Do you love cooking with charcoal? I do!
There is nothing better than the flavors you get from using a charcoal smoker.
You might think that cooking with charcoal is hard. But once up to temperature, a good quality charcoal smoker will be able to hold that temperature without much fuss.
The crew (my mates) have done extensive testing on charcoal smokers (it’s a fun job). Collectively, we decided the Pit Barrel is one of the top charcoal smokers for a majority of users.
A super close second is the Weber Smokey Mountain. Everything Weber produces is HIGH quality plus it is so easy to use.
Everyone has different needs and wants. So there are a couple of other great alternatives. . They’re spanning a range of prices, ease of use, and quality (that won’t give you a heart attack.)
My Favorite Charcoal Smokers of 2021 – Comparison Table
|Charcoal Smoker Award||Smoker Image||Charcoal Smoker Model||Dimensions (inches)||Cooking Space (square inches)|
|The Highest Quality Smoker||Pit Barrel Cooker Charcoal Smoker Grill||21 x 21 x 31||240|
|Runner Up f||Weber Smokey Mountain||41 x 27 x 47||480|
|Top Choice Charcoal Smoker For Tailgaters||Broil King Keg Grill||19 x 21 x 41||480|
|The Best DIY Smoker||Big Poppas DIY BBQ Smoker||56 x 56 x 20||363|
|The Most Versatile Charcoal Smoker||PK 360 Smoker Grill||43 x 54 x 27||360|
We enjoy the simplicity of building a fire and smoking the natural way. This is where charcoal smokers really offer an advantage. Charcoal smokers and grills are a basic design, easy to use and produce great authentic flavor. Not to mention charcoal smokers also are the first choice for all professional and amateur BBQ pit masters.
Our 5 Favorite Charcoal Smokers
The Pit Barrel Cooker Charcoal Smoker
My Pick For The Highest Quality Charcoal Smoker
I think there is no simpler way to smoke meat than with the Pit Barrel Cooker. This is a simply designed vertical smoker. You get a full on smokey hit in every meat type you cook.Charlie Reeves – Owner here at Simply Meat Smoking
We like that it has enough square inches to cook for a large cookout (I’ve cooked for 22 people with it, at my daughter graduation party)
- Height: 36 inches
- Width: 25 inches
- Weight: 57 lbs
It’s not often that I come across something that I think is so good I find it hard to fault. However, the Pit Barrel Cooker is one piece of equipment I love.
Without a doubt, this unit is my top pick for a charcoal smoker especially if you are on a tight budget. It is similar to the Smokey Mountain from Weber however it doesn’t have a water bowl.
It’s a vertical smoker.. or in simple terms, it’s basically a 30 gallon/ 18-gauge steel drum with a charcoal basket, and hanging racks. It sits upright and is often called an Ugly Drum Smoker by pitmasters, you may have seen some DIY versions of it. however, you shouldn’t judge it just yet. The unique shape gives you ample cooking space and allows portability.
The unit comes with a very sturdy charcoal basket that holds up to 145 briquettes, two steel rebar rods to hang the 8 meat hooks on. It had enough room for me to hang 8 racks of ribs or 2 large briskets/ pork butts during different cooks.
The Pit Barrel Cooker was designed to hold a consistent temperature of around 300 degrees, although this might be a little too high for traditional ‘low & slow’ cooking it is still a top performer on long cooks.
It only takes 10 minutes from arriving in the box until you are ready to get your first meal underway. After you initially light the charcoal and give her 15 minutes to heat up you are all set to go.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is perfect for those of you out there who love tailgating, camping or taking your smoker to the street for a block party. It doesn’t have wheels, however, it does have two horseshoe handles on each side of the barrel.
I also like that it is a family-owned business. Its great to support the little guys!
We We Liked
- Ingenious design: Heat to circulates in a whirlwind manner while evenly cooking and self basting all parts of the meat. The hook system allows you to cook more. When you hang meat vertically rather than laying it out you can easily fit eight racks of ribs or two pork butts.
- You can also use it as a grill.you don’t have to hang everything while smoking. We have cooked pizza, salmon and wings on this grate. We also like that you can control the temperature by positioning the smoking grate higher or lower.
