In this ultimate charcoal and wood smoker buyers guide, I’m going to be giving you everything you need to know for buying the best BBQ smoker.
A Grilling Life Guide To Buying The Best BBQ Smoker
Barbecue fans know it’s hard to beat the taste of a piece of expertly smoked meat. But how about meat that you’ve smoked yourself from the comfort of your own yard or patio?
If you’ve considered buying a charcoal or wood smoker, there’s no better time than right now. These powerhouse cooking tools are more prevalent than ever, and there are tons of options on the market to fit every budget and space.
If you’re looking to buy your own smoker, our wood and charcoal smoker buyers guide will help lay out everything you need to know before making a purchase and getting your smoke on.
What you can Expect from this Charcoal & Wood Smoker Buyers Guide
In our smoker buyers guide, we’ll walk you through the different types of smokers available, how to choose the best model of a smoker, and give essential questions to keep in mind as you start the shopping process.
From there, we’ll give you tips for accessories to buy, set-up suggestions, and even a few words of caution before you go dropping money on a smoker of your own.
If you’re ready to get started on your journey to delicious, home-smoked meats, let’s dive into our guide!
In This Article, We’ll Explore:
Click a topic below to be taken directly to that section.
Why Choose a Charcoal or Wood Smoker?
The top reason to invest in a wood or charcoal smoker is flavor — charcoal gives off a unique smoky taste, and wood gives you plenty of options for unique flavor combinations.
While these types of smokers do have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to maintaining the fire and monitoring smoke levels, the results you’ll get are delicious and well worth it.
You can check out a list of some of the top Charcoal Smokers here: Charcoal Smokers Examples
Charcoal Smoker vs Electric Smoker
Many models of electric smokers allow you to fire up your smoker the same way you do your kitchen oven — just set it and forget it. However, other models may require you to do some monitoring of the smoke levels, as well as how much air is getting into the smoker.
The low airflow and larger size of electric smokers can lead to over-smoking food, but it pays off for meats like turkey or chicken that would dry out with too much airflow. The trade-off for electric smokers’ relative ease of use is that you won’t get as intense of a flavor as you would with a charcoal or wood smoker.
For a more in-depth breakdown, check out our article about Electric vs Charcoal Smokers: Which One Is Best?
The Four Main Types of Charcoal Smokers
Today’s smoker market delivers a variety of options depending on the space you have outside and the type of visual statement you want to make with your smoker. Although the list is quite big, here are the four main types of charcoal smokers.
If you have a small backyard or only a patio or balcony to use your smoker on, a vertical smoker is the best choice for you! They have a smaller footprint but feature several vertically arranged racks that allow you to smoke a lot of food at once. Some models can even double as a grill!
You can check out a list of some of the top Vertical Smokers here: Vertical Smokers Examples
Offset smokers are typically what people think of when they picture a smoker. This type of smoker has a long, barrel-shaped body with an offset smoker box.
Offset smokers are king when it comes to producing large amounts of smoke that moves slowly through the smoker and has tons of contact with the meat when you go with a low and slow cooking method. The result? Amazingly smoky, tender meats.
You can check out a list of some of the top Offset Smokers here: Offset Smokers Examples
Kamado smokers are perfect for outdoor chefs who want their smokers to do it all. Kamados have an insanely large temperature range and can get over 700°F, which means you can use them to grill, smoke, bake, make pizza, and even sear.
As a result of that unparalleled versatility and high-end construction, kamado smokers typically end up being pricier than other models. But for all of those cooking options, it’s worth it!
You can check out a list of some of the top Kamado Smokers here: Kamado Smokers Examples
Do you already have your dream outdoor kitchen or plan to create one soon? Then a built-in smoker will be for you. These bad boys can slot right into your countertop or be built into a space similar to the size of a mini-fridge.
If you want a built-in option with the power and versatility of a kamado smoker, many kamados can be built into your outdoor kitchen as well!
