Best Charcoal Smokers? Feedback please.

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by dewman29, Mar 10, 2009.

  1. dewman29

    dewman29 Newbie

    I posted on the Propane forum already but wanted feedback on what are the best charcoal smokers for your money? I want to upgrade from the ECB and I am debating getting a charcoal vs propane smoker.

    The two things I want are :
    • Must maintain heat well. The ECB is a *PAIN* to keep at the right temp
    • Must be fairly large for a good amount of meat
    I don't want to spend more than $300. What is the best charcoal smoker for the money?


  2. mossymo

    mossymo Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I do not have one (yet.....), but from what I have learned surfing is a drum smoker (UDS) will cover your requirements.

    For the money, I believe a drum smoker to be the most heat efficient and has a very ample cooking area.
  3. rickw

    rickw Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    ^^^^^^^^ X2
  4. For the $300 price point your best bet is a WSM. The 18 inchers are about $200 shipped. They came out with 22 inch units this year but they're still on the pricey side. Expect to see alot of the 18 models on Craig's list this year as people upgrade.

    I use mine at comps for chicken and ribs. I got a Guru for it but the thing doesn't really need it. There's a whole forum of devoted users of the thing who have done anything and everything on it. Google "virtual weber bullet" and you'll find them. I'm over there as well (same handle) but I keep to the "Auto Temp Controllers" section of the site.

  5. bandcollector

    bandcollector Master of the Pit OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    UDS fits all the criteria for smoking as far as I am concerned...........I love mine!
  6. gooose53

    gooose53 Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    I would go with a drum too.....but the WSM isn't bad for a off the shelf unit.
  7. smokin' dick

    smokin' dick Smoking Fanatic

    I've had the 18" WSM for about two years and it is a really good, easy to use smoker. I have had as many as 6 pork butts at a time in it. So the WSM is a good choice. New 18" units are about $300, the 22" on is about $400.

    I just built my first drum and did a small test burn on Sat. held temps as well or better than the WSM, has the 22" diameter like the new big Weber and cost about $50. If I were you I'd buy and build a couple of UDS smokers.
  8. carpetride

    carpetride Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I don't have one but a drum will definitely fit your wants.
  9. davidmcg

    davidmcg Meat Mopper

    The best charcoal smoker is the one you are comfortable with. It might be a commercially made unit or one you build yourself. Thats my opinion. A smoker is just a tool used to produce smoked items to your taste buds delight. A tool is no better or useless unless you use it, are familiar and comfortable with it. I have 4 charcoal burners now, 2 commercial made, 2 homemade. I also have three more home made builds in progress. All are my favorite. I just used them enough to be comfortable with their performance and costs to operate. What is a good charcoal smoker to me or anyone else may not be to you. All because you may not be comfortable with its performance and costs to operate. I have had 4 smokers I didn't particularly care for and sold them all off.
  10. dewman29

    dewman29 Newbie

    Sorry to be naive or insane -- but from looking at the WSM, it really looks about the same as the ECB.

    What difference is there between the WSM and the ECB with mods?

    I have mods on my ECB, but I haven't done all of the recommended mods. What is the advantage of the WSM?

    Also, what is the benefit of the WSM over something like the Char Grill Off-set Firebox Smoker?

    I don't think I am adept enough to make a UDS.

  11. jdt

    jdt Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    the wsm has more dampers, has better construction not only the can part but the racks and shelves are much better than your average ecb. The silver is notorious for being wind/temp sensative, you could always get one and use it with charcoal/wood in the summer and then afterburn it for the winter

    I would watch craigslist and try to find a used heavy gauge offset or a Big Green Egg.
  12. donnylove

    donnylove Meat Mopper SMF Premier Member

    For what it's worth Dewman (considering I haven't built my UDS yet, though I did finally locate a perfect drum), you definitely CAN build your own UDS. There doesn't have to be any welding involved. Really all you need is a drill if you find the right drum and if you can get a machine shop to cut the expanded metal for you. I don't plan on doing any welding to build mine.

    Otherwise, I've not used the WSM, but would be supremely confident in buying and using one based on everything I've read about it in multiple forums (including Virtual Weber Bullet). Weber grills are as good as their reputation and I wouldn't expect the WSM to be any different. Still, I can build a 22" drum for around $100 (my drum will cost me a heft $40, but it's worth it to me because it's reconditioned and freshly painted, so I don't have to burn it out or paint it), so I'm opting for the UDS build.

