A Guide to Buying a BBQ or Smoker

BBQ How-To

This guide is aimed at someone who is relatively new to BBQ and needs advice. The purpose of this guide is not to be a definitive knowledge base, but to empower you with the correct terms and some basic knowledge so that you can do your research.

Let’s get this out of the way – gas vs charcoal. I have never cooked on a gas BBQ and I have no interest in doing so. I do not know much about them and I do not understand why anyone would buy one. They are not more convenient, they are not faster, and they add nothing in terms of flavour. If you want one, then go get one – I won’t lose sleep over it – but it’s not for me.

Disposable BBQs

Disposable BBQ

You can buy these littles guys in any supermarket or convenience store. They stink – literally of lighter fluid and cheap charcoal. They take ages to get to temperature and then they go out too fast. They are great for making breakfast on the beach though and good fun.

Why would you buy one?

Convenience.

Why would you not buy one?

Environment, taste, waste, cost – in the log run they are more expensive than a small reusable BBQ.

Who are they for?

Day trippers and festival goers.

Small Portable BBQs

Weber Smokey Joe

The Weber Smokey Joe is in my opinion one of the greatest cooking machines on the planet. It is versatile, portable, can cook a full chicken, and basically can be used for almost all types of BBQ food apart from very long low and slow cooks. I have also heard good things about the Weber Go Anywhere.

Why would you buy one?

A real introduction into cooking over fire. You will learn temperature control, how to get charcoal lighting, how to manage food over heat (direct and indirect cooking), the importance of charcoal quality and much more. I really value the Smokey Joe and would not be without one.

Why would you not buy one?

It is small and you don’t get as much control as you do with a bigger BBQ. The Weber ones are expensive, and the cheaper models are often of an inferior quality. As it sits on the ground it is not very ergonomic – although you can obviously put it on a table.

Who are they for?

Everyone, but especially first timers.

Kettle BBQs

Landmann and Weber are the two popular names in this area, but there are loads of other brands. It is unlikely that any serious BBQ cook will not own a kettle. They are a very versatile machine that can cook large joints of meat, chicken wings, burgers, stir fries, pizza, dessert, and even rotisserie chicken. All you need are the right accessories and a little skill and patience. I have only ever used a Weber kettle and I find them great. They are cheapish, well made, and look good. You will find that Weber kettles can be brought for a range of money from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand. For me the sweet spot is somewhere around the 57cm Master Touch which can be found for under €300 in the off season. It has enough features (thermometer, ash pan, hinged grate to refill charcoal, lid holder, and lots of accessories) for most cooks. The more expensive kettles feel to me like they are adding bling to justify charging a lot more.

Why would you buy one?

They are a great grill. They can handle large joints of meat or large party platters. You will learn the craft on a kettle BBQ.

Why would you not buy one?

Maybe if you have a Smokey Joe you might decide it is good enough and you might want to look at other options.

Who are they for?

Everyone.

Kamado Joe/Big Green Egg/Kamado X/Ceramic

Big Green Egg

I do not own a Kamado style BBQ, but I have cooked on one on a few occasions. A kamado is a big heavy egg-shaped BBQ that costs a tidy bit of money. Big Green Egg is the original and most famous brand, but there are plenty of budget conscious alternatives nowadays. The people who do own Kamado style BBQs are often passionate about them.

Why would you buy one?

They can run low and slow in a more efficient and accurate manner than most BBQ ovens, but they can also reach blisteringly hot temperatures for searing steak and crisping wings.

Why would you not buy one?

They are big and fat and cost a wodge. They are delicate and many users report a limited number of years use before the ceramic starts to crack. Although they are great for low and slow as they require less messing around, in some ways does that spoil the fun a little?

Who are they for?

BBQ cooks who regularly cook low and slow, but who want to dial in the temperature and then get on with doing something else for the day.

