What is a BBQ Smoker? 6 Types of Meat Smokers

by Sid Wilson | Published On

Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team, nixny.com is reader-supported. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission, at no extra cost to you.

A smoker is a cooking device that primarily serves the function of preparing BBQ. While it sounds like an easy job, several different techniques come into existence when we talking about grilling or smoking in general. Apart from that, the primary fuel source also influences the type of smoker that you opt for.

BBQ smokers are considered to be the tried and tested method for preparing food at low temperatures. You can choose from a wide variety of smokers depending on the shape, size, technology level, and fuel that you are comfortable with. A smoker allows you to use a vast multitude of sauces, cooking woods, liquid injections, and rubs to enhance the overall flavor of the food you are preparing.

When you use a smoker, you should keep a meat thermometer handy to constantly monitor the temperature of your meat. You should also be well-versed with the fuel source you will be using to avoid any inconvenience when preparing your food.

In the following article, we will discuss the different types of smokers using direct or indirect heat to smoke food, particularly meat.

Types of Smokers: Direct Vs. Indirect Heat


In direct heat smokers, the grilling process involves heating your food on the top of a propane flame found in a gas grill or on top of hot coals in a charcoal grill. In the process of cooking food using direct heat, the food is positioned on the surface of the cooking grate, and the heat source is situated directly beneath it. Since the source of cooking is direct heat, the food tends to be prepared faster.

Your primary function when using direct heat is to retain the temperature of your smoker by removing your grill completely or adjusting your grill’s top vent. Make sure you flip your grill on regular intervals to prevent your food from burning. When you prepare food using the direct food method, your food will have a crisp outside and a tender, juicy inside. As a result, it is the commonly opted option for chicken breasts, sirloins, meaty fish, and hamburgers. Direct heat cooking involves cooking at higher temperatures.

The smokers that use indirect heat involve gas smokers, pellet smokers, or electric smokers. In these smokers, wood chips are usually mixed with the primary source of heating i.e. gas, coal, or electric rods. When you use indirect heat, your cooking appliance functions identical to an oven and aims to create an even cooking surface area. So, indirect heat cooking is a viable option when preparing whole poultry or thicker cuts of meat. Indirect heat cooking involves cooking at lower temperatures. Indirect smoking works on similar lines as roasting does.

The fuel source is placed at a considerable distance, and the lid of your smoker should be closed. As there is little to no exposure of the food to direct heat, the food is prepared relatively more evenly. However, it implies that your food will be prepared at a slower pace. You should use the indirect method of smoking for meat that needs more than 25 minutes for preparation or any food item so delicate that its exposure to direct heat will result in scorching. Therefore, any food item which is susceptible to being burnt before it has been cooked through the middle will be considered as an ideal candidate for indirect smoking.

6 Types of Smokers: Wood-burning or Otherwise

Smokers can be classified into the following categories based on the source of heat generation. 

  1. Stick Burners

    As evident by name, stick burners depend on wood as their primary fuel source. When using a stick burner, you need to keep a constant check on the burner. For instance, consider the high quality offset smoker manufactured by Aaron’s. These smokers are generally on the expensive end and are made using heavy-duty materials.

    If you opt for an inexpensive stick burner, you might be stuck with a device that barely offers the capacity to retain heat. However, if you introduce some modifications, you can still work with this appliance. You will need a high level of attention and patience if you use a stick burner. When using a stick burner, you must inspect the grill regularly, add charcoal or wood, and prevent your food from burning. 

    The learning curve for stick burners is steep because you need to learn both smoke and fire management techniques which will be a difficult task especially if you are a beginner. Viable merit of using stick burners is that you can use them anywhere and everywhere as long as you have wood or coal.

    All you need to do is position your smoker in a place where the fire can be easily set, and there is proper ventilation. You will enjoy the characteristic smoky flavor when using a stick burner due to the use of coal or wood. In addition, a stick burner is a budget-friendly option, starting from as low as $100. Therefore, a stick burner offers a set of merits and demerits. 

  2. Charcoal Smokers

    Charcoal smokers include ceramic kamado ovens, bullet smokers, and drum smokers. Although a charcoal smoker is not a completely hands-off device, it doesn’t require as much attention as a stick burner. When you burn the charcoal, you simply need to adjust the temperature according to the built-in dampers which monitor the airflow. Although charcoal is the primary fuel source, you can add wood chips or chunks for adding in extra flavor. However, the smoke from a charcoal smoker is not as flavorful and clean as it will be from a stick burner. 

    Although you will enjoy the strongest smoke from charcoal, it is relatively hard to master. Using a charcoal smoker is a labor-intensive job as compared to electric vs charcoal smoker and other smoking options. It does have a steeper learning curve as well. You can rely on your charcoal smoker given that it has a basic construction and, therefore, fewer chances of breaking down.

