Should I Get an Offset Smoker or a Pellet Smoker? Everything You Need To Know

Shopping for a new barbecue can be pretty overwhelming. There are just so many things to consider! It can often be especially difficult to choose between a pellet smoker and an offset smoker – there are pros and cons to each.

These machines look pretty similar but come with a wide variety of differences. They operate using different fuels, they cook in a different way and they are operated in an entirely different manner.

That’s not even the extent of it either when you think about how much they both cost. If you are having a restless night of sleep wondering which one will be the best choice for you, then we’re here to give you some more information. With this, you will know everything that you need to know so you can hit that buy button confidently.

Offset Smokers: What Are They?

We’ve gone into this in more depth in another article, but an offset smoker is known by a number of different names such as barrel smoker, stick smoker, horizontal smoker, side firebox smoker or pipe smoker.

This is basically your classic kind of smoker and it has a little firebox that works in conjunction with a box or a barrel, and that’s where all of the cooking action happens.

You may be thinking that this sounds too simplistic, but quite the contrary! In this case the simplicity is in its favor and they are known as some of the best smokers on the market. These work for a wide variety of different purposes, including cooking low and slow for a long time.

As it’s cooking, the smoke and the heat of the fire gradually starts to make its way out of the chimney and into the air. You can use it along with charcoal or wood, so you have a lot of diversity in the sorts of flavors that you can create. 

Pellet Smokers – What are They?

Pellet smokers are generally known as pellet grills too. These are like your step up from the traditional offset smoker with all of the modern technology that you would expect from a device created in the last couple of decades.

You will use these devices alongside pure hardwood pellets and these are gradually transported into the firebox. This is what allows the device to maintain a consistent temperature that you can usually see on an LCD panel.

What’s especially great about pellet smokers is that you don’t need to constantly have an eye on them when you are cooking. You can allow the device to do its thing while you kick back and relax for a little while.

What is more annoying though is that they need to be close to a power source, and there are many barbecue experts that insist that you won’t get the same kind of results from a pellet smoker as you would from a traditional smoker. They say that the meats are usually a little more moist and they don’t have that same smoky kick to them.

They are, however, becoming much more common in the barbecue competition world, so they certainly have a lot of merit to them. You can certainly use them to make award-winning meats at home.

Pros Of Offset Smokers

  • The real barbecue taste 
  • Can be used to grill over fire using a firebox, or it’s possible to arrange the charcoal in a way to have a much bigger grill
  • Will last for many years if it has been well maintained
  • It’s possible to add fuel in directly through the designated door so you don’t get any heat loss when adding fuel
  • Don’t cost a lot of money
  • Don’t need electricity to run – can be operated in practically any location
  • Perfect for cooking large amounts of food

Cons

  • It can take a while to get used to cooking with one of these smokers
  • It can be troublesome to cook on them in cold or wet weather because it’s a lot more challenging to dictate the temperature
  • You will need to babysit the device more often, checking the temperature all the time. It’s possible you may also need to adjust the fire yourself sometimes too which can be a pain
  • Can be prone to rusting since they are painted steel – a minor complaint that’s usually fairly simple to handle 

Pros of Pellet Smokers

  • You can set the temperature, put the meat on to cook and then leave it to its own devices. Allows you to kick back and relax while you are cooking
  • Difficult to burn food with it that has a terrible charred taste
  • Comes with automatic temperature control – no need to worry about fluctuating temperatures
  • Many have wifi, allowing you to cook from your phone
  • Come with convection fans that will circulate the heat so cooking is even – great for other forms of cooking like roasting and baking
  • Work for both beginners and seasoned chefs
  • Suitable for grilling in most models
  • Use very little fuel 

Cons

  • You will need electricity to use them, requiring an inverter or an extension cord. This can sometimes be problematic
  • Tend to cost more money than their offset alternatives
  • Not every model can be used for grilling because the temperature isn’t designed to go that high
  • Doesn’t always give the same degree of smokiness as you would get from offset smokers, but this isn’t a problem for everyone. 

Comparison

Uses

Offset smokers are best for smoking and grilling whereas pellet smokers can be used for more purposes, including baking, roasting and grilling

Cooking Capacity

You’re going to get a larger cooking capacity from an offset smoker, but you can usually find something large enough with a pellet smoker.

Cost

Most offset smokers cost anywhere from $200-$2,000 or more. The price range is similar for pellet smokers, with the lowest price generally starting at $300.

Fuel

Offset smokers can be used with wood or charcoal depending on your preferences, whereas pellets run exclusively on wood pellets and feature an electric powered motor

Running cost

It doesn’t cost a lot to run an offset smoker – the fuel is the main expense. It may cost more to run a pellet smoker.

Power

You don’t need power to run an offset smoker, but you do need power in order to run a pellet smoker.

Portability

Offset smokers aren’t super portable but you could put one in a truck in the back if you needed to. Pellet smokers are sometimes designed to be portable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an offset smoker worth it? 

Ultimately it depends on what you are looking for from a smoker. It’s a great choice if you need something fairly affordable and something simple. If you are looking for something with more bells and whistles though, a pellet smoker is generally the better choice.

Can I use pellets in an offset smoker?

You can use pellets in a lot of offset smokers, but not all of them. You will need to check the product specifications on your specific model in order to check.

In most cases though it should be fine to use either charcoal or wood pellets in your offset smoker. This differs considerably to a pellet smoker. With a pellet smoker, it’s in the name – you can only use pellets for your cooking endeavors. It’s not ideal if you want to use multiple different kinds of fuel. 

What is better: pellet or charcoal smoker?

You can get charcoal smokers in addition to pellet smokers. Pellet smokers are better for an actual smoker, since they will allow you to cook the meat at lower temperatures. If you want to burn something on high heat then charcoal may be better since pellets can burn incredibly fast.

Do Pellet smokers give good flavors?

As we’ve established in this article, pellet smokers are great for many things but they don’t always give you the strong smoky flavor that you may want to have when you are doing a barbecue.

In this respect an offset smoker is generally better since they are known for the strong smoky flavor, but if smokiness isn’t really your thing then it’s not a problem. 

Can you leave your pellets in the hopper?

It’s not a good idea to leave pellets that you haven’t used in a hopper. This is because they can end up rotting. When you leave pellets in the hopper, they can end up coming into contact with the weather outside.

This causes them to disintegrate. As such, it is always advised that you empty out the hopper after you have finished cooking. Many pellet smokers come with cleaning systems specifically to allow you to do this, saving you a lot of time. 

Are pellet grills worth it?

If you really enjoy tasting smoky meats but searing isn’t your thing then pellet grills are absolutely worth it. They can be used to cook a wide variety of different meats, so they are quite versatile. They aren’t really worth it if you only plan on cooking the basics like burgers and hot dogs though.

Ultimately it depends on what you want – offset smokers and pellet grills are both great options, but it depends who you are asking. You need to do what is best for you and thoroughly assess your options.