Charcoal smokers are the top preferred smokers for home and competitive pitmasters due to the unique taste of the smoked food, the adjustability, and the portability of these appliances.
Although they require more skill and adjustments, they are still unsurpassed among the variety of other types of smokers, according to enthusiasts and professionals alike.
If you are looking for a charcoal smoker, then read on to find the best one of any type and for any budget and need, which we could find on the market in 2021.
Here are our top picks for the leading charcoal smokers for 2021 of all types.
The best overall charcoal smoker
The top-rated Weber Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker is the bestselling and top preferred one on the market.
We have picked the 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker as the best overall charcoal smoker, as it is a size that will fit almost any need, but our review and choice is valid for the two other size options available as well – the 14 and 22 inch Smokey Mountain Cookers.
The Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, also known as WSM, has been one of the most popular charcoal smokers ever since it was first introduced to the market back in 1981.
Today’s WSM is improved and updated to a level that makes it among the most popular charcoal smokers among professional pitmasters and beginners and home smokers alike.
One of the biggest benefits of the Smokey Mountain cooker is its sturdy steel build. It is an easy-to-use smoker and cooker, even for newbies.
This is a bullet-type smoker with a small footprint suitable for small patios and other limited outdoor spaces.
It is easy to adjust and can keep steady temperatures for long hours, which is essential for low and slow smoking and cooking.
It is made up of three different sections, including:
- The lower part includes the charcoal ring for the wood and the charcoal. It has vents for the airflow (a damper system), which can be adjusted and help control the temperature and maintenance without opening and closing the lid to let the heat or smoke out.
- The middle part is the actual cooking section which includes the water pan and the two grates for cooking. The cooking area has a large access door, which you can use to add more charcoal or smoke wood.
- The top part is the dome lid. It comes with a built-in thermometer and a convenient handle.
The cooker is available in three convenient sizes, so you can find the size to suit your needs.
- The high quality of construction – the WSM cooker is made of top-quality porcelain-enameled steel and has two nickel-plated cooking grates. It is a smoker made to last for years.
- Its ease of use – the Smokey Mountain cooker is suitable even for absolute beginners, as it is very easy to use. It is as close to a “set and forget” smoker as a charcoal cooker without a temperature controller can be, mainly thanks to its ability to hold a consistent temperature without the need of overseeing and babysitting the unit and the meat at all times.
- It has a large cooking area and capacity – while the bullet-shaped charcoal smoker has a small and space-saving footprint, it still has a sufficient cooking space that you can use to cook and smoke a lot of meat and food at the same time. The 18-in model has two cooking grates, which are 18.5 inches wide each, and provide a total of 481 square inches of cooking space. The 14-inch model has a 276 square inch cooking area, and the largest 22-inch smoker offers a generous 726 square inches for cooking and smoking tons of food. And even if the cooking space is not enough for your needs, you can invest in one or more rib racks to fit in more ribs.
- The side door is a tad flimsy – unfortunately, our overall favorite charcoal smoker does have its fault, and it is in the flimsy aluminum side door. It is prone to leaking smoke and heat at first, but the good news is that the smoke will create a natural seal over time. Still, you can easily replace the flimsy aluminum door with a more suitable one or use a gasket kit to seal it.
Also, check our dedicated article for the best Weber Smokey Mountain modifications, to improve your smoker and make your cooking more efficient.
The runner up
If you are into DIY projects, you can build your own budget-friendly ugly drum smoker, which is a type of smoker similar to the bullet-shaped vertical design of the Weber Smokey Mountain but doesn’t have a water bowl.
But if you are not willing to or capable of building your own drum smoker at home, then the 18.5 Classic Pit Barrel Cooker is among the finest ready-made solutions you can find on the market in 2021. It is a top-quality drum smoker you can buy.
The Pit Barrel Cooker Company introduced its first smoker back in 2010 and since then has become one of the top preferred manufacturers of these types of cookers and accessories.
This cleverly designed smoker has special metal hooks where you can hang the pieces of meat instead of relying on traditional cooking racks.
