Smoking meat is definitely a labor of love. With the amount of time it takes and, depending on the type of smoker you are using, how much you have to babysit the fire, you are investing a good portion of your day to make sure you get that perfect level of smoke flavor, tenderness, and moisture in whatever meat you are cooking.
Picking out the best smoker for you can seem like a daunting task, especially for someone that has never gone through this type of set up before. In this article we will go over the three most popular types of smokers on the market and some of the pros and cons of each.
When most people think of a smoker, this is the type that first comes to mind. There are three major components to an off-set smoker, also known as a “stick burner.” The first would be the fire box, which, as the off-set name implies, is off to the side of the main cooking area. While the fire can be started with a bed of charcoal, the heat and smoke source for this type of smoker comes from the burning of “splits” or wood logs that have been split into smaller sections to fit inside the fire box. The cook chamber is just as the name suggests. This is where you will put your meat to smoke. The last important part of this type of smoker is the chimney which helps regulate the air flow as well as giving the smoke a place to escape.
- Best smoke flavor
- Large cooking area to smoke more meat
- Not having to open the cooking chamber to add more fuel
- Learning curve to managing the temperature and fire
- Can be expensive
- Most hands on to ensure a proper cook
Vertical Charcoal Smoker
One of the most popular smokers for the backyard BBQ enthusiast is the vertical charcoal smoker. There are a few different types of these smokers from the bullet-shaped ones like a Weber Smokey Mountain, to a Komodo ceramic smoker such as the Big Green Egg. While it is in essence a one chamber system to deliver the heat and smoke, there are three different distinct parts which make these types of smokers cook a quality product. The bottom area has a charcoal pan, the main fuel for these types. This is where the charcoal is lit, and wood chunks are added for flavor. Above this is usually a water pan or some sort of heat deflector. This helps to maintain the low temperatures needed for getting a well-cooked piece of meat. Lastly is the cooking area which is set above this deflector pan. Temperature control is done by the adjusting of vents on the bottom and top of the unit.
- Can be less expensive depending on the type you choose
- Some have the ability to also be used as normal grills
- Smaller size and less room to take up
- Need to maintain a live fire
- Clean up to the charcoal chamber and deflector takes time
- Harder to add to the fire once lit
Pellet Smokers may look just like an offset smoker but are much easier to use and maintain. Perfect for the beginner, these use sawdust from hardwoods like oak and hickory which has been compressed into, you guessed it, pellets looking something like chicken feed. Powered by an electric heating element, the pellets are put into a hopper which is automatically fed into the heat source through a temperature that is set by you at the beginning of the cook. Fans circulate the smoke around the meat.
- Easiest to use, perfect for the beginner
- Easiest to clean and maintain
- Can be used as a smoker, grill, and even an oven
- Need access to an electrical source
- Not as good flavor as the other types
These three types, while the most popular, just scratch the surface of types of smokers out there. No matter which you choose, you will get a quality meal which your friends and family will be salivating for. Get your brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder, pick up some wood of your choice, be it in stick, chunks, or pellet form, and sit back with the beverage of your choice. You may have a wait in front of you, but the flavor and end product is worth it.