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Best Charcoal Smokers: Offset, Drum, Bullet, Set & Forget

BEST DRUM

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic
Pit Barrel Cooker
4.8/5

BEST BULLET

Weber Smokey Mountain 18 Inch
Weber Smokey Mountain
4.8/5

BEST SMOKE & GRILL

Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Bronco
4.5/5

BEST OFFSET

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Highland
4.6/5

BEST KAMADO

Kamado Joe Classic II
Kamado Joe Classic II
4.7/5

BEST AUTOMATED

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050 Grill and Smoker
Masterbuilt Gravity
4.3/5

If you’re looking to wow your family and friends with some melt-in-the-mouth smoked meat, but don’t have the room for a full-on smokehouse in your backyard, a charcoal smoker is the ideal solution. Inexpensive, simple, and efficient to run, smoking with charcoal creates a strong, smoky flavor that’s hard to beat.

But, not every charcoal grill is suitable for smoking. Some are hard to use while others are poor quality… Here, we cut to the chase recommending our very favorite of the best charcoal smokers on the market.

All of these models are tried and tested companions that won’t let you down. We’ve given you a choice of types, sizes, and price points. So, take your pick, grab one of our favorite charcoals, and get out there to have some fun!

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How We Tested the Best Charcoal Smokers

There’s no substitute for real, hands-on experience with a product. Each and every barbecue recommended in this best charcoal smoker review has been personally used by us.

But, our testing to get to these recommendations also included a lot of barbecues that didn’t make the cut.

Over at least 10 separate cooks and up to 10 years plus, these charcoal smokers have been assessed on the following basis:

The quality of materials used in any barbecue not only impacts it’s performance and ease of use, but it’s also a major factor in how long it lasts.

We don’t want you to have to be back every year buying a new smoker so, one of our focuses is the build quality to make sure that you’re getting a product that will last.

There’s no way it can make the cut as one of the best charcoal smokers if it doesn’t smoke great food.

For consistency in our testing, we cook the same cuts of meat with the same Hardcore Carnivore seasonings, and use the same, sometimes adapted for the type of barbecue, smoking technique on each.

To assess the flavor, burn time, and heat retention, we also stick to using one of our preferred charcoals. Both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes were use on all of these smokers so emulate both fuels that you might use.

Although you’re primarily looking for a smoker, a lot of users want a charcoal unit they can grill on as well.

If it’s able to be grilled on, we also tested it’s performance to do so.

This included seeing how easy it was to set up, if the barbecue was able to reach a hot enough for smoking heat, and what the flavor was like.

With a charcoal smoker where the fire is manually tended to, in one of our best charcoal smoker recommendations, we also want to see that it’s relatively easy to recreate the same results time and time again.

We’ve cooked each cut of meat not just once. But, run the smoker up again on different days with different weather conditions to see how easy or hard it is to hit those same temperatures we used to get that perfect brisket.

A similar assessment was made on any fixed temperature or electronically regulated charcoal smokers as well because if the barbecue is doing it for you, you want it to be reliable.

Most charcoal smokers don’t have an app. But, one of the smokers recommended here does have WiFi for remote control.

It’s app was tested on numerous occassions to check for any connectivity issues as well as how easy it was to use. You’ll see comments on it below.

Pit Barrel Cooker vs Oklahoma Joe's Bronco

In choosing the best charcoal smokers to be featured here, we’ve made sure there’s at least one recommendation in each charcoal sub-category. So, whether you’re after something with a water pan, something that smokes and grills, or don’t care as long as it’s charcoal, you should find a good option for your backyard right here.

Table of Contents

Best Charcoal Smokers: Our Top Choices

For that unbeatable charcoal smoked flavor, choose your weapon of choice from one of these tested and approved charcoal smokers.

BEST DRUM

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic

4.8/5

BBQ type: Drum smoker

Material: Enameled steel

Grates: Stainless steel

Capacity: 8 hangers

Heat range: Approx 275°F

Dimensions: 21″ W x 31.1″ H x 21″ D

Price guide: $$

Model: Pit Barrel Classic

Warranty: 1 year

The Pit Barrel Cooker Classic is the self-professed, best-selling drum cooker on the market. And, rightly so. The Pit Barrel lets you smoke a lot of food, very easily, in a hands-off way, and it doesn’t cost much to buy.

