Drum smokers used to be popular mainly as DIY projects by backyard pitmasters, but today, there are some ready-made drum smokers which are a preferred choice by newbies and advanced BBQ enthusiasts alike.
The reasons why drum smokers are so sought after are that they can produce impressive and delicious results with minimal effort, especially when compared to traditional charcoal smokers.
These upright smokers may look simple and pretty primitive, but in actuality, drum smokers are among the best smokers with powerful temperatures, excellent airflow, and compact footprints.
Drum smokers also tend to cook faster and have large capacities, so if you are a fan of hot and fast cooking, you will be happy to know that you will be able to prepare a juicy and tender brisket very quickly and effortlessly with one of these smokers.
Best drum smoker available in 2021
Here are the top-rated drum smokers for 2021 and everything you need to know for choosing the most suitable one for your needs.
The top-rated Classic Pit Barrel Cooker is our number one choice for the drum smoker of the year 2021.
It is made by a veteran-owned company – Pit Barrel Cooker and is the bestselling smoker of this type in the world.
The manufacturer is focused on producing the leading “set it and forget it” drum smokers, and this 18.5-inch drum smoker is an excellent example of this.
Thanks to its upright 30-gallon barrel-style design, this cooker can fit eight racks of ribs simultaneously, which is more than most horizontal smokers in this range.
The smoker is made of 18 gauge stainless steel and has a porcelain-enameled interior made to last and to be easy to clean up and maintain.
In fact, you don’t have to rinse out the cooker and only need to throw out the ashes after use.
Another huge advantage of buying this drum smoker is that it doesn’t require any complex assembly and can be used right out of the box (after you attach its handles). Plus, there are no complicated settings and controls you need to meddle with, and it comes with clear instructions, so it is a suitable choice for beginners as well.
The standard drum smoker comes with 8 stainless steel hooks, 2 steel hanging rods, a grill grate, a charcoal basket, a hook remover, a stand, and two 5-oz pit rubs.
If you want to customize your smoker’s setup, you can buy a wide range of accessories offered by the manufacturer, including a chimney starter, a hinged grate, an ash pan, a hinged grate, a cover, and different types of hangers, skewers, Grill Grates, and many more.
Overall, with its ease of setup and use, its large capacity, and the ability to smoke food both low and slow and high and fast, this drum smoker is our top recommendation for this type of cooker for 2021.
- Easy to set up and use – one of the finest set it and forget it drum smokers
- Durable build, made of top quality 18 gauge steel with a porcelain enamel coating
- Easy to clean
- A large capacity thanks to its vertical design – you can cook 8 racks of ribs at the same time
- It comes with 8 hooks, 2 hanging rods, a grate, and everything you will need to get started right away
- There are a lot of other optional accessories to buy to customize the cooker to your liking
- While the handles on the lid look awesome, you should wear mitts when handling them, as they can get very hot during the cooking
The sole reason why this amazing 55-gallon drum smoker did not take the lead on our list is its price.
The runner up for the leading drum smoker for 2021 is a top-quality BBQ cooker
Specially designed to maximize the moisture and tenderness of your meat, the Gateway Drum 55 Gallon Charcoal Smoker is our top runner-up.
One of the most impressive features of the Gateway Barbecue Drum Smoker is the premium quality materials use and the excellent build of this cooker.
It is made of top-quality steel and covered with a protective industrial-grade finish that will withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
All of its components are welded, including the handles, so that this drum smoker will endure years and decades of use and extreme weather.
The vertical smoker has three cooking levels and a massive cooking area of 462 square inches, which you can increase to 1,386 square inches if you purchase two more optional grates.
The drum smoker comes with one 22-inch, plated steel cooking grate.
Thanks to the removable large-capacity fire basket, you can smoke food inside this cooker for up to 14 hours without the need to refill it with coal.
It has an integrated custom dial thermometer for reading temperatures from 50 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and offers easy and precise temperature adjustment thanks to the two welded air-adjustable intake pipes and air adjusting exhaust pipe.
The cooker also has a convenient lid hook.
It weighs 150 lbs. and has two removable casters, so it is easy to move around as well.
- Made to last out of industrial-grade finished steel with welded handles and elements
- It is easy to move thanks to the casters
- A built-in temperature gauge
- Excellent temperature accuracy and easy adjustment via the air intake and exhaust pipes
- A large cooking capacity
- Customizable to reach a cooking space of up to nearly 1,400 square inches
- A large charcoal basket capacity allows for cooking for up to 14 hours without refilling
- It is more expensive than most other drum smokers on our list
Related: 11 Best Charcoal Smokers Reviewed for 2021
The versatile option
If you prefer investing in a versatile drum cooker that can double as a smoker and a grill, then the Bronco by Oklahoma Joe’s is our top recommendation.
The smoker has a generous capacity of 55 gallons, so you can cook and smoke food to prepare a feast for a large group of friends.
The reasonably priced drum smoker comes with a large assortment of accessories, including a cooking grate and several meat hangers so that you can customize the cooking area and configuration depending on your needs.
The primary cooking space on the grate is 284 square inches, which can fit 10 burgers or two 8 lbs. pork shoulders. If you buy additional cooking grates, you can cook the meat or other food of your choice at three cooking levels, at three different temperature ranges, and in different configurations.
With the included meat hooks, you can smoke up to 9 baby back ribs at the same time as well.
There is also a large-capacity charcoal basket which, when fully loaded, can burn for up to 10 hours before the need for refueling.
Thanks to the revocable porcelain-enameled ash pan, you can easily clean out your smoker after use.
The Bronco is made of heavy gauge steel and has wagon-style wheels for easy portability and mobility.
It has an efficient airflow system, including two adjustable intake pipes, one adjustable exhaust pipe, and a sealed lid, as well as a built-in temperature gauge for simple and yet precise temperature adjustment for any cooking need.
There is a nifty side table to store your food or tools.
Best of all, it can work with charcoal of all kinds, wood chunks, and even small logs and you can transform it from a smoker into a grill easily.
- The Bronco can easily be converted from smoker to grill and vice versa
- There is a helpful side table for storage and easy access
- A very durable build
- Excellent mobility thanks to the large wheels
- Three adjustable cooking levels
- It comes with a grate and meat hooks, and all accessories you need
- The temperature adjustment is easy and precise
- It has a large capacity
- The charcoal basket is large enough to keep the cooker burning continuously for 10 hours without refilling it
- Some users find that the built-in temperature on the drum smoker is not as accurate and lags in the readings
The Best from Weber
The Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is among the most popular barrel-style charcoal cookers in the country and has gained a massive following since it was first released in the early 1980s.
While this beloved cooker is available in three size options of 14, 18, and 22 inches, we have picked the 18-inch Smokey Mountain as our top choice by Weber when it comes to drum smokers.
Given that the WSM has a water pan makes it more of a barrel smoker than a drum smoker, but if you remove the pan, you can still use it as a drum cooker.
It has become a staple among backyard BBQ enthusiasts and professional pitmasters alike throughout the years due to its space-saving design, portability, and ease of use, and superb and its reliable temperature control.
The bullet-styled smoker by Weber is very easy to set up and, once adjusted via the air vents, and the large water pan will keep the temperature steady and without spikes, which is crucial for smoking meat and other food.
The cooker is made of chrome, and porcelain-coated durable steel has a built-in thermometer probe port which you can use to monitor the temperature of the meat without opening the lid.
In addition, there is an integrated thermometer on the lid of the smoker.
It has two cooking racks above the water and charcoal bowls, and you can infuse additional flavor to your smoked meat by adding different liquids such as apple cider, juice, or others to the water pan.
This iconic charcoal smoker has a cooking area of 481 square inches and yet takes up minimal space and weighs only 39 lbs. so it is among the most portable of all of the cookers on this list without compromising with the cooking capacity.
It is among the most suitable choices for beginners and professionals alike.
- A very small footprint and lightweight, making it portable and easy to transport
- Sturdy construction made of steel with a porcelain and chrome coating
- Easy to adjust temperatures which will remain stable throughout the cooking thanks to the dampers and large water pan
- Two removable stacked cooking grates with a total cooking area of 481 square inches can be adjusted to fit small and larger cuts of meat
- A separate door for adding more charcoal or wood without opening the cooker and lifting the grates
- The WSM is compatible with the advanced Weber iGrill thermometer
- It is sold with a protective cover
- The smoker is backed by a 10, 5, and 2-year warranty by Weber
- Due to its height, it may be uncomfortable to use for some pitmasters
- There are cases when the smoke and heat can leak through the door of the grill, which is easily fixable with an affordable gasket smoker seal
You can also check our dedicated article for all must-have WSM modifications
Best small drum
If you love the idea of owning and using a drum cooker, but want to be able to take it camping and fishing with you, or don’t have enough space for a regular drum smoker, then this Junior smoker may be the perfect option for you.
It is the “mini-me” of our runner-up, the Classic 18.5 inch cooker but comes in a size of just 14 inches in diameter.
The dimensions of this smoker are 33 inches high with the stand and lid and 21.25 inches wide with the handles on the side. It weighs 32.7 lbs.
Being smaller than the Classic, it has a smaller capacity than it, but the Junior drum smoker is still able to fit up to 5 racks of ribs, or a full packer brisket, or a pork butt or shoulder, or a 17lbs. turkey or 6 chicken halves per cooking session. This is still more than some of the horizontal smokers on the market.
The Junior can cook for up to six hours at up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit before the need of refueling, as compared to the 8-hour run of the Classic.
Like its bigger brother, the Junior is very easy to set up and use and is perfect for newbies and for pitmasters who like “set it and forget it” smokers.
It is also easy to clean without rinsing.
The manufacturer offers a variety of additional accessories you can buy to improve this excellent smoker further. And if you already own the Classic version, you can use the accessories you have – as they are completely interchangeable too.
As a whole, this small drum smoker is the top choice for those of you looking for a smaller and more portable drum cooker.
- It is compact, light, and with a small footprint, making it suitable for small spaces and for traveling and storage
- Easy to use, and holds a stable temperature for fans of set it and forget it smoking and cooking
- Made of durable, high-quality materials
- While it is small, it has a capacity that is larger than some of the regular sized horizontal smokers
- It can burn for up to 6 hours at 225 degrees F per a full load of charcoal
- Easy cleaning without rinsing
- No assembly is required
- Just like with the Classic, the handle of the Junior can get very hot during the cooking, so you will need to use mitts or cloth when opening and closing the smoker
Benefits of owning a drum smoker
Many pitmasters – beginners and advanced prefer using drum smokers because of their multiple advantages.
One of the biggest advantages of drum smokers is that they are among the least expensive of all types of smokers on the market. The reason is that they are relatively simple in design. But keep in mind that the prices for these smokers can vary, and while some of them are inexpensive, others are on the higher-end.
Another benefit of these smokers is their fuel efficiency as compared to other grills and smokers.
Depending on the model you choose, you can expect to burn a lot less charcoal than you would when using a regular smoker for longer hours without the need for refueling.
This makes these cookers perfect for those of you who like the idea of setting and forgetting the smoker. Plus, you will save money on charcoal in the long run.
Many of these smokers are lightweight and portable, so they are also suitable for traveling, camping, fishing, and other activities for people who like spending time in the wilderness or on the road.
How does a drum smoker work?
The design of drum smokers is almost the same as the other vertical barrel and bullet-style smokers but the former work without a water pan.
Drum smokers have vents on the bottom, which ensures the airflow and flow of oxygen to the burning charcoal.
The temperature in the cooker is adjusted by adjusting the size of the air vent on the bottom.
The heat rises up through the vertical smoker, passing through the meat or other food on the grates on hooks, and exits the cooker via a vent on the top. The air that leaves the drum smoker makes space for more air to enter from the bottom, which keeps these smokers burning at a stable temperature.
Even though drum cookers do not typically have water pans and bowls, the meat and food cooked in them remains moist and juicy thanks to the fat and other juices which drip on the hot coals under the cooking grates and hooks. This causes the evaporation of liquids that keep the food moist and infuse them with additional flavor and smoke.
Difference between drum smokers and barrel smokers
As we mentioned before, drum smokers and barrel smokers are very much alike, and their names are often used interchangeably. But the truth of the matter is that although they are similarly sized and shaped, the two types of cookers have several essential differences.
First of all, barrel smokers, such as the bullet-styled Weber Smokey Mountain, feature water pans, while drum smokers don’t have them.
