Buying a barbecue smoker or cooker can be an overwhelming process. Just figuring out the right questions to ask can be tedious. At GrillBillies, we try to make the experience a pleasant one with less anxiety. As experienced cooks and Pitmasters, we have experience to guide you through the buying process. No pressure, no fast selling techniques, just straight up talk to help you zero in on the smoker or cooker best suited for you. So if you’re in the market for a new smoker, roaster, or grill, stop by and let’s talk barbeque and help you find the smoker of your choice.
Usually, answering a few questions will go a long way to help get you pointed in the right direction.
- What is my budget?
- Is the cooker for home use, group events, BBQ competitions or catering?
- What size space do I have for my new cooker?
- Does my cooker need to be portable or can it stand alone?
- What type of cooking would I most likely do (smoking, grilling, roasting)?
- What would be the typical meats I would cook?
- What would be the quantity of these meats?
- How many people do I usually cook for?
- Do I enjoy “playing” with the fire and managing it or prefer a “set it and forget it”?
- Which fuel source do I prefer; wood, charcoal, gas or a combination of all?
- Where will I primarily do my cooking?
Once you answer these questions you are on your way to defining the type of smoker or cooker you need. The next step is to search for various sources for the type of cooker you are interested in.
Here’s a very general overview of the different types of cookers out there today:
These smokers have a box specifically dedicated for the fire and smoke. The fire is never in direct contact with the food and the firebox is separate from the cooking chamber where the meat is being cook. They come in two styles:
- Cross flow: These smokers tend to be less expensive, but if purchased from a well-known and reliable manufacturer they do a fine job. The units cook by heat and smoke exiting the firebox and crossing over the meat and exiting out a chimney on the opposite side. Better units use a diffuser, a tube or box that runs the length of the smoker by which the heat and the smoke must pass through within the cooking chamber. The diffuser has holes that allow the smoke and heat to infuse the meat in the cooking chamber and also helps to evenly distribute the heat. Direct flow smokers need to be fed fuel on a regular basis whether using wood or charcoal. In doing so they allow the cook to blend different woods to provide an enhanced flavor profile.
- Reverse Flow: These smokers are most often used by BBQ Pitmasters and some caterers. The technology is the same as the cross flow except for one important aspect. When the heat and the smoke exit the offset firebox, it travels under a fully sealed drip pan to the nose of the smoker. There is an opening in the drip pan at the nose of the smoker allowing the heat and smoke to reverse and come back over the food and exit the chimney. The thinking here is the heat and the smoke traveling under the drip pan will heat up the drip pan so that when the juices drip off the meat they will vaporize on the pan, permeate the meat with delicious flavor, and provide radiant heat for cooking. When the heat and the smoke reverse, that is when the meat receives its smoke along with the heat to cook. These smokers provide a well-balanced cook because of this technology. Also, because of the offset firebox, as the Pitmaster you can add more wood or charcoal as needed and also mix different woods to provide a unique flavor profile. Reverse flow offsets require the cook to stay with the smoker during the cook. As with direct flow smokers the reverse flow indirect smoker provides a bold flavor profile in addition to great bark and color.
Some other types are as follows:
These cookers usually have the fire within the cooking chamber. Typically they will have a drip pan between the fire and the cooking grate to provide what we call “indirect cooking”. This type of cooker is more than not a “set it and forget it” unless it has some kind of “pullout” that allows you to get to the fire without disassembling the cooker. The cooking process is a convection cycle where the smoke and the heat travels up and around the drip pan and exits out the hood vents. Usually the fire in these units is a combination of a lot of charcoal and some wood. With these BBQ cookers, you will not be able to manipulate the wood or fire once the cooking process starts.
These have become the new “rage”. Upright smokers have a place in just about all segments of the BBQ industry. They work well in the backyard, restaurants, catering and competing. The one drawback is they usually are too small to cook a pig. The better smokers are well insulated; therefore, they are very efficient during the cooking process, using less fuel and requiring virtually no fire maintenance. Where the fire and smoke are generated varies by manufacturer.
Gravity Feed Charcoal Smokers:
Gravity feed smokers are designed to “meter” out the required charcoal for the desired cooking temperature. The charcoal is loaded into a chute where it will drop down into a firebox. Most are well insulated, so they are very efficient. On average, these units will burn about 1 lb of charcoal per hour and up to 16 hour burn time. They are are used widely in competition barbecue and catering. They are basically a "set it and forget it" design. Gravity fed smoker are more expensive than the other varieties.
Some people refer to these cookers as grills. They are smokers. Grilling is better done on something else. The fuel source is approximately 1” long by a pencil thick pellet. The pellets are delivered to the burn pot, supplying indirect heat. Some complain that the pellets do not generate enough smoke for their taste. This is mostly dependent on the smoker selected. The temperature control setting on these smokers allows the cook to go off and do other things.