If you’re reading this, then you’re already on the cusp of buying yourself a new charcoal smoker. But, with the wide variety of available options, we can imagine how tough it must be to make a decision. That’s why we did some research on your behalf to find the best charcoal smoker on the market. We’ve taken into consideration factors like quality, budget, and performance when compiling this list.
For some people, firing up a charcoal smoker for a nice barbecue is the true definition of fun and relaxation. Then there are some of us for whom smoking meat satisfies a primal need. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, there’s no denying that smoking meat requires a fair amount of concentration and skill that makes you feel accomplished at the end of each meal.
Nothing tastes better than a well-earned meal, right?
However, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult if you use the right charcoal grill smoker. Modern-day charcoal smokers can maintain the same temperature for several hours which means you can spend more time marinating the next batch or catching up on the latest issue of Smoke Signals Magazine.
But before that here’s a mini-guide on what you should look for in a charcoal smoker.
What is a Charcoal Smoker?
As the name implies, a charcoal smoker is powered by charcoal and you use it to smoke food at low temperatures. This means you have to slow cook the food for long periods of time, but this often leads to meat that’s tender and more flavorful, especially with the smokiness coming through.
The optimal temperature range to use when firing a charcoal smoker is around 225 degrees Fahrenheit to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the temperature at this range will leave your meat with a nice smoky flavor and your food will be much juicier.
Now there are other types of smokers on the market that differ according to their power source. Some are powered by electricity, natural gas, propane gas, wood pellets, and wood charcoal. But, serious pit masters cannot settle for anything less than 100% premium grade charcoal. That’s because charcoal is believed to be the only smoker that can impart an authentic smoky flavor to the meat. You’ll also find that it’s reliable at providing even heat throughout the cooking process.
Pros and Cons of Charcoal Smoking
This wouldn’t be a fair guide if we didn’t look closely into the pros and cons of smoking meat with charcoal. First, we’ll explore the upside. Using high-quality lump charcoal on your smoker is an energy efficient way of cooking meat. You’re guaranteed a clean burn every time and it doesn’t leave a lot of ash behind.
A charcoal smoker is also easy to control once you get the hang of it, and it doesn’t require extra equipment like the other types of smokers. Cooking meat with fire can also have a nostalgic feel to it as it reminds us of how our ancestors used to cook and commune.
On the downside, it takes a while to get used to a charcoal smoker. There are small nuances in the way it works which contribute to the difficulty, but as with anything, practice makes perfect.
A charcoal smoker is more demanding of your time than other models because you have to watch the smoker to make sure that it’s heated properly. This requires cautious tending, especially in the beginning, otherwise, too much heat can ruin your meal. Plus, there’s the ash residue that you have to clean up after every smoke, which is a responsibility that gas and electric smokers don’t come with.
What You Should Look for in the Best Charcoal Smoker in 2019?
In our research, we found that several factors determine how a charcoal smoker turns out. Most charcoal smoker reviews praised the charcoal smoker for being an affordable but top quality option. It’s also portable which means you can travel with it when camping or boating, but you could always do that with a gas smoker too.
So, what sets the charcoal smoker apart from the rest? Here are a few variables we used to determine the answer to that question.
We’re all looking to get the most bang for our buck and it’s always nice to get a good deal on a product. That’s exactly what you get with a charcoal smoker. It’s a cost-effective piece of cooking equipment that offers a lot of value for money. You get more out of a charcoal smoker than what you pay for and it’s guaranteed to last for a really long time.
As a consumer, you have plenty of grill options to choose from on the market. That’s part of what brought you here. Some models are suited for commercial catering gigs while others are designed for residential use. This means you have to consider your needs when looking at the size of the charcoal smoker you want to purchase.
If you’re looking for something compact that you can use on the go then a smaller sized grill will do. But, if you’re looking for something that will allow you to cater to large groups of people then you’ll need a large sized grill.
