Types Of Smokers: A Comprehensive Review

March 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

There are several types of BBQ smokers but they can be mainly divided into five categories: electric smokers, gas smokers, charcoal smokers, wood fuelled smokers, and stovetop smokers.

I have owned a propane smoker for twelve years and an electric smoker for two years. These gadgets have always met and exceeded my expectations. However, though I have a bias toward my gas smoker, I’ve had the chance to try out many other types of smokers; which is why I can readily compare and contrast them for you.

In this article, I will explain how each type of smoker functions, its merits, and demerits as well as who should consider buying it. This exhaustive review should help you make a concise choice of the smoker you should buy. Let’s get started.

Types of Smokers

How Many Types of Smokers Are There?

Smokers can be divided into five main categories based on the fuel source they require. They are electric smokers, gas smokers, charcoal smokers, wood-powered smokers, and stovetop smokers.

Type of Smoker

Fuel Source

Sub Categories

Electric Smoker



Gas Smoker

Natural Gas, Propane Gas

Propane Smokers, Natural Gas Smokers

Charcoal Smoker

Lump Charcoal, Briquettes

Offset Smokers, Vertical Charcoal Smokers, Gravity-feed Smokers, Kettle Grills

Wood Fuelled Smokers

Wood Pellets, Logs

Pellet smokers, wood-fired ovens

Stovetop Smoker

Can Be Placed on a Gas Burner, Charcoal, or Wood Fires


Different Types of Smokers

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers are the easiest smokers to operate. They only require you to pop in your meats, set your preferred temperature and wait for the meat to get cooked to perfection.

Electric smokers are hugely preferred because of their hands-off approach to cooking as well as the fact that they don’t produce any smoke or ash debris, unlike the other types of smokers.

How Do They Work?

Electric smokers are built as vertical chambers containing horizontal food racks on which you place the food. At the bottom region of the electric cooker, there is an electric heating element that provides the heat needed for smoking.

Meat Prepared on a BBQ Grill

The heat is automatically regulated to keep it at a constant level throughout the cooking process, which means you don’t have to keep checking on your electric smoker.

A water pan is placed in the cooking chamber to create the necessary moisture that will prevent the meat from drying out and losing its succulence. If you want, you can also place some wet wood chips in the chip tray. When they smolder, they will infuse a lovely smoke flavor into the food.


  • There is no actual fire so they don’t produce smoke or ash.
  • Automated temperature control maintains the optimal temperature and indirect heat necessary for smoking.
  • Electricity is a clean and easy-to-use fuel source.
  • An electric smoker is excellent for apartment use as well as small patios.
  • They require no expertise or further manual input. You just fire and wait for it to cook.
  • They come in different sizes, some small enough for a family and some large enough to cook for a crowd.


  • The lack of an actual fire means the meat can’t acquire that enviable bark that is a by-product of combustion.
  • The meat will cook adequately but it won’t have the same delicious flavor produced using a charcoal or propane smoker.
  • An electric smoker can only be used as a smoker while many propane and charcoal smokers can double up as grills as well.
  • For campers and outdoor lovers, the fuel source will limit their camping options to only places connected to the grid.

Who Should Buy An Electric Smoker?

Beginners and those who want a clean, easy, and hands-free way to slow-cook meat. I recommend the No products found.

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Gas Smokers

Gas smokers use natural gas or propane gas for fuel. The terms gas and propane tend to be used interchangeably. However, most propane smokers use propane gas specifically, and can’t use natural gas as a substitute without the necessary conversion equipment.

Natural gas smokers can be retrofitted into the kitchen. They utilize the gas line in your home while propane smokers use propane gas tanks that are ported along with the smoker.

Propane smokers are very popular and easy to use. Gas smokers as a whole may require some more manual input compared to the electric smoker but the end product is far superior.

How Do They Work?

