Types of Grills and Smokers: How to Buy the Right Barbecue Firebox?
I enjoy spending time at my grill. I have a relaxed propane/charcoal combo barbecue with a smoker attachment (called a firebox). Despite my years of experience with grills and smokers, I still don’t know everything there is to know about them.
So I decided to brush up on my skills and broaden my knowledge.
Propane gas, charcoal and wood, combination grills, electric grills, pellet grills, and smokers are among the several types of grills and smokers. Pellet grills and smokers have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, the Big Green Eggs is still one of the most popular grills on the market.
However, there’s a lot more to learn about grilling, BBQs, and smoking meats, so let’s get started!
What are the many kinds of grills?
Grilling meats and vegetables can be done in a variety of ways.
Of course, the most common varieties are:
- Grills using charcoal or wood chunks
- Grills that run on propane
- Grills that are powered by electricity
- Grills in the Kamodo style (Big Green Egg type)
- Grills that use pellets
However, even within those categories, there’s a wide range of varieties.
There are various varieties of grills that employ charcoal briquettes or lump hardwood charcoal, for example. There are also a variety of portable grills available, which may be used with either propane or charcoal.
Typically, this consists of a rectangle-shaped metal box with legs and, sometimes, wheels at the bottom of the legs. This is a basic barbecue that is usually charcoal, but propane is also available. You remove the grates and place the charcoal on top.
Sometimes they have a flat lid, like this one, and other times they don’t.
Anytime I worked at Whole Foods Market, I used these when we needed to cook a significant quantity of food, which was frequently for employee picnics or special events in the parking lot.
Because you have plenty of room, you may have some zones that are hotter than others, and as items cook, you can move them down into a more relaxed zone to stay warm but not burn to a crisp.
You also have small portable grills, which are usually charcoal, in addition to those. These are ideal for a balcony in an apartment or a camping trip. With a vast hinged lid, this is a considerably more popular form of grill.
Unlike the flat open grill’s lid, these grills have a cover designed to be closed when cooking to keep the heat within where the food is.
This type can be found in both charcoal and propane. The lid can be opened or closed to preserve heat (and keep smoke to a minimum for charcoal grills) or to cool it down and allow circulation to the coals.
The cooking surface is usually much smaller than the open-top grills, which can be as long as 5 or 6 feet.
A rotisserie rod attachment can be used on some closed top grills to rotate an entire chicken or other meats on what is effectively a giant skewer that keeps it turning while it cooks. That way, it cooks evenly and cleanly without you having to flip it all the time.
A ceramic barbecue similar to a Big Green Egg or a Kamado.
The popularity of Big Green Eggs is growing. They are not the only manufacturer of a kamado-style charcoal grill, but they are the most well-known.
Their egg-like form and ceramic shell (typically green, but other brands have different hues) make them easily identifiable.
It also works as a grill, an oven, and a smoker, making it more flexible than other grills.
However, with prices ranging from roughly $400 for a little one to around $3,000 for the most significant, the Big Green Egg may be out of reach for many people. However, many of the Big Green Egg knock-offs are significantly less expensive. However, make sure to read the reviews to ensure that the product is of high quality.
Grills made of pellets
Wait till you see pellet grills. If you thought Big Green Eggs were expensive, wait until you see pellet grills.
Pellet grills (as well as smokers) are a relatively new addition to the BBQ scene. Traeger is the most well-known pellet grill manufacturer, but there are more outstanding firms like Pitts and Spitts. Pellet grills employ small hardwood pellets as a fuel source, but technology monitors it well and adjusts temperatures appropriately.
They can take the joy out of grilling in some ways, but they can also provide you with exact results every time. Many pellet grills come with built-in wifi, allowing you to control or monitor temperature using a smartphone app. Pellet grills usually cost around $800 and can easily cost thousands of dollars.
Grills that are powered by electricity
Just to be clear, I’m going to express the obvious. An electric barbecue isn’t truly a grill.
Grilling is all about cooking meat or vegetables over an open flame, or at the very least a flame underneath the metal, like pellet grills do. So, simply placing your food over what is effectively a stovetop burner does not pass the test. A George Foreman indoor grill, which is essentially a glorified panini press, takes things a step further.
Do you want to fire up the grill? Get yourself a proper barbecue. Invest in a gas barbecue rather than an electric one. I’m not saying that you can’t prepare delicious meals on an electric grill, but it’s just not the same.
