Picture your Fourth of July – fireworks up ahead, and the smell of delicious meat cooking slow and low on your grill nearby. Your mouth is watering, and it’s all thanks to your offset smoker.
These smokers have been incredibly popular through the years, and they are getting even better as time goes on. They’re accessible for pretty much everyone, so you are sure to enjoy the joy that comes with smoking your meat. This is the kind of barbecue that you simply have to have!
Of course, it’s not just a matter of choosing any old barbecue. No – you need to choose the perfect one for you and your family. As such, you need to know what you’re looking for, rather than going in totally blind.
That’s where we come in. Here’s everything that you need to know about how to buy an offset smoker and all of the things that you need to keep in mind when you’re making your decision.
The Basics of an Offset Smoker – What Is It?
Offset smokers can go by a number of different names, including side firebox, horizontal, barrel and pipe smokers. These are classic kinds of smokers that can give you some impeccable results. They’re often used in competitions too, which tells you a lot about the sorts of results that you may expect to get.
How They Operate
So now that you know what an offset smoker is, the next question is how exactly do these things work? Well, let’s just talk about the common types of offset smokers. These tend to feature two cylinders or boxes inside.
They aren’t the same size, and they have different purposes. The small box is the firebox, which is where you will put things like your charcoal or wood to get the fire going. It’s offset somewhat lower than the bigger container in order to ensure that the smoke from the smaller box gets into the bigger box.
As you can probably guess, then, the larger box is where you will cook your food. The meat inside of it will be cooked because the two boxes are connected, and then the smoke will eventually get out thanks to a chimney that’s built into the smoker.
There are certain offset smokers that come with three chambers in order to ensure that you can cook more things, but this is not always the case.
Temperature control is also quite simple with an offset smoker. You will just need to alter the exhaust and air intake vents. If there’s more openness in the vents then there’s more oxygen getting into the device, resulting in a much stronger flame and thus increased temperature.
The Grilling Process
The great thing about offset smokers is that some of them also have an additional useful feature – you can use them as a grill too!
You just need to do things a little differently – put the fuel you’re using in the oven area and then cook above the grate in the same chamber. Not all of them will allow you to do this though, so you will need to check your particular model first.
The Different Kinds of Offset Smokers Available
There are a few different kinds of offset smokers. First of all is the traditional kind. In these smokers, you will usually find that whichever part of the cooking area that’s closest to the firebox will be the hottest part of it.
The problem with this is that the cooking can end up being uneven, which isn’t ideal. It means you’re going to have to play around with the positioning of the food in the smoker to ensure that it all ends up finishing the cooking process around the same time. This temperature difference is likely to be even more noticeable if your smoker is larger.
There is a solution that may help, of course. You can get a reverse flow offset smoker instead. Steel baffle plate versions are the ones that you are most likely to find. What’s great about these is that the plate inside will help to protect the meat from any heat coming directly to it.
All of the heat goes into the plate, and this means that the smoke moves around in a much more regulated manner. This not only helps with regulating heat but ultimately it also means that you’re getting far more flavor, too.
So how do you tell the difference between a reverse flow and a regular smoker? Look at the position of the chimney. If your smoker is a traditional one then the chimney isn’t going to be very close to your firebox.
Reverse flow smokers, on the other hand, have chimneys that are closer in proximity to the firebox. The smoke is then pushed right through it before the ventilation process occurs. You can find more information about these smokers in another article that we’ve done on the subject.
Things You Can Cook In a Smoker
Of course, why would you buy a smoker if you didn’t know what you could cook in it? You want to be sure that you can smoke all of your favorite meats, right? Well if you need to cook your meat nice and low and slow, then an offset smoker is the perfect choice for you.
There are a variety of meats that you can cook including pork butt, big slices of meat, brisket and ribs. That’s not all either. These devices are also fantastic for cooking pretty much any kind of meat, such as chicken, sausages and burgers. This makes them very versatile.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using an Offset Smoker
There are a couple of pros and cons to using an offset smoker that you need to be aware of before you buy one. After all, if you are familiar with these, then you can be sure that you are making the right choice for you.
Here are a few of the pros of using an offset smoker:
- They’re great if you need to cook large amounts of food at any given time
- It’s simple to add in additional fuel without interrupting the cooking process by opening the chamber. This allows you to get a more consistent cook going.
