Types of Barbecue Cookers for Outdoor Cooking: Choosing the Right Grill or Smoker

types of barbecue cookers

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Barbecue cookers are outdoor cooking appliances specifically designed for smoking, grilling, and roasting meat using direct or indirect heat sources. These cookers vary in size, shape, and fuel types, which include charcoal, wood, gas, and electricity, each contributing a distinctive flavor and texture to the barbecue.

When choosing a barbecue cooker, you’ll encounter a range of options that cater to different preferences and cooking styles. The traditional charcoal grills are known for imparting a smoky flavor and require hands-on temperature management. On the other hand, gas grills offer convenience and precise temperature control.

Additionally, you’ll find smokers that specialize in low-and-slow cooking, perfect for tenderizing tough cuts of meat and infusing deep smoky flavors. High-end kamado grills, made of heavy ceramic, excellently retain heat and allow for versatile cooking methods including baking and roasting. Selecting the right barbecue cooker enhances your outdoor cooking experience and the flavor of your food.

Offset Smoker Grill Combo

An Offset Smoker Grill Combo combines a smoker and grill into one unit, with the smoker chamber placed next to the main grilling area. You will find a firebox offset to the side, which provides indirect heat that is ideal for cooking food at a lower temperature for extended periods, infusing a deep smoky flavor.

  • Pros:
    • Versatility: It allows you to switch between high-temperature grilling and low-and-slow smoking.
    • Flavour: Utilize hardwood pellets or chunks to impart rich, smoky flavors to meats and vegetables.
    • Space: A smart solution for an outdoor kitchen that requires a multifunctional cooker.
  • Cons:
    • Learning Curve: You may need to practice controlling the temperature.
    • Size: These units often require more space than other cookers.

Burners in the Offset Smoker Grill Combo are generally used for searing meat in the grilling section and are separate from the smoking compartment. Maintain consistent temperatures by adjusting the airflow from the firebox into the main chamber. This cooker uses hardwood pellets in the firebox to generate smoke, providing that desired smoky flavor.

For your outdoor kitchen, this setup can be a central piece, enabling you to explore a wide range of barbecuing techniques. Prepare juicy smoked ribs or a perfectly seared steak using the same equipment. Remember, an Offset Smoker Grill Combo requires proper maintenance to function at its best, including regular cleaning of both grilling and smoking sections after use.

Pellet Grill Smoker Combo

A pellet grill smoker combo is an outdoor cooking appliance that combines the functionality of a grill and a smoker, utilizing wood pellets as the fuel source to cook and impart a smoky flavor. These cookers are designed for performance, offering both high heat for grilling and lower, controlled temperatures for smoking.

Size and Capacity:
Choose a pellet grill smoker combo that fits your space and meets your cooking needs. Sizes range from small portable units to large-capacity models that can cater to big gatherings. Consider the cooking surface area to ensure it aligns with the quantity of food you plan to prepare.

Features to Look for:

  • Temperature Control: Precision is key for consistent results. Look for models with digital thermostats for accurate temperature management.
  • Pellet Delivery: Ensure the hopper and automatic feeding system are efficient to maintain steady heat and smoke levels.
  • Build Quality: Durable construction, often in stainless steel, is essential for longevity and consistent performance.

Using Your Pellet Grill:

  • Fill the hopper with high-quality wood pellets to achieve the desired smoky flavor.
  • Preheat the grill to the appropriate temperature for your recipe.
  • Place your food on the grill grates and monitor the cooking process, adjusting temperatures as necessary.

Pellet Choice and Flavor:
Wood pellet grills offer a variety of pellet options, such as hickory, mesquite, apple, and cherry, each imparting a unique smoky flavor to the food. Experiment with different wood pellets to find your favorite taste profile.

Maintenance Tips:

  • Regularly clean the ash from the firepot.
  • Inspect and maintain the grill grates and interior surfaces.
  • Check the pellet hopper and auger for any blockages or buildup.

