Horizontal smokers and their uses

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 31, 2022

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A horizontal smoker is the most common type of smoker, with a cooking chamber that’s oriented horizontally.

In this guide, I’ll explain the differences between vertical and horizontal smokers, and why orientation matters. Additionally, I’ll provide tips on how to use a horizontal smoker effectively. Let’s dive in!

What is a horizontal smoker

Getting to Know Horizontal Smokers: The Art of Slow and Steady Cooking

A horizontal smoker is a type of smoker that is designed to cook food, especially meat, using wood or charcoal as fuel. Unlike vertical smokers, which have a vertical design, horizontal smokers have a main cooking chamber that is attached to a firebox on one side. The firebox is where the wood or charcoal is burned, and the smoke and heat flow into the cooking chamber to cook the food.

What to Consider When Choosing a Horizontal Smoker

When choosing a horizontal smoker, there are a few key factors to keep in mind:

  • Budget: Horizontal smokers can range from affordable to high-end models, so it’s important to know your budget before making a purchase.
  • Size: Consider how much food you want to cook at once and how much storage space you have for the smoker.
  • Fuel type: Decide whether you want to use wood, charcoal, or a combination of both as fuel.
  • Materials: Look for a smoker that is made of solid and durable materials like steel or cast iron.
  • Control: Choose a smoker that has good temperature control features, such as vents or dampers, to allow for easy adjustments.
  • Power source: Decide whether you want a smoker that is powered by electricity or natural fuel sources like wood or charcoal.

Knowing these factors will enable you to choose the best horizontal smoker that fits your needs and preferences. Whether you’re an expert or a beginner (these smokers are great if you are!), a horizontal smoker is worth the investment for creating delicious and smoky meat that is worth the wait.

Why a Horizontal Smoker is the Way to Go

When it comes to cooking with a smoker, achieving the desired level of heat and smoke flow is paramount. With a horizontal smoker, you have the ability to control the temperature and smoke flow much more easily than with other types of smokers. The design of a horizontal smoker allows for the smoke to travel evenly throughout the entire cooking chamber, producing a decent and consistent smoke flavor. This is unlike vertical smokers, which require more attention and can be difficult to control.

Authentic and Natural Flavor

One of the biggest benefits of using a horizontal smoker is the natural and authentic flavor it offers. The wood chunks or chips used for smoking are placed in a sheet or attached to a metal box, allowing for the smoke to be produced in a more traditional way. This is in contrast to electric smokers (here’s how to use them), which lack the natural flavor and tend to produce a lower quality of smoke.

Extended Cooking Time and Storage

Horizontal smokers are generally larger than other types of smokers, which means they can accommodate larger cuts of meat. This is essential for barbecue enthusiasts who want to cook a lot of food at once. Additionally, the extended cooking time and storage enable you to continue producing great food for an extended period of time.

Affordable and Easy to Use

Despite the fact that horizontal smokers are pretty big and have some pretty intricate designs, they are generally affordable and easy to use. They don’t require expert knowledge or dedication to produce good food. The ability to add chopped or small pieces of wood to the firebox is a great benefit, as it allows for extended cooking times without adding too much energy to the fire.

Expert-Level Barbecue

If you’re an experienced barbecue enthusiast, a horizontal smoker is the way to go. It allows for the creation of expert-level barbecue, with the ability to achieve the desired level of smoke and heat. The natural flavor of the smoke and the ability to control the temperature and smoke flow make it a crucial tool in any barbecue expert’s arsenal.

Vertical vs Horizontal Smokers: Which One Should You Choose?

The main difference between vertical and horizontal smokers is their orientation. Vertical smokers are tall and narrow, while horizontal smokers are wide and low. Depending on your needs, you may want to choose one over the other. Here are some things to consider:

  • If you have a large area to cook in and want to smoke a lot of meat at once, a horizontal smoker may be the better choice. It allows you to create a larger cooking area, which is perfect for big barbecue parties.
  • If you have limited space and want a smaller smoker that is easier to maintain, a vertical smoker may be the way to go. It takes up less room and is more convenient for beginners who are just starting out.

