My friend Jon needs a new cooker, and he's looking for a recomendation. Now, Jon is budget minded. I had been operating on that assumption as I came up with my recomendation, but, at the 11th hour, he's told me that he's got a higher budget than I had originally thought. Now, this doesn't change my initial recomendation, but it does add a second one to this post. So, Jon, here you go:
The old standby! Yes, this really is a good cooker to have in your arsenal. I'm planning on getting one in the near future. You can grill on this. You can even smoke on this! (Even chicken wings!) You won't be able to smoke large batches of meat with this, but you'd still be able to smoke with it. You can probably even cold smoke with it, though that's only a theory in my head at the moment.
Now, why the premium? Well, there's a couple reasons for that. First, it's premium—just kidding! (1) This cooker comes with the hinged cooking grate, which is a must have for smoking with the Weber Kettle. (2) It comes with the one-handed ash bucket, which is also handy for smoking if you need to clean out ash to help air flow.
There's a few other accessories that are super helpful to make this better. The first is the Weber Char-Baskets. These help keep your charcoal under control and help set up mult zone cooking. The second, which have been on my bucket list for awhile, are Grill Grates. The final one is the Vortex (In)Direct Heat. This doesn't just help control where your charcoal goes, but it also creates a high heat, helpful for chicken. You can even get a rotisserie attachment!
I don't currently own one of these, but I've been around the Weber Original Kettle most of my life because that's what my dad has always had. Now, I just have a Weber Jumbo Joe, but again I'm looking to upgrade in the near future. And this Weber Premium Kettle is top of my list.
I currently own this one. Jon, this is what you want if you prefer smoking meat rather than grilling. This is a true offset smoker, which can double as a grill. To be honest, since I've gone down the smoking road, my grill game has suffered.
Growing up with a Weber Kettle, grilling has never felt comfortable for me on this smoker. Now, you can put set up charcoal in the cooking chamber for direct grilling. I've never been good with burgers on it, though. You can also have cooking grates in the smoke chamber, too. That way you can smoke meat and finish it direct. This, too, has been awkward, and if you're not careful, the blow back flame doing this can burn your hand. (I know from experience.)
I've smoked great food on this smoker. I love it. You can't do much better for an entry level offset. You can modify it some, but some of those can get pricey. It smokes great. It even smoke roasts great, too. That's what I call it, anyway. I set up charcoal in the cooking chamber towards the firebox end, in my Weber Char-Baskets of course, and throw some chunks on as well. I cook indirect and then finish direct. Temps at about 350-375°, but I still get great smoke flavor. Now, I'm don't really cook my steaks to medium rare which I prefer, but they still taste great.
All around, this is a great cooker. It's a bit more hands on, and definitely more in the smoking meat wheelhouse. To be honest, if/when this one rusts out, I'll probably get another one or even the Longhorn. (Though the Yoder Cheyene is tempting.) If you've got the budget for it, I wouldn't say the Oklahama Joes Highland is a bad choice.
Either one of these will work for you, Jon. You can smoke a pork butt just as well on the Weber Kettle as you can on the Highland. If you've got a big cook coming up, you may just have to do it over a couple days with the kettle. (Or there's other options, too, to help you plan and manage a larger cook with a smaller cooker.) I know because I've smoked a butts on my Highland and Jumbo Joe. You can definitely grill easily on the Weber, and I'm sure you can grill excelently on the Highland. Grilling just isn't my strong suit.
So, take your pick, Jon. Each cooker has positives and negatives. But either would suit you nicely. (And thanks for designing the site!)