How is this non-electric charcoal smoker set and forget?

It’s the vertical design mixed with the fixed temperature air intake that’s brilliantly simple. Just follow the instructions to set the single vent to the correct position based on your alititude above sea level, and with a basket full of quality charcoal, it regulates itself to about the 275°F.

Pit Barrel Vent

It’s a little hotter than most people aim to smoke at. But, because you’re hanging the meat vertically, you’re getting a more indirect, convectional heat rotating around cooking it. We do find that the very bottom rib does get a little charred because it’s so close to the coals.

Overall though, really great results with as little effort as possible. And, running it hotter means it cooks faster too.

Included with the barrel itself are 8 stainless steel hooks from which you can hang a serious amount of meat. You also get a regular grate that you can use for smoking or grilling at a pinch.

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Loaded at Start of Cook

We personaly don’t really like grilling on the Pit Barrel because you’re quite far away from the coals, have to reach down inside the drum a little, and don’t have good control over the heat. But, a lot of people are happy to work around the inconvenience to have a cheap but good smoker that does it all.

Made from porcelain-enameled, 18 gauge steel, the drum itself is very good quality. Ours has a small amount of rust on the top of the lid where the lip holds the rain in. You should really store it undercover though and so should we!

At the end of the day, the Pit Barrel Cooker gives you charcoal smoking made really simple. In fact, this cheap smoker is often compared to some of the world’s most expensive in terms of performance.

It’s a solid buy for anyone who likes the charcoal flavor but doesn’t want to be tied to the smoker, adjusting the temp throughout the cook.

Read our full review of the Pit Barrel Cooker.

Pros
Cons
BEST BULLET

Weber Smokey Mountain

4.7/5

BBQ type: Charcoal bullet

Material: Enameled steel

Grates: Plated steel

Capacity: 481 sq inch

Heat range: Low to high

Dimensions: 19″D x 21″W x 41″H

Price guide: $$

Model: 721001

Warranty: 10 yrs bowl, 5 yrs plastics, 2 yrs other

The best charcoal grill smoker list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the household name, Weber. So, if you’re a Weber devotee looking to smoke your first brisket, look no further.

The Weber Smokey Mountain is pretty much like an elongated kettle grill. The fire sits at the bottom of the cylinder with two grates above so that there’s a bit more distance between the heat and the food. There’s a water pan so you can add water, a large fuel door to add more charcoal and/or wood chunks, and dampers that are similar to the traditional Weber kettle style.

Charcoal and wood fire inside the Weber Smokey Mountain 14

Although the steel isn’t the thickest and doesn’t offer great heat retention or protection from the cold, this simple smoker can produce some mighty fine barbecue.

It’s easy to keep the temperature fairly steady, the flavor is strong and delicious, and the bark is on point.

Just like their kettle grills, the Weber Smokey Mountain is made from the same porcelain-enameled steel. It’s very much durable and rust resistant. The probe port will be the first thing to go. But, we’ve had our for more than 10 years and it’s still going strong with pretty regular use. Weber’s 10 year warranty is no joke.

In terms of capacity, you’ve got a choice of three different sizes. The smallest 14″ model is ideal for individuals, couples, or anyone who wants a portable smoker, and the medium 18″ gives a modest 481 square inches of cooking space, while the largest 22″ is actually a pretty chunky barbecue that can cook a lot of food at once.

Keep in mind when you’re choosing sizes, the larger you go, the more fuel you’ll use to heat the space. Also, the number refers to how wide the grate is. You’ll struggle to fit a rack of ribs or a brisket on the smallest although there’s nothing stopping you from cutting it in half and layering one rack on the second grate like so.

