BBQ Smoker Types Compared

There are a plethora of smokers and BBQ grilling cooker on the market worldwide. After a brief introduction, I will cover some of the features and benefits of the different styles of cookers available. Part 1 will encompass some of the most prevalent models being used at home as well is in competitions.

As an American born and raised in south Florida I grew up cooking bbq. Being blessed with year around tropical weather made it practical and cooking outdoors spared the kitchen from the heat and clean-up was a breeze.

We were a family with five kids and my dad wasn’t the greatest cook. He once made fried bologna and told me it was called “Shishkabob” my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my little brother. We had numerous charcoal grills over the years because they were cheap and would rust out and fall apart, due to the salt air and humidity.

Later in life I had worked professionally cooking in local restaurants and cooked the char broiler stations in Florida and Los Angeles, California. Steaks were my passion and they continue to be today. Having had the experience in a professional atmosphere and daily practice I gained a wealth of knowledge and began to study meat science and to hone my skills.

Live fire cooking was totally different than gas or gas assisted char broilers. With gas appliances, it is relatively easy to control temperatures and there are no acrid fumes. Live fire cooking is a bit more of a challenge. I joined one of the largest online bbq forums in the USA. They have a worldwide presence and information is shared freely.


My first real smoker was a Kamado style cooker. My brethren on the forum had every type of smoker known to man. One of my friends on the forum had a kamado that was over fifty years old and It came from Japan. Kamado is the Japanese term for Stove and they were fixed in place much like our home ovens. A moveable Kamado, like we know today, is actually called a Mushikamado and was imported to the USA after WWII.

Regardless of the Brand name these types of cookers are basically the same. They are clay cast and kiln dried and have excellent thermodynamics. They are capable of turning out some very nice pizzas too. This is due to the dome temperature and it mimics a true pizza oven in this manner.

My first experience with these types of cookers was not what I expected. I actually turned out some inedible meats that were overly smoked and not good at all. It took several attempts and patience to finally produce a properly smoked product. It is easy to get these cookers to volcanic temperatures and it takes a lot of time for them to settle down and achieve proper cooking temperatures. The key to avoiding this problem is starting with a minimal amount of fuel and practice with cheap cuts of meat. One of the drawbacks for me is that for long cooks adding fuel is laborious. The meats, grills, and setting plates must be removed and that requires handling of some very hot equipment.

When selecting a cooker of this type it is important to compare the overall features of each. Stability of the cart, hinged lid designs, venting styles, and warrantees are all due diligence that must be taken into account. These are also the most fragile type of cooks due to the ceramic nature of the product. Keep in mind also that a company’s reputation is always of value. A company that does not live up to its warranty obligations is not worthy of your business.

Bullet Style

In 1981 George Steven introduced the first bullet type smoker. These are a very popular style of cooker for numerous reasons. They are constructed of extruded and rolled metal. They are nearly all porcelain coated or powder coated. They are easily moved due to their light weight. They primarily are a water smoker and there is as much controversy as to the water pans as I have seen in regards to how it should be utilized. If you are looking for proof just pose the question on any bbq/smoke facebook page or online forum, the responses are comical.

In my opinion the reason for their popularity is the amount of flexibility they afford. The larger models can hold a variety of different meats at the same time. Adding additional fuel is easily accomplished by way of doors, there is also access to the water pan to add additional liquids.

They are also very stable in maintaining temperatures and easily adaptable to mounting digital accessories and fan controllers.

Since they were introduced they have been utilized in competition bbq and have been many a team’s favorite smoker. There affordable price point allows for teams to have several smokers running at different temperatures and time.


In 1952 George Stephen Sr. was working at Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago, Illinois, manufacturing marine buoys when he came up with an idea for a better grill. His invention: a dome-shaped grill with a lid to protect food from the elements, while sealing in that only-from-the-grill barbecue flavor. The Weber Kettle was born.

Personally, it is my opinion that everyone that is serious about bbq needs to have a kettle. It is the all-purpose cooker for the novice to the professional cook.

The accessories are ever growing, from rotisseries to pizza domes and list goes on.

Drum Smokers

Drum smokers or UDS as they are often referred to “ugly drum smoker” are rapidly increasing in popularity. Initially they were manufactured at home from a 55-gallon drum. These were modified by adding vents controlled with ball valves to regulate air flow. It took a bit of craftsmanship and know how to build one.

Over the years several small companies emerged with a do it yourself kit. This came with all the parts and instructions to build your own. Currently there are several companies that sell the UDS as a customizable package. The major feature of the drum type style, is its lack of seams. The body is one piece and capable of holding temperatures extremely well.

In conclusion, you can see there are many things to consider when looking to purchase a smoker. My advice to you is buy the best you can afford. Buy bigger than you think you need, your friends will be more than willing to come and eat what you’ve made.

In next month’s edition, I will cover Vertical Offsets, Vertical Reverse Flow, Horizontal Offset, and Reverse Flow Offset, smokers.

Stay Hungry and Roll Smoke!

Jed Thompson

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