The 3 Best Charcoal Smoker For Beginners: Ignite Your BBQ Journey

If you decide to go with a charcoal smoker, choosing the right smoker can be a daunting task, especially for those stepping into the world of outdoor cooking for the first time. 

Charcoal smokers require constant monitoring and tending. Unlike automated smart grills such as pellet smokers, they demand manual effort to build the charcoal bed and maintain the fire. This active participant allows users to actively participate in the cooking process, offering an essential learning experience.

I have personally tested and used 9 plus charcoal smokers from popular and trusted brands. This includes cabinet or box smokers, vertical smokers, and barrel smokers. After careful consideration and a brief evaluation of each model using various metrics, such as ease of use and affordability, I confidently recommend three charcoal smokers. Each promises to enhance your cooking experience, even for those without prior experience. Whether you’re looking to impress at your next backyard barbecue or solid smoker for a good price that charcoal smoking has to offer, picking the right smoker is the first step towards achieving culinary success.

The best smokers for beginners

Starting to smoke food can be really exciting. Picking the right smoker makes it easier and more fun. I’ve found the best smokers that are easy for beginners to use. They’re simple, work well, and help you make delicious smoked meals. If you want to make awesome smoked foods without the hassle, keep reading to find the perfect smoker for you.

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, Charcoal Smoker

Compared to other smokers, operating a charcoal smoker requires a bit more effort, but this can reward you with a rich experience and delicious smoky food.

For your first smoker, the Weber Smokey Mountain is unbeatable in terms of price. The first thing that I judge about this charcoal smoker is its excellent build quality with its sleek black aluminum exterior and durable stainless steel interior, ensuring longevity of this charcoal smoker.

When you check its size may you feel it crafted with the beginner in mind, the Weber Smokey Mountain comes in three sizes: 14", 18", and 22", providing flexibility depending on the scale of your culinary projects.

In choosing the size, I had selected the middle option, the 18-inch model of the Weber Smokey Mountain, which proved to be an excellent decision. This model performed incredibly well, providing ample cooking space while still allowing for easy temperature control and fuel efficiency. It has the right capacity for smoking full racks of ribs or multiple large cuts of meat.

You might also prefer the 22-inch model for hotter cooking temperatures, but it will require more charcoal to operate.

The design of this smoker is quite slim, featuring two cooking racks that allow you to smoke different food at same time. This means you can select the size that best meets your needs, easily serving a group, whether it’s for your family or a gathering of friends.

Using charcoal as fuel presents a true learning curve as you master temperature control. It requires a little bit more effort to fire up your smoker and keep the charcoal lit.

A notable feature is the special spot for checking the temperature without opening the smoker. This feature was not available when I purchased mine, but it is included in the new model. Additionally, you can connect it to an app on your phone, compatible with both Android and Apple devices, to monitor your food’s temperature, which is especially helpful for beginners.

Recently I had tried a turkey recipe on a Weber grill, cooking it low and slow at 225-250 degrees, for my family.

What I like:

  • Consistent Temperature Control (Kettle with sns): The ability to easily adjust and maintain a steady temperature was a game-changer. By placing a water bowl between the coal and cooking grate, it acts as a heat sink, adding humidity to the smoking chamber and helping to stabilize the temperature.
  • Portability: Despite its spacious cooking area, the smoker is surprisingly lightweight at 23 pounds, making it relatively easy to move and store, thanks to its thoughtful design and manageable weight.
  • User-Friendly Design: From the adjustable dampers to the removable door, every aspect is designed with the user in mind, making smoking more accessible for beginners.

What I don’t like:

  • Door Fitment Issue: Initially, the door to the firebox didn’t seal properly, which could lead to heat loss and make temperature control more difficult for beginners. This required some adjustments and DIY fixes to ensure a proper fit and maintain consistent smoking conditions. Most of the people never found this to be a problem

I had used this smoker myself and liked it a lot, even though the door was a bit bent at first. This seemed to be a common problem, but I fixed it easily with some adjustments and tape. Afterwards, it worked perfectly. I had cooked pork and ribs in it, and they turned out great. It was easy to put together and use.

Masterbuilt Gravity Series Digital Charcoal Grill And Smoker

masterbuilt gravity series smoker

This digital series makes using a charcoal grill much easier for everyone, offering a user experience quite similar to that of a pellet grill in terms of ease of use.

If your priority is not budget constraints but rather to smoke food on a smoker without needing a lot of information and experience, this will be a suitable favorite choice for you. It’s not just easier to use; it’s simple to use.

This grill is special because it heats up really fast and you can control it with your phone. It can go from cold to 225°F in just 8 minutes. If you want it really hot, like 700°F, it only takes 14 minutes. So, you can set the temperature between 225 – 700°F. This is great because it means you don’t have to wait long to start BBQ. Compared to most pellet grills, which max out at 500 degree F, this offers a significant advantage.

A significant advantage in traditional BBQ is the use of a fan to keep the charcoal lit, and this Gravity Series model includes that feature. This is crucial for beginners, this requires plugging into an electric outlet. Unlike a pellet grill, where you fill the hopper, you can add lump or briquette charcoal according to your requirements, and a fan controls the burn rate. You can add more chunks or chips for extra smoky flavors.

Almost every model in the Gravity Series comes with an excellent hopper for storing charcoal, which allows for 12-15 hours of continuous cooking. However, the duration also depends on external factors such as humidity and the cooking temperature, such as cooking a brisket at 200 degrees F.

Different models in the Gravity Series offer various cooking spaces, which may include two porcelain-coated smoking racks, a flat-top griddle insert, and cast iron grill grates. Whether you’re smoking, grilling, or even making breakfast, the possibilities are endless.

