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Charcoal Smoker Recommendations

Yeah, the barbecue bug has once again bitten us. We used to barbecue with an inexpensive, upright electric smoker when we lived in the Northeast, but once we officially became Texans, we didn't see any need to work at it ourselves, especially when there are so many barbecue places nearby. It just didn't seem like it was worth the trouble. It has been many years since we last tried smoking anything ourselves.

So, while at the big box homestore today, we noticed someone walking out with a fully assembled, miniature offset barrel smoker -- complete with separate firebox, stand with shelf, and smokestack. It might have been one of the cutest things we have ever seen! We ran into the store to discover that the last floor model had been sold, and started looking up alternatives online when we returned home. The bug has definitely bitten again.

We are a small family, and we never grill or barbecue for more than a few guests. It doesn't rain much here, so we could go back to electric and have many more opportunities to use it without fear of GFI circuits popping, but we think we want to go with charcoal/wood this time. Biggest question: Upright versus offset. Also, is the Big Green Egg really worth it?

Any recommendations would be welcome as we complete our reseach over the next weeks.

Thanks.

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  1. If you just want to smoke meat for a family I'd get the 22" Weber Smoky Mt upright BBQ.

    Offsets are nice but they are more then you need unless you like to cook for a crowd. If you want to BBQ for a crowd and like quality, then get a Klose.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kelli2006

      The 22" is nice but it is really big. The 18.5" has two racks and fits 2 whole pork shoulders or like 6 racks of ribs.

    2. I've used a Brinkmann's upright smoker for years with great results
      (http://www.brinkmann.net/products/out...).
      I've cooked everything from dog's and burgers to leg o' venison to cherry smoked salmon with it.

      16 Replies
      1. re: HeBrew

        Cook's Illustrated did a review a couple of years ago and didn't like the Brinkmann's at all because there wasn't a grate for the burnt ash to fall into causing it to smother itself in a couple of hours. The Weber Smokey Mountain our performed the Big Green Egg and was 1/5th the price.

        1. re: Kooper

          A neighbor gave me his brinkman smoker about 20 years ago, they were moving and didn't want to move it, it was barely used. After using it a few times, I knew why it was barely used. I couldn't keep the temperature constant for any length of time and was constantly adding coals to keep it going. It lacked proper air flow to maintain coals at a constant temperature. In just a few uses I pronounced it beyond hope and gave up. After about a 15 year hiatus from smoking, I bought the Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5". It's way more expensive than the Brinkman, and it works way way better. I can use the inside out method of starting coals in the center and letting them burn to the outside and I can smoke two pork shoulders overnight without having to worry about loosing temperature. I just start it up before I retire for the night and check it again in the morning when I get up. A few more hours and I've got fresh, hot, smoked pulled pork, just in time for lunch.

          I'll admit I've never used a BGE or equivelent, but why pay that much extra, when the Weber Smokey Mountain does such a great job at such a reasonable price?

          1. re: mikie

            are you able to use your inside out method (sounds like a backwards minion) with hardwood charcoal?

            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              This is a cooking method I found on the Weber virtual bullet web site, so I can't take credit, and I'm sure this it not the name they refer to, but it's how it works. Use a large can, coffie can or #10 can, about a gallon, that's open on both ends. Place this in the middle of the coal grate and fill around it with unlit coals. Then pour about a chimeny starter of lit coals into the can in the center of the grate and remove the can with chanel locks or similar long handeled plyers. That chimeny full of lit coals will get the smoker up to that 250° range and then continue to light coals next to it, working it's way out to the outer edge with time. On the 18.5 this will go for about 10 to 12 hours, depending naturally on how often you open to take a look at progress and the weather concitions.

              I personally have not tried this with 100% hardwood charcoal. I have used it with a briquette hardwood charcoal combination and it worked just fine. You may want to check the virtual bullet web site to see what they have to say about hardwood charcoal and this method. I haven't used hardwood enough to have a good feel for how quickly it burns in comparison to briquetts.

              Good luck,

              1. re: mikie

                yeah, I suspected that...with hardwood I'm always fiddling with the fire, which is fine, and I enjoy the process...but it must be nice to get a really long burn . I'll have to give the briquettes a test

              2. re: BiscuitBoy

                You can use this or a Minion with lump charcoal. The trick is to pack your charcoal ring *really* tightly. Otherwise too much surface area of coal will be exposed to oxygen, and you'll burn hot and fast.

                1. re: bagofwater

                  The WSM is designed for briquettes. I have found Lump doesn't work as well while the briquettes give off fairly a constant heat during the entire time the lump is really erratic.

                  1. re: Kooper

                    I have to disagree I cook 2 to 4 8lb butts at a time in a 18" WSM with lump . Lump works fine. Just pack it correctly.

