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Watch footage of any big-name barbecue competition, and you’re likely to see a handful of pit masters who eschew traditional grill styles in favor of more bizarre, inventive cookware. In the world of competitive barbecue, anything that can give even the slightest edge might be the difference between taking home first place, and walking away with nothing but grilled meats.
The drum smoker is perhaps the most popular grilling and smoking option available amongst these off-the-wall cooking contraptions. Originally fashioned from cast off 55 gallon drums used to store and haul industrial-sized amounts of cooking grease, these low-tech devices quickly gained a reputation for exceptionally tasty smoked meats.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll be telling you everything you need to know about choosing the best possible drum smoker for your needs — as well as including reviews for the very closely related vertical smoker, a more high-tech tool inspired by the original drum smoker tradition.
Read on to find out more about whether the drum smoker is right for your barbecuing needs. We’ve thoroughly tested and reviewed dozens of grills, and are proud to present you this list of the 9 best drum smokers for every budget and skill level.
Our Top Choice...
For the complete product list, please continue reading...
Top 9 Best Drum Smoker (2021 Reviews)
1. Best Overall - Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Drum Charcoal Smoker
- 284 square inch cooking area, plus meat hangers for additional space
- Weighs 136.6 pounds
- Measures 43.3” H x 30.3” W x 25.4” D
- All steel construction
- Sealed lid and airflow control system
- 8-pound charcoal basket
- Removable ash pan
- Porcelain-coated interior
Drum smokers have long been the secret of professional pitmasters, but they’ve only recently come into the view of home barbecue enthusiasts. This is due in large part to the average drum smoker’s lack of portability — an issue that our top pick remedies in style.
Built on an incredibly sturdy wheeled base, the Oklahoma Joe’s “Bronco” charcoal drum smoker is the most well-equipped, easy to use, and portable drum smoker on the market today. Gone are the days of needing two of your friends just to move and set up the smoker; with the Bronco, everything you’ll need to smoke competition-quality meat is within your grasp.
We love the Bronco’s combination of a large grilling grate and additional meat hangers, giving it plenty of capacity for smoking large quantities of meat without making this smoker oversized and unwieldy. Its 100% steel construction is rugged and built to last, but also equipped with a porcelain coating that makes it easy to clean.
In short, it’s the best drum smoker available for at-home use, but is also capable of producing smoked meats worthy of entry in competitions.
Wheeled design makes it easy to transport and set up anywhere
Oversized charcoal basket allows for up to 10 hours of smoking on a single fill
Easy to clean due to removable ash pan and porcelain-coated interior
Heavy-duty steel construction for maximum durability
Precise temperature control with multiple airflow management adjustments
Front-mounted temperature gauge with glow-in-the-dark accents makes it easy to monitor your smoking any time of the day or night
Built-in thermometer is not 100% reliable
2. Best Value - The Original Orion Cooker 19-Inch Charcoal Smoker
- 100% stainless steel construction
- Equipped with 3 cooking grates and 3 rib hangers
- Also comes with a poultry stand, lifting handle, and deep drip pan
- Completely indirect heating makes a convection current
- Measures 19.75” W x 19.75” D x 34” H
- Weighs 27 pounds
A hybrid smoker that incorporates elements of drum-style and vertical smokers, the Orion Cooker is a small but well-made smoker that’s perfect for beginners. Built entirely of stainless steel and featuring a unique indirect heat cooking style, it’s a durable smoker that’s very forgiving of errors during the cooking process.
Three cooking grates and three hangers give the Orion plenty of space for smoking large batches of meat. Where other vertical smokers can have difficulty with heating multiple racks evenly, the Orion’s indirect heating — accomplished by loading the charcoal around the base, rather than inside it — creates a convection current that evenly cooks anything in its drum.
In short, this is an excellent portable smoker that’s small enough for amateur barbecue enthusiasts to cut their teeth on, and is available at an unbeatable price.