What I like:

  • Simple to use: Despite its advanced features, the grill is user-friendly, making it simple for beginners to start smoking and grilling right away.
  • Versatile Cooking Options: A good cooking space, you can cook a wide variety of foods at high and low temperature.
  • Easy Controls: You can control the temperature and cooking time with a digital panel or your smart device, making it simple to manage.

What I don’t like:

  • Assembly Required: Putting the grill together can be challenging and may require an extra pair of hands.
  • Short warranty: The manufacturer provides a limited warranty of just one year.

I really liked using this grill because it made smoking food easy and fun. The Bluetooth feature was great for controlling the grill from a distance, although it worked best when I wasn’t too far away. Putting the grill together was a bit hard, so it was better to do it with someone else.

I did have a problem with the temperature sensor inside the grill after using it for a while. It stopped working, but I was able to find another one that worked even better. I made sure to clean the grill well after each use, which helped keep it working great.

Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill

Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill

The first time I saw it, appearing as a giant and weighing around 125 pounds, I thought it would be too difficult to manage and use, and that it was just for experts. However, I found it surprisingly easy to use and achieve the best results, even for beginners.

The Dyna-Glo was very easy to assemble; it literally took me just 40 minutes to complete, and it was ready to cook in under an hour. However, assembling a Masterbuilt took much more time, but it was still relatively easy and simple to assemble. The straightforward design and responsiveness of this smoker won’t pose a challenge to beginners during the assembly process.

This smoker has a lot of room for food with its five racks and 1382 square inches of expansive cooking space. It means you can cook a large crowd at once, like different meats or even some veggies.

The smoker comes with a special gauge that shows you the best temperature for smoking to add flavor to your food, and there are cool handles so you don’t burn your hands when opening it. It’s not just for smoking; you can grill on it too. So, if you’re in the mood for burgers or something else that’s quick, this smoker can handle it. I personally tested it by cooking ribs and turkey. The turkey turned out average, but the ribs I prepared for guests were tender and very tasty.

The guided temperature control, facilitated by the analog temperature gauge, is perhaps the most beginner-friendly feature. By indicating the optimal “Smoke Zone” and “Grill Zone,” it takes the guesswork out of smoking and grilling, allowing even the most inexperienced cooks to achieve flavorful and well-cooked meals. This guidance is instrumental in building confidence among beginners, who can rely on these indicators to ensure their food is cooked at the correct temperatures.

If you’re searching for a budget-friendly option, this is not for you. However, for beginners willing to invest a bit more money, it’s a perfect choice due to its fuel consumption, which is comparable to that of a large smoker.

What I like:

  • Easy to Use: The intuitive design and straightforward assembly make the Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Smoker and Grill user-friendly, ensuring a smooth experience for both beginners and seasoned cooks.
  • Highly Responsive to Heat Adjustments: Allows for precise control over the cooking temperature, essential for perfecting smoking and grilling techniques.
  • Easy to Clean: Features like the removable ash pan simplify the cleanup process, making maintenance a breeze.

What I don’t like:

  • Low Height: The smoker’s design is somewhat short, which can make long smoking sessions uncomfortable without elevation.
  • More Fuel Consumption: Requires a significant amount of charcoal to maintain temperature as the larger smoker.

I haven’t bought it, but having used this smoker more than five times, I found it really straightforward to use, which is perfect for someone who’s just starting out. However, there are hot spots inside where the temperature is higher, so you might need to figure out where to place your food for the best cooking results. Starting with pork is a good idea because it’s a bit easier to cook while you’re learning.

One thing to note is that the smoker is a bit low to the ground. If you’re using it for a long time, it might be uncomfortable unless you’re really short. Putting it on some blocks can help raise it up.

How to choose your first charcoal smoker?

Choosing your first charcoal smoker is an exciting step into the world of outdoor cooking, offering a satisfying way to cook with rich flavors that only smoking can provide. As someone with experience, I understand the importance of selecting the right smoker to start your journey.

charcoal smoker

The list of smokers I provided to you is a reasonable choice for amateur pitmasters. But if you prefer not to shop online and decide to purchase from a nearby store, such as Walmart, how do you select the right first charcoal smoker for you?

The quickest answer is to go with the Weber Smokey Mountain if you want a traditional style charcoal smoker. If it’s not available or if you’re confused about which smoker to choose, here are the following steps that can help you select the right first charcoal smoker:

Consider Your Budget

Some of you might have already taken the first step, which is to establish how much you’re willing to spend. The price range for charcoal smokers can vary widely, from very affordable to quite expensive.

If you’re not among them, you might adhere to another school of thought, but within budget considerations, there are actually two prevailing schools of thought.

Buy a cheap smoker to learn on then upgrade later

It also works better for you if you visit a nearby hardware store to buy an affordably priced charcoal smoker with a chimney and various flavored charcoals. You can get your smoker ready within a budget of 50-150 dollars, and you’ll gain a lot of experience from using that smoker.

It’s a simple charcoal smoker, not a pellet, gas, or electric one, where you might buy it at a cheap price and then struggle with its operation or temperature control. With this charcoal smoker, you just put in the charcoal and start grilling.

smoking food

You’ll get to experiment with temperature control, fuel management, and flavor experimentation in a more forgiving context. The skills you develop on a simpler smoker are directly transferable to more sophisticated equipment later on.

Once you’ve honed your skills as a pitmaster and understand your smoking preferences better, you’ll be in a much stronger position as a chef to select a higher-end smoker that perfectly suits your requirements.

Spend a little bit extra to start with

If you have experience using a charcoal smoker and are willing to spend a bit more, over 200 dollars, there are excellent options available that can outperform the cheaper ones.

Additionally, older smokers can offer a great value for smoking, so you should also consider checking for them on Craigslist or eBay. These smokers are often easy to clean and can still work great, offering various modern features.