Weber Smokey Mountain or Ugly Drum Smoker

Weber Smokey Mountain

A WSM and a UDS are not really the same BBQ, but I feel like you would own one or the other – there is not enough difference to justify owning both. A Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is a tall barrel shaped smoker from Weber that is designed for low and slow cooking. It shares some features with a Weber Kettle BBQ, but the main difference is a tall centre chamber that effectively allows your meat to be further away from the heat source, or alternatively allows you to hang meat like ribs from a rack. The taller chamber also allows a water pan to be used which brings steam into the equation and helps regulate the chamber temperature.

A WSM is easier to use than a kettle for smoking large joints of meat. The temperature is easier to control, it can maintain lower temperatures, and you can fit big slabs of beef into it better.

An Ugly Drum Smoke (UDS) is the generic name for many brands of smoker made from old (or new) oil drums. I own a UDS from Big Poppa Smokers and it is by far my favourite machine to cook on. The advantages and disadvantages of a UDS are the same as a WSM and the two give pretty much the same results. A UDS might be a little less expensive and in my opinion, they are way better looking ovens. Don’t be fooled by cheap grills made out of old drums though – a UDS is an actual smoker – not a grill/BBQ that is only good for burgers.

Why would you buy one?

Because you mostly cook low and slow and you love big joints of meat with a great smoky flavour. You could achieve most of the same results on a kettle, but it’s a lot trickier and having the right tool for the right job is satisfying.

Why would you not buy one?

They are not good at grilling and in my experience getting them to high temperatures is difficult. They are big (but not heavy). If you only had room for one BBQ, I would probably choose a Weber Kettle instead of a Weber WSM or a UDS, but for me personally I like to have both.

Who are they for?

In my humble opinion this is the first BBQ we have mentioned that is a proper low and slow smoker. If you want to BBQ in style and impress your friends this is the one to go for. Unless of course you fancy a “stick burner”….

An “Offset Smoker” or “Stick Burner”

Pitmaster

Again, I need to confess that I do not own one. I intend to rectify that before the year is out. Because I don’t own one, and because I have limited experience cooking on one, I am not going to try and portray some expertise here that I don’t have. Instead I will just give you some basic information that you can use to do your own research and consider if an offset smoker is for you.

Offset smokers burn wood. They can burn charcoal, but I think doing so misses the point a little. All of the BBQs we have mentioned until now can also burn wood to some extent (either in lieu of charcoal or using some wood chunks in the charcoal for flavour), but as the name suggests stick burners are usually running full time on wood.

An offset smoker needs constant fire management. You will also have to learn what parts of the oven burn hottest  (unsurprisingly the part nearest the firebox) or you could buy a reverse flow smoker which attempts to even out the heat by drawing it under a steel baffle plate below the grill and then reversing it back over the food in a more even manner.

Why would you buy one?

They are big (the one pictured is very big!) and can cook lots of food at once. You can feed the fire without opening the cooking chamber – this allows for great heat control. They really teach you fire control and I feel like you need to master an offset before you can truly be called a pitmaster.

Why would you not buy one?

I don’t own one as I said, but they are notoriously difficult to control. Cooking takes hours as they do not have a “turn up the heat” option. They are affected by wind, rain, outside temperature, wood choice, how seasoned the wood is, and almost every other variable you can think of. No two cooks will ever be the same. They are big.

Edit: Pat, the owner of Smokin' Soul - a builder of offset BBQs in Ireland -commented on this blog to say that offset BBQs are not that hard to control if they are well designed and built. 

Who are they for?

Pitmasters.

Where to Buy

We are based in Ireland, so here is a list of local companies selling BBQ smokers.

Almost every large garden centre sells a good range of Weber products. The Weber website has a store finder. You can also buy online direct from Weber.

https://www.weber.com/IE/en/storefinder/

There are two specialist BBQ retailers in Ireland that supply a large range of BBQ smokers. A Room Outside is based in Limerick (and Wexford) and Great Outdoors BBQ Co is based in Co. Down.

For proper offset BBQ smokers, the only company I know of that makes them in Ireland is Smokin Soul in Co. Wexford.

There are a few people selling budget Kamodos including Bulldog BBQ, Kamado Bono, and even Aldi on occasions.

For more information and advice head over to BBQ Life Ireland on Facebook.

 


Older Post


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published