Lightweight, portable, and easy to set up anywhere
Three cooking grates gives it a huge surface area for smoking
Stainless steel construction is durable and easy to clean
Indirect heating maintains a consistent temperature and even cooking
Indirect heating lacks some of the rich smoky flavor of other drum-style smokers
3. Premium Choice - Gateway Drum Smokers 55 Gallon Charcoal BBQ Smoker
- 462 square inch cooking space
- Additional grates available for purchase to expand cooking surface area
- Dual adjustable air intakes
- Adjustable exhaust
- Fire basket holds 8-10 pounds of charcoal
- Integrated thermometer
- Built from solid steel
- Comes fully assembled with welded components
- Measures 27.5” W x 27.5” D x 43” H
- Weighs 100 pounds
As the largest drum smoker in our review, the Gateway Drum Smokers 55 gallon BBQ smoker is also the closest in design to the original DIY smokers made popular by barbecue competitions. Defined by a massive smoking capacity and excellent temperature control, it’s a pricey but not overpriced drum smoker that works just as well in professional settings as it does at home.
The Gateway Drum Smoker’s oversized charcoal basket just might be our favorite feature of all. Holding up to 10 pounds of charcoal, it’s capable of powering a 14-hour smoke in just one filling — longer than any other smoker we tested. For smoking whole pork butts, beef brisket, and oversized chops, there’s no other smoker we’d rather choose.
As you might expect, this 55-gallon drum smoker is exceptionally rugged and durable as well. We were particularly impressed that it came fully assembled — including welded joints and handles, a feature no other smoker we tested could match.
Largest possible smoking capacity of any drum smoker we tested -- up to 1,386 square inches of space
Multiple temperature adjustment options make it easy to fine-tune your cooking
Charcoal basket holds enough to last up to 14 hours of smoking
Built-in, center-mounted thermometer makes it easy to monitor your smoking
Difficult to transport
4. Easiest Setup - Pit Barrel Cooker Co. Classic Cooker Package
- 30-gallon porcelain coated steel drum body
- 6-8 pound capacity charcoal basket
- Includes 8 stainless steel hooks and 2 steel hanging rods
- Measures 25” W x 25” D x 36” H
- Weighs 51 pounds
Think of the Pit Barrel Cooker Co’s “Classic” cooker as a smaller, more easily portable version of the 55-gallon drum smoker featured above, and you’ll be on the right track. Weighing less than half as much as traditional barrel smokers, it’s an excellent in-between option for home barbecue enthusiasts who don’t want to deal with the added size and weight of the largest drum smokers.
This 30-gallon smoker still has plenty of room for meat on its 8 stainless steel hooks, but its smaller charcoal basket means that you’ll have to refill for smokes lasting longer than about 6 hours. That said, we’re big fans of the simplicity and easy temperature adjustments offered by the Pit Barrel Classic Cooker, and recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a premium quality at-home smoker.
Lightweight and easy to transport using the welded handles
Medium-sized option that’s perfect for at-home grillers and smokers
Comes with everything you need to get started -- just add meat
Simple and easy to operate design produces consistently amazing results
On the expensive side, relative to its size
Few options for adjusting temperature, making it less suitable for competition smoking
5. Largest Cooking Capacity - Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 22-Inch Charcoal Smoker
- 726 square inch cooking area
- Adjustable vents
- Comes with a fitted cover
- Aluminum fuel door
- Porcelain-enameled water pan in base
- Porcelain-enameled steel construction inside and out
- Measures 23” W x 24” D x 48.5” H
- Weighs 68 pounds
Weber is a well-known name in charcoal and propane grills, so it should come as no surprise that their vertical/drum combo smoker is a strong contender for best drum smoker. Featuring a gigantic 726 square inch surface area for smoking, it’s a real workhorse of a smoker that uses wet heat smoking to achieve consistently juicy and delicious results.
A steel core lies at the heart of the Smokey Mountain Cooker’s durability, while porcelain enameling gives it both sharper looks and a much easier cleanup. The aluminum fuel door lets you add charcoal to the (somewhat undersized) hamper without disrupting your smoking, and easily adjustable vents make fine-tuning your temperature a breeze.