A gas smoker has a similar build to electric smokers but the fuel source is propane gas supplied via a gas line from a propane tank. The propane is ignited at the burner located at the bottom of the cooking chamber. 

A level above the burner is a wood chip tray and a water pan. The wood chips smolder creating smoke for additional flavor while the water maintains a moist atmosphere to prevent the meat from drying out.

Meat Smoking on Electrical Smoker

Unlike electric smokers, most gas smokers do not come with automated temperature control. The Masterbuilt Thermotemp Propane Smoker which I would highly recommend even for a novice barbecue cook comes with automated temperature regulation making it a superior piece of equipment.

Most gas smokers, however, will take some getting used to. You need to regulate the temperature yourself by periodically checking on your cooking to ensure the temperature remains at optimal range. 

Propane Gas Smoker: Pros

  • A propane gas smoker produces a lovely smoke ring and an enviable crispy bark on meat.
  • The flavor of the meat is richer when using a propane smoker than with an electric smoker.
  • Propane gas is a clean fuel that produces little to no smoke.
  • Propane is an affordable and widely available fuel source.
  • Propane smokers are suitable for camping since they are portable.
  • A propane smoker is more fun to operate since you get to interact more with your cooking.
  • Unlike charcoal smokers, they are easy to keep clean since they do not produce ash.
  • There are some versatile propane smokers that can be used for both smoking and grilling meat.

Propane Gas Smoker: Cons

  • Most propane smokers don’t have automated temperature regulation which leaves room for error if you are not an experienced cook.
  • You have to keep checking on your cooking which some may find to be too much involvement.
  • If you’re using a propane smoker for long barbecues, you may run out of propane gas fuel so you need to have a second tank just in case.
  • A charcoal smoker or pellet smokers produce superior flavor compared to a propane smoker.

Natural Gas Smoker: Pros

  • A natural gas smoker produces a smoke ring and a crispy bark on meat.
  • Better smoke flavor compared to an electric smoker.
  • You can cook long barbecues without worrying about running out of fuel or having to use multiple tanks of gas as is the case with propane gas smokers.
  • Natural gas is a widely available fuel.

Natural Gas Smoker: Cons

  • The cost of natural gas is slightly higher than that of propane gas.
  • They are not portable. Once connected to your gas line, you should never attempt to dismantle it. This means you do not even have the option to cook your barbeque at different spots in your yard.
  • Most models currently do not have automated temperature regulation which leaves room for error when smoking meat.
  • Natural gas is not as clean or as fuel-efficient as propane gas.

Who Should Buy a Gas Smoker?

If you enjoy the art of cooking and handling meat directly, you should go for a propane or gas smoker. You need some skill when handling a smoker, though you don’t have to be a pitmaster to operate a gas smoker. Consider buying a Broil King Propane Smoker.

Wood Fuelled Smokers

Wood-fuelled smokers produce some of the tastiest barbecues. Depending on the type of wood you choose for your barbecue, you could end up with a strong or subtle wood flavor coupled with a lovely smoke ring and tender smoked meat.

Wood-fuelled smokers include pellet smokers and wood-fired ovens. Let’s take a look at each one. First off:

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers have gained popularity in the last decade or so. They are, in my view, the best combination of a high-tech electric smoker and a regular wood or propane smoker.

With a pellet smoker, you get to enjoy the benefits of actual fire combustion as well as the hands-free convenience that comes with automation.

Pellet Smoking Grill
How Do They Work?

The controls of a pellet smoker are electric but the food is cooked using wood pellets. The temperature is held steady using a controller that’s built into the cooking chamber. There is a smaller, separate compartment called a pellet hopper that you have to feed with wood pellets.

At the bottom of the pellet hopper, there is an auger that feeds food-grade wood chunks or pellets into the firebox below the cooking chamber. A hot rod ignites the pellets and a fan keeps the fire going while also distributing the heat and smoke produced evenly into the cooking chamber above.

