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If you’re in the market for a new smoker, you’ve probably already discovered there are many options out there.

You like the idea of eating meat, vegetables, and cheese with smoky flavor.

But what type of smoker is best for you?

In this article, we offer a vertical smoker vs. barrel smoker comparison to help you find out which one suits your needs.

Vertical Smoker vs. Barrel Smoker: How do they compare?


Of course, the design of these smokers is different. One sits up vertically and the other is a horizontal smoker resembling a barrel.

In addition, the heat source (fire box) is in a different location on each one.

The fire box is positioned beside the cooking chamber on a barrel smoker and below the cooking chamber on a vertical smoker.

Cooking speed

Because the fire box is located below the cooking chamber on a vertical smoker, the food cooks faster than it does in a barrel smoker.

So, if you’re looking for a smoker that cooks items quickly and has the ability to sear and grill meat at high temps, then a vertical smoker is a favorable option.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in cooking meats and other items slowly and at low temps, then a barrel smoker is a preferable option.

This slow cooking method is thought to be more authentic in the world of barbecuing.

Ease of use

Are you looking for a smoker that’s simple to use?

If so, a vertical smoker may be the option for you.

It has a temperature gauge that’s accurate and easy to set.

Place your meat or other item onto the cooking rack and it heats to your temperature preferences.

A barrel smoker cooks items slowly and you have to monitor the device a little more closely than you would with a vertical smoker.

Space for food items

Maybe you plan to use your new smoker to prepare large amounts of food for family gatherings or parties with friends.

If this sounds like you, you’re likely to prefer a smoker with the capacity to cook lots of food items at the same time.

A barrel smoker has the interior space to cook many items all at one time.

It’s not unusual for the design of a barrel smoker to include large upper and lower cooking racks.

These racks would accommodate anything you want to smoke including burgers, hot dogs, chicken, corn, and other vegetables.

By design, a vertical smoker has less space and can’t accommodate as many items as a barrel smoker.

A vertical smoker may have three or four cooking racks, but they have less room on them than the cooking racks in a barrel smoker.

Space to accommodate your smoker

Fortunately, both types of smokers are available in large and small designs.

You could have a barrel smoker small enough to sit on an intimate patio behind your home.

Or, you could have a barrel smoker large enough to take up almost a whole side of your deck.

If you don’t have a spacious deck or patio, a vertical smoker may be a better choice than a barrel smoker.

Regardless of how many racks it has inside it, the space it takes up is mostly vertical.

Flavorful cooking

A barrel cooker smokes meat, fish and more in a slow, thorough way.

So, you know if you have a barrel smoker, you’re going to have flavorful foods with a penetrating smoky flavor.

A vertical smoker produces flavorful foods with a smoky taste to them, but when comparing the two options a barrel smoker produces foods with a larger amount of flavor.


If you want a smoker that’s relatively easy to move to different areas of your patio or deck, then a barrel smoker is a good option.

Many designs have wheels on the base making them convenient to maneuver.

Most vertical smokers have four solid legs without wheels, so it simply stands wherever you put it.

Not surprisingly, a vertical smoker is awkward to move around because of its height.


Both types of smokers are safe to use. It’s best to set up your smoker on solid, level ground.

Be sure to choose a place that is at least ten feet away from your home to prevent damage from the smoker’s heat.

A good location for your smoker would be a place that gets very little wind.

You don’t want to put your smoker in an area where it could be knocked over by a strong wind either while it’s in use or not.

When using with either type of smoker, it’s best to wear heat resistant gloves.

The surface of your smoker is going to heat up so it’s best to take precautions to prevent injury to your skin.

Foods to prepare in a smoker

Both types of smokers are capable of cooking a variety of meats, fish, cheese, and vegetables along with other items.

But one smoker may be better at cooking certain items than the other.

If you want to enjoy a food meant to be cooked slowly such as pork shoulder, then a barrel smoker would be the better choice.

Other items perfect for cooking in a barrel smoker include ribs, beef brisket and cheese (pepper jack and Gouda are excellent choices).

Also, try putting some Roma tomatoes in your barrel smoker.

They come out flavorful enough for salads and even as a pizza topping.

Seafood, hot dogs, chicken, and even burgers are all great items to cook in your vertical smoker.

They are easy to cook to your exact preferences.

Plus, it doesn’t take long to cook simple items like these in your vertical smoker.


The initial cost of a quality vertical smoker is around $250.

Of course, there are more and less expensive ones available, but $250 is an average price.

Alternatively, the initial investment for a barrel smoker is approximately $200.

Maintenance Costs

Smokers operate on a variety of materials. Some smokers use charcoal while others are electric.

Other sources of heat include wood, gas, and pellets.

So, the maintenance costs of your smoker depend a lot on its fuel.

If you need to purchase charcoal to operate your smoker, then that would be factored into your maintenance costs.

Alternatively, if you have a smoker that runs on propane, then you’d have to factor the purchase of propane into your maintenance costs.

Environmental Impacts

Some types of smokers make more of an environmental impact than others.

Charcoal smokers aren’t as environmentally friendly as smokers that run on propane.

The most environmentally friendly option is a pellet smoker.

The heat source is pellets made from recycled hardwood that burn cleanly.

Clean Up Tasks

The clean up tasks related to a smoker depend upon the type of fuel used.

If you have a vertical smoker that runs on charcoal, then cleaning the charcoal ashes and debris out of the smoker would be a big part of your clean up routine.

Alternatively, if you have a barrel smoker that runs on pellets, then removing the unused pellets after using the smoker would be a part of your clean up.

The cooking racks in both vertical and barrel smokers need to be cleaned after each use.

Cooking racks become greasy and take on drippings from meat.

Finally, there are pros and cons to both vertical and barrel smokers.

Thinking about the types of meals you want to make with your smoker can help you decide which type is best for your household.

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