- Easily transportable. If you have ever moved a smoker, you know its not a one-man job
- Very solid construction. What really makes the Pit Barrel stand out from the crowd as one of the highest quality charcoal cookers is the highly effective design. The PBC smoker is basically a 35-gallon vertical barrel that is constructed using strong sturdy steel. It pretty much built like a charcoal tank.
- Less Room for Error: Unlike most other charcoal smokers which are a horizontal shaped barrel, you don’t run the risk of burning your meat one side and under smoking the other side.
What We Didn’t Like
- Due to the depth, you need to be very careful when reaching in, I suggest getting some long tongs and heat resistant bbq gloves.
I’m already out a limb and have declared it my pick for the top choice. This is because it is cheap, very well built and easy to use.
If you’re looking for a good charcoal flavor, simplicity, top quality results and a reasonable price this is your top option.
I would recommend this charcoal smoker for anyone from a beginner to a well-seasoned backyard veteran.
Just wait for the looks when you carry it from the car by yourself at the next cookout. They will think your superman. Then they taste the food and your bloody Chuck Norris & Martha Stewart in one.
Weber Smokey Mountain BBQ
You can’t have a top list without a Weber right? The Weber Smokey Mountain is constructed with famous Weber top quality craftsmanship. At this price point you are going to struggle to find a unit with this build quality, capacity and ease of use.
- Height: 31 inches
- Width: 14 inches
- Depth: 14 inches
The Weber Smokey Mountain smoker is one of the most popular Kamado-style smokers out there, and it has been for years if not decades. All over the internet, you will find sites, groups and forums solely dedicated to the Weber Smokey Mountain range.
To be honest, it’s no wonder. I think this unit provides an amazing cooking experience at a very affordable price. There is not a unit out there that you will get better value for money with.
With this model, you get everything that you would expect from Weber. A sleek-looking, durable body. Plenty of cooking space and all the right features.
This unit comes in several different sizes, the 22 inch is. perfect for those who are looking for a smoker to smoke the whole turkey and large porkbutts, the 18 inch is great for ribs, brisket and poultry, and the smaller 14 inch is the one for those who are just cooking a small amount of food for one or two people.
The Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 does an amazing job of producing quality smoked meals anywhere you want. The Weber 18.5 has a total cooking area of 481 square inches.
This cooking space would allow you to cook for around 20 people maximum, however, if needed there is a larger model the Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5. Or if you need less cooking space there is also the 14-inch model.
In true Weber style, they have built a very simple nit that includes only the necessary features. Including a steel barrel, two grills, a porcelain coated water and drip pan, and a charcoal grate.
Due to the design, the airflow is evenly distributed creating a constant cooking temperature. Weber has designed an air-tight smoker, which is very important when cooking with charcoal.
Because of its size and quality, it’s easy to transport. If you’re constantly moving your smoker around with you, you want a quality product like the Weber 18.5.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is made of some quality steel, is built to last with 10-year guarantee. You’ll find yourself using this smoker for many years because of its durability and dependability.
- Dual Cooking Areas: The Weber Smokey Mountain has two separate cooking spaces. These are two separate racks. One is closer to the charcoal allowing you to cook two different kinds of meat. The bottom rack is great for searing a steak, cooking a pork butt and the top layer is perfect for smoking chicken wings, fish.
- Fixed Thermometer: On the front of the unit you will find the thermometer, this is an easy to read gauge with an optimal smoke temperature level.
- Porcelain Bowl & Lid: The unit is made extremely tough, its perfect for transporting or for use in competition BBQ. the porcelain is very durable and can handle a knock or two. This is partly what is so great about this unit, it will last for years and years of general use without letting you down.
- Vents: The unit comes with four air vents in total. One at the top for controlling the amount of smoke in the main chamber. This vent is rust proof and very easy to adjust. The remaining 3 vents are at the bottom of the unit, these are to control the airflow into the unit.
- Front Loading Door: The front-loading door is convenient and gives you access without having to open up the lid, however, do be careful when doing this, the door is not as well made as the rest of the unit. You can very easily bend it out of shape.
- Porcelain Water Pan: The water pan is a large water pan, this allows you to add in more moisture for your cook, or to add in a big amount of flavor from your favorite beer, cider or juice.