From here, the food cooks slowly without any further attention. The temperature controls detect a low temperature and activates the auger to release more pellets into the firebox to keep the flame going. Pellet grills are perfect for low and slow cooking which is what smoking a barbecue is all about.

  • They are completely automated and require no manual input whatsoever. Once you have set your fire and your food, you get to kick back with your buddies until the cooking time is up.
  • Pellet smokers are available in different sizes, so you have a variety to choose from based on your needs.
  • The wood-smoked flavor you can’t get with an electric smoker is achievable here.
  • The constant slow and low cooking ensures superb results.
  • The automated temperature regulation ensures fuel is used most efficiently.
  • Many pellet smokers can be configured with your WiFi for even greater convenience and greater control over your cooking.
  • Very little ash is produced.
  • Can be used for grilling and roasting as well.
  • They are excellent for novice grillers.
  • A good pellet smoker is expensive.
  • A pellet grill has so many moving parts. So, if any of them are damaged, the pellet smoker may be rendered useless as a whole.
  • Since the controls run on electricity, you’re limited to being near a power source to maintain the temperatures and ensure the pellet hopper keeps feeding pellets into the firebox.
  • Even a portable pellet smoker is quite bulky to haul around.
  • Campers may not enjoy the digitized experience. It denies them the traditional experience of handling meat.
Who Should Buy A Pellet Smoker?

Novices or beginners, and anyone who enjoys a richer flavor but doesn’t want to get their hands dirty or handle meat. I fall firmly within this group, so I plan to get a Traeger Pro Series 22 pellet grill myself.

Wood Fired Ovens

Wood-fired ovens are pretty rare today and are not even designed to be smokers. They can, however, be used to smoke a steak rather well.

How To Smoke Meat Using A Wood-Fired Oven?

Light the charcoal or briquettes and let them burn down to hot coals. Move them to the back of the oven and place wood chips against them. Place the meat on a pan and keep the pan in the oven next to the coals.

Close the oven door to reduce the amount of air in the chamber effectively lowering the temperatures. You can also block the chimney to create a low-temperature environment.

Open and close the door of the oven depending on whether you want to raise or reduce the temperature. It’s that simple.

  • Wood-fired ovens are easy to use.
  • They are also versatile. You can bake, roast and make Neopolitan-style pizzas in them.
  • They are durable.
  • Can use charcoal, or briquettes in a wood-fired oven.
  • They tend to be small, limiting the amount of meat you can smoke in them.
  • They are novel items today, which means they are quite expensive. Purchasing them for the sole purpose of smoking is not a wise investment.
  • You must babysit your meat and control the temperature yourself, as well as regularly add fuel, which can be a hassle for such a small amount of meat.
  • They produce a tone of ash as a byproduct of cooking.
Who Should Buy a Wood-fired Oven?

Traditional wood-fired ovens are rare and other types of smokers may be more convenient to buy. That said, anyone who fancies this kind of oven should just purchase one.

Portable Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers are kings in the flavor department and are the favorite smokers of choice for diehard barbecue pitmasters. There are different types of charcoal smokers, including offset smokers, vertical charcoal smokers, gravity-feed smokers, and kettle grills.

Offset Smokers

They are also called horizontal offset smokers, barrel smokers, stick burners, or pipe smokers. This is the smoker any BBQ pitmaster wants to own. They have a simple design that originated in Texas.

The first offset smokers were made from old propane tanks and scrap metal. The food chamber would be constructed, complete with food grates and a door. A separate chamber or the firebox would be welded against the food chamber and a smokestack would be affixed to the food chamber to release smoke.

How Do They Work?

Operating them takes some expertise. The modern version of the offset smoker is not much different from the traditional models but it’s of sturdier construction and uses better materials.

The firebox is filled with wood lump charcoal or briquettes and ignited. The heat and smoke produced are drawn into the cooking chamber and across the food smoking it slowly. It’s that simple!

