Backyard smokers and grills come in a huge variety of designs and sizes. Most use charcoal, some are electric, and some homemade smokers are literally glorified trash cans with a hot plate and some wood chips - beware of doing this yourself, as the wrong type of metal trash can may release toxins into your cuisine.
HERE ARE THE MAIN THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A BACKYARD SMOKER/GRILL:
1. Distance between grill grate and coals. Two to two and a half feet is optimal for slow barbecuing.
2. Ability to move the grill grate close or far away to the charcoal pan, or vice versa. This allows you to adjust the heat for slow barbecuing or fast charcoal grilling.
3. Ability to add more coals or wood. This, in most cases, will require moving the meat or the grill grate when the heat goes down. However, if you can get a smoker that allows you to add coals without moving stuff around.... sweet dude. Totally sweet.
4. Adjustable vents on the side. Such vents will allow or prevent oxygen flow. Opening these vents wider promotes oxygen flow, resulting in higher heat. Water smokers tend not to have this feature, but the door on the side of them may occasionally be opened for a few minutes if the heat is going down too low.
5. A temperature gauge. Some may indicate the exact temperature, while some brands have a gauge that says "Warm," "Ideal," and "Hot." If your smoker/grill has the latter, you may need to judge for yourself when food is fully done, or use a meat thermometer to obtain a specific temperature.
HERE ARE SOME COMMON TYPES OF SMOKERS AND GRILLS:
1. Barrel smokers appear as cylinder shaped receptacles, sometimes with a side compartment where the hot coals are placed. This design is great for allowing a chef to add more coals during cooking, promoting smoke flow, and slow cooking. Its one drawback is the fact that the heat source is all to one side. The resourceful chef, however, can make use of this by placing a thicker side of a piece of meat closer to the coal compartment.
2. Upright water smokers are perhaps the most common home smokers. They are tall, often with a rounded top, they contain a small grill, and they also include a water pan. This keeps the temperature down for slow smoking and additionally creates a steamy environment to prevent drying of food. Such a design is optimal for cooking turkeys and other large meats, however it may be difficult to keep your heat up and to create a pronounced "bark" on your barbecued meat.
3. Old fashioned, round, Weber-style charcoal grills are not to be overlooked. In our opinion, these are near perfect for barbecuing, and some of the fancier, stranger looking grills and smokers can't do as good of a job as these can. The difficulty is finding one large enough to promote low temperature cooking.