There are many types of BBQ smokers in the market today, and it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. If you’re looking for a smoker, you need to know about the different types of smokers out there.
This comprehensive guide will break down all the different types of smokers and help you decide which one is best for your needs and cooking style. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced BBQ food backyard hero, we have something for everyone!
What is a BBQ smoker grill?
BBQ Smoker Grills are purpose-built cooking appliances and an important tool for anyone wanting to cook authentic BBQ. They allow you to cook food at lower temperatures for longer periods than standard grills, which helps assure that your meat will be tender and juicy with no loss in flavor.
I was so excited when I finally bought my first smoker. I couldn’t wait to start cooking up some delicious meats. But I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I was doing. The first few times I tried to smoke meat, it turned out terrible. My meat was dry and flavorless.
I learned that you don’t need an expensive smoker to cook good BBQ. In fact, a lot of the best BBQ is cooked on simple grills or smokers.
What’s important is to find the type of smoker you feel comfortable using. Box smokers, barrel smokers, cabinet smokers all have their Pros and Cons, and we will discuss them in this article.
How are BBQ grill smokers grouped, named, and categorized
Smokers are primarily classified by their shape, and their names are frequently derived from that shape and style.
For example, a BBQ smoker with a side firebox and a horizontal cooking shaped chamber is called a horizontal offset smoker. Now an offset smoker can be purchased with different fuel configurations, including charcoal, wood, and pellets.
BBQ smoker grills are frequently classified by name as well as fuel type. The term incorporates the shape of the smoker and the type of fuel used to fully categorize it. A vertically shaped smoker that burns propane, for example, is classified as a vertical propane smoker. In contrast, a vertically shaped smoker or upright smoker that burns pellets is classified as a pellet vertical or cabinet smoker.
In this post, we categorized different types of smokers based on shape and fuel, so you can determine which shape best suits your needs and then which fuel you prefer and find the right smoker for you.
Types of Smokers By Shape
Offset smokers are very popular among BBQ pitmasters, and for some, these are the real wood smokers and the best tool to great smoked meat.
An offset smoker is a type of smoker that has two chambers: one is the cooking chamber where the food cooks, and the other is the firebox, where wood and charcoal burn to generate heat.
The chamber for the wood or charcoal is offset from the cooking chamber t, which allows only smoke and indirect heat to travel around the cooking and cook without exposing the food to flames.
Offset smokers get their name because their firebox is positioned to the side ( offset ) of the main cooking chamber—heat and smoke flowers around the main cooking chamber and out of a chimney.
In a conventional offset smoker, the chimney is located opposite the firebox. Reverse flow offset smokers, which use baffles to move the smoke and heat more evenly around the food, are another type of offset smoker.
Reverse flow offset smokers are easy to identify because they have a chimney that is mounted above rather than on the opposite side of the firebox.
Available in these Fuel Types:
Wood and charcoal: Offset smokers are traditionally large smokers and are meant to cook large cuts of meats. Offset smokers are traditionally fueled by wood and charcoal.
Wood Pellets: Pellet grills are often considered offset pellet smokers because they use wood pellets as fuel, their design is very similar to an offset smoker, and they cook using indirect heat. Although the fire or burning put is not always offset, a pellet grill can operate at low temperatures, and its design allows for indirect heat cooking.
Wood pellets are a popular choice for BBQ enthusiasts because they are easy to use and produce a good amount of smoke and good taste.
- Offset smokers are traditionally larger and can handle a lot of meat.
- Indirect heat cooking means the food is not exposed to direct heat cooking with only smoke, heat, and steam from the meat juices, rendering tender meats.
- You get good flavor since only good smoke from the wood and charcoal cook the meat.
- Horizontal offset smokers need a lot of fuel. Since the heat source is offset and outside the main cooking chamber, you need to generate a lot of heat. By the time heat travels to the main cooking chamber, it is at a lower temperature than in the firebox.
- Because horizontal offset smokers are fueled by wood and charcoal, these smokers require a lot of work and skills to manage the fire and keep them going. However, with some practice, you will quickly begin to enjoy the benefits of cooking in a horizontal offset smoker.
- These smokers are large and heavy. Be sure to have plenty of space.