Cooking Features

Both types of smokers use wood to create smoke and cook food, but they differ in how they handle the flow of smoke and heat. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Horizontal smokers use a traditional design that allows for direct heat and smoke flow. This means that the meat is in direct contact with the heat source, which can create a richer flavor and more consistent cooking.
  • Vertical smokers use a different design that allows for indirect heat and smoke flow. This means that the meat is not in direct contact with the heat source, which can create a more low and slow cooking process that allows for longer cooking times and more energy control.

Essentials and Parts

When it comes to the essentials and parts of a smoker, both types are similar in many ways. Here are some things to check for when making your initial purchase:

  • Gauge: Check the gauge of the smoker to ensure that it is of good quality and able to handle the heat and energy needed for consistent cooking.
  • Stand: Make sure that the smoker has a sturdy stand that can handle the weight of the smoker and the food.
  • Power: Depending on your needs, you may want to choose a smoker that uses electricity for more control and convenience.
  • Parts: Look for a smoker that has numerous parts that are easy to replace and maintain.

Price and Brand

Ultimately, the choice between a vertical and horizontal smoker depends on your needs and preferences. Here are some things to keep in mind when making your decision:

  • Price: Vertical smokers are generally cheaper than horizontal smokers, making them a good choice for beginners who don’t want to invest a lot of money upfront.
  • Brand: There are many different brands and models of smokers to choose from, so be sure to do your research and find one that fits your needs and budget.

Undoubtedly, both types of smokers have their pros and cons. It all comes down to what you need and what you feel comfortable with. Whether you choose a vertical or horizontal smoker, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process of making delicious barbecue!

Choosing Between a Vertical and Horizontal Smoker: A Guide for Beginners

When deciding between a vertical and horizontal smoker, it’s important to consider your cooking style and needs. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you often cook for a large number of people or want to smoke big cuts of meat, a horizontal smoker may be the better option. They typically have a larger cooking area and can accommodate bigger pieces of meat.
  • If you’re a beginner or simply want an easier smoker to maintain, a vertical smoker may be a good choice. They often come with features that make them easy to work with, such as a water pan to help regulate temperature and a convenient stand.
  • Depending on the model, both vertical and horizontal smokers can be excellent choices for creating rich, uniform smoke flavor in your food. The main difference is in the way the smoke flows through the smoker.

Understand the Differences Between Vertical and Horizontal Smokers

To help you decide which type of smoker is best for you, it’s important to understand the differences between vertical and horizontal smokers. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Vertical smokers are often referred to as “bullet” smokers because of their unique shape. Smoke flows through the smoker vertically, which can create a more even smoke flavor throughout the food.
  • Horizontal smokers, on the other hand, have a more traditional shape and smoke flows through the smoker horizontally. This can make it easier to add extra wood or maintain a low temperature for longer periods of time.
  • The size and gauge of the smoker can also make a big difference in the quality of your smoked food. Generally, larger and thicker smokers will be better at maintaining a consistent temperature and producing high-quality smoke.

Decide Which Features Are Essential

When choosing between a vertical and horizontal smoker, it’s important to decide which features are essential for your needs. Here are some things to consider:

  • If you want a smoker that’s easy to use and maintain, look for models with features like a water pan, convenient stand, and easy-to-clean parts.
  • If you’re on a budget, a vertical smoker may be a good choice as they tend to be cheaper than horizontal smokers.
  • If you love to experiment with different wood varieties, a horizontal smoker may be a better choice as they often come with extra features for adding wood and maintaining temperature.

Ask for Recommendations and Do Your Research

Finally, when choosing between a vertical and horizontal smoker, it’s always a good idea to ask for recommendations and do your research. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t worry too much about brand names- there are a lot of great smokers out there from a variety of brands.
  • Read reviews and ask for recommendations from people who have experience with both types of smokers.
  • Consider entry-level models if you’re just starting out- they can save you money and still provide excellent results.
  • Make sure to gauge the size of the smoker against your needs- a smoker that’s too small or too large can be a big problem.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your research before making a final decision. With a little bit of effort, you’ll undoubtedly find the perfect smoker for your needs.


So, that’s how a horizontal smoker works and why it’s better than a vertical one. 

You can cook more food at once and the natural flavor is better because of the smoke flowing evenly throughout the cooking chamber. 

I hope this guide has helped you decide which type is right for you.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.