    I've also read where several people have made great and inexpensive Q with the Chargriller Pro Series (with offset fire box). I've been doing a lot of the same research that you are. You can buy the Chargriller setup at Lowes for around $160. Good luck!
  13. roksmith

    roksmith Meat Mopper OTBS Member

    There is really no difference between the WSM and the ECB, other than, I would assume the quality of the metal used and price.
    The concept is the same, heat source under the meat separated usually by a container of water for a buffer.

    If you are looking for a set it and forget it, then gas or electric is the simplest, but my personal preference would be wood burner, then charcoal.. in that order.

    I've always felt (just my personal opinion) that if you are adding smoke to a heat source rather than cooking with it, the flavor is never quite as pure or deep in the meat.

    If you have room, I would suggest an offset firebox.
    The advantages of an offset fire box are:

    Access to the fire without disturbing the meat (every time you open the container with the meat you start the old thermal rollercoaster)

    Better control over exactly how/where the heat goes. (in an ECB or a WSM the heat can only go up) with an offset box and proper baffles, you can keep your entire cooking container at an even and constant temp.

    Of course if you have room, a stick burner provides the most flexibility with what you can burn.

    just my 2 cents
  14. The main difference is the WSM is a CLOSED SYSTEM. When you close all the dampers down there is no airflow - no leaks. This allows you to control air intake and therefore your temps.

    There are also aftermarket items you can get for it like the Pro-Q insert shown here:

    I got mine for $200 shipped last year. A quick search showed them at $230 for the 18 inch model. My Pro-Q was like $90 shipped so for about $300 a got a cooker that can do 9 butts if needed.

    I will add that I also found a large BGE for $300 on the CL out of PA. The thing was used only twice before the guy gave up because he couldn't figure it out. I stole it from him pretty much.

  15. dewman29

    dewman29 Newbie

    Thanks everyone, truly I appreciate the feedback.

    Roksmith - if I am reading you right, it sounds like you were very in favor of the offset smokers like the Char Grill or others for the reasons you mentioned? Sound like good suggestions and reasoning.

    And I appreciate the feedback on the WSM. I have definitely decided to go with a charcoal smoker because I intend to start doing competitions and they outlaw propane/electric.

    Is there anything else to consider as I am looking?

    Again, thank you all.

  16. roksmith

    roksmith Meat Mopper OTBS Member

    If you intend to compete..something else to consider is the amount of cooking space available in whatever unit you decide on...always good to cook some spares so you have something to choose from : )
  17. cooking in competition you'll want to cook 2 butts, 2 briskets, 3 or 4 racks of ribs and at least a dozen thighs. The reason is so that you have enough "money meat" from all those cuts.

    The butts and briskets are 12 hour smokes and the ribs 5 or 6 depending on the cut. We don't actually smoke chicken - we GRILL it on weber kettle. Most teams who compete on WSMs will use at last 2 but it can be done using 1 with a Pro-Q insert. Butts on the bottom, brisket in middle and ribs on top with a rib rack.

    Also, most teams will foil butts/brisket @160. On a WSM you'll need to disassemble it every time you touch the meat. Doable but a PITA. Check out the "virtual weber bullet" website. There's a ton of info on competing with these things.

    We competed last year with a $1500 Caldera, WSM and 22 inch kettle. We took walks in all 4 categories. In 3 of those 4 walks (3 were money walks about $800 total) the meat was done on the WSM. The power drafter units failed at the last contest we went to so I loaded all the meat up on the WSM with a Pro-Q. Pork took 6th and brisket 5th.

    So if you are going the WSM route you'll need a Pro-Q and Weber Kettle in addition to the WSM. I've never seen a team that does not have a kettle on site as it's used to finish the meat.

  18. rickw

    rickw Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Dm, If you are looking for ease of use and a unit that doesn't need to be tended to, I don't see an offset as a good choice. I'm not out to bash an offset as I am currently looking for one myself.

    The WSM or the UDS definitely is in this category. I can get 13 to 14 hours out of one load of coals in the UDS. That means I can do shoulders and or briskets without having to change fuel or tend a fire. One more thing with the UDS is; the weather doesn't seem to affect the way it runs. I've smoked in the wind, rain, cold and snow and it just chugs right along.
  19. stimpson111

    stimpson111 Newbie

    Has anyone posted plans or drawings on how to build a UDS?

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