Rack of ribs cut in half on the Weber Smokey Mountain 14 Inch

Nevertheless, the Weber Smokey Mountain is one of the most iconic charcoal smokers out there for one great reason, it performs really well.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys sitting out there, tinkering with the fire as it goes, it’s a satisfying barbecue with undeniably authentic flavor.

Pros
Cons
BEST DRUM

Oklahoma Joe's Bronco

4.5/5

BBQ type: Charcoal drum

Material: Painted steel

Grates: Porcelain-coated

Capacity: 9 hooks

Heat range: Smoke & grill

Dimensions: 30″ W x 43″ H x 25″ D

Price guide: $$

Model: 19202089

Warranty: 2 years

For an affordable and decent barbecue that grills as well as it smokes, the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco is our favorite model.

Overall, this smoker isn’t as good a quality as the Pit Barrel or Weber. But, with a porcelain-coated charcoal basket, grates, and stainless steel hooks, they’ve given you durability where you need it the most.

Our favorite thing about this model compared to the other best charcoal smokers is that yes, it’s great for smoking but, it’s also really great for grilling too.

Grilling on the Oklahoma Joe Bronco

OKJ have designed this thing for the charcoal basket to easily move up to a higher position so that you can use the 18″ regular cooking grate as a full height grill. With an open charcoal flame, you’ve got maximum heat and maximum control while being able to take it down a notch and hang up to 9 pieces of meat on the included heavy-duty hooks as well.

Oklahoma Joe Bronco Grate Capacity

Like most charcoal smokers, it’s not set and forget. You will have to adjust the dampers throughout your cook to keep a steady temperature. But, the dampers slide well and give you pretty precise control at all times.

A full basket of good quality charcoal can give you up to 10 hours of low and slow smoking time which we have confirmed in our tests.

Pros
Cons

Want to compare this to other top rated drum smokers? Check out our best drum smokers review.

BEST OFFSET

Oklahoma Joe's Highland

4.6/5

BBQ type: Offset

Material: Powder-coated

Grates: Porcelain-coated

Capacity: 619 sq inch

Heat range: Smoke & grill

Dimensions: 33.5″D x 57″W x 53″H

Price guide: $$

Model: Highland

Warranty: 2 years

When it comes to a mix of price, quality, and performance, there’s no beating the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland for an offset smoker.

This smoker doesn’t have the thickest metal out there, and it’s not competition quality. But, for most people, this offset is good enough to smoke some very decent food while giving you the benefits and experience of it’s stick burner design.

On it you’ve got a reasonable but not overboard 619 square inches of cooking space in the main smoking chamber. It comes with a grate in the firebox too where you can grill and sear 281 square inches directly over the charcoal fire independent of what’s going on in the main chamber.

Smoking on the Oklahoma Joes Highland offset smoker

Controlling the temperature on the Highland is fairly easy to do. The fire responds well to the dampers being opened and closed, and they all slide well and stay right where you’ve set them.

Some smoke will leak around the doors of the Highland unless you do some mods to make it seal 100% shut. In our opinion, the leakage isn’t significant enough to affect the performance much. You can upgrade the gasket if you want to but it’s completely alright to use the Highland as it comes.

The thinner steel body doesn’t give excellent heat retention which means that if you’re cooking in colder weather, you will use quite a bit more fuel to maintain the same sort of temperatures.

But, even with it’s drawbacks, at the end of the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker is capable of smoking some really delicious food. The flavor is bold, you can use just charcoal, charcoal with wood, or a pure wood fire depending on what you want or have on hand.

Smoking on the Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker

We also like that the main smoking chamber can be converted into a huge charcoal grill which is awesome for entertaining.

Pros
Cons

If you’re interested in a more expensive, better quality offset smoker, check out our best offset smokers review for a lot more choice.

BEST KAMADO

Kamado Joe Classic II

4.7/5

BBQ type: Kamado

Material: Glazed ceramic

Grates: Stainless steel

Capacity: 256 sq inch

Heat range: 225°F-750°F

Dimensions: 46.5″ W x 48″ H x 28″ D

Price guide: $$$

Model: Classic II

Warranty: Ceramic lifetime, 5 yrs metals, 1 yr other

If you like the charcoal flavor and absolutely don’t want to compromise on a barbecue that’s better suited to smoking or grilling, a kamado is the best all-round performer. And this, the Kamado Joe Classic II is our favorite kamado out there. This thing gives you top quality, a heap of useful features, and plenty of cooking space all for a really great price.