With a pellet grill smoker combo, you have the versatility to smoke a brisket low and slow or sear a steak with a smoky crust. They are an excellent choice for outdoor chefs who appreciate the art of smoking and the convenience of grilling combined into one unit.

Kamado Grill

A Kamado grill is a versatile charcoal grill known for its egg-shaped ceramic body, which retains heat and maintains temperature control. Its design allows for efficient fuel usage, offering a sustainable charcoal consumption rate. These grills utilize lump charcoal, yielding a rich and smoky flavor preferred by barbecue enthusiasts.


  1. Heat Retention: Ceramic construction provides excellent insulation, ideal for maintaining consistent temperatures.
  2. Versatility: Capable of grilling, smoking, and even baking, expanding your cooking options.
  3. Flavor Enhancement: Imparts a distinct smoky flavor, elevating the taste of your food.


  1. Price Point: Higher initial investment compared to other charcoal grills.
  2. Weight: The ceramic build makes it heavier and less portable.
  3. Learning Curve: Temperature adjustments require practice and experience.

Here’s what you need to consider when using a Kamado grill:

  • Ventilation: Adjust the top and bottom vents to control the airflow and thus the temperature.
  • Fuel Type: Use lump charcoal for optimal performance; it burns cleaner and hotter than briquettes.
  • Accessories: Invest in proper tools and accessories, such as a heat deflector and ash tool, to enhance your cooking experience.

Kamado grills are generally not compatible with natural gas. However, the wood chips or chunks used in conjunction with the charcoal can accentuate the smoky flavor. When operating a Kamado grill, monitor temperatures closely to avoid overheating and ensure perfect cooking results.

Smoker Box For Gas Grills

A smoker box is an accessory designed to empower gas grills with the capability to smoke food. You position the smoker box directly on your gas grill’s burners, allowing you to add a deep, smoky flavor to your meals. Embrace the addition of wood chips of your choice to the box, usually without the need for pre-soaking.

When selecting a smoker box, consider size: larger boxes hold more wood chips, reducing the frequency of refills during extended cooking sessions but taking up more grill space. Boxes with a built-in thermometer allow for precise temperature control, ensuring food is smoked to perfection.

Here are key points to ponder:

  1. Installation: Place the smoker box carefully on the grill’s heat source.
  2. Operation: Fill it with wood chips; mesquite or hickory are popular for their robust flavors.
  3. Monitoring: Gas grills often feature a built-in thermometer for checking the temperature, aiding in maintaining the ideal smoking conditions.

Benefits of using a smoker box on your gas grill include:

  • Versatility: Transform your gas grill into a smoker with ease.
  • Control: Gas grills offer a stable heat source, which in combination with the smoker box, can provide consistent smoky flavors.
  • Maintenance: These boxes are typically easy to clean and can be a long-lasting accessory if properly cared for.

Do remember the pros and cons: every addition to your grill influences the cooking experience. A smoker box adds outstanding flavor but also requires attention and patience to master. Ensure that your gas grill is compatible with a smoker box to fully enjoy its benefits.

Vertical Water Smoker

A vertical water smoker is a type of cooker designed for smoking food at low temperatures over an extended period. Start with your smoker, a device that can use various fuels such as charcoal briquettes, natural gas, or electricity. The smoker’s structure typically includes a heat source at the bottom, a water pan above it to maintain humidity, and racks above the water pan for food placement.

Firstly, choose your type. Whether you opt for an electric grill, or prefer traditional charcoal, both can be accommodated in the design of a vertical water smoker. Secondly, add the charcoal briquettes or connect the smoker to your natural gas supply to begin heating.

Next, fill the water pan. This element adds moisture to the environment and helps regulate the temperature. Place food items like steaks on the racks above the water pan. The vertical design allows for effective smoke circulation, ensuring a thorough cook.

Secure the lid of your smoker, and monitor the temperature. With a vertical water smoker, accuracy is key, so be vigilant about maintaining the desired heat level over several hours. This method of cooking will impart a rich, smoky flavor that’s hard to duplicate with other types of grills.

