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The Best Charcoal Smokers for 2019 – A Buyer’s Guide

There are many different ways to smoke, but the enthusiasts of real BBQ will certainly agree that the best smoking is when a charcoal smoker is used.

It requires some skills and time, but the results are definitely worth it. Of course the modern models are so perfected at this point that there is no reason to be afraid of this type of smoker if you’re a beginner.

The charcoal smoker is my favorite type of smoker, which I use the most often, so I do have quite an experience on the topic.

Depending on the type, it comes with plenty of upsides as well as downsides, which is why I decided to prepare a list of several best charcoal smokers in order to make it easier for you to choose the right model.

A well built charcoal smoker makes it possible to easily maintain a fixed temperature over many hours without much effort. Since there are many different types of charcoal smokers out there, I have also prepared a short guide to each of them.

Best Charcoal Smokers - Comparison Table

MODEL

Cooking Space

Warranty

PRICE

Weber Smokey Mountain 18

Best Overall

Weber Smokey Mountain

481 total sq. in.

10 years

Pit Barrel Cooker

Runner Up

Pit Barrel Cooker

N/A

1 year

kamado joe classic II

Kamado Joe Classic II

406 sq. in.

Lifetime on ceramic parts

Weber Original Kettle Premium

Weber Original Kettle Premium

363 sq. in.

10 years

Best Charcoal Smoker Reviews – Top Picks !

1. Best Overall Weber Smokey Mountain

For a few decades now, Weber Smokey Mountain has maintained its position of the leader among all the charcoal smokers. Considering its impressive history, it is hard to imagine it being any other way.

It was mostly designed for cooking meat the “low and slow” style.

Over all those years, the manufacturer has only perfected small details in order to make WSM even better.

The result of that is an incredibly functional and most of all durable charcoal smoker that comes with all the necessary features required for the top-notch smoking at a price that I think is affordable to everyone.

This relatively inexpensive smoker allows to compete with much more expensive models. A proof of that is WSM’s presence among many competition barbecue teams where the participants usually have much more expensive equipment.

Weber Smokey Mountain can be divided into three parts. At the very bottom you will find the charcoal bowl (charcoal briquettes and smoke wood ), and right above it is the water bowl.

Located above it is the cooking area which consists of grill grates and the front door access located in the middle part of the smoker.

Above it all, there’s only the characteristic dome lid which has a built-in thermometer on it, allowing you to monitor the temperature inside the smoker.

PROS

  • Quality
  • Price & Features
  • Warranty

CONS

  • Aluminium Front doors can cause a little smoke leak

What I like about Weber Smokey Mountain is definitely the quality of workmanship at this kind of price which is confirmed by whole 10 years of warranty, ease of use and the smoking area ( it comes in three different sizes ).

It is undoubtedly great smoker for beginners  as well as advanced BBQ enthusiasts, it is truly worth it having it in your backyard.

2. Runner Up Pit Barrel Cooker

Another great suggestion and the only competitor to WSM in this price range. Those equipped with the right tools and skilled hands have an option to build their own ugly drum smoker. That way you can save a lot of money and be confident in high quality of the materials.

You don’t have to bother with that, though, you may just buy the Pit Barrel Cooker and enjoy smoking from the moment you get your smoker.

PBC guarantees high quality of workmanship  as well as all the necessary basic features.

PBC differs from Weber Smokey Mountain in many regards, first and foremost it makes it possible to smoke at much higher temperatures. The most significant difference, however, is the way you cook on both smokers.

WSM was designed with smoking meat on grill grates in mind, whereas PBC utilizes the much more popular method of smoking meat on a system of hooks.

PROS

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Meat Hanging Set

CONS

  • No Water Bowl

When it comes to all the others most significant aspects of both models, however, everything is at a similarly high level. I’m mostly talking about effectiveness, quality of workmanship and most of all durability, and all of that is available at a similarly affordable to everyone price.

Therefore, which one of them you choose mostly depends on your cooking style. Both models are popular enough to offer a lot of interesting accessories as well as plenty of guides on the Internet.

3. Kamado Joe Classic II

Something completely different from the models presented by me so far. Kamado is a grill and smoker in one that is characterized by its typical construction shaped like an egg.

It is known for its great insulating properties, holding in almost all of the smoke and heat, which makes it possible to cook even under very difficult weather conditions.

