Several types of smokers and grills are available in the market, and of course, we all look for one that matches our skills, preferences, and cooking requirements.
But among the various options, horizontal and vertical smokers stand out as two popular choices, each offering its own unique features to help BBQ lovers achieve the desired outcome from their grilling and smoking outcomes.
These two smokers have several significant differences, and to explore them, I have brought this detailed vertical vs horizontal smoker comparison so that you can have the utmost key information regarding them and decide which one you should choose.
A vertical smoker has an upright shape, and its fuel source can either be propane, electricity, or charcoal. They have a limited temperature range and cooking space but offer maximum convenience.
In contrast, charcoal smokers cook food with a delicious smoky taste and have ample cooking area, but are challenging to use as a beginner.
Vertical Smokers Overview
Vertical, bullet or upright smokers have gained much popularity in the past few years because of their exciting features, such as ease of use, portability, and consistent cooking performance.
As their name suggests, they come in vertical shape and can have different fuel sources like charcoal, pellet, gas, propane, or electricity.
Due to their upright shape and wheels on their legs, you can move them quite easily, and if your vertical smoker cooks food through charcoal or gas, they can also be a suitable option for picnic and camping use.
Mostly, these smokers use gas, propane, and electricity for cooking food, which is why they lack in providing that authentic smoky taste to your foods, which is the most prominent drawback of these cooking appliances.
Moreover, you will see several cooking racks in these smokers, probably 4 to 7 or even more which is an excellent addition to those who like cooking multiple food items at once.
But due to the narrower design of these racks, it can be difficult for them to accommodate a heavy brisket or turkey, so you will need to split them into two pieces for better outcomes.
The heat regulation system on these smokers is my favorite feature as it adds maximum convenience to the users, especially those who are new to food smoking.
You only need to rotate the control knobs to adjust and maintain steady heat inside the cooking chamber easily. As a result, the food comes out evenly cooked from all sides.
You will also see many vertical smokers with an LED screen at the bottom, showing real-time cooking stats. So overall, they are a great cooking appliance that is easy to use and offers great cooking results.
Advantages Of Vertical Smokers
- Portability: One of the most admirable features that I like about these smokers is that they are relatively more portable than the horizontal ones because of their compact upright shape and the wheels on their legs.
- Easy To Use: A vertical smoker lets you cook in a set-and-forget style and can be the most suitable option for beginners BBQ lovers. The reason is that it is easy to control its temperature using control knobs.
- Budget-Friendly: A vertical smoker costs you less than a horizontal one, and you can surely invest in this smoker if you are currently short on budget. There are lots of quality vertical electric smokers under $500 easily available in the market.
- Water Pan Availability: You will come across many upright smokers that come with a water pan which helps in different cooking conditions. For example, it prevents your meat from drying out and allows the smoker to maintain its internal temperature when you are grilling in rain or cold conditions.
- Multiple Cooking Racks: Due to their vertical shape, they have multiple racks where you can cook various food items at once.
Disadvantages Of Vertical Smokers
- Specified For Smoking: This type of smoker is specified for smoking purposes, and you may not use them as a grill. Now, it can be a benefit for you if you are a smoking lover and a drawback if you prefer a smoker that can be used for both smoking and grilling purposes.
- Lack of Smoky Flavors: If your vertical smoker operates through electricity, gas, or propane, it may not offer the expected intensity of smoke flavors, even with the inclusion of a wood chip tray.
- Heat Leakage: These smokers have a door outside the cooking chamber, and when you need to check the food’s condition, the heat can escape and disturb the cooking session.
- Not Suitable For Thicker Meat Cuts: No doubt, it has multiple food racks, but they are smaller in width, which means they might not easily accommodate thick meats like brisket.
Horizontal Smokers Overview
Horizontal smokers mainly refer to offset smokers, but pellet ones are also in a horizontal shape. Therefore, I will look into the features of both of them.
Firstly, the offset ones have a drum-shaped cooking chamber and firebox on the side where the charcoal burns and sends heat toward the cooking area.
In their structure, you’ll also see a chimney pipe from where the heat escapes and four legs with two or four wheels, depending on the smoker’s model.
