How to Use an Offset Smoker – The Ultimate Guide
If you’re looking to improve your smoking game, an offset smoker might be the perfect piece of equipment for you. Offset smokers are easy to use and can produce amazing results, but it’s important to understand how they work before you start cooking.
Offset smoker is a device that cooks food slowly over indirect heat, using wood or charcoal as fuel. Although there are many ways to use a smoker, the most common is to cook large cuts of meat like pork shoulder, beef brisket, or ribs.
In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to use an offset smoker, from setting it up to cooking your favorite dishes. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, read on for all the tips and tricks you need to get the most out of your offset smoker!
What is an offset smoker and what are the benefits of using one compared to other types of smokers?
An offset smoker is one of the most popular types of smokers, and for good reason.
Offset smokers differ from vertical charcoal smokers in that they sit on the side; this means you’ll need some space to accommodate it.
Offset smokers can typically hold more food than other types of grilling equipment, like grills or simple drum smokers. This makes it great for large gatherings and family barbecues.
Offset smokers come with a firebox on the side, which allows you to add more wood or charcoal if needed. Because of this split design, offset smokers also make it easier to maintain temperature than other types of smokers.
You can limit oxygen intake in the firebox (which we’ll cover in step 4) while adding more air to the other side if needed.
There are three main types of offset smokers: stick burners, water smokers, and reverse flow smokers. Stick burners don’t have a separate firebox, while water and reverse flow models typically do.
Reverse flow smokers produce more smoke than water smokers, which makes them the best choice if you’re looking for maximum smoke flavor.
How to assemble an offset smoker
You can find a good variety of offset smokers online and in most home appliance stores. Before buying one, decide where you plan on using it most often, which will determine what features are important to you. If space is limited, there are smaller offset smokers available with a side firebox.
Some of the most common features you’ll find in an offset smoker:
1) Wheels and/or handles:
Offset smokers can be very heavy, which makes wheels and/or handles essential when moving it around. A simple caster system will allow you to roll your smoker around with ease whether on a concrete floor or a gravel driveway.
2) Temperature gauge:
You can find simple temperature gauges on most offset smokers, but if you prefer digital readouts look for one that has this feature. This will help you monitor temperature throughout the cooking process and maintain your desired temperature for great results.
3) Water pan:
A water pan in the center of the smoker box will not only keep food moist, but it also acts as a heat sink. This means you’ll need to use less charcoal during cooking, which saves you money in fuel costs over time.
4) Heat shield:
To protect your food from direct flame and to aid in maintaining ideal smoking conditions, look for an offset smoker with a heat shield between the firebox and grill grate.
The components that make up this essential part include multiple baffles (to prevent hot spots caused by flames), clamps (to adjust the distance between the two grates), holes (for airflow), and sometimes even water pans or drip trays to catch drippings.
5) Temperature range:
If you prefer cooking at different temperatures, look for an offset smoker that offers the lowest and highest temperatures you need to smoke food.
How to choose the right type of wood for your offset smoker
You can use any type of wood to fuel your fire, but some types of wood are better suited for different types of foods than others. Here is a list of the most common types of woods used on offset smokers:
This light, sweet-tasting softwood imparts a subtle flavor on salmon and other fish. It’s best when using indirect heat (like in an oven).
These medium hardwoods give off mild smoke flavors, which pair well with pork ribs, poultry, sausage, ham, and fish. You can use them with both direct and indirect heat, but keep a close watch on the temperature.
This hardwood is a popular choice for longer-smoked meats like brisket, pork shoulder, ribs, and turkey. It produces a strong smoke flavor, so you’ll want to use it with indirect heat for best results.
These medium hardwoods are often used with food that contains bolder flavors. They’re great when added during the last stages of smoking. Use oak and hickory with pork ribs, while maple works well on beef ribs. Oak is also a good option if you prefer lighter flavors of smoked foods.
How to start your offset smoker
The best way to start an offset smoker is with a chimney starter. Once the charcoal in the starter is hot enough (about 40 minutes in most cases), you can add it in increments to your cooker. Make sure not to overfill your fire chamber and always leave space for airflow.
If you’re using lighter fluid, make sure you let the fluid burn off completely before cooking on your new investment, or else you’ll end up with some pretty intense chemical flavors in your food.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when starting up your barbecue:
1) Think about adding heat deflectors above the coals if you need more control over temperature while smoking. These may come with some offset smokers but look for them if your new smoker doesn’t include them.