- These smokers will not get hot enough to grill burgers and steaks, but some include a small grill grate in the firebox.
Recommended for: People who like to cook big cuts of meat and what the ultimate flavor.
Note: Offset Smokers are also available with vertical cabinets.
Vertical smokers / vertical water smokers ( cabinet )
Vertical smokers are very popular and the most recognizable smoker type. They are also popular due to their “more” compact size and can fit a lot of food because all the cooking grates are stacked vertically.
They are ideal for people who don’t have a lot of space or for those who want something a little more portable to take with them on camping trips or tailgating parties.
Vertical smokers come in a variety of sizes and can be used to smoke a variety of different types of meat. They are also a good option for beginners, as they are relatively easy to use. In this category, you will also find what’s called a bullet smoker.
Vertical smokers are often called water or bullet smokers. Let me explain. Most verticle smokers, thank to its cabinet shape, include a water pan that seats right above the heat source. Steam and smoke cook your food as the water heats up, rendering very moist and tender results.
A vertical smoker is ideal for cooking leaner kinds of meat that require additional moisture to maintain their tenderness. These smokers are great at building a very moist cooking environment.
Available in these Fuel Types:
- Charcoal and wood chunks: For those who want to combine the benefits of vertical cabinet smokers with authentic BBQ flavor.
- Propane: These smokers are also available with propane burners. Propane vertical smokers are easier to use since you don’t have to deal with charcoal fire management, airflow intakes vents, or any of the fire quirks found in charcoal grills. Simply set the burner temperature knob to whatever temperature your want, and that’s it. For flavor, you will need to use wood chips.
- Wood Pellets: These smokers are also available with wood pellet burners. These are the easiest to use. Wood pellet vertical smokers combine the flavor of a charcoal vertical smoker and the ease of use of a propane vertical smoker.
- A vertical smoker can fit a lot of food, and all the cooking grates are stacked vertically.
- Indirect, steam cooking, and most include a water box.
- Easier to transport and move around.
- Available in charcoal, propane, and pellets
- There isn’t much negative to say about vertical smokers. Sure, they can be large, but vertical smokers are great, especially for beginners.
- These smokers will not make good grills. So if you want to grill burgers and hotdogs, you will need a different appliance for that or a dedicated grill.
Recommended for: Beginners and those who want a smoker with a lot of cooking space but easy to fit in any corner around your house. These smokers are also recommended for those wanting to use water bowls for smoking meats.
Types of Smokers By Fuel
Ahhh, pellet smokers. Everyone is talking about pellet smokers these days, and there is a reason for that, they are easy to use and produce great wood smoky flavor.
Pellet grills and smokers are a type of smoker that uses wood pellets made from wood dust which is compressed into pellets. The pellets are mechanically fed into a firebox, where they are burned and create the heat that cooks the meat.
Pellet smokers are a popular choice for people who want the convenience of an electric smoker with the flavor of a charcoal BBQ smoker.
Just to clarify, there are actually purpose-built pellet smokers like the vertical smokers we spoke about above, and then there are pellet grills which are also considered pellet smokers. A pellet grill is also categorized as a pellet smoker because it can cook at low “smoking” temperature and produce good amounts of smoke-burning wood pellets.
Available in these Fuel Types:
- Pellet grills / smokers are simple, very easy to use, and produce smoke for low and slow cooking.
- A pellet smoker burns natural wood pellets yielding amazing flavor.
- A good pellet smoker will retain heat and be able to cook at constant low temperatures.
- Many pellet smokers are packed with many technologies and cooking aids like meat monitoring probes and WiFi, so you can see evening to that happening right on from your mobile phone.
- Due to the amount of technology crammed inside these grills, they can be quite expensive.
- A pellet smoker has many moving parts, including an auger, fans, and other tech that can, well, break. So is important to find a pellet smoker with a good warranty.
- Wood pellets are compressed wood dust. Pellets do not appreciate humidity and will deteriorate if exposed to the elements. To store this fuel source properly, you will need a proper wood pellet container.
Recommended for: People who like the conveniences associated with a gas grill with the flavor of a charcoal grill. These smokers are simple and easy to use plus include many cooking aids, making them great for beginners. Great for those who want and pellet grill and a pellets smoker in one appliance.