On the other hand, a horizontal pellet smoker grill also has a drum-shaped cooking chamber to place food and a hopper box where you can put a good amount of wood pellets.
It also consists of a metal pipe for the heat escape and legs and wheels at its bottom part. So basically, both of these smokers are pretty similar in shape but have different fuel sources and working techniques.
One (offset) uses charcoal and wood logs, and the other (pellet) uses wood pellets to cook food. It is important to note that you can reuse charcoal if any of the pieces remain unburnt.
A huge convenience that you get with the horizontal pellet smokers (not offset) is that most of them have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity features, allowing you to control the whole cooking session through your smartphone.
These types of smokers are mainly known for their ample cooking space due to their horizontal design and are capable of both smoking and grilling purposes.
If I talk about temperature control, the pellet smoker grill usually has knobs to regulate heat, or some models, allow you to get this job done through a smartphone app.
In contrast, on offset smokers, you get to control heat through vents and dampers or by adjusting the amount of charcoal you add while cooking.
Whether you have a horizontal pellet or offset smoker, you can use them for smoking and grilling because of their ability to reach higher temperatures of around 500 °F or even more.
Furthermore, whether you want to smoke your meat to perfection with authentic smoky flavors or want to grill your food, horizontal smokers shine as a perfect smoker-grill combo for you.
A slight drawback of these outdoor cooking appliances is that they are pretty heavy and measure big; that’s the reason they are less portable than vertical smokers.
Advantages Of Horizontal Smokers
- Huge Cooking Area: Due to their horizontal shapes, they have plenty of cooking space (around 500 sq in) where you can cook whatever you want to, including bigger meat cuts like brisket.
- Convenience: It is relatively easy to use if you own a horizontal pellet smoker because of its advanced features like PID controller and smartphone app availability.
- Cooking Versatility: You can smoke your foods with unique smoky flavors as well as grill them with a nice crispy and crusty exterior.
- Long-Lasting: Most horizontal-shaped smokers are made of robust and thick materials like stainless steel, making them a perfect choice for long-term use.
Disadvantages Of Horizontal Smokers
- Unsuitable For Beginners: The newbies may not like using horizontal offset smokers because they require manual steps like charcoal ignition and heat regulation through vents or the amount of fuel. In such case, horizontal pellet smokers are a great option.
- Not Easy To Clean: The offset ones create a lot of mess because they use charcoal as a fuel source and don’t have any built-in ash management system like the pellet smokers.
- Bulky: Horizontal smokers tend to be heavy, which means they are not easy to move, and you can’t take them alongside you on a picnic.
- Requires Sufficient Space: These smokers measure big because they have a hopper or a firebox attached to their cooking chambers. Therefore, you’ll need plenty of space to accommodate them adequately.
Vertical Vs Horizontal Smoker – The Major Differences
Let me take you through a detailed comparison of the major differences between these two unique outdoor cooking appliances. Ultimately, you will be able to decide which smoker among these two is perfect for your cooking requirements.
Upright smokers are specifically designed to smoke meat, and you may not get the desired grilling or roasting results on them. The two primary reasons are the limited temperature range and the difference between the heat source and food items you place over the grates.
Offset smokers outperform the vertical ones in the comparison of cooking versatility as they have a wide temperature range. Therefore, you can use them for both smoking and grilling food items.
Also, some offset ones have grill grates attached over the firebox which is suitable for high-heat grilling and searing.
In this comparison, the offset smokers shine again, and the reason is evident, they have a horizontal shape and a drum-shaped grilling and smoking area, which you can use to cook at least two brisket or multiple ribs at once.
On the other hand, vertical smokers have relatively less smoking space because they are in an upright position and can struggle to accommodate thicker meats.
Another significant reason between these two appliances is that an offset one will have one or max two racks, whereas a vertical one consists of several racks. So, you can confidently use a vertical smoker to smoke multiple food items at once.
In terms of cooking performance from a different perspective, I admire using offset smokers due to their versatility to smoke, grill, bake, and roast.
Also, their fuel source (charcoal and pellets) can infuse your meats with delightful smoke flavors and have excellent heat retention.