- They don’t cost a lot of operate
- Can usually be used as a grill too
- If you take care of it properly, your offset smoker can last an incredibly long time
While these devices are very useful and well loved, however, there are also a couple of cons that you should be mindful of:
- They can take quite a while to start and heat up. They often take more time to get started than gas grills do
- The cooking can take a very long time since these cookers are designed for low and slow cooking
- They can take a while to get used to. It’s often a process of trial and error when you first start using one of these smokers since you need to get used to using them
- They can be somewhat challenging to use when you live in cold locations
- They are very demanding of space since they are so big
- They weigh a lot, making them difficult to transport from one place to another
Things to Consider When Looking for an Offset Smoker
So what do you need to think about when you’re buying an Offset Smoker? There are some things that you’re naturally going to consider such as the shape, the size and the bells and whistles that come with the smoker.
In reality though, there are some fundamental things that you need to ensure are in place before you even buy your smoker. Here are the features that you absolutely must be looking for when making your decision
You need to be looking for a model with thicker, heavy gauge metal when you’re looking for a smoker. This will help you to get better heat retention and the cooking will be far more even.
Ideally the best thing to look for is ¼ inch thick since it isn’t going to warp as much and doesn’t get damaged by problematic weather,
Dampers and Quality Seals
You should always get an offset smoker that has good quality seals since they contribute to the temperature control that you get. Not only that but they also help you to keep more smoke in the smoker and will ensure that you use less fuel, saving you money in the long run.
Before you buy your smoker, double check that the seals are all in good condition – there shouldn’t be any gaps or other problems. In addition to this, it’s important that the dampers are sealing properly. Likewise though, you should be able to slide them somewhat easily to use them.
Make sure that you are getting a smoker that has a temperature gauge in it. This is useful since it will allow you to work out what the temperature is like inside and you won’t need to open up the lid.
This is vital if you want your meats to be cooked thoroughly and evenly. The brand that you should be looking for needs to give you accurate temperature gauges in the smoker.
Ideally, you should get something that has 2 thermometers positioned at the level of the grate and there should be one on each end of the smoker. This will allow you to work out if there are any differences in temperature from one side of the smoker to the other. You can then alter the temperature as you need to.
It doesn’t matter what product you’re buying – it’s always a good idea to ensure that it’s durable. You don’t want something that you’re going to have to return, after all.
Look at the wheels and the legs – check their hinges and latches to see if they’re strong. Ideally your smoker needs to be able to handle even the harshest weather and damage.
It’s worth looking to see if the device comes along with a cover. Some options will only come with a cover as an add-on that you need to pay extra for, whereas they are part of the price with other options. It’s quite useful if you have nowhere to store your barbecue, since it’s waterproof and it will ensure that it doesn’t rust over in the rain.
Finally, look for a product with a warranty. Nobody wants a product that breaks quickly, but in the event that you do end up getting one of these products, it’s important that you can get a replacement or repairs. It’s great for the additional peace of mind for you too, even if nothing ends up happening.
A Few Other Things to Look For
Size of the Firebox
It’s a good idea to look for a smoker that has a firebox size that’s suitable for you, regardless of the type of fuel that you’re using. It is especially important if you have a larger kind of fuel or you are going to be doing particularly long cooking sessions.
Size of the Cooking Chamber
There’s no benefit to replacing your cooker because it’s too small for you to use, so make sure that you’re getting the correct size right off the bat.
Try to figure out how much you are likely to cook when you buy your smoker. Look for something with a lot of space, hooks and racks if you are going to be cooking for lots of people at once. It’s also handy to have racks that can move to give you even more flexibility.
Consider whether you have the space for your new smoker. If it’s too big for the space that you have, then perhaps you need a smaller model! You’ll also need to think about the ventilation space around it when making your decision
Nobody likes to spend ages cleaning their smoker. For that reason, it’s a good idea to look for a model that has easy cleaning perks.
Consider whether there’s a plug or drain in it that will allow you to rinse out the device with a hose, or if there’s an ash clean out tool. These are all things worth thinking about before you buy.
If you are likely to be taking your smoker out with you when you’re on the go, you’ll want to think about how portable it is. Is it easy to move, is it heavy, and does it come with wheels and handles for ease of movement?
Finally, what accessories come with the smoker? This isn’t the most important thing to consider but you should certainly keep it in mind, since it can really enhance your experience.
Think about things like rib hooks, weather guards and extra racks. They can make a pretty big difference when you’re torn between two different models.