Portability is another important factor to keep in mind when looking for a charcoal smoker. Obviously, a hefty grill is great to use when catering for a large number of people but it’s very difficult to move from one place to another. On the other hand, a small grill will be just as capable but portable as well. However, the latter is more suited to personal use than commercial purposes.
While some people view modern features as superfluous extras, others see them as worthy additions that make your smoker even more awesome. For instance, it’s important for your smoker to have an integrated thermometer so you don’t have to buy it separately because it’s an essential component. We’ll go into more detail about features in an upcoming section.
Smoker vs. Standard Grill
The main difference between a smoker and a grill is the fact that a smoker won’t expose your meat to direct heat. With a grill, your meat is literally inches away from the fire so the chances of undercooking and burning are higher unless you keep a close eye on it.
The only thing the smoker exposes your meat to is smoke and heated air. That’s why it takes longer to cook but the results are intensified flavor and smokiness.
However, a smoker is slower than a grill when it comes to cooking meat. The grill provides a high heat that allows meat to cook in as fast as 10 minutes depending on the setting. A smoker needs hours to cook the meat through, with beef brisket requiring up to 12 hours in total. But a smoker is guaranteed to keep the heat even the whole time, as temperatures are kept at an even 225 degrees F to 250 degrees F.
It’s possible to convert a grill into a smoker but not the other way around. You see, some grills come with two cooking surfaces which means you can place the meat on one end of the grill while heating the other side. Still, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be able to maintain the same temperature for long periods of time so you have to monitor it.
You generally can’t reverse engineer a smoker like this because of its construction. Most charcoal smokers are built with a separate firebox that’s located away from the cooking chamber. The good news is manufacturers are coming up with new ways of keeping the meat separate from the fire which may allow you to cook it faster.
Controlling the Temperature on a Charcoal Smoker
The first thing to do is install your charcoal smoker properly. The method you use to fire it up will depend on your intention. For those who prefer to smoke their meat for long periods of time over low heat the minion method is best. This requires you to pour unlit charcoal into the firebox and light up briquettes.
Once the briquettes have turned to ash you can then sprinkle them onto the unlit charcoal to start the smoking process, which can go on for several hours. The heat will remain at the same low temperature without much supervision from you. Meanwhile, the charcoal will simply keep itself burning by lighting others below it.
At this point, you could probably use some tips on how to maintain an even temperature on a charcoal smoker:
- Pay attention to the rate at which temperature rises within the firebox. Patiently adjust it if necessary until you reach your preferred temperature.
- Leave the top exhaust damper open to make sure the fire burns clean. You need to keep the oxygen flowing to avoid the build-up of residue which can cause creosote and that won’t taste nice on your meat.
- Take your time when making changes to the vents as rushing things can ruin your fire.
How to Take Care of a Charcoal Smoker
Masterbuilt charcoal smokers are known to be a long-lasting and durable invention. With proper maintenance, there’s no reason to doubt that it can outlive you. But, they also need constant maintenance to avoid damage.
The following are a few maintenance pointers that you should take note of if you want to extend the lifespan of your charcoal smoker:
- Throw out the ashes as soon as you finish using the smoker. Leaving them in the smoker after use will degrade the material and lead to rusting over time. Just wait for the smoker to cool down first before you throw out the ashes so you don’t burn yourself.
- Clean the grill grate regularly to avoid the build-up of grease and food residue. Too much of that can affect the taste of your food and it’ll cause the charcoal to stick to the grates. For best results, clean the grates right after each use, as waiting too long will make it more difficult to remove the grease.
- Clean the inside of the cooking chamber regularly. This is the easiest area to clean and you don’t have to do it after each use, but once after every few times, you use the smoker. All you need to do is take a knife or the sharp edge of a spoon and scrape off any crust that may have adhered onto the surface.
If it needs a little more attention, bring out the steel wool and dip into a solution of warm water and powerful dishwashing detergent. You should probably wear gloves at this stage because you’ll need to put some elbow grease into it. Also, take the smoker to your backyard to avoid messing up your kitchen with the grease and grime that’s going to come off.
