Thinking of taking the plunge from a basic grill to a smoker? Below are some charcoal/wood-burning rig recommendations under $1,000. Periodically throughout the summer, I’ll suggest other ideas here on the All We Can Eat blog. Look for my posts each Tuesday.
Meanwhile, I’m curious: What rig do you use now? What rig do you want to use or, framed another way, what is your ultimate rig? Here are my suggestions:
Weber One-Touch Gold kettle . The workhorse of the backyard. It is more of a griller than a smoker, but adapting it to smoking is easy. Just start an indirect fire (coals/wood embers on one side, meat on the other), put the lid on, open the vents and — voila! — the classic burger grill is now an adequate smoker for pork shoulder. Other attributes: It doesn’t take up much space. It’s lightweight. It’s durable. The One-Touch Gold comes with a lid hanger, hinged grate and an attached ash can for easy clean-up, all of which Smoke Signals recommends. It runs about $150 and can be found at hardware stores. For more information, visit www.weber.com.
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker . This is the gateway rig to smoking addiction. I cannot count how many competitive barbecue guys started with this baby and, despite whatever expensive fancy-pants contraption they now own, still have it around for everyday use. It seals tightly to keep the coals/wood smoldering for long periods. It has two cooking grates, so you can cook a brisket and ribs or a turkey and ham at the same time. It’s built to last. And it looks a little like R2D2, which is cool. It runs about $300 for the 18-inch version and about $400 for the 22-inch one. It’s available at hardware stores. For more information, visit www.weber.com .
Brinkmann Smoke’n Pit Horizontal and Char-Griller Smokin’ Pro 1224 off-set smokers. These types of smokers have caught a lot of flak lately. They leak smoke by the cloud-ful, making it difficult to keep an even fire for prolonged periods. Unless meticulously cared for, they rust within a few years. But they are cheap, and a zillion backyarders have turned out fabulous brisket, ribs and pork shoulder on them. Plus, these entry-level units are a time-tested way to learn about tending fire. You can buy much better units, but dealing with a cheap off-set, like dealing with a demanding child, can be more rewarding and certainly more instructional than easier charges. They run about $200. The smokers are available at hardware stores. For more information, visit the Brinkmann and Char-Griller sites.
Horizon Classic Backyard Smoker . A much better off-set smoker than the Brinkmann or Char-Griller, the Horizon is made from ¼-inch heavy-duty steel. It weighs 350 pounds, has a 16-by-16-inch firebox and a 16-by-32-inch cooking chamber, wide enough to accommodate briskets and racks of ribs. It runs about $790, plus shipping. For more information, visit www.horizonbbqsmokersstore.com .
Lang 36 . Manufactured in Georgia from ¼-inch steel, this baby weighs in at 795 pounds. Its rock-solid construction and tight fittings help make it popular among the competitive barbecue crowd. Its devotees, including several teams on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” especially like the unconventional “reverse-flow” system. The chimney on most smokers is on the opposite end from the firebox. On the Lang, the chimney is on the same side as the firebox. Its placement means the smoke circulates through the chamber and flows back to the chimney, creating a more even heat. The smoker costs about $850, plus shipping. For more information, visit www.pigroast.com.
Follow Jim Shahin on Twitter and e-mail him with tips, suggestions, opinions at email@example.com.