The 10 best smokers - 01

The 10 Best Smokers Of 2017

For Those Who Like To Make Their Outdoor Dining A Little Different…

Some of the products reviewed here are country specific and may not be available in the Amazon US store

We all know about the traditional weekend outdoor grill when we throw a few burgers and sausages on the grate and stuff ‘em into buns or rolls. Sometimes we get more adventurous and do some steaks – even going so far as to sit down at a garden table and eat them off plates like civilized human beings. Or maybe we ratchet it up a notch and do a proper barbecue, cooking a whole joint of beef or leg of lamb in a barbecue with the lid closed. Then again, maybe we could even ratchet it up another notch and do potjiekos.

You’ll note that each time we turn the ratchet or up the ante, the cooking time gets longer. That calls for extra patience – something that’s usually in short supply when one is hungry. But what if we have the self-discipline and decide to go for broke? What could be better than smoked meat (either hot or cold) that’s been smoked for hours?

Of course, it’s even better if you marinate the meat for several hours before that. But that’s another story. In this article, we compare some of the best smokers on the market today. There are some top brands out there – like the Weber or Landmann. But there are also some real bargains and excellent discounts. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the best deal for you is the one that suits your purpose. There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to smokers.

Broadly speaking, smokers fall into two categories. The bullet type and the offset type with a firebox and separated smoking chamber. The bullet type might, at first, appear to be cooking with direct heat, as the wood or charcoal is at the bottom and heat rises. However, the bullet type smoker has a physical barrier above the coal pan and below the meat: a water pan. The water pan catches any drippings from the meat, that might cause a flare up, and also prevents direct heat from reaching the meat. In fact, that water pan also serves to prevent the temperature from rising too high, and holds it at or near the ideal cooking temperature (which for beef is just slightly above the boiling point of water).

The water vapour also condenses on the meat surface, preventing it from drying out and helping the smoke to stick to the meat. (Smoke is actually very small particles, suspended in air.) This helps to give the meat it’s smoky flavour.

Both types of smoker are covered in this comparison and review. The criteria that we use for comparison are:

  • l Heat retention
  • l Ease of assembly
  • l Size
  • l Price – we try to find you the best deal

BBQ Charcoal Barbecue Smoker Round Grill

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Charcoal Barbecue Smoker Round Grill Heat Indicator

This bullet-type smoker from Deuba comes with a thermometer, chrome-plated barbecue grill and a drip pan. It also features a ventilation flap at the exhaust pipe. It can therefore be used for both barbecuing and smoking.

It has separate upper and lower doors for checking the food and fire respectively. It has two food grates and you can access the upper one from the top. You can also light (or relight) the fire by opening the lower door and move the food around on the lower food grate by opening the upper door.

The top can be removed altogether, to use it as a grill, or one can use is as a barbecue to smoke-roast a chicken or large joint of beef or lamb (on or off the bone). To use it for smoking, you just burn suitable wood or add wood chips to the charcoal, and keep the lid on. As smoking requires low heat for a longer period, you would use less charcoal.

The whole thing stands on three legs (like a potjie) giving it good stability. Although, of course, unlike a potjie, you would place the coals inside the unit and not under it. Also, please note, it comes in easily-assembled sections and you do not have to use all the sections. You can cut out the middle section if you only need one rack for your cooking.

The absence of a lower vent might worry the user that the coals won’t get enough oxygen to maintain their heat. But we found that this was not the case. There was indeed enough of an airflow around the charcoal, once we got them burning nicely using a chimney starter (purchased separately – see our reviews of products to light your barbecue). No, the problem was actually with the built in thermometer that was understating the temperature. We solved the problem by using our own separate thermometer, plus a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature of the meat itself.

You can easily get a temperature of 105° C (230° F) which is the ideal temperature at which to smoke a nice joint of brisket beef for 8-10 hours.(Just a little tip here: rub the beef with coarse salt and pepper in 70/30 ratio.) We tried a 13 lbs joint of brisket using this technique – reaching an internal temperature of 65° C at just under 10 hours and it was perfect.

