Whether you’re new to smoking or you want to add a charcoal smoker to your collection of pellet and electric smokers, the Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch Smoker tops most lists of the best smokers on the market. And no wonder: The setup is logical, cleanup is simple, and the temperature regulation is easy to understand. Plus, the product gets bonus points for the tall, slim design that gives it a smaller footprint for storage while still offering enough smoking space to feed guests. We put the popular smoker to the test to see if it held up to its reputation.

Performance: Keeps temperature fluctuations under control

When it comes to smoking, maintaining temperature is extremely important, both for proper cooking and for producing sufficient smoke. Like most grills and smokers, the Weber Smokey Mountain has vents that control the airflow and in turn the temperature, but it also has a very sneaky trick up its sleeve for maintaining heat levels: a large water pan that sits directly above the coals. The water acts as a heat sink, absorbing heat and releasing it slowly, keeping the temperature stable.

The lid has an adjustable vent, an integrated thermometer, and a handle that stays cool. The middle section of the smoker holds the water bowl and two cooking grates and has a door for adding charcoal, wood, or water, and for checking food on the lower grate. The base has three adjustable vents and three legs for stability—and it holds the fire grate and ring. The three sections don’t lock together, so you simply stack them. When we needed to move the smoker, we carried each section separately and appreciated the reasonable weight of each section.

The included smoker cover was a nice touch, and we found it fit snugly enough on the smoker that it didn’t fly away. A single hook-and-loop fastener strap lets you tie the cover to one of the smoker legs for extra security, though it seemed unlikely that we’d need this.

Since this smoker is tall rather than wide, you won’t be using it for a whole pig, but the height lets you cook a beer-can style turkey vertically with no problem. A rack of ribs or side of salmon will fit easily across the center of the grates. When we made ribs, we cut the rib racks in half for easier handling and for even smoking while using grates on both levels. When we were ready to sauce them, they all fit onto the top grate.

Setup Process: Easy to do, but diagrams weren’t completely clear

This smoker required minimal assembly, just attaching the legs, brackets, and the plastic shroud for the lid handle. The instructions were simple diagrams, and the two types of washers looked identical, so we had to visit the manufacturer’s website for clarification. Short answer: Fiber washers go against the outer shell of the smoker to protect the paint surface from chips or cracks.

Smoking Setup: Almost as easy as a charcoal grill

For smoke, you need fire. Charcoal briquettes are recommended, but many users prefer lump charcoal or a mix. To start the fire, we tried a chimney starter as well as wax fire starters. One chimney’s worth of charcoal wasn’t enough, so we dumped that onto the grate, then added more charcoal and waited for that to get ash-coated. With wax starters, we added all the charcoal we wanted in a generous pyramid and used the starters to light the fire.

Once the coals were ready, we added dry chunks of smoking wood, then put the center section of the smoker in place along with the empty water bowl. We added water and then the grates and lid. When the smoker reached a stable temperature, we were ready to cook. Weber recommends checking the smoker every 15 minutes, which is a good idea when you’re adjusting the vents to get the right temperature. While the integrated thermometer is fine when you’re near the grill, we suggest using a remote thermometer so you can monitor it from a distance during long smoking sessions.

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Design: Built with the job in mind

Everything about this smoker is designed to improve function. An aluminum bowl-shaped attachment under the smoker is a heat shield that protects your deck from heat-related damage. The thermometer port protects probe wires from direct contact with hot metal. It also keeps heat from escaping and wrangles all the probe wires into one space. The port has a small hole that snugly holds a probe to monitor internal temperature as well as a long hole that can accommodate multiple probe wires for monitoring food temperature. While this is definitely designed to be a smoker, we found it interesting that it’s so easy to convert it to a standard grill. As mentioned, the water pan regulates the temperature, but it also creates a moist cooking environment and serves as a tray for catching fats and juices that would otherwise cause flare-ups. You could also use the water bowl to add flavor to the food you’re cooking, such as by adding apple cider when cooking pork. The only downside to the bowl configuration was that it wasn’t easy to see the water level during cooking. However, we found that with the bowl filled to capacity, there was still plenty of water left after 10 hours of smoking.

Material: High quality for long life

The smoker body is made from powder-coated steel that can withstand heat and weather, while the legs, vents, legs, and internal brackets that hold the grates are aluminum. The top handle and the access door handle are plastic, so they stay cool during cooking. The cooking grates are chrome-plated and easy to clean.

Heating Capacity: Similar to your favorite charcoal grill

The smoker heats fairly quickly, and it doesn’t take long before the temperature stabilizes. During a 6-hour rib smoking session, the temperature stayed within about 20 degrees of our target smoking temperature for most of that time. Some fluctuations should be expected since things like wind, weather, and sunlight can affect the temperature.

Cleaning: Easier than your oven

Minimalist cleaning for proper cooking includes scrubbing the grates with a grill brush or crumpled aluminum foil, thoroughly cleaning the water bowl, and disposing of the cold ashes and unburned charcoal. The stem of the integrated lid thermometer should also be cleaned if you’ll be relying on that to monitor the internal temperature.

It’s expected that the interior of the smoker will develop a patina from the accumulated smoke and the grates will discolor, just like any grill. However, the accumulated smoke can get thick enough to flake off the interior. It’s a good idea to clean that off, particularly on the underside of the lid, so the flakes don’t fall onto the food. The exterior can simply be wiped clean.

Features: It’s not just a smoker

While this is definitely designed to be a smoker, we found it interesting that it’s so easy to convert it to a standard grill. The fire grate and ring fit perfectly where the water bowl would normally rest, then the top grate is put in its normal place for grilling.

Final Verdict

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The size is nice, with two cooking grates for extra capacity, enough space to fit a rack of ribs across the center of the grates, and plenty of height for tall foods. The ability to convert the smoker to a grill was a pleasant surprise, and the included cover was a bonus that will keep the smoker clean in inclement weather.