                    1. re: Trazom

                      hey traz, what is the actual outside diameter of the bottom section (charcoal bowl) of your wsm? I'm looking to cobble something together for a similar smoker I have

                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                          Sorry I just saw this. Im at work right now so cant measure it. But according to this site its 18.5"

                          Charcoal Bowl
                          Part #63001
                          18-1/2" OD x 10" (without legs), 12-3/8" (with legs)
                          3" damper (3), 3/4" holes (3 per damper)

                          http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/par...

                          1. re: Trazom

                            Thanks, Big T...the parts diagram is handy too!

                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                              note to self: next time you talk to the nice lady at the parts place, tell her your neighbor's wsm serial number, or else they won't sell you parts!

            2. re: Kooper

              CI is not a place I'd rely on for smoker recommendations.

              1. re: rasputina

                As a dedicated smoker, I agree 100% with those findings.

            3. re: HeBrew

              Its been years since I cooked dog.

            4. The BGE is definitely worth it, but it's an advanced piece of gear. Not in that it's difficult to use, but if you're a relative beginner, you may not fully appreciate the Egg. I'd recommend going with a cheaper grill/smoker for a couple of years; if you really get into it, then think about a BGE.

              1. i have a big box store barrel with the offset smoke box. they aren't great for smoking slowly (infact they are somewhat bad), they are decent as grills. mine has no easy way to clean out the ashes. also some of the paint burnt off.

                1. IMHO, the most important thing to consider when smoking is temperature control. The problem with cheap offset smokers is that they are not airtight and they dont produce consistent heat.

                  This is just one site, but it has a lot of information.
                  http://www.amazingribs.com/
                  http://www.amazingribs.com/tips_and_t...

                  And the folks I know with the big green egg all love it-but they can be fragile. Since you are a small family, Id say just start with a gold weber kettle, smokenator and a kick ass thermometer until you get feel for working with coals, getting the temp right and mastering your rubs and sauces. Then you can decide if you want to buck up for something more.

                  As far as electric and propane smokers go, there are differing opinions. For me, if you want delicately smoked poultry and fish, go electric. But if you want BBQ, its gotta be charcoal or hardwood. For me, Id pass on the propane.

                  17 Replies
                  1. re: AdamD

                    Why would you consider the BGE fragile?

                    1. re: poser

                      fragile as in, it's a big, heavy ceramic piece...and susceptible to freeze thaw cycles in colder climes. If you're able to roll it into the garage for winter, not a worry, but I can't imagine having to haul into the cellar

                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                        Hog wash! The BGE suffers no ill effects from extreme cold. Go to the Egg forum and there are many people from cold weather states who leave it out all year.

                        1. re: poser

                          hog this...I kinda don't trust a forum moderated by the mfgr. Unless plainly stated by them (and curious that they don't), I wouldn't keep a $700+ chunk of ceramic outside in the northeast during the winter

                          1. re: BiscuitBoy

                            The question is. Do you want to risk pulling your back or your 700$ grill? I'll take 2 trips to physio given the choice and move it to the basement to be sure.

                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                              That forum is much more loosely moderated then this one. The posts are not censored and people write what they want. The BGE has a lifetime warrentee and I have never heard of the cold having any affect on the cooker. In fact the manufacture specifically states that the BGE will suffer no ill affects from the cold.

                              If you read the forum there are many examples of how people deal with the snow and winter in the north. That is unless you think they are all lying, and then that would be your problem.

                              All I can say is I've had mine for 5 years and besides replacing the gasket once, I have done nothing else and It is as good as new. Best money I ever spent.

                              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                I am not saying that the BGE have problems in a cold climate or not, but if you are concerned, you may consider a Big Steel Keg (Bubba Keg) if you like that style of pit.

                          2. re: poser

                            Exactly, its a ceramic piece and the coating can chip rather easily-based upon friends experiences. Serious damage can occur if it is dropped or bangs into a hard wall.

                          3. re: AdamD

                            Hi,

                            I just bought a 22.5 inch Weber one-touch gold and am new to BBQ. I will use it for grilling but would really like to get into smoking. What kind of thermometer would you recommend to monitor the kettle's temperature?

                            Also, do you have any book or website recs for a beginner?

                            Thank you!

                            1. re: Simon Patrice

                              If you're looking for a great grilling/BBQ resource, you won't find much better than this:

                              http://www.bbq-brethren.com

                              I'm a regular poster there and we enjoy helping those new to BBQ. You can most certainly use a Weber Kettle as a smoker. Using an indrect/mimion method you should be able to get 4-6 hours on one load of charcoal.