Overall, this smoker from Weber is the premier choice for experienced barbecuers who prefer working with wet heat smoking, as well as anyone who’s looking for an extra-large capacity home smoker.
Biggest out-of-the-box cooking capacity of any smoker we tested
Wet-heat smoking design keeps meats moist and juicy
Fully porcelain-coated steel construction is durable and weather-resistant
Included cover keeps your grill safe from the elements year-round
Fairly small charcoal basket requires frequent refills
6. Best Small Smoker - Americana by Meco Charcoal Vertical Water Smoker
- 351 square inches of cooking space
- Comes with two nickel-plated cooking grids
- Integrated temperature gauge
- 100% stainless steel body
- Wooden handles
- Side panels for adding water and fuel
If you’re looking for a smoker that’s great for beginners and won’t break the bank, we recommend strongly considering the Americana by Meco vertical smoker. Borrowing design elements from traditional drum smokers, it’s a hybrid-style smoker that’s perfectly sized for weekend smoking projects and gives reliably moist and juicy results thanks to its wet heat smoking.
Offered at a price that makes entry into the world of home smoking possible for just about anyone, the Americana by Meco sports less than half the cooking space of many other drum smokers we tested — but costs only a fraction of the price of any other smoker in our review. For the most part it’s built to last, but you might end up needing to replace the wooden handles if you leave it uncovered in the rain too often.
Great option for first-time smokers and barbecue amateurs
Wet heat cooking keeps your meat moist and flavorful
Durable stainless steel construction
No vents for temperature adjustments
Wooden handles are not weather-proofed
7. Great for Grilling and Smoking - EasyGoProducts Big Bad Barrel Pit Charcoal Smoker
- 5-in-1 design: Table, fire pit, BBQ grill, smoker, and pizza oven
- Comes with 6 stainless steel hooks
- Includes spatula, tongs, and meat fork
- Weighs 45 pounds
- Measures 20.25” x 18.25” x 20.25”
Most drum smokers have one specific purpose: Smoking, of course. That’s why we were surprised to find the “Big Bad Barrel” pit smoker from EasyGoProducts — a veritable outdoor kitchen, featuring five barbecuing functions in one product as well as included tools for working with your smoked meats.
It’s an inexpensive option that’s admittedly quite difficult to set up; the directions for assembly left us confused more than once. After you’ve put in the work to get it set up, however, it’s a versatile piece of grilling, smoking, and pizza-baking equipment that may appeal to anyone looking for an all-in-one solution to cooking outdoors.
Offers many options outside of just smoking
Comes with tools to make grilling and smoking fast, safe, and easy
Nesting design lets it fold down small for easy storage
Directions for assembly are very hard to follow
Lots of moving pieces makes it less stable than other smokers
8. Best Portable Smoker - Cuisinart 18-Inch Vertical Charcoal Water Smoker
- 510 square inches of cooking area
- Deep ash catcher
- Large, enamel coated charcoal and water bowls
- Adjustable vents at lid and base
- Fully enamel-coated inside and out
- Vertically hinged steel door with integrated temperature gauge
- Measures 25” W x 25” D x 45” H
- Weighs 25 pounds
The lightest and most portable smoker out of any we tested, Cuisinart’s 18-inch vertical smoker is right on the borderline of being a miniaturized version of a drum smoker. With the same handles, vents, and charcoal baskets that identify our favorite drum smokers, it’s a pint-sized powerhouse that’s perfect for anyone short on space.
Offering a surprisingly large smoking capacity, the Cuisinart charcoal smoker makes it easy to fine-tune your smoking temperature thanks to adjustable vents at both the top and bottom of its compact body. We recommend it if size is an issue due to HOA or apartment complex rules, but generally choose other smokers if their larger size won’t be of any concern.
