Shop Smarter: Charcoal Smokers
If you're truly passionate about BBQ, you may want to invest in your own smoker. Get yourself the right cooker with these five tips
Unlike traditional charcoal grills, which are mainly tasked with searing food over a hot flame, smokers work with indirect heat, flooding food with flavor while cooking it very slowly—often for upwards of 10 hours. Just as there are no shortcuts to tender ribs, there are no true bargains when it comes to smokers; cheap models have a hard time keeping the right temperature (225 to 250 degrees F) and leak like crazy. Invest in a model with tight fittings, well-designed vents, dependable heat control, and a built-in thermometer. Read on for all the meaty details.
Shown: Shown: Napoleon Apollo 3 in 1 AS200K, about $250; napoleongrills.com for stores
It should feel comfy and keep your knuckles well away from the heat. Now lift the smoker and give it a shake; it should feel substantial, with no loose fittings.
Proper heat and airflow are key. We like this model because it has daisy-wheel vents (often seen on kettle grills) to help stabilize heat and airflow. A water basin helps maintain even heat and keep food from drying out. Side doors make it easy to add water and charcoal.
A thermometer built into the top, where heat rises, allows you to keep an eye on the temp without lifting the lid. Eyelets can be threaded with meat probes so that you know when dinner is ready.
Look for an easy-to-wipe-down porcelain finish. A steel body may be relatively lightweight and could be vulnerable to rust. To extend your smoker's life expectancy, invest in a cover.
This model has two 16-inch grates plus hooks to hang whole fish or racks of ribs. The three-in-one design can convert to a single-grate smoker or a kettle grill. Bump up the size if you want to serve pulled pork to a big crowd—or just want leftovers to hog yourself.