Nothing tastes as good as a tender brisket smoked just right. And to get that tender texture and smokey flavor, you’ll need to ditch your gas grill and opt for a charcoal smoker. In this article, we discuss how to pick a charcoal smoker that’ll fit your needs whether they are to cook for one, or for twenty and we’ve included the 5 best charcoal smokers for your next BBQ.
What makes a good charcoal smoker?
A lot goes into the design of smokers in order to provide you with the best experience of cooking your meats. Here are some things that make a BBQ smoker worth your bucks:
Proper airflow circulation
The air going into and leaving the smoker plays a major role in the smoking process. Dampers are fitted onto the smokers’ bodies in order to allow air to flow in keeping the charcoal hot and the temperature steady while it moves the smoke up and eventually out of the smoker so that the coal doesn’t “choke” and die out. Look for a smoker with a large and adjustable damper that it allows you to seal your smoker completely, let a little air in, or open all the way to allow lots of air in.
As you’d want with any of your cookware, you wouldn’t want your smoker to start developing rust as you use it. Not only will rust eat up your smoker’s body but it’ll also make it unhealthy to use for cooking. However, you also want your smoker to stand up well against the high heat needed for smoking.
Most smokers are now made out of steel bodies that have a porcelain enamel to give it more heat resistance since some metals may actually start to dent and fall apart with the high heat used for smoking. The porcelain coating also creates a barrier between the steel and external elements so you never have to worry about rust.
As you’ll see later, the porcelain-enamel coat plays a huge role in smokers too as it essentially helps maintain the temperature needed for smoking. Porcelain generally holds on to heat and through coating the grates, racks, body, and chambers with porcelain, manufacturers are able to create a heat-retaining space that enhances the quality of the smoke. This, paired with a properly sealed smoking chamber, allows the smoke to build up before it is released with the air current so that your meats end up with a rich flavor.
Easy to clean
BBQ smokers build up grease in the long run and then if that grease is left without cleaning, you’ll start to notice a charred or burnt flavor in your meats. Nobody wants that, but nobody wants to spend 3 hours scrubbing grease off of their smoker either. That’s why it’s better if you opt for a smoker which can be easily taken apart and is made out of several easily-accessible pieces to make the whole cleaning process a less-tedious one.
What do you need to personally consider before picking a charcoal smoker?
Now that you know what to look for in a good-quality BBQ smoker, you should think about your personal needs when it comes to cooking. Consider the following, for example:
Size of cooking area
The size of the cooking area can be a deal breaker when it comes to smokers and that’s why you should ask yourself what kind of meat you’ll generally be smoking and how much of it. If you intend to be using your smoker for large parties where you’ll have to be feeding a large number of people, you should consider a smoker that has a little over 600 square inches of space. While if you want a smoker for regular use where you don’t need to cook huge quantities of meat and you’re just cooking a brisket, for example, then a 300 square-inch smoker will do just fine.
It also helps to cook the same kind of meat on the same level for an even flavor, however, you could benefit from a multiple grate smoker in that sense. It’s also worth noting that all the cooking areas specified below are a measure of the total area including all racks.
Number of cooking areas
In addition to considering the total cooking area of your smoker, you should also think about how this area is distributed. Some people would prefer 1 or 2 large grates instead of 4 small ones while others would rather have several small spaces stacked atop another to smoke at different levels.
The more grates you have though, the more items you can place in your smoker without having to worry about each item losing its flavor to the other.
Size of the charcoal pan
The size of the pan where you place your charcoal determines how hot you can get your smoker to be. It’s simple math really; the more charcoal you put in your smoker, the hotter it gets, and the larger the charcoal pan, the more charcoal you’re able to place in it. The more heat you’re able to drive out of your smoker the quicker you’re able to eat, however, the slower the smoke, the more flavorful it is. It helps, however, to have the option of more heat regardless, so going for a smoker with a larger charcoal pan won’t hurt.
Size of the smoker itself
You want your smoker to be big enough to fit the food you intend to cook for your family and friends, but you don’t want it to be too huge to store away in a compact manner when you’re not using it. The most compact smokers are not the smallest ones but rather the ones that have the largest cooking areas in comparison to their overall size.
You don’t want to own a bulky smoker have a hard time placing it in storage on its downtime, so consider the space you have for your smoker and go on from there. Usually, an 18-inch smoker is an appropriate size for small parties and will not take up too much space.