Now, a kamado will set you back more than your average charcoal smoker. But, with proper TLC it can last you a lifetime as well, and the food… oh, the food will be worth it my friend!

Let’s start with the materials…

The high-fired, porcelain-glazed ceramic shell does an excellent job of retaining heat for virtually the same level of performance and fuel efficiency in really cold weather. The wire mesh fibreglass gasket that’s unique to Kamado Joe is guaranteed to keep your grill sealed for 10 years longer than any other kamado on the market. And, instead of having to fork out for a new firebox in years to come (because it’s the most commonly replace kamado part), KJ have come up with their innovatively, already broken AMP firebox that’s got the space it needs to expand and contract safely with the heat.

Kamado Joe AMP Firebox

But that’s definitely not all… you’ve got to love the Air Lift Hinge that reduces that heavy dome weight by a respectable 96%. The weather-resistant Kontrol Tower top vent lets you dial that temperature in very precisely and holds it in place while you open and close the lid. And, the Divide and Conquer cooking system gives you so many options for how you want to set up your grates.

Example of a 2-tier setup on the Kamado Joe Classic II

Half moons, full plates, a heat deflector, or specialty surface, you’ve got so much versatility on this capable smoker. Whether you’re grilling, smoking, baking, roasting, or something else somewhere in between, food cooked on the KJ Classic II always tastes really great. It’s not hard to learn how to use either.

For a smoker that you’ll never have to replace, it’s one sure-fire choice.

For all the details, read our full review of the Kamado Joe Classic II.

Pros
Cons

Read about other kamado contenters in our best kamado grills review.

BEST AUTOMATED

Masterbuilt Gravity Series

4.2/5

BBQ type: Digital charcoal

Material: Powder-coated

Grates: Cast iron & porcelain-coated

Capacity: 550 – 1,050 sq inch

Heat range: 150 – 700°F

Dimensions: 33.5″D x 57″W x 53″H

Price guide: $$$

Model: MB20041220

Warranty: 1 year

The Masterbuilt Gravity Series Charcoal Grill and Smoker is pretty much a hybrid of a good old charcoal smoker and an automated pellet grill making it the perfect solution for anyone who loves the flavor but not the hassle.

How does it work?

Like a pellet smoker, you need electricity to plug it in and run the digital control panel. This tells the smoker how hard to run the fan, giving the fire more oxygen to burn hotter or less to choke it down for low and slow smoking. And, with a very wide temperature range you can smoke, grill, sear, bake, and roast pretty much anything in this one barbecue, it’s very versatile.

pork ribs smoked on Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 digital charcoal smoker

Now, the quality isn’t as good as something like the Kamado Joe. At a fraction of the cost, you can’t expect it to be. The steel is thinner, it uses more fuel cooking in cold weather, some smoke does leak out of the door’s average seal, and it is prone to rusting (so look after it properly!). But, it’s the best digitally controlled charcoal smoker on the market at the moment. Nothing else really compares so if you want easy, this is it.

We’ve made some really great meals on this one.

The reversable cast iron grates can be set to thicker or thinner bars for smoking or grilling. It produces a lot of smoke. You can add wood chunks to the charcoal for a woodier flavor. Oh, and it’s got WiFi with a meat probe included too for you to check on your meat and adjust the temperature of your barbecue without actually going outside to it.

Masterbuilt Gravity 560 temperature graph showing it holding a steady temperature

The biggest con, apart from the average build quality is that this smoker is hard to light!

We’ve tried it all sorts of ways and an electric charcoal starter is really a must-have accessory with this one.

Because you fill up the whole hopper with charcoal and light it from the bottom up, you can’t use a chimney to get the coals going well. Masterbuilt suggest sliding a couple of firestarters into the slot below the charcoal. But, we’ve tried all sorts of different brands and no matter what, it takes us about an hour to light it without an electric starter.