- Soft Side Grommet: The soft side grommet was added back in 2014, this feature is used so you can insert a more accurate digital thermometer into the unit.
- Weber 10 Year Limited Warranty: Weber is famous for their customer care and warranties. The Smokey Mountain is no different. The unit is backed up Webers 10 year warranty. Details of the warranty are found in the manual or online.
- Individual vents on the bowl and lid increase your control over heat and temperature.
- The design means the airflow is even, creating a perfect cooking temperature.
- It performs just as well as more expensive units.
- The thermometer is built right into the lid of the unit.
- Backed up by Weber
- The side entry door is very flimsy and you need to take care when opening/ closing to prevent any warping.
As you can see the Weber Smokey Mountain is a smoker that is suited for everyone from a professional competition smoker to a first timer in the backyard. It is built in true Weber style and designed to last.
The two separate cooking grates allow you to cook lots of food in quite a small space, even on the 14-inch model. For a smoker that lasts this long, performs this well, and is backed up by such a decent warranty it is very underpriced in my opinion.
Do yourselves a favor and get one of these smokers. There is a tonne of online communities that get together and share their love, knowledge, recipes, and tips and tricks about cooking with this smoker, which is great proof that this really is a fantastic unit.
Broil King Keg 5000 Charcoal Smoker
The Tailgaters Dream Charcoal Smoker
Sometimes we just want to show off our food. The Broil King Cooking Keg is perfect for this. One of the best features of this Kamado style charcoal smoker is that it can be detached from its stand and easily attached to your trailer hitch. It is a user friendly lightweight smoker built with lots of handy features to ensure your cook is a great one.
- Height: 47 inches
- Width: 41 inches
- Depth: 27.5 inches
- Weight: 126 lbs
When you think the words Kamado smoker I bet the first thing that comes to mind is the Big Green Egg smoker.
Don’t get me wrong, the Big Green Egg is a fantastic Kamado if you have one designated smoking area. The Broil King Keg is a lightweight, nonceramic Kamado you can take with you anywhere. This is partly thanks to the lightweight enamel steel construction, convenient carry handles, big rear wheels, and the ability to take it off the stand and attach it right onto your trailer hitch.
Other genius features include bottle openers, detachable side pre tables, lid lock, and multi-story cooking grates.
The Broil King Keg has the ability to reach a maximum temperature of 800 degrees F, this is thanks to the two layers of baked enamel steel with a hidden layer of oven grade insulation sandwiched in between. This helps ensure that no hear or smoke escapes throughout the cook and also allows you to maintain a steady temperature no matter what the weather is outside.
When you pull up to tailgate with one of the top charcoal smokers in tow, everyone will know that you mean business (and great food).
The Broil King Keg 5000 is another high-quality charcoal smoker for a very decent price. It has a total of 480 square inches of charcoal cooking space. This is spread over two cooking grates.
One is inside the unit with another secondary smoking grate that can be placed on top, this grate swivels out of the way so you can still access the lower grate easily. I find this handy for adding in different meats at different times so everything finishes together.
- Durable & Strong Construction: The two layers of baked enamel steel have a layer of high temperature, oven grade insulation in between them. Using this type of material means we were able to hold a constant temperature of 250 degrees for just over 2 hours after I had closed down the lid and smothered out the fire. One of the best features of this charcoal unit is how easy it is to maintain heat.
- Super Efficient With Fuel: The efficiency of this smoker means you don’t need much charcoal to fire the grill but will still be able to reach temperatures up to 800 degrees F. If you want to do some low and slow barbecue cooking you don’t have ration the charcoal. Just keep the vents nearly closed to hold a temperature around 225 degrees F for best low and slow results.
- Huge Cooking Area: 18-inch diameter primary smoking surface (255 square inches) with a 16 inch diameter secondary grate (201 square inches). This is more than enough space to feed the family or the guys when out tailgating. Its also the perfect size to feed everyone while out camping, no more messing around with the campfire!