                              1. re: Simon Patrice

                                Simon, you can get a thermometer to mount in the lid, like the one in the Performer lid, or you can get a stem thermometer and drop it into the lid vent on your OTG. Either one will give you something to monitor, you can work from there. Neither one, however, will give you grate temp, which is of course where you are cooking. Best would be a remote probe-type thermometer, or actually two. Put one through a small potato and set the potato on the grate near the meat. That way you can monitor the grate temp, but the potato will keep the probe off of the grate so that you aren't reading the temp of the metal. The other one can be inserted into the meat so that you can see when your food is approaching the desired finished temp. Depending on the food you are cooking, you might soon (or later) develop a way to tell doneness by look or feel, but until then the thermometer is a great help. The wires from the probes can simply be run under the lid edge or, if you are worried about pinching them, through the lid vent. By the way, I've mentioned thermo's in the lid vent a couple of times because you should strive to always keep the lid vent open and regulate your temp using the bottom vent(s).

                                1. re: Cheez62

                                  I like using a (real) wine cork to keep the pit temp probe off the grate. Plus you get more than one use out of it (unlike a potato).

                                  1. re: ted

                                    A cork is a great idea as well. On short cooks with the potato you can have a nice baked potato. When cooking butts or brisket, definitely not - the cork would probably taste better.

                                  2. re: Cheez62

                                    I bought Weber 9815 replacemntt thermometer for my One Touch Gold kettle. Drop it into the top vent, making sure not to touch the food. Probably not perfect measure of temp at grill grate level, but better than nothing. I bought a Thermapen to test food doneness, which is expensive but worthwhile investment for cooking in general.

                                    http://www.amazon.com/Weber-62538-981...

                                    1. re: pharmnerd

                                      Do you leave it in the vent the whole time?

                              2. If you want a BGE then that's one thing, if you just want to smoke a brisket, or pork shoulder, or some ribs, then all you need the the Weber Smokey Mtn. the 18.5 is big enough to smoke two very good sized pork shoulders, about 8 lbs each, or even a good sized turkey. Don't waste you're money on the cheep crap that's out there. It won't last.

                                1. Most will find that the offset barrel cooker will have hot spots and cool spots, usually depending on the distance from the firebox. you can do things like lower the smokestack on the inside and add some sort of tuning plates to better distribute the heat, but that can be some work. I think that "mini" offset would have been worse, though I could be wrong. I would highly recommend the WSM. Which size, 18" or 22", is up to you, though I know I'd choose the larger ;-)
                                  I have a vertical offset smoker and, though I love it, it requires a lot of attention and a fair amount of fuel for a long cooking session. The WSM can pretty much allow you to dial-in your target temp and forget it for hours - it will hold that temp for a long time.
                                  I don't have as much knowledge about the Big Green Egg. I think it seems like an awesome cooker, and it can do really high temps as well, for things like searing steak or making pizza. But it costs what I spent on my kids first couple cars, so it should be amazing.
                                  If barbecue is your main focus (and your question suggests that it is), then I suggest the Weber Smokey Mountain. If you need a grill too, then maybe the BGE.... or you could just get a Weber Kettle to sit alongside the WSM. But that's another subject ;-)

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Cheez62

                                    Thanks for this additional recommendation. This is about where I am at -- too much money for the BGE, and I don't anticipate using it for anything else but smoking, so the lure of patio pizza is just not there for me. I can go larger than a little one if it makes sense, but I would only be smoking for four to six people on a really usual day. It looks like WSM has a lot of votes.

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      If you're planning on exclusively using it for smoking, and you're not feeding your whole neighborhood, go with the 18.5" WSM. I love mine. I have cooked upwards of 25 pounds of pulled pork in it. It takes a couple of cooks to get enough gunk in it to get the airflow right, but once that happens, temperature control is a snap. Plus, there's a great support group here: http://tvwbb.com

                                      1. re: bagofwater

                                        Another vote for the WSM. It's like the Set It and Forget It of smokers. Holds temps very well over a long period of time - like one load of charcoal for 6-12 hours .

                                        1. re: bagofwater

                                          I just got a WSM (18") last week and someone on the cookware board recommended tvwbb.com. What a great resource!

                                        2. re: RGC1982

                                          I bought a Brinkman vertical smoker years ago and hated it. I don't think I would like the Weber Smokey Mountain any better, although I'm sure it is easier to maintain the fire/smoke/heat than the Brinkman. Having to lift a rack of meat to get at another rack of meat underneath it is a PITA.

                                          I personally could not spend the huge money it cost for a BGE.