Remember, the right maintenance of your smoker is vital. Ensure that it’s clean and in good repair to achieve the best cooking results. By following these steps, you can create delicious, tender, and flavorful barbecue.

Drum Smoker

A drum smoker, commonly referred to as an ugly drum smoker (UDS), is a cylindrical cooking device fashioned from a steel drum. Drum smokers provide a dependable smoking environment conducive for outdoor cooking. You’ll typically find them in a size that accommodates sizable portions, making them suitable for large gatherings.

When considering performance, drum smokers excel at maintaining consistent temperatures, which is essential for slow cooking and smoking meats to perfection. The design is straightforward: a steel drum contains a charcoal basket at the bottom, with cooking grates placed above. This smoker is revered for its ability to impart a deep, smoky flavor.

If budget is a consideration, drum smokers offer an economical alternative compared to other smokers. The materials for a basic model can be quite affordable, though you may opt for more advanced features like stainless steel components, which can increase the price.

For those who prioritize portability, a drum smoker can be a portable grill option. While heavier than some grills, they can be transported to different locations provided there’s assistance or a vehicle to facilitate the move.

Key Features to Consider:

  1. Size: Sufficient for large cuts of meat or multiple food items.
  2. Material: Often made from durable steel, with stainless steel upgrades available.
  3. Cost-Effectiveness: Typically offers great value for the initial investment.
  4. Portability: Manageable to move with proper equipment or help.

Remember, regular maintenance and proper use are imperative to ensure your drum smoker remains in prime condition. To begin, learn to regulate airflow to control temperature. Over time, you’ll develop the skill to produce consistently smoked dishes that are a highlight of any outdoor feast.

Charcoal Smoker

A charcoal smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance that uses charcoal as fuel to smoke food. You’ll find two common types of charcoal used: lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal burns hotter and quicker, while briquettes offer a more consistent burn rate.

  1. Choose your charcoal: For your charcoal smoker, opt for lump charcoal if you prefer a more natural flavor, or charcoal briquettes for longer cooking sessions.
  2. Portability is key: Some charcoal smokers are designed as portable barbecue grills, allowing you to enjoy smoked flavors on the go.
  3. Consider the design: Kettle grills are a popular type of charcoal grill that can also function as a smoker, versatile for both grilling and smoking.
  • Ventilation is crucial. The vents in your charcoal smoker control the temperature, and you must adjust them to maintain the heat level.
  • Maintenance matters. After use, cleaning your grill will ensure its longevity and performance for future barbecues.

To begin smoking, ignite the charcoal. Once the charcoal is lit and the smoker reaches the desired temperature, place your food on the grates. Remember to monitor the temperature regularly, as consistent heat is necessary for an even smoke. Add wood chips for an extra layer of smoky flavor, if desired.

In summary, a charcoal smoker is suitable if you appreciate the hands-on approach and the rich flavors that come with charcoal cooking. Whether you’re using lump charcoal or briquettes, a portable grill, or a stationary kettle-style setup, mastering your charcoal smoker will elevate your outdoor cooking experiences.

Box Smoker

A Box Smoker, commonly referred to as a cabinet smoker, functions through a heat source, often placed at the bottom, which produces smoke that engulfs the cooking chamber to smoke the meat. This type of smoker provides ample space, resembling a large box or cabinet, making it an ideal addition to your outdoor kitchen. The design allows for easy integration with other outdoor cooking equipment.

Box smokers often come with built-in storage areas below the cooking chamber. This space is convenient for keeping smoking accessories like tongs, gloves, and even hardwood pellets, which are essential for achieving the smoky flavor.

Begin by loading your selected hardwood pellets into the smoker. Hardwood pellets, unlike other fuel sources, add a distinct smoky flavor to the meat. Ensure the pellets remain dry in storage to maintain their efficacy.

