What Is a BBQ Smoker?

BBQ smokers have transformed the way we approach barbecue. And in recent years, they’ve gained immense popularity among grilling enthusiasts. But what exactly are they?

Join us as we explore and understand this well-favoured BBQ technique. We’ll also learn about the different types and how the smoker works in general.

Ready to become a BBQ-smoking virtuoso?

What Is a BBQ Smoker?

BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker
BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker

A BBQ smoker is designed to slow-cook food using smoke and low, indirect heat. This allows flavours to meld and intensify while producing tender, melt-in-your-mount results. Truly the epitome of slow and steady cooking!

What sets it apart from other types is its ability to infuse food with a distinct smokey flavour. Take most grills that primarily use direct heat, e.g., charcoal or gas, for example. With such a fuel source, the grill can quickly sear and cook food. But smokers use indirect heat combined with smoke from burning wood or charcoal.

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Key features and components

  • Cooking chamber: The main body of a BBQ smoker is the cooking chamber, where the magic happens. It’s typically a large, enclosed space that accommodates the food being smoked. It’s also designed to retain heat and smoke, allowing for slow cooking.
  • Firebox: A separate compartment where the fuel, like charcoal, is burned. It’s responsible for generating heat and smoke directed into the chamber. The firebox also allows for proper airflow and temperature control.
  • Smokestack or chimney: An exhaust vent located at the top of the cooking chamber. It serves as an outlet for smoke and helps regulate the airflow within the smoker. By adjusting the smokestack, pitmasters can control the temperature and smoke circulation.
  • Water pan: A tray filled with water placed inside the cooking chamber. The water pan serves multiple purposes. For one, it helps maintain a moist cooking environment and regulates temperature fluctuations. It also acts as a barrier between the heat source and the food.
  • Temperature gauge: Usually mounted on the cooking chamber. This allows you to monitor and maintain the desired temperature throughout the process.
  • Racks or grates: Located inside the cooking chamber where the food is placed. These racks provide ample space for various cuts of meat or other ingredients. They allow for even cooking and smoke penetration.
  • Seals and insulation: For optimising heat retention and control. Seals help prevent smoke and heat leakage. Insulation, in contrast, ensures consistent temperature regulation and efficient fuel usage.

Types of BBQ Smokers

There are several types of BBQ smokers, but let’s explore three popular types:

1. Offset smokers

BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker
BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker

Offset smokers are classic and widely used smoker grills. They consist of a large, horizontal barrel-shaped cooking chamber and a separate firebox. Once the fuel is burned, it generates heat and smoke, which travels into the cooking chamber. This is similar to a charcoal BBQ, but simply using a prolonged cooking process.

Offset smokers offer excellent temperature control and versatility. The heat and smoke enter the cooking chamber from the firebox. They circulate around the food before exiting through a chimney.

You can adjust the temperature by controlling the airflow. You can do this through dampers on the firebox and smokestack. This ensures even heat distribution and smoke infusion.

Other terms:

  • Horizontal smokers
  • Stick burners

2. Vertical water smokers

BillyOh Arizona 3 in 1 Charcoal Smoker Steel Upright BBQ Drum
BillyOh Arizona 3 in 1 Charcoal Smoker Steel Upright BBQ Drum

Vertical water smokers are popular for their simplicity and affordability. These smokers feature a tall, cylindrical design, consisting of stacked sections.

The bottom section houses the heat source, such as charcoal or wood. Meanwhile, the middle section holds a water pan. The food is placed on grates in the top section.

Vertical water smokers work on the principle of indirect heat. They also utilise a water pan to maintain a moist cooking environment. The water pan acts as a heat sink, helping regulate temperature and keeping the meat tender and juicy. As the heat rises from the bottom section, it circulates around the food. This creates a convection effect for even cooking.

Other terms:

  • Bullet smokers
  • Drum smokers

3. Kamado grills

Kamado grills have gained immense popularity in recent years. They’re basically inspired by traditional Japanese clay cooking vessels.

These egg-shaped ceramic cookers offer exceptional heat retention and versatility. They have a thick, insulating ceramic or porcelain shell for maintaining consistent temperatures.

Kamado grills excel at both grilling and smoking. They feature a bottom vent and a top vent or chimney. By adjusting these vents, you can regulate heat and smoke circulation. This results in deliciously smoked foods with a unique charcoal flavour.

Kamado grills are known for their versatility. For one, they can be used for smoking, grilling, roasting, baking, and even searing.

How BBQ Smokers Work

BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker
BillyOh Full Drum Smoker Charcoal BBQ with Offset Smoker

BBQ smokers work by combining low, indirect heat with the infusion of smoke to slow-cook food. This results in tender, smoky, and flavourful dishes. Let’s delve into the process:

Fire and fuel

The first step in using a BBQ smoker is to ignite the fuel source. This can be charcoal, wood pellets, wood chunks, or logs, depending on the type of smoker.

In some smokers, like offset or Kamado grills, the fuel is burned in a firebox or charcoal chamber. Others, like vertical water smokers, have their fuel placed in the cooking chamber.

Smoke generation

Once the fuel is ignited, it starts to produce smoke. In BBQ smokers, the smoke is a crucial element that imparts the distinct smoky flavour to the food.

Wood chunks, chips, or pellets are commonly used to generate smoke. The choice of wood contributes to the specific flavour profile of the smoked food.

Indirect heat and cooking chamber

BBQ smokers use indirect heat, meaning that the food is not directly exposed to the flames or heat source. Instead, the heat is transferred indirectly to the cooking chamber. This method creates a controlled and consistent cooking environment.

Smoke circulation and flavour infusion

The smoke generated by the burning fuel is directed into the cooking chamber. The smoke circulates around the food, enveloping it and infusing it with a rich smoky flavour. This process can take several hours, depending on the type of food and desired level of smokiness.

Temperature regulation

Maintaining a steady temperature is essential for successful BBQ smoking. Most smokers are equipped with a temperature gauge or thermometer. Such features allow you to monitor the cooking chamber’s internal temperature. This precise temperature control ensures optimal cooking conditions for the desired results.

Slow cooking and tenderising

This slow-cooking process breaks down collagen in the meat, making it tender and juicy. The gentle, prolonged exposure to heat allows flavours to develop and intensify. This results in deeply flavourful and succulent dishes.

Smoke exhaust

During the cooking process, excess smoke and heat need to be properly vented. Most smokers have a chimney or exhaust vent located in the cooking chamber to allow smoke to escape. By adjusting these vents, you can control the airflow. This helps intensify the smoke and the overall cooking environment.


BBQ smokers truly bring the art of slow and smoky cooking to life. They infuse food with smokey flavour and create tender, melt-in-your-mouth results. It’s no surprise why they’ve captured the taste buds of grilling enthusiasts worldwide!

So, fire up your curiosity and embark on a flavourful journey by investing in one. Savour the irresistible taste of slow-cooked, smokey goodness with your own BBQ smoker. Happy smoking!