Heat deflectors are usually made of stainless steel and installed on the cooking grates to protect food from direct flame, which is useful for checking doneness early on or keeping fragile foods from falling through between bars.
2) Make sure you have a water pan if your offset smoker does not come with one. This simple device will help prevent dehydration, but it also helps regulate temperature by acting as an insulator against heat loss. It’s considered a must-have for any serious barbecue enthusiast!
3) Check all screws and bolts regularly for rusting as these small spots can lead to bigger problems down the road. One way you can extend their lifespan is by making sure they’re properly lubricated (where needed, of course).
How to maintain your offset smoker
A clean grill grate is the only way to ensure that food will cook properly on your offset smoker. The best method is with a stiff wire brush, but this can be messy if you aren’t careful. To avoid making a mess, just lay down some aluminum foil in your firebox before brushing the grates clean.
Then use an old towel or rag to wipe off any staining or grease spots. You should also check all bolts, screws, nuts, and clamps regularly for rusting/warping/loosening—if any of these signs are present it’s time for a replacement part!
If you’re looking to save money and improve performance at the same time, consider investing in stainless steel grill grates (a step-up from basic aluminum) for your offset smoker. Stainless still warps but not near as easily as aluminum and it’s way more durable/dishwasher safe.
Both of these products are easy to clean, just make sure they’re fully dry before putting them back into the firebox of your cooker!
How does one choose the best offset smoker?
Besides from how to use an offset smoker, since there are so many options available on the market today, picking out a great offset smoker can be quite difficult. Here are some tips to help you find the right option for your needs:
1) Do you want something with wheels or without?
You can find both standards and wheeled models, depending on your overall preference. If you want the model that’s most portable with no hassle, look for one with larger casters. Check out this video if you need more help on finding separate wheels for your grill.
2) What is your budget?
Offset smokers are generally quite affordable when compared to other options in the barbecue world, though they can vary drastically in price based on the manufacturer and features included.
The best advice I can give is to pick a product that fits your needs without going overboard—if it seems too cheap or expensive, there might be something wrong!
3) What are the dimensions of your firebox?
Do you have enough room inside to hold an adequate amount of fuel for long smokes at high temperatures? Bigger isn’t always better, but it’s important to consider the overall size of your smoker before buying!
4) How heavy is the unit?
This will depend on the materials used, but try to find something that feels easy to move around if you have lots of yard work or frequent parties/cookouts. Otherwise, look for a model with stand-alone legs so you can place it anywhere in your yard.
5) Can I install heat deflectors over my coals?
These are great accessories because they help regulate cooking temperatures and protect food from direct flame. If your offset doesn’t have them included, you should really pick one up since they’re affordable and relatively easy to install.
You can also use aluminum foil as a cheap alternative—just be careful not to burn yourself as you work!
6) Will I be cooking in a windy area?
If so, you might want to look into getting a cover for your smoker. It’s also a good idea to use a foil wind barrier underneath the unit, if possible.
If it is too windy during cooking times, you will lose heat and smoke faster than normal—which means your meat won’t have time to absorb all those tasty flavors from the wood chips!
7) How often will I be using my offset smoker?
You can find units of all sizes out there, including small tabletop models that only require 2-4 chunks of fuel at once. These are perfect for smaller households or individuals that don’t want to deal with full-size smokers very often.
Even if you plan on cooking for lots of people, it’s still smart to look into a smaller grill/smoker hybrid with less cooking space. These models are perfect for beginner cooks that don’t want to stress about controlling their heat or monitoring food 24/7—just add chips and water every two hours!
And there you have it, my best advice for anyone in the market for a new offset smoker. Remember, your grill is probably your most important purchase when getting started with smoking meat—so make sure you consider each option carefully before moving forward.
Don’t forget to check out our three favorite offset smokers currently available on the market below!
The Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker
The Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker was one of the first models of its kind available for sale. It features a simple design with an old-style look that’s perfect for both beginners and experienced barbecuers alike.
This heavy-duty grill can hold up to 575 square inches of cooking space, which is more than enough room to cook even large cuts of meat. Char-Broil also did all the hard work when it comes to heat management—the system on this smoker ensures you get even heat distribution across several different zones.
Other options simply don’t have this same ability, so be sure to pick one up before your next party!
Even though this product is designed with beginners in mind, that doesn’t mean they skimped on quality materials or assembly—this entire unit can be assembled in under half an hour by following the included instructions!
I love how simple it was to install these accessories as well—direct flame grilling is now possible thanks to the cast iron grates and heat deflectors over the coals.
