Drum smokers produce outstanding results with less effort than most other types of charcoal smoker.
Whether you’re smoking ribs, brisket or chicken, drum smokers have a high capacity and a faster than average cooking time. Some folks find a lot of success cooking hot and fast in a drum where you can cook a whole packer brisket in a fraction of the time.
If you’re short on time, our overall favorite drum smoker is (drum roll) the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker. Read on to find out why we think its the best choice for most people, and what other options you may want to consider.
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The Best Drum Smokers for 2021
Here’s our selection of the very best drum smokers on the market. From build-your-own drum smoker kits, to premium crafted versions, you’re sure to find your perfect match right here.
1. Best Overall – 18.5″ Classic Pit Barrel Cooker
Read our full review.
The best selling 18.5” Classic Pit Barrel is our favorite drum smoker. The Pit Barrel Cooker Company, a veteran-owned US business firmly places the emphasis on ease of use with this popular “set it and forget it” drum smoker.
Made from a highly durable 18-gauge stainless steel, the interior is porcelain enameled, for great results every time and an easy cleanup. No need to rinse out or wash the interior, simply dump your ash and you’re done.
The Pit Barrel is ready to use straight out of the box, simply attach the handles and you’re good to get started smoking, it’s that simple.
With no complex gauges or controls, just follow the instructions and light up your drum smoker. With plenty of vertical hanging space, you can even smoke up to eight racks of ribs at a time – ideal for when you have friends or family gatherings.
Thanks to Pit Barrel’s 360-degree All-Round Heat Dynamics this drum smoker provides you with unparalleled flavor, with the juices from the meat dropping onto your coals creating extra tender meat with that signature smoky taste. This, above all, makes it our best choice drum smoker, along with its unparalleled ease of use, setup, and huge capacity, all at a very reasonable price.
What we like:
- Ease of use – It’s simple design makes it a great option for beginners and experienced users alike.
- High-quality build – Durable 18 gauge stainless steel with porcelain enamel coating.
- Easy to set up – This model takes next to no time to get started. The instructions are simple to follow and it’s ready for use right out of the box.
- High capacity – Large capacity takes 8 racks of ribs with ease.
- Easy to clean – Just dump the ash and you’re done. No rinsing required.
What we don’t like:
- Lid gets very hot – The horseshoe handles look great, but beware the lid handle one can get very hot. Be sure to put your gloves on before lifting the lid!
2. Runner up – Gateway Drum 55 Gallon Charcoal Smoker
Specially designed to maximize the moisture and tenderness of your meat, the Gateway Drum 55 Gallon Charcoal Smoker is our top runner-up.
Combining exceptional taste with ease of use and high-quality materials, this smoker narrowly lost out to the Pit Barrel given its much higher price for comparable, albeit excellent, smoking results.
No denying though that this is still one of the very best drum smokers around if you have the extra money spare.
What really sets this drum smoker apart is its premium construction. Made from durable steel, it features an industrial-grade paint finish that can withstand temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This smoker has definitely been built to last. It’s delivered in one piece complete with welded components; even the handles are securely welded into place.
You can see the Gateway in action in this video where Dean from Schuey’s BBQ (and our own YouTube channel) cooks a full brisket in five hours.
Thanks to its large removable fire basket, this smoker can burn for up to 14 hours on one basket load of coal – much longer than most others. This gives you more time to get on with tending to your meat and enjoying socializing.
There’s also plenty of space in this high-capacity smoker with 462 square inches of cooking area on the grate, which can be increased up to a total of 1,386 square inches with the additional purchase of two extra grates.
Even if you’ve got a huge crowd to feed, the Gateway Drum Charcoal Smoker is more than up to the task with its outstanding capacity, long burn time, and durable construction.
While it isn’t the lightest, its removable caster wheels allow you to move it easily Plus, unlike the Pit Barrel Cooker, it also comes complete with a center-mounted temperature gauge and adjustable air intake and top exhaust pipes for better temperature control.
What we like:
- Great mobility – The removable caster wheels make this model easy to move around.
- Built to last – Durable steel construction with industrial-grade paint finish.
- Long cook time – Smokes up to 14 hours on one basket of charcoal.
- Large cooking area – With three cooking levels, it has a generous cooking area of 462 square inches that can be further expanded with extra grates.
- Center-mounted temperature gauge – Keep an eye on the temperature with this large, clearly-positioned temperature gauge.
What we don’t like:
- Expensive – This model is pricey. But if you are looking for great durability and premium construction, you’ll agree it’s well worth the extra.
3. Most Versatile – Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Drum Smoker
If you are looking for a high-performance drum smoker that can also double up as a grill, then the highly versatile Bronco Drum Smoker by Oklahoma Joe should be top of your list.
With space for smoking up to nine racks of ribs, when you want to use it as a grill simply flip the heat diffuser over, stick on the basket and you’ve got a great height for regular grilling.
Aside from its great versatility, this drum smoker has plenty of features you wouldn’t expect to find at its low to mid price point.