Whatever its flaws, for its price, this was a bargain and an excellent beginner’s smoker.


Charcoal Barbecue Smoker Round Grill Heat Indicator

KING BBQ Smoker BBQ Grill Station

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King BBQ Smoker

This offset sidebox combination BBQ, grill and smoker – also from Deuba – gives you the best of all worlds: grilling, barbecuing and indirect smoking. It has a large main cooking chamber and a smaller chamber for the fire to be used for indirect smoking. In theory one can actually cook in the smaller chamber too, because it also has an enamelled food rack. However, it is more usual to use the smaller chamber as a firebox for smoking meat in the main chamber.

The main chamber is 61 cm, large enough for a leg of lamb or two to three chickens. The ample cooking surfaces are enamelled and there is good oxygen ventilation through the ventilation valves, plus a chimney to let smoke and fumes escape. There is also a drip pan and three ash grates.

The wooden front panel has various possible uses: having raw ingredients at the ready as they wait their turn to be put on the grill, storing cooked food as it is removed from the grill, until it is ready to be served. Keeping plates, so that individual portions can be served there.

The unit has two wheels, so the whole set-up is light and easily moved.

To help with temperature control, there is also a built in thermometer which you can use to gauge the temperature while you experiment with the air vents, to optimize the temperature to your needs.

It has to be said that the construction of this unit was not that great. It is somewhat flimsy and not all of the panels were straight. This affected their alignment and putting it together was awkward. Even the wheels did not fit all that well, although we were still able to move the unit with no trouble.

You can get better BBQ-smokers, but for a higher price. All in all, at this price and this level of versatility, it is value for money.

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King BBQ Smoker

Premium Charcoal Smoker BBQ Grill

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Premium Charcoal Smoker

Moving up in price we come to this model, made of 0.9mm carbon steel with high quality powder coating, made up of the Smoker Hood, the Smoker Barrel body, the Smoker bottom bowl and supporting feet. It is held together securely by four stainless steel locks. It also has heat resistant handles and a weatherproof cover.

It has two food racks of 14 inch diameter and six hooks that can be used for fish, ribs or sausages. Unfortunately, the food is only accessible from the top. There is no side door to get to the food on the lower rack. However, when you want such access, the lid will clip out of the way on one of the heat resistant handles There are two access points for meat thermometer probes, a built in thermometer to report the chamber temperature and two temperature control air vents.

The large, ventilated charcoal pan has enough space for the charcoal to burn for 5-6 hours. If they need topping up for a longer smoking time, this can be done through the door. There is also a one gallon water pan – enough to provide water vapour for two to three hours. And it is accessible via the door so it can easily be topped up.

Assembling the unit was pretty straightforward, although older customers might need a good pair of bifocals to read the finely-printed instructions. All the screws, nuts and washers were supplied, but you will have to supply your own phillips screwdriver and a suitable spanner or long, thin pliers. It’s a good idea to wipe down the inner walls with cooking oil to build up a layer of rust protection. (This is actually mentioned in the instructions.)

One of the problems we noticed was that although the coal tray was open at the bottom to allow for airflow, the air that came from from the lower side vents couldn’t reach the coal and feed the fire. The reason for this was that it was blocked by the high sides of the pan. There was also some leakage from the door. We solved the former problem by drilling holes in the side of the coal tray as several users have suggested. The door problem, we solved with a temporary solution using aluminum foil, although a suitable gasket sealant might be better for the long-term.

One word of warning though. There seemed, at first, to be a problem getting the temperature to rise above the high nineties. In fact, at one point it seemed like it was stuck on 60 or 65 (Celcius). It turned out that the problem (as with the Deuba 3-in-1) was not the temperature itself but the built-in thermometer that was reporting it. We found that when we used our own thermometer, the temperature was getting much higher. We suggest that if you buy this unit, you don’t rely on the built-in thermometer, but buy one of your own. Even some of the cheap brands are more reliable than the built-in one in this unit.