Simple and user-friendly design is perfect for beginners
Enamel-coated steel construction is durable and rust-resistant
Plenty of cooking space for smoking large cuts of meat
Latching base makes it easy to move
Disassembles for easy and thorough cleanup
Wet heat smoking keeps your meats tender and juicy
On the expensive side for its size
Lots of assembly required
9. Most Versatile - Napoleon Apollo 300 3-In-1 19-Inch Charcoal Smoker And Grill
- Three grills in one: Dry smoker, wet smoker, or a portable charcoal grill
- Equipped with one lid vent and three bottom vents
- Comes with hooks in top lid
- Eyelets at each level for inserting thermometers
- Made from porcelain-enameled steel
- Measures 19.5” W x 19.5” D x 47.25” H
- Weighs 50 pounds
Offering the functionality of a dry smoker, wet smoker, and charcoal grill all in one conveniently portable package, the Napoleon Apollo 300 is a fantastic option for anyone looking to outfit their backyard with every barbecuing essential. While it’s certainly on the expensive side, there are significant savings to be had by buying this smoker/grill combo if you don’t already own a grill.
The easy setup nesting design turns a good idea into a great one, by allowing quick adjustments for whatever barbecuing project strikes your fancy. And with four vents to control the temperature, you’ll be fully equipped to tackle anything from smoking a brisket to grilling an ear of corn.
Transforms in an instant to accommodate any grilling project you want to tackle
Easy to set up and break down
Four adjustable vents help you dial in a perfect temperature for whatever you’re cooking
Steel core enameled with porcelain gives it long-lasting great looks and durability
Base could be a lot more stable
Offering an unbeatable combination of smoking space, versatility, and portability — all at an amazing price — the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Drum Charcoal Smoker is our definitive top pick as the best drum smoker around. There’s simply nothing that we could want out of a drum smoker that you can’t find in the Bronco, as long as you’re an at-home barbecuer who doesn’t need to produce huge amounts of smoked meats.
For a high-tech alternative to traditional drum smokers, consider the The Original Orion Cooker 19-Inch Charcoal Smoker. It’s more technically classed as a vertical smoker, but retains many of the design features and old-school style of drum smokers. Plus, it’s the least expensive option of any that we tested. We’ve made a separate review for vertical smokers.
Which style of drum smoker do you think will look best in your backyard? With all the information you’ve soaked up here, we’re sure you’ll be able to find the best smoker for all your barbecuing needs.
How to Choose the Best Drum Smoker?
There are other types of smokers like:
pellet smokers – great outdoor cookers
offset smokers – use firebox attachments too cook food
We’ve made separate reviews on each one, but on this guide, we will focus on the drum smokers.
Why Choose A Drum Smoker?
A distinctly American invention, the drum smoker offers a potentially huge amount of space for smoking — without having to set up an entire smoking cabinet. It’s a user-friendly design that maximizes your smoking possibilities without breaking the bank.
As compared to other residential smokers, it requires less setup and cleanup than the average electric unit. Plus, like a top quality charcoal smoker you get the rich and deep flavor of charcoal that so many other smokers miss out on.
What to Look for In A Drum Smoker
Three things make drum smokers stand out as a great option when compared to other smoker styles. Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail:
- A big smoking capacity may be the most important reason to buy a drum smoker in the first place. Within your budget, the larger the smoker the better!
- Plenty of room for charcoal is a necessity, because you’ll often be smoking anywhere from 10 to 18 hours — or even more for especially big cuts of meat. Charcoal baskets that can hold 8 pounds or more are a great place to start.
- Adjustable heating can be accomplished by moving air vents or multi-level racks for your meats. Our favorite drum smokers also include an integrated thermometer, so you can track the temperature of your smoker without opening the lid and releasing heat.
Types of Drum Smokers
The uncomplicated, traditional design of a drum smoker has been used as the design basis for two other styles of smokers.
- Vertical smokers maintain the same upright orientation as a drum smoker. They often sacrifice space for the convenience of a water bath for faster cooking times. Small and inexpensive, they’re a great at-home alternative to 55-gallon drum smokers.
- Barrel smokers resemble drum smokers in appearance only. Like a drum turned on its side, the entire method of smoking is different. They should not be considered interchangeable with drum smokers.