The final model on our list is the Dyna-Glo DGU505BAE-D 30. This smoker has all of the features you’ve come to expect from our top picks—it can hold up to 641 square inches of cooking space, includes three separate temp zones, and offers precise heat control with analog knobs.
The major selling point for this unit is its electric heating element (only 600 watts) that uses four (4) 1500 watt ceramic briquettes. There are no gas valves or flames on this particular unit, which means you’re more likely to get even heat distribution without worrying about hot spots or flare ups.
And best of all, it’s affordable! Even though it’s our number three pick, this is still one of the best offset smokers you’re likely to find.
I would love to hear your thoughts on my picks! What did you like/dislike about them? Anything I should add or take away from this article?
Let me know in the comments section below if there’s anything else I can help with—creating this list was a blast for me, so I’m excited to get the conversation started! Thanks for reading.
Smoking meat in an offset smoker – tips and tricks for beginners:
Offset smokers can be pretty intimidating at first glance, and it’s easy to see why: they often have several separate temperature zones and control knobs, large grates for placing meat directly over charcoal/wood chips, accessories for adding more fuel while cooking the list goes on.
It might seem like you have to be a seasoned pitmaster in order to get this smoker started.
But don’t worry—it’s not nearly as difficult as it looks. In fact, setting up most offset smokers isn’t that much different than starting up your propane grill at home!
Continue with the question on how to use an offset smoker, just follow these 4 steps below when you’re ready to cook for the first time, and I promise you’ll have great results with very little effort required.
Step 1: Soak your wood chips
One of the most common beginner mistakes people make is trying to get the offset smoker started as soon as they start assembling it. They’ll put their charcoal chimney on top, pour some lighter fluid inside and underneath, and then light both ends of the chimney with a match or lighter.
The idea seems simple enough: just light it and let it burn for a while before adding meat. Unfortunately, that’s a great way to end up with an underwhelming pile of black charcoal instead of flavorful smoke—so don’t do it!
Instead, I recommend soaking your wood chips right from the start. It only takes about 20-30 minutes for chips to soak (even less if you break them apart or run them under water beforehand).
Step 2: Light your coals and add chips
When you’re ready to start cooking, arrange all of your charcoal in an even layer underneath the chimney.
Fill your charcoal chimney with about 30 briquettes (don’t forget to remove the top screen!). Once they’ve all caught fire and started glowing red, pour them into the charcoal bowl at one end of the smoker—if you can do it quickly and safely, feel free to light more coals directly inside the firebox itself.
Then, fill a second chimney with another 30 briquettes and pour them into half of the firebox. You should then fill a small handful of wood chips on top of that pile of hot coals. This is when your wood chips will start smoking—when they’re on top of hot coals.
Step 3: Add water & meat to the cooking grate
Now that you have a small amount of smoke in your smoker, it’s time to add some food! Place a few handfuls of wood chips in a foil pan and place it over the lit charcoal inside the firebox. You can usually fit about 4-5 pans onto one cooking grate.
If you don’t have room for all four or five, just use what you can (you’ll still get plenty of delicious flavors). Then arrange your soaked wood chips throughout the bed of hot coals (and directly under the pan filled with more smoking fuel), with 1-2 pounds of meat directly on the other side.
At this point, you’re just waiting for your meat to finish cooking.
Step 4: Monitor your temps throughout the cook!
This is where an offset smoker really shines over other types of smokers—the ability to control multiple zones for low and slow cooking. For example, if you want food that’s simply hot and fully cooked, set the heat at around 225°F (around 100°C).
If you’d like some surface charring or browning, crank up the heat closer to 300°F (150°C) instead. Basically, any temperature between 200-400°F will work great for most meats—but make sure you monitor it with a good digital thermometer throughout the cook instead of just guessing.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful—and remember to check out my website for more great smoking recipes & tips in the near future! If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. Happy smoking!
Q&A section with readers who have experience using offset smokers:
Q: Can you add water to the drip tray when it’s in use as a grill?
A: Absolutely! The main benefit of using an offset smoker is that it has multiple zones for cooking at different temperatures.
So while the firebox is putting out heat at 350°F (which may be too hot to put your meat above), the water in the drip pan will keep meat inside at 225-250°F—and lower if you opened up some vents on top of your smoker box and adjusted the lid thermometer accordingly.
Q: How much wood do I need to load into my smoker for a long cook?
A: Generally speaking, about 1 lb per hour is perfect. You can also check how many pans you have full of smoking fuel and how many are empty, then adjust accordingly. I usually end up using around 12-16 cups of chunks or chips for a whole brisket cook.
