How to Use an Offset Smoker

Jason Webster
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How Offset Smokers Work

Offset smokers are designed with a smaller separate firebox offset from the main chamber. This allows more airflow and heating, which makes them easier to control while producing more even smoke than other types of BBQ smokers.

In addition, offset smokers allow you to control the direction of the smoke that comes out of the smoker.

Simply by rotating the offset smoker, the direction of smoke can be changed, which allows a more even smoking. Be sure to keep the firebox level with the exhaust.

If you have the opportunity to be present the first time at a barbecue prepared with an offset smoker, you will experience a great impression.

The process of smoking meat and fish in an offset smoker is long. Nonetheless, your reward is the fact that the meat is superb even because there is much less fat and harmful substances, which, as a result, is not as salty as sausages prepared from cooked meat.

Regarding the assembly of the offset smoker, you don’t have to worry with that because most of them are simple and easy to assemble.

Step By Step Guide to Using an Offset Smoker

Using an offset smoker is so easy and simple once you get the hang of it.

This is truly a set it and forget it type of smoker. You set it up once and it will do all the rest. You need to pay attention once you put the meat in the smoker, because that is when the quality of the meat really makes a difference.

The goal is to maintain a constant 225 degrees F or a temperature of about 110 if you are using a meat thermometer. This temperature will work for any type of meat or poultry. It will give you a smoked flavor, but it won’t dry your meat out.

The key is to always keep the door closed and use a smoker thermometer to make sure that the temperature is right. Now, you can skip reading the rest of this article if you already have an offset smoker.

If you don’t have one, you have a few choices. You can build one out of a 55 gallon barrel. This is a really inexpensive way to go and the barrel will last forever (or until you burn it down). You will need to buy a dome thermometer (the wobbly type) and a firebox thermometer that attaches to a hole in the barrel.

Starting the Fire

Light the fire. Add your preferred wood at this time if desired. I typically do not use wood for an offset.

After lighting, adjust your smoker vents to control the airflow. The vents are situated at the top and bottom of the intake damper. Keep the top pipe damper open around three inches.

Close the bottom damper all the way, as this will force smoke through the bottom. For added smoke, leave the bottom damper only partially open.

Finally, adjust your temp gauge (located next to the damper controls) to the desired temperature. Lower vent settings correspond to higher temperatures.

The length of time it takes to build a fire may be different for each cook. Using charcoal briquettes, I would typically light the charcoal about 45 minutes before I planned to cook.

Once the temperature is at an ideal point, I would cook with wood, if desired, for the first and second hour, then just run the smoker with the meat’s natural fat for the remainder of the cook.

Your ideal cooking temperature may be slightly higher or lower depending on your preferences, but I find a temperature of 225f to be optimal for most cuts of meat.

Getting the Temperature Right

I am assuming that you are using a charcoal smoker because this is probably the cheapest smoker you can buy.

If you want a smoker with infinite temperature control, you should buy a propane smoker but this can be expensive.

When you use charcoal, the temperature is influenced by a few factors.

  • The thickness, number and quality of the charcoal will directly influence the amount of smoke it will produce, therefore, controlling the temperature
  • The amount of air flow will also influence the temperature
  • How often you add coal

You can easily adjust the amount of air flow using the intake and exhaust vents to achieve the right temperature.

In my opinion, the best temperature range to smoke a steak is between 200-250 F. At this temperature range, you will get the best combination of both smoke and heat.

Fire Management

The fire management function is often the most neglected aspect of smoking with an offset smoker. Your fire management skills are going to affect your entire smoking experience due to the consistent heat that is the result of managing a successful fire.

Here are some tips on how to use the firebox in your smoker for best results.

In the Beginning

To start heating the barrel, throw your first smoke in it and open the firebox door a few inches.

If you’re wanting to get your smoker to the proper temperature as soon as possible, you can install a temp gauge on the barrel. Otherwise, have an external thermometer handy.

As your smoker goes through the first few hours of the cooking process, you’ll want to ensure your fire is not waning. Get and maintain a bed of embers going.

Feed the fire progressively over the first few hours, just a little bit at a time and briefly, 1-2 minutes each time you add fuel.

Another option is to light a full box of charcoal and use it preferentially for the first few hours of your smoke.

For smokers that do not have a firebox, you will need to initially light charcoal in the main firebox area, only. When the temperature is stabilized, add coals to the firebox and start smoking.

Tips For Cooking With an Offset Smoker

Smoking is one of the oldest and most regulated of all methods of food preservation. The practice of smoking can be traced back to ancient Egypt, when the Egyptians hung smoked meat in the branches of acacia trees to dry. This practice prevented flies from breeding on the meat and helped preserve it.

Smoking food creates a rich flavor that is hard to describe. It is also an interesting flavor that allows the sweet flavors of cooked meat to come through while still maintaining that smoky flavor that many people enjoy.

The way that a smoker works is that the food is placed on racks, above a pan of water. The smoke comes out of the top of the smoker where it is trapped in the box. This circulating smoke then infuses into the food below and drips onto the water below.

This is the water that is used to maintain heat when the smoker is not running.

If you decide to use a smoker to cook your food, there are a few aspects of smoking that you should understand.

Backwoods Chubby 3400 Charcoal Smoker Review

A lot of people like to cook their own food. They prefer the flavour and satisfaction of knowing what's going in their food. It can also save you money and be healthier overall.

An offset smoker will allow you to do just that as well as helping you become a master chef in your own backyard. There is plenty of experience to be gained as well as a great deal of satisfaction.

I’ve had mine for close to two years now and have really learnt the basics but it has given me a good insight into what to look for in the future.

While it’s nowhere near as good as a good restaurant or a proper BBQ Pitmasters set-up, which can take up from a day to three to fire-up, it is an affordable and decent introduction into the world of smoked cuisine.

A typical home smoker has three main purposes:

  • Smoke woods for the smokey essence
  • The smoke

Add a layer of colour, especially to dark meats like beef and ribs.

While the process of smoking food is really, really simple, the reason it’s so good is a result of a high number of variables which can differ depending on your setup. This is why it takes a lot of patience to get a decent result and often requires very careful attention and monitoring. It can be a bit of an art form.