    While a charcoal smoker works fine in all weather conditions, it calls for extra care and attention when the wind blows into the vents. However, once you master the art of smoking using a charcoal smoker, you are in for the best.

  3. Pellet Smokers

    A pellet smoker is controlled using a thermostat. All you need to do is plug in your device to a power outlet, adjust the temperature, and do the rest of the work by the smoker. The pellets too are automatically filled in by the pellet smoker depending on the level of smoke and heat required. While a pellet smoker offers ease of use, the advanced technology means that a pellet smoker might break down in some irreparable ways.

    A pellet grill is not a portable device. You can only use your pellet grill in places that have an assured power outlet. Therefore, if you plan on using your pellet grill for a camping or tailgating trip, you need to make arrangements for a power source beforehand. A pellet grill also doesn’t generate much smoke when compared to a stick burner.

    The starting price of a pellet grill is slightly expensive, beginning from around $400. However, a pellet grill hardly takes 10 to 15 minutes to reach your required cooking temperature. If you are a beginner in smoking and would prefer the easy way of smoking, you should opt for a pellet smoker. 

  4. Gas Smokers

    A gas smoker usually makes use of LPG to ignite as well as maintain a fire. The ideal gas smoker will have its fire positioned at the bottom of your vertical chamber. Consequently, the heat and smoke rise above and circle your food before they exit from the top. Gas smokers offer ease of use. You can ignite them instantly and the heat will come up relatively faster. All you need to do is adjust your gas flow to ensure that the temperature is brought up or down based on your requirements. A gas smoker has the potential to produce a lot of smoke. You can easily maintain it at the right temperature setting.

    There are both small and large options available for a gas smoker. Although it is a reliable cooking appliance, it has more parts than the traditional charcoal smoker implying the greater chance of machinery breakdown. A gas smoker is well-suited to all weather conditions and even works fine when the atmosphere is windy. The maintenance of a gas smoker isn’t extremely advanced. You simply need to either clean the racks or wipe down the smoker. Therefore, a gas smoker might be an ideal option for you if you don’t like the idea of intensive cleaning. 

  5. Electric Smokers

    An electric smoker is the most convenient smoking option available out there. If you are new to the world of smokers and don’t wish to invest a lot of time in the cooking process, an electric smoker is your go-to option. All you need to do is plug in, switch on the power source, and you’re good to go. An electric smoker allows you to set the temperature and then forget about it until the process is complete. Another attractive component of an electric smoker is the price range. You can get a fully functioning electric smoker for a price as low as approximately $300. 

    An electric smoker will be viable for people who use an electric oven. If you buy a digital model of this smoker, your temperature control will be an easy job. All you require is to set the smoker to the required temperature and let it do the rest. 

    An electric smoker offers only a couple of temperature controls because it is mainly designed for smoking. The temperature range provided by any electric smoker is 100 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is a feasible option if you want to smoke nuts, meat, veggies, and fruit slowly. 

  6. Kettle Grills

    A kettle grill is a charcoal grill found in a spherical shape. In a kettle grill, the briquets are stacked on top of each other. Since they are not spread out, they do a good job holding the heat inside for proper cooking. A kettle grill is a viable cooking option for food items such as a leg of lamb, a side of salmon, and chicken. It might be a difficult task to add additional charcoal to your kettle when you are grilling because you will have to lift your grate. 

    A kettle grill is the most commonly used grilling option by home cooks. Although they don’t serve the purpose of slowly smoking your meat, they can achieve this objective if you use the grill thoughtfully. To set up your grill for indirect heat, you will have to restrict the charcoal on one side of your grill. The smoke generated will be derived from wood chips or chunks that you add to your charcoal. Remember to keep a thermometer handy so you can monitor the temperature of your meat at regular intervals.


One smoke that we have not discussed is liquid smoke. The reason is it is not generally used these days.

Also, the presence of several sophisticated instruments has led to liquid smoke’s downfall.

Having said that, you might want to note that several types of smokers are available in the market, which differ depending on the heat source used. The classic charcoal smoker enables you to enjoy the characteristic smoky flavor by using charcoal. You have the electric smoker, enabling you to enjoy smoked food without worrying about maintaining a specific temperature.

A smoker plays an essential role in enhancing your overall cooking experience. It allows you to enjoy an enriched smoky flavor in your prepared meal. Depending on your comfort level, you can choose the best fit for yourself from the variety of smokers introduced in the consumer market.

Rate this post
Sid Wilson

Being a father, a golf lover, and an engineer by profession are the things that define Sid Wilson. He spends most of his time in his garage building and experimenting with stuff. Unscrewing things and then screwing them up is his favorite hobby. Doing these things in his garage has made him what, he is today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *