Use a Smoker to Make Ribs & Brisket a Year-Round Affair

Top pitmasters sound off on the 3 smoker types that are best for your at-home needs

Summertime calls for grilling and chilling outdoors, but if you want to imbue your meat or veggies with a smoky flavor even in colder months, make big pieces of meat tender and get to stay inside watching the game while the magic happens, then you have to hit the smoker. The question is: What kind of smoker? There are several categories of smokers out there, so we checked in with three different chefs to get their opinion on which of three common smokers they think reigns supreme.

Vertical Smokers

A vertical smoker is divided into three components. The bottom part of the smoker has a heat source which can be either charcoal, gas or electric. Above that sits a water pan, which creates steam and to make sure whatever you're smoking stays moist. The third component, on top, is the rack in which the food you're smoking sits. Vertical is the smoker of choice for Carey Bringle, co-owner of the Peg Leg Porker in Nashville. "They are highly efficient, take up a very small footprint for the amount of product that they can hold and they tend to get a great burn time per load of fuel. When built right, you can't beat a vertical smoker for convenience and quality."

Offset Smokers

Offset smokers are the traditional smokers of choice and appeal most to true barbecue geeks. These smokers use indirect heat with a heat chamber on the side of the smoker. Smoke created in the heat chamber flows through the adjacent cooking chamber (where the meat sits) and then leaves through a smokestack on the other side. "If you have time, the offset smoker is the way to go," Bryan Furman, owner of B's Cracklin' BBQ in Georgia says. Time is the operative word: smoking in an offset smoker can take over 12 hours to achieve ideal tenderness and flavor. Bringle says, "Offset or stick burners are the most labor intensive. They are inefficient and need to be fed fuel about once an hour." But, if you're game for waking up early and making a day of smoking, an offset smoker will give you the most street cred.

Kamado Smoker

Kamado smokers originated in China before being exported to Japan in the third century and made their way over to the United States after soldiers returned home from World War II. Big Green Egg began producing its version of the smokers in 1974 and has its own cult following of self-proclaimed "Eggheads". The smokers are made of ceramic, well-insulated and highly efficient. Instead of indirect heat, kamado smokers rely on direct heat. Todd Mussman, an advocate of the Big Green Egg and co-owner of Muss & Turner's in Atlanta, points out that unlike offset smokers which require wood and constant reloading, a kamado is simpler to use. "An additional selling point of the ceramic smoker is that it creates a moist environment in the cooking chamber. If you hold your hand over a Big Green Egg as it's cooking, the steam almost feels moist; try that over a Webber grill or a smoker and you get drier, hot smoke," he says. "You can do an entire cookout without having to reload and you will use the least amount of fuel. It's not necessarily apples to apples, but these are pros that I consider for my personal use."

Whichever smoker you choose, heed Bringle's words: "The best advice I can give you is to have fun. If you aren't doing that, then you're doing it wrong."