First off, you get great temperature control with this model, thanks to its adjustable intake and exhaust pipes. This makes it possible to cook both low and slow, or hot and fast depending on your needs. The charcoal basket burns for up to 12 hours, so it’s also a good choice for all-day smoking.
Other nice additions include the side table, a great extra that really helps when you’re loading it up with piles of meat. The large wheels make it easy to push around to your perfect smoking spot, while the indexed food hanger brackets allow you to set your hangers at your ideal height while preventing any swaying – ideal for large, heavy cuts such as briskets.
From whole chickens to seafood, vegetables to beef brisket, if you like to cook up a huge range of different dishes, then the Bronco Drum Smoker by Oklahoma Joe not only gives you the capacity and versatility to do so, it also makes it easy and fun.
What’s more, the Bronco, enables you to develop a greater degree of control than you get with most other drum smokers, as well as providing excellent value for money.
What we like:
- Grill and smoker combination model – The combination of both grill and smoker enables greater cooking versatility in one unit.
- Handy side table – Expands your available preparation space for easy loading.
- Large wheels for easy mobility – Smokers are heavy. This model has large wheels that make it easier for you to move it to your preferred spot.
- Long burn time – Burns for up to 12 hours on one load of charcoal.
- Adjustable intake and exhaust – Makes temperature control simple and effective.
What we don’t like:
- Thermometer lag – The dial thermometer lags a little behind the actual temperature, as do a lot of in-built gauges. However, as the Bronco features a hinged lid complete with a gasket, you can use a digital thermometer for a highly accurate reading. Simply pass it under the gasket and it won’t interfere with your lid closure, nor will its cables get pinched.
4. Build your own with a drum conversion kit – Big Poppa’s DIY Drum Smoker Kit
If you’re a handy kind of person who gets a kick out of building things and saving yourself a load of money in the process, then this DIY drum smoker kit from Big Poppa Smokers may well be the best drum smoker for you.
All you need is this kit, a food grade 55-gallon drum, a drill, some basic hand tools, and possibly some additional hardware to create your very own Ugly Drum Smoker all at a bargain price, without having to waste time searching for pieces or trying to perfect your own design.
You can see in the image above all the various bits of kit included. There’s even a bottle opener so you can stay refreshed while smoking.
If you want to see what assembly is like, this video goes through everything you need to do.
What we like:
- Simple to set up – This kit makes it easy to create your own smoker with few tools required.
- Money-saving bundle – Who doesn’t like saving money? This kit offers a great way to get your own smoker without breaking the bank.
- Highly- effective results – Once assembled, this kit creates a smoker that can run for up to 30 hours at 200-degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wide range of add-ons – Once assembled, you can modify your smoker with a variety of cool accessories.
What we don’t like:
- Need to find your own drum – While you can buy a drum off the website, your much better of finding your own drum otherwise you aren’t really saving any money compared to the other smokers in this guide.
5. Best Small Drum – 14″ Pit Barrel Cooker Junior
The 14-inch Pit Barrel Cooker Junior is our best small drum pick, giving you the same great results as our overall favorite drum smoker the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker, but with less capacity and greater mobility.
If you are looking for a drum smoker that is well made, at a great price, and easy to pack up and take out with you, whether it’s round to a friend’s home or down to the beach, then the Pit Barrel Junior is the best model to go for.
With identical performance levels to the Classic, the Junior is lighter and much easier to pick up and transport. The Junior runs for around six hours at 225-degrees Fahrenheit on a full load, compared to the Classic’s eight hour runtime.
While it is smaller in size, the Junior can still cook one whole turkey or six racks in one go, ideal for groups of family members or friends.
Famous for its flavorsome, tender cooking, the Pit Barrel Junior makes a great choice if you want all of the performance of the Classic, but don’t need such a large capacity.
It is simple to set up and use, being ready to go straight out of the box, just fix on the handles and get it lit up to start smoking. Once it’s coming up to temperature, you can simply “set it and forget it” for hassle-free, easy smoking wherever you choose to be.
This high-quality, easy to use drum smoker is the best small drum model by far. It is also great value for money and can be customized with a wide range of extra add-ons and branded merchandise.
What’s more, it is one of the easiest to clean, simply empty out the ash and you’re done – no rinsing required. This makes it a top tailgating, camping, or day-trip smoker.
What we like:
- “Set it and forget it” – very easy to use – Simple design makes it a great option for newbies.
- High quality materials – Strong, durable construction is built to last.
- Large capacity – Can take up to six racks of ribs in one session.
- Easy to clean out – No rinsing is required. Just dump the ash and you’re good to go again.
- Quick and easy set up – This model is ready to cook out of the box, so you can get right to smoking without wasting any time.
What we don’t like:
- Handle gets incredibly hot – Like its big brother, the Classic, the horseshoe lid handle gets red hot, so be sure to always have your gloves ready when checking on your cooking.
Who should buy a drum smoker
Drum smokers are very easy to use, making them a great choice for anyone new to smoking.