Q: Do you need to add wood at the beginning?
A: Yes! Don’t try to soak the coal bed overnight, because it won’t work. 20-30 minutes is perfect at room temperature—and keep in mind that if your smoke chamber has an electric starter, you should only open it when adding more wood, since all that heat will escape otherwise.
Q: What’s the best way to maintain the heat while smoking meat for hours on end?
A: Use oakwood instead of other hardwoods like maple or hickory—it’s much denser and produces more heat per volume than they do. And always keep a small pan of water on the lowest heating zone inside your smoker, even if it’s bone-dry outside.
This way you’ll avoid temperature swings—and you can use it to pour onto coals or water down any meat that starts looking dry.
Q: How big should my firebox be?
A: For offset smokers, I recommend having at least $100-$120 in charcoal capacity so it doesn’t run out quickly during a cook. 4 feet deep is ideal for length, and around 18 inches wide like the Brinkmann models (or about 24 inches wide like the Weber Smokey Mountain).
Also, make sure that your cooking grate fits very snugly into the opening—any gaps mean less heat retention, so take out your tape measure and check it over before buying!
Q: How long do you cook a brisket?
A: Plan on 18-20 hours at 225°F. Briskets are best when smoked at 6-8°F above your desired serving temperature, so if you want to pull it at 195°F, smoke it between 210-215°F instead—the fat won’t be quite as soft or delicious, but you’ll still have great bark.
To ensure doneness, use a digital thermometer in multiple places to check that it’s reached 200°F in the flat section in the middle.
Q: What sort of offset smoker is best for a beginner?
A: I’d say a ROYAL GOURMET CC1830S since they start off very inexpensive and are easy to maintain temperatures through the cook. They’re also super-portable, so if you plan to take it out hunting or camping then this is a great option too!
Q: How do I add wood chunks when cooking for extended periods of time?
A: Just be sure that there’s enough room in your firebox to add more chunks while still keeping the required number of pans filled with lit charcoal underneath—otherwise, you can always take out some coals and add fresh ones instead.
You should also use gloves and long tongs so you don’t burn yourself—and try not to let ash buildup around the firebox get too high throughout a cook—you should aim to keep it around 1/4-inch deep or less [I use an old metal bucket lid from the thrift store to cover my firebox when adding new wood, which helps keep ash down].
Q: How often should I rotate my meat while cooking ribs?
A: Rotate racks every 2.5 hours or so, and remember that because you don’t want your ribs sitting directly above coals for extended periods of time, this is a great reason to invest in a second smoker grate!
Also, be sure not to move your brisket around while it’s cooking since this can cause temperature fluctuations and gaps in bark formation. Instead, just let it sit still—and if you do notice that one section of the flat is cooking slower than another, then just shift ribs or briskets into different positions.
Q: How long should I rest my meat after cooking?
A: Plan on resting your meats at room temperature for 20 minutes before cutting into them, but don’t wrap them in foil during this time—it will steam and turn the bark mushy! After it’s rested, you can cut each item or pull it apart with forks and hands to separate sections of flat and point.
Once again, be sure not to cover it during storage so that moisture doesn’t collect and the meat retains its smoky flavor.
Q: What seasoning do you use when smoking meats?
A: To season meats for smoking, just use salt and pepper, or your favorite meat rub. I do not recommend using any barbecue sauce since this will create steam during the cooking process and make the bark wet, but you can apply it after if desired.
Q: What should I make for my first cook?
A: Because brisket is pretty lean, I’d start with that—it’s also very difficult to ruin. And remember that you don’t need to buy an expensive cut like “prime” grade or “Angus beef”, which runs around $6+ per pound in most grocery stores.
A high quality choice brisket (or even a cheap thin flat) can still yield delicious results! Once you get more comfortable with your smoker then other cuts might be worth trying, but it’s always best to just stick with what you’re familiar with before experimenting.
Conclusion on How to Use an Offset Smoker:
In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using an offset smoker, from setting it up to cooking your favorite dishes. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, read on for all the tips and tricks you need to get the most out of your offset smoker!
If you have any questions or need help with your smoker, don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re happy to offer as much support as we can. When it comes down to it, offset smokers are a great way for you and your family to enjoy the best BBQ in town without breaking the bank.
They come at an affordable price point and they’ll last a lifetime if taken care of properly so there’s no reason not to buy one today! So what are you waiting for? Get cooking today by following these tips on how to use an offset smoker effectively.