When it comes to classic cooking techniques that never fail to impress, smoking always makes the top of that list. There’s something so unbelievably delicious about eating something that has been slowly and lovingly smoked for hours.
Smoking also lends itself to rustic meals or fancier styles of dining, so there’s really so much versatility when it comes to how you use a smoker in your kitchen (or backyard).
Some of my favorite items to smoke range from salmon and trout to ribs and chicken and even vegetables.
There is no end to foods you can prepare using a smoker, but if you’re in the market to purchase a new one you might be wondering whether to go with a vertical or a horizontal smoker.
So, what’s the difference between vertical and horizontal smokers? The most obvious difference is that vertical smokers are upright in orientation while horizontal smokers are on a flat plane. The heat source in a vertical smoker is at the bottom, while it comes from the side on a horizontal smoker.
Read on to discover how these smokers are similar, how they differ, the pros and cons of each, and how to decide which one you should choose for all your smoking needs!
What’s The Difference Between Vertical And Horizontal Smokers?
The most obvious difference between the two smokers is their orientation.
When you look at a vertical smoker it stands upright and there are several levels ascending vertically that you can smoke on. Horizontal smokers are longer and more similar to the shape of a regular barbecue.
They might have one or two levels, but often not more than that unless you have a professional-grade horizontal smoker, which most of us won’t be purchasing for home smoking.
Another main difference between the two is that with a horizontal smoker you are typically able to maintain a more even heat throughout.
For vertical smokers, you sometimes have to open the chamber (depending on the model) to add more fuel, which can disturb the temperature.
The heat source in vertical smokers typically comes from the bottom of the stack, while the heat source in a horizontal offset smoker comes from one side.
Both of these options can create hotter parts of the smoker, but with some effort even temperatures can be reached.
How Are Vertical And Horizontal Smokers Similar?
The similarities between vertical and horizontal smokes are that both will use fuel sources to indirectly cook your food using smoke and radiant heat. However, there is not much else that is similar between these smoker styles.
Pros And Cons Of Vertical Smokers
Vertical smokers are often recommended for people just beginning to learn to smoke since they can be a little easier to use and come in lots of varieties.
There are charcoal and wood varieties as well, but they might be more difficult for a beginner to control.
Let’s take a look at some pros of vertical smokers:
- They stand upright, so they don’t take up a ton of space. This style is perfect for folks who perhaps only have a small balcony to work with or have limited space in their backyard.
- They often have a much cheaper price tag than horizontal smokers, which makes them a good entry point for a beginner smoker.
- From what I’ve found, this style of smoker also uses quite a bit less fuel than most horizontal smoker models, which can save you money in the long run.
- You can also use them for high heat grilling and searing if that’s something you want to do to add flavor and texture to your smoked goods.
- If you buy a smoker made from high-quality materials, it can retain heat really well.
- More easily portable than a horizontal smoker.
As you can see, there is a lot to love about a vertical smoker. There are a few downsides though, which I will outline below.
- The compact size also means there isn’t a ton of room for large pieces of meat or large quantities of meat. With a horizontal smoker, you can smoke large pieces of brisket or other primal cuts, which is likely not possible in a vertical smoker.
- You have to rely on a temperature gauge and digital thermometer, which can be fallible. Otherwise, you will be opening and closing the lid/door to the smoker too often, which releases a lot of the even heat you need for excellent smoking results.
- If you don’t buy a high-quality vertical smoker, the thin material can lose a lot of heat, which makes it not the best to use in cool or rainy temperatures. With vertical smokers, quality is key for optimal smoking.
Pros And Cons Of Horizontal Smokers
There’s something about a horizontal smoker that just seems so authentic when it comes to backyard smoking.
Most of them look like big metal drums laying on their sides with a chamber for the fuel. This style of smoker is typically referred to as an offset smoker.
This style of smoker consists of two main parts.
- The Firebox: This part of the smoker is where you create your heat by adding wood, charcoal, or gas. Without this section, you won’t really have a smoker. It is separate from the second part.
- The Cooking Chamber: As the name suggests, this is the area where you place your meat, veggies, and/or fish for smoking. They are not kept in the same compartment as the fuel. This section of the smoker will also contain:
- A smokestack for the smoke and heat to escape.
- A sliding or lifting door for you to access the food that you’re smoking
The firebox is connected to the cooking chamber, which allows the smoke and heat to flow through and cook/smoke your food without applying direct heat. This is what develops the rich flavor and amazing texture of smoked food.
Now that you know what a horizontal offset smoker looks like, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this style.
- Look for a reverse flow thermal circulation configuration to maintain even heating. This configuration helps the heat flow back into the firebox and then back to the cooking chamber, so less heat escapes and more even heat is achieved for perfect meat smoking.
- The cooking chamber is much larger than a vertical smoker and has a huge volume. This allows you to smoke much larger cuts of meat and much more of them than you would be able to in a vertical smoker.
- These smokers can typically cook the meat much more slowly, so you get a juicier final product that is rich with deep smokey flavor.
- Generally, horizontal smokers are going to use charcoal or wood, which gives you that distinct flavor you want in a good traditionally smoked meat.
- Depending on the model, it can be difficult to maintain even heat throughout the entire cooking chamber. Look for a reverse-flow thermal circulation configuration to help manage this issue.
- It can use quite a bit more fuel than vertical smokers.
- They require more patience and skill to use than a vertical smoker since it can be more difficult to maintain the even heat. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it smoker by any means.
- Not the best to use in colder climates.
- Not very portable.
How To Choose Whether To Buy A Vertical And Horizontal Smoker
In order to choose the smoker that is going to best suit your needs, you will have to decide what is priority to you. If you want a larger volume and more hands-on smoking experience, then the horizontal smoker is going to be your best choice.
The offset horizontal smoker is better for folks who have a bit more experience with smoking and more space in their yards to smoke.
If you are a beginner smoker, have limited space, and want to use less fuel when smoking, then a vertical smoker is likely your best bet.
They are typically a little easier to use, but they don’t have the same capacity as the horizontal smokers so are best if you aren’t hoping to smoke large cuts of meat.
Regardless of your skill level, make sure you purchase a smoker that is made with high-quality material. This quality insulation will help maintain even heat throughout the smoking chamber to ensure the best possible results.
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