BBQ Smoker types: Horizontal vs. Vertical vs. Offset [FULL Guide!]

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 12, 2021
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Smoking meat is a demanding task and quite frankly it’s not for everyone.

The amount of patience required to do this thing would be enough to get most of us screaming with anxiety!

But it becomes an even more problematic work when the type of smoker you’ve selected isn’t in line with your type of cooking style or what you want to accomplish, so let’s look at horizontal vs vertical vs offset smokers and EXACTLY when to use one over the other.

Horizontal vs vertical vs offset bbq smokers

What is the main difference between a vertical and horizontal smoker?

The very obvious difference between the two is this:

Offset smokers have a horizontal orientation and they can usually smoke AND grill while there are no vertical grills, only vertical smokers.

That would defeat the purpose of it being upright because it’s using the natural flow of heated air to move the smoke and heat upwards to your meat.

It’s easier to maintain an even temperature with a horizontal smoker because you don’t need to open the smoking chamber when you add more fuel, so it’s much easier to refuel than a vertical one.


I’m going to tell you why the best buy for beginners is probably a vertical smoker!

If you’re looking for a full guide on what smoker to buy as a beginner so should check out these tips you’ll find invaluable when starting out. I wish I’d known these when I was just a beginner :)

Different kinds of smoker grills (advantages and disadvantages)

How to buy a bbq smoker video video

There are 8 different kinds of smoker grills available in the market and they come in all shapes and sizes. Also, they come with different price tags.

I can’t really tell you which type is the best because, you know…

…it depends

But I’ve created a list explaining each type of smoker and what the pros and cons are so that’s sure to help you out in making your decision.

Vertical Water Smokers (Orientation: Vertical)

Vertical water smokers are easy to use with a simple design. They’re designed by following the laws of physics regarding heat transfer and water cycle.

PLUS, they’re also the cheapest type on the market.

The best I found is this charcoal grill water smoker combo from Char-Broil, which gives you plenty of room to work with and is very affordable:

How do Vertical water smokers work?

A vertical water smoker is made up of 3 parts which are actually compartments:

  1. The bottom section serves as a heat source, like charcoal wood, gas, or even a large steel hotplate coil for electric smokers (I’ll get more into those in a bit).
  2. One compartment above it sits the water pan, necessary to moisturize the air inside the smoker so you’re not just using dry heat like on a grill. This way the meat becomes soft and tender as you smoke the meat using low temperatures for days (or WEEKS!).
  3. Then we have the part you care about most, the smoking chamber or compartment where the meat sits on top of a stainless steel grate.

It’s very easy to operate because all you have to do is

(check the thermostat on the lid to adjust the temperature or you can also use a digital thermometer controller for automation).

Are vertical smokers any good?

These grills are excellent and easy to use, plus they give the meat that juicy texture and smokey flavor. I recommend vertical grills for high-heat grilling and searing and most popular models use wood and charcoal as fuel so you know you’re getting that classic smoker BBQ flavor.

If you’re a true beginner, the vertical electric and gas options are the easiest to control the temperature with so you’re less likely to make a temp mistake, burning and overcooking the food. The classic charcoal type is a bit harder to control and you might have to keep checking in on the food. But, the upside is that the taste is unrivaled.

Advantages of a vertical smoker

The disadvantages

What most people complain about with vertical smokers is that they lose a lot of heat.

Heat is necessary to cook the meat. But, each time you open the lid to check how far along you are, some of it’s lost.

This issue has been addressed with a digital thermometer controller up top, but you have to trust that your temperature and cooking time is spot on.

The small space in the smoker also means that you can only smoke a limited amount of meat in it.

Then there’s also the point-of-access issue because the way the smoker is designed only allows you to put in or remove the meat in one direction.

With only 2 layers of grates where you can put the meat onto, you’d have to remove the upper grate first before you can get to the lower one. This causes more heat to escape the chamber.

What to look for in a vertical smoker

The first thing to look for is great metal quality and durable construction. Look for a thick metal with good seals, so that air doesn’t escape. Plus a good ventilation system is key to great smoked food. 

Check out the accessibility. The smoker should be easy to load up with charcoal or wood. You also want to make sure there’s a low risk of burning yourself. Basically, the smoker must be easy to use and load. 

Cooking Space & Racks

The number of shelves and cooking racks is extremely important. This determines how much food you can smoke at once. If you know you’ll often smoke for large groups, you need a larger smoker.

But, you’ll probably want to get a horizontal smoker if that’s the case.

So the ideal candidate for a vertical smoker is to look for a compact one that also has hooks.

You don’t realize how important the hooks are until you want to hang cornish hens and even ribs and sausages to smoke them while cooking other foods on the racks simultaneously. 

The best smokers have about 8 racks and a couple of hooks. This is plenty of space. Look for 2000 square inches of total cooking space if you like to smoke often. 

Temperature Range

You need to consider how flexible you want your temperature range to be.

The food you cook determines the heat level you need. If you like to smoke low and slow, then the temperature range isn’t such an important feature. 

Weight and size

It’s up to you how big or small you want your smoker to be. The weight is important though. The heavier the smoker the better, because it means that it’s made of thickly gauged steel. This is good in terms of heat retention during the cooking process.

The bottom line is this: the thinner aluminum-type smokers just don’t smoke as well as their heavy counterparts.

After all, it’s better to invest in a smoker that’s going to last you for at least ten years as opposed to a thin flimsy one that’s going to last only a couple.  

One thing you’re sacrificing with heavy smokers is portability. But, once you set it up in the perfect spot, there’s no real need to move it around too much.

UNLESS you want to take it out to go camping or something.

How to get the most out of a vertical smoker

Well, now that you can see all the pros and cons of a vertical smoker, let’s look at how to get the most out of it. 

First of all, it’s all about maximizing flavor. The best way to get the best flavor is to experiment with wood chips.

Wood chips come in many different flavors, so there are lots to try. You can even blend woods to create unique flavors for different foods.

Second of all, make sure you take it slow. Even the most experienced pitmasters can make mistakes.

Start with easy recipes like poultry or ribs. Pork is especially easy to smoke. Even if you make a few small errors, pork meat is less temperature sensitive so you can still eat it. Follow the recipes and don’t overdo it with the woods. 

Finally, use water to distribute the heat evenly. The hot steam helps spread the smoke evenly so your food is well flavored.

Steam is also good because it prevents the meat from drying out too much during the smoking process. The secret is to add boiling water to the tray, never cold. 

How to use vertical smokers

According to Robert Sherman, there are several steps to follow to use the vertical smoker correctly. A good vertical charcoal smoker is going to give you amazing smoky flavored food.

Offset Smokers (Orientation: Horizontal)

I have to say, although an offset smoker is much larger than a vertical, it has a much simpler design.

It consists of two parts:

  1. the firebox where the heat source is created via a gas, charcoal, or small chopped wood.
  2. the cooking chamber where the meat is smoked.

It usually has a long barrel or box design with a lift or slide door and a smokestack for the smoke and heat to escape through.

Both parts are connected so that heat from the firebox will enter the cooking chamber. There it’s controlled by an air intake valve.

I love the Oklahoma Joe’s brand, and this Highland offset model is a very good place to start with a great looking vertical offset smoker for your patio:

How horizontal offset smokers work

Everything starts at the firebox where you light up the fuel (i.e. gas, charcoal, or wood). That’s where you create the heat source.

The heat then travels to the cooking chamber via the small hole that links the firebox and the cooking chamber and heats up the meat.

The heat and smoke escape through the smokestack.

Some offset smokers are designed with a reverse flow thermal circulation configuration. That just means a sheet of metal is placed in the bottom of the cooking chamber to achieve this flow structure, but it can make a LOT of difference.

This equalizes the temperature distribution throughout the chamber. The heat travels back to the firebox (some of it escapes through the smokestack that has been relocated closer to the firebox as well).

This design is more efficient than the standard configuration and it solves the uneven heating (which can RUIN your meat).

Advantages of the horizontal offset smoker

With a high-quality design offset smoker, especially one that has the reverse flow thermal circulation configuration in it, you should be able to smoke meat almost perfectly and almost all the time. Keep in mind, practice is mandatory if you want to get perfection of course.

The cooking chamber has a huge cooking space and an even larger volume. Therefore, you can also hang and skewer meat all over it and cook them at the same time.

A good offset smoker will also help you save on energy. It cuts some of the costs to operate the machine.

Horizontal smokers can cook food slowly at low temperatures. This offers that classic bbq flavor because the meat is well penetrated by the smoky flavor. The meat tastes juicy and moist inside and crispy on the outside.

These smokers use wood and charcoal so they give the most flavor. If you are after that authentic smoky flavor, then a horizontal device is perfect. 

The disadvantages

While inexpensive offset smokers may sound appealing they can be so difficult to operate and will undermine your cooking abilities.

The unfortunate thing is that it’s hard to tell the difference between a good smoker and a bad smoker. Although, the reverse flow thermal circulation design is a very good indicator that it is a pretty good smoker grill and you should buy it.

Temperatures near the firebox in poorly designed offsets are on average 38° Celsius more than the cooking chamber. So, heat transfer is not guaranteed and moreover, the materials used for these kinds of smokers are thin metal sheets which make it easy for heat to dissipate.

Nevermind the money you spent on fuel consumption but what’s worse is that it creates uneven heating and will not cook the meat properly.

How do you maintain a constant temperature in an offset smoker?

One of the biggest challenges of using offset smokers is to keep a steady temperature. It takes a second of carelessness to burn your meat. 

Here’s how to keep a steady temperature:

What to look for in an offset horizontal smoker

Before you purchase a smoker, there are several aspects to consider. Unfortunately, the only way to really tell if an offset smoker is good or bad is to test it. A bad offset smoker leaks smoke at the device’s doors and through the connection between the firebox and smoking chamber. The best smokers are well-engineered so it’s best to invest in a trusted brand and model. 

Material and Insulation

This refers to the build of the smoker. Don’t buy a smoker made of thin metal because it is not durable and a lot of heat escapes. Look for an offset smoker made from thick steel (1/4 inch thickness minimum). The smoker must also have proper vents to allow the oxygen to circulate. Finally, look for food chamber doors. Good insulation is also a must-have if you want your meat to turn out perfect every time. 


Is reverse-flow actually better? According to some people, it is. Basically, heat is used twice, and the meat tastes juicier, it’s more moist and flavorful. The reverse flow smokers use a baffle system. This draws heat and smoke under its cooking chamber and then recirculated over the meat a second time. In this design, the smokestack and firebox are one the same end of the bbq. 

What’s the advantage of a reverse flow smoker?

The reverse flow design allows even newbies to smoke the food perfectly every time because these smokers maintain their temperature much better. 


The offset horizontal models come in a variety of sizes. Make sure you measure the area you are placing it in. Leave enough space around the smoker to prevent fires or damage. The firebox and grill grates can be quite large and protrude out of the grill, so you need extra space. 

How to use a horizontal offset smoker

First things first, you need to light the fire. if you have trouble firing up the smoker, use a chimney starter.

Box Smokers (Orientation: Vertical)

Box smokers also called:

vertical smoker

Note: A box smoker and smoker box are not the same things. A box smoker is an entire smoker unit whereas a smoker box is a container placed on top of the grill.

Box smokers are less complicated machines that you can find that’s also very useful. They are used to cook large batches of meat and veggies. Therefore, they’re perfect for commercial purposes or large family gatherings.

Their design essentially conserves heat just like vertical smokers. This means you can cook more food in its cooking chamber and spend a lot less on fuel for creating the heat.

With good insulation, a box smoker can cook your food really well. Plus, they are spacious enough to feed up to 6 people at a time.

I once saw the Camp Chef Vault Smoker and was instantly in love with its great design.

It just looks awesome and has the room to smoke for a medium-sized party. I looked it up online and it’s not that expensive here on Amazon:

How vertical box smokers work

Box smokers work very similarly to vertical water smokers and, in fact, they also need water to smoke the meat just like a vertical smoker does.

They basically follow the laws of physics too and if you heat the air at the bottom in the firebox, then it will rise up and heat up the water in the water pan as well.

The hot moist air will smoke the meat over time until it will be ready to consume.

Advantages of a box smoker

Just like the vertical water smoker, the box smoker is also easy to use and very dependable even for barbecue or smoking competition.

High-quality brands use good materials like 1/4-inch stainless steel which helps retain the heat in the box and they also use thick insulation to keep the core hot enough and cook the meat in the chamber thoroughly.

They are bigger than a vertical water smoker and therefore can cook more food at a time.

The vault of the box smoker retains heat for a long period of time. This means that the temperature is consistent and there’s a continuous even smoke output.

The main benefit of this unit is the control you have over the cooking process.

The disadvantages

Some brands sell poorly constructed products with thin metal sheets for the box and even worse it has poor insulating materials too!

Low-quality materials also cause the box to lose heat very fast. In cold or rainy weather you would not be able to smoke meat properly as these things need to be placed outdoors due to the smoke they produce.

The box smokers require seasoning and regular cleaning.

How to use the box smoker to cook

Drum Smokers (Orientation: Vertical)

Perhaps the more advantageous smoker compared to the other smokers in this list is the drum smoker AKA the ugly drum smoker (USD). The classic drum smoker is just a steel drum that has racks to hang the meat for smoking.

You can actually create this smoker in your garage with just a couple of tools such as a blow torch, welding equipment, paint, and some other steel plates and 3mm diameter stainless steel rods for the grates.

There is also a DIY (do-it-yourself) option where you can purchase a drum smoker kit and you just assemble it once it’s delivered, or even purchase it fully assembled.

This blog post says that you can build your own drum smoker for only $133! How’s that for affordability?

How They Work

The drum smoker is a type of vertical smoker. But it works fairly simply, and like other vertical smokers, it too follows the laws of physics and thermodynamics. Basically, you burn charcoal at the bottom of the steel drum. This process produces the heat that smokes the meat. The hot air escapes through a vent at the top of the drum. When the air rises, it also pulls in more air at a tiny vent in the bottom. 

It has air vents at the bottom side of the drum. Then there’s a firebox which is located at the center bottom as well. Next, there’s a water pan to moisturize the air that’s placed on top of the fire and heat diffuser. There are 2 or more cooking racks in the midsection and on the upper part of it.

It also has an adjustable air dampener on the lid.

Typically drum smokers sold online or at your local store are sealed tight with insulating materials.

This is done in order to seal the heat in which has 2 main benefits:

a) to conserve heat

b) to use that heat to smoke the meat thoroughly.


They are cheap to acquire and even cheaper to build on your own.

Another advantage of the drum smoker is that they have a significantly bigger cooking space and volume. This allows you to cook different kinds of meat at the same time.

They are easy to operate, durable, and very reliable.


The drum smoker as it appears seems to only have a few disadvantages. Unfortunately, like with most vertical smokers, the heat is lost every time you open the lid to check the meat.

They are not easy to move around and are also susceptible to bad weather.

Smoker Ovens (Orientation: Vertical)

This smoker grill is more on the high-tech side of smoker grills. It’s usually the top choice of restaurants and catering establishments.

For example, this Cookshack Smokette actually has computer controls and temperature probes. Therefore, you can smoke a brisket while you enjoy your free time:


They have a lot of conveniences but are a bit on the more expensive side.

They are very similar to your household microwave oven. Of course, the exception is that they heat/cook much larger food than what you are accustomed to.

Most restaurants use this type of smoker grill as it partially automates their jobs. This gives the staff more time to attend to other important things.

How do smoker ovens work?

Smoker ovens work similarly to other vertical smokers. But, they are heavily insulated boxes with an electric heating element in the bottom. As well, their doors have rubber seals that make the box air-tight.

Its heat source is from a steel hotplate coil that is electrically induced to produce heat.

The smoldering heat will ignite the wood chips in the pan just above the heating apparatus. Then above the wood chip pan, there is a funneled piece of metal. Its role is to deflect radiant heat from the pan and the heat source and at the same time collect the drippings (melted animal fat from the meat) which prevents flare-ups.

Advantages of a smoker oven

Easy to operate and can even be left to smoke meat on its own provided it has advanced electronic controls.

Therefore, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate, ensuring even smoking each time.

It can cook meat much faster than conventional smoker grills. As well, it’s great for novices in the barbecue arena.

Spacious cooking racks which mean that you can cook more meat per pound. So, you can make more food compared to regular vertical water smokers.

These smokers are lightweight and safe.

The disadvantages

Expensive and could cost from $500 and upwards, basically if you want a quality smoker oven, then you’ll have to pay more for it.

