The 9 Different Types of Smokers

The different types of food smokers

As the name implies a smoker is a piece of cooking equipment that cooks food with the use of smoke. This is a smoke process over low heat, unlike direct grilling. During the smoking process the smoke penetrates the food, the flavour just really varies depending on the type of wood or pellets you use. 

Over the years many different smoker have emerged. All of them have their pros and cons whether it is their price, temperature or size. Let’s explore all the different types of smokers. 

Offset Smoker

The offset smoker is one of the most popular designs. It usually has a cylindrical cooking chamber while charcoal and wood burn in the firebox attached. To create the smoke the firebox is lit, the airflow here is tightly controlled. The smoke and heat is pushed through the pipes into the cooking chamber

Most offset smokers have shelves which are good for multiple briskets, racks of ribs or pork shoulders. If you want maximum control on your temperatures make sure you look for an offset smoker that is made of thick-cut steel and it well sealed this can help the unit retain the heat. 

Smoke Box

The smoke box is a very basic and traditional way of smoking. However, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t produce incredible results. Its design followed the two box systems, a food box and a fire box. Due to its size, it is easier to control to a make a higher degree. The smoke and heat from the fire box moves into the food box, this is where the smoke can cook the food. Most fireboxes have a super simple electric heating element near a pan of flavoured wood chips. 

Upright Drum Smoker

The upright drum has become known as the ugly drum smoker (UDS). This smoker is pretty much exactly what it suggests. It is essential a steel drum that has been converted into a hot smoker. The UDS needs a basket towards the bottom to hold the charcoal, cooking racks or grill, and a lid with vents. You find all different sizes have been built from the 30 gallons to the 80 gallons however the most popular size is the 55-gallon drum.

The UDS is very similar to indirect smoking due to the distance (typically 24 inches or 61 cm). to the coals and the racks/ grill. The temperature of the smoker is controlled by the vents and the amount of air intake they allow. Because these smokers are easy to DIY at home and that they are efficient with fuel they are popular amongst the grilling community.

Propane Smoker

A propane smoker allows for an easily temperature-controlled environment. In a propane smoker, the heat is generally below the iron or steel box that contains charcoal or wood. The box contains holes, the box starves the wood or charcoal of oxygen and this produces smoke instead of burning. Although propane smoker isn’t used in competition, they are great for at-home cook because they don’t use much fuel. Another plus is you can buy natural gas smoker which can be hooked up to your home gas connection.

Vertical Water Smoker

The vertical water smoker is also known as a stick burner or offset barrel smoker. They are shaped like an upright bullet, easy to use and consider top notch by serious competition BBQ cooks. The water smoker is about the size of a kettle grill but its unique design of thermodynamics means they can easily hold temperatures of 225 to 250 degrees.

The most unique characteristics of this smoker is its water pan. This keeps food moist even after 10+ hours of smoking. It is made up of three sections. The cook chamber; this begins just above the water bowl and extend into the top part; it has a wire grill and a dome-shaped lid to capture the smoke and heat.

The water chamber is the mid-section, it is a large cylindrical part that has a door so that your able to add wood or charcoal as well as a water bowl that is positioned between the grill and fuel. This bowl can also catch any drippings from the meat and prevent a flare up. The bottom is the firebox, this is a strong metal bowl with a grate to the bottom, it has your fuel. 

Electric Smokers

The introduction of electric smoker has made smoking food much more accessible and convenient. The electric smoker does not require any direct flames but they use a simply convection system. Similar to the smoke box, they have a firebox which produces smoke. The food is subjected to temperatures of 180-250 degrees to ensure it is cooked. 

All electric smoker comes with a digital panel which allow you to control the temperature on it or by WI-FI or remote control. This also allows you to set and forget which is great if you don’t have time to tend to a fire. 


A more uncommon smoker is the trench. This is a method in which a narrow trench is made and is set to point at prevailing winds. The inner part of the trench is then covered to make it like a tunnel. At the far end of the trench, there is a covered spot with a chimney, this is where the food is placed on racks. Towards the lower end of the trench is a very smoky fire, the wind ensures this is sustained all day until the food is cooked and cured. 

Commercial Smokehouse

Made from stainless steel the commercial smokehouses have all independent systems for creating smoke and cooking. They can be different systems for creating the smoke from electric coils, small flames or even igniting sawdust. The heat from the coils or flames is balanced out with sprays of water or steam to control the humidity, temperature and smoke in the unit. These elaborate systems reduce the margin for error and variation in the finished product.

Pellet Smokers

The pellet smoker is fuelled by wood pellets that are made of dried up sawdust. The pellets are fed into a hopper with is controlled by a temperature regulator. A small motor pushes these pellets into an auger, this auger sits atop a heating box.

Within the auger is a hot rod which lights them, a small fan then keeps them smouldering. The heat senses within the cooking box send the current temperature, which the desired temperature is set, the pellet hopper will either increase or decrease the rate of the pellet. This system is for the perfect set and forget cooking as well as being light on fuel consumption.

The acceptance of this type of smokers is on the upsurge after numerous BBQ pitmasters began using them for competition barbecue.

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