An electric smoker is a type of smoker that uses an electric heating element to generate heat which then cooks your food. An electric smoker operates very similarly to your kitchen oven.
Electric smokers come in numerous sizes, so you can choose the size that best fits your needs. Electric smokers also have different features, such as temperature control and timers. Some electric smokers even have a window so you can see the food cooking.
Electric smokers are really simple to use. As an electric smoker is essentially an oven, all you need to do is set the temperature and walk away. They are pretty simple to use!
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of an electric smoker is a lack of taste. Even though you can use wood chips in electric smokers, the absence of charcoal or wood combustion means you don’t get that “smoke ring” in meats and flavor.
Available in these Fuel Types:
Electric heating element:
- Most electric smokers are simple and easy to use plus require little to no maintenance.
- Most are very light and easy to transport.
- Lack of flavor
- If you take them camping or traveling, you need a reliable power source.
Recommended for: For those who don’t care too much about “smoke flavor” and want the absolute easiest and maintenance-free smoker.
A charcoal smoker like charcoal grills burn charcoal to generate heat. Charcoal BBQ smokers are a popular choice for people who want the ultimate and most authentic BBQ flavor are not afraid of getting their hands dirty.
A charcoal fire alone produces good flavor when combined with wood chips or wood chunks; the results are amazing BBQ flavor.
Charcoal grill smokers come are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you can choose the size that best fits your needs.
You can find offset charcoal smokers, as mentioned above, vertical charcoal smokers, and even traditional charcoal grills that can be used as a charcoal smoker.
Then there are other types of smokers which we will cover later below, that are also categorized as a charcoal smoker.
Charcoal smokers provide not only the best BBQ flavor but also the best cooking experience. You will learn about fire management plus develop skills that will allow you to have complete control over your cooks.
Sure, other smokers packed more technology, have better temperature control aids, and may be easier to use, but lack the flavor that can only come from a charcoal smoker.
Charcoal smokers are also lighter and more transportable than other smokers on this list, so if you are looking for a smoker that can go with you on camping trips or to the park, then a charcoal smoker is a great choice.
Since these smokers don’t require any electricity, it is a great option for those who want to enjoy smoked food while enjoying the great outdoors. Also, because charcoal smokers are so simple and don’t have components like burners, pellet hoppers, fans, augers, or controllers, these things are light.
Available in these Fuel Types:
Wood chunks or wood chips (for added flavor)
- Provides great BBQ flavor.
- Offers a more authentic cooking experience.
- Easy to transport and cook anywhere.
- You will need to learn fire management skills.
- Can be messy.
Recommended for: Those who want the ultimate in BBQ flavor, ultimate control, and are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Get ready to work a little harder and manage that fire all day long!
Propane / gas smokers
A propane smoker is a smoker that uses propane as its heat source. This type of smoker is popular because it is easy to use and produces great results.
Most propane smokers have a built-in temperature control, which makes it easy to regulate the heat. A propane or gas smoker, just like your gas grill, has a built-in burner that, when it burns fuel, whether liquid propane or natural gas, generates heat.
One of the drawbacks of a propane or gas smoker is that it can be difficult to get the smoke flavor just right. Like in gas grills, the lack of wood and charcoal combustion limits the amount of smoke thus flavor, but you can use wood chips to add flavor.
- Gas smokers are easy to use.
- Most gas smokers are very transportable since only a propane tank is needed to cook.
- Easy to lean on.
- Easy to transport and cook anywhere.
- Lack of flavor but still better flavor than an electric smoker.
Recommended for: Those who want more flavor than an electric smoker but still something easy to use.
Other Types of Smokers
Ugly Drum Smokers ( UDS )
The Ugly Drum Smokers, or UDS is a category of smoker grills that are well known for being, well, ugly, but also very simple to use. They are simple—a steel drum with a charcoal basket, a few grates, and, in some models, hanging hooks.
Air vents are placed around the charcoal basket and in the lid to regulate air and control temperatures. The cylindrical shape of these smokers allows for a good convection cooking effect to render good and tender meats.
These smokers are also versatile since their shape and design allows for grilling and are capable of searing hot temperatures.