The 18.5-inch Classic Pit Barrel Cooker is made of a 30-gallon steel drum and comes with eight stainless steel hooks, two steel hanging rods, a standard grill grate, and a charcoal basket. The PBC Standard version also has a 3-point barrel stand, a wooden hook remover and comes with 5-oz of all-purpose and 5-oz of beef and game pit rub.
You can also buy the added packages – Select, Choice, and Prime, if you want to get a chimney starter, a cover, a hinged grate, an ash pan, pit grips, a turkey hanger, a sausage hanger, a corn hanger, a basket hanger, skewers, hooks, tongs, and more accessories for your Pit Barrel Cooker.
This excellent smoker can hold a consistent temperature, and thanks to its cylindrical shape, the heat and smoke are distributed evenly throughout the cooker.
It is reasonably priced for the value provided and is a reliable charcoal smoker suitable for beginners and people who do not want a unit that requires too much adjustment and customization.
- A nifty meat hook hanging system – this provides more space for more and larger pieces of meat. The hanging design also ensures that the meat gets basted into its own juices as it cooks, and also, the dripping juices create smoke fog, which eliminates the need for a water pan.
- There are no hot spots – since the meat is hung on hooks, and thanks to the design of this smoker, there is no risk of hot spots. This means that your smoked meat will not be at risk of burning and will develop an even and beautiful bark during the low and slow cooking process.
- It is easy to clean up – thanks to the fact that the meat is hanging on hooks rather than cooking on a grate, you will not need to rub and scrub a dirty and greasy water bowl when you are done. Instead, the juices from the meat will drop directly onto the charcoal, creating a beautiful smoke and leaving less grease and residue for cleaning.
- It is rather expensive – although it is reasonably priced for a good quality smoker, the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker is definitely costlier than a DIY variant. Otherwise, this excellent charcoal smoker is offered at a price similar to that of our top-choice, the 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain, which offers better temperature and smoke control.
- It can run hot – you will need to be careful when first lighting and starting the smoker to avoid high temperatures and to ensure that your meat and food are smoked low and slow instead.
The best charcoal Kamado Smoker
Kamado grills are superb, portable, and space-saving grills and charcoal smokers. Our top pick for a charcoal Kamado smoker is the Char-Griller Kamado Grill.
The Char-Griller Akorn is made with lighter and more durable 22-gauge steel double insulated walls, unlike the traditional Kamado grills made of ceramic.
The inner part of the steel smoker is powder-coated, and the outer part is porcelain coated.
It offers a generous 314 square inches of cooking space and has an additional warming rack, increasing the smoking and cooking space to up to 447 square inches.
Thanks to its double insulated walls, this compact charcoal smoker will hold the temperature steady and will use less charcoal.
It has nifty foldable side shelves with hooks where you can hold your grilling accessories, tools, and your beer or prepped food.
It is a durable charcoal smoker and is a more affordable option than other Kamado grills and smokers.
You can buy it in different color options and in combos with a grill cover, a smoking stone, a cookbook, and others.
- It offers excellent value for the price asked – this Kamado smoker and grill is sturdier, easier to use, and less expensive than the high-end egg-shaped smokers of this type.
- It is a reasonably priced grill and smoker combo – this makes it a more versatile choice than buying the two separately.
- It offers excellent insulation and zero leaks – the double insulated walls and the sealable lid will make sure that the temperature inside the smoker remains stable and that you use much less charcoal than you would for other types of smokers.
- It has sturdy cast iron cooking grates – the cooking grate has a removable central section, making adding coal and wood easy. The warming grate will add to the cooking space when needed and can easily fit a large piece of meat. The overall cooking area of the two grates is 447 square inches
- The size is compact – the grill is 26.6 x 24.8 x 21.65 inches and weighs 90 lbs. It has a small footprint and sturdy wheels for easy portability.
- You will need to buy a set with a smoking stone or a smoking stone separately if you want to use the Char-Griller Akorn for low and slow food prep.
