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Taylor Lewan Wants A New Smoker, So Let's Talk About All The Different Types You Can Choose From

romaset. Getty Images.

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I only have one goal in life. And that is to make sure I can help as many people as possible achieve their dreams of smoking up some deliciously tender and succulent meat they'll ever put in their mouth. Whether you've been spending years out on the pit, or you just got a smoker for the first time, I want to do whatever I can to make sure you are pumping out the best product as possible. Because if you're going to be putting in the hours and the work to smoke a big ol' cut of meat for hours and hours, I want you to be able to enjoy the shit out of that first bite knowing you did that. 

So if one of the boys needs some assistance trying to figure out which smoker is best suited for his day-to-day life, then let's set the boy up with the best smoker suited for his day-to-day life. And let's talk about all the different types of smokers out there to help anybody else reading this blog who may be in the market for a new smoker this summer. We'll go through the pros and cons of them all including pellet smokers, offset smokers, Kamados/Eggs, Weber kettles, and direct smokers. 

Considering Taylor is currently working with a Traeger, let's just start right there with pellet cookers. 

Pellet Cookers

The most popular brand of pellet smoker is going to be Traeger, but there are a bunch of different companies who have all managed to make smokers that make cooking some high quality bbq much more convenient for the backyard cook. Recteq, Pit Boss, Camp Chef, etc. I'd say that pellet cookers are the most user friendly smoker in the game. It's the definition of "set it and forget it". These grills use pellets--which have been compressed from sawdust to get fed into the smoker--and are fed into into a little burn pot underneath the smoker to give off real wood smoke, just without dealing with actual splits of wood. It's hard to explain these things through text so for the more visual learners out there, here's what it looks like. 

The great thing about pellet smokers is that they are automated. So you can set the temperature you want to run the cooker at, and the machine will be able to feed the right amount of pellets through to the burn pot to control that temperature for you. There is so much technology now that you can control all of that from your phone over wi-fi. So instead of having to stand out at the smoker for 10 hours managing a fire to smoke your pork butt, you can just set the temperature here and the technology in the smoker will do all of that for you. 

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There are pros and cons to all that technology, so it all comes down to personal preference. If you're somebody who doesn't have a ton of spare time but you still want to be able to cook some delicious BBQ for your friends and family, then this is perfect for you. If you are someone who just enjoys getting some sleep at night and doesn't want to be up for hours on end tending a brisket, this is perfect for you. You can't beat the convenience of being able to turn on the smoker on a summer morning, head to the beach for a few hours, and come back home to a rack of ribs which are ready to eat right away. Now do I think you can achieve a quality of BBQ that belongs in the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joints on a pellet smoker? No, not at all. But I also hate when people act like you can't make real BBQ on a pellet smoker just because you're not managing the heat. I'm a firm believer that the best smoker anybody can use is the one that they are the most comfortable with. 

So for folks who want to eat delicious barbecue but are either too busy or just not interested in having to babysit the smoker the entire time during a cook, this is for you. 

Now let's move on to the smoker that I'm the most comfortable with since it's the one I use the most. 

Horizontal Offset

I'm going to be a little biased here but an offset smoker is what I feel "true BBQ" should be. Let me just make something clear right off the bat here. I'm not saying that any other smoker isn't real bbq. I'm just saying that the offset is..well…you can't beat it. It's wood, it's fire, it's smoke, it's meat, it's barbecue. 

So first off let's talk about the basics here. With a horizontal offset, you are burning whole splits of wood down in the firebox (smaller chamber on the left of the picture above). There aren't any gadgets to help you control the fire and the heat besides a shovel to manage your fire. The smoke then rises up from the firebox and moves horizontally across the cooking chamber (in this situation, the giant repurposed propane tank above) which is where the majority of the flavor of your BBQ is coming from. You can use as many rubs or injections as you want, but very few things are better than the flavor you're getting from that smoke. The smoke then leaves out of that giant chimney and if you're running your fire the right way, you'll hardly notice any smoke leaving at all. 

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Now just like the pellet smokers, there are pros and cons when it comes to the offset. When you're working with a smoker like this, you are constantly adding wood to the fire to make sure you keep an even temperature throughout a cook. You can sneak little 20-30 minute naps in here and there. But if you let the fire die down and your coal bed goes out, you're done. So if you're someone who doesn't have 13 hours to sit out by a smoker to cook a brisket, this might not be the smoker for you. But if you're someone who 1) loves to play with fire and 2) has the time available to be up through all hours of the night to keep the fire going, then you'll be able to achieve the best possible product in the end. 

Also, not every offset smoker has to be that big. You could head over to your closest Home Depot or Lowe's to pick up something like an Oklahoma Joe smoker for a few hundred dollars which fits perfectly in your backyard like any other bbq grill. 

Also a company like Mill Scale makes a really great, high quality backyard offset. Obviously it all depends on your budget, but if you're just cooking for friends and family then it doesn't get much better than something like the one here. 

The #1 rule to abide by in whichever smoker you end up choosing is that you always get what you pay for. That's not to say that you can't make great barbecue on a cheaper smoker. You absolutely can. All I'm saying is that there's always going to be an offset smoker that is the right size and right price for what you're looking to do with it. Plenty of options to work with. And one of those options is technically an entirely different type of smoker. 