The barrel smokers, which rely on the water and other liquids in the pans, are more suitable for low and slow smoking and cooking. On the other hand, drum smokers are preferred for hot and fast cooking instead.
The drum cookers usually produced food with stronger flavors due to the fact that all of the juices from the meat, including the fat, marinades, and others, drip directly on the burning coals, and then evaporate into the rising hot air which passes through the food on the grates and hooks, infusing it with a stronger aroma and taste.
Barrel smokers have water pans that separate the food being cooked and the burning charcoal. Still, many pitmasters add cider, juice, or other liquids in the water pan to add to the flavor of the meat and food being prepared.
Another difference between drum and barrel smokers is that the drum smokers usually have a simpler design, with fewer elements, making them easier to clean and more mobile than barrel smokers.
Drum smokers also offer large cooking capacities, thanks to their sizeable vertical drum styles, making them suitable for hanging and smoking different meat cuts, especially racks of ribs, brisket, and others.
Due to their faster cooking time, drum smokers are a better option than barrel smokers for pitmasters who do not have the patience or time to smoke food for many hours but still want to enjoy eating delicious smoked ribs, brisket, or others.
Things to consider when choosing a drum smoker
Durability and materials used
Like with any other appliance or product you spend your hard-earned dollars on, it is essential to look for a drum smoker that is well built, made out of durable and high-quality materials if you want to use it for years.
Our top selections are made of premium quality steel with different temperature and weather-resistant finishes and coatings, so you can rest assured that the cooker of your choice will withstand years of use and different weather elements.
Plus, high-quality coated steel is easier to clean and maintain.
Make sure that you check the materials used for making the other elements, such as the grates, hooks, handles, and others, to be sure that you are making a wise long-term investment when buying your drum smoker.
Also, check out the warranty offered by the manufacturer of the cooker, which is usually a pretty good sign of how sure the producer is of the quality and durability of its own products.
Since drum smokers work with charcoal briquettes, lumps, and sometimes wood chunks, you will need to make sure that the cooker of your choice is easy to load and clean out, and most importantly, if it is easy to add more fuel during use without opening the cooker and letting the heat and smoke out.
Our recommendation is to look for a drum smoker with a separate charcoal door, which you can open and close without opening and closing the cooker’s lid every time, and without having to lift the food being cooked.
If there is no door, then look for a smoker with a larger charcoal basket capacity because this can ensure hours of cooking and smoking, sometimes reaching up to 12 hours per single full load.
Since drum smokers are made of or at least based on the idea of using drums, the typical sizes of these backyard cookers are 55 and 30 gallons.
Our top selection for a small drum cooker – the Junior is an exception and has a small-sized 16-gallon drum.
Choosing the right size for your drum smoker depends on how much food you plan on cooking per smoking session, how much space you have in your outdoor space, and whether you want a portable smoker for traveling or you prefer a stationary one for your backyard.
Make sure you check out the cooking area of the drum smoker before buying it, as well as the options for increasing the cooking space and using grates, hooks, and others.
Check the outer dimensions and weight of the cooker if you have limited space for a smoker and if you are planning on moving it around or traveling with it.
Smaller models are more suitable for camping, tailgating, fishing, and traveling, but larger drum smokers have larger cooking capacities and will burn for longer per a full load of charcoal.
Even though they have become increasingly popular, these smokers are usually less expensive than horizontal and other smokers and grills.
The simplest ones are very affordable, even for people on tight budgets. Of course, there are some high-end drum smokers which have added features for those who are willing to splurge out too.
Our recommendation is to choose a mid-range model if you can afford it and pick the one which offers the best value for the money you have set for buying a smoker.
In case you want to save money, and you are handy and have the suitable instruments and materials, you can make your own drum smoker too. There are various online resources and videos on making a DIY drum smoker which you can use as references.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of excellent drum smokers of all types, sizes, and price ranges.
With a drum smoker, you can save space for installing your own backyard smoker. You can also save time because these cookers cook faster and at higher temperatures. Plus, a smoker like this is easy to set and use, without too much babysitting during the smoking.
Last but not least, with a good drum cooker, you will be able to make delicious, juicy, and flavorsome ribs, brisket, pork butt, and whatever you want much faster, and with much less fuel than with other horizontal smokers.
Good luck with your choice, and happy barbecuing!