When you image a smoker I bet you see a traditional horizontal drum design in your head. The horizontal smoker design is definitely the most common.
However, there are some great vertical smokers on the market, and their unusual shape does have its advantages (more on this soon!)
So, if you’d like to know why you should consider a vertical smoker, and find out more about the best vertical smokers we have cooked with across a variety of fuel types, read on!
Our favorite vertical smokers
To give you the most thorough overview of the best vertical smokers on the market, we’ve reviewed our top choice for the three most common fuel types, and two other close runners up.
1. Best vertical pellet smoker – Pit Boss 5 Series Vertical Pellet Smoker
The Pit Boss 5 Series is a vertical pellet smoker that delivers on both quality and taste. With a smoking temperature range of 150°F and 450°F, the Pit Boss is ideal for smoking low and slow. However, at the top of its temperature range, it can be used to cook pizzas, casseroles, or anything else you would normally cook in a wood oven.
The temperature is controlled by the large simple LED display on the top of the unit which shows both the internal temperature and the readouts from the two meat probes that come as standard.
The large 40lb pellet hopper allows you to smoke for up to 24-hours without needing to add more pellets and comes with a quick removal slot for easier emptying.
The interior racks of the Pit Boss can be adjusted to accommodate a range of food, from racks of ribs to a full Thanksgiving Turkey.
What we like:
What we don’t like:
Overall, the Pit Boss 5 Series delivers on great taste and being fantastically easy to use. The fully adjustable interior, large pellet hopper, and simple one-touch controls mean you’ll be smoking away in no time.
Read our full Pit Boss 5 Series Vertical Pellet Smoker review.
2. Best vertical charcoal smoker – Weber Smokey Mountain
Read our full Weber Smokey Mountain review.
The Weber Smokey Mountain, also known as the Bullet for its iconic shape, is a vertical smoker that has developed a great reputation amongst pitmasters.
The benefit of the Smokey Mountain is that it’s simple to use, incredibly well built, and comes in three sizes, to suit your space requirements.
Charcoal water smokers, like the Bullet, are split into three sections. The fuel pan in the bottom provides the heat and smoke using charcoal and wood chunks.
The central smoke chamber contains food being smoked and the water pan that keeps a stable smoking temperature and adds humidity.
The top of the bullet houses the temperature gauge and an exhaust damper that, along with the intake damper in the base, controls the airflow.
This simple three-part system makes the Bullet very user-friendly and ideal for newer pitmasters.
What we like:
What we don’t like:
- Takes some effort to control – The WSM performs much better than some cheap charcoal smokers, but it still requires some effort to keep your temperature dialled in throughout a long cook.
The Smokey Mountain lives up to its reputation for great quality and ease of use. A great choice for a new pitmaster, it remains an excellent smoker no matter how experienced you are.
3. Best vertical smoker for long cooks – Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Pro
Read our full Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Pro review.
The Bronco Pro is a larger version of the popular drum smoker from Oklahoma Joe’s. The Pro is marketed towards competition pitmasters, but it makes for an excellent backyard grill and smoker.
The Bronco sets itself apart from a lot of other vertical style smokers with an attached side table which is included in the base price. This is nice to have so you can place your meat down before you maneuver it onto your smoker.
You get an extra-large charcoal basket which allows for up to 15 hours of continuous cooking.
While charcoal smokers tend to require a steeper learner curve than pellet, gas or electric, the Bronco makes it easy with the adjustable dampers for temperature control and a built-in thermometer.
The built-in temp gauge is much better quality than you usually see. It lets you know if you are in the Smoke or grill temperature range, and even glows in the dark for those long overnight cooks.
What we like:
- Easy temperature control – Most charcoal smokers leave you guessing, while the Bronco gives you marked levels on all dampers so you can set them consistently between cooks.
- Portable – Wheels are also not standard on many drum smokers but you get them here.
- Side shelf – Comes in super handy when you need to take meat on or off the smoker.
What we don’t like:
- Adding more charcoal – While you shouldn’t need to add charcoal during a cook, if you find you need more you’ll have to take all the grates out first.
4. Best vertical propane smoker – Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker
Read our full Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp review.
The primary benefit of a propane smoker is its reliability and affordability. Using a propane smoker makes it far less fiddly to maintain a consistent temperature and both the smoker and propane are comparatively cheap, and readily available.
The Masterbuilt MPS 340/G has undergone a redesign recently and is now packed with exciting new features that make it better than ever. The standout feature is the new thermostatic temperature control which makes it easier for the Masterbuilt to maintain a far more consistent smoking environment.
The temperature ranges between 180°F to 350°F, which is low enough for low and slow cooking, but hot enough that you can get good crisp skin on a chicken. The MPS 340/G has 792 square inches of cooking space across four racks.
The 5,7500 BTU burner and the wood chip tray are in their own cabinet beneath the smoking chamber, so you can add more chips without letting heat and smoke out.