A typical real kamado is made of ceramics which means that it is heavy, but also very expensive. Ceramics have great insulating properties and that is the main reason why a kamado burns so little fuel compared to other types of smokers.

On top of that, it is resistant to corrosion as well as both high and very low  temperatures which makes it durable ( the downside is being prone to cracks when dropped ).

You can buy a few times cheaper kamado made of steel that offers effectiveness and insulation close to the ceramic versions. However, in a long term it is not a good investment due to the risk of corrosion, which occurs as early as during the first few years of use, which is why I recommend models made of ceramics.

Since this is a versatile device, you need to know that a kamado works much better as a grill, being able to reach the highest temperatures among all the types of grills.

However, for now let’s focus on smoking since this is why I placed Kamado Joe Classic on my list.

Thanks to its great insulation, it easily maintains a fixed temperature ( over many hours ) and gives the food a wonderful, intense flavor. Temperature control consists of adjusting the air vents located at the bottom of the smoker and on top of the lid.

PROS

  • Lifetime warranty on ceramic parts
  • Top Quality
  • Air Lift Hinge

CONS

  • Price

It might be a little complicated for beginners, it is necessary to watch the temperature, if the ceramics get hot it will be difficult to get the temperature down in a short time.

If you have the budget for that and you love BBQ then a kamado is another must-have on your list.

4. Weber Original Premium Kettle

You have a pretty limited budget and you’re looking for a versatile smoker that works great for smoking as well as grilling ?

Weber Original Premium Kettle is a great answer to your needs. If you’re mostly interested in smoking, however, then it’s better to save more money and buy a dedicated smoker.

Without a doubt, this is the best charcoal grill ever. There is a reason why a weber kettle is owned by almost everyone who deals with BBQ.

You may mostly associate it with grilling, but with the use of right ( inexpensive ) accessories and techniques, a weber kettle turns into a real smoker.

It’s not a joke, when the right techniques are used, a weber kettle allows to get smoking results equal to those from a dedicated smoker. Of course it does require some skills but you can learn all of that from one of the many videos or guides available online.

Let me repeat, if you mostly care about smoking then it would be a much better solution to save enough money to buy a typical charcoal smoker such as PBC or WSM.

Weber kettle premium is a very well-made high-quality grill covered with whole 10 years of manufacturer’s warranty. It is lightweight and portable plus it doesn’t take much space in the backyard. Depending on your needs, you have three different sizes to choose from.

PROS

  • Versatility ( Plenty of available accessories )
  • Quality & Ash Catcher
  • One-Touch cleaning system
  • Great for Smoking & Grilling

CONS

I value Weber Kettle a lot for its very huge offer of separately sold accessories as well as different modifications that only increase the versatility of this grill.

Buyer's Guide

A very good charcoal smoker is something necessary in real BBQ. There is no point wasting time and bothering with smoking on a badly designed and poor-quality device. Luckily for you, the offer of charcoal smokers these days is very large which makes it possible to find something great at a low price.

If you have no idea where to start then start by reading all of my tips that you will find below.

First and foremost, you will learn what was my point of reference when creating my list of the best charcoal smokers and what to pay attention to when buying your first charcoal smoker.

How did I pick the best ones ?

I have a lot of experience with every type of smoker, in the past I have conducted tests on all types of charcoal smokers. This allowed me to collect a lot of information on each type, which made writing this guide much easier.

I made a list of the best models for each type, then I only picked the ones that met my expectations 100%. As I have already mentioned before, I know each type of smoker very well, which is why I know exactly what to pay attention to.

When selecting, however, I also took the price to quality, functionality and effectiveness ratio into account. That way you can find brilliant models here that really don’t cost a lot while working great for smoking.

How did I test ?

I actually already knew that every smoker taking part in my tests is great, but I really wanted to compare them in practical tests. As you can see, my list includes representatives of different types of smokers, which made this very important to me.

I decided to prepare the most popular types of meat such as ribs or even a whole chicken.

I started by getting the fire burning, I measured and evaluated how fast each of the models can reach the right temperature and estimated whether this process goes smoothly, quickly and conveniently.

After reaching the right temperature I started smoking and I monitored the whole process while keeping the conditions perfect ( fixed temperature ). Once I was done smoking I moved on to rating the results and obviously cleaning up.

