The Best Charcoal Smokers 2019
Lots of people enjoy the simplicity of building a fire and cooking the natural way
This is where charcoal smokers really shine. They are a basic design, easy to use and produce great flavour. Not to mention charcoal smokers also are the first choice for all professional and amateur BBQ chefs.
Many people taste that genuine barbecue flavour and want to recreate it at home. However to achieve this flavour I believe you need a charcoal smoker. In this article we will explore the best charcoal smokers, and why they are the best.
Finding the best charcoal smokers isn’t all about the brisket and ribs (said my wife), I love having getting all my friends and family together.
I have put together this guide to help you strike that balance of features you want, at a price point that won’t give you a heart attack (not to mention a unit produces damn tasty food).
Let’s get into it and find the best charcoal smoker for you!.
|Charlies Award||Smoker Name||Dimensions||Cooking Space||Warranty||Product Link|
|The Best Charcoal Smoker||Pit Barrel Cooker||21 x 21 x 31.1 in||240 sq in||1 year|
|The Tailgaters Charcoal Smoker||Weber Smokey Mountain||41 x 27.5 x 47 in||480 sq in||10 year|
|The Best Value Charcoal Smoker||Broil King Keg||19 x 21 x 41 in||480 sq in||10 year|
Quick Overview of The Best Charcoal Smokers
Don’t have enough time to fully read through my thorough reviews of the 10 best charcoal smokers?
Here is just the essential information you need to know about the 3 best charcoal smokers and why it is in my top picks.
Pit Barrel Cooker
My Pick For The Overall Best Charcoal Smoker
There is no simpler way to smoke meat than with the Pit Barrel Cooker. This is a simply designed vertical smoker that is actually pretty hard to fault. You get a full on smoky hit in every cut you cook. It has enough space to cook for a large group of people and is lightweight enough to take tailgating, out in the woods or even around the corner to your friends house.
Its 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 the best charcoal smoker.
It is a top loading vertical smoker with a very simple design. It comes with a very sturdy charcoal basket which holds up to 145 briquettes, two steel re-bar rods that are used to hang the 8 meat hooks on. This is enough room to hang 8 racks of ribs, 4 chickens or 2 large briskets.
The Pit Barrel Cooker was designed to hold a consistent temperature of around 300 degrees, although this might be a little to high for traditional ‘low & slow’ cooking you can still get away with long cooks.
Broil King Keg 5000
The Tailgaters Dream Charcoal Smoker
Sometimes we just want to show off our food. The Broil King 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.
When you think the words Kamado smoker I bet the first thing that comes to mind is the Big Green Egg.
Don’t get me wrong, the Big Green Egg is a fantastic Kamodo 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 this bad boy in tow, everyone will know that you mean business (and great food).
Weber Smokey Mountain
Overall Best Value Charcoal Smoker
The Weber Smokey Mountain is one of the most popular kamodo 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, its no wonder. 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 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.
My Top Picks For The Best Charcoal Smoker of 2019 - Individual Reviews
Pit Barrel Cooker
My Pick For The Overall Best Charcoal Smoker
Meet (in my opinion) the best charcoal smoker on the market… The Pit Barrel Cooker. We found it simple to use as well as inexpensive for the top-notch quality food it has provided for the family.
It’s a bit different from most smokers you may have seen. 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 been given the name the Ugly Drum Smoker, don’t judge it just yet (haven’t we always been told not to judge on appearance).
It is my favorite charcoal smoker and number 1 on my list of best charcoal smokers. This is because it is cheap, very well built and easy to use. It only takes a couple of 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 warm 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. This can be used to easily move the cooker from place to place with ease. They also allow you to hang racks, cooking utensils and even the lid (which conveniently has its own horseshoe handle).
Towards the rear of the cooker, you will find the one damper, this allows you to adjust the airflow coming into the smoker, unfortunately, this does not help you change or maintain a temperature, but is more designed to change the airflow amount depending on what elevation you are cooking it. All the information you need to determine how this should be set is included with your instruction manual.
When it comes to cooking, the Pit Barrel Cooker is very simple. Simple slide the two steel re-bar robs into place, hook your selected cuts of meat and hand them from the re-bar. Cover and that’s basically job done. It is a very ‘set & forget’ style of cooker.
Let’s have a look at its key features below.
Specifications of the Pit Barrel Cooker
- Height: 36 inches
- Width: 25 inches
- Weight: 57 lbs
Key Features of the Pit Barrel Cooker
- Simple Yet Strong Design: What really makes the Pit Barrel stand out from the crowd is the highly effective design. We found that it basically a 35-gallon vertical barrel that was constructed using strong sturdy steel. It pretty much built like a tank.
- Less Room for Error: Unlike most other smokers which are a horizontal shaped barrel, you don’t run the risk of burning your meat one side and under cooking the other side.
- Top Notch Design: This where The Pit Barrel Cooker design excels. It that allows the heat to circulate in a whirlwind manner while evenly cooking 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. Not only that we got a strong smoke penetration due to the constant dripping on the coals.
