Guide to Barbeque Smokers

Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 Inch

Vertical Water Cooker Barbeque Smokers


In my opinion selecting a smoker is like buying a new car. There are so many models that you succumb to analysis paralysis when checking out barbeque smokers!

The bottomline, though, is that it is very simple. You should assess your needs and select accordingly. If you are only an occasional smoker cook then the Vertical Water Cookers are a good first choice for the new cook.

Water cookers as barbeque smokers are simpler to use primarily because they use a water pan over the fire pit to regulate temperature and moisture. It takes a lot of the guess work out. It was our first smoker and we were very successful smoking turkey breasts. Boy, were they good! I still think they are best type for smoking food that dries out quickly like poultry breasts and fish.

There are several “grades” of vertical water cookers. One of the most popular models is the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker which is pictured on the left. Brinkman also makes a similar barbeque smoker.

These models are distinguished by solid performance and an economical price.

Higher end vertical water cookers include the Backwoods and Spicewine barbeque smokers. These cookers are insulated, precision temperature cookers used by many competition cooks. The insulation makes cooking in cold weather a non-issue which is a nice feature to have for those of us that live in the northern climes.

They are excellent performers but are quite expensive.


Offset Barbeque Smokers

The Offset cooker type was our second smoker choice (example – notice the picture of the smoker in the top image of this website). There are three components, the firebox, the cooking chamber, and the chimney.

The firebox is “offset” from the cooking chamber to allow the smoke and heat to travel from the firebox through the cooking chamber and out of the chimney. The only drawback to this type of smoker is that meat placed near the firebox end will cook faster than meat at the opposite end of the cooking chamber.

Its a good idea to have some type of metal baffle at the firebox end of the cooking chamber to channel the heat up so that the cooking area is more consistent.

If this is your choice we highly recommend selecting one made of heavier gauge steel that includes wheels (man these smokers are heavy!). It also must include a good quality oven type temperature gauge, one that locates the sensor close to the level of the meat.

One of our favorites is the Horizon brand of offset barbeque smokers. You may have seen one featured on Steve Raichlen’s BBQ cooking show (he has so many smokers!) It’s one of the smokers in the background.

Its also a very good idea to “season” your smoker by firing a load of charcoal and letting it burn out. Any residues left over from the manuafacturing process will burn off preventing it from being deposited on your meat.

One more point, light your fire in the firebox and not in the cooking chamber. It may seem obvious to most but some people have mistakenly put the charcoal in the cooking chamber and produced bad results (one of my family members….).

Wood Barbeque Smokers

When you are ready to move up to more frequent and higher volume cooking (catering, competitions, family reunions?) then you may be in the market for a more substantial cooker.

Smoker manufacturers such as Klose, Pitts and Spitts, Traeger, and Horizon create “top of the line” wood barbeque smokers that could be classified as “investment” level smokers. These smokers are of very high quality and should last a lifetime.  Many of these are Offset type smokers but the firebox can also be directly below the cooking chamber.

They typically have a firebox that is large enough to allow you to use wood as fuel. Barbeque Pitmaster purist usually insist on using hardwood as fuel for their cookers, consequently their choice of smokers are custom or near custom smokers and pits.

As I’ve stated before there are numerous styles and makes on the market. If you graduate to one of these types of smokers just scan the pages of publications such as the National Barbecue News for different vendors.

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