Needs to be sheltered to prevent it from being exposed to the elements and have problems later on.

Kamado Grills (Orientation: Vertical)

Kamado grills are adapted from ancient Japanese grills (of the same name). These are used to cook rice and other Japanese delicacies.

This type of grill is perfect for low and slow cooking. Therefore, it essentially also makes it a smoker grill.

It’s actually in our post about the Kamado grill that you can check out.

The Kamado grill became famous in America after World War II. When US servicemen came to Japan, they adopted some Japanese traditions.

The egg-shaped design of the grill, its convenience and efficiency quickly captured the hearts of most Americans. So, it became an American classic that is well-known throughout the country.

How They Work

Kamado grills work very similarly to other vertical smokers. You start it up by igniting the charcoal fuel at the bottom of the grill.

Then you place the heat diffuser on top. Next, cover the smoldering charcoal fuel beneath.

Afterward, set the grill grates and racks and close the lid. Then, open the air vents in order to enable the heat source to keep producing heat for smoking the meat.


Kamado grills are excellent grills because of their ability to hit temperatures over 400° Celsius.

They are quite durable because they’re made of ceramic materials and will not easily crumble even when exposed to the elements.

Kamado smoker grills also have good insulation and as a result, they have a better temperature retention capacity than most other grills in the market.


The popularity of kamado grills also caused them to be more expensive than other grills, but the materials cost to manufacture each kamado grill is also a factor in its pricey nature.

The ceramic body of the grill cannot handle impacts, therefore, you mustn’t drop it or accidentally hit it with something hard or it will break.

They are quite heavy and require 2 or more people to carry them, especially when you need to move them around.

What is so great about a Kamado grill?

I know, people praise the Kamado grills quite a lot. So, what so great about them?

The Kamado grill has much thicker walls compared to other types. Therefore, it offers better heat retention and cooks more efficiently. The key to great cooking is to pre-heat the Kamado. The grill is extremely stable. All you have to do is ensure that the grill has enough charcoal and oxygen. This way the grill cooks at low or high temperatures evenly.

Finally, a Kamado grill is very durable because it’s often made from ceramic compounds. 

Pellet Grills (Orientation: Horizontal)

Pellet grills use wood pellets as fuel. The wood pellets are made from all-natural hardwood sawdust compacted and extruded into small 0.25-inch round pieces.

Back in the day when people would still cook meat over split logs they really enjoyed the rare and unique taste of meat smoked over high-quality hardwood.

Burning hardwood now can be a hassle, especially if you live in the city, but if you had a pellet grill, then that wouldn’t be a problem and you can keep enjoying delicious meat cooked over high-quality wood – even if they’re made into pellets these days.

I would recommend the Pit Boss Grills 71820FB PB820FB BBQ Pellet Grill and Smoker for that authentic charcoal flavor:

How horizontal pellet grills work

Pellet grills have 4 main parts and those are the hopper which is a storage bin where you put the wood pellets in.

The auger has a corkscrew design and slowly feeds the firebox with wood pellet fuel via a low-speed electric motor.

The firebox will produce heat and will travel into the cooking chamber to smoke the meat.

Some modern pellet grills have sophisticated computer control systems that allow you to control the heat inside the chamber.

It even has a feature that reduces the grill’s heat to a holding temperature when the meat is done.

Advantages of the pellet grill smoker

Pellet grills can be used for both grilling and smoking meat. Apparently, the smoke that hardwood pellets produce is of good quality that makes any meat very tasty.

They are easy to operate, especially those that belong to the high-end brands that have advanced computer controls with them.

These grills have a large cooking space that allows you to cook more meat at a time compared to other grills.

They are also affordable with a price range between $250 – just over $1,000.

The disadvantages

Because pellet grills have many moving parts they are susceptible to wear and tear, and once a moving part breaks down, then the whole machine will cease to function.

To give you an example, the electric motor can malfunction via a shortcircuit failure and burn the coil wounds.

Also if the warranty does not cover these kinds of problems, then you will be forced to pay out of pocket to repair your grill.

Another issue that pellet grills have is that not all of them have a smooth finish to their products like Traeger does.

