Best Barrel Smokers
If you are in a hurry and want to find out what the Best Barrel Smoker is then we would recommend the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package.
A smoker can add mouthwatering flavor to your favorite meat, but choosing the right one can be challenging. With so many sizes, styles, and features to choose from, there’s a lot you need to know before you can BBQ. Here, we’ll give a rundown on what to look for and review the five best barrel smokers.
Here are the grills that we will be reviewing:
- Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package
- Masterbuilt 20060416 Charcoal Bullet Smoker
- Weber 14-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker
- Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS681VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Charcoal Smoker
- Oklahoma Joe’s 19202089 Bronco Charcoal Smoker
What is a Barrel Smoker, and What Does it Do?
A barrel smoker is a device for cooking food with heat and smoke.
When you smoke foods, you cook them over a fire inside an enclosed area, in this case, something that resembles a barrel. It gives them a smoky flavor and helps preserve the food if you need to do that.
How it Works
You light a charcoal or wood fire in the cooker’s bottom and suspend the food item over a fire, with hooks, or with a grill. The fire heats the air inside.
You control the heat by adjusting a vent on the cooker’s bottom in conjunction with a top vent. Working these vents allows you to regulate the amount of oxygen coming into the barrel smoker (bottom vent), which the fire requires to burn, and the heat and smoke coming out of the top vent — the exhaust gases.
Caution: Burning wood or charcoal emits gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, which can be harmful. Always cook food in a smoker in an out-of-doors location.
As the heat inside the barrel cooker rises, it cooks the food. The smoke that comes off of the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the meat. This flavor is what people who like smoked foods are after when they use a smoker.
Most likely people constructed the first barrel smokers from old 55-gallon oil drums. This gave them an inexpensive or free container in which to cook meat. Obviously, this freebie no longer had any oil in it, so it was safe to use for cooking, and it was made of heavy-duty steel with a lid to control the fire and smoke.
What Can You Cook in a Barrel Smoker?
You can cook almost any food item in a barrel smoker. This includes meats like beef, pork, venison, buffalo — you name it. Poultry items you can smoke include chicken, capons, turkey, duck, goose, or other fouls. You can cook fish such as salmon and cod, and vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli.
A smoker with a grill even allows you to cook pizza and other things you would normally bake.
What are the Benefits of a Barrel Smoker
The main benefit of a barrel smoker is the smokey flavor it imparts to meats and vegetables.
But you want to consider using a barrel smoker instead of a stationary smokehouse or smoker that uses gas or electricity for several reasons.
A big advantage of a barrel smoker is that it is smaller than a smokehouse and, therefore, more portable. Some barrel smokers even have wheels so you can move them to a different location in your yard or on your patio with ease. A barrel smoker also gives you better control of the heat the fire generates because the vents are easy to manipulate with a mitted hand — they are right in front of you on the device.
You can smoke food items on a gas or electric grill but you will miss the flavor, smell, and texture that charcoal and wood imparts to food.
Charcoal or Wood?
People want to know if charcoal or wood is better for smoking in a barrel smoker. Both give food a smoky flavor but charcoal has become the preferred heat source. This is because it is easier to use and produces a steadier, more controllable, hotter heat.
People who prefer charcoal over wood advise avoiding using a petroleum-based lighter to start the charcoal because it leaves an oil taste on the food. They recommend starting the charcoal using the traditional chimney starter method or a blowtorch, both of which leave no oil residue on food.
Experienced smokers also recommend lump charcoal instead of briquettes because lump charcoal contains almost no chemicals (besides carbon), and it leaves almost no ash after it burns. Briquettes, however, are more convenient to load and use but leave more ash and do not produce a fire that is quite as hot. Experience combined with personal preference is your guide here.
Features to Consider
Let’s look at some essential features you’ll want to consider.
Barrel smokers are constructed of steel, which is long-lasting and durable. Most barrel smokers have a black, porcelain coating, but some on the market are orange or blue. Any color of porcelain coating helps protect against rust and wear.
Most barrel smokers have hooks on which to hang meat. Barrel smokers also come with one or more grills on which you can cook vegetables, pizza, and other items in addition to meat.