You can check out a list of some of the top Built-In Smokers here: Built-In Smokers Examples
What to Look for When Buying a Smoker
No matter what style of smoker you’re interested in, there are a few key features to keep in mind as you start shopping.
Heavy Gauge Metal
A smoker made with thicker metal will be your safest best for even cooking and stellar heat retention. Metal that’s ¼ of an inch thick is typically recommended since it’s less likely to warp and will help keep out wind and cold air if you’re smoking in less than ideal weather.
Trusted Brand, Durability, & Build Quality
If you’re unfamiliar with smoker brands, it’s a good idea to do some research before deciding on which one you’ll buy — quality can vary by brand, even if the brand is more well-known.
Look for a model that’s made with thick walls, strong-looking seams, and vents, as well as well-built handles, gaskets, and locks. Smokers made of thinner, less durable materials will give you a hard time when you’re trying to maintain a consistent temperature and won’t last as long as a well-constructed model.
Choose a Smoker with Great Insulation
Consistent temperature and smoke retention are a must for successful smoking, and those things require excellent insulation.
Look for well-made gaskets made from fiberglass or mesh, as well as thick metal construction — these features mean the temperature and smoke inside your smoker aren’t going anywhere.
Look for Quality Seals & Dampers
Seals and dampers are other crucial features of your smoker that will help keep that delicious smoke inside and reduce how much fuel you need to during a cook session. Look for seals that don’t have any gaps and dampers that close well but are still easy to slide open and shut.
Easy Airflow & Temperature Management
If you want great results from your smoker, you’ll need to understand how to regulate its temperature. When choosing between smoker models, look for one with dampers that are easily accessible, easy to use, and made from solid materials that won’t rust shut.
A good rule of thumb is that the fewer seams, openings, or screw holes a smoker has, the more fuel-efficient it will be. Kamados regularly rank as some of the most efficient smokers on the market and just have one vent at the top, one at the bottom, and a tight-sealing lid.
If possible, test out your smokers’ lid before you buy it to ensure it creates a tight seal, and take a close look at how many opportunities it has for smoke to leak out.
Ability to use Water Pans
Water pans give you the ability to add liquid to your smoker (not just water like the name implies — try juice or beer!) to create humidity and help out with temperature stabilization. You don’t necessarily need a smoker that allows you to place a water pan inside, but it will make for more enjoyable cooking.
Accurate Temperature Gauges
Opening the lid of your smoker to check the temperature will take a toll on its smoke retention and temperature, so be sure the smoker you choose has an accurate temperature gauge so you can stay in control without ever cracking the lid.
If you’re opting for an offset smoker, it’s smart to have two thermometers — one at each end — to check for any temperature differences.
You want to get as much use out of your smoker as possible, right? Then sturdiness needs to be a priority. Look for solid legs, wheels, hinges, and latches that will be able to withstand whatever you throw at it! (But not literally. We don’t recommend throwing anything at your smoker.)
Decide on a BBQ Smoker Class
There are four primary classes of smokers you can choose from depending on your lifestyle, budget, and experience with smokers.
Luxury Barbecue Smokers
Luxury barbecue smokers are the best of the best! They’re typically well-designed and made solidly from high-grade stainless steel, offer several cooking options and extra features for versatility, and come with a lifetime warranty.
You will, of course, end up paying top-dollar for these qualities, but if you’re looking for a high-quality, high-performance smoker, the luxury class is for you.
You can check out a list of some of the top Luxury Barbecue Smokers here: Luxury Barbecue Smokers Examples
Premium Barbecue Smokers
Premium smokers are for the outdoor cook who wants quality similar to the luxury class but has a slightly tighter budget. These smokers are usually made from stainless or powder-coated steel, have solid insulation, cooking systems, and digital controls, and come with good warranties that will protect your purchase for up to 10 years.
You can check out a list of some of the top Premium Barbecue Smokers here: Premium Barbecue Smokers Examples
Practical Barbecue Smokers
Practical smokers will be the top choice for the everyday barbecuer who isn’t looking for as many bells and whistles but still wants to get the job done right. These smokers typically come in the vertical configuration, are easy-to-use and budget-friendly, but still have quality features and unique cooking systems that set them apart from entry-level smokers.
