Hamburger Ranch and BBQ is reader-supported. When you buy through a link on this page, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

The Best Charcoal Smokers for 2020

For me, as a BBQ lover, the charcoal smoker is the favorite type of smoker. It offers all that I love about smoking and that gives me lots of fun.

It requires skills and experience to conduct the whole smoking process from the beginning to the end in perfect conditions.

Today’s models, however, are so perfected that most beginners shouldn’t have any problems operating them. For example, maintaining a fixed temperature, which is one of the most important tasks when smoking.

When looking for a new charcoal smoker, you may run into many problems and questions that you will find the answers to after reading this guide. There are many types of charcoal smokers so to make the task easier for you, I have prepared a list of the best charcoal smokers out of each category.

In case of any doubts, I have also prepared information on the most popular types of charcoal smokers.

The Best Charcoal Smokers Reviewed

You will find plenty of different charcoal smokers on the market that differ heavily from one another in many regards. Make yourself familiar with my recommended options and pick the one that best suits your cooking style and obviously your budget.

Weber Smokey Mountain 18

The king in this category, especially in that price range. Great for beginners as well as those very demanding, which is confirmed by this smoker’s presence in numerous prestigious competitions and what is most important, by how often it helps win.

High quality of workmanship and attention to details are other very important arguments. WSM was built so solidly that it can truly withstand a lot, especially if it’s in good hands it is going to be an investment for years to come.

It is confirmed by numerous positive reviews from other customers, as well as whole 10 years of manufacturer’s warranty for this model.

Weber Smokey Mountain is also available in different sizes, 14-inch for those less demanding and 22-inch if you really need a lot of space.

A water style smoker is characterized by easier control of stable temperature, it is versatile in this regard, making it possible to cook low or high.

The structure consists of three parts, inside the 18-inch model, in the middle part, you will find two grate grills with a water bowl. The upper part is a lid with a built-in thermometer whereas the lower part is a place where the furnace is located as well as adjustable air vents.

An unquestionable advantage of this type of structure is the ability to hold a fixed temperature over many hours which also makes it a great choice for less experienced people.

If there’s anything I should complain about, it could only be the aluminum front door that isn’t of best quality, causing smoke to get out which might be a downside to many.

Other than that, it is a phenomenal charcoal smoker especially for this kind of money. It is great news that you can choose out of as many as three different sizes so I think you will find the best size for yourself.

Pit Barrel Cooker

An Ugly Drum Smoker is very easy to assemble on your own, you will find a lot of guides on the Internet on how to do that. If you are into DIY and like such things, you can handle it without any problem, and most of all, you will save a lot of money at that by building a smoker out of high quality materials.

Very well made UDS are famous for great efficiency, stable temperature and durability.

The Pit Barrel Cooker company was made for those who have no time, motivation or skills to make their own UDS.

You can get a store-bought Pit Barrel Cooker for a very good price that is made solidly out of high quality materials. It is a great alternative to Weber Smokey Mountain, it differs in the main cooking style and not having a water bowl.

The cooking style in Pit Barrel Cooker is hooks but you can also utilize additional grate grills. The hook system, however, is really great, especially if you cook huge chunks of meat such as ribs.

When it comes to temperature, PBC is mostly monotonous in this regard – it means that it is very limited in terms of temperature range. Pit Barrel Cooker is great at maintaining a stable temperature over many hours, but cooking mostly takes place within a single ( pretty hot ) temperature range. With this type of structure it is hard to achieve a low temperature, although it is possible.

For example, Weber Smokey Mountain makes it possible to cook at a low, medium and high temperature – thanks to a structure designed that way it is much easier.

Despite the heavy temperature adjustment, it is still a great and easy to use charcoal smoker even for beginners. Made of high quality materials, it is as solid as WSM which makes it another investment for years to come.

weber kettle original

Everyone knows the kettle grill from Weber, it is without a doubt the best charcoal grill but did you know that with the right methods and accessories used, it is also a great charcoal smoker ?

Right now I am describing the 18-inch size but you can also expect several other sizes.

Weber Original kettle grill is phenomenal when it comes to grilling which can be attested by anyone who has ever had direct contact with BBQ. It is also just as great when it comes to smoking but if you’re mostly interested in smoking and have a little more money lying around, buy a dedicated charcoal smoker.

It is probably the best choice if you want to try smoking without spending much money on a dedicated smoker. If it really turns out that you prefer regular grilling instead of much more complicated smoking, you don’t have to worry about what to do with a smoker that you just bought.

If you realize that you like smoking, though, once you gain experience you can make a conscious choice of the right dedicated charcoal smoker for you now that you know your needs perfectly.

On top of versatility, the Weber Kettle grill deserves praise for its high quality of workmanship and durability confirmed by numerous positive reviews. It’s a grill built to withstand as much as possible, which in this price range is phenomenal.

