How They Work A vertical water smoker is broken into three compartments. At the bottom is the heat source. In smokers like the Brinkmann and Weber, that heat source is charcoal. Other smokers have gas burners or an electric heating element. Above the heat source is a water pan. It is this water pan that makes the system work. The water pan stores and regulates the heat of the smoker, while deflecting the direct heat from the source and providing a moist cooking environment that keeps the meats from drying out. Above the water pan is the smoking chamber. To operate this, all you need do is build a fire, fill the water pan, and throw on the meat.
Advantages Vertical Water Smokers are small so they don't take up a lot of space. Because they are small they tend to be more efficient than larger smokers, so it won't need as much fuel or power to run them. They are also amongst the least expensive smokers on the market. All of this makes a vertical water smoker the perfect starter smoker for the person who wants to give it a try, but doesn't want to make a big investment.
Disadvantages Many vertical water smokers have limited temperature control. The Brinkmann above has no adjustable vents. It is designed to work in the ideal smoking temperature range, but it can be difficult to control until you really get the hang of it. The small size can also be limiting. Most of these smokers come with two racks, one in the middle of the barrel and one on top. To access the lower rack you have to remove the top one. If that rack has food on it, this can be tricky. Because they are generally small, it cannot smoke a lot of food. A couple racks of ribs, maybe two briskets, or a pair of pork roasts. While this will certainly serve most families it doesn't provide for a lot of barbecue and considering that you may be cooking all day, it is generally worth it to plan on leftovers. One of the biggest disadvantages of the Vertical smokers is that every time you lift the lid you lose almost all of the heat in the smoker. While the water pan can store heat, it does take time for the temperature to recover.
The Weber Difference The Weber Smokey Mountain really is the exception to these disadvantages. Even the smaller version is larger than most and the 22.5 inch smoker is down right huge, larger than most people will need. The Weber also has three control vents in the base and one in the lid. This gives excellent temperature control and is the reason why the Weber is the only vertical water smoker used heavily on the barbecue competition circuit.