You can check out a list of some of the top Practical Barbecue Smokers here: Practical Barbecue Smokers Examples
Entry-Level Barbecue Smokers
If you’re just starting out with smoking and aren’t ready to invest in a flashier smoker, entry-level barbecue smokers make a solid choice! They’re made of lower-quality materials and don’t come with as many fun features — hence the lower price point — but still offer the ability to create great barbecue.
You can check out a list of some of the top Entry-Level Barbecue Smokers here: Entry-Level Barbecue Smokers Examples
Do you Need a Dedicated Smoker or a Combo Smoker & Grill?
But if you’re starting your outdoor kitchen from scratch or plan on buying a new grill at some point, it’s not a bad idea to save time and money and get a smoker that can do both!
Are you Going to Want your Smoker to be Portable?
If you have plans to move your smoker — say, to a friend’s house or on a camping trip — consider that a larger smoker will be more difficult to move around. This is especially true with ceramic-built kamado smokers, so if you have your heart set on one of those and taking your smoker on the go, you might want to invest in a lighter model as well.
How Much Food will you Cook?
The size and style of the smoker you purchase should also depend on how you plan on cooking. If you’re just planning on occasionally cooking for your family, a smaller “bullet” style vertical smoker will work just fine.
But if you have grand plans for entertaining a crowd, a larger vertical smoker or an offset model will give you the smoking space you require.
Check Current Owners Feedback & Opinions
If you want to get a feel for a particular smoker, there’s no better resource than people who already own one! Check out online reviews, forums, and social media to see what people like and dislike about a model of smoker.
Plus, if you have a question about a smoker’s performance or maintenance, there’s a good chance someone has already asked it online!
Good Customer Support Matters
Your relationship with your smoker’s manufacturer shouldn’t end once your payment goes through — you should be able to quickly get in touch with a support team if you have a question or issue with your smoker.
Take a look at online reviews to see what they say about a company’s customer support, and stay away from a manufacturer that current owners say is unresponsive. Make sure the support contact information is listed and easily accessible.
Get to Know your Warranty Options before you Buy
If you plan on using your smoker a lot, a solid warranty is a must. Look for at least a 10-year warranty, as this should cover heavy use and provide you with replacement parts should anything on your smoker wear out over time.
It can be tempting to sneak over your budget when you see a smoker that has better features than ones in your price range but fight the urge and stick to the budget you set. There are smokers out there that fit every budget, lifestyle, and cooking preference, so you should be able to find a great one that’s in your price range.
Additional Things to Consider
We’ve covered a lot in our charcoal and wood smoker buyers guide so far, but there are even more factors to consider to make sure the smoker you buy is the right fit for you.
Whether you plan on supplementing your charcoal with wood chips, chunks, or logs, make sure they’ll fit in your smoker’s firebox!
Cooking Chamber Size
Remember when we asked you how much food you plan on cooking? This is why! Choose a smoker with enough space to fit all of the food you need to smoke and has features like racks and hooks to fit as much meat as possible.
Give Yourself Plenty of Headspace
Plan on cooking large items like turkeys? Ensure there’s enough headspace — the space between the rack and the top of the cooking chamber — to accommodate them. Shoot for at least 1’ of space.
Ease of Cleaning
You don’t want to get stuck cleaning your smoker for the same amount of time you spent cooking in it. Look for a model that’s easy to maintain and clean, so you can get perfect barbecue every time without worrying that drippings from your last cook will contaminate your food.
Look for things like removable ash and grease trays and easy accessibility to the interior.
Adjustable Inner Shelves
Adjustable shelves give you the freedom to create different configurations inside your smoker, so you can accommodate large cuts of meat and even poultry like whole turkeys. Being able to move and remove your smoker’s shelves will also make for easier clean-up after you’re done cooking.
