The right smoker will allow you to smoke delicious meats and veggies at a low temperature using flavorful wood, such as smoking chunks. While there are over a dozen brands of smokers available on the market, most can be classified as either horizontal or vertical, depending on their shape. Horizontal smokers are long and horizontal, whereas vertical smokers are tall and vertical. Aside from their shape, though, there are several other differences between horizontal and vertical smokers.
What Is a Horizontal Smoker?
A horizontal smoker is a type of smoker with a horizontal design resembling that of a traditional charcoal grill. Unlike charcoal grills, however, horizontal smokers typically have a separate compartment attached to the side, which is used to house smoking chunks or cooking wood. They still have a main compartment for charcoal. But rather than placing wood chunks or cooking wood in the same compartment as the charcoal, you can place them in the side compartment of a horizontal smoker so that they burn slower.
You can learn more about horizontal smokers and how they work by checking out our previous blog post here.
What Is a Vertical Smoker?
Also known as a bullet smoker, a vertical smoker features a tall and vertical design. A typical vertical smoker contains several trays, each of which is essentially a grate on which you can smoke meats or veggies. At the bottom of the vertical smoker is a compartment where you can place charcoal, wood chunks or cooking wood. After lighting the fuel and waiting for the smoker, you can add your food to any of the pull-out trays.
Vertical smokers are often confused with barrel smokers, but they aren't necessarily the same. Barrel smokers are literally made of a barrel, and unlike vertical smokers, they usually only have a single cooking grate. In comparison, a vertical smoker may have three or more cooking grates. Both vertical smokers and barrel smokers have a similar shape and design, but you can fit more food into the former type.
Benefits of Using a Horizontal Smoker
Many pitmasters prefer horizontal smokers over vertical smokers because of their ability to separate charcoal from wood chunks or cooking wood. With a horizontal smoker, you can place your smoking chunks or cooking wood in the smaller, separate compartment. As a result, heat produced by the burning charcoal -- which is located in the horizontal smoker's main compartment -- allows your smoking chunks or cooking to smolder.
A benefit of using a horizontal smoker that's often overlooked is its ergonomic design. They stand about waist level, allowing you to easily add food and smoking chunks or cooking wood. Vertical smokers, however, lack this ergonomic design. To add smoking chunks or cooking wood to a vertical smoker, you must bend over to open the fuel compartment door at the bottom. If you suffer from back problems, you may want to choose a horizontal smoker instead.
Horizontal smokers support a larger amount of fuel than their vertical counterparts. If you have a vertical smoker, you'll need to continue adding fuel to maintain stable heat. The two compartments in a horizontal smoker, however, reduce the need for adding more fuel. You can fill each compartment with a large amount of fuel, and even after several hours, it should still be producing a decent amount of flavorful smoke.
Benefits of Using a Vertical Smoker
On the other hand, using a vertical smoker offers greater temperature control. You can easily raise or lower the temperature of a vertical smoker to achieve the "sweet spot" for your meats and veggies. Most pitmasters will agree that controlling the temperature is more difficult with a horizontal smoker. Considering that temperature control is paramount when smoking food, you can't go wrong with a vertical smoker for this reason.
A vertical smoker may also provide you with more cooking space. As previously mentioned, they usually contain three or more pull-out cooking grates, which you can fill with your desired meats or veggies. In comparison, horizontal smokers usually have a single cooking grate with one or more warming racks.
Can I Use a Charcoal Grill?
Even without a horizontal smoker or vertical smoker, you can still smoke delicious meats and veggies using a traditional charcoal grill. Just place a bed of charcoal on one side of your grill and a stack of smoking chips on the other side. By separating them, the charcoal shouldn't ignite and burn your smoking chunks. The smoking chunks will gradually smolder, all while releasing flavorful smoke that's absorbed by your meats or veggies.
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