- Easy to Transport: Transporting the Broil King Keg could not be any easier. The unit comes standard with a trailer hitch mount. Simply remove it from its stand and attach it to your trailer hitch. This makes it is perfect companion for camping, fishing, tailgating or popping over to the neighbors house. The base unit also has very sturdy and quite large wheels. This makes transporting the smoker around your yard very easy. The wheels and conveniently placed handles make the whole unit feel like a sturdy push cart. Because of how easy it is to move around I would recommend this as the top smoker for a pitmaster who love the outdoors.
- Cooking Racks: The unit has two cooking racks each designed a little differently for best smoking results. The flower rack is constructed from heavy duty cast iron which retains a lot of heat. This is best for getting a sear on steaks. The upper level is made from chrome plated steel, this rack is fully removable and can be rotated out of the way so you can still have access to the lower level. This basically doubles the cooking surface and allows you to cook a much more broad range of food at the same time. The bottom level is perfect for searing and cooking at high temperature and the upper level is perfect for cooking at lower temperatures.
- Removable Ash Tray: On the inside of the unit there is a removable steel ashtray. This helps make clean up extremely easy.
- Adjustable Dampers: There is two adjustable air dampers, one at the top and one at the bottom of the unit. This allows you to adjust the airflow and smoke levels inside. The coolest part about these features is the markings at each setting so you can remember where your ideal settings are. This is something quite small but a feature that I found really useful.
- Resin Side Shelves: Each side of the main unit has space on top of the side handles for additional bench space. There is plenty of space to store plates, serving dishes, tools or beer. You will also find each side has 3 hangers for convenient storage of your essential tools.
- Listens to Customers: After some customer feedback we noticed that Broil King has made a number of modifications. They eliminated most of the problems people were having with the unit.Such as replace many rivets with stainless ones, this greatly reducing the rusting issues that were evident with earlier versions.
- Efficient design means you need small amounts of charcoal.
- High-quality enamel construction.
- Can achieve very high temperatures and maintain them.
- Easy to shut down.
- Cooking grates can be adjusted between two positions.
- Bottle openers.
- It can be slow to to lower temperature once you get it to high heat.
- Set up does take a fair while, even when following the instructions.
The Broil King Keg is a kamado grill that is a dream smoker for a pitmaster who loves tailgating, camping, fishing or just cooking in the backyard. Its is a very solid unit that is constructed with convenience in mind.
It is a versatile smoker that allows you to cook low and slow, sear a steak or even grill your favorite vegetables.
For the quality of construction, ease of use, and amount of features you get on this smoker It is well worth the price. Its not the cheapest unit on this list of the best charcoal smokers, however will not break the bank compared to other similar units.
PK 360 Charcoal Grill and Smoker
Overall Good Value Charcoal Smoker
The PK 360 charcoal grill is the perfect backyard companion for those who want versatility, quality and innovation! It is much more than a traditional charcoal grill.
- Height: 43 inches
- Width: 54 inches
- Depth: 27 inches
- Side Table: Yes one on each side of the grill (removable)
- Wheels: 2 Wheels
PK Grills have been around since the mid 50’s. I know many of you might not have heard about them before and might assume that they are the new kid on the block. However, don’t be mistaken, PK grills specialize in unique grills with lots of features at a reasonable price. The 360 this unit is a true genius cooking machine.
This cooking machine has been crafted from the highest quality materials and has everything that you need in all the right places (and even a couple of things you didn’t know you needed).
One of the best features of this unit is the unique ventilation system allowing you to grill, bbq and smoke a wide range of food. Easily being able to control the heat within the main cooking space is essential to charcoal cooking.
- Construction and Materials: One of the things I love about this unit is the quality of materials and the thought that has gone into everything. The unit might not be the cheapest on this list, however you get what you pay for. Even when you are cutting and prepping on the standard side tables you don’t feel like you are going to wobble the thing to the ground. Which can e a worry with similar units.
- Ventilation: The ventilation is one of the key features of the PK 360 that everyone raves on about. Essentially there are 4 vents all up. There is two at the top of the lid and two below the cooking grates. You can use each vent separately and this helps you create direct or indirect heat. This allows you to be very versatile with your cooking an easily sear, or smoke your desired meats.
- Functionality and Versatility: As mentioned earlier the PK 360 is super versatile. Its a fantastic unit for those looking to buy more than just a grill. Because of its weight and size you can take it with you tailgating, camping or down the road to your neighbors. Its a fairly simple unit to assemble for the first time, and time and time again when taking it away from home.
