The Offset Smoker Explained

What is an offset smoker? An offset smoker is a barbecue smoker with a horizontal cooking chamber and a firebox on the side, designed to cook with indirect heat for "low and slow" barbecue.

How does an offset smoker work? The air drafts into the firebox, through the "oven", and out the stack. Temperature is controlled by maintaining a charcoal or wood fire in the firebox and adjusting the flow of oxygen into the firebox and out the stack using adjustable vents.

We open the vents wider to give the fire more air and therefore raise the temperature, and we give the fire less air to lower the temperature. Wind, barometric pressure, and outside temperature affect how hot the fire burns and how hard the fire has to work to keep the temperature steady, so while guidelines help, maintaining a consistent temperature and a "clean" fire in an offset smoker relies on a bit of experience and intuition, which come by practice and dedication to the sport.

The Downside:
Common Challenges With Offset Smokers


  • Frequent refueling. An offset BBQ smoker takes more incremental fire maintenance than some other types of charcoal-fired smokers, such as a Meadow Creek Box Smoker, Meadow Creek Pig Roaster, or Big Green Egg. As a rule, offset smokers need more fuel every 30–60 minutes (more on this below).
  • Frequent adjustments. The really cheap mass-produced offset smokers are made of thin steel and leak a lot of air, making it difficult to maintain a consistent temperature, which gets tiring on a long cook. (Note: This generally isn't a problem on those in the $1,000+ range. A heavy-duty offset smoker will hold a steady temperature quite easily if you understand airflow and fire management.)

Offsets look cool, but the cheap ones have turned more people off barbecue than any other smoker. After one season of frustration, owners dump them and often never return to smoking. They kill the curious.  Read entire article.

Meathead

AmazingRibs.com

The Upside:
Who the Offset Smoker Is For


  • Those who love to play with fire. Instead of being a hassle, successful fire management becomes an enjoyable part of the experience and carries with it the honorable status of "pitmaster". The design of an offset smoker makes it easy to stoke the coals and add more fuel without opening the cooking chamber. If you find satisfaction in mastering a live fire and are cooking for the experience, you'll love running an offset smoker.
  • Those who like the cool factor. Cabinet smokers and open pits certainly have their place, but in my opinion, an offset smoker is the coolest of them all, especially a BBQ smoker trailer, such as Big Black.
  • Those who want to cook authentic barbecue with wood. This applies mostly to the more heavy duty offset smokers with 1/4" steel fireboxes and especially those with reverse flow draft for excellent heat retention, but an offset smoker is the best type of smoker for burning log splits. Having said that, wood generates a more sporadic heat than briquettes, and also makes it easy to over-smoke your meat, so if you're new to offset smokers, you'll want to start the cook with a nice base of charcoal briquettes, and then feed it wood chunks or splits each time the fire starts tapering off (drops by about 25 degrees F), but while the fire is still hot enough to quickly ignite the wood. If you're worried about over-smoking the meat, refuel with a mix of wood and charcoal.
  • Those who like old school. What is more traditional than a "hunk of steel" smoker, a pile of seasoned wood splits, a fire and a shovel, a pair of leather gloves, and a hunk of meat? This is another reason I love offset smoking, and there are no moving parts or electronics to replace or maintain.
  • Those who like to cook a lot of food. Most offset smokers are designed to hold enough meat for a crowd or plenty of leftovers.

A note about using wood on a cheaply-made offset (less than $500 range): You may have better results using mostly charcoal because of how hard it is to control the fire in some of the cheaper offsets. First, master using only charcoal and refueling with pre-lit charcoal. Supplement with a couple of wood chunks or a handful of smoking pellets tossed on top of the fire. It's much better to have a light smoke flavor than to over-smoke the meat.

Can you grill in an offset smoker? Offset smokers are designed to cook with indirect heat, but many of them also allow you to cook with direct heat. Some have a door in the top of the firebox and a cooking grate directly over the fire. Others can be set up to build a fire under the cooking grate in the cooking chamber.

Barbecue doesn't get more real than cooking over a wood fire.

My Experience With the SQ36 Offset Smoker

I've been cooking on a backyard offset smoker for more than 10 years. My smoker is a Meadow Creek SQ36 offset smoker. Here are several of the cooks I've done on this model.


Examples of Heavy Duty Offset Smokers

At Meadow Creek Welding, we believe it takes more than raw steel and cool machines to build a BBQ smoker. That's why every smoker we build is handmade in a culture of integrity. Our commitment to integrity shapes the durable design of each smoker and the kindness we strive to show our customers.

Our offset smokers are made with 1/4" steel fireboxes. Their heavy duty construction helps them cook more evenly, makes them easier to use, and lets them hold up much longer than the mass-produced smokers made overseas. In summary, these are the kind of smoker you'll purchase if you're looking to invest in an offset smoker that will be a pleasure to use and serve the future generation.

Can I customize my offset smoker? Meadow Creek offset smokers are available with a sweet list of available options, including extra grates, insulated fireboxes, stainless steel outside shelves, trim packages, grilling pans, and more! View one of our barbecue smokers below to see the list of features and upgrades for each model.



Most of our offset smokers are also reverse flow smokers. Learn what a reverse flow smoker is and how it cooks differently here:

About the Author

Lavern is the online brand ambassador for Meadow Creek Welding and founder of StoryQue magazine.

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