Holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics, loves traveling and learning new languages. Fluent in Spanish, is learning French and Czech at the moment. Enjoys exploring national cuisines every time he visits new countries.
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous online and offline grilling masterclasses runs his own BBQ accessories shop.
Last updated: October 25, 2021
LilGrill is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
There are few things more delicious than smoked meats or vegetables – dripping with moisture and having a distinctly unique flavor that can only come from a smoker. If just thinking about that flavor and texture is getting your excited, a charcoal smoker could be the answer for you. Charcoal smokers are surprisingly simple to operate when you get used to them, are easily portable for events like barbeques and tailgates, and produce far more intense flavors than any electric smoker ever could.
In order to help you find the best charcoal smoker, we considered a number of factors that set these cooking units apart. First, we looked at the cooking area, which is the total rack area on which you’ll be able to place items. We also looked at the temperature range, which affects the types of food you’ll be able to smoke and the speed with which you’ll be able to cook. Lastly, we considered whether each charcoal smoker is easily portable and how simple the smoker is to use as a beginner or an expert.
We spent tens of hours researching technical specifications and user reviews of the most popular charcoal smokers. The result is our pick of the nine best charcoal smokers, highlighted in the table below. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each charcoal smoker, complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide covers everything you need to know about choosing the charcoal smoker that’s right for your cooking needs. Finally, we sum up our three overall favorite smokers on the market today.
This incredibly simple and easy to operate smoker from Weber easily won our Editor’s Choice. The smoker makes your life easy with a built-in thermometer on the lid and a set of adjustable dampers that give you tight control over the amount of air being let into the charcoal chamber. Users also appreciated that the front door and removable lid give you excellent access to your food so you can see when it’s finished.
The total cooking area of this smoker is 726 square inches, although users noted that it seemed even bigger. That’s because the cooking area is divided over just two large grates, so there’s plenty of room to cook two huge pieces or multiple smaller pieces of meat at the same time.
The construction of this smoker is also noteworthy. Weber used porcelain in the cooking chamber components, which holds in heat much better than metal. As a result, users found that it was easier to keep the temperature of this smoker stable compared to other similar models.
The only thing users would have liked to see on this smoker was slightly more control over lowering the temperature. The dampers are limited in the amount of air they can move, and letting more air in requires cracking open the smoker door or lid – which lets a ton of smoke leak out.
It’s also worth noting that this smoker is somewhat large and heavy, and so is not ideal for portability. At over four feet long, you’d have trouble loading this smoker into the trunk of a standard car. However, Weber also makes the same smoker in two smaller sizes if portability is a priority for you.
This massive offset barrel smoker from Dyna-Glo is the perfect choice for massive backyard barbeques. The interior space of the smoker is the largest of any we reviewed, at almost 1,400 square inches. That’s distributed over five individual grates, each of which is large enough to hold a pretty significant side of meat. On top of that, the smoker features several sausage hooks hanging from the top of the cooking chamber.
Users appreciated the large cool-touch handles on the cooking and smoking chambers of this smoker, which make it easy to check on your meat or tend to your charcoal. The removable ash pan went over even better – by simply sliding this out, it takes just seconds to clean ash and leftover charcoal out of the chamber when you’re done using the smoker.
While users didn’t experience any issues with smoke leaking between the two chambers on this smoker, they did note that the smoker is constructed from relatively thin steel. This was concerning first because it makes keeping the temperature steady, especially when using wood rather than charcoal. On top of that, there is a chance that the thin steel could rust or wear down over time, which could quickly render the smoker useless. However, users reporting in after a year of use did not have any issues with the smoker’s durability.
The smoker is by no means lightweight at over 120 pounds, but Dyna-Glo did make efforts to make it more portable. The smoker is mounted on a set of large wheels, which is perfect for rolling around the yard to get the smoker in place. However, you will likely need a large truck to take it on the road.
This offset barrel smoker is our pick in this category thanks to the incredible construction quality and capacity of this smoker. The smoker is quite wide, at over five feet across. But all of the space – more than 1,000 square inches of cooking area – inside the cooking chamber is distributed across a single grate. That means you have a ton of flexibility when it comes to laying down huge cuts of meat or arranging many smaller pieces of food. Plus, the cool-touch handle on the main door gives you easy access to check on your food.
