deliver the best temperature conditions and amounts of smoke to add smoky flavor to meats. Here are nine great charcoal smoker reviews.

Our Top Picks – The Best Charcoal Smokers For 2021

The Research – What to look When Buying a charcoal smoker

When searching for charcoal 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.

What to look for When Buying a charcoal smokers for 2021 – What Makes a good charcoal smoker

Available Square inches of cooking Surface (inches of 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 grill 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 charcoal smoker.

Build Quality and Materials

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

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.

The grates can be found in cast iron, porcelain coated stainless steel, or iron.

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 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 means you experience more temperature fluctuations.

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

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

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 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 good time. Cast iron 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. Cooking racks in smokers tend to last as they are not exposed to high heat as often.

Always consult the user manual to see the manufacture’s maintenance recommendations.

Features

A good charcoal 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 and 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, 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 amount 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

Portability

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 big 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 camping trip.

Big smokers will be hard to move around but this is expected.

Price

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

Although price should not be the sole deciding factor when buying a smoker, it should be considered. Some charcoal 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 name because the firebox is out of the main cooking area and on its side, an offset firebox. Professional pitmasters prefer these smokers because of their large cooking surface and the benefits of slow smoking meats using indirect heat burning charcoal or wood.

Offset barrel smokers can be great for cooking large feasts and with some practice, you can learn how to use these big smokers. a traditional offset smoker can weigh a few hundred pounds which makes them hard to move around your backyard. However, these smokers are great for low and slow cooking and cooking with wood fire.

If you need a huge smoker and want more smoke, these machines can fit the bill.

Related: 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.

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

The ceramic shell exterior is very durable but can crack if hit hard enough but 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 (Barrel Smoker)

barrel drum smoker

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

These things are pretty interesting and work with lump charcoal or wood. A barrel smoker is a good fit for those users with some experience handling smokers. The Pit Barrel Cooker is a popular drum smoker brand.

vertical cabinet smokers

vertical smoker

But perhaps the most popular charcoal smokers are vertical smokers. Vertical or Cabinet Smokers have a vertical cooking chamber, and the firebox, smokebox, and water bowl are inside the main cabinet. These grills work well 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 called water smokers because there is a water tray above the charcoal box and the meats. A cabinet smoker is great for those with limited space.

Electric Smokers

electric smoker

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

These smokers normally include good tech like a digital built in thermometer and temperature dial.

However, don’t expect an electric smoker to be powerful enough to burn large wood chunks. You might also not get that authentic taste and smoky flavor from the burning charcoal appreciated in a charcoal smoker. ( 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 smoker can be a good fit for you.

The top 5 charcoal smoker Review 2021

Using the ranking factors mentioned above, we rank these smokers based on their build quality, square inches of cooking area, cooking grates, features, portability, and price. We went on a hunt, and here are the 5 best charcoal smokers researched by the BBQ Grill Academy Team.

A Smoker needs to cook for long periods, low and slow, and at steady temperatures. Each of the smokers in this list has its strong points and weak points. Consider what’s more important to you; if you are looking for the best quality and price is not a problem, consider a charcoal smoker like the Meadow Creek.

If portability is your main requirement, the Dyna Glo, the Weber, and the Cuisinart smoker are great options.

1. best cabinet charcoal smoker – MEADOW CREEK BX25 – Editor’s Choice bbq grill academy

best charcoal smoker
credit: Big Poppa Smokers

The Meadow Creek smoker models are reasonably one of the best charcoal 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 and quality.

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

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

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

This smoker quality is superb, and its water pan system 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. These are heavy, 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, 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 and keeping the water pan full of water.
  • The heat gasket around the doors helps seal the cooking chamber and improves heat and vapor retention.
  • This smoker design is great tempeature control.
  • The door handles are among the best we’ve seen in the market. Dual doors means is laso easy to add lump charcoal and wood chunks or add wood without opening the food chamber door.
  • The rubber wheeles 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 item.
  • These are heavy smokers, but this is expected when high quality gauge steel is used on the constriction of cooking appliances.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Area 10 | 10

Quality 10 | 10

Features 10 | 10

Portability 6 | 10

Price 8 | 10

2. Great Choice For Beginers- The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker is one of those products that catch your attention because of its looks and then you realize how simplicity can improve anything including smoking meats. This is the case with the Pit Barrel Cooker.

This smoker is nothing more than a steel drum with a lid. It has a charcoal box inside, welded placers to hold a grate, and steel hooks to hand meats during the cook which attach on steel rebars that run across the diameter of the smoker. However, this simplicity is what makes this smoker so good and great for beginners, the Pit Barrel Cooker is simple to set and configure for smoking meats.

Light up some charcoal and pour it into the charcoal basket, set the air vent according to the instructions, set and forget 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 air 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 whihc allows you to pack this smoker with plenty of meat.
  • It has a beer bottle opener – priorities people! 🙂
  • The Drum setup 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 help.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 9 | 10

Quality 8 | 10

Features 5 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 10 | 10

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

The Dyna Glo charcoal smoker is a vertical offset smoker. Its combination of indirect fire smoking (offset mounted firebox) and its vertical cabinet means this offset smoker can be efficient and fit in tighter 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, and some users like to install a BBQ Smoker Seal gasket to the door to reduce smoke and heat leaks plus improve efficiency.