- Versatile Grilling Options: This smoker also comes with a steel grill grate. So you don’t have to hang everything. We have cooked pizza, salmon and wings on this grate. We also like that you can control the temperature by positioning this grate higher or lower.
- Ideal Air Circulation: This Pit Barrel has been designed really well for air circulation. The unit also comes with a stand to sit on, keeping it elevated. You don’t need to worry about the level of ventilation you’re getting or if the wet ground will affect your cook.
- One Man Portability: If you have ever moved a smoker, you know it not a one-man job. This is why this is one of the best charcoal smokers, wait for it, scratch that try best smokers on the market. I managed to get this unit in the car by myself, and it was super easy. It would definitely fit in any size car from a Corolla to an SUV.
Pros and Cons of The Pit Barrel Cooker
Pit Barrel Cooker Pros
- Ingenious design, that allows for self basting & hanging over 8 racks of ribs.
- Maintains a consistent temperature in all weather, sunny, windy and even minus 15 degrees.
- You can also use it as a grill.
- Easily transportable.
- Easy to set up, maintain and clean.
- Very solid construction.
My Final Thoughts and Rating of the Pit Barrel Cooker
I’m already out a limb and have declared it my pick for the best charcoal smoker out there.
If your looking for charcoal flavours, simplicity, top quality results and mid of the pack price this is your smoker. I would recommend this 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 cook out. They will think your superman. Then they taste the food and your bloody Chuck Norris & Martha Stewart in one.
My Rating: 4.8 / 5 Stars
Broil King Keg
The tailgaters Dream Charcoal Smoker
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 cooking space. This is spread over two cooking grates.
One is inside the unit with another secondary 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.
The Broil King Keg has a unique kamado-style design (which is a traditional Japanese wood or charcoal stove). You may recognise the design from the Big Green Egg, however, this is a more lightweight, transportable model that is not ceramic.
Overall I found the build of The Broil King EXTREMELY strong and sturdy. It has two layers of baked enamel steel, with a layer of extremely high-temperature oven grade insulation sandwiched in between them. Together with the lockable lid sealed lid you are able to create a very hot and efficient environment to cook in.
The Broil King keg was able to hit very high temperatures and maintain them while staying cool on the outside. Surprisingly, due to the efficiency of this unit you need a very small amount of charcoal to fire the grill. The small amount of fuel required is what makes this one of the best charcoal smokers you can buy right now.
Lets check out the key features of this charcoal smoker
Specifications of the Broil King Keg 5000 Charcoal Smoker
- Height: 47 inches
- Width: 41 inches
- Depth: 27.5 inches
- Weight: 126 lbs
Key Features of the Broil King Keg 5000 Charcoal Smoker
- 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.
- 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.
- Huge Cooking Area: 18-inch diameter primary cooking 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 over to the neighbours 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 more of a sturdy hand trolly.
- Cooking Racks: The unit has two cooking racks each designed a little differently for maximum results.
The flower rack is constructed from heavy duty cast iron which retains a lot of heat, This is perfect 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.
Pros and Cons of the Broil King Keg 5000
Broil King Keg 5000 Pros
- 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.
Broil King Keg 5000 Cons
- 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.
My Final Thoughts and Rating of the Broil King Keg 5000
The Broil King Keg is a kamodo grill that is a dream smoker for those who like 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 favourite 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.
My Rating: 4.7 / 5 Stars
Weber Smokey Mountain
My Pick For The Tailgaters Charcoal Smoker
The Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 does a 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 have designed a 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.
Lets take a closer look at its main features and discover why it is the last of my picks for the best charcoal smoker.
Specifications of the Weber Smokey Mountain
- Height: 31 inches
- Width: 14 inches
- Depth: 14 inches
Key Features of the Weber Smokey Mountain
- 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.
Pros and Cons of the Weber Smokey Mountain
Weber Smokey Mountain Pros
- 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
Weber Smokey Mountain Cons
- The side entry door is very flimsy and you need to take care when opening/ closing to prevent any warping.
My Final Thoughts and Rating of the Weber Smokey Mountain
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 seperate 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 favour and get one of these smokers. There are a tonne of online communities who 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.
My Rating: 4.6 / 5 Stars
“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. When fully lit and ashed over, and for short cooks like steaks and burgers, there isn’t a lot of smoke. But that smoke flavor is still soooooo gooooood” – Meathead Goldwyn, Amazing Ribs
What To Consider When Buying A Charcoal Smoker
- Quality Construction: The best 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.
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. The 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 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 a 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. Its has a great almost sweet smell to it. It also produces very little ash and burns very evenly
Do charcoal smokers sound a little bit too complicated for you? No problem!
A pellet smoker, gas smoker or an electric smoker might be a better choice for you. These other styles of units are a little bit easier to use since you can control the temperature much easier than with charcoal.
If you are into true low and slow cooking (but love entertaining more) these units might be a better pick for you!
Charlies Final Thoughts on Charcoal Meat Smokers
I hope my picks and thoughts about the best charcoal smokers on the market right now helps you decide on your first unit. 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