The Best Charcoal Smoker

Best Charcoal Smoker Ranked Using Our BGA

Why choose a Charcoal Smoker or Charcoal Grill

In a recent interview with the author of “Serial Griller, Matt Moore says, “Charcoal is a bit less convenient but adds so much more flavor, and we couldn’t agree more. Charcoal is used to add taste and smoke flavor. Some people simply love cooking with charcoal for its characteristics and primitive nature.

Charcoal is for those who enjoy the smoky taste and authentic smoked meat. In an interview with Dallas Eater Hall of Fame Chef, Dean Fearing reveals a trend he has seen during recent years where more restaurants are adopting charcoal to cook great barbecue dishes.

He makes an interesting point that many restaurants used gas grills years ago, but newer-generation restaurants are using charcoal or wood for cooking more authentic BBQ.

What to look for in the best charcoal smoker – The Research

We did our research to find the best charcoal smokers.

When searching for the best charcoal smokers, many users will look at brands, names, and pricing, but other factors should be considered. Some charcoal smokers are basic, straightforward do not cost much, others offer more features and are more complex, increasing the price.

What we look for and how we rank these grills – The BBQ Grill Academy Meter

orange square Square inches of cooking

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

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

Cooking Space

Cooking space inside any charcoal grill needs to be closely evaluated. Still, in smokers, the cooking surface is highly valued as most of the cooking surface is utilized during long cooks. When smoking pork shoulders or brisket, the total cooking time can be 5 to 12 hours and sometimes even longer.

The cooking area in a charcoal smoker usually has one main cooking grate with a warming rack. In vertical charcoal smokers, the cooking area is split by multiple vertically stacked cooking grates.

orange square Build Quality and Materials

Like every other cooking appliance in our kitchens, build 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 operated at lower temperatures; but still need to withstand the treatment of heat, steam, and smoke.

Common materials found in charcoal smokers are stainless steel, cast iron, and other heavy-duty metals. The grill’s firebox is usually built of thinker gauge steel, while the main cooking chamber can be made using stainless steel. The cooking grates can be found in cast iron, porcelain-enameled coated stainless still, or cast iron.

Heat and Smoke retention

The build quality and materials used to manufacture the grill will directly correlate with managing heat and smoke retention. Good smoked meat with great smoky flavor needs long and slow cooking at constant temperatures in a smoky cooking chamber. Good quality charcoal smokers with well-insulated cooking chambers will do a better job retaining heat and smoke. 

In contrast, less quality charcoal smokers with thin chamber walls will leak heat and smoke, needing more attention and constant fire adjustment to maintain temperature.

Texas Famous Pitmaster Aaron Fraklin says keeping a constant temperature during the cook is primordial to success.

orange square Cooking grates

The cooking 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, and last longer, while others are good enough for the average person, although they will not last long.

Cast iron grates require a bit of maintenance and need to remain oiled to remain rust-free but can last a good time. These grates are the best at heat transferring and rotation. Porcelain-enameled coated grates also work well, but one must be careful during cleaning not to chip or scratch the coating.

orange square Features

The best charcoal smokers will include standard features like cooking grates, ample inches of cooking space, and a built-in thermometer to monitor the temperature inside the smoker.

However, better smokers will include more high-level features like reverse flow cooking chambers, built-in digital thermometers, and other charcoal smokers, including cold touch, handles, well-engineered air vents to feed fresh air the firebox, a well-insulated cooking chamber, large water pans, and wood boxes.

Typically, a charcoal smoker can handle different sorts of charcoal, including lump charcoal. Look for smokers that can handle a good amount of lump charcoal. The smoker will need to cook for long hours; that’s how to get amazing smoked meat!

Related: Find the best lump charcoal brand

orange square Portability

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

A charcoal smoker with ample cooking space and a large cooking surface will be heavy and hard to move around. But, smaller charcoal smokers with fewer square inches of cooking space will be easier to move around and even load up in the car to take on that camping trip.

A small charcoal grill can be easy to transport, but larger offset smokers might require a few friends to move around.

A kamado charcoal grill smoker is not large as an offset smoker but is heavy due to its ceramic construction.

The best portable charcoal smoker will be light and might have wheels. A large offset smoker will not be easy to move around.

orange square 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.

Consider which type of smoker fits you best.

There are different types of charcoal smokers and one popular type is the offset smoker

orange square Offset Smokers

An offset smoker gets its name because the firebox is out of the main cooking area and on its side. These smokers are preferred by professional pitmasters because of their large cooking surface and the benefits of smoking meats using indirect heat.

Related: Best Offset Smokers

orange square Kamado Grills

Another popular charcoal smoker type is kamado-style grills. Kamado charcoal grills can do it all, grill bake, and smoke foods.

orange square Drum Smokers

Another popular type of charcoal smoker is the drum smoker. Yes, you heard that right! These grills are made using a standard 55-gallon steel drum. These things are pretty interesting and work with charcoal or wood.

orange square Vertical or Cabinet Smokers

But perhaps the most popular charcoal smokers are vertical smokers. These smokers have a vertical cooking chamber, and the firebox, smokebox, and water pan 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.

What is the best charcoal smoker to buy?

Using our ranking factors mentioned above, we rank these smokers based on their build quality, inches of cooking space, 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 Smokey Mountain, and the Cuisinart are great options.

bbq grill academyBest – MEADOW CREEK BX25

The Meadow line of charcoal smokers is perhaps one of the best charcoal smokers line up 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, well-insulated cooking chamber, sealed cabinet door edges with large frame tires show the attention given to detail and quality. Most importantly is this charcoal smoker will perform well thanks to its double-wall construction with 1-inch thick insulation. This is important for heat retention and efficiency.