However, there may be occasions when you want to barbecue inside. After all, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with us, and some of us (Texans like me) can’t seem to stay away from the grill! However, using most grills indoors, including propane grills, can be dangerous.
What are the many kinds of smokers?
Smokers, like grills, come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Bullet Charcoal Smokers are a type of charcoal smoker.
When I initially determined that I needed to learn how to prepare a nice brisket like a Texan, I started with this. These are reasonably priced (about $100). The charcoal is placed in a pan at the bottom of the stove, and then there’s a grate with a water pan sitting on top of it.
The water pan protects the meat from direct flames while also keeping it wet as it smokes. The meat (or fish or vegetables) is then placed on a second grate above it. These operate nicely, but you’ll need to keep an eye on them and supply wood as needed through a bottom hatch.
Attached are smokers with a firebox
This is the situation I’m in right now. It’s just a little barbecue with a box affixed to one of my grill’s sides.
There’s a vent where it joins that I can open or close. If I’m not smoking and only using the grill, I close that valve to prevent heat from escaping. You may adjust the vent to allow in or out a little or much smoke.
This is one of my favorites. I can add more wood or charcoal to the firebox without opening the lid over the meat, which would let both heat and smoke escape. It, like bullet-style smokers, must be watched and maintained, with wood or charcoal added as needed.
I like to use all-natural hardwood charcoal briquettes and then store bits of wood in a large bowl of water, such as hickory, apple, or cherry (which is less bitter than mesquite). Soaking them increases the amount of steam/smoke they produce and slows the rate at which they burn.
Both the briquettes and the wood chunks are required to keep the fire burning and to produce smoke.
Smokers that burn pellets
These are high-tech gadgets, similar to pellet grills. This isn’t for everyone because prices range from roughly $700 to thousands of dollars. Purists may object since they are “set it and forget it” kind of grills and do not involve much skill or art to produce excellent smoked meats and veggies.
However, if you want precisely smoked meals every time, even if you’re holding a party and won’t be able to supervise the smoker closely, and you’re willing to spend a little extra, one of these babies would be fantastic! Traeger, like pellet grills, is the most well-known brand, although there are lots of others.
Use your smartphone to monitor internal temperatures with the meat probe and make adjustments on the go.
Smokers that run on propane
I wouldn’t say I like these since they still need a wood supply to produce smoke, and if you’re smoking a brisket for hours, you’ll consume much propane. Natural gas is relatively inexpensive, so if you have a natural gas line at home and can build a line to your BBQ area, that could be a cost-effective option; however, if you just use small propane tanks, I’d avoid these.
The advantage of these is that you can set the temperature to exactly what you want, which is challenging to do with wood or charcoal. The smoke comes from wood chips.
But, unlike with an electric model, I wouldn’t just throw a brisket in and get to work. For one thing, I despise the concept of an unattended propane tank. Furthermore, if the tank runs out in the middle of the day, the brisket will be spoiled.
These tend to be on the lower end of the price spectrum, but they are more expensive than primary smokers like the bullet or firebox.
Smoking devices that are powered by electricity
They make bullet-style as well as cabinet-style.
It has the benefit of being a propane smoker in that you can adjust the temperature and walk away. If you’ve ever had BBQ done on-site at a grocery store (like several of the Whole Foods Market locations where I worked), it was almost certainly smoked in one of these.
One advantage is that they often operate at a lower temperature than gas smokers, allowing you to cold smoke foods like cheese or fish. Jerky is another thing they can do. You don’t get the full flavor of the smoke with these because they don’t have as much heat as propane smokers or regular smokers, and you won’t get the smoke ring on the meat, either.
The good news is that they’re not too expensive, starting at about $200.
Charcoal smokers in cabinets
In the sense that it’s a cabinet with a door, it’s similar to the electric and gas smokers.
With bullet-style smokers, you just have a little hatch through which you can add extra wood or charcoal. Do you need to replenish the water pan? You must first remove the meat and grate it, which is a nuisance.
To access anything being smoked, simply open the door like a refrigerator and a second door to access the charcoal and wood. These, like gas and electric smoker cabinets, often include many shelves for meat and vegetables, allowing you to smoke a large amount of food at once.
There is always considerable leakage with these, but that is true of almost any smoker under $800. This is a beautiful balance for folks on a budget who still want authentic wood smoke flavor but don’t want to spend much money. It’s a little more challenging to come by, and it’s a little more expensive than gas or electricity.
Drum barrel smokers
Consider a large oil drum that is standing upright.