The charcoal chamber is equally large and can fit nearly a whole bag of charcoal so that you don’t have to worry about adding more charcoal when smoking for a big party. However, keep in mind that this smoker doesn’t have a removable ash pan, so cleaning out the chamber when you’re done cooking can be something of a hassle.
Users loved the heavy-duty all-steel construction of this smoker, as well as the porcelain-coated cooking grates. Altogether, those construction choices allow this smoker to retain heat extremely well and to maintain its temperature even when you’re cooking with a wood fire. Users appreciated that the extra-wide smoke port doesn’t clog up with smoke and grease. Plus, there are multiple dampers located around the cooking and charcoal chambers to make it easy to precisely control the temperature. The only construction issue that users had was that the chimney doesn’t extend all the way to the bottom of the cooking chamber.
Keep in mind that, given the size of this smoker, it can be extremely hard to transport. The smoker won’t fit in any car smaller than a truck and weighs 250 pounds – so even moving it around on the included wheels can take a few people.
This small charcoal smoker is surprisingly expensive, which is why we didn’t rate it higher. But if you can get past the sticker shock, this smoker has a lot to offer.
What sets this smoker apart from the competition – and adds to the price – is that the cooking chamber is constructed from aluminum rather than steel. That means that the smoker is virtually impervious to rust and allows it to be incredibly lightweight at just 49 pounds. Even better for users interested in transporting the smoker, it can be quickly detached from the included stand and used without the stand. However, users noted that the downside to aluminum construction is that it conducts heat more easily, which means that the smoker is less efficient with charcoal use.
This smoker also has a unique two-zone cooking design. There are four vents on the top of the cooking chamber, which allows you to alter how much heat builds up on either side of the grill. Users noted that it takes some practice to use this two-zone cooking system effectively, but that it gives you incredible control over your cooking once you understand how it works.
The only downside to this grill other than price is that it’s only good for smoking small amounts of meat at a time. The grate is limited to 310 square inches of cooking space, so don’t expect to feed more than one or two people with a meal cooked on this grill. However, there is enough room beneath the lid to cook taller items like a whole chicken or turkey.
This medium-sized offset barrel smoker from Char-Griller is the perfect choice for backyard chefs cooking for a single family. The cooking chamber offers a single grate with 830 square inches of cooking area, leaving you plenty of room for a single huge cut of meat or to arrange multiple smaller cuts. The cooking chamber also has a built-in thermometer so you can easily keep an eye on the temperature.
Users loved the heavy-duty steel construction of this smoker, which is a major difference from similarly priced offset barrel smokers from Dyna-Glo. The thick steel feels extremely durable and helps to better regulate temperature, especially if you plan to use this smoker with wood rather than charcoal at any point. Users also note that the smoke port between the two chambers is wide enough that it never gets clogged. However, keep in mind that the heavy steel construction does add weight – at 146 pounds, this smoker is surprisingly heavy for its size and you won’t want to move it around much.
Users also liked other helpful touches that Char-Griller made to this smoker. The ash pan is removable for quick and simple cleaning, while the adjustable fire grate and heat gauge in the hood combine to give you total control over the cooking temperature. If you need truly hot cooking conditions, this smoker is rated to cook at temperatures up to 400 degrees. However, users did note that the temperature control can be somewhat leaky in windy conditions.
The only other downside to this smoker is Char-Griller’s customer service. Customers who reported warranty issues had significant issues trying to get their claims resolved, even though Char-Griller offers a one-year warranty on all of the smoker’s components.
This small and portable smoker from Char-Griller is the ideal smoker for transporting anywhere. At less than four feet tall, you can easily load this smoker into the back of a car to take to a tailgate or a neighbor’s party. While the included wheels aren’t particularly heavy duty, users found that they weren’t flimsy either and appreciated that the side shelves on this smoker can fold down for transport. The only downside for transport is that the heavy-duty construction of the smoker makes it relatively heavy for its size at 97 pounds.
Keep in mind that the trade-off for the compact size of this smoker is that it doesn’t offer much cooking area. The smoker has just 314 square inches of cooking space on a single circular grate – the remaining cooking area is part of a warming grate for smoking already cooked foods.
Still, the small size of this grill and the direct placement of the charcoal beneath your food allows it to heat up to temperatures that most other smokers cannot. The smoker is rated for temperatures up to 500 degrees, and users found that it was easy to precisely dial in the temperature using the airflow lid on top. The double-wall insulation in the cooking chamber also helps with maintaining a steady temperature no matter the conditions outside.
