What Is a Stick Burner Smoker?

A stick burner smoker is an offset barbecue smoker designed to cook meat using only log splits or "sticks" as opposed to charcoal. 

In this article, we'll look at what's cool about a stick burner smoker, mistakes commonly made when using a stick burner, and whether it's a good choice for a beginner.

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 2-3 log splits and then feed it with more wood every 45-60 minutes.

What's Cool About Using a Stick Burner Smoker?

There are many types of meat smokers on the market by now, ranging from ones designed to cook for a small family to massive pits for feeding crowds. Some are automated enough to manage from your phone while others are completely "old school" with no electronics and few moving parts.

The latter consists mostly of steel and a coating of paint and relies entirely on physics and expertise for maintaining a consistent temperature and a "clean" fire.

The most complicated type of smoker to master is the offset smoker and the most challenging method of running an offset smoker is using only wood as fuel as opposed to charcoal or a mix or both. These are usually intended for the serious barbecue enthusiast who enjoys fire management and a hands-on approach to temperature control.

In the barbecue community, easier is not always more desirable. The ultimate goal for many barbecue enthusiasts is relaxing and socializing around their pit, occasionally stoking the fire and tossing on more fuel. For others, a more automated approach fits better with their lifestyle and interests.

"In the barbecue community, easier is not always more desirable." —Lavern Gingerich

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Because of the pitmaster's relationship with the fire in an offset smoker, no other method of smoking meat holds a more honorable status. Burning all wood is another step above that.

To the purist, cooking meat with wood as the only fuel is the most authentic type of barbecue. This method is also the most challenging and requires practice and dedication to get consistent results and delicious meat because wood is more sporadic and creates more smoke than charcoal briquettes.

Many stick burner folks use a combination of charcoal and wood. In fact, my favorite approach is to start with a bed of charcoal and a bit of wood, then refuel with wood only or a mix of wood and charcoal.

Are There Other Types of Stick Burners?

Wood makes a more intense heat than charcoal briquettes, so an offset smoker is generally the best setup for burning all wood because the fire is offset from the meat instead of under the meat, separated only by a drip pan or baffle of some sort. 

Should a Beginner Buy a Stick Burner?

A stick burner is a challenging type of smoker to master, but it's an excellent choice if you choose one that's well-built and enjoy playing with fire. If you prefer to fill a hopper of pellets and turn a dial instead of feeding a fire, then an offset smoker is not for you.

If you think you'd like cooking on an offset smoker, but you're not sure about burning all wood, you can always use a mix of charcoal and wood. Charcoal briquettes are easier to use than wood, so with experience you can decide which ratio of wood to charcoal works for you. Personally, I always use some charcoal in my offset smokers.

Common Mistakes With Stick Burners

The most common challenges with stick burner or offset smokers are maintaining a consistent temperature and a "clean" burning fire. Smoke is never perfectly clean, but it's important to keep the fire burning hot enough to avoid thick heavy smoke while you have meat in the smoker.

  • Perhaps the top mistake people make when using a stick burner is over-smoking the meat by using logs that are too large for the pit they are using. On a small backyard smoker, I recommend using logs that are no more than about 3" in diameter so that the wood can light quickly.
  • Another mistake that's easy to make is waiting too long to replenish the wood. You'll typically need to add a new split of wood every 45–60 minutes. Keep an eye on the wood and add more while there are enough burning coals to light the new wood quickly.
  • If you add too much wood and the temperature rises too far, beware of suffocating the fire by closing the firebox vents. If the fire doesn't have enough oxygen, it can put creosote (a nasty flavor) on your meat. This can also lead to a see-saw effect in your temperature if you over-correct the vents.
  • Do not try to burn only wood in a cheaply-made offset smoker (under $500). Read more about burning wood in a cheap offset smoker in my article on offset smokers.

"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." —Meathead Goldwyn

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Entry-Level 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. 

Read More: A Beginner's Guide to the SQ36 Offset Smoker

Handmade Stick Burner Smokers For Sale

Our offset smokers are handmade in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and built to last for more than a generation.

Choose between the SQ36 offset smoker or one of our reverse flow offset smokers, including "Big Black"—a Pitmaster's Dream decked out with stainless steel work shelves, an insulated firebox, a front-mounted charcoal grill, and a trim package.

These tank smokers have a curved end that helps the air move through the smoker. They always come with food-grade stainless steel grates and are built in a culture of integrity. 

The trailer models can be customized with a wide variety of upgrades. When viewing a product in our online catalog, click on "Customize" to see a list of available ways to customize your trailer.

TS70P Stick Burner

“This is my first go with an all wood offset smoker which is an upgrade from the Weber Smokey Mountain. I have 16 cooks under my belt in just 11 months comprised mostly of brisket, pork shoulder and pork ribs. My family and friends love the food this smoker produces and I am very happy with the quality...”

—Douglas Nale

Read more 5-star reviews of stick burners in our online catalog here:

About the Author

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

Leave a Reply 2 comments

James Sullivan - November 22, 2020 Reply

The last 2 blogs about the SQ 36 has given me a lot of info , more than just guessing what to do. I purchased my SQ 36 about 3 years ago and had great success and not so good success. Any additional info on the smoker would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you, James Sullivan

    Lavern Gingerich - November 25, 2020 Reply

    Thanks for letting us know! Do you have any specific questions?

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