Unlike The Meadow Creek and Kamados, other grills in this list do not include a smoke seal or gasket on their doors.

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

Many features are packed into this charcoal smoker package, good door handles, an excellent built-in thermometer, a large total cooking area, a removable ash pan but our favorite feature is the built-in sausage hooks.

Sausage hooks can be used for hanging meat and even vegetables.

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

This grill smoker offers excellent value and is priced very competitively.

What we like:

  • Dyna Glo builds this vertical charcoal smoker using think gauge steel, and the smoker feels solid.
  • Plenty of square inches of cooking space with five cooking grates 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 – packs quality and good features.
  • Removable ash pan helps when is time to clean this smoker.

What we don’t like:

  • Is a big charcoal grill; some muscle is required to move around but to be expected.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 10 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 7 | 10

Price 10 | 10

4. Good – Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker – Portable 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 with smaller total cooking area choices. Weber has been building this smoker for a few years. The design recipe remains unchanged, and we appreciate it. This is a great charcoal smoker for beginners.

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.

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 charcoal grill and smoker for everyone, including beginners.
  • The Smokey Mountain doesn’t have fancy cool touch handles and other features, but you get everything you need to smoke meats, including a good temperature gauge and a front access door to making it easy to add more charcoal or add wood chips.
  • Is easy to use this smoker as a charcoal grill. This smoker is easy to use with charcoal briquettes.
  • Great value.
  • Altough small you can still fit a small pork butt.

What we don’t like:

  • Ok, so this is not a commercial-grade smoker but 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 removeable ash pan.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 7 | 10

Quality 6 | 10

Features 6 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 9 | 10

5. Best Portable – Dyna-Glo Signature Series (DGSS681VCS-D) Vertical Charcoal Smoker

This grill almost makes it number three on our list, but the Smokey Mountain is lighter, breaks into separate pieces, making it easier to transport; plus, it is a great proven smoker.

However, the Dyna Glow DG is built well using think gauge steel and is a great solid charcoal grill 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 chips 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.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 6 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 9 | 10

Price 9 | 10

6. Budget-Friendly – Cuisinart COS-118 Vertical 18″ 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 and is shared between 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 this price range.

This smoker is built using thinner gauge steel which makes the grill lighter, but also, the thinner walls mean that heat retention is not optimal, and the grill will get hot. Still, considering the price range of these smaller grills, 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.

Features are minimal but at par with grills in this price range. A temperature gauge is built in the top lid to help monitor the internal cooking temperature of the grill. 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 great when transporting this smoker. 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.

Smoking foods with lump charcoal can be very gratifying and a lot of fun. The smoky flavor you can add to meats, the control, and the flexibility can be endless once you find the right smoker and learn a few tricks.

What we like:

  • If you are new to grilling and smoking 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.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 5 | 10

Quality 5 | 10

Features 6 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 10 | 10

7. Great Offset Smoker – The Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker

The Oklahoma Joe’s Long Horn smoker is an offset smoker and popular one. This offset reverse flow smoker offers a lot of cooking space for the money.

Offset smokers are great for cooking large meats and meat cuts and are well licked because they cook using indirect heat. An offset firebox sits outside the cooking chamber which can burn a combination of charcoal or wood which is transfers to the cooking chamber.

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

Related: Review article on offset smokers

What we like:

  • These are offset smokers are large and can cook large amounts of food and swallow large meat cuts.
  • 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 is easy to manage the fire without needing to open the main cooking chamber.

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.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 10 | 10

Quality 7 | 10

Features 7 | 10

Portability 4 | 10

Price 8 | 10

other charcoal smokers: Bonus

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

The Kamado Joe is an excellent charcoal grill. The best charcoal grill has 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.

Adam Perry Lang, BBA Hall of Famer, compares a Big Green Egg to a Swiss Army knife. He says,” how a kamado grill can cook slowly while maintaining smoking temperatures but also work well at high heat grilling. I do own a Big Green Egg and I love it!

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

9. Best charcoal grill smoker combo – The Weber Original Kettle Grill Premium 22

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 charcoal grill smoker combo is a good option for you. A charcoal grill smoker combo will work well as a grill but will also work as a smoker with a few modifications.

To grill set the grill to direct heat but to smoke set up the charcoals on one side of the grill for smoking.

The Weber Kettle charcoal grill is a classic and it offers a great 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.

One Last Word

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 these appliances’ prices are directly connected to their features, built quality, and performance when it comes to any charcoal grill.

BBQ smoking is a lot of fun and a great way to add flavor to meats. Make your move and start smoking food, you will enjoy it! There are many smokers on the market but at the end of the day, a fine line between cost and quality will get you a good product.

The market today is flooded with cheap products but if you keep an eye on things like the gauge steel used to build the smoker, features, and quality you can get a good smoker even if on a tight budget.

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