These are similar to bullet-style smokers. They are inexpensive (beginning at around $200), and they are also reasonably portable.
As with bullet-style smokers, you start with the wood and charcoal, then a water pan, and lastly your food. Because they are a little bigger than bullet styles, their capacity is occasionally a little higher, which is a big bonus. Overall, this is a terrific option if you’re looking to smoke natural wood on a budget.
What exactly is the distinction between a grill and a smoker?
Grilling is the process of grilling food over an open flame. Typically, meats and vegetables are cooked on a metal grate with flames rising from beneath. Because some things cook more quickly than others, you may want to heat particular portions of your grill more than others.
With a propane grill, you may adjust the intensity of the burners or have one or two off and one on. The majority of propane grills feature three burners, making them simple to set up. Indirect heat occurs when food is not cooked directly over the flame, and your grill begins to function more like an oven.
Smoking meats and vegetables (or even fish and cheese) involves creating a barrier between the food and the fire while still enabling smoke from the burning wood to reach the meal. As a result, the food cooks more slowly and absorbs more of the wood taste and smoky flavor.
On the side of my grill is a smoker attachment. So I create a fire there, then open a vent between the grill and the smoker to let the smoke into the grill. My food (usually brisket) is placed on the grill with no heat or flame underneath it. The smoke then just travels through the vent, smoking the brisket for several hours.
Personally, I prefer to smoke my brisket for 4 hours before finishing it in the oven at 225 degrees. I find that smoking the meat for 8-10 hours achieves the desired softness, but I can no longer taste the flesh; only the smoke remains.
Can you use a smoker as a grill?
In many circumstances, the answer is yes. However, in the case of my smoker, it’s relatively modest. It has a total area of around 250 square inches, so if I were grilling hamburgers, I might be able to fit six patties on the grates if I was lucky. But it works the same way; make a fire, position the grate above the coals, and cook your food on the grate.
I used to have a Brinkman smoker, which is a tall upright smoker before I got my current grill/smoker combo (the Char-Griller Triple Play). It had a bottom grate where you lit the fire, a middle grate where you put a pan of water (to keep the food wet), and a top grate where the food went. If I had only wanted to grill in that case, I could have skipped the water pan and placed the meal on the center grate to keep it closer to the flames.
Which grill is superior, a gas or a charcoal one?
If you ask ten different barbecuers the same question, you’ll receive ten different answers. It all comes down to personal preference in the end. Propane is simple to work with. You turn the knob, hit the light button, and your grill is hot and ready to use in a minute or two. You also don’t have to wipe out any charred wood bits or trash; all you have to clean out is the occasional food that slips through or the rendered-off fat.
However, propane has no flavor.
You don’t get the same kind of wood smoke or taste from charcoal or lump hardwood, which is the argument’s crux.
Personally, I prefer to start on the charcoal side because I have a hybrid grill with a charcoal and propane side next to each other. This imparts a flavor to the meal that can only be obtained by grilling with wood. Then I transfer it to the propane side, where I frequently brush on a sauce or marinade to seal in the taste and keep it moist.
When I do that, I try to keep the propane side cooler.
When using a charcoal barbecue, though, you must wipe out the debris left by the fire each time you cook. It should go without saying (hopefully) that you should wait until the coals and debris are completely cool before disposing of them. When it comes to choosing between propane and charcoal, it all boils down to convenience and flavor.
Even now, there’s much dispute about whether to use lump hardwood charcoal or regular charcoal briquettes when cooking with charcoal. If you’re still undecided, read my essay on the significant differences between wood and charcoal for grilling.
Is it possible to use charcoal in a gas grill?
The short answer is no. Propane grills feature delicate burners under the grate that are individually covered by a metal cover to keep the flames from directly hitting the food. This allows the grill to heat up without the food being ruined. The burners are wired together, as well as to the front panel knobs, and a connection is run to your propane tank (or natural gas line if your house has one).
You’d destroy the burners, risk starting a fire if the grill was still connected to the gas, and render it useless as a gas grill if you just threw charcoal into the grill’s bed.
Have you come upon an old gas grill on the side of the road that you’d want to use as a gas barbecue?
That might work, but I’d take out the burner and gas pipes first. However, because it was never built to keep fire, I would be concerned that the bottom of the grill, where you now want to add charcoal, isn’t as thick as the metal on a charcoal grill. If that’s the case, it may wear out over time.
But, hey, you found it by the side of the road, so it’s not like you’re out much.
Is it better to use a gas or electric smoker?
