For backyard cooks ready to take their barbecue skills to the next level, investing in a real smoker can seem daunting. The two most beginner-friendly options are vertical water smokers and basic offset smokers. But which style is better for smoking newbies? Here’s a comparison of offset vs vertical smokers to help you decide.

What is a Vertical Water Smoker?

Vertical water smokers have a vertical cylindrical shape, with the heat source directly below the food. The cooking chamber contains water, wood chips, and meat racks. As heat and smoke rise, they pass through the water pan which helps regulate temperature. The moist heat keeps food tender. Vertical smokers are very affordable and simple to operate.

Benefits of Vertical Smokers for Beginners:

  • Compact size takes up minimal space
  • Easy temperature control through adjustable vents
  • Water pan provides consistent moist heat
  • Multiple racks allow smoking of various foods
  • Very user friendly “set and forget” operation
  • Low cost models under $200 like Weber Smokey Mountain

What is an Offset Smoker?

Offset smokers have a horizontal design with the heat and smoke source positioned to the side or below the cooking chamber. The indirect heat allows precise regulation of temperature and thorough infusion of smoke flavor. Offset smokers can be very basic or elaborate.

Benefits of Offset Smokers for Beginners:

  • Provides authentic smokehouse flavor
  • Direct access to food through multiple doors
  • Can smoke large quantities of meat at once
  • Easy to add smoke wood for flavor
  • Basic models still provide good temperature control
  • Inexpensive entry-level offset smokers around $300-$500

Tips to Choose the Best Smoker for Beginners

Investing in your first serious smoker is an exciting milestone for any backyard barbecue fan. With so many options out there, sifting through the choices to pick the ideal beginner smoker can feel daunting. Follow this guide to identify the best style and features for getting started on your smoking journey.

Consider Your Space

Think about where you plan to set up and use your smoker. If space is limited, a compact vertical smoker is ideal. For larger patios and yards, an offset smoker provides more flexibility. Measure the footprint to ensure your smoker will fit comfortably.

Assess Your Needs

Determine how much food you need to smoke in one session. Will you mainly be cooking for family, or do you love to host larger gatherings? Small vertical smokers accommodate 1-2 racks of ribs or a pork butt, while large offsets can smoke for a crowd.

Ease of Use

Look for design elements that make operation straightforward. Water pans in vertical smokers self-regulate temperature. Large fuel and ash doors on offsets simplify adding more wood. Multiple racks and shelves provide smoking flexibility.

Temperature Control

Beginners will appreciate smokers with adjustable vents that make it easy to modify temperature. Look for built-in thermometers so you can monitor cooking status. Well-insulated models help maintain steady heat.


You don’t need the most expensive, fancy smoker as a novice. Focus on reliable entry-level models under $500. Brands like Weber, Char-Broil and Pit Boss offer quality smokers with great bang for your buck.

Materials and Construction

Seek out smokers made from thick, durable steel that will last for years. Look for good seals around doors and lids to contain smoke and heat. Quality welding ensures no air or smoke leaks.

So Which is Better for a Smoking Beginner?

For true smoking newbies looking for ease of use and minimal investment, a basic vertical water smoker tends to be the better choice. Models from Weber, Masterbuilt, and Char-Broil make vertical smoking foolproof. Just add your wood chips and meat, and let the vertical smoker do the work with great results.

However, those with some prior grilling experience who want to quickly graduate to serious smoking should consider an entry-level offset smoker. The horizontal offset design allows learning how to manually control temperature by managing airflow, providing a satisfying hands-on smoking experience. Affordable offsets from brands like Oklahoma Joe’s, Char-Griller and Pit Boss offer great return on investment.

Whichever you choose, both vertical and offset smokers will elevate your backyard barbecue from grilling to true slow-smoked barbecue. Gather some wood, meat and patience, and get ready for the journey to become a backyard smoking pro!