A smoker is designed to cook at low temperatures and to impart the flavor of wood smoke into food. There are many different smoker styles and sizes at a variety of price points. We cover the five types you should know (with pros and cons for each) before you make any smoker buying decisions.
Vertical water smoker
Vertical water smokers consist of a vertical cylinder that can be divided into three sections. The bottom holds a heat source that can be charcoal, gas or an electrical element. Above that is a water pan and at the top, there is the cooking chamber. On the side, vertical water smokers have an access door for loading in fuel and refilling the water. You put the food in at the top. The purpose of the water is to keep the food moist over long cooking times.
- Compact, which makes it perfect for small backyards and patios
- Limited cooking area, so it’s not ideal for large gatherings
- You lose heat every time you open it
Horizontal offset smokers
Offset smokers feature a large drum that serves as the cooking area and the smaller firebox to one side. Well-made offset smokers are constructed from thick metal that retains heat. The design allows for low and slow smoking with the use of indirect heat from the firebox.
- Even a small horizontal offset smoker can accommodate large cuts of meat
- Well-made versions can be very efficient
- A well-built horizontal offset smoker is very expensive
- Cheap versions made with thin-gauge metal leak heat and waste fuel
Box smokers are also sometimes called cabinet smokers. They are similar to the vertical water smoker in that both rely on the vertical movement of the smoke. The food is placed at the top and the wood that produces the smoke is placed at the bottom. Box smokers differ from the vertical water smokers in that there is a front door that makes accessing the food and a water pan easier.
- Box smokers can cook a lot of food at one time
- Small footprint; they don’t take up much space
- Good box smokers are pricey.
- Cheap box smokers tend to leak heat and waste fuel.
Drum smokers are sometimes called ugly drum smokers. They are just about the simplest smoker design available. They have a firebox at the bottom and a cooking rack or two at the top. You control the heat with vents at the bottom and in the lid. They are simple enough that many people opt to build their own from kits.
- Very efficient; limited oxygen in the drum causes fuel to burn more slowly
- High capacity; you can cook very large pieces of meat in a drum smoker
- Visually unappealing; ugly drum smokers are not as attractive as other types of smokers.
- It can be difficult to reach racks of food below the top one.
A pellet smoker operates a lot like your kitchen oven. You program its thermostat to your desired temperature and count on it to maintain your setting. Pellet smokers are electric but they burn aromatic wood pellets to create aromatic smoke as well as heat to cook your food. You feed the pellets into a hopper where they are ignited. Air is drawn in for the combustion by intake fans.
- Pellet smokers are very easy to use; all you have to do is fill the hopper and start it up
- You can find pellet smokers in multiple forms from compact to commercial size
- Pellet smokers are typically quite expensive.
- Limited to smoking meat.