There’s no doubt about that. If you don’t want to utilize a typical wood-burning barbecue, electric pellet smokers are the way to go. To begin with, propane smokers require a source of wood to produce smoke; therefore, they use wood chips. Furthermore, because smoked meats take a long time to cook, we’re talking much propane.
I don’t know about you, but replacing an empty propane tank with a full one costs $15-$20 where I live. I’ve never used a propane smoker, but I’m sure 10 hours of smoking a brisket requires a lot of propane.
So simply being able to plug it in and not having to purchase propane tanks regularly is a massive benefit for me. However, if you can connect yours to a natural gas line, that may change my mind.
Is it true that pellet grills are good?
This is all I have to say about it. There’s a reason these might cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The short answer is yes. Pellet grills (as well as smokers) are fantastic!
While purists may scoff at the high-tech involved, there’s nothing quite like being able to obtain consistently flawless grilled meats and veggies with the convenience of gas and the flavor of wood. There will be no forgetting and resulting in lumps of coal on your grates, as well as no steaks that are crisp on the outside but still raw on the inside.
You fill the wood pellet bin with pellets, which are then automatically supplied as needed. The thermostats change the temperature based on your preferences.
If you’re throwing a party, my biggest pet peeve is socializing, being called away from the grill, and becoming distracted, all of which might compromise the quality of the food you’re grilling. On the other hand, pellet grills have built-in wifi and an app for your smartphone, so this isn’t an issue. No matter where you are in relation to the grill, you can adjust temperatures and receive doneness indications and warnings.
Which grill is ideal for a newbie?
A propane grill is the simplest option for beginners who just want to cook food outside but are unfamiliar with the procedure. A pellet grill is also good provided the money is not an issue.
Propane grills resemble an oven in appearance, and they feature knobs that run from warm to hot and burners. Many come with built-in thermostats, which are essentially useless as soon as they break down. However, it’s critical to choose one with a high BTU rating.
The British Thermal Unit (BTU) is a unit of measurement that describes how hot your grill gets. The more your grill’s BTUs, the better it will cook. Approximately 13,000 BTUs per burner will be enough for an ordinary three-burner gas grill. A side burner is a feature seen on a lot of propane barbecues.
This burner functions similarly to a stovetop burner and is located to the side of the main grill area. It’s ideal for cooking beans or other side dishes quickly without having to return to the kitchen.
Of course, Weber has long been the most well-known name in both wood and gas barbecues. However, you will be charged for the name. So, suppose you’re looking for an excellent basic propane grill to start with, and you’re on a budget. In that case, I’d recommend one of the Nexgrill grills, which sell for around $200.
What is the best novice smoker?
It is dependent on the situation. Do you aspire to be a renowned pitmaster, or do you simply want to prepare delicious cuisine every time with no effort?
If you want to learn how to smoke, you’ll need to cook with wood; therefore, a grill with a firebox is the way to go. But suppose you want consistently delicious smoked meats and vegetables without the inconsistency that comes with learning how to smoke in an old-fashioned manner. In that case, a pellet smoker is, without a doubt, the way to go. If your budget permits it, that is.
Pellets are poured into a hopper in the pellet smoker. It feeds them into a chamber where they catch fire automatically (generated in most cases by being plugged into an electrical outlet). It automatically maintains the ideal temperature. Most have not only thermometers but also meat probes to monitor the inside temperatures of your food.
Control everything from a smartphone and walk away with the higher-end ones. Throw some brisket on the grill and get to work. By the time you come home, it will be nicely smoked.
Who is the finest grill manufacturer?
The term “best” is, like everything else, highly subjective.
If you ask a group of pitmasters what their favorite grill is, you’ll get various responses. Do you want outstanding cuisine every time you cook it, without the frustrations and inconveniences that come with learning to barbecue?
A Traeger pellet grill or a Big Green Egg may be the way to go if money is no object. Like the one I have, a covered barbecue or hybrid grill is the way to go if you want the most realistic experience with burning wood, timing the cooking, and watching flare-ups.
But what if you need something portable or large enough to feed a massive group of people?
You get my drift. It’s difficult to choose just one finest grill from such a long list. However, several brands stand out above the rest, such as Weber, Blackstone, and Char-Griller.
So, let’s break down our selection into three categories of the finest grills under $500 and one deluxe grill over $500.