Types of Charcoal Fuel You Should Know
Charcoal smokers rarely differ, except perhaps when it comes to their fuel source. Believe it or not, there are different types of charcoal out there that offer different benefits. The following is a list of different types of charcoal that you can use to power your smoker.
This type of charcoal is commonly referred to as “natural charcoal” because many believe that it’s the first type of charcoal to be discovered by man. It’s made by heating logs in a kiln, which is best described as an enclosed cave. This is arguably the cleanest type of charcoal there is because it’s binder-free. This makes it a favorite among environmentally conscious consumers. It’s worth noting here that lump charcoal has an uneven burn that starts out hot but gets cold again. As a result, it tends to burn out quicker than other types of charcoal, and it requires a lot more attention.
As you may have guessed from the name, this type of charcoal originates from Japan. Its appearance is like that of tree branches and this is due to the fact that it’s made from a type of oak called Ubamegashi. It’s a clean source of energy that burns pure without overpowering the meat with a woody flavor. It’s on the pricey side because it’s expensive to produce and it takes a while to heat up. For best results be sure to use an electric lighter or a blow torch and maybe the coal will light up in 35 minutes. After that, you can leave it to do its thing. This type of charcoal offers a slow and steady heat for a long period of time.
Coconut shell charcoal is very popular in Southeast Asia and Polynesia where there’s always been an abundance of coconut trees. It offers a quick and efficient burn but without the exorbitant price tag. Nowadays, it’s mostly used in hibachi restaurants and you need a bunch of coconut shells just to get the fire started.
Briquettes are a type of charcoal that has been treated so that it burns evenly and strongly over a long period of time. To light them up quickly though, you need to ignite them with lighter fluid. These come highly recommended for use on smokers and grills because they’re affordable and easy to access than the other options. However, we’d be remiss to not mention that this type of charcoal has a very powerful aroma that can impart an unusual taste in meat. Some say that it contains harmful chemicals too, which may cause health defects in the body over time. It’s best to do your research here and find out the facts for yourself as we can’t really go into detail on it here.
Electric vs Charcoal Smoker
Smoked meat has a distinct flavor and taste that you simply cannot get when using other types of cooking equipment. While most people think that electric and charcoal smokers are the same thing, this isn’t the case. Aside from having two distinct fuel sources, there are other differences that separate these two smokers.
- Choose a Charcoal Smoker for Authentic Smoked Flavor
According to experts who have tried both the electric and charcoal meat smoker, the latter is the best to use when you want your meat to have that original smoky flavor. Sure, it takes longer to switch on because you have to prepare the charcoal and make sure that it’s burning properly but this is a small price to pay.
It requires that you pay attention to the weather conditions outside too, as that may affect the speed at which the fire heats up, and time-consuming preparatory tasks like this might be annoying to some. To others, it’s all a part of the beautiful ritual of getting perfectly smoked meat. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to maintain the same even temperature throughout the cooking process.
The price of a decent charcoal smoker typically starts at $200 and can go up to $300. If there’s one thing about charcoal smokers it’s that they offer value for money.
- Choose an Electric Smoker to Save Time and Money
On the other hand, we have the electric smoker. The most notable feature of this smoker is that it’s convenient to use. It has all the modern features that you want to smoke your meat in a short amount of time. It’s sort of like a short cut to the charcoal smoker.
It works similarly to an oven in that it cooks at high heat and offers even cooking. There are two types of electric smokers to choose from; analog and digital. Analog smokers come with an adjustable thermostat but not much else, while digital smokers have that and a screen interface that allows you to control the temperature and set it according to the type of meat you’re cooking. Both are quick and easy to clean though and feature heating rods that work to automatically ignite the wood chips.
The only thing you need to do is chuck the wood chips in and set the heating rods to your desired temperature. They’ll remain at that temperature without much intervention from you which makes them a convenient and time-saving solution.
