How They Work
Both cookers rely on controlled airflows to deliver delicious results with little effort compared to traditional smokers. By regulating the amount of air that reaches the charcoal, they achieve far greater temperature control than most traditional smokers, leading to more consistent results.
The beauty of water smokers is their simplicity. From top to bottom, there are just three essential components: the grates, the water pan and the charcoal basket. Food rests on the grates at the top while the water pan below generates moisture and helps regulate temperature as the charcoal heats it from the bottom. By keeping the temperature down and the humidity up, the water pan ensures that the finished product will be tender and juicy.
Chicken cooked on the Barrel House Cooker.
The Barrel House operates much like a water smoker, but with one key difference: it does not use a water pan. The Barrel House uses both hooks and grates to suspend meat directly over charcoal, allowing juices from the meat to fall onto the coals. As the drippings hit the coals, they vaporize and surround the meat with a cloud of tenderizing moisture. Normally, allowing juices to hit coals would cause flare-ups and ruin the cook, but the Barrel House's elevation-based intake and preset exhaust controls the amount of oxygen in the cooking chamber, eliminating the possibility of flare-ups while also ensuring that the cooker maintains a consistent temperature for even cooking.
Flavor & Fuel
Both platforms exist at a crossroads between a smoker and a pit. Burning charcoal infuses the meat with a light smoky flavor that can be enhanced by adding a few wood chips or chunks, giving users the ability to adjust the smokiness to their liking. Additionally, the humid environment that both cookers produce helps lock in moisture and produce juicy, tender results. The combination of smoke and moisture produces delicious barbecue and only requires a fraction of the effort of traditional smokers.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is the most important distinction to make when comparing the two. The Barrel House's altitude-based intake and preset exhaust allows for precise temperature control for over six hours without ever having to adjust the intake or add charcoal. With consistent temperatures, there is no guesswork and no need to monitor the cooker. Simply set a timer and let the Barrel House take care of the rest. Additionally, the premeasured coal basket eliminates the guesswork involved when loading the coals while the removable base makes disposing ash a breeze.
Water smokers like the Smokey Mountain do not have presets. The intake and exhaust dampers must be adjusted individually before the meat goes on and may have to be adjusted periodically to maintain consistent temperatures throughout the cook. This variability in temperature creates a degree of uncertainty that can lead to inconsistent results if the cooker is not supervised throughout the cook.
No water pan necessary — drippings vaporize and surround food in a cloud of tenderizing moisture.
The absence of a water pan also gives the Barrel House an advantage over water smokers. With water smokers, the water pan is vital for regulating temperature as well as imparting moisture. Because the frame of water smokers is not as airtight as the Barrel House, moisture can leak out while oxygen can seep in, leading to drier meat, a hotter fire and disappointing results. This creates a degree of uncertainty and a need to monitor the water pan in addition to the intake and exhaust dampers whereas the Barrel House only requires a one-time adjustment on the pre-measured intake.
Affordability & Capacity
Affordability and cooking capacity are also important considerations. The least expensive Smokey Mountain retails for just $199, but at 14 inches in diameter, cooking space is limited. With two levels for cooking, the Smokey Mountain makes the most out of its small size, but the 18 inch version is a better choice for smoking larger cuts of meat like ribs and brisket while the 22 inch version can accommodate as many as a dozen racks of baby backs (with aftermarket rib holders), making it great for large cookouts. The 18 and 22 inch models retail for $299 and $399 respectively.
The Barrel House Deluxe is $249 with free shipping.
The Barrel House Deluxe has a diameter of 14 inches and retails at $249. Although the footprint is small, the Barrel House maximizes cooking volume by hanging meat, allowing it to cook up to six racks of ribs at once. In addition to convection cooking, the Barrel House can smoke, grill and bake, making it one of the most versatile cookers on the market. The detachable base even converts into a hibachi — great for grilling on the go or for a quick sear on steaks, chops, burgers and more.