This review looks at various charcoal smoker grills, compares their features and makes recommendations. For basic guidance on how to choose, and whether to buy gas or charcoal, see our Definitive Buyers Guide. Elsewhere on this website, we also give advice on choosing the right charcoal. And if you prefer to use wood, we review 20 different types of wood that you might like to consider.
If you are interested in venturing further afield in this learning experience, we also write about how to make a wood fire, how to light a charcoal grill, and - most important - how to clean your charcoal grill.
Here are the reviews of the ones we found to be the best, in order.
Because we know that some of you are impatient, we've decided to cut to the chase and give you our recommendations for each of the principal categories of charcoal smoker grill: High-end, Budget and Portable. We considered such issues as flavor (that only charcoal or wood can give), cost and efficiency. These are up-to-date reviews, this year. In these reviews, we aim to be concise and to give you just the facts. For last years reviews check out Best Smokers of 2018.
Our overall winner was the Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker. It ticked all the right boxes in terms of durability and aesthetics. The grates were tough and the water pan was enamel coated to prevent rust. A full batch of charcoal burnt for eight hours and we were able to leave it to get on with the job without constantly having to mollycoddle the beast! If you a smoked food addict with a critical palate, THIS is the smoker grill for you!
The key features that marked this smoker grill out for distinction was the size (nearly 500 square inches of cooking space) and taste. You could easily do a whole, large chicken, or even medium-size turkey, on one rack and a large joint of beef.
Regarding taste, you might think that it is all about preparation, ingredients, etc. However, taste can also be affected by the grill itself - and not always in a good way. One of the most common problems with cooking directly on the flame is that in addition to the good flavor of the charcoal, you sometimes get a bad metallic flavor. This is especially true when the smoker grill is new.
In the case with the Weber 721001, notwithstanding porcelain enamel coating, which keeps the metal well and truly locked in, we would recommend that you season it with a preliminary burn-in, using food scraps that you don't intend to eat. Some users even suggest two burn-ins and that a chimney of charcoal should be placed in the middle and that you should use wood as well to generate a lot of smoke.
The enamel coating on the water pan also protects against metal contamination. And the water pan is - of course - one of the most important components. It is the evaporating water that prevents the outside of the meat from drying out while the inside cooks.
This also locks-in the flavor. However, again, some users have suggested that one shouldn't use the water pan at all. Instead they suggested letting the bark form on the meat and set first. Then, they suggest, spraying the meat with water.
With a height of 41 inches and two 18.5 inch diameter grates, this smoker has plenty of capacity for large gatherings. There is also a built-in thermometer, 4 x rust-resistant aluminium air vents and a rust-resistant aluminium door. However some users have complained of the built-in thermometer being inaccurate (a common problem with most built-in thermometers. And some users also complained of the aluminium door not sealing properly.
VERDICT: The best charcoal smoker grill overall and the one to buy if you want to cook for large gatherings.
Our choice for the best budget charcoal smoker grill is also a Weber - not surprisingly. Weber grills are known to be good and have earned their reputation over the years. The winner is the Weber 10020 Smokey Joe 14 inch portable grill. Although we would call it a semi-portable charcoal smoker grill, it is still best in the budget class.
Key features of the Smokey Joe are its durability - reflected in its 10 year warranty, it's low price and it's surprisingly large cooking surface area for a portable unit. The Smokey Joe can easily cook six large burgers in one batch, with enough space between them to avoid touching. In fact, although they call it a 14 inch grill, the internal diameter is actually 14.5 inches!
The durability comes from the triple nickel plating on the grill rack and the porcelain enamel coating on the inner and outer surfaces of the charcoal smoker as a whole.
An obvious point in favor of the Weber Smokey Joe charcoal smoker grill is the incredibly low price. For a charcoal smoker grill of this size it is THE most incredible value for money!
And in addition to the capacity, the food sits close to the charcoal, so it cooks quickly. Obviously you must watch it closely to prevent burning. In the case of flat cuts of meat this is not a problem. But with whole joints, it may involve turning, basting (with a brush or tube), squirting water or putting the coals around the side.
The fact that this relatively portable - weighing less than 10 pounds - is another point in its favor. This is one to take with you on frequent camping trips. And it will last many seasons. It also has an ash pan at the bottom and holes that can be opened to let the ash fall out into the pan.