- These smokers are affordable, simple, and easy to use.
- Produce good flavor.
- Well, they are kind of ugly.
Reconded for: An ugly drum smoker is recommended for those wanting good BBQ flavor; use charcoal but with a little less work.
Kamado Grills / Ceramic Smokers
A Kamado smoker is a type of smoker that is made out of ceramic and traditionally burn charcoal, but there are now kamado grills models that burn pellets. These type of smokers are very popular because kamado grills are able to hold consistent temperatures and are very efficient at reading heat evenly which results in evenly cooked food.
Kamado grills are excellent for smoking meats due to their sealed cooking chambers that can maintain heat better than conventional steel smokers. This makes them incredibly efficient, as they do not use much fuel during cooking.
A good kamado grill will also outlast most grills because ceramic won’t rust, and these grills are simple. You get a ceramic tub, a ceramic charcoal basket, and a lid. That’s it.
Kamado grills also offer large cooking areas, which allows for cooks to smoke multiple types of food at once. These grills are also versatile; they can grill, smoke meats, bake pizza, and even bake cookies if you want. Popular brands like the Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe are two high-quality brands.
One of the drawbacks of Kamado grill is that they can be expensive. Additionally, because they are made out of ceramic, they can be fragile and difficult to transport.
- Kamados hold a consistent temperature, resulting in evenly cooked food.
- Kamados offer large cooking spaces.
- A kamado grill is the Swiss knife of BBQ; they can bake, grill, smoke meats, you name it, they can do it.
- A Kamado grill can be expensive.
- Not all kamado grills are built the same. Cheap Kamado grills can be fragile and difficult to transport.
Recommended for: Those who are willing to spend the money on a Kamado smoker and who do not mind being careful with it. Kamado smokers are perfect for those who want to smoke meats but also grill, bake and have a good all-in-one grill.
Wood-fired oven (WFOs)
Wood-fired ovens are usually used for cooking pizza but can smoke meat too. These wood smoker ovens are becoming very popular because of the incredible flavor that they produce.
The key to a good wood smoker oven is heat management, and if you can control the heat, then you can control how you cook meat. WFOs use a combination of convection and radiation cooking to produce succulent meats with an amazing smoky flavor.
Wood-fired ovens are not as popular as the other types of smokers because they are expensive, require a lot of work to maintain, and can be difficult to use.
- The flavor that wood smoker ovens produce is incredible.
- WFOs use a combination of convection and radiation cooking to produce succulent meats.
- Wood-fired ovens are expensive.
- WFOs require a lot of work to maintain.
- Wood smoker ovens can be difficult to use.
Recommended for: Those who are looking for an incredible smoky flavor and are willing to put in the extra effort. Wood-fired ovens are perfect for those who want to cook pizza and smoke meat. If you are more of a pizza guy or gal, consider a WFO.
SO, What type of smokers are best?
Nice try, amigo, but here is the answer.
No types of smoker are necessarily better than others. On the contrary, they all have their pros and cons, which make some types more favorable in certain situations than others.
It is up to you to decide what type of smoker best suits your needs. For instance, if you don’t have a lot of space in your backyard, a vertical smoker will work great.
If you want easy but good flavor, then pellets all day but if you want the ultimate in BBQ flavor, then grab a charcoal and wood smoker.
Here are just a few reasons why you should consider a BBQ smoker:
1. Variety of types and sizes – There are a variety of different types and sizes of smokers to choose from, so you can find one that best fits your needs.
2. Authentic BBQ flavor – These are purposely built cooking appliances to smoke food. The flavor is unmatched by any other type of grill or cooking appliance.
3. Easy to use ( to smoke meats ) – Most smokers are easy to use, so you can get started smoking meat without and BBQing the right way.
There are three main types of smokers: charcoal, gas, and electric. Each type has its own set of pros and cons and are available in different styles and shapes.
Each type has its own set of pros and cons, so it is important to choose the smoker that best suits your needs. Charcoal smokers produce good flavor that is unmatched by any other type of smoker, while gas smokers are easy to use and electric smokers are convenient.
If you want something a smoker that is as easy to use as a gas grill but produces the flavor of a charcoal grill and then some, then consider a pellet grill.