The smoke then escapes through the chimney and the process goes on until your meat is fully done. You have to handle and turn the food as well as control the temperature yourself. There are standard offset smokers and reverse flow smokers which can be differentiated by the placement of the smokestack.

Portion of Spareribs Cooked on Charcoal Grill

A standard offset smoker has its smokestack on one side of the cooking barrel while the firebox is on the other side of the cooking chamber. With a reverse flow offset smoker, the smokestack is on the same side as the firebox, almost directly above it.

The reverse flow system uses baffle plates inside the cooking chamber to draw the smoke and heat to the opposite end of the chamber. Then, it’s drawn back over the food and out through the chimney. 

This allows the smoke to get infused into the food before escaping through the chimney. The result is a more evenly cooked and fully-flavored meal.

  • The simplicity of the offset smoker means a top-shelf model will outlive you.
  • The barrel has quite a bit of room which allows you to smoke large amounts of meat.
  • Some models can be modified above the firebox, making it a grill as well.
  • An offset smoker is a charcoal smoker and can use different fuel sources such as briquettes as well as lump charcoal.
  • Makes the most flavorful authentic smoked meat.
  • Since the firebox is separate, adding fuel does not interfere with the cooking and no heat or smoke is lost in the refueling process.
  • Smoking and grilling on offset smokers is a ton of fun. The experience is primal and authentic.
  • The obvious popularity of offset smokers means that many substandard models are hitting the market, offering the same superior results but failing to do so.
  • They don’t come cheap and when they do, they are a disappointment.
  • Cooking with offset smokers involves a steep learning curve that most people have neither the time nor the patience for.
  • The fuel sources can be heavy on the ash and debris left behind.
  • It takes over half an hour to get a suitable temperature for smoking food.
  • They can’t be used in apartments and condos due to the smoke and ash they produce.
  • They are not easy to cart around even with wheels because they are heavy and bulky.
Who Should Buy An Offset Smoker?

A skilled barbecue lover can comfortably operate this smoker. If you have been using a propane smoker you should consider graduating to offset smokers. I recommend the Royal Gourmet offset smoker

Vertical Charcoal Smokers

Vertical charcoal smokers are more of a collective term that includes charcoal grills, water smokers, Weber Smokey Mountain bullet smokers, ugly drum smokers, vertical smokers, or box smokers.

All these smokers may look different externally. However, they all function the same way and have the same internal structure which is why they are classified together.

How Do They Work?

Firstly, they all run on charcoal and wood chunks as a fuel source. The firebox or charcoal pan is located at the bottom of the smoker on top of a base. The base also has an intake damper to control how much air is let into the firebox to either increase the heat or restrict it.

Wood chips are also added here to smolder and produce a rich smoke flavor.

Meet Cooked on BBQ Grill

Above this is a water pan which provides the necessary moist cooking environment to keep the meat from drying out, as well as to keep the temperatures from getting out of control. Above the water pan are the food grates. Usually, they are two but they could be more in a larger smoker.

There is a lid at the very top that has an exhaust damper to release smoke and a temperature gauge to keep you informed.

  • A charcoal smoker creates the best crisp bark and a distinctly thick smoke ring which enhances the aesthetic, flavor, and texture of the final product.
  • They are simple contraptions with no digitized automated parts which enhances the barbecue experience.
  • They are available in all sizes, from small families to large parties.
  • They are cheap yet functionally efficient.
  • They are portable and campers will love them.
  • Charcoal is not an efficient fuel source as electricity, propane, and wood pellets.
  • Charcoal smokers produce a significant amount of ash so cleanup can be quite a task.
  • They have a steep learning curve and it will take a long time for a novice to learn how to control the temperature and smoke a perfect brisket.
  • They are labor-intensive. Charcoal can burn quite fast which means you will be regularly refilling the firebox.
  • They can’t be used in an apartment building because of the intense smoke production.
Who Should Use Vertical Charcoal Smokers?