The Best All-Around Grill
Triple Play Gas/Charcoal Combo Grill with Smoker Firebox by Char-Griller
This is the barbecue that I have on my patio side of my house (and then I have a Traeger on my back deck). I’ve had mine for well over three years and purchased it used on Craigslist (without the firebox, which I added later). It’s been fantastic so far; just make sure you get the cover to keep it from rusting.
There are about 1500 square inches of cooking area! Use propane, charcoal, or both sides! It also comes with a propane-powered side burner. Briskets and other meats or vegetables can be smoked in the attached smoker firebox.
The majority of the reviews (almost 500) are positive, and delivery or pickup is free. Get the best of both worlds in a grill that won’t cost you a fortune.
Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill is the best pellet grill.
Large pellet hopper with accessible cleanout. Lighting is a breeze with auto-start ignition. The grill temperature and the inside temperature of the food are displayed on the temperature readout. When more pellets are needed, it automatically dispenses them.
With free shipping and excellent reviews, this item is at the top of our $500 price range.
Char-Griller Akorn Jr., red or black Kamado Grill, is the best portable grill.
With near-perfect reviews, this item is an Amazon’s Choice product (well over 300 of them). Ceramic grills with 153 square inch cooking space, quick dump pan, dual airflow dampeners, and dual airflow dampeners allow for more cooking with less charcoal. RVs, camping, tailgating, and picnics will all benefit from this item. There’s also free shipping on Amazon!
The Finest Deluxe Grill
Ironwood 650 Pellet Grill and Smoker from Traeger
With a price of little over $1,000 and free scheduled delivery, this is Traeger’s top-of-the-line, and there’s no way you won’t adore it! This is a fantastic grill for the money and features, and it’s the one I have.
Excellent customer feedback and the ability to grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ all in one device!
Isn’t it true that I didn’t mention WiFire?
Yes, Wifire technology allows you to keep an eye on and manage your grill from anywhere your smartphone has a signal. Traeger invented the pellet smoker and continues to dominate the market. With the touch of a button, you may set the temperature to within +/- 20 degrees. Genuine wood tastes better than charcoal, while gas lacks flavor.
For convenience and long life, get it with the optional cover!
Another item to consider is whether Traeger requires all of its sellers to sell at the same price. So there’s no need to waste time looking for a reasonable price, and the most special pricing will always be found on Trager’s own website!
Who are the best smokers?
Weber 711001 Smokey Mountain Smoker is the best budget smoker.
Without a doubt, a bullet smoker is what you desire. The one you want is made by Weber, although the Brinkmann I had (which I’m not sure is still available) was also fantastic. Weber appeals to me for several reasons: The fuel door is removable (rather than hinged), making it easier to add charcoal and wood. I also believe it is more corrosion-resistant.
Better temperature management is possible thanks to two adjustable vents. Before I updated, I smoked a lot of briskets with mine, and they turned out amazing! With over 2000 great reviews and free shipping, it’s an Amazon’s Choice item.
The best budget pellet smoker
Z GRILLS Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker is the best budget pellet smoker on the market.
For being much under $400, this little guy is incredible. It also includes not just free delivery but also a cover. This is relatively portable, thanks to its sturdy legs and wheels and the fact that it weighs only 84 pounds. With approximately 320 square feet of cooking/smoking space, there’s enough capacity for three entire chickens. You get the best of both worlds because it’s a grill and a smoker in one. 160°F to 450°F is the temperature range for cooking.
Did I say there’s a lifetime guarantee? Excellent reviews as well.
Which is the best vertical pellet grill?
The Camp Chef XXL Vertical Pellet Grill and Smoker is the best value-for-money vertical smoker available.
A verticle smoker is essentially a cabinet-style smoker with racks that sit above one another, allowing you to smoke many portions of meat and vegetables at once.
It comes with four meat racks, three jerky racks, and a 12-hook sausage rack. Smoking goods that don’t fit on a pellet grill are a breeze with this device.
You don’t have to babysit your smoker to achieve optimal results every time with digital temperature control and Smart Smoke technology. Temperature ranges from 150° F to 350° F, including dual meat temperature probes. Shipping is free, and the price is far below $600. While there are only a few reviews at the moment, all of them are 5-star and come from genuine buyers.
Have I covered everything you needed to know about the many types of grills and smokers?
We’ve put together the ultimate guide to grills, BBQs, and smokers on this page.
We looked at a variety of grills and smokers, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each. Following that, we looked at the most popular brands in each area and what makes them unique. If you enjoy grilling or smoking meats and vegetables, chances are we’ve already answered all of your questions.