Users also loved how easy this smoker is to clean. The ash pan is removable to make dumping out ashes fast and simple, and since the cooking chamber is all in one piece it’s quick to wipe it down.
This 18-inch water smoker from Cuisinart is a versatile smoker for a wide variety of uses. The two included grates provide a total of 510 square inches of cooking area, making this an ideal choice for feeding a small family. In addition, there is plenty of vertical space in the smoker to cook large items like chicken and turkey.
Users were very happy with the size of this smoker, which is small enough to fit into the trunk space of most vehicles. Plus, since it weighs just 37 pounds and has relatively small legs rather than a massive stand, it’s very easy to transport and use for tailgating.
The water smoker design allows this smoker to operate over a wider range of temperatures than many of its competitors. When the pan is filled with water and all of the vents are open, it’s possible to get this smoker down to just 180 degrees. On the other hand, you can empty the pan and close the vents to push it all the way to 475 degrees.
Users found that the thick steel housing and porcelain water bowl combined to keep the temperature very stable inside the smoker. Plus, the two air vents and the removable cooking lid make it easy to perfectly dial in the temperature.
The only issue that users had with this smoker is that the wood and water tray do not play nicely together. Users found that when the bowl is full of water, the smoker will not produce enough smoke, but when the bowl is empty and the smoker heats up fat drippings can cause wood ignition problems as well.
This tiny and inexpensive charcoal smoker from Masterbuilt is a good test smoker for chefs looking to try out smoking meats for the first time. The cooking area is relatively small at just 395 square inches of space, so you’ll be limited to making food for one or two people at a time with this smoker. Other than that, though, users felt that this was a surprisingly capable little smoker.
The temperature on this smoker can reach up to 400 degrees and users found that it was relatively easy to monitor thanks to the built-in lid thermometer. There’s only one air damper, but given the small size of the cooking chamber users didn’t find this to be much of an issue for temperature control.
Users were also happy with how easy it is to transport this small smoker. The unit weighs just 15 pounds and easily fits into the seat of any car, so there’s never a problem if you want to take it to a friend’s house or use it for a tailgate or camping trip.
Still, users would have liked to see a few modifications to the design of the smoker. There is no grate for the charcoal to sit on, so it gets smothered in ashes after a few hours of burning. In addition, the front-access door is relatively small, so you can peak at your food but it is otherwise hard to access. Finally, users desperately wished for a removable ash pan since cleaning out this smoker after a few hours of use can be quite a pain.
This enormous smoker from Dyna-Glo combines the best features of a cabinet smoker and an offset barrel smoker. The boxy design of the charcoal and cooking chambers actually helps to circulate heat and smoke, resulting in more even cooking and smoking of your meats. Plus, the charcoal box is designed for easily stacking briquettes so that you can get the most charcoal into the chamber with little fuss.
On top of that, an adjustable flue on the smoke stack in the cooking chamber allows you to take complete control over the flavor and temperature imparted to your food. A built-in thermometer allows you to keep an eye on the temperature as well.
Although the cooking area on this smoker is absolutely enormous – nearly 1,900 square inches – users looking to cook party-sized cuts of meat actually did report a few issues fitting them into the smoker. Users recommended opting for the wider version of this smoker if you plan on cooking large cuts of meat, since otherwise the cabinet is too square for most cuts to fit well.
The other thing that users noted about this charcoal smoker is that, like Dyna-Glo’s other smoker, the steel construction is relatively thin. Again, while users did not report any issues with rust or wear after one year of use, many people were concerned that the smoker would begin to show the thinness of the material after several years of use.
Finally, users found that while the smoker could be used out of the box, it was necessary to make a number of modifications to get the best results. The smoker comes somewhat leaky, so many users found themselves re-sealing the edges of the charcoal and cooking chambers in order to get better smoking efficiency.
What makes it special?
Massive cooking area
Charcoal box designed for briquettes
What cons did we find?
Thin steel construction
Square chamber is not ideal for large cuts of meat
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our nine favorite charcoal smokers on the market today, how do you choose between them to get the smoker that’s right for your cooking style? In our buying guide, we’ll discuss the advantages of a charcoal smoker and explain everything you need to know when choosing a charcoal smoker.
