What is a Water Smoker and How Does it Work?

water smoker gauge
A water smoker, also known as a bullet smoker, is a type of BBQ grill that uses charcoal as a heat source and wood chips for flavor. Water is placed in a pan within the grill, and the heat from the charcoal causes the water to evaporate, creating a humid environment that helps to keep the meat moist while it cooks. The smoke from the wood chips adds flavor to the meat as it cooks.

Water smokers allow you to cook food at temperatures well below 300°F for a long time since the food is protected from direct heat by a water pan. A water pan gives a pitmaster temperature control and keeps moisture in the cooking chamber.

What is a Water Smoker?

Also known as a bullet smoker, a water smoker refers to a vertical smoker with a water bowl near the firebox. Water smokers cook with steam, which makes them perfect for smoking meats for extended periods and keeping them tender and moist.

Water smokers are much more than standard offset smokers. Not only will you enjoy a great BBQ with this cooker, but you can also use different cooking methods to help make your BBQ food juicy and delicious at the same time. This unique BBQ smoker has a water pan that helps to create unique flavors.

Water smokers have three chambers. The lower one is used for wood and charcoal, the middle one is for water, and the top one is where food is placed. The water is placed in the middle chamber to prevent fat from dripping into the coals while keeping the cooking temperature low.

A water smoker features vents on the top and bottom sections. It’s advisable to keep the top vent open to allow smoke to escape. The bottom vents are used for regulating temperature. The temperature reduces when there’s less air entering the smoker.

Generally, if the bottom section’s ring is filled with charcoal or wood chunks, and the water pan is almost filled, the cooking temperature stays in the 225°F to 250°F range for 4 to 6 hours. This is the target temperature range for smoking meats such as brisket, turkey, pork ribs, and rib roasts.

Wood chips burn faster than wood chunks, so for longer cooking sessions, you should use wood chunks. If the charcoal you’re using has natural fillers, consider lighting the briquettes before placing them in the smoker. Some meat lovers can detect flavors in meats smoked over unlit briquettes.

During those long cooking sessions, ensure that you refill the water pan occasionally with warm water, but keep the lid closed as much as possible. This is essential for maintaining even cooking temperatures.

Black Weber Water Smoker
Weber Water Smoker

What are the Benefits of a Water Smoker?

The combination of moisture and heat delivers great BBQ results: appealing bark on beef brisket, wonderful texture on BBQ ribs, and crispy skin on turkey and chicken. 

A vertical charcoal water smoker is suitable for slow cooking or smoking meats at consistent, low temperatures for long periods. It doesn’t matter whether you’re smoking brisket, prime rib, chicken, or barbecuing something else.

Here are the main benefits of water smokers: 

  • A water smoker uses charcoal and allows you to customize your fire. You can use different wood chips to grill or smoke your meat to find the best flavor. 
  • Due to their size, design, and construction, water smokers are generally more efficient than regular offset smokers. 
  • Most units weigh in at just under 50 pounds, making them portable. 
  • The water pan helps to keep the temperature low and offers temperature control. It also disperses heat, guaranteeing tender and juicy BBQ meats, poultry, and seafood.  
  • They are long-lasting. These simple smokers have few moving parts or components that are likely to malfunction. If regularly cleaned and maintained, they can last for many years. 
  • Water smokers are ergonomically designed, so cleanup and maintenance are easy.

How Do You Use a Water Smoker?

Prepare your water smoker by placing charcoal in the lower chamber. Add wood and light the charcoal before adding water. This will allow the smoke and aroma of the wood chips to penetrate the meat. 

Close the water smoker and adjust the vents. If there’s little smoke from the smoker, place more wood chunks. You may also add some wood chips, though these will burn faster. 

You may also need to replenish the charcoal if you cook for a long time. Remember to refill the water as it evaporates. Warm water is ideal for maintaining the cooking temperature. 

Remember to keep the smoker closed because it can lose heat. This will increase the cooking time and compromise the quality of your food. 

Do Water Smokers Cook Food Faster?

Water smokers do not cook food faster. Water smokers are made for low and slow cooking because it helps to keep the meat juicy. The extra moisture will also cool the meat, causing it to cook slower. 

What is the Difference Between a Water Smoker and a Regular Smoker?

What differentiates a water smoker from other types is its dependence on moisture. Other types of smokers including gas smokers (propane gas grill), charcoal grills, electric smokers, and pellet smokers do not make efficient use of water.

Although you don’t need to refill the water pan with water, doing so will help hydrate the cooking space and help maintain a consistent cooking temperature. The water pan also acts as a barrier between the food and the charcoal, making it perfect for low and slow cooking. 

You can enhance the flavor profile by augmenting the liquid with wine, beer, cider, carrots, onions, celery, garlic powder, and fresh herbs. 

Another advantage of water vertical charcoal smokers is that cleanup is easy. This makes it last longer than dry smokers. 

Is a Water Smoker Good for Hot Smoking or Cold Smoking?

Water smokers are great for hot smoking and cold smoking since they work perfectly for the production of smoke and are a good source of heat. 

Do Water Smokers Have a Hot Spot?

Yes. All smokers have a hot spot or an area in the cooking area that’s hotter than other parts, but the best ones are built to reduce the effect. In a water smoker, the hot spot is just under the lid. 

The distance from the heat source to the cooking grates is large enough, so it’s pretty easy to smoke food without burning the sides. The key to effectively operating a water smoker is to learn how it works and then use it to your advantage. 

Where to Buy a Water Smoker

If you want to buy a water smoker, you’ll find many different brands in your search. When looking for a water smoker, I went with a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, but several brands and smokers are worth considering!

Some brands are specialized in making a particular type of smoker but fall short on others. Some brands offer high-quality smokers but poor customer service. 

Here are some of the most popular and trusted brands: 

You should check brand websites and read customer reviews and comments before making an informed decision. Knowing other customers’ experiences with a given water smoker model will give a good idea of what to expect from that particular model. Expert reviews from BBQ pitmasters will go a long way in helping you find a water smoker that suits your style.


At heart, Patrick is a passionate cook, adventurous eater, recipe writer, and bargain hunter. He aims to provide creative ideas on how to how to cook amazing food with everyday ingredients in a hassle-free manner.When not writing or standing over a grill, Patrick enjoys traveling and exploring nature in all its beauty.

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