Latching access doors on some barrel smokers allow you to place and remove food items and load fuel easily from the front as opposed to top-only access.
Consider the types of foods you are going to be smoking most often. This will give you an idea about the size of the barrel smoker you’ll need. Popular sizes are 14 to 18 inches in diameter, with larger ones between 20 and 30 inches.
If you’re going to be smoking big portions of meat frequently for large gatherings, you’ll need a bigger smoker. If you occasionally smoke foods for small backyard get-togethers, you’ll do well with a smaller unit.
How portable a barrel smoker depends on a number of factors. A barrel smoker with wheels is obviously going to allow you to transport the smoker easier than one without wheels. But the size and weight of the smoker also determine how portable it is. Check the specifications for the smoker you’re thinking of buying for these numbers.
Some barrel smokers come with grilling tools like a spatula, brush, spoon, etc., that hang on the front of the smoker. You may or may not want or need these.
Some people consider a temperature gauge an accessory because they feel the best way to monitor and ensure the best temperature for smoking your food is by experience and common sense. If you are one of those who think along these lines, you don’t need a barrel smoker with a temperature gauge.
Some barrel smokers feature automatic temperature controllers, which experienced smokers also consider accessories because you learn to control the temperature with the unit’s vents, not by having an electronic device do it for you.
The Five Best Barrel Smokers
These are the five-barrel smokers that we consider the best.
Best Overall: 18-½ Inch Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package
This black, porcelain barrel smoker has a grate so you can grill and sear in addition to eight steel “hook-’n-hang” hooks to hang meat. A coal basket is included that holds the correct amount of charcoal for great grillin’.
The smoker weighs in at 57 pounds, so it’s heavy-duty, and it has a three-point stand to keep it off the ground and stable.
- Great results even for beginners
- Easy assembly
- Simple to use — “start it and forget it”
- Some people find it difficult to control the smoker’s temperature
- May cook too fast for some people
Best Budget Option: Masterbuilt 20060416 Charcoal Bullet Smoker
This barrel smoker is a compact model great for people who occasionally smoke foods. It has 395 square inches of cooking space yet weighs just 15.26 pounds. The barrel smoker has a porcelain-coating charcoal pan and smoking racks, and a thermometer on the lid that provides precise temperature readings.
- Small for simple transporting to parties, tailgates, and picnics
- Easy on the pocketbook
- May need to add a grate to the charcoal pan
- Some customers report the water pan is too shallow
Best Performance: Weber 14-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker
From famous-maker Weber, this barrel smoker weighs in at 23 pounds and has a Weber-style cover and vents. It has 286 square inches of total cooking area and comes with 3D assembly instructions.
- People love it for small to medium family gatherings
- Excellent temperature control
- Excellent draft control
- Nowhere to put the cover when monitoring the meat
- The cover may not fit well
Best Heavy-Duty Option: Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS681VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Charcoal Smoker
This hefty model has 681 square inches of cooking area. It also lets you monitor your food with a cool-to-the-touch door grip on the front access door and has an ash and charcoal management system. The “Smoke Zone” on the temperature gauge indicates the best temperature for the most smoke flavor.
- Heavy-gauge steel construction
- Strong wheels for transporting
- Sturdy legs
- Easy to keep at a steady temperature
- The front door lacks a gasket
- The top rack should be easier to access
Most Versatile: Oklahoma Joe’s 19202089 Bronco Charcoal Smoker
This barrel smoker has two wheels and a one-leg design that makes it easy to maneuver. Its “airflow control system” combined with a sealed lid configuration, provides exact temperature management. The meat hangers and cooking grate give you the ability to customize your smoking setup.
- Easy-clean, porcelain-coated parts
- A large charcoal basket allows for all-day smoking
- Uses little fuel
- The temperature gauge may not be accurate
- Some people find it difficult to add charcoal while cooking
Finding the Best Barrel Smoker
The perfect barrel smoker can add flavor to your favorite meats while keeping them juicy and tender. Now, you’re one step closer to an outdoor cooking experience that beats any standard barbecue. Using the info here you can make an informed decision and buy the best barrel smoker for your needs.