Pros and cons of charcoal smokers
There are a variety of advantages and disadvantages to charcoal smokers, but every chef agrees on the distinct flavor of meats smoked with charcoal. Ask anyone who has used a charcoal smoker, and there is simply no comparison between the smoky flavor imparted by these smokers compared to electric or gas smokers. Better yet, by using different types and amounts of charcoal, you are in complete control of the flavor of your meat every time you cook.
Part of the reason for this distinct flavor is that charcoal smokers simply produce more smoke than a gas smoker ever could. You also have more ability to customize the smoke production, ventilation, and exposure to smoke that your meat has when cooking on a charcoal smoker as opposed to a gas smoker.
The other key advantage to charcoal smokers is that they are generally easier to transport and use anywhere than gas smokers. Charcoal smokers don’t require an electrical supply and you can pick up more charcoal at almost any store. If you plan on using your smoker for tailgating, camping trips, or barbeques, this portability is a significant plus.
That said, there are some disadvantages to charcoal smokers. The most obvious is that you’re going to be left with a significant amount of cleanup work after every time you use the smoker. You’ll need to clear out the charcoal ash and leftover charcoal, which is a dirty job that few chefs appreciate.
The other issue that some chefs may have with a charcoal smoker is that it can be harder to control the temperature. Some charcoal smokers are easier to use than others, though, so this is where your choice of smoker comes into play.
When it comes to cost, it can be hard to compare between charcoal and gas smokers. Although charcoal smokers are generally less expensive, charcoal itself is relatively expensive. So, over the long term, the price of charcoal and gas smokers comes out about equal.
Features to consider while choosing a charcoal smoker
There are a huge variety of features that differentiate charcoal smokers from one another. Here, we’ll take a look at the most important features you need to know about and explain how they can affect your cooking.
Charcoal smoker type
There are four main types of charcoal smokers
Water (Bullet) smokers
Offset barrel smokers
Vertical cabinet smokers
Water, or bullet, smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker are by far the most common type of charcoal smoker. These smokers have a water pan above the charcoal that moderates the temperature and allows you to dial in cooking temperatures between 225–250 degrees. However, if you want to cook at higher temperatures, you’ll actually leave the water pan empty. The advantage to water smokers is that they are inexpensive and easy to use, but they don’t grill your meat like other types of smokers do.
Kamado smokers are grill and smoker combinations that are made out of ceramic. The ceramic construction is great for maintaining high temperatures while using very little charcoal, but it also makes these types of smokers significantly more expensive and less portable.
The offset barrel smoker, like the model from Oklahoma Joe’s, is the traditional smoker design. These smokers have a horizontal grill for your meat and an attached smoking chamber for your charcoal. While most offset barrel smokers are designed to burn wood, you can just as easily use charcoal in the smoking chamber. Either way, the separate smoking chamber lets you easily tend to your fire and a set of air intakes moves smoke into the cooking chamber.
Be sure to opt for an offset barrel smoker with a quality air intake system, since otherwise your smoker can leak most of its smoke and won’t flavor your meat.
Vertical cabinet smokers resemble gas smokers, with a single cabinet for your meat and your charcoal. However, vertical cabinet smokers that use charcoal are relatively uncommon.
Total cooking area and hopper capacity
The total cooking area of your smoker refers to the amount of rack space that is available for smoking meats. Rack space on small smokers like the PK Original smoker can be quite limited, at under 400 square inches. That’s not a problem if you’re only cooking for yourself, but if you’re hosting a large party you may need over 1,000 square inches of space like the massive Dyna-Glo smokers provide.
The hopper capacity refers to the amount of charcoal that the smoker can hold. Typically, hopper capacity is scaled according to the amount of cooking area that your smoker offers so that you can smoke an entire cabinet’s worth of meat without having to add charcoal at any point.
The temperature range of your charcoal smoker is important because it determines the types of meats you can cook and smoke at the same time. Some meats can be thoroughly cooked at temperatures below 350 degrees, while others require a higher temperature to cook thoroughly. Keep in mind also that there may be cases when you want to smoke meats that are already cooked, in which case you may need a smoker like the Dyna-Glo DGO1890BDC-D that can operate at temperatures as low as 100 degrees.