Availability of Accessories
A great smoker will come set with accessories like covers, extra racks, hooks, and more, so you’re ready to cook ASAP without needing to run back out and buy additional gear. Even if they don’t come with them initially, search for available options for future consideration.
Just like any outdoor cooking tool, where there’s fire, there’s a bit of risk involved. Look for a smoker with stainless steel handles or stay cool handles — this means they’ll cool down faster and reduce the risk of someone burning themselves.
It’s also a good idea to avoid models with rotating wheels that don’t lock in place since a child or pet (or, let’s be honest, even an adult barbecue attendee) could move the smoker and injure themselves.
Charcoal Smoking Tools & Accessory must haves
Before you get to cooking with your new smoker, there are some accessories you’ll need to make sure your cooking goes smoothly and safely.
A Charcoal Chimney Starter
A chimney starter is essential to easily and quickly lighting your coals. If you’re not sure what to look for in a chimney starter, check out our guide.
You check out my recommended Charcoal Chimney Starters here: 10 Best Charcoal Chimney Starters
Your smoker will get incredibly hot, and you’ll have to touch it at some point during the smoking process, so keep your digits protected by investing in quality heat-resistant gloves. We suggest some of our favorites.
You check out my recommended Heat-Resistant Glove here: Best Heat Resistant Gloves For Grilling
Quality Grilling Tools
Food won’t magically transport itself into your smoker, so you’ll want to snag some good grilling tools to help you move and reposition your meat. If you need recommendations, we can help with that.
Here are some great Grilling Tool options: Grilling Toolsets
A thermometer is a must for accurate, successful smoking — without knowing how hot your smoker is, you won’t be able to gauge how long a piece of meat needs to cook! Check out some of our favorites.
Check out my recommended Instant Read Thermometers here: 10 Best Instant Read Thermometers
Check out my recommended Digital, Dual-Probe Smoker And Grill Thermometers here: 10 Best Digital Meat Thermometers
A Good Grill Brush
Never underestimate the importance of clean grill grates. Opt for a bristle-free version so you won’t wind up with bristles in your food — we list some of our recommendations.
You can see my recommended Grill Brush’s here: 10 Best Bristle Free Grill Brushes
A Basting Brush/Mop
Basting your meat while it smokes will help amp up the flavor and keep it moist. A basting brush or mop is the best way to sop up the marinade and slather it on your food without fear of it burning like a typical kitchen pastry brush might. Check out some quality basting brushes here.
Here are some great Basting Brush/Mop options: Basting Brush/Mop Examples
A Quality Butcher’s Block
If you plan on smoking large cuts of meat, you need a large butcher’s block or cutting board to handle it once it’s out of the smoker. A wooden board will also help keep your knives sharper for longer.
We’re fans of This Butcher Block.
A Smoker Cover
If you don’t have a covered space in your yard to store your smoker, you’ll want to invest in a cover to help keep it dry and rust-free.
We recommend covers like These.
Final Note: Avoid Inexpensive Offset & Horizontal Smokers
While we do encourage you to choose a smoker that best fits your budget and lifestyle, we want to give you a word of warning — avoid cheap offset or horizontal smokers.
They leak smoke and heat like a sieve, making it hard to control the temperature and airflow. The temperature inside the cooking chamber can also be uneven, which means some of your meat could end up overcooked while the meat smoked at the other end of the smoker is undercooked.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a different style of smoker or be willing to pay for a quality offset model.
Final Thoughts on this Charcoal and Wood Smoker Buyers Guide
Smoking your meat in the comfort of your own backyard is an experience that’s tough to beat. If you’re a fan of outdoor cooking and enjoy barbecue that’s cooked low and slow, a smoker will completely transform your cooking game.
Now It’s Your Turn
I want to hear from youWhich outdoor smoker have you used before?
Have you used a charcoal smoker and have any tips to share?
What features do you typically like to see in a charcoal smoker?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.
If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.
Disclosure At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs. If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission. This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue. Your support is truly appreciated.