Best Charcoal Smoker in 2019
The charcoal smoker has been around for a long time and its staying power can be attributed to the quality of its construction. Now that you know what to look for in the best charcoal smoker, it’s time to look at some of the best options on the market. We looked at charcoal smoker reviews to find out which are the best charcoal smoker grills out there. Read on for more.
The Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker from Weber is a firm favorite among pit masters thanks to its convenient features. It can maintain the same even temperature for several hours and without being tended to. This smoker is so legendary that online fan pages were created in its honor and have amassed millions of fans.
Since its first introduction to the market a few years ago, Weber has made a few improvements to this unit but without affecting its performance. Some of the newer features include a bottom heat shield, a thermometer on the lid, and the front door handle is more ergonomic. With that said, this smoker is still built like a tank and will outlast many of the appliances you’ll buy along with it.
While the Dyna-Glo Signature Series was designed for large-scale catering it’s entirely fine to use it for private residential use on a small scale.
It’s a highly functional piece of equipment that’s easy to assemble and use. It doubles as a smoker and griller so you won’t have to buy a separate griller.
Its colossal frame is supported by strong and sturdy legs that make it easy to move it around. It also has plenty of cooking space, which makes it perfect when cooking for large parties and small soirees alike. If there’s one thing we can commend this smoker for it’s the quality of its construction. It’s a really well-made piece of machinery that can withstand years of regular use without getting damaged, and it’s one of the best charcoal grills on the market.
This is another fantastic model from Weber but with a few unique features. For instance, it has the patented Gourmet BBQ System cooking grates. The grates are steel plated and feature a detachable center that leaves space for you to attach other accessories if you like. This allows you to add on things like a Danish Ebelskiver pan or a pizza oven for added versatility.
The only downside to the construction of this smoker is the digital cooking timer. Seriously, we don’t even know why they included it. It’s more like a glorified egg timer than anything. It only goes up to 99 minutes- not nearly enough time to keep track of smoking meat which can take up to 12 hours. Aside from this useless gimmick, charcoal smoker reviews suggest that this smoker is a solid option that’s worthy of any serious pitmaster.
It has almost everything you need to grill your meat to perfection. It makes a fantastic smoked pulled pork and you can buy it directly from Amazon and get a great deal.
This grill and smoker combo from Char-Griller features a well-thought-out design that includes a 20-inch diameter grilling grate that’s made from cast iron. Its frame is Triple Insulated for maximum durability. Thanks to the 8-inch locking caster wheels underneath this smoker should have no problems with stability, and it can handle a fair amount of weight.
Clearly, ease of maintenance was one of the things the manufacturer put into consideration when making this smoker. Thanks to the porcelain powder surface, you can just wipe it clean and it’ll be ready for the next cookout. This feature also makes it resistant to corrosion. Then there’s the dump ash pan which collects the ash for you so you don’t have to manually sweep it up every time.
This unit also features a retractable warming rack and folding side shelves with tool hooks that make it even easier to use this grill.
The upper surface is supported by a generously sized bottom shelf with a locking caster and strong, large wheels. The interior features a cast iron grate that measures 302 square inches and in the center is a round removable component that opens up so you can chuck the coal in.
To facilitate slow cooking and ensure excellent results, the Char-Griller has a smokin’ stone that you place in the middle of the grate and the coal to help diffuse heat. The smokin’ stone spot can also fit a wok, drip pan, pizza stone, a wireless remote thermometer, as well as roaster and poultry racks.
The C-Series Cadet Kamado Grill from Vision Grills will have you turning out smoked meat like a pro in no time. It offers superb heat transfer thanks to the tough ceramic fire bowl, while the grill grates are made from heavy-duty cast iron along with the air vent. This grill is rather popular with professional chefs because of its generous stainless steel cooking space which measures 604 square inches. The grate surface is made from durable stainless steel as well and it’s spread out across two-tiers.
