If you’re looking for that delectable smoky goodness in your slow-cooked ribs or perfectly done briskets, charcoal smoking is the way to go. The depth and nuance of layered flavors you can achieve with assorted wood-chips and charcoal, letting you control the balance you’re hoping to strike, is unparalleled when you’ve got a charcoal smoker in your arsenal.
Although not as convenient and straightforward to use as electric or even pellet smokers, once you get into the swing of stoking and watching your charcoal (pretty much as you would when grilling with charcoal), we’d say the payoff is worth it – you get perfectly tender, juicy and flavorful meats to dig into.
What with the different types of units available, though, you might have a hard time figuring out exactly which one will transform your backyard into a fully-operating smokehouse, especially if you’re looking for a unit to double as a grill, or supplement your existing hardware. Take a look at our picks for the best charcoal smokers to up your backyard cooking game.
Primo 778 Extra-Large Oval Ceramic Charcoal Smoker Grill
This extra-large drum smoker is a two-in-one grill and smoker, versatile enough to be usable for searing, roasting and baking your meats perfectly as well. The great size, with 400 square inches of cooking surface and up to 680 inches with rack extensions, make it the perfect unit to include in your backyard arsenal when you’ve got quite a few mouths to feed over a weekend lunch get-together.
The hardy premium ceramic of unit’s exterior, protectively coated with lead-free and scratch resistant porcelain glaze, ensures your unit will hold up to the elements but also provides you rugged stability as you cook, as well as internal consistency to make sure your food cooks thoroughly.
The smoker/grill features two-zone cooking, allowing you to do direct and indirect cooking at the same time – so you can grill your steak and sausages while roasting your veggies at the same time for a well-rounded meal.
Unlike water-based smokers, this unit involves direct smoking and cooking, with your food placed on the top rack above the burning charcoal. Featuring a fire box divider that lets you alter your cooking configurations to suit your needs, you can use the unit for grilling and searing by removing the divider and cooking your steaks, hams and chicken breasts directly over a charcoal fire, for grilling and roasting by using the divider and heat deflector to group charcoal under one half of the grill, so you can grill on one side and roast on the other, and finally for baking, roasting and smoking, where the fire box is filled with charcoal and the heat moderated by heat deflectors for slow-cooking. The top vent in the lid and draft door in the base allow you to moderate temperature, a temperature gauge fitted on to the unit letting you moderate internal temperatures and maintain the right degree for your preferred mode of cooking.
KAREN’S BUDGET PICK
Napoleon AS300K-1 Apollo 3-in-1 Smoker
This unit delivers impressive value-for-money payoff, offering both wet and dry cooking modes at a fraction of the price many popular smokers on the market are going for. Featuring a standalone grill with a lid you can use to make the most out of the unit, the smoker features two cooking chambers with separate vents for adjustable and versatile temperature control, allowing you to cook multiple dishes simultaneously.
Each cooking chamber features a cooking grate of a 19-inch diameter, while the top lid features a horizontal bar with hooks for fish, ribs or sausages, giving you all the more options to diversify your cooking with this unit. Each level of the unit also features a temperature eyelet through which you can insert your cooking thermometer to regulate internal temperature, along with an Accuprobe temperature gauge and adjustable vents to let you control the temperature to your preferred cooking requirements. Another handy feature we love is the fact that you don’t have to take the whole unit apart to top up dwindling charcoal supplies – an easy access door lets you fill up the base and resume cooking.
Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker
This vertical water smoker has a lot going for it, from its comparatively pocket-friendly price to its space-saving build. A great choice for those who just don’t have the space for another large backyard cooking unit, you’ll find this a perfect compromise, especially since the smaller size equates to more energy- and fuel-efficiency. The fuel in this case is of course charcoal, which you dump into the base and light; above this is the water-pan, which works to regulate the temperature and cooking within the unit, ensuring the meat doesn’t dry out and preventing direct exposure of the meats to the heat-source.
Build the fire the same way you would for a charcoal grill, fill the water pan and voila, you’re ready to slow-cook, grill and roast whole hunks of meat at one go. An in-built temperature and vents in the base and lid let you moderate internal conditions for the ideal cooking temperatures, while two heavy-duty plated steel racks allow you to smoke foods simultaneously, each grate offering reasonable cooking surfaces of 481 inches. For rugged durability and longevity, the unit is structured out of premium-grade steel coated in porcelain enamel.