                                          We have a barrel offset smoker that works well for smoking briskets, several racks of pork ribs as well as whole turkeys and chickens. They are inexpensive to buy when compared to the WSM and BGE. That being said, if you are not going to smoke a lot of meat for big crowds and are also into charcoal grilling, I'd buy a 22-1/2" Weber regular grill and use it for both smoking and grilling. Put the charcoal on the sides for smoking/indirect heat, add the soaked chips via the flip up hinged rack and you can smoke a brisket, 3 or 4 racks of ribs on a rib rack or poultry. You also obviously use it for steaks, burgers, hotdogs, etc. for grilling.

                                          I would be interested in an off set vertical smoker with the shelves and a door for our northern Minnesota cabin, but my brother keeps saying he's going to build one with a big steel box we have up there. I'm still waiting.

                                          1. re: RGC1982

                                            Consider this another vote for the 18.5" WSM.

                                          2. You can add me to the list of people who like the WSM. In the past I smoked meats on a Weber kettle and it worked well but I was constrained by size. It got to the point that I wanted to smoke a brisket and a pork shoulder. I bought the WSM 22.5 because I didn't want to have a day where I said "gee, I should have spent the extra $50". There are some very good deals out there. Sears online had a deal where the WSM 22 was $315. I took that deal to Lowes and they matched it. Good luck with which ever smoker you decide on. And by the way if you haven't already gone there, I strongly advise you go to WWW.TVWBB.com for more/all the info you'll ever need about the WSMs

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jnk

                                              Slamming the BGE for being 'fragile' is so off base. We have two that remain outside 12months per year. One in New Jersey and one in New Brunswick, Canada. Both have been rained on, snow covered, frozen, chilled and stirred and there is not a lick of damage or deterioration due to weather. Having gone through a handful of conventional grilles from Weber to Dukane and smokers from Brinkman, the BGE has proven itself to have a much wider 'range' of applications; low temp smoking when I've done briskets and pork shoulders for 18+ hours at 200 degrees monitored by a Maverick E84 wireless two probe thermometer to 650 degree pizza on a stone to 750 degree sears of primal cuts. NONE of my other grilles could sustain or maintain temps like the Egg. As for price, the ever cited Achille's heel, my first one was a Father's Day gift so I'm sure we paid full fare; but my second one we bought very slightly used at one of the regional EggFest events where a bunch of BGE's are used by cooking teams and then sold off after the 2 to 3 day event. The price drops by 33% and you can either carry them home (easily fit in our SUV) or negotiate for shipping. The EggFests are incredibly fun (we've been to two and planning for another visit this summer), entertaining, great BBQ, recipe swaps, cooking demos, etc. 'Fragile'? Nope.

                                            2. Yes BGE is worth it, we absolutely love ours.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: rasputina

                                                We have a ceramic grill, Kamado, and love, love, love everything that comes off, or out of it!! It is 10 years old and just as good as it was new. Stays outside all year round. We've cleaned snow off it and used it in the dead of winter. BGE is also an excellent product. Don't be afraid of the weather with the ceramics. It is worth every cent we paid for it and much more. The kids are fighting about who gets it when we're gone!!!

                                              2. I recently saw a Charbroil offset barrel smoker at Target for $100. It wasn't the largest on they have, but looked adequate in size for what the OP described. I also saw a similar, but larger 40" model at The Home Depot for $158. The 18.5" WSM was $350 at The Home Depot. I'm sure it works well, but if money is tight, there are alternatives.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: John E.

                                                  There are always alternatives. The OPs request was for recommendations on a charcoal smoker, I can recommend a Weber Smokey Mountian, I can't recommend a lot of the smokers out there. My son-in-law bought a $100 offset barrel smoker at Walmart, but I wouldn't recommend it. I could only recommend a quality product with which I've had positive experience. But yes, there are a number of lower cost smokers, I jsut haven't used one that performed anywhere close to the WSM.

                                                  1. re: mikie

                                                    The first smoker the OP mentioned was an offset barrel smoker but it was unavailable. I wrote a post that provided information where two models were available. I have used offset smokers and have found them to work fine. Why did you address this post to me, with a little attitude to boot? If you have 't used an offset smoker, I would not expect you to recommend using one.

                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                      My apology for any unintended attitude. I addressed you because I believe one can't recommend something they saw and haven't used or really have any information on. Surely the OPer can go shopping either on line or in person. If I'm going to make a recommendation, then it's going to be something I have either used or have first hand experience with. At difference in philosophy I suppose, or perhaps different interpertations of what the OP was looking for. I read recommendation not option. Again, I apologize for any misunderstanding or appearance for attitude.

                                                      1. re: mikie

                                                        If you would have read my posts you would have known that I have an offset smoker, a Weber kettle grill as well as a Brinkman verticle smoker. I recommended the first two and warned against the latter.

                                                2. Also, if you do opt for the WSM, buy it from AimToFind.com. The 18.5" model is going to $250 (shipped).