The door handles design that you might see in a commercial-grade kitchen appliance but is not standard on your average charcoal grill.

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

These smoker offers enough square inches of space to feed 75 hungry friends or smoke 6 pork butts or racks ribs. This grill is packed with very unique features but expected at its level and price point.

This charcoal 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 not light grills, but looking for the best charcoal smokers, takes a look at these Medow Creek Models. The Meadow Creek lineup is impressive.

What we like:

  • Impressive cooking space with plenty of cooking surface to feed large groups.
  • The build quality is impressive, with heavy-gauge steel construction, a well-insulated cooking chamber, and large wheels.
  • The bottle water system is genius. With 5 gallons of water, this smoker should be able to 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 smoke retention.
  • The door handles are among the best we’ve seen in the market.

What we don’t like:

  • There isn’t much we can dislike about this smoker. The price is on the higher range but this is expected when buying any high quality item.
  • These are heavy smokers but again, this is expect when high quality and heavy gauge steel is used on the constrictions of cooking appliances.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 10 | 10

Quality 10 | 10

Features 10 | 10

Portability 6 | 10

Price 8 | 10

bbq grill academyBetter – Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill

The Dyna Glo charcoal smoker is a vertical offset smoker. Its combination of indirect heat smoking (offset mounted firebox) and its vertical cabinet means this offset smoker can efficiently smoke meats.

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

The build quality is suitable for a charcoal smoker in this price range, and some users like to add a BBQ Smoker Seal gasket to the door to reduce smoke and heat leaks plus improve efficiency. Unlike The Meadow Creek and Kamado Grills, most 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 other features are crammed into this charcoal smoker, good door handles, an excellent built-in thermometer, a large cooking area, a removable ashtray but our favorite, the built-in sausage hooks.

Sausage hooks can be used to hang other meats and even vegetables, and being included in this grill is a great feature.

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

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

What we like:

  • Dyna Glo builds this charcoal smoker using heavy gauge steel, and the smoker feels solid.
  • Plenty of square inches of cooking with five cooking grates; the grates are chrome plated. In a recent article, we explain the difference between different types of grates.
  • This is an offset vertical charcoal smoker, which means it cooks via 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.
  • Great value – packs quality and good features.

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

Good – Weber 22-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker – Portable Charcoal Smoker

The Weber Smokey Mountain is simple, small, but mighty. The reason the Weber Smokey Mountain makes it on our list is that it simply works. Some say less is more, and the same applies to this charcoal smoker.

The Weber Smokey can be purchased in different sizes, and Weber has been building this smoker for a few years. The design recipe remains unchanged, and we appreciate it. This smoker can grill, and smoke meats plus is great for those getting started.

Although it is not heavy-duty gauge steel, the build 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 this also makes it light.

The Weber Smokey Mountain won’t break any records for inches of cooking space though coming at a total grilling area of 726 square inches. Two stacked grates share these square inches.

Features are simple, a built-in thermometer, a front chamber door, air vents. Everything around this grill is thin and gets hot, but again, this little guy works!

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 is easy to move around. These Weber Smokey also break down into a few parts, making it easy to move around and transport.

What we like:

  • The Weber Smokey Mountain is simple to assemble and works well.
  • This is a great charcoal grill and smoker for everyone, including beginners.
  • The Smokey Mountain doesn’t have fancy handles and other features, but you get a good temperature gauge.
  • Is easy to use this smoker as a charcoal grill.
  • Great value.

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.
BBQ Grill Academy Score Card

Cooking Space 7 | 10

Quality 6 | 10

Features 6 | 10

Portability 10 | 10

Price 9 | 10

Best Portable – Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS681VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Charcoal Smoker charcoal smoker 

This grill almost makes it to number three on our list, but the Smokey Mountain weighs less, breaks into separate pieces, making it easier to transport, and is a great proven grill. However, the Dyna Glow DG is built well using heavy gauge steel and is a great solid charcoal grill smoker.

The build quality is good, and this little guy feels solid. You will enjoy ample square inches of smoky flavor.

What we like:

  • Good build 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 box setup is pretty easy to use.

What we don’t like:

  • The charcoal box setup might present fire management challenges, but their air 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

bbq grill academyBudget-Friendly – Cuisinart COS-118 Vertical 18″ Charcoal Smoker

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

Cooking space is 510 square inches and is shared between a top cooking grate and a lower stacked cooking grate.

This charcoal 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 build 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 cooking space.

Features are minimal but at par with grills in this price range. A temperature gauge is built in the top cover to help monitor the internal temperature of the grill. Two air vents help with fire and heat control.

If you are an interested in a portable charcoal smoker, this smoker might be a good fit. At only 25 pounds is easy to transport this charcoal smoker around. This smoker also breaks down into segments which is great when transporting this smoker.

Sure, it doesn’t have wheels, but this smoker is light and can be carried easily. 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 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 cooking 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

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

The Kamado Jow is an excellent charcoal grill. The best charcoal grill has a hard time keeping up with these kamados. However, this article aims to bring you the best charcoal smoker options, 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 kamado grills can cook low and slow while maintaining smoking temperatures but also work well at high-temperature grilling.

One Last Word

We all want to find the best charcoal smoker at the best price with the best features. When it comes to any charcoal grill, consideration has to be given to the fact that these appliances’ prices are directly connected to their features, built quality, and performance.

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