They are also an excellent choice for seasoned pros, or anyone who likes to enjoy their company and not be tied to checking on their meat every moment of the day.
Thanks to their large coal baskets, most drum smokers will only need to be lit once, giving you more time to focus on other elements, as well as your guests.
With their impressive capacity, drum smokers make a natural choice for anyone who regularly cooks for large groups. As they tend to cook faster than many other styles, they can also be a good option to go for if you can’t spend the whole weekend smoking brisket anymore.
A drum smoker will still produce flavorsome, tender meat, just much more quickly than with a standard grill.
In fact, their design specifically lends itself to cooking more tender, juicer meats as the moisture from your meat drips directly on to the coals and creates a humidifying, smoky, flavorsome fog that keeps your meat from drying out.
Given their ease of use, high capacity, and almost guaranteed great-tasting results every time, we think everyone could benefit from owning a drum smoker.
How do drum smokers work?
The design is similar to vetical ‘bullet’ smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain, but you don’t need a water pan.
Drum smokers feature a small air vent at the bottom which supplies your burning charcoal with oxygen.
The size of this vent can be adjusted to alter the temperature inside of your drum smoker. As the air heats up, it rises, passing over your meat and exiting via the small vent at the top of your smoker. This causes more air to enter the drum at the bottom and the process is repeated.
This is because the meat juices, fats and seasonings drip down on the coals where they fuse to create a humidifying mist that keeps your meat moist and provides extra flavor.
What’s the difference between a drum smoker and a barrel smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain?
Both are vertical smokers that are similar in shape and size, but there are, in fact, plenty of differences between drum smokers and barrel smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain.
- The WSM has a water pan and is designed for cooking low and slow. Drum smokers cook hot and fast, using direct heat. This is a major difference and will most definitely affect how you use your smoker as well as your cooking times.
- Drum smokers tend to produce a stronger flavor as the meat juices drip on to your coals and are steamed back up to flavor your meat. However, you could take your waterpan out of your WSM and use it in a similar manner to a drum smoker.
- Drum smokers tend to be more mobile and easier to move than barrel smokers. Typically your average barrel smoker comes apart in several pieces, whereas your drum smoker is one large drum. This makes it easier to set up, move around, and also much easier to clean.
- Given their extensive vertical space, drum smokers are ideal for hanging large cuts, especially racks of ribs.
With their faster cooking time, you may also prefer to use a drum smoker whenever you don’t have a full day to spare smoking, but still want to enjoy delicious home-smoked ribs, butt or brisket.
What to consider before buying
Ready to buy yourself a drum smoker? Here’s everything you need to consider before making your choice.
Durability and construction material
You want to get many years of use out of your drum smoker, so it’s important to look for a highly durable model that’s made out of resistant materials.
Most are made from highly durable steel, often treated with a weather-resistant finish to ensure your drum smoker can live up to the elements.
Some versions come with a coated interior, porcelain enamel being a popular choice. This protects your drum, improves heat retention, and also makes your smoker easier to clean.
You should also check what the various handles, grates and hanging rods are made from to ensure that they are the same great quality.
As drum smokers are based around drums, the most popular sizes are 55-gallon and 30-gallon drums. You can, however, also find smaller models, such as the Pit Barrel Junior that uses a 16-gallon drum.
While smaller models provide a smaller capacity, they are easier to move and can make a great choice for tailgating and camping, as well as trips down to the beach or round to a friend’s house.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that larger models will have larger fire baskets that can accommodate more coals. This means some of the larger versions will burn for considerably longer.
Despite their recent surge in popularity, most drum smokers are reasonably priced.
While you can pay out more for expensive models, you don’t quite get the same improvement in performance with price as you do with your average offset smokers. Although more expensive models may have extra features, typically you can smoke just as well and as easily as with a mid-range or cheaper model.
If price is an issue, you can always opt to build your own drum smoker and save yourself several hundred dollars in the process. Given their simple yet effective design, drum smokers are one of the few outdoor cooking appliances where price doesn’t dictate performance level.
Most models also have the option to purchase additional smoker accessories such as hinged grates, basket hangers, and even grill grates so you can customize your drum smoker as you get used to using it for a highly personalized model that is fully adapted to your needs.
Wrapping it up
The best overall drum smoker in terms of ease of use, capacity, and price is without a doubt the Pit Barrel Classic.
Ready to use straight out of the box, you can simply set it and forget it, for outstanding results. Its 360-degree All-Round Heat Dynamics gives a superior flavor and tender, juicy meat. It is also extremely easy to clean, thanks to its no-rinse interior.
If you have the budget, then the top-rated Gateway Drum Smoker with its large 55-gallon drum makes a good choice for cooking for large groups. It is a very stylish looking model that is built with premium steel and an industrial-grade matte painted finish.
For a budget choice, the Pit Barrel Junior is the most mobile, ideal for taking out tailgating or round to your friends and family, complete with the high-performance levels and ease of use of the larger Classic version.