I’ve been cooking on Meadow Creek’s offset SQ36 smoker about as long as I’ve been cooking barbecue. Back in 2014, I traded my older SQ36 for a new one with the latest design, and in this post I’m sharing a bunch of photos from this first cook. If you’re interested in cooking with an entry level, yet high quality offset smoker, this article will give you a taste of how much fun it can be and why you should consider Meadow Creek!
The first time I fired this new SQ36, we cooked up a pile of food for a Friday night barbecue dinner—two whole chickens, two pork butts, a pork tenderloin, a rack of ribs, some chicken breasts, two meat loaves, a few pounds of loose sausage, and a pan of beans. In the kitchen, my wife made scalloped potatoes, veggies and dip, and a couple of ice cream desserts.
It was quite the feast… and lots of fun playing with my smoker! I got plenty of positive comments and strengthened some friendships. Good barbecue can do that, you know. 🙂
There are many types of smokers on the market. They vary in size, fuel type, airflow, etc. The SQ36 is an offset charcoal or wood fired smoker, sometimes called a “stick burner.” The offset design has the firebox on the side instead of under the grate. In this particular model, the air draws in through the firebox vents and enters the smoking chamber through a distribution channel that tries to equalize the temperature from one end to the other. The stack draws air out of the smoker at the bottom left.
SQ36 with second tier grate
Rail for grate and grill pan; distribution channel in the bottom
Distribution channel and bottom of stack
The SQ36 is a charcoal smoker, so you will have some fluctuation in the temperature unless you are really technical about the fire management or use an electronic temperature controller, such as the BBQ Guru. That’s the nature of charcoal (or wood) fire management. If you want push-button technology, you’re better off buying something automatic, like a pellet smoker. But the SQ36 is about satisfying man’s drive to tend a fire.
I have no experience cooking on other brands of offset smokers, but I’ve heard stories of serious hot spots and having to constantly adjust the vents to maintain a consistent temperature. While any stick burner will give you problems if you go golfing for two hours and let the fire die, an offset smoker should not be hard to operate. It should not require constant adjusting of the vents, and it should not have excessive hot spots which require you to rotate your food from end to end to keep it from burning.
The SQ36 will usually stay on track if you add a little fuel every 45–60 minutes. The only time you should need to adjust your vents during the cook is when you add too much fuel, you let the fire burn down too long, the weather changes drastically, or the smoker is overloaded and the air can’t flow as it should. The type of charcoal can make a difference in how easy it is to maintain a consistent temperature. Wood is more challenging than charcoal briquettes because it burns hot and fast and tends to cause temperature spikes. You can be meticulous and measure your charcoal or count your briquettes, but I usually just add several handfuls of briquettes (and sometimes a couple of chunks of wood) to the fire once it burns down enough.
Bonus tip: Another thing that helps me stabilize temperature in the SQ36 is to operate it with the stack halfway closed instead of completely open.
The SQ36 doesn’t have any major hot spots. I am sure it’s hotter in one end than the other, but I can use the entire grate without any problem. As I said, I have heard this is a problem in some other smokers, but I don’t have experience running other offsets, so I just enjoy my Meadow Creek in blissful ignorance.
Meadow Creek makes a full line of offset smokers, including larger reverse-flow models for crowds of up to 1,000 people, but the SQ36 is a great entry-level smoker for backyard use and small events. I recently cooked for about 75 people and had leftovers, but it will depend what you’re cooking.
Close-ups of inside
Cooking grates (with optional second tier grate)
Close-up of grates
Like all of Meadow Creek’s cooking grates, the SQ36 grates are made of food-grade stainless steel. They will not rust, and they clean up nice and shiny if you take care of them. The handles on the body and lid are stainless steel, covered with a spring to keep them cool. The overall quality is true Meadow Creek style—classy appearance and amazing workmanship.
Some upgrades you should consider are the second tier grate, the vinyl cover, and the grill pan.
- The second tier grate sits on top of the bottom grate and almost doubles your cooking surface. I use it often, and the space between the grates is high enough for even a pork butt to fit on the bottom grate.
- The vinyl cover is Amish-made and thicker than what you’d expect from a grill cover at a big-box store. It really helps keep your smoker clean and dry if you store it outside.
- The grill pan sits under the cooking grate and holds charcoal for grilling burgers and steaks. It’s great for people who want a charcoal smoker and grill in one.
Getting back to the break-in cook, here are some pictures for you to enjoy.
Firing the smoker
The food was amazing and it’s surprising how much food you can fit on a small backyard smoker such as the SQ36 with the second tier grate.
I hope you enjoyed smelling all this, and I look forward to sharing more of my cooking adventures here on the blog.
PS. Click here to learn more about the Meadow Creek SQ36 Smoker in our online product catalog.