In conclusion, we would have to say that this is a good smoker for its price. It does the job and if you are ready to workaround the problems we have identified, you can get some good results.

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Premium Charcoal Smoker

OGA032 Barbecue Grill Professional XXL Smoker

This is an entry level smoker, but an excellent oil-drum type combo-BBQ/grill. Made of varnished, heat-resistant, cold-rolled steel of between 1.0 and 1.5mm thickness (somewhat better than the one above), it is a combined two chamber barbecue measuring 126 x 72 x 138 cm. For ease of movement, it has two large steel wheels and wooden handles.

Like the King above, it can be used for grilling, barbecuing and indirect smoking. It can also be used as a dual cooking chamber, cooking different food at different rates. The main grill surface is 60 x 40 cm. In front is a wire mesh shelf for ingredients or for placing cooked food after it has been removed. There is also a chrome-plated warming rack, so that cooked food can be removed from the main heat but kept warm. (This only applies when using it as a grill or barbecue; not when using it as a smoker.)

It also has a chimney to release the smoke when using it as a barbecue and a built in thermometer. However, like all built-in thermometers, it should not be relied upon for actual measurements.

It wasn’t all that easy to assemble as the holes didn’t all line up as they were supposed to. We had to drill out some of the holes and make them larger to solve this problem. After assembly, we found that there was some leakage of smoke when using it as a smoker. But this was negligible.

We were able to get a good eight hour smoke out of this on a large brisket joint. And then we cooked a large chicken in the barbecue, getting good results – although we had to baste it and use a marinade injector (see our review: Things for your BBQ that you didn’t even know you needed).

Notwithstanding the assembly problems, this was a good product that we can well recommend.

ProQ Frontier Elite BBQ Smoker

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ProQ Frontier

With the ProQ Frontier Elite, we move into the upper end of BBQ smokers. Like the others covered so far, this bullet design can be used as an open grill or a closed BBQ for roasting, as well as a traditional, slow smoker.

What is particularly clever about the design is that it is completely modular and it can be used as anything from a portable kettle grill (with a lid) to a multi-level smoker that can be used to roast, grill, hot smoke and cold smoke (when you add the cold smoke generator that ProQ supply separately.) It also has a fish and meat hanger, so you can smoke fish, ribs and sausages.

All the fittings are made of anti-rust, stainless steel, including nuts, bolts, clips and handles. This big beast of a smoker is built to last. The fold-down handles are coated with PVC to prevent them from overheating. And, needless to say, there is a built-in temperature gauge.

There are also probe eyelets on each stacker for you to insert a meat temperature probe. They are made from silicon to protect your probe wires and they are fit a big variety of probe diameters. It has three independently controlled air vents to regulate the temperature and there are separate doors for accessing the woodchips and the water pan. Learning to use the air vents can be tricky for beginners. But in fact, once you get the hang of it, they are remarkably responsive, changing the temperature in a few tens of seconds.

As far as cooking capacity is concerned, it can handle a whopping 50 lbs! That could be two chickens and a rack or ribs or a 15 lb joint of brisket. In fact it can handle pretty much any combination you can think of. Fully assembled it’s 102 cm in height and 43 cm in diameter. We didn’t really get the chance to tap its full potential. For that we would have needed a large gathering of maybe 40 or more guests! But on all the occasions we tried it, the results were excellent.

Although mightily impressive, this piece of kit is far from perfect. When you first assemble it, if you tighten the bolts of the legs too tight, bits of enamel break off from them. But if you try to get clever and don’t bolton the legs too tight, then the expansion of the metal caused by the heat results in them working loose. This probably won’t threaten the integrity of the appliance in a single session – even if it is a long, 12 hour smoke! But you will have to tighten the leg bolts when it cools down, before the next use.