Barbecue diehards should consider buying a vertical charcoal smoker if the flavor profile is something they want. A charcoal smoker such as Weber 18-inch Smokey Mountain won’t disappoint.

Gravity Feed Smokers

Gravity-feed smokers are high-tech charcoal-fuelled smokers designed to be ‘set it and forget it’ smokers. They are a breeze to operate and they deliver a treat. BBQ pitmasters have designated gravity-feed smokers as possibly the best smoker in terms of both function and aesthetics.

How Do They Work?

This is also a charcoal smoker but unlike other types, this has a coal chute at the side of the smoker instead of a firebox beneath the cooking chamber. 

Large Barbecue Smoker Grill

The chute is efficiently insulated to prevent heat from escaping and the coal burns in a low-oxygen environment that facilitates a long slow burn. 

The heat and smoke are drawn into the cooking chamber through the smoke stack, over the food and out of the smoker. This can take many hours until the food is done to perfection.

  • They require no manual input once they have been set. Just lounge with a beer and friends while you wait for a hearty meal.
  • It uses charcoal which is the best fuel source for both flavor and fabulous texture.
  • The superior insulation makes it highly fuel efficient and very little heat is dissipated into the atmosphere and lost.
  • They are available in an array of sizes to cater to varying needs.
  • They are easy to use.
  • The sturdy construction makes them highly durable.
  • They are very heavy because of the insulation so portability is out of the question.
  • They are expensive.
Who Should Buy Gravity Feed Smokers?

Anyone who enjoys a good barbecue but doesn’t want the hassle of handling the food at any point during cooking. A top pick is the Masterbuilt Gravity Series.

Charcoal Grills That Can Be Used for Smoking Meat

1. Kettle Grills

Kettle grills most commonly referred to as Weber kettles are not dedicated smokers but can be used for low and slow cooking all the same. They come in handy when you want to smoke a small amount of meat for the family.

Given that most homes likely have a kettle grill, it would be nice to know just how to use this grill to smoke a mean brisket.

How Do They Work?

Using a kettle grill to smoke meat is pretty straightforward. What you need to do is keep a steady low temperature environment that will cook your meat over many hours. Line a row of briquettes along one half of the dome and place some wet wood chips on these briquettes.

Light the briquettes on one end. The briquettes will ignite one by one as the cooking progresses and smolder the wood chips as well. Place a water pan in the space left. You can place some more wood chips in the pan. Place the grill grate over the coals and the pan as you would when grilling.

Arrange your meat as evenly as possible in a single layer on the grill grate and cover the food. Your job will be to regulate the temperature by opening and closing the bottom air vent. Try to keep the temperature at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for a nice slow cook.

  • It is a cheap and easy-to-use charcoal smoker.
  • They last a lifetime.
  • Kettle grills are versatile and can be used to grill, roast, as well as smoking food.
  • They are portable and lightweight.
  • They are small and take up very little room.
  • Refilling the grill with briquettes can get quite cumbersome when cooking a brisket that demands hours of cook time.
  • They need babysitting, constant monitoring, and adjusting the temperatures.
  • It takes time and practice to learn how to smoke food on a kettle grill.
  • You can’t cook large amounts of meat on a kettle grill.
Who Should Buy A Kettle Grill?

For smoking meat? No one. The only reason to smoke food on a kettle grill is that you already have one.

Barbecue Kettle Grill with Cover
2. Kamado Grills/ Ceramic Smokers

Kamado grills have been used in one form or another for at least 3000 years. If the name is unfamiliar to you, think of the Big Green Egg which is the modern version of an ancient cooking apparatus. 

Kamado grills are ceramic egg-shaped domes that contain the briquette or charcoal containment, a grill grate above it, and a lid.

The ceramic material used to make a Kamado grill offers superb insulation creating a heat chamber that can reach temperatures of 700 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not what we want for smoking our meat, though.