Vertical smokers, on the other hand, are suitable for low and slow smoking only and inject a small amount of smoky flavors in your meal, that too, because of the addition of a wood chips tray.
Furthermore, they have a window outside the cooking chamber, so whenever you need to flip the food or check its condition, you lose the heat, resulting in temperature inconsistency.
If your vertical smoker uses gas, propane, or electricity, it will consume less fuel than the horizontal offset or pellet smoker. The justification behind this is the huge cooking space and longer cooking sessions on the horizontal cooking smokers.
Also, buying a bag of quality charcoal to use in the offset smoker can cost you more than the propane or gas you use in a vertical smoker.
Recommended Post: Get a complete overview regarding how much charcoal you should use so that you can achieve optimal heat and smoke levels, resulting in perfectly cooked and flavorful meals.
Many BBQ lovers like investing in a highly portable outdoor cooking appliance so that they can use their devices while camping or going for a picnic.
In this situation, I recommend you bring a vertical smoker to your backyard as they weigh less, have an upright shape, and come with wheels, making them a suitable option for easy portability.
In contrast, smokers with horizontal shapes are bulky, which can make their portability challenging, especially for road trip use.
Vertical smokers cost you less because of their simpler design and construction. Also, they have no separate firebox or big LED screen, which could skyrocket their prices.
Conversely, offset and pellet smokers have bigger dimensions, and the manufacturers use high-quality thick materials all over their bodies, making them more expensive than vertical gas and electric smokers.
When To Buy A Vertical Smoker?
It is an ideal choice in different scenarios.
First of all, if you are looking for an affordable outdoor cooking option, it is a perfect match for your needs because it costs you relatively lower than horizontal smokers.
Secondly, if your primary goal is to smoke rather than grill, you’d love using this appliance as it is specially designed to smoke food items.
Additionally, suppose you have limited space in your outdoor cooking area or require a portable option for camping. In that case, these smokers’ compact and vertical design makes them an ideal choice for you.
Lastly, if you are new to the meat-smoking game and looking for a product that is easy to use, I recommend investing in this outdoor cooking equipment.
When To Buy A Horizontal Smoker?
First thing first, you must not be short on a budget before you think of investing in a horizontal smoker, as it can cost you around $500 to $1000, which is relatively more expensive than the vertical ones.
Moreover, horizontal pellet smokers can be an excellent option for your BBQ needs if you like smoking and grilling your food on the same product, much like a smoker-grill combo.
Remember that if you buy an offset smoker, you should be familiar with the mechanisms, like controlling the temperature on a charcoal grill or smoker. The reason is that it requires some skills before you ideally start using it.
Who is the Winner? Head-to-head Summary
Let’s share a short quick summary of the relative winners in a head-to-head comparison.
|Easy to Move||Vertical Smokers|
|Cooking Space||Horizontal smokers|
|Grilling & Smoking Ability||Horizontal smokers|
|Less Fuel Consumption||Vertical Smokers|
In conclusion, both of these smokers have extraordinary abilities to enhance your outdoor cooking experience.
But of course, the buying decision comes down to your personal preferences and other requirements like budget, experience, cooking style, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the hottest part of a vertical smoker?
The heat travels from the bottom to the upward position in a vertical smoker. Therefore, the lowest rack in it automatically becomes the hottest part.
How to maintain the temperature in offset smokers?
To keep the temperature steady inside an offset smoker, keep the lid of the cooking chamber and firebox closed, and don’t add extra charcoal unnecessarily.
Can you achieve the same smoky flavor in both horizontal and offset smokers?
No, the horizontal smokers, like offset and pellet ones, offer more smoke flavors than the vertical ones because they use charcoal and pellets as fuel sources and vertical ones typically cook food through electricity, propane, or gas.
Robert Gill, a BBQ enthusiast, and Senior Author at FaveGrills.com bring his extensive knowledge of BBQ equipment and exciting recipes to the team. With his outgoing personality and love for BBQ, Robert plays an essential role in the FaveGrills community, sharing his passion and expertise through informative articles and gear reviews.