It comes with a 10 year warranty but in good hands it can easily last for several times that long without major damages. Big enough cooking area, great grill grates and mobility are another advantages of this grill.

It works great in both situations – grilling and smoking, but the latter requires a little more effort and some accessories will be helpful, like charcoal baskets or a smoker thermometer.

char-griller akorn

This time it’s the kamado style which is another versatile egg-shaped grill. Just like the kettle grill from weber, it works just as great for both grilling and smoking. It differs a lot from normal grills in shape and most importantly in price which is why it takes the last spot on my list.

A real, traditional kamado grill is made of ceramics but due to the price plenty of manufacturers have started making kamado out of steel, thus lowering the price even as much as several times.

Steel models are still impressive in terms of insulation compared to regular grills but they are very lacking compared to ceramic models, they’re also nowhere as durable ( ceramics are corrosion resistant ).

Thanks to the kamado structure, the airtightness to be exact, you can also maintain a fixed temperature over a long time.

Sadly, when it comes to most models, being able to start smoking effectively and conveniently requires a separately sold smoking stone which is another financial burden.

Another useful thing will be a good smoker thermometer as the built-in thermometer is not a reliable and accurate source of measurements.

The greatest advantage of Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker is its versatility – smoking, grilling or roasting and it works great for all of it.

Compared to competitive kamados, this model maintains a great price to size and efficiency ratio. Compared to regulars grills or dedicated charcoal smokers, however, I know the price isn’t very convenient.

If you are bored with the most popular types of grills, however, a kamado will make a great alternative.

Tips for buying a new charcoal smoker

Budget – Depending on the type of charcoal smoker, the price range is very diverse. The first thing to do before starting to look for a new smoker is defining the budget in order to narrow the area of searching.

Size – In the next stage, you need to think very carefully about what you are going to cook and how much. Based on that, select the right size that will fully satisfy your needs. Remember that a bigger charcoal smoker is not just a higher price but also higher fuel consumption to heat up the entire surface.

Mobility – You want a small-sized yet effective smoker? If you don’t have much space in your backyard then a large dedicated smoker might be a problem. Look for models designed with mobility and small spaces in mind, which will allow you to save a lot of space and easily change the smoker’s location when needed.

Versatility -  The best for smoking are dedicated charcoal smokers but you need to know that there are also versatile models that are also great for grilling or even roasting. That way you can save a lot of money and buy one grill/smoker instead of several dedicated models. I find this to be a good solution when you’re just starting on your journey with BBQ and grilling and don’t actually know which of the cooking style you will stick with.

Warranty – Before the final purchase, always do a little research and look for other people’s reviews for a particular grill/brand. The warranty period is in most cases a great indicator when it comes to quality, but in practice it is often difficult to exercise your right with certain manufacturers. In some cases the warranty period is short despite great quality of the smoker, for example Pit Barrel Cooker – only a 1 year warranty, but in reality the quality and durability are like in the Weber Smokey Mountain that is covered with 10 years of warranty.

The pros and cons of buying charcoal smoker

Pros:

Flavor – Without a doubt, everyone agrees on that, charcoal gives the best results of smoking and enriches the food’s flavor. It makes it possible to achieve much better bark and a thicker smoke ring on meat.

Versatility – There are many versatile charcoal smokers that are just as great at grilling or roasting. Plenty of dedicated smokers have a large area that also gives plenty of opportunities when it comes to the cooking style.

Mobility – The source of heat is burning charcoal which means that you can use the smoker anywhere you want, even when camping. In practice, most charcoal smokers weight way too much to be brought along away from home but they give you a full freedom whenever you want to change your smoker’s location.

Fun – You love smoking? In that case, there is nothing better for you than a charcoal smoker. Getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents, controlling the temperature and fuel as well as many other duties. All of that won’t let you rest for long, it’s a smoker you can’t get bored around.

Cons:

Cleaning – Charcoal leaves a lot of ash behind, which has to be removed preferably after each cooking. Depending on the model, there are many ways to solve this problem, certain smokers have cleaning systems that make it much easier to get rid of ash. Sadly, not all models, especially the cheaper ones, have a structure properly designed with that in mind.

Temperature control and time – On one hand, I have mentioned this as an upside, on the other it often happens that someone doesn’t feel like doing all that, such is our nature. All those tasks take a lot of time which might drive a lot of people away from this type of smoker and get them to choose something much more convenient and simple, like a pellet smoker for example.

It won’t forgive every mistake – Sadly, a simple charcoal smoker, despite its simplicity, won’t forgive all mistakes. It’s not a set & forget style smoker where once you start it you don’t have to do anything else. A charcoal smoker requires experience and skills in order to maintain a fixed temperature for very long.

Leave a Comment