- Cooking Space: Obviously This unit is not designed for those who are looking to do big family or neighborhood cookouts, however, for a typical 2 adults, 2 children family this is a perfect unit. You can easily cook a pound or two of chicken wings, while grilling a couple of steaks at one.
- Side Tables: For a unit of this side you wouldn’t expect side tables. Even more you wouldn’t expect side tables that you can actually get some prep work done on. If you choose to spend the additional $200 you will be rewarded with tables that are a little more sturdy and user friendly teak tables. The teak tables are a little more sturdy and are flat, this makes cleaning much easier. For convenience sake they are also removable in case you take the unit to grill away from home.
- Ash Management: The Pk 360 has an ash removal system that is much better than most other charcoal units out there. It is simply but rather effective. At the bottom of the grill there is a plug that you can unplug and simply just sweep the remaining ash through. The unit does not come with a catch tray or anything though so you will need to source your own.
- Grill Grates: The grill grates are constructed from marine grade stainless steel. They are sitting on hinges so you ca easily adjust them to conveniently add to or tend to the coals. One thing about them is they do have large spacing, so if you are cooking something smaller or oddly shaped you can loose an item or two before you really get the hang of cooking on them.
- Quality construction and thoughtful design
- Hinged grill grates for easy access
- Easy to use ash clean out system
- Genuine sturdy feel
- The ventilation / 2 one cooking system
- Upgrade options
- Side tray table cuts on the standard are hard to clean if working straight onto them
- Small if you are cooking for lots of people
- There is no pre drilled hole for thermometer leads
When you are looking for the perfect charcoal smoker, sometimes you end up stumbling across something that is truly life changing. The PK 360 is not a grill that is going to feed an army, however, what it is going to do is give the average-sized family a unique cooking experience.
Do you get value for money with the PK 360? Yes, but you get more than that – you get value for money but you are also making an investment in your cooking future! Looking at the general construction and the versatility of this unit it would be a safe assumption that this unit will be in your backyard for a very long time.
Big Poppas DIY BBQ Drum Smoker
My Pick For The Best DIY Smoker
We all know that pitmasters love using drums as smokers, they are very popular. There is something that seems so right about recycling an old drum and creating your own cheap smoker.
You will find hundreds of homemade and unique UDS (Ugly Drum Smokers) around! Generally speaking, to create these UDS you need metalwork and welding skills, however, Big Poppa Smokers have eliminated that problem! To make the DIY Drum Smoker all we needed was an electric drill, an adjustable wrench, a tape measure and of course our own drum.
Controlling the temp on drum smokers can be difficult but having the sliding vents make using this bad boy easy! We also like the stainless steel basket for your charcoal, this also can be adjusted to your preferred grilling height.
Once self-assembled we did find it similar to cooking on the Weber Smokey Mountain or a Pit Barrel Cooker. There was much more of a feeling of pride knowing that we had built it from scratch. Assembly of the unit was surprisingly easy, from start to finish it took around 4 hours. To be honest when you consider the price the Big Poppas DIY Kit is one of the best value options for a drum smoker, if you can source your own drum.
Know the trickiest part of all, getting your drum. We learned that you have two options procuring a brand new drum or using a reconditioned drum. If you pick up a reconditioned drum you need to ensure the supplier needs to be a state-licensed re-conditioner and you must require that the drum has not held chemicals.
We have been told it It’s good up to 1,000 degrees
Included In Your DIY Kit
Bottle opener, top vent, 2 stainless steel bottom slide vents, nickel-plated grill cooking grate, lid hook, stainless steel lid handle with wood grips, stainless drum smoker handles with wood grips, shield assembly, charcoal nest hook, charcoal nest assembly, BBQ thermometer, mounting hardware for all included parts and full assembly instructions.
What You Need
55-gallon food-quality drum and lid, power drill, 7/8″ or adjustable wrench, 7/16″ or adjustable wrench, tape measure & straight edge. I also like to add in a couple of cold beers to the mix – and a fellow pitmaster.