- The gaskets can start leaking from the high temperatures – some users complain that the gaskets are not as well made as to the grill itself. This means that they can start leaking smoke if damaged by the high temperatures. You can easily replace them with options like the Smokeware replacement gaskets for high temperatures, though.
- The built-in thermometer is not reliable – as with most built-in thermometers on smokers, this one is not as accurate as it can be, but this can easily be fixed if you purchase a good grill or smoker thermometer.
The best charcoal smoker and grill combo
Although technically, the Weber Original Kettle is a grill, it can be converted into an excellent and budget-friendly smoker as well.
It is perfect for casual use and if you are only planning on occasionally smoking meat and don’t want to buy a dedicated smoker.
This Original Kettle Premium Charcoal grill by Weber is compact (only 39.5 x 22.5 x 27 inches) and weighs a mere 32.3 pounds, making it portable and perfect for traveling and for use anywhere.
It is inexpensive and doubles as a grill and a smoker and is offered by one of the most famous names in BBQ – Weber.
The charcoal grill and smoker can fit up to 13 burgers and has a built-in thermometer on the lid.
The grill is made of high-quality materials, including a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl to help retain the heat with less charcoal.
It has rust-resistant dampers and a nifty One-Touch cleaning system.
By adding an aluminum water pan, you can set up two cooking zones on this small grill. You can buy attachments to turn it into a low and slow smoker and even into a pizza oven.
While it is not a dedicated smoker and cannot achieve the high quality of smoked meat of the higher-end dedicated smokers, this small-sized charcoal grill is an affordable and space-saving option for occasional smoking.
- A very durable construction – it is made of pressed steel sheets enameled with porcelain. This will ensure it will withstand all kinds of weather conditions and a lot of use without rusting.
- It is leak-proof – thanks to its design, this grill will provide a reliable seal and is airtight, making it suitable for use as a smoker and low and slow cooker as well.
- It is very portable and light – the grill is compact, weighs less than 33 lbs. and has wheels for easy portability.
- It has limited cooking space – as compared to other smokers on our list, the Weber Original Kettle Grill is not made for smoking and has a limited cooking area.
The best charcoal vertical smoker
Vertical smokers are perfect for people who want to low and slow smoke large batches of meat and other foods but have limited space.
Thanks to its vertical, cabinet-style design, the Dyna-Glo 36-inch smoker will take up minimal space and yet can fit large quantities of food on its four cooking racks providing a 784 square inch cooking area.
It is easy to place and access the food on all racks at all times, making it easy for loading and unloading large batches of food without having to remove the shelves.
At the same time, this cabinet charcoal smoker costs about $150, making it among the best budget-friendly options as well.
The smoker has an easy-to-clean charcoal and ash management system.
It has a compact size of 20.83 x 21.45 x 49.73 inches and a weight of 56 lbs. making it easy to move around as well.
The vertical charcoal smoker is inexpensive, easy to assemble, set up, and adjust, making it an excellent choice for beginners and for people on a tight budget.
- A vertical design – the design allows for placing the unit in a small space and yet provides generous cooking space on four wide racks.
- The temperature is adjustable – the temperature inside the unit can be adjusted via the dampers on the side.
- It is not the sturdiest of all smokers – the wood chip box is kind of flimsy.
- It can leak smoke – due to the construction, there can be leakage of smoke from some corners and parts of the smoker. But for this price, some leakage can be expected.
Best wood burning offset smoker
This offset smoker is a popular choice among pitmasters. It offers a large cooking surface of up to 900 square inches, and when set up and used correctly, can deliver some of the best smoked meat ever.
Unlike other offset smokers, the Oklahoma Joe’s smoker is offered at a relatively reasonable price.
It is made of heavy gauge steel and has porcelain-coated grates, providing 619 square inches for food in the main chamber and an additional 281 square inches in the firebox chamber.
It has a sturdy steel basket for fuel, an easy-clean system for the ash, and multiple dampers, which allow for better temperature adjustment and control.
It utilizes a reverse flow design which ensures that the smoke is directed to all parts of the cooking chamber before it heads to the chimney. This allows for even smoking and cooking of the food.