Lighting the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 with regular firestarters

Once it’s going though, the Masterbuilt Gravity performs superbly. It’s a really good all-round performer.

With a choice of three sizes to suit your appetite and budget, we would buy this one again and use it very regularly.

Pros
Cons

Want to compare this to other top rated charcoal smokers? Check out our best charcoal smokers review.

What is a Charcoal Smoker?

A charcoal smoker is any type of barbecue that can be used to cook food with a charcoal-fuelled heat and smoke at a low temperature for many hours to create flavorful, moist, and tender meat that’s hard to achieve any other way.

This means that a charcoal smoker can be one of a few types including a charcoal drum, bullet, water smoker, offset smoker, and kamado.

For the purpose of this review, we have also included the newer digital charcoal smokers here as well. Acting like a cross between a charcoal smoker and a pellet grill, this type of smoker has an electronic control panel that regulates the heat for you but still uses good old charcoal as it’s fuel base.

How Do Charcoal Smokers Work?

Although the specifics of how a charcoal smoker works will depend on which type of charcoal smoker it is, most have a setup that’s similar to this:

Lit charcoal is burned in a charcoal basket, on a grate, or in an offset firebox of any charcoal smoker. This is what provides the heat and smoke for cooking.

You will find air intake dampers near wherever the fire is housed that are adjustable so that you can bring in more air to burn the charcoal hotter or less air to hold the temperature down to a low and slow rate.

As well as there being a damper or air intake valve near the firebox, most charcoal smokers will also have at least one damper somewhere in the top half of the smoker that lets you fine-tune the temperature by making small adjustments to it.

This damper may be integrated into a chimney, but regardless, acts as a chimney, drawing heat and smoke across the cooking chamber to cook the food inside.

On a charcoal smoker, the cooking chamber, where the food is placed, sometimes sits directly over the firebox and is at other times, off to the side depending on which type of charcoal setup it is.

Food is sometimes set on a regular grilling grate, and in some models, can also be hung with hooks to cook more food in the same amount of space.

Some charcoal smokers have a water pan or heat deflector that sits over the fire and below the food.

A water pan serves two important jobs; it helps to even out the temperature and adds moisture to the cooking chamber to prevent the food from drying out.

A heat deflector acts to block the direct heat from the fire so that the food doesn’t dry out or burn.

Most, but not all, charcoal smokers have a built-in temperature gauge in the lid of the cooking chamber.

This lets you see how hot it’s running to dial in the temperature as you require.

Advantages of Using a Charcoal Smoker

Charcoal smokers are really great for the following reasons:

Smoking with charcoal creates a distinctively charcoally flavor in your meat that you can’t replicate any other way. It’s one of the stronger and bolder flavors you can create. And, extra wood chunks or chips can be added for a woodier flavor as well.

Lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes are easily and widely available. You can usually pick up a bag at your local grocery shop, hardware stores, or order it online. There’s lots of choice.

Charcoal is one of the most affordable fuels to smoke with.

It’s usually relatively inexpensive to buy and, depending on the type of charcoal smoker, one basket of charcoal can last many hours of smoking offering good efficiency.

Charcoal smokers, expect for digital models, don’t require any power to run.

You won’t need to run a power cord, they are easily portable, there’s no added electricity running cost, and they work in a power outage too.

Disadvantages of Using a Charcoal Smoker

Although charcoal smokers are great, they do come with these few disadvantages:

Most charcoal smokers need you to manually adjust the temperature by opening and closing the dampers to let more or less air in as required. And, while this gives a hands-on barbecue experience that a lot of people enjoy, it does mean that you need to dedicate quite a bit of time to barbecueing whenever you do run the thing.

Newer, digital charcoal smokers do offer a set and forget charcoal smoking experience and fixed temperature smokers like the Pit Barrel are more hands-off too.

Operating a charcoal smoker effectively requires a certain level of skill and experience. Achieving the right balance of heat and smoke can take time to master, and there is a significant learning curve for those new to smoking.