Another problem is that the anti-rust paint on the fire bed comes off very easily, exposing the firebed to rust after use. This might not be a problem if you keep it out of the rain. But that leads me to another minor problem. Unfortunately – and surprisingly for a smoker in this price range – it did not come with a rainproof cover, or indeed any cover.

So overall this is an excellent product for those who are seriously into smoking their food and enjoying the outdoor eating experience with large groups. But it could do with one or two improvements.

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ProQ Frontier

Black Smoker BBQ Nevada XL

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Black Smoker BBQ Nevada XL

From a large bullet smoker to a large combo, indirect heat smoker/BBQ/grill. However, this one (from vidaXL) comes with some gripes, complaints and drawbacks.

But first, let’s talk about the good points. The unit is powder coated steel, which should add to its resilience to the elements. In addition to the 30 x 30 cm firebox, it has two smoking/grilling/BBQ chambers, each one 30 x 61 cm. The grills themselves are each 54 x 30 cm. In front of each of the two grill chambers is a wire mesh shelf of 58 x 22 cm that can be used for raw or cooked food. There are also two rack shelves below the grill of 58 x 32 cm each. These could be used for raw ingredients, but their real purpose is to store extra wood for the firebox

The devices has a built in thermometer and adjustable air-intakes. The overall size is 173 x 65 x133 cm – a monster.

You can roast, barbecue, grill or smoke in either or both chambers. You can even use one of the chambers for baking bread or making pizza.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that it is not all that well-made and will probably only last two or three seasons. The hinges are not welded well, and you will probably have to do some DIY maintenance on it to extend its life. The welding in general is not of the best quality and the lids do not create a tight seal

The question then is why are we recommending it at all. The answer is two-fold. First of all,if you look after it, you can probably get those three seasons, possibly more, if you give it enough TLC. And when you combine this with the sheer size, it has to be said that if you cook for large gatherings occasionally and small small gatherings more often, then this is the ideal unit. By alternating which chamber you use for the smaller gatherings, you can probably extend the life of the product somewhat. Nothing, last forever, after all. If you can get three years life out of it at this price and cook for some large groups along the way, then it may be value for money for you.

One other thing we must add: the built-in thermometer – as with so many of these smokers and barbecues – is not reliable.

Whether it’s good value for money is hard to say because we don’t yet know for certain how long it will last. But if you entertain large groups, it’s worth considering.

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Black Smoker BBQ Nevada XL

TecTake 3in1 BBQ Charcoal Barbecue Smoker

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TecTake 3in1 BBQ Charcoal Barbecue Smoker with heat indicator

Similar to the 3-in-1 from Deuba, this bullet-type model from Tec Take also does multiple duty. With a diameter of 41 cm and a height of 80cm, it has two chrome-plated grids (3 positions) for grilling, roasting and smoking, it offers versatility at a bargain price. It also has a built in thermostat and an adjustable air vent for temperature control. The whole thing weighs 6.5 kg and it has two side handles for moving the unit.

There are two doors 14 x 12 cm, one above the other. The lower door gives access to the lower rack and the coals/wood-chip bowl. The upper door gives access to the middle rack and water tray. The 38 cm (7cm high) water bowl can be used to shield smoking meat from direct heat, evaporate to prevent overheating when smoking and catch dripping fat that might otherwise cause the charcoal or wood fire to flare up and burn the meat. It can also be used to provide steam for vegetables.

The unit has to be assembled, but this is relatively straightforward. That said, it is a low-price, entry-level product. Once again, the built-in thermometer was unreliable (this seems to be true of even the most expensive units) and the structure was not all that robust.

There were other problems with this unit. For example, the coal ash bowl was rather shallow and the buildup of ash causes it to smother the coal and bring down the temperature. This means that if you are doing a long smoke, you have to keep stoking the coals every few hours. You could try drilling holes in the charcoal tray, but a better idea might be to buy a new one, both bigger and with holes, to accommodate more charcoal and to let the ash fall away.