The grilling control knobs make it incredibly easy to use this grill, especially since it can be switched on through electronic ignition. The frame is really easy to clean thanks to the red honeycomb ceramic coating, and there’s a built-in thermometer mounted on the lid. Plus, the Patented ProZone feature integrated into the bottom cast iron draft vent works in conjunction with the Electric Starter Port to light this up quicker than you’d expect.
There’s a night light to illuminate the grill so it’s easier to use it at night and the ash drawer is easy to remove and put back.
Weighing at 1261 pounds the Broil King Keg is built tough and can handle a lot of weight. It has 480 square inches of cooking space with a cast iron cooking grid which sits on a chrome plated secondary rack. The heavy-duty steel base is coated with metallic charcoal paint and has a cooking chamber that’s coated with porcelain for easy cleaning.
The upper damper is made from solid cast iron and it works efficiently every time, while the resin handles make it easy to hold the grill even when it’s hot. Other notable features include two side shelves, a removable ashtray, a locking lid and even a duo of bottle openers for when you want to open a cold one while grilling.
This grill is great at heat transfer and it’s all thanks to the insulated steel dual walls, while the cooking grids are perfect for searing meat. There’s enough space to prepare and cook the meat and you can cook different types of meat at once so you can cater for more than a few mouths.
The Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill is a masterful piece of equipment. It’s known for grilling and smoking meat to perfection every single time.
It has a simple and straightforward design that features lid-free construction and you can adjust the height to suit your needs. It’s also fully portable and perfect to take with on hiking, boating and camping expeditions.
It’ll give you that perfect sear and smoky flavor whether you’re cooking a hot dog, a steak, fish or some brisket.
This grilling station is a firm favorite among professional cooks and it’s not hard to see why. The grilling surface is 950 square inches large and it’s made from a dense and durable steel frame with cast iron grate.
You won’t be disappointed with the sear provided by this grill and it has incredible heat retention. You can also use it to make rotisseries, and thanks to the ash dump pan cleaning this is quite easy. The integrated heat gauge works in conjunction with the adjustable fire grate to help you control the wind so that it doesn’t affect your heat and temperature levels while cooking.
Included in this unit are a warming rack, three shelves and a corrosion resistant powder coating which helps to ward off wear and tear. All in all, this is a one-stop shop grilling station that you can use to make unforgettable meals.
This grilling station from Dyna-Glo sears meat to perfection with cast iron grates that are coated with porcelain enamel, and you’ll easily control the temperature through the adjustable flue. It also features a stainless steel smoke stack and a charcoal door that makes heat retention a little easier to achieve.
To make sure that this grill stays insulated, there are cast iron doors with steel filaments and the charcoal tray has been fitted with an adjustment crank. On top of that, you have bottle openers for added convenience and a stainless steel temperature gauge built-in for good measure.
This grilling station from Weber is easy to use and comes with all the features you need. This includes plated steel cooking grates, a removable ashtray, a bottom wire rack, and heavy gauge steel charcoal grate. It’s easy to handle thanks to integrated angled hook and heat shield on the handle.
The thoughtful design continues with push pin leg assembly, an integrated one-touch aluminized steel cleaning system and porcelain enameled shell for easy clean up.
Finding the perfect charcoal smoker doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you know what to look for. Hopefully, our guide will make it easier for you to find a smoker that works for your needs. Remember to consider its size, construction, cost, capacity, and portability.
Out of all the charcoal smokers that we reviewed we found the Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill from Weber to be the best option. Not only does it feature steel plated heavy-duty grates, but it gives you the versatility to cook more than just meat on the grill. The detachable center gives you space to attach extras like a pizza oven or a Danish Ebelskiver pan to keep things exciting.
It switches on effortlessly thanks to the push-button ignition and with a cooking surface that measures 363 square inches, you’ll have more than enough space to cook for a small party.
Last update on 2020-07-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API