In this Camp Chef Smoke Vault review I’ll run through my experiences cooking chicken, ribs, and brisket, providing an overview of what I liked and the aspects that could’ve used some improvement.
Let’s get stuck into it.
Camp Chef sent me this grill for free in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Camp Chef Smoke Vault Overview & First Impressions
The Smoke Vault is an affordable, entry-level propane smoker with a lot of versatility. The huge space inside the cabinet allows for cooking lots of cuts at once, and the potential for making huge batches of jerky, smoked fish, and other tasty treats beyond large or tough cuts of beef and pork.
Inside the smoker, you get three racks adjustable racks. Two are normal grills and the third is a mesh designed, so the instructions say, for making jerky, cold-smoking salmon, and similar preparations.
I used the grills for the chicken and ribs and thought the mesh one was just perfect for my packer brisket. But I might be weird, so I’ll leave you to use your best judgement.
While this is the 24-inch wide model, Camp Chef also makes an 18-inch version for those that just won’t utilize all the space in the larger model, or with less storage space.
I did not use the 18-inch version, however, with a virtually identical design, I can’t imagine there’s much difference between the two beyond the price and how much you can cook at once.
Camp Chef has been around a while and their products are known for their versatility. This holds true with the Smoke Vault. With how easy it is to dismantle the legs, I could totally see popping this hunk of metal in the trunk for a camping trip or even taking it to a friend’s house to take BBQing on the road.
What I like:
- Good value: It’s pretty amazing, how much room to smoke you get for the price. Combine with better than average build quality and you have a great smoker.
- Easy to use: The system is basic but in a good way. The propane burner is reliable and has a “set it and forget it” feel. Just make sure to put enough flavoring wood in the rack and water in the pan. You want to open this door as little as possible.
- Versatile: This smoker will travel very well and bring your BBQ inclinations anywhere you can fit it.
What I don’t like:
- Uninsulated door: As mentioned below, I noticed smoke leak out through the door. Some kind of gasket would easily fix this.
- Low-smoke flavor: I like a lot of smoke flavor. Across my cooks, I got a fraction of the smoke flavor that I get in my little, trusty Brinkmann Smoke ‘N Grill. My friends and family disagreed and said the smoke was noticeable and pleasant, but, for me, I definitely looked for more and did everything I could to make that happen.
- Flavoring wood and water trays: Another big improvement would come from adding a second door to reload the flavoring wood and water trays. It’s not difficult to slide them out with a gloved hand for adding more, but it would be nice to do that without draining the cabinet of heat once it’s dialed in just right.
If you’re looking for a competitively priced option for learning to smoke, it’s hard to find a better option than the Smoke Vault.
I wish it had a second door to access the chip tray like the Masterbuilt ThermoTemp, but that’s a fairly minor gripe.
Unboxing and setup
The Smoke Vault arrived in one large (and heavy!) box. Trays, legs, the fuel drum, and other components were packaged in smaller boxes stowed tightly in the cabinet. A separate, smaller box arrived, too, which carried the sturdy cover.
You’ll need to source your own screwdriver for set-up. All other hardware and components should be present.
It took us around 90 minutes to assemble the Smoke Vault. To be fair, we had a few hiccups that slowed the process to a halt at points.
For instance, attaching the legs requires flipping the cabinet upside down. The screws fell several times into the channels that run along the sides of what’s normally the top of the cabinet.
Pro-tip: put a towel inside the cabinet while you work on the legs and you’ll totally avoid this time suck. If it falls in the channel, just rock the cabinet back and forth and the screw will free itself.
A few of the key components also diverged so drastically from the instructions that it slowed us down, as we tried to figure out whether we were reading correctly, and had the right parts in hand.
The most concerning of these was the regulator hose. This part connects the propane tank to the burner, and the instructions were clear that the hose should need to be connected during setup. Out of the box, however, the hose was preassembled and we wasted a lot of time trying to figure out if we had the right parts or were missing anything.
All that aside, I’d guess that two people should cruise this set-up in about 30 minutes. It’s definitely manageable for one person, though, for all you lone wolfs out there.
The build quality was, overall, impressive.
The handle, the door, the meat racks and jerky racks all feel heavy duty. I have a lot of confidence the materials will last for a long time and only need to be replaced after years of use.