The ideal smoking meat smoking temperature should maintain at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, never exceeding 250 degrees Fahrenheit. It is difficult to maintain such lows consistently for hours in a Kamado grill even with expert manipulation of the vents and dampers.

How Do They Work?

Unlike kettle grills which are simple grills that you have to improvise for smoking, Kamado grills come with a deflector plate for precisely this job.

Most, if not all Kamado grills now will come with this deflector plate, which is placed between the firebox and the grill grate when smoking a brisket. This creates a low and slow heating environment which is what smoking food is all about.

Green Kamado Style Grill

You will have to regulate the heat by opening and closing the vents to feed the flames or deprive them of air.

  • They are small devices which means they take up little room on your patio or yard.
  • The insulation offers a perfect environment for smoked meat to gain a lot of flavors.
  • The ceramic body enhances fuel efficiency.
  • A kamado grill has such versatility and can be used to smoke, grill roast, sear and bake.
  • They are very durable.
  • A kamado grill is small so the cooking capacity is also small.
  • They are rather expensive.
  • Ceramics are hard but can still crack if they are dropped.
  • It takes time to learn how to use one effectively. Ceramics absorb a lot of heat and if you overshoot your cooking temperature, you will not get the results you intended.
  • They are small but heavy and difficult to move around.
Who Should Buy A Kamado Grill?

If you like having novel items and don’t mind the work that comes with smoking meat, go ahead and buy one. The Vessils Kamado Charcoal Grill is especially good.

Stovetop Smokers

A stovetop smoker is the epitome of practicality. Just like electric smokers, the heat is distributed through a heating element built into the smoker. These are designed to do basic smoking and are ideal for people who live in apartment buildings and tight spaces.

They are a compact item where the food sits on a grate that is placed on a pan containing wood chips and water. The pan is placed inside a smoker that has a heating element beneath it. The smoker is placed on your stove and the burner is ignited.

When the wood chips have smoldered to your satisfaction, you can put the unit in a regular oven to finish cooking.


  • It is easy to use and effective.
  • It occupies little space and can simply be stored away once you are done.
  • Very little cleanup after cooking.
  • It is a relatively cheap contraption.
  • No learning curve is required.


  • It is small which limits how much meat you can smoke in it.
  • Since it’s used indoors, even the little smoke it produces will still seem like a lot, so you have to use it in a well-ventilated kitchen.
  • It must be used with the stovetop so you can’t enjoy the outdoor barbecue experience.
  • The flavor and texture are simply satisfactory but this smoker can’t produce the kind of meat smoking on a charcoal or propane smoker can.

Who Should Buy A Stovetop Smoker?

Anyone living in a confined space where the other smoker grills are not an option.

Portable Outdoor Grill

Which is the Best Type of Smoker?

While that will depend on a few factors, I find that ease of use is the most critical factor to consider. If you have never smoked meat before, you will need to pick a smoker that’s easy to use before moving on to the more challenging ones.

An electric or pellet smoker is a great choice while an offset smoker would simply overwhelm you. You may end up storing it away and never using it again. Even for experienced barbecue lovers like me, the lack of experience using one smoker over the other can be intimidating and off-putting.

That said, all learning requires patience and practice. If you want to get a more challenging smoker, try smoking a brisket on it a few times. After a number of tries, the knack for barbequing meat will develop naturally.

On the other hand, an offset smoker has such a large barrel that it’s the best option for people who like to host large parties. You get to smoke large quantities of meat in one go.

For anyone living in an apartment building where smoke and ash would be problematic, go for smokers that don’t produce any, such as electric smokers.  A stovetop smoker might also be a good idea if you don’t care for the nuances of using larger smokers.

Final Thoughts

Decide which factors matter most to you and what you can execute flawlessly. Use these tips to figure out which smoker best fits your circumstances. If and when your skills improve, you are more than welcome to shift to a different type of smoker.

Good luck!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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