Also, the problem with treating it as an entry-level product is that inexperienced users might find it the hardest to get the most out of. Still, like the Deuba, it is worth considering at this price.

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Charcoal Barbecue Smoker – BBQ Smoker Grill

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Charcoal Barbecue Smoker

A medium-priced offset side-box BBQ, smoker and grill with a chimney and vent for smoke control. The design, weighing in at 22 kg, features a wooden front rack for preparation, raw ingredients or cooked food, but there is no lower shelf to store charcoal, wood or wood-chips. The unit also lacks a warming shelf in the main chamber. They do throw in a free pack of wood-chips. But this is small comfort for what is missing.

One good thing we can say is that at least the unit is on wheels and can be moved around easily.

But there are a number of cons that we cannot ignore. First the thermometer (again!) is unreliable! This seems to be the story with every built-in thermometer we tried. In virtually every case, built-in thermometers tend to underestimate the temperature of the cooking chamber – and this one was no exception.

It is also important to make clear, that the despite the way it looks in the picture the main chamber is not all that big. Also, when using it as a smoker with the indirect firebox, it loses heat through leakage. So it is almost like you are hot-smoking at the firebox end and cold-smoking at the chimney end. Worse still, there is also heat leakage from the firebox itself, due to the less than solid construction. When cooking directly and using the product as a barbecue or grill, this of course does not apply. Another problem is that the screw on the air vent tends to work its way loose remarkably quickly. In practice, we found it simpler and more practical to leave the exhaust vent open when cooking, whether using the unit as a smoker or barbecue.

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Charcoal Barbecue Smoker

First4Spares 3 in 1 Round Charcoal BBQ Grill & Smoker

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First4Spares 3 in 1 Round Charcoal BBQ Grill & Smoker Complete with Hangers and Thermostat

Another budget bullet-type unit. 76 cm high. The steel is thin and easily warped. And you have to assemble it yourself. The instructions are unclear, but assembly is largely self-explanatory. It can do all the things that the more expensive models are designed to do, but don’t expect it to last.

There is again a problem of ash building up in the charcoal bowl, and again we would recommend drilling some holes in the bowl to let the ash fall through and to improve their air flow. If you don’t do this, you will only be able to use it for short periods as the accumulation of ash stifles the charcoal.

If you use this smoker, you will have to develop a few workarounds to the problems. But in the process you will learn a lot about how to use a smoker. Using it as a barbecue is much easier and using it as an open grill is no problem at all.

For the price it is certainly good value for money.

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First4Spares 3 in 1 Round Charcoal BBQ Grill & Smoker Complete with Hangers and Thermostat

Callow Retail Outdoor Smoker Oven – Outdoor fish Smoker

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Callow Retail Outdoor Smoker Oven

This is something a little different. It is essentially a mini-smoker, made of stainless steel. But it seems to have been designed with campers in mind. First of all it is very small. Secondly it works with methylated spirit as the principal fuel, although this is meant to be topped up with wood chips (or even sawdust) to get the smoky flavour.

Thirdly, it is designed to work quickly. That is, although they call it a smoker, it can be used as a mini-oven. Also, although the product name implies that it is only for fish, it can in fact be used with sausages, chicken and various types of meat.

It has two burners to ensure an even heat and an adjustable valve. If you are a keen fishing enthusiast, whether on a river bank or an inshore boat, you can catch trout or mackerel and cook them without going home. Perfect for camping and the outdoor life.

The overall size is 42 x 22 x 11 cm. There are two wire racks, placed one above the other, and you can get four filleted mackerel on each – five with a tight squeeze.

If your smoked food ambitions are modest or you enjoy fishing and like the idea of smoking your catch in situ, this little baby of a smoker is for you.

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Callow Retail Outdoor Smoker Oven

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