That being said, you’re never going to learn or get good at it unless you just do it so, don’t let the learning curve stop you if you want to be able to master charcoal. You can do it.

Charcoal itself is quite messy. And, charcoal smokers produce a fair amount of ash that needs to be emptied regularly. They’re not as clean or low maintenance as some other fuel types.

What to Look for When Buying a Charcoal Smoker

In addition to thinking about how much you want to spend, when you’re buying a charcoal smoker, you should consider the following things before hitting buy now:

All charcoal smokers will smoke. But, not all charcoal smokers grill too.

If you do want to be able run your smoker hot to grill and sear meat too, make sure it’s one that’s designed to.

Some people do make mods to dedicated smokers to allow them to use them as a grill too. But, if you can, just buying one that’s set up for both purposes gives you the best setup and is definitely the easiest option.

There’s a lot of charcoal smokers that are great grills too and we’ve included a few in our best charcoal smoker recommendations above.

Most charcoal smokers have a pretty decent cooking capacity, letting you smoke and/or grill quite a lot of food at once.

Have a think about what you’re most likely to cook on it, how many people you want to be able to serve, if you like having leftovers, and what sort of capacity you need to be able to bump up to for entertaining.

A bigger smoker isn’t always better because it will use more fuel which increases the running cost. But, that being said, it’s hard and expensive to go big if you buy too small. Only you can judge what you’ll use though. Don’t get hung up on this decision, just make your best guess and go for it.

When you’re entertaining, you can always opt for smoking things like pork shoulder or a brisket that can be pulled or sliced up to serve a lot. These types of cuts usually go a lot further than say, a rack of ribs and you can cater for quite a few on a small smoker by choosing wisely.

Some people like using a water pan so it’s a must-have feature. Other people don’t fill them with water even if their smoker has one.

But, if it’s an important factor for you, make sure you choose a charcoal smoker that does have a water pan included in it’s design and setup.

Most charcoal smokers don’t require power. But, if you want a digital charcoal smoker that automatically regulates the temperature for you, you will need access to power in your backyard or wherever you want to run it.

An extension cable is fine to run a digital charcoal smoker off of. But, check out where you can safely run it from and make sure the cable is long enough to reach your cooking area.

One great thing about charcoal smokers is that, because there’s usually no electricity and a simple, compact vertical design, most can easily be picked up and moved to go tailgating, camping, or to a friends house.

If you do want to take your smoker on the road with you, consider going smaller so that it’s easier to fit in your trunk.

FAQs About the Best Charcoal Smokers

There are a lot of smoker manufacturers that make great charcoal grills and smokers.

Check out the list above for our tested and recommended favorites.

You can add wood to a charcoal smoker but you don’t have to.

Adding wood will create a more complex flavor profile by introducing a new flavor. But, using charcoal alone will provide enough heat and smoke to flavor food without needing wood.

If you want to add wood for extra flavor when you’re smoking with charcoal, the best wood to use is one you like the flavor of.

Check out our guide to the best woods for smoking for more information on their flavor profiles. But, there’s nothing wrong with just grabbing a bag of something and seeing what you like.

You don’t have to choose between a charcoal smoker or a charcoal grill. There’s quite a few models of barbecues that can do a great job of both low and slow temperatures and high heat cooking.

Scroll up to see our recommended charcoal smoke and grill choices.

Smoking with lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes both have their advantages and disadvantages. And, a lot of the time, the one that people use will purely depend on their personal preference more than any of these technical differences.

Read more about lump charcoal vs briquettes to learn about how they compare.

Most of the time, you want charcoal to burn until the outside is white and the smoke is running clean before cooking with any charcoal.

But, some charcoal smokers require you to load up unlit charcoal that it will burn as it goes without you having to start it.

Charcoal smokers generally create a strong and smoky taste profile. Whether it’s better or worse than any other type of fuel really just depends on what you like.

If you prefer a milder, smoked flavor, another type of smoker like a pellet or electric, might be a better option for you.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

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Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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