This 18-inch smoker from Weber features 2 large cooking areas for you to smoke 2 large items at the same time. The lid and bowl, along with the center section, are all coated with a porcelain enamel that retains heat while maintaining the body’s integrity so that it doesn’t rust with time. The lid also has a built-in thermometer that measures the temperature for you to better smoke your meats.
The smoker is set onto rust-resistant legs and features a fully removable fuel door that makes adding charcoal or wood to the smoker’s charcoal pan super easy.
The dampers on the smoker’s body are designed in a way that makes it very simple to adjust the temperature without having to remove the lid while the silicone temperature grommets monitor the internal temperature for you.
- Has a silicone temperature grommet to accurately monitor the interior temperature of the smoker
- Fuel door comes off completely for easy inner access
- Dampers can easily be adjusted without having to lift off the lid
- The whole smoker’s structure tends to be flimsy and will wear-out fast
With this Dyna-Glo smoker, you get 4 large cooking grates with an accumulative cooking area of 784 square inches. The 4 grates are adjustable in height so that you can fit them however way you want in order to place a number of items in at different levels of heat. And through the temperature gauge that’s fitted on the smoker, you’re able to perfectly smoke your meat by setting the temperature to fit the “smoke zone” indicated on the meter.
The porcelain-enameled steel chamber is unconventionally shaped like a cuboid which adds a rustic feel to the whole deal. At the bottom of the chamber, you’ll find a charcoal chamber with a removable ash pan to make cleaning up after your BBQ a mess-free process.
- Has 4 large cooking grates with adjustable heights
- Smoke zone indicator tells you what’s the optimum temperature for smoking
- Has a removable ash pan under the coal chamber for easier cleaning
- It’s really hard to get the smoker to reach a temperature higher than 200-degrees
With their innovative airflow control system, the Char-Broil smokers ensure an even smoke throughout the whole chamber. The 370 square-inch smoker feature 2 porcelain-coated cooking grates and a removable ash pan right below the charcoal chamber. And with the whole body being made out of porcelain-coated steel, cleaning and maintaining your smoker has never been easier.
This smoker is really simple to operate, thanks to its multiple damper settings that simplify temperature control as a whole. And while the smoker is easy to operate, it’s also easy to put together due to the handles fitted right at the sides of the smoking chamber making it a lot easier to lift up and add charcoal underneath.
- The airflow control system allows for the perfect smoke every time
- Simple and multiple setting damper makes it easy to control and maintain the right temperature
- Has a removable ash pan under the coal chamber for easier cleaning
- Although the structure on this smoker is made to offer a tight seal, smoke tends to leak out
Another medium-sized smoker, the MasterBuilt is one of the finest on the market today – if you get a little nifty with its design. The main problem with this smoker is that it lacks a separate charcoal grate, so the charcoal tends to die out after a while because the heat gets smothered by the ashes. This problem can be solved, however, by buying a charcoal grate and placing it right above the bottom of the charcoal chamber to keep the heat going steady.
The smoker has 2 racks, a charcoal pan, and a water bowl, all of which are porcelain-coated so that you don’t have to worry about the cleaning and maintenance.
Another great thing about this smoker is that it has an adequate cooking space for small gatherings and is still compact at the same time so it doesn’t really take up much space when being stored.
- Both the charcoal pan and water bowl are porcelain-coated
- Gives an even smoke
- The compact design makes it convenient during storage
- Charcoal tends to smother in the ashes due to the low charcoal grate
One of the bigger-sized smokers here, the 800 square-inch smoker from Royal Gourmet is one for your larger BBQ parties. This smoker has a main chamber, a chrome warming rack, and an offset smoker that allows for extra cooking space. It also has a huge charcoal pan that can hold the most charcoal out of all the smokers on this list making it the most efficient when it comes to heat. You can control the temperature by adjusting the damper but you could also adjust the height of the charcoal pan to have even more control over the heat.
The air vents built-into the smoker’s design are fitted perfectly to allow the air to flow through the smoker and give you a smoky flavor without any charring.
- Large with 800 square-inches of cooking space
- Has a secondary offset smoker
- Dual wheels system makes it easy to move the smoker around
- The supposedly heat-resistant paint tends to bubble on the bottom of the smoker when in use
Given all the facts, I’d personally recommend that you go for the MasterBuilt smoker if you don’t mind altering it a bit. You’ll need to buy a separate charcoal grate and place it inside the charcoal pan to separate the coal from the ashes. If, however, you don’t want to bother with having to fix or adjust your smoker, the Dyna-Glo is my next recommendation simply because of all the cooking space it offers. Ultimately, the final verdict is up to you and your personal smoking needs.