For this price and the quality of this offset reverse flow smoker by Oklahoma Joe’s, it is the best choice for people looking for an entry-level charcoal and wood smoker of this type.
- The reverse flow design – this special design ensures that the smoke and heat are distributed evenly and thus helps avoid temperature spikes, hot spots, and uncooked meat.
- The heavy-duty construction – this affordable charcoal reverse flow smoker is made of durable, heavy-duty steel, and its grates are porcelain-coated, easy to clean, and will serve you for years.
- It may require some modifications to prevent leaks – this is among the most inexpensive offset smokers on the market, and as such, does have some faults, including its risk of leaking smoke. This leakage can be resolved easily by adding a gasket on the door to keep the smoke and heat inside the chamber.
- It does use more fuel than other smokers – this type of smoker uses up more charcoal and wood than other charcoal smokers.
The rest of the best charcoal smokers for 2021
Here are some of the other charcoal smokers on the market of all types and suitable for all needs, experience levels, and budgets.
The Cuisinart COS-118 18-inch Vertical Smoker is a perfect combination between an affordable price and a good quality smoker.
It is fitted with two 18-inch stainless steel cooking racks, which offer a total of 510 square inches for cooking.
At the same time, it has a small footprint and weighs a mere 25 lbs.
The size of this smoker is 25 x 25 x 45 inches.
It can hold a temperature relatively well, and with some customizations, it can even maintain higher temperatures than 225 degrees Fahrenheit, like the much more expensive vertical smokers on the market.
The affordable smoker has a porcelain-enameled water bowl, a vertically hinged door, and a dual ventilation system for easier temperature control.
The Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker is a small-sized, portable, and very well-built charcoal smoker.
It has a space-saving bullet-shaped design, a size of only 25.4 x 24.8 x 42.8 inches, and a weight of 27 lbs. This makes it perfect for small patios and yards and camping and for easy portability to outdoor events of all types.
Char-Broil’s compact 20-inch charcoal smoker comes with two porcelain-coated grates for cooking with a total cooking area of 584 square inches. It is also available in a smaller 16-inch size.
The temperature is easy to be regulated via the numbered dampers of the new airflow control system.
The body of the smoker is porcelain coated for added durability.
The ash pan is easy to access and remove for effortless and mess-free cleaning after use.
The front-loading door is also very convenient, as compared to most top-loading doors.
Overall, the Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker is an excellent option for beginners, for people who have small outdoor spaces or want a portable smoker and those who do not want to break the bank for a large and elaborate smoker.
If you want a smoker but do not want to spend more than about $100 for one, this affordable Old Smokey Charcoal Grill is a perfect option.
It may look a bit rough and flimsy, but this inexpensive charcoal grill is, in fact quite sturdy, and can produce some delicious grilled or smoked food.
It costs a fraction of what other grills and smokers cost but is still an excellent option to consider if you want a charcoal grill but are on a tight budget.
The Old Smokey Charcoal Grill #22 is made of aluminized steel which makes it durable and yet lightweight.
The size of this grill is 22 x 22 x 28 inches, and it weighs only 19 lbs.
Although it is a grill, you can easily convert it into a smoker via the indirect method.
Thanks to its high dome-shaped lid, you can place large pieces of meat.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides, such as the grill grate, which doesn’t have a hinge which means that you need to remove it to add more coal. Plus, it is not as rust-proof as the more expensive grills. But if you want a budget-friendly charcoal grill and smoker, the Old Smokey is one of the best options you can find.
This is one of the least expensive charcoal smokers you can buy in 2021. The Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet Smoker is compact, light, costs about $80, and is an excellent choice for casual users who are planning on occasional smoking from time to time.
The unit is 19.13 x 21.65 x 31.49 inches, weighs 15.26 lbs. and has a cooking area of 395.4 square inches.
It has two smoking racks, which are porcelain coated, an easy-to-access front door for adding charcoal, and a porcelain-coated water bowl and charcoal pan.
