Vertical insulation smoker vs gravity fed smoker

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by mschwartz26, Jan 21, 2016.

  1. mschwartz26

    mschwartz26 Smoke Blower

    Sorry if this has been asked but I haven't been able to find an answer to my questions...

    I have been reviewing different vertical insulated smokers vs gravity fed smokers.  Obviously the gravity fed smokers are more expensive.  I understand the concept of how the charcoal feeds down into the smoker.  I also have read that some smokers (Deep South) have special airflow systems that would make them stand out.

    I have read that the verticals can get anywhere from 10-18+ hours on a full pan of charcoal.  The gravity fed's seem to get a little more.

    So, my questions is around the price difference b/w the 2.  Is the main thing that you are getting from the gravity fed smokers a longer burn time or is there another big difference?  If that is the main thing them I might go the route of a vertical and use a channel in the charcoal basket.

    I was just doing some more research and found threads where some where talking about having to use/manage water pans in vertical smokers gets old.  


  2. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    In my opinion, water pans, in a smoker, are only used to control the temperature because the smoker was designed improperly.... 

    The fire should be controlled by air flow.....   Then air flow through a smoker should be controlled by a second set of air inlets to move the heat and smoke through the smoker...
  3. mschwartz26

    mschwartz26 Smoke Blower

    Thanks Dave - I understand what your points but there seems to be a lot of happy people out there with vertical insulated smokers.  My research seems to show most use water when cooking l&s and either firebricks or sand when cooking h& we all know there are 15 different ways to skin it!

    I am still interested in others comments about what the biggest advantages of doing to a gravity fed over the vertical?  I think I have narrowed my research to the Lonestar or Humphrey's verticals and the Stumps, Assassin, or Deep South gravity fed smokers.  The price difference between these options can be $1000+.  If the verticals get the cook times users are saying they do, I am very curious what the extra $1k gets you.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
  4. bill1

    bill1 Smoke Blower

    I think if you're burning coals at the same rate and your air flow is the same, both those approaches are essentially similar and it comes down to if a gravity-fed has more coals so can be left unattended longer.  Water pans serve no useful purpose for high-flow smokers like that other than just giving some thermal mass for temperature stabilization.  But the vertical smokers you mention DON'T tend to run at the same air flow.  Like you say, they emphasize "insulated" designs and and less coal usage, which means the air flow is not the same and you have two different beasts. Now water pans might actually affect the humidity around the meat in low-flow smokers which can have cooking advantages (see Blonder) or NOT if you like a heavy "bark".  Now you're into very subjective territory.  

    You didn't say how much experience you have with smoking so maybe this advice isn't appropriate but for the kinds of money you seem to be considering spending, I'd recommend you buy both a Weber Smokey Mountain and Brinkmann-type cheapie offset smoker and then form your own opinions with lots of money left over for once you develop strong preferences.          
  5. light-it-up

    light-it-up Fire Starter

    Do gravity fed smokers always have an offset firebox?

    vertical insulated cabinets to not, correct?
  6. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    All smokers are "gravity feed" or "convection"...  unless you have something to drive the air movement like a fan or blower....
  7. seenred

    seenred Smoking Guru Group Lead OTBS Member

    That's basically correct. Vertical cabinets have a coal-fired box directly under the cook chamber, with some sort of heat diffuser/shield (like a steel plate and/or a water pan) between the food and the fire.

    In a gravity fed cooker, the charcoal chute and firebox are beside or behind the cook chamber, with a transfer tube between that pipes the heat/smoke into the bottom of the CC

  8. Spot on, sir.  True beyond true.


    I'd tend to disagree with you, 26:  "most" of the folks I've known over the years--and many on this forum--who have had water pans have discarded them altogether or fill with sand, regardless of low or hot, or vertical or horizontal.  My experience in nearly 40 years of doing this is that those who are relative newcomers lean toward pans of water until they've figured out their rig and no longer really see the need.  When water boils out at 212, and a smoker is running at 225 minimally, it doesn't take long for that pan to vaporize, unless it's filled with ice water.  Then more water has to be added, and the temperature roller coaster and the uneven cooking cycle begins anew.  Fill once with sand, and there is no up/down effect, or it can be left out completely.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  9. light-it-up

    light-it-up Fire Starter

    Isn't it better to have an offset box than one directly under the cook chamber? How is there not high radiant heat under the lower racks in a vertical?
  10. bill1

    bill1 Smoke Blower

    Yes, it's better if your goal is make a lot of smoke but still have it take a long time to cook your meat.  That's the direction of cold smoking.  But sometimes the cost of fuel is a concern, certainly if you're trying to make a business of this.  Spending $50 on fuel for $10 of meat can hurt one's budget.  In that case, you put some effort into better harvesting the energy content in your fuel.  So then, getting that radiant heat into your cooking chamber is a good thing. I would add that water pans, raising the humidity in your cooker, also helps get the fuel energy transferred to your meat.  So less energetic smokers (like electrically-powered ones) tend to come with water pans. For a given ambient temperature, that will get your meat to final serving temperature quicker.  Again, that has huge financial payback from a business standpoint.  But less time in the smoke also means less smoke flavor, all other things being equal.   
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017

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