Reverse Flow

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A reverse flow smoker is also an offset smoker. The only major difference is that you'll see the smokestack (chimney) is on the same side of the smoker as the firebox. That's because the smoke first travels from the smokebox across the cooking chamber underneath a plate that deflects the heat, and then the smoke wraps around from the other side and back out through the smokestack. I don't know if I explained that well but the smoke just travels under the meat at first, then hits it on its way back out. The main idea there is the plate that goes underneath the meat to deflect the smoke gets piping hot. The fat that then renders off the meat hits that deflector plate, sizzles up and then that's how you can add more flavor to your meat. As far as fire management goes, it's very similar to a horizontal offset smoker where you're using actual splits of wood as your main heat source. You're just getting more flavor from the fat that hits that baffle plate, but less flavor from direct smoke. Again, personal preference. 

Kamado/Eggs

Before I made the switch to an offset, I was using a Kamado. And I feel like this is for sure one of the most popular types of smokers around. Typically the biggest names you'll hear are Big Green Egg or your Kamado Joe. They are generally going to be made out of ceramic and the way these work is you fill up the bottom of the smoker with charcoal, and then you get a convection heat from the smoke circling around off the dome of the lid. Most of the time there is going to be a plate you can put underneath of your grill grate to deflect any direct heat from your meat if you're going to be cooking low and slow. Now most ceramic cookers aren't going to be automated, so you need to control the heat yourself through a vent system. There's a vent at the bottom of the cooker that controls how much air the smoker takes in, and then there's a vent at the top of the smoker which controls how much air to release. It takes a little while to learn how to finely tune your kamado through the vents but once you get that temperature locked in, the ceramic is amazing at maintaining that temperature for long periods of time. However, there are now new ceramic cookers coming out that have similar technology to the pellet cookers, and are pretty much fully automated. Like this one from Kamado Joe. 

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Just like the pellet smoker, now you can just set the temperature on the cooker and technology will take care of the rest. Fully automated and you don't have to do anything besides take the meat off eventually. 

But even without all that technology, kamado cookers are pretty close to "set it and forget it" once you've got it dialed in. You still get the satisfaction of having to figure out and manage the heat yourself for a while. But after tinkering with the vents for a little while to achieve whatever temperature you're going for, you can get to the point where you can walk away from that smoker for hours and the temperature will remain within 5-10 degrees the whole time. I first learned how to cook bbq on a kamado cooker so maybe I'm partial to it. But I honestly feel like it's the best type of smoker to start off on because you get the best of both worlds there. 

The biggest downside to kamado cookers is you can't really get any actual wood flavored smoke taste out of it since you're mostly dealing with lump charcoal. You can throw wood chunks on there to add a little flavor but it's just not the same. But where a kamado loses points in the true smoke flavor department, you can also very easily just use your kamado cooker as a regular bbq grill and cook with direct heat. So it's got a ton of versatility to it. So let's just say for example you have a giant tomahawk steak you want to reverse sear. For the first part of the cook you can have the heat deflector plate in and cook that tomahawk low and slow to bring it up to temperature. Then you can take out the deflector plate, get that fire raging nice and hot, and then get that final delicious sear across the steak. Can't beat that. 

Weber Kettle/Smokey Mountain

You can also always use a Weber kettle grill as a smoker just the same way as you would with something like a Big Green Egg. You fill the smoker up with charcoal, control the vents to keep the temperatures nice and low in that 250 range, and let it rock. The only major difference between using a Weber as opposed to using a Big Green Egg is going to be how it maintains the temperature and how much charcoal it goes through. Little harder to maintain those temps and it'll go through a lot more charcoal. But as far as the price difference goes? That's an extremely fair trade off to make. 

There are also the Weber Smokey Mountains which are super popular. 

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Very similar idea where you've got charcoal at the bottom of the grill and then the smoke comes up vertically to heat and flavor your meat. You're controlling the heat with a vent system. But with the Smokey Mountain you have a lot more room from the charcoal to your cooking grate to make sure you're not getting any direct heat, and it's easier to get to the charcoal to refuel with the door available. But the same thing with versatility applies here. You can either use this as a smoker or a regular grill. So that's why it's always such a popular option, especially for the price. 

There are also Drum Smokers which would be very similar to a Weber Smokey Mountain. I just have never used one before so I don't know much about them. I feel like they're more commonly used in the competition BBQ scene rather than just your standard backyard cooking. 

Direct Heat Cookers

If you're a fan of barbecue and you aren't following Chud, you are doing yourself a major disservice. In fact, if you're just a fan of living a happy life in general then you should give him a follow. He has been making these "Chud Boxes" for a while now, which are direct heat cookers. What makes them different from something like an offset is that the heat source is directly underneath of the meat, using either charcoal or full wood splits. It's incredible for things like chicken or sausage if you're into those sort of things.

Electric Smokers

I haven't used an electric smoker and don't think I ever will. But listen. If it's the only thing you have available at the moment, then that means that it's the smoker for you. Figure out how to make something great on it, and then you can move up from there. I'm not going to shit on electric smokers, I just don't have any personal interest in using one. 

And if none of these options work for you, then you can always just build your own smoker out of cinder blocks. Which just so happens to be one of the best ways to cook a whole hog. 

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But yeah. There are all the different types of smokers that I could think of and that I think would be great for any backyard bbq enthusiast. Like I alluded to a few times throughout the blog, the best way to cook BBQ is the way that you like to do it. Don't ever think that you need a certain type of smoker or to use a certain type of rub to cook BBQ. Whatever you want to do and whatever you want to use is how you should do it. I just want to make sure that everybody has the right idea about what would be the best fit for themselves and their schedule this upcoming summer. Let me know whatever you end up cooking on this summer, and let's see what Taylor ends up going with. Now go outside and get to cooking. 

Sidenote: If anybody is around the Philly area this weekend and looking to get their hands on some barbecue, I'll be hosting a Meat Sweats BBQ popup on Saturday 4/8. Here are the details. 

@meatsweatsbbq_

@JordieBarstool