We also liked the fact that Weber also includes a 31-page owner's guide packed with advice and many recipes for grilling. This includes from pork chops, bratwurst and Cornish hens. And, like the 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker, it also comes with a 10 year warranty.
VERDICT: The best budget charcoal smoker grill, inexpensive, portable and easy to use.
For a truly portable charcoal smoker grill, we have chosen the Weber (again!) 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill. It is conveniently shaped like a box, so it doesn't deprive other things in your car of storage space in the way that a round unit would.
The handles are glass-reinforced nylon. They have good heat insulation. And this is true of the handles on the side of the unit, as well as those on the lid. The whole unit is coated in porcelain enamel to prevent rusting. It has steel-plated legs that fold up to minimize storage space and fold down for rapid deployment.
At the time of writing, in terms of price, this unit comes in at 60% more than the Smokey Joe. But it is still offered at a budget price. The cooking surface is very slightly less than the Smokey Joe (160 square inches compared to 165), but in a rectangular format, which may be more convenient, depending on what you are cooking.
The Weber Go Anywhere has two adjustable dampers regulate the flow of air, each with three vent holes. This gives you very good heat control. Like the legs, the grill rack is triple-nickel-plated steel. This makes it easy to keep clean and easy to see when it isn't.
It has a lower rack to support the charcoal and allow the ash to drop away. However, there are no ash extraction holes or removable ash pan. This may be because it is meant to be used "out in he wild" and the makers were worried that users might dump the ash while it is still hot, if they are in a hurry to leave.
Another point in favor of this wonderful portable charcoal smoker grill is that it arrives pre-assembled. You don't have to do any assembly whatsoever. Just unpack it and you're ready to go! This is a boon to those who enjoy cooking but lack confidence in DIY. There are also no nuts or bolts, so it there is nothing to work its way loose.
Also, although the lid is not hinged (and is thus fully-removable) the unit includes a lid-hanger that enables you to attach the lid in such a way that it forms a wall in one direction. This is very important if you are cooking in a windy area.
VERDICT: The best TRUE portable charcoal smoker grill. Very easy to set up and use, marred only by the lack of easy ash extraction.
The Char-Broil American Gourmet offset smoker, like offset smokers in general, is a highly versatile product. For smoking, you make the fire in the firebox chamber - i.e. the side chamber on the left. But you can also make the fire in the lower part of the main chamber and use it as a conventional barbecue. Or you leave the lid open and use it as a charcoal grill. You can even make a small fire in the bottom of the firebox chamber and cook with the lid open - using the firebox chamber as a small grill.
It depends entirely on what you are cooking and how much time you have. For burgers, skewers or steaks (beef, lamb or chicken) you can use one of the chambers as an open grill. You can also grill chicken's wings, drumsticks or individual thigh pieces (even on the bone).
On the other hand if you want to roast three or four chickens, two large chickens, a leg of lamb or a large beef joint you close it and use it as a barbecue. It doesn't have a rotisserie, so you may have to turn the meat a a few times. Or you can inject-baste the lower part of the meat to stop it drying out while the top cooks.
To use it a smoker, you make the fire in the firebox on the left put the food to be smoked in the main chamber. You could rub or marinate the meat. You can also brush baste and/or inject baste it. The possibilities are endless and the only limit is your imagination.
Some of its features include a 290 square inch main cooking area and 140 inch extra cooking area in the offset firebox section. Some reviewers refer to this section as the "warming rack". But it is NOT a true warming rack. A warming rack is a hinged rack attached to the inside of the lid. This can be used for keeping cooked food warm, while other food is cooking. Neither the main section, nor the firebox, has such a warming rack. This is perhaps one of the negatives about this excellent product.
Other features include heat-protection coils around the handles, porcelain coating on the grates, wheels, a wire shelf at the bottom for storage of ingredients, adjustable height for the grates, ash clean out door and a built-in thermometer.
You shouldn't think that the wheels make this a portable unit. But you can store it indoors or in a shed and wheel it out into the back yard or garden when you need it.
VERDICT: A very versatile charcoal smoker, BBQ grill, but lacking the durability and robustness of the Weber models.
The Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker is a dedicated smoker. It makes no pretense that it can double as a barbecue, let alone a grill. It also has a very unusual shape. It looks like a professional smoker for a restaurant. But when you look at the price, you can see that it is actually quite affordable. In fact, at the time of writing, you'd pay less for this than the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker!
It features a heavy gauge porcelain enameled steel wood chip box, a removable ash pan and a cast-iron body that has been high-temperature coated in powder paint. It has a 1176 square inches of food surface area, spread over six grates. each grate supports up to 25 lbs, but the makers recommend a maximum food capacity of 100 lbs in one batch!
The Dyna-Glo minimizes heat loss through the door by having separate doors for the food and firebox. Ignition is quick and reliable, using an electronic pulse system. The burner is capable of generating 15,000 BTUs.
Although this is specifically a smoker, you can be versatile in how you use it. For example, you can take out the shelves and hand ribs or fish vertically from large hooks (not supplied).
For barely 1/3 more of the price, there is a wide model (Dyna-Glo DGO1890BDC-D Wide Body Vertical Offset Smoker) that boasts a staggering 1890 square inches of food space spread over six racks.
In both units, the shelf heights are adjustable. There is a built-in thermometer. But as we have said in the past, built-in thermometers tend to be unreliable - even for the most expensive units. One user even recommended repainting the firebox.
While we're on the subject of the firebox, it's important to mention that for a true smoky flavor you must use wood, whether it be chips or lumps. Charcoal is great for creating heat. And if you want to do a hot smoke, use a mixture of wood and charcoal. For a cold smoke, just use lumps of wood.
One thing we need to stress is that this unit is made in China and requires some DIY. One user described having to get extra gaskets and silicone sealant, etc. But for these crazy prices it is worth getting the Dyna-Glo and doing the DIY - if you're self-confident in DIY, that is.
VERDICT: If you do a lot of smoking in large quantities, and don't mind the initial DIY, this is the smoker for you!
We make no apology for including yet another Weber charcoal smoker grill in this review. Weber grills are good and everyone in BBQ-land knows it. The Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill is in some ways the big brother of the Smokey Joe (reviewed above). And at the time of writing it costs less than $100.
Its 22-inch diameter plated steel food grate gives you 363 inches of cooking space. And the dome-shaped lid translates area into volume. You can easily cook a large turkey or a rack of ribs in the Weber 7141001.
To ensure that the Kettle is durable and long-lasting, Weber have given it coating of porcelain enamel, baked in at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the porcelain enamel to be fused to the steel, thus ensuring that it will not burn off during cooking. (Remember that the cooking takes place at a much lower temperature than the temperature at which the enamel was baked on in the first place.)
Weber also made it easy to remove the lid: they gave it a glass reinforced nylon handle that stays cool even when the lid gets hot. But what do you do with the lid once you have taken it off? You don't really want to put a hot lid on the ground or the grass do you? Weber have thought of this too. They have provided an angled lid hook. That means, you can hang the lid on the side of the kettle and keep it safely out of the way while you remove cooked food or add more raw food.
For heat control, Weber have provided a four-hole, no-rust aluminum damper. This gives you a high degree of control over the air flow, to do the type of cooking that you want. You can choose between fast cooking at a high temperature, slow cooking at a lower temperature or anything in between. Even if you are inexperienced in the art of barbecue, you will soon learn how to vary the temperature according to the type of meat and the size of the cut. The only drawback is that it's hard to add coal after you've started cooking, due to the fact that the food grate isn't hinged.
When you want to remove the ash at the end you just move a handle underneath the kettle back and forth. This opens the three ash holes at the bottom and sweeps the ash back and forth so that it falls into those holes. But don't worry, the ash won't fall onto the ground. It will be caught by the deep, high-capacity rust-resistant ash catcher that sits below the kettle. You can then lift off the ash catcher tray and empty the ash into a bin or onto a compost heap. (Remember the ash has a high potassium content, so it is good for enriching the soil around certain plants.)
If you want to move the kettle around you'll find that equally easy. Because it comes with two, durable, all-weather wheels. Of course, you shouldn't think that this makes the unit portable. But it does mean that you can wheel it to the ideal spot in your back yard or garden. Alternatively, you can wheel it in and out of a shed.
Finally, all this comes backed up by Weber's limited 10-year warranty.
VERDICT: If the Smokey Joe isn't big enough for you, but you want something reasonable portable, buy this one.
The Weber 14401001 original Kettle is essentially the same as the 741001. The only differences are that this one has a deep and enclosed, removable ash catcher, a built-in thermometer and the food grates are hinged on both sides. This means that you can easily add charcoal after you have started cooking. This means that even though the unit is the same size as it's "fraternal twin", it can actually serve more people.
If, for example, you are planning a barbecue party where guests will be coming or going over the course of a few hours, then you will need to add charcoal periodically. The hinged top makes it easy to top up. The alternative would be to clear the food from the grate and then use coal tongs to lift off the lid, find somewhere safe to put it and then add charcoal. It can be done - and I have done it. But it is a tricky operation and one best avoided if there is a suitable alternative. The cleverly designed hinged top provides that alternative.
The large, removable, cylindrical ash catcher is better than the open dish of the 741001, because the open dish can spill ash of there is too much or if the wind blows while you are carrying it to wherever you are proposing to dispose of the ash.
With this unit's deep ash cylinder there is no such danger. Also, bear in mind that with this unit, because you can add extra coal, it is practical for cooking for more people. And this, in turn, means that you will have more ash left over at the end.
VERDICT: The original kettle PLUS - has a HINGED food grate, an ENCLOSED ash catcher, TWO handles and a built-in THERMOMETER
First off, one of the main features of the Akorn Kamado Kooker is its excellent triple-walled, thermal insulation. It would be hard to understate the value of this feature. because better insulation means less heat loss and less heat loss means burning less fuel. But this isn't about saving money, it's about greater efficiency. Because if you're doing a long smoke of say 12 - 16 hours, you don't want to have to get up in the middle of the night to add wood or charcoal!
And that's where this charcoal smoker holds it own against even the top competition. Made of 22 gauge steel, it really locks all that heat in. The exterior is powder coated, so it'll last a long time, through many cycles of heating and cooling. On the inside, the steel is porcelain coated.
The cart - yes it's movable - is made of tubular steel and has lockable rubber wheels.
The cooking area of the main food rack is 314 square inches. This might not seem like a lot in terms of surface area. But the Kamado has a large cooking volume making it suitable for large roasts. And this is further enhanced by the fact that one can remove the main food rack and cook deeper inside the body of the unit.
There is also a 133 square inch, circular warming rack that sort of "floats" above the main rack and is on a hinged setting so that it can be moved directly over the heat or away from it.
For heat control, there are adjustable dampers (i.e. air vents) top and bottom to regulate the air flow, and thus the temperature. The dampers are indexed so you can note the position and re-use it when you find the settings that work for you. And for large gatherings with guests who come and go, you can remove the inner circle of the food grate and add more charcoal!
This gives you a huge range of heat control, from 200 - 700 degrees Fahrenheit! And there's even a temperature gauge built into the lid so you can check!
Okay so what else do you get for your money?
First of all, the two side-shelves of the Akorn Kamado charcoal smoker, fold down for storage and up for use. They also have three hanging hooks each for BBQ tools that you can hang on them at the ready. The fact that they have these hooks on both sides makes it easy to hang your raw meat tools on one side and your cooked meat tools on the other. You can do the same with the shelves themselves (raw meat and cooked meat respectively).
In addition to the ability to lock the wheels in place, you can also lock the lid down. This is especially useful when moving the unit across uneven terrain.
The side handles and lid handle are insulated, making sure that you can safely open and close the Kadado without risk of burning your hand. And of course, you can also move it when in use, although this should be done as little as possible.
The unit comes with a 5-year warranty for the lower body and a 1-year warranty for everything else.
VERDICT: A strong competitor to the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, better insulation and mobility but complicated self-assembly and a weak warranty hold it back.
The Char-Griller 2137 Outlaw rounds off this multi-product review of charcoal smoker barbecue grills. It comes with 725 square inch, cast iron cooking grates and a 338 square inch chrome steel warming area. But the drum itself is made from heavy gauge steel. Also, the hood is flanged, creating an airtight seal when closed.
The fire grate is adjustable, with three positions. But the real way to control the cooking heat is to regulate the air flow. This is done by opening and closing the dampers. More oxygen means a hotter burn. Less oxygen means a lower temperature but more smoke. That means that with this unit, you can grill, BBQ roast or slow smoke the meat.
Unfortunately, the Outlaw does not come with an easy-dump ash pan as some of the others from Char-Griller do. But it does have wheels and a sturdy tube-metal frame. This means that it can be moved around the back yard easily enough.
It is an elegant design, with a side-shelf, a front, shelf and a wire shelf at the bottom. For example, there is a closable chimney to release the smoke. And you can also attach a side box for proper cold smoking. And the outside is powder-coated for durability.
VERDICT: Great for cooking big quantities without a long wait