Best Offset Smoker | Blue Ribbon Smoked Meats from Your Own Back Yard
What is an Offset Smoker?
Offset smokers have been known by several names since their invention: offset barrel smokers, horizontal smokers, pipe smokers, and “stick-burners,” just to name a few.
It is believed that the first offset barrel smokers were built by oilfield workers in Texas and Oklahoma. Long days at work and a lack of transportation to restaurants led hungry men to turn unused oil pipes and 55-gallon drums into portable fire pits. They based the design of the barrel smokers on brick barbeque pits that used one chamber to build a fire and a second chamber to cook the food.
In the early ‘80s, during a severe oilfield downturn, Wayne Whit worth put his crew to work building barbeque pits to keep them busy. His company “Pitts & Spitts” is still one of the most recognized names in the offset smoker industry.
How Offset Smokers Work
A wood, charcoal, or wood-enhanced fire is built in the firebox. This locates the heat beside and not directly under the food being cooked. A portal between the firebox and cooking chamber allows heat and smoke to circulate around the meat on its way out the chimney on the other side of the cooking chamber.
Preparing smoked meat on an offset smoker is as much sport as cooking. If you are not attentive, the offset smoker is not for you. To maintain a constant temperature in the cooking chamber, one must constantly monitor for hot and cold spots and adjust intake and exhaust vents accordingly.
Since the firebox is located on one side, that side of the cooking chamber is generally much hotter than the other side. To avoid one half of the food being overcooked and the other half raw, the food must be frequently rotated from side to side. The larger the smoker, the greater the temperature will vary.
In addition to monitoring the meat in the cooking chamber, the firebox must be constantly fed additional wood or charcoal.
To combat the temperature differences described above, some smoker manufacturers are now adding a form of reverse flow technology, similar to convection technology, to move the hot air around the cooking chamber more evenly.
Prerequisites to Using an Offset Smoker
If a smoker has never been used, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prepare the smoker for use. This is known as “seasoning” the smoker. All grease and protective coatings that were used in the manufacturing process must be burned off prior to cooking a meal on a new smoker.
How to Cook on an Offset Smoker
- Begin with the air intake vent and the chimney vent fully open.
- Use a chimney starter to start some charcoal or natural lump charcoal.
- Place a rack at the bottom of the firebox, and spread the charcoal embers over the rack.
- Close the lid to the firebox and the cooking chamber.
- Preheat until the temperature inside the cooking chamber is between 225 and 275 degrees.
- If the temperature goes too high, close the vents a little and allow the temperature to go down.
- With the cooking chamber at the desired temperature, place the meat on the grate in the cooking chamber.
- As needed, add soaked wood chips (approximately 1-2 cups an hour) or small logs of hardwood on the fire.
- Continue replacing fuel and chips and opening and closing the vents as needed to keep a constant temperature in the cooking chamber.
Product of Offset Smokers
Pork shoulders and ribs boast dark red smoke rings, and brisket cooked in an offset cooker bears an irresistible crisp crust.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Barrel Smoker
An offset barrel smoker can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. How much do you plan to spend?
- Is it well built? Are the handles insulated? Is the welding professionally done?
- Do the seams seal when closed? Check lids and the seal between the firebox and cooking chamber.
- How heavy is the steel? One-quarter inch steel is considered the top quality in cookers.
- Is it on wheels?
- Is the cooker supported by a firm base?
Are you cooking for the family only, extended family, holiday gatherings, cookoffs, or opening a restaurant? These factors will dictate what size smoker you purchase.
What accessories will you need? Grill grates? Removable drawers or racks? A counterweight for the lid to the cooking chamber? A warming box? Shelves? A trailer? Racks for smoking jerky?
Does the smoker you are considering come with a warranty? If so, how long? Does the cost of the smoker support the cost of the warranty?
Why Use an Offset Smoker versus Other Outdoor Cookers?
- When you open the door to the cooking chamber (or lift the top off a grill), you change the temperature inside the chamber and interrupt the cooking cycle. With an offset grill, since the firebox is separate from the cooking chamber, you will not impact the temperature in the cooking chamber when you add fuel or wood chips to the firebox.
- Most barrel cookers are designed to place a cooking grate over the firebox and use it as a grill as well as a smoker, eliminating the need to have a separate smoker and grill.
- Offset smokers have no electrical or gas parts to repair and replace.
- The large barrel of an offset smoker can hold a much larger quantity of food than most other styles of smokers.
Disadvantages to Offset Smokers
- Inexpensive offset smokers often require assembly and perform poorly (parts break, paint doesn’t last, they rust and fail to maintain temperatures high enough to cook).
- Well-constructed units come with an equally high entry-level price (as much as $1,000 and up).
- Most offset cookers are quite heavy (several hundred pounds) and are hard to move or load onto a trailer without help.
- Besides weight, offset smokers take up a large piece of real estate compared to other outdoor cookers, making them impractical for today’s garden-size back yards or apartment or condo dwellers.
- Preheating the smoker can take an hour or more, making it difficult to plan an after-work cookout.
- Because they must be used outside, performance may be impacted by wind, rain, and wintry weather.
Best Offset Smoker Reviews
Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
The Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Black Steel Double Door Vertical Charcoal Offset BBQ Smoker is easy to use and holds the heat well all year long. The vertical six-shelf design allows you to slow cook and smoke as much as 150 pounds of food at the same time. Be your neighborhood pit master for holiday parties; or cook chicken, pork, brisket, ham, roast, and prime rib at the same time, freeze what you can’t eat now, and enjoy the best smoked meat in town for months.