All of the above activities made it clear to me which of the models is the most convenient, which is the fastest, which is the easiest to use etc. That way I made the final selection and chose what I believed to be the best models both for beginners as well as advanced users.

What to pay attention to ?

Choosing a new charcoal smoker mostly depends heavily on your style of cooking and budget. These two aspects alone, however, won’t make you sure when shopping, which is why I prepared a short list of things to pay attention to when shopping.

Budget – If you have a very limited budget then a good solution will be buying a versatile Weber Kettle. If you only care about smoking, though I advise you to save up enough money to buy a PBC or WSM. You should definitely forget about a ceramic kamado if you don’t have a thick wallet.

Size – Remember that size has a huge impact on the final price of a smoker. On top of that, the bigger the model the heavier it is, as well as less mobile and more fuel-consuming. Typical dedicated smokers tend to take more space, although there are models available in several sizes ( even small ones ).

Cooking Style – It is crucial when choosing a charcoal smoker. For example, WSM was mostly designed with smoking on grill grates in mind, whereas PBC for example was designed with smoking meat on hooks in mind. Of course both models will work well in both cases but it’s a good idea to pay attention to what was the main purpose they were built for. Depending on the type, certain models are great for “slow and low” smoking, whereas others for hot smoking.

Cooking area – You smoke a whole lot of meat including whole chickens for example? You’re going to need something bigger, a regular kettle grill or kamado won’t cut it. Choose a dedicated charcoal smoker if you need a lot of space for a low price, such as WSM or PBC.

Convenience – If you want convenient smoking then go for a dedicated smoker that was designed with smoking and nothing else in mind. Because of that, the construction of such smoker allows for a very effective air flow control and in turn easy temperature control. Certain models are so well made that they can maintain a fixed temperature over many hours without much contribution.

Versatility and gadgets – You expect something more than just a regular charcoal smoker? Every model on my list is versatile and comes with many interesting gadgets. All the popular models have the upside of plenty of interesting gadgets and modifications being available for them ( sold separately ).

Quality and warranty – If you can’t see for yourself and touch the smoker that interests you then the best indicator of quality is the manufacturer’s warranty. When buying online, pay attention to the manufacturer’s warranty period, the longer it is the better for you. On top of that, you should really check out other people’s reviews for a particular model and manufacturer.

Why a charcoal smoker ?

Upsides:

  • Flavor – I know that for many people this is the deciding factor and it is no wonder. Charcoal gives you the opportunity to influence the food’s final flavor. It’s you who decides what type of charcoal and wood to use and it’s you who decides about the amount and intensity of smoke. I know that at least ¾ people will certainly agree that the food from a charcoal smoker is the best out of all the other types of smokers.
  • Mobility – A charcoal smoker does not rely on electricity or propane. All you need is charcoal, which you can get burning wherever you are. You can freely move the smoker all around the backyard, and depending on your smoker’s size, you can also bring it along when going camping for example.
  • Versatility – It all depends on the techniques and the right accessories, and a charcoal smoker becomes a versatile smoker. When it comes to majority of smokers, you can freely decide whether the temperature should be low or very hot towards the end of cooking if you want to grill the external part of the meat for example. When it comes to low temperatures, the right modifications can even make cold smoking possible.
  • Starting price – It is possible to start the smoking journey with a versatile weber kettle that doesn’t cost a lot. However, I advise those more decided ones to just go and buy a Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber Smokey Mountain which are dedicated charcoal smokers. Contrary to a popular belief, the starting price is decent compared to other types of smokers, especially considering the quality and durability.

Downsides:

  • Temperature control – Once you get to know your smoker better it will not be an issue, but during your first attempts at smoking it might be slightly difficult. A charcoal smoker relies 100% on yourself, it’s up to you to take care of the right amount of fuel and adjusting the air vents.
  • Cleaning – Charcoal or wood leave ashes behind, which is always associated with bothersome cleaning when smoking is over. Depending on the model, some manufacturers have introduced useful ash removal systems. This task cannot be ignored and ash should always be removed once the cooking is over.
  • Time – A charcoal Smoker takes more time than any other type of smoker and it requires much more attention. Meat smoking in itself is an activity that requires a lot of time and patience – this should be understandable to everyone. The time required to get the charcoal burning, however, and then to get the right temperature for smoking only makes the whole smoking process much longer.

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