In fact, half of them are made by small companies, who probably just assembled their products in their garage, and are not financially endowed to create aesthetically pleasing pellet grills.

The maximum temperature that these grills produce is around 260° Kelvin and may not be ideal for barbecuing meat.

Why are pellet grills expensive?

The igniters and firepots where pellets are burned are made to be durable because they are used over and over again. Essentially, the pellet grill is made of high-quality and durable components. You are paying for a good build, design, and efficient cooking. 

Why are pellet grills so popular?

The pellet grill is very appealing to expert smokers. Its biggest pro is that maintains a low and steady temperature for hours on end. You don’t even need to make any adjustments and you don’t need to keep checking it. It’s the best smoker for precision cooking. 

You can make delicious brisket, slow-smoked ribs, and even pulled pork without drying out your meat at all. So, the food stays juicy and tender.

Electric Smokers (Orientation: Vertical)

Electric smokers are essentially box smokers or vertical smokers with a steel hot plate for thermal generation.

Because there is no burning, there is no cellulose, lignin, char, or even oxygen combusted, there are no combustion gases.

For this I would recommend you get the Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, which is also in our top brands post:


There is also no smoke flavor because there is no smoke.

But some electric smokers though use chopped wood or wood pellets. They are placed on a metal tray that has a lid to prevent flash fires (this is optional) to get that smoked flavor from the wood fire.

Advantages of a vertical electric smoker

Electric smokers are affordable and they usually sell for $200 – $500 apiece.

They are lightweight and easy to use. As well, you can use them indoors. Luckily, there is no need to worry about smoke because they don’t produce any.

Some brands have advanced computer controls. These take the cooking tasks off your hands so you can do other important things while you wait for the meat to cook.


The temperature does not get high enough to get that desired seared meat. Additionally, you can’t use them outdoors. When it rains, its electrical components can get damaged.

There is no smoke ring and does not get that ideal taste of burnt meat.

They have limited capacity due to the issue of heating problems.

Are electric smokers any good?

Unfortunately, there are some myths floating around that electric smokers aren’t as good as the ‘authentic’ wood-fired ones. The truth is, they are just different. 

In fact, electric smokers are healthier than other types. They are also safer to use and there’s less chance of injury when you use them.

When cooking the electric smoker reduces the smoke and heat leakage. This eliminates flare-ups and smoke from the open flames.

Finally, keep in mind that an electric smoker cooks in less time, therefore it’s more efficient and cost-effective.

The electric smoker is perfect for those of you looking for convenience.

Why Choosing the Wrong Smoker can Affect the Taste of the Meat

Because not all smoker grills function in the same way, your smoked meat might not be what you’ve anticipated it to be.

This is why it’s so important to also choose the right smoker grill. After all, it’s about more than simply relying on your smoking skills.

If I had to choose one, I would go with this vertical smoker from Char-Broil. I like the way the smoke flows through a vertical smoker. The Char-Broil is just such a durable grill for such a low price.

Of course, there’s a lot to say about different types of smokers. In this post, I’d like to take you through the different choices.

In this video you can see the difference between a vertical and a horizontal smoker:


Smoker grills such as offset barrel smokers, horizontal smokers, or pipe smokers, give you total control over the smoking process.

Technically there aren’t any real “bad” or “wrong” smoker grills. Although, there are poor quality brands that you might want to avoid.

There are several things to consider when using a vertical or horizontal smoker.

The first thing to consider is fuel. The options are charcoal, wood, gas, infrared, or electric heating. 

Then, you need to factor in how well the meat is smoked and the amount of time required.

How you smoke the meat relative to the type of smoker you’ve selected to smoke them in is probably the most crucial factor that can either create the best-smoked meat or ruin it.

But before we go into that discussion, let’s first find out what the different kinds of smoker grills that are available on the market.


There is no easy way to tell you which smoker grill is better. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.

So it may be best if you’ll read through the article and figure out which one is the best one for you.

Personally, I think they’re all good smoker grills provided you use them properly. Some meat types are good for a certain smoker grill while other meat types work well with other grills.

Essentially it all boils down to how much you’re willing to invest in these things. It also depends on what kinds of meat you like to cook. Also, take into consideration how frequently you need to smoke meat.

And of course, the last thing to consider is whether you use the grill at home or for your business.