What we like:
What we don’t like:
- The warranty – The MPS 340/G only comes with a one-year warranty that doesn’t cover paint or rust. Similar models on the market come with a five-year warranty.
Propane smokers are famous for being reliable and easy to use. The build quality of the Masterbuilt MPS 340/G, coupled with its new features, doubles down on that reputation.
5. Camp Chef Smoke Vault
Read our full Camp Chef Smoke Vault review.
The propane-powered Camp Chef Smoke Vault combines the reliability and ease of use of a propane smoker with the looks of an old-timey bank vault. Two adjustable smoking racks sit above an 18,000 BTU burner and a heavy-gauge steel wood chip tray. A removable porcelain base tray makes cleaning up much easier.
The temperature is controlled by three adjustable damper valves and monitored by an easy-to-read door thermometer. Cooking temperatures range from 60°F to 350°F and the Smoke Vault even comes with a book of cooking tips, ideas, and recipes.
You can choose either the 18″ or 24″ model. Personally, I would always go for the wider 24″ because I find that a full rack of ribs or large brisket can struggle to fit in the narrower model.
Overall, the Camp Chef Smoke Vault is simple to use and produces reliably great results without much in the way of oversight.
6. Camp Chef XXL WIFI Vertical Smoker
A chunky pellet smoker with some significant internal capacity, the Camp Chef XXL WiFI Vertical packs in four meat racks, three jerky racks, and a sausage rack with twelve hooks.
The smoker can be controlled via WiFi through the Camp Chef app and features adjustable smoke settings, a 150°F to 350ºF temperature range, Smart Smoke Technology to maximize smoke output, and a PID controller for maintaining consistent temperatures.
When it comes to cleaning out the smoker, the Camp Chef XXL is packed with time and labor-saving features, such as an ash cleanout system, a grease management system, and a pellet hopper cleanout/purge setting.
The Camp Chef XXL is a great choice if you consistently smoke a lot of meat and want to be able to keep an eye on your smoker without needing to sit next to it.
Why the vertical smoker design works
Since most of the smokers on the market are situated horizontally, you might be wondering why you would bother with a vertical one. Well sit back and let us tell you about the benefits of verticality.
The primary benefit of a vertical smoker is that the design allows for greater surface area on the smoking racks. This means you can fit more food into a confined space.
Vertical smokers like the Masterbuilt 30″ Electric boost huge cooking real estate numbers when compared to their small footprint.
Vertical smokers also tend to be more configurable. You can remove racks to fit in one large cut of meat or some big poultry, or add more racks to make large amounts of smaller food items, like strips of jerky.
Vertical smokers also tend to have a smaller footprint. This means pitmasters with limited space, who perhaps don’t have the room for a horizontal smoker, have a space-saving solution that still produces amazing food.
Well-insulated vertical smokers also tend to cook faster because having the heat source at the bottom of the smoker is more energy efficient. This also means they tend to use less fuel.
Cons of the vertical smoker design
There are certain specific disadvantages to using a vertical smoker. Some horizontal smokers can also double as a grill. That’s not usually an option for a vertical smoker (the Bronco Pro is the exception to this rule).
If you do pack out your vertical smoker with food, it is going to need to be turned so it will smoke evenly. While this is also an issue with horizontal smokers, rotating food in a vertical smoker is just more logistically challenging.
While some vertical smokers do have a dual-door design, notably the Masterbuilt MPS 340/G, most don’t. This means you let out heat and smoke every time you open the door to the central chamber to refill the water pan or chip pan.
Quality is also key when it comes to getting a vertical smoker. Cheaper models like the Dyna-Glo DGX780BDC-D 36″ Vertical Charcoal Smoker lack the build quality and insulation needed to ensure a consistent internal temperature. Beware of false economy when it comes to smokers!
What about a vertical offset smoker?
Most offset smokers are horizontal for a reason. Having the firebox mounted on one side of the horizontal smoker and the chimney on the other allows the smoke to be pulled across the cooking chamber for greater smoke exposure.
When situated vertically, this offset design doesn’t work anywhere near as well. In fact, having an external firebox actually mitigates some of the benefits of a vertical smoker, like their smaller footprint and the faster cooking times generated by having the heat source in the base of the smoker.
Wrapping it up
Vertical smokers give you more rack space with a reduced overall footprint, making them ideal for a space-starved pitmaster. They also cook faster and can be reconfigured to fit a range of different foods.
As you can see from our reviews, they also come in a range of fuel options. So, whether you prefer the reliability to propane, the authenticity of charcoal, or the ease of a pellet smoker, there’s a vertical smoker out there to suit you!
Do you have a favorite vertical smoker you think should have made this list? What about some words of wisdom on how to get the best out of your vertical smoker? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
For more information, please see more information about Vertical smoker vs pellet grill