For this price, and with some modifications, such as adding a grate to the charcoal pan, drilling a hole on the bottom of the pan, and maybe adding higher legs, and using a better grill thermometer, the Masterbuilt 200060416 is a superb choice for a budget-friendly charcoal smoker for occasional use.
The Broil King Vertical Charcoal Smoker is another product that is worthy of our list of the best charcoal smokers for 2021.
It is made of premium materials, with double-walled construction for heat retention and fuel saving, and has a secondary door for easy access to the smoker box and large stainless steel water bowl.
The vertical charcoal smoker is reasonably priced and has four removable and adjustable stainless steel grids offering a total of 770 square inches of cooking space.
It also has 16 stainless steel hooks for hanging meat, a roast and rib rack, and a root draft damper system to control and maintain the temperature throughout the slow and low smoking.
The Broil King Vertical Smoker is easy to set up and use even by newbies, even without any customizations and modifications like some of the other budget-friendly charcoal smokers.
If you want an easy-to-use, affordable, and large-capacity charcoal smoker, you should consider the Broil Kind 923610 vertical Charcoal Smoker.
It is also available in natural gas and a propane variant.
Who needs a charcoal smoker?
Charcoal smokers are the most traditional of all smokers. They are as close as today’s modern person can get to the cavemen who first started using fire for survival and food ages ago.
While charcoal smokers can be harder to adjust, clean and manage, than the “set and forget” electric, propane, or pellet smokers, they can provide the food with the unmatched smokiness and bark that other smokers cannot replicate.
The reason is that charcoal will produce more smoke than gas will and provides a wider range of flavor and taste. This is especially noticeable when the charcoal grill is used for low and slow smoking and roasting. When the smoke and gases from the charcoal and the smoke wood and chips are mixed, the food absorbs the flavor resulting in the distinctive Southern BBQ style flavor.
Unlike charcoal smokers, propane grills usually produce a milder and not-so-recognizable flavor.
So, if you are a fan of the traditional Southern smoking barbecue style, then you may want to invest in a suitable charcoal smoker for the best results.
Pros and cons of using a charcoal smoker
- The distinctive flavor – the flavor of the food smoked in a charcoal and wood smoker, is the best when compared to all other smoker types which are currently offered. While charcoal smokers require more work, adjustment, and maintenance, many pitmasters claim that this is definitely worth it for the fantastic end results and taste of the smoked meat and food.
- Customizability – if you like tinkering with settings and making improvements, you will like those charcoal smokers to allow for more modifications and tuning options than others.
- Portability – since they do not need to be plugged in or do not require large-sized gas tanks, most charcoal smokers are much more portable than other smokers. This makes them useful for outdoor gatherings, camping, and all types of outdoor activities.
- Versatility – charcoal smokers, are able to produce some intense heat with a bit of modification. This means that they can be used for searing, as well as for smoking and cold smoking.
- Affordability – most charcoal smokers are less expensive than the newer gas, electric, and pellet smokers. Still, there are charcoal smokers in all price ranges, so that you can find some of these units costing thousands of dollars as well.
- More cleaning and maintenance: This is the factor that causes many people to opt for propane, pellet, or electrical smokers. With a charcoal smoker, there is a need to clean out the ash, add coal, and do other tasks which other smokers do not require.
- Trickier temperature adjustment and control – while some of the newer smokers have easy-to-use digital controls and are very easy to set up, charcoal smokers require more tinkering and some experience and skills in order to get the temperature control right.
- Not as many accessories – since charcoal smokers are more traditional and are of the oldest kind, there are generally much fewer smoker accessories available for them than the newer electric, gas, and pellet smokers. So if you like to have appliances with all bells and whistles, then a charcoal smoker is not the best option for you.
- Charcoal is not the cheapest or eco-friendliest fuel – if you care about energy saving and about the environmental impact of your activities, then the charcoal smoker is not the most suitable smoker type for you. You will need to buy charcoal, smoker woods which are generally costlier than propane gas or electricity.
Also, check our list of the best charcoal grills in 2021