The construction quality of a charcoal smoker is extremely important – a shoddily made charcoal smoker will leak smoke everywhere, dramatically reducing the efficiency of the smoking process. This is particularly important for offset barrel smokers like the Oklahoma Joe’s smoker, since the system needs to be properly sealed for the smoke to make its way into the cooking chamber.
Dimensions and weight
The dimensions and weight of your smoker might not be important if you don’t ever plan to move it. But if you are looking to take your smoker out for tailgates and barbeques, it will be important to think about whether your smoker will fit in your car and whether it’s light enough to lift. This is where smaller smokers, like the models from Masterbuilt and PK Original, can be extremely useful.
Temperature controls and ease of use
Charcoal smokers rely on air vents to control their temperature, but the ease of controlling the temperature with these vents can vary widely. Charcoal smokers with only one or two vents, like the Masterbuilt and Cuisinart smokers, can be easier to operate, but give you less room to dial in the right temperature. On the other extreme, smokers like the models from Dyna-Glo, with their extra flumes, can be more complex to operate but give you more ability to control the temperature.
When you buy a charcoal smoker, you want to be sure it will last. Most manufacturers offer warranties of several years on their smokers, although these warranties can vary between parts and between manufacturers. For example, Weber offers a five-year warranty on the cook box, lid assembly, and cooking grates, but just a two-year warranty on other parts.
How much do charcoal smokers typically cost?
Charcoal smokers can vary widely in price depending on the type, size, and build quality of your smoker. On the budget end of the spectrum, Masterbuilt’s smoker sells for less than $100. However, you should expect to pay between $250–$450 for a high-quality or larger smoker.
Tips to maintain your charcoal smoker
There are a few things you can do to maintain your charcoal smoker and ensure that it will last for years to come.
The first and most important thing you need to do is to clean out the ashes after every time you use your smoker. Ashes left sitting in the smoker will attract moisture from the air, which will eventually lead to the bottom of your smoker rusting out.
It’s also important to clean off the metal grates in your smoker. Any residual food will create burned or rancid bits on your meat the next time you smoke. To prevent that, simply scrape down your grates with a scraper or metal brush after every time you use the smoker.
After the smoker has cooled down, it’s also a good idea to clean off the inside of the cooking chamber. If you don’t do this, the interior of the chamber will eventually start flaking off burnt crisps that can get into your food. All you need to clean the cooking chamber is a brush with soap and water, as well as a bit of elbow grease.
Charcoal is essentially burnt wood. But charcoal is able to burn again, clean and hot, because it is originally burnt in the absence of oxygen. The material that is left burns without much of a flame and leaves relatively little ash compared to wood.
For the vast majority of users, charcoal briquettes are going to be much easier to use. They are cheaper than lump charcoal, easy to stack, and maintain a steady temperature even as you open and close the air vents on your smoker. But, keep in mind that briquettes do have some chemical additives that will be in the smoke that is floating past your meat.
Lump charcoal, on the other hand, burns cleaner and hotter and is easier to light up. But, since it’s not compressed into briquettes, lump charcoal is very responsive to oxygen – so you’ll need to be careful with how you adjust your vents.
The best way to keep the temperature in your smoker consistent is to wait until the charcoal is fully burning and then use the vents to dial in your temperature. Once the temperature stabilizes, it should remain consistent without your having to babysit the smoker. However, keep in mind that this will require some patience over the first 30 minutes or so after you light up the smoker.
Most water smokers are not designed to burn wood – this will produce flames that will char your meat and potentially damage the interior of the smoker. But, offset barrel smokers like that from Oklahoma Joe’s can typically use either charcoal or wood. The smoking chamber is designed to handle the flames from a wood fire and gives you easy access to tend that fire.
Our three overall favorite charcoal smokers on the market today are the Weber Smokey Mountain, the Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D, and the Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Offset Smoker. We feel the Oklahoma Joe’s smoker is the best offset barrel smoker thanks to its massive cooking area across a single grate that allows you to smoke massive cuts of meat. While users overall loved this smoker, keep in mind that it doesn’t have a removable ash pan. The Dyna-Glo smoker offered a tremendous amount of cooking area as well as finely tunable temperature controls, making it our pick for hosting backyard barbeques. But the Weber Smokey Mountain was our pick for the best charcoal smoker overall thanks to its combination of ease of use, cooking area, and solid build quality. Weber’s smoker is very versatile and offers something for every chef, and can even be easily transported so you can make smoked meats anywhere you go.