- Outside: Cold rolled steel with powder covering
- Grates: 400 series stainless steel
- Exterior: Cast iron
- Interior: steel
- Racks: steel
- Fuel type: charcoal
- Two sizes:
- Standard: 1176 sq. in. cooking area
- Wide: 1890 sq. in. cooking area
- Overall height: 47.03”
- Overall width: 34.52”
- Overall depth: 20.2”
- Overall weight: 57 lbs.
Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker, Deluxe
The Deluxe Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker is a work horse. Featuring a vertical smokestack with multiple adjustable dampers and a temperature gauge, this smoker is designed for heat and smoke control. The extra grilling space in the offset chamber eliminates the need for a separate grill. Just open the clean-out door to remove ash and clean the firebox.
- Cooking Chamber: 670 sq. in. cooking grate and 355 sq. in. chrome wire swing-away rack
- Firebox: 255 sq. in.
- Overall height: 60.25”
- Overall width: 51”
- Overall depth: 28.25”
- Overall weight: 102 lbs.
Royal Gourmet Charcoal Grill with Offset Smoker, 30” L
The Royal Gourmet Charcoal Grill with Offset Smoker features a space-friendly design that will fit comfortably on most patios and balconies. Easily adjust the temperature inside the cooking chamber using the charcoal pan. The additional cooking area allows you to roast corn or vegetables while you smoke your meat.
- 782 sq. in. cooking area
- Overall height: 45.3”
- Overall width: 48”
- Overall depth: 26.8”
- Overall weight: 57 lbs.
Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker, Standard
The Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker is designed for the beginning smoker, cooking just for the family. Its compact size is perfect for apartments, condos and places where you only have room for a small grill.
- Cooking Chamber: 290 sq. in.
- Firebox: 149 sq. in.
- Overall height: 46.2”
- Overall width: 44.8”
- Overall depth: 17.5”
- Overall weight: 46.7 lbs.
Char-Griller 1224 Smokin Pro 830 Square Inch Charcoal Grill with Side Fire Box
The Char-Griller Smokin’ Pro BBQ Smoker is constructed of non-stick cast iron (to prevent warping) and heavy-gauge, powder coated steel. Adjustable dampers are used to control the heat, and an adjustable fire grate and heat gage on the hood let you know the temperature. Clean-up is as simple as emptying the removable ash dump pan.
- Grates: Cast iron
- Exterior: Heavy gauge steel
- Racks: steel
- Double bottom
- Cooking Chamber: 580 sq. in. cooking area
- Side Firebox: 250 sq. in.
- Overall height: 62”
- Overall width: 50”
- Overall depth: 29”
- Overall weight: 113 lbs.
Pitts and Spitts 18″ x 30″ Ultimate Smoker & Grill with Upright Smoke Box
When it comes to the top-of-the-line smokers, Pitts and Spitts was the first company to make and sell smokers commercially. They have remained on the cutting edge of technology as smokers have advanced over the years. The differences between Pitts and Spitts smokers are in the thickness of the steel used and the quality of the other parts on the smoker.
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- Grates: Cast iron
- Finish: Stainless steel and black
- Exterior: 304 Stainless steel, carbon steel
- Interior: 304 Stainless steel, carbon steel
- Racks: Carbon steel
- Nuts and bolts: Stainless steel
- Handles: Tumble-stained ash
- Hardware: Stainless steel
- Cooking Chamber: 350 sq. in. cooking area
- Side Firebox: 250 sq. in.
- Overall height: 70”
- Overall width: 72”
- Overall depth: 27”
- Overall weight: 475 lbs.
- Maximum food capacity: 300 lbs.
- Maximum Temperature: 400 degrees F.
Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Reverse Flow Offset Smoker
The next generation of smokers are known as reverse flow offset smokers. These smokers position the smokestack between the firebox and the cooking chamber instead of at the opposite end of the cooking chamber. What this does is force the heated air to travel to the far side of the cooking chamber and then reverse back to the firebox where it can finally exit through the smokestack. Requiring the smoke to travel both directions over the meat doubles the length of time the meat is absorbing smoke, producing meat with a much richer smoke flavor. The Longhorn Reverse Flow Offset Smoker is not just a reverse flow smoker. It comes with removable baffles and a large charcoal basket which allows you to customize the heat and smoke levels.
Grates: 4 glossy porcelain coated wire cooking grates
- Side shelves: Hi-temperature expanded metal
- Wheels: Steel
- Lid: Hi-temperature Steel
Total Cooking Space: 1060 sq. in.
Overall height: 55.5”
Overall width: 64.25”
Overall depth: 35.5
Box: 44.9” W x 24” D x 25.5” H
Overall weight: 253.5 lbs.
After reviewing products from the lower priced entry-level categories and the mid-to-upper level categories, I must conclude I could not recommend any of the five entry-level products. There were so many reports of leaks, faulty parts, peeling paint, dents, and poor construction that I would have to continue my search for an entry-level offset smoker.
Offset smokers are difficult to control the temperature unless the materials are of the highest quality. Temperatures can be swayed by outside influences like wind, rain, and cold, so the density of the steel makes a significant difference in the smoker’s ability to maintain an even temperature. If the steel is of inferior quality or if the heat can escape through poor fitting and inaccurately drilled holes, it will be very difficult to maintain a consistent cooking temperature in the cooking chamber.
On the other hand, I would recommend both the Pitts and Spitts and Oklahoma Joe’s offset smokers without reservation. Both companies are longstanding American companies with proven histories of producing solid products in the offset and combination smoker industries. They are made with high-quality materials and perform as expected.
Once you have chosen your smoker, click here for an informative video to help you get started.
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