The door, though, is in desperate need of some kind of gasket to stop heat and smoke leak.
The dampers are also unfortunate. It would be a huge and immediate improvement if the bottom two could be closed off completely.
Cooking on the Smoke Vault
I tried the big three meats on the Smoke Vault (pork ribs, whole chicken, and beef brisket) with a lot of success. It’s worth noting that the promotional materials tout the product’s facility with acting as an outdoor oven, but most people purchase it as a smoker so I stuck to that world.
Full disclosure, though, I would cook a flaky beef or turkey pot pie in this in a heartbeat (it might be my last heartbeat, but still).
Ease of use
As with any propane cooker, operation is super easy. The dial at the bottom opens the burner for propane and clicking it sparks the flame. The cabinet comes to 250-degrees within seconds.
It’s definitely worth using or investing in an auxiliary thermometer to get a better sense of ambient temperature. The built-in thermometer and my thermometer read the same at around 210-degrees and higher, but seemed to diverge below that.
When my thermometer read 205-degrees, for example, the built-in was all the way down to 190-degrees. If that kind of discrepancy would make a difference in your cooking, be sure to have your own thermometer handy.
As mentioned above, the flavoring wood and water trays can only be accessed by opening the main door for the cabinet. Do this sparingly, as the heat totally sucks out each time.
The trays themselves sit great in the cabinet. Camp Chef has struck a fine balance between having the trays smoothly pull out without sliding all over the place.
The instruction manual says to load up the flavoring wood tray with enough woodchips to last your whole smoke. That worked fine for me with the ribs and chicken, but I don’t know how you could load up enough chips in the space provided for a packer brisket. So, be realistic with your larger cuts and check on the tray whenever you open the door.
The smoke was pretty successful.
The chickens were probably the greatest success. The birds came to temperature fast and though the skin was not as crispy as I usually aim for, the meat was tender, and there was a very pleasant smoke aroma.
The ribs weren’t bad. The baby backs came out a little tough but the spare ribs were right on what we were looking for. The smoke was almost non-existent for me, though my in-laws said their portions had a near perfect amount.
I just don’t think this thing can handle a brisket. I had a far more difficult time keeping the temperature stable than with the chicken and ribs, and my flat came out just shy of leathery.
The point, though, made excellent burnt ends. It might be worth, for you experimenters out there, to try the Smoke Vault with just a flat or two flats if you want, and then to do poor-man’s burnt ends with chuck roast.
As for that temperature issue, I think it was the door and the dampers. Just my gut instinct.
Smoke Vault stores real nice. Its narrow width and height make it easy to store along a fence and its sturdy build mean it is easy to stack other household items on top of it.
The interior is so spacious that it could easily house a few gardening tools or other items you don’t mind having on the rack you’ll cook food on at some point in the near future.
The drip tray at the bottom is a little shallow, and easily spills grease with the slightest provocation.
The finish on the materials makes the trays and the walls of the cabinet very easy to clean.
Be sure, though, to enjoy the way that metal door shines when it’s fresh out of the box. That perfect sheen does not last long. Grease and the elements stain it quickly, though this issue is, truly, just cosmetic.
Alternatives to consider
From my research, the Smoke Vault is basically comparable to most other vertical propane smokers. The Masterbuilt and Char-Broil versions of this design come to mind.
If I were comparison shopping, I would look at how well these others seal at the door. These vertical smokers have so much area inside, but it’s all area that gets exposed every single time you open the door to check on the meat or fuel levels.
Another unit would be way more compelling if the door seals tighter. Absent that, it’s hard to imagine a competitor with nicer finishes or finer hardware than the Smoke Vault.
Should you buy
Yes, this is a buy. If you’re looking for a smoker with a ton of versatility, lots of interior real estate for cooking an array of cuts, cooking a lot of cuts at once, and fast smoking times, it’s hard to imagine a product that’s built better than the Smoke Vault at such a reasonable price.
True, the door could seal better, and the dampers would serve way more efficiently if they would just close. But neither of those demerits outweigh the compelling improvement that Smoke Vault will make to balancing your desire for smokey, succulent BBQ in a reasonable amount of time.