November 13

A Beginner’s Guide to the SQ36 Offset Smoker


A Beginner's Guide to the SQ36 Offset Smoker

The SQ36 offset smoker is an ideal choice for backyarders who appreciate handmade quality and the chance to master fire management and become a true "pitmaster."

I first started cooking on the SQ36 offset smoker 10 years ago and still consider it one of my favorite smokers. In this article, I will explain what sets the SQ36 smoker apart and share a few tips on using it.

What Is the SQ36 Offset Smoker?

The SQ36 is a handmade offset smoker for backyard enthusiasts who want better quality than what you can find among those that are mass-produced and sold in chain stores. The SQ36 is a best-selling Meadow Creek model.

It comes with a single cooking grate that holds 5–6 pork butts, 2 whole briskets, or 5–6 racks of baby rack ribs. If you need more space, add a second tier grate to almost double your cooking surface area.

Offset smokers have a firebox on the side and are fueled by charcoal and/or wood. Some pitmasters burn only wood, which they burn down to coals in a separate barrel and shovel into the firebox. The most common method is to build a bed of coals with charcoal and 1–3 log splits and then feed it with more wood every 45–60 minutes.

Read more about offset smokers here.

The SQ36 features an offset firebox and a distribution channel that runs nearly the entire length of the cooking chamber, helping to force more of the heat to the far end of the smoker.

  • This smoker is perfect for someone who enjoys building and maintaining a fire. An offset smoker takes more work and attention to keep the smoker on track than many other types of smokers, but successful fire management also 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.
  • A heavy duty offset smoker, such as this one, is the best type of smoker for an all-wood fire. (If you're new to cooking on an offset smoker, practice with using mostly charcoal and a supplement of wood until you get the hang of it because wood generates a more sporadic heat than charcoal briquettes.)

“My experience barbecuing on the Meadow Creek SQ36 has been one of my greatest joys! I have FINALLY FOUND performance and quality in a smoker! I have tried many and none compare to my Meadow Creek SQ36! I know when I am barbecuing on it, that it is going to be something spectacular!”

—Ron in Ohio

We've got many more happy customers. Read some of their stories here:

Cooks Done on the SQ36

Here is a collection of stories and recipes from the fun times I've had cooking on my SQ36 offset smoker.

Firing the SQ36 Smoker

Here is the basic process I follow for firing the SQ36 smoker:

  • Dump 6–8 pounds of charcoal briquettes into the firebox.
  • With the firebox vents and stack fully open, light the charcoal with a propane torch. Keep the flame of the torch on the charcoal and toward the opening in the firebox where the heat enters the cooking chamber until some of the briquettes are well lit and the smoker is within 25 degrees of your target temperature. On medium heat, it will take about 10–15 minutes.
  • Remove the torch and add some smoking wood. You can use either several fist-size chunks or one small log split about 16" long. Go with pieces no bigger than 3" in diameter and make sure the wood is dry so that it lights quickly without producing a lot of thick white smoke.
  • Close the firebox door and adjust the firebox vents to about 1" open for cooking at 225–250 degrees.
  • Let the temperature stabilize for 15–30 minutes, then adjust the firebox vents as needed to dial in the temperature. Open the vents wider to raise the temperature; close the vents down to lower the temperature. Never close the vents completely or you run the risk of suffocating the fire and creating creosote.

Temperature Control in the SQ36 Smoker

Controlling the temperature in the smoker is all about fire management, which requires balancing the following factors:

  • Weather (wind, barometric pressure, outside temperature)
  • Smoker load (how much cold meat is absorbing the heat)
  • Amount of fuel in the firebox
  • Amount of air you give the fire
There are two ways to raise the temperature in an offset smoker:
  • Build a hotter fire either by stoking the fire or adding more fuel.
  • Open the firebox vents more.

To maintain a steady temperature in the SQ36 smoker, it's best to add a certain amount of fuel on a set interval or when the temperature drops by about 25 degrees in the smoker. You'll generally add more fuel every 45–60 minutes. You can either add a stick of wood or several pounds of charcoal.

Hot Spots

Every smoker has a "hot spot" or area in the cooking chamber that's hotter than the rest, but the better ones are designed to minimize the effect. In an offset smoker, the hottest area is near the firebox.

The temperature in the SQ36 is fairly even and the entire main grate is usable (the meat next to the firebox won't burn up). The lower main grate does run a bit hotter than the optional second grate, so arrange the meat in the smoker accordingly. For example, if you're doing chicken or a pan of beans with some ribs, you could set the chicken and beans on the bottom and the ribs on the top grate.

The distance from the SQ36's heat source to the lower cooking grate is great enough that it's pretty easy to cook meat without burning the bottom sides, even a thin rack of ribs. I've actually struggled with this in other types of smokers from fine brands, including a Yoder pellet grill and the Big Green Egg, so I've concluded that the key to successfully run any smoker is to understand how the smoker works and then leverage it to your advantage.

Grilling on the SQ36 Smoker

The optional charcoal grilling pan hangs on the rails that support the main cooking grate and let you cook steaks and burgers with direct heat.

Keeping the SQ36 in Great Shape

The body of the SQ36 smoker is made almost entirely of steel with a coating of high heat paint. The heat in the firebox is hard on the paint and regardless of how well you care for your smoker, the paint will burn off in places and rust will start developing unless you keep after it.

Here are a few tips to help you maintain the SQ36 smoker:

  • If rust develops on the outside of the firebox, sand it smooth with 150-grit or 220-grit sandpaper, wipe it clean, and touch it up with a can of black satin high-heat paint. We provide one can of touch-up paint with each smoker, but if you need more, you can ask your dealer about paint or check at your local paint store.
  • After each use, empty the ash pan and cover the smoker or move it under a roof.
  • Set the cooking grate(s) on a sheet of plywood and pressure wash both sides. If they are not as clean as you wish, spray them with heavy-duty oven cleaner and let them sit for 30 minutes, or even overnight. Rise them thoroughly with clean water using the pressure washer. Let the grates heat up before placing meat on them.
  • Scrape any grease and residue from the bottom of the smoker using a scraper or putty knife, then wash the inside with a pressure washer (without soap). Spray the inside of the smoker with cooking oil to help keep it from rusting if you plan to let it sit a while unused.
  • The best way to clean the outside of the smoker is with a pressure washer, rag, and bucket of warm soapy water (use dish detergent). Wash the smoker with plain water using the pressure washer, then scrub the entire outside with a rag and soapy water. Rinse off the soap with a pressure washer.

Happy Customer Reviews:
“[The SQ36] is built very strong and will last a lifetime. I highly recommend this product.” –Jack French
“I couldn’t be happier with the versatility of the SQ36. Maintaining temperature is very easy once you get the vents at the right spot.” —Kevin Rau

Where to Buy an SQ36

We sell our equipment through a network of dealers. Visit the SQ36 page in our online catalog for retail prices and specs. On the product page, click on "Customize" to see a list of available options or "Request a Quote" to send a quote request to your nearest dealer.

If you're shopping for a handmade offset smoker, you may also be interested in one of our reverse flow smokers. These smokers have some great features and options not available on the SQ36...

The TS70P pictured here is our smallest reverse flow smoker and offers 987 square inches of cooking surface.

TS70P Reverse Flow Smoker


guides, sq36 smoker

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}