  1. Preheat the smoker to the desired temperature.
  2. Arrange your meats on the racks within the cooking chamber.
  3. Monitor the smoke and temperature to achieve the desired level of smokiness.

Box smokers easily complement outdoor cooking setups, including built-in gas grills. While gas grills offer convenience and quick cooking times, they often lack the robust, smoky flavor that a box smoker can impart.

Clean your smoker after each use to prolong its life and performance. Regular maintenance also ensures that the flavors imparted to your food remain pure and uncontaminated by residue from previous sessions.

Electric Smoker

An electric smoker is a cooking appliance designed for outdoor grilling that uses electricity to generate heat and smolder wood chips or pellets, producing smoke to flavor food. Electric smokers are revered for their ease of use and convenience as they maintain a consistent temperature electronically. Begin by selecting a smoker with adjustable racks to accommodate different sizes of meat or vegetables.

  1. Identify the Type: Consider if an electric grill or smoker fits your cooking style. Smokers provide a deeper, smoky flavor while grills are best for searing.
  2. Examine Capacity: Assess the size. Smokers range from small, personal units to larger ones fit for group gatherings.
  3. Check Controls: Choose a model with digital controls for precise temperature management.


  • Set and Forget: Electric smokers allow you to set the temperature and timer, freeing you to focus on other tasks.
  • Temperature Stability: They are excellent at maintaining the desired cooking temperature, ensuring consistent results.
  • Safety: They generally pose fewer fire risks compared to traditional charcoal grills.


  • Flavor Limitation: Some purists argue electric smokers can’t match the rich taste from charcoal smokers.
  • Power Dependency: These units must be near an electrical outlet, limiting mobility.

Before purchase, read reviews to ensure product reliability and customer satisfaction. Use a protective cover to shield your electric smoker from the elements when not in use. Clean your smoker after each session to preserve its functionality and hygiene. Electric smokers, as a subset of outdoor grills, bring convenience to traditional smoking techniques, making them suitable for both novice and experienced cooks.

Propane Smoker

A propane smoker uses propane gas as a fuel source to smoke food, combining the convenience of gas grills with the flavor benefits of traditional smokers. You can adjust the flame to control the temperature, which is crucial for low-and-slow cooking methods.

  • Temperature Control: Utilize the built-in thermostat or install a separate one to maintain a consistent smoking temperature.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Propane gas grills ensure efficient use of fuel, making them cost-effective over time.
  • Taste: While propane smokers offer a different flavor profile from wood or charcoal, they can still impart a smoky taste by using wood chips or chunks in the smoking process.
  1. Set up your propane smoker by connecting it to a propane tank and ensuring all connections are secure.
  2. Preheat the smoker to your desired temperature before adding food.
  3. Monitor the smoker throughout the cooking process to maintain a steady temperature for even cooking.
  • Propane is a clean-burning fuel, resulting in fewer emissions compared to charcoal.
  • Gas grills frequently come with multiple burners, providing versatility and space for different foods.

For example, with propane smokers, meats such as ribs and brisket can achieve a tender, flavorful result. Vegetables and even cheeses can be smoked to add a unique taste to regular dishes. Ensure you regularly check the propane levels to avoid running out of gas mid-cooking.

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Rob Orr

Robert David Orr is the pitmaster behind TheOutdoorEpicurean.com. Rob's culinary experience and knowledge is built on a rock-solid foundation of years spent perfecting the craft of grilling, starting with his vast hospitality experience at 15 and continues today. His passion for the craft of open-fire cooking is matched only by his fervor for sharing his experience and knowledge with other foodies. Rob has an infectious enthusiasm for all things culinary that truly defines the heart of this site. Whether you're seeking the secrets to the perfect brisket or the nuances of wood chip selection, Rob is an outstanding resource for those who take outdoor cooking seriously. Rob's philosophy is simple: Many of life's best experiences revolve around food and the most memorable are about simplicity and authenticity: great food, great company, and enjoying it all in the great outdoors.

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