- Vents: Top Vent and Two Bottom Vents to manage air intake
- Grates: Grill Cooking Grate
- Lid: Lid Handle with top notch wood grips and additional hanging lid hooks (Stainless Steel)
- Handles: Drum Smoker Handles with wood grips (Stainless Steel)
- Hooks: Charcoal Nest Hook (3 of them)
- Nest: Charcoal Nest Assembly (Plain Steel)
- Thermometer: BBQ Thermometer
- Includes: Mounting Hardware for all parts, and full assembly instructions.
- The kit includes everything you need to turn your own drum into a smoker
- Easy to use kit with clear instructions
- Value for money
- If you are not a handyman or interested in a little DIY work this smoker is not for you
We were really impressed with this drum smoker. We were skeptical of its ability to hold heat but it stood up to the challenge with ease. If you’re looking to build your own drum smoker we would highly recommend going for this one (those built-in vents to manage air intake are worth it alone!).
Another great reason to consider this option is that the price point. You are hard-pressed to find a smoker of this quality for $139 (don’t forget the drum too, which can range from $40 – $80) .
“The best reasons to buy a charcoal grill is that charcoal can get hotter than standard gas grills without infrared burners, and heat is what you need to get steaks and lamb chops crisp on the outside while keeping them red or pink on the inside.
In addition, charcoal, especially before it is fully lit, emits stronger smoke flavors that impact food more the longer it cooks. – Meathead Goldwyn, Amazing Ribs
What To Consider When Buying A Charcoal Smoker
- Quality Construction: A decent charcoal smoker needs a sturdy platform. You want to ensure that the charcoal smoker has thick metal, insulation and high-quality seals. Thick steel ensures heat and smoke is distributed evenly. Have high-quality seal ensures you don’t any leaks. If you have leaking heat or smoke it’s extremely hard to maintain a correct temperature.The grills should sit solidly on the supports. so there is no danger of them falling when loaded with a lot of heavy meat.
- Price: Prices for charcoal smokers can vary from $100 to $15,000. Unless you’re looking to compete, a drum or barrel smoker is perfect. Often the best charcoal smokers are not the most expensive. There has been many cases of people winning professional competitions with them.
- Ease of Use: Some features you might want to look for to ensure the ease of use include; the smoke box having an access door so adding more wood or charcoal isn’t a problem. Making sure the water bowls is accessible during cooking as your don’t want your meat to dry out.
- Mobility: A large charcoal smoker should have wheels to make it possible to move it around.
- Thermostat: A good thermometer is almost a necessity. Most smoker usually come with a cheap thermometer, which is usually inaccurate. Invest in a really good thermometer and start excelling with your charcoal smoker.
The Big Green Egg charcoal smoker is an amazing charcoal smoker and grill. But what really will take you to the next level are the Big Green Egg Accessories! Things like the instant read thermometer and pizza peel will have you cooking restaurant quality food!
What is The Best Charcoal to Use in Your Charcoal Smoker?
There are a few options when it comes to picking your charcoal either briquettes or hardwood lump. Some people are very wary of self-starting charcoal as it usually has lighter fluid additives, which will taint your food and is notoriously bad for the environment.
Briquettes generally use a natural, sugar-based binding agent that burns clean. They usually are a combination of charcoal, coal, starch (as a binder), sawdust, and sodium nitrate (to make it burn better) molded into easy-to-light lumps.
These are a good choice for your smoker, provided you get the cleanest versions possible.
Hardwood lump charcoal is actual pieces of wood that have been fired into charcoal, and there’s a large variety of brands. With no fillers to burn, hardwood lump will produce a lot less ash than charcoal briquettes and it burns for about 20 minutes longer. It will also produce much more flavorful smoke.
Something that is new is on the market is Coconut Charcoal. This is just charred coconuts shells pressed into cubes or rods. It has a great almost sweet smell to it. It also produces very little ash and burns very evenly
Wrapping it Up
I hope my picks and thoughts on the top quality charcoal smokers on the market right now helps you. I want you to start off on the right foot on your smoking journey.
Smoking with charcoal brings us back to our roots, there is nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a big hunk of meat that was cooked using this method. It makes you feel like a caveman.
Smoking with charcoal is a little more difficult than other methods, however, in my eyes, it is worth every minute of practice that goes into it.
Happy smoking everyone,
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