A Step by Step Guide on How to Use an Offset Smoker

Do you want to have consistently deliciously grilled meat and veggies? Are you craving that smokey flavor that only a barbecue can bring? Then an offset smoker may be the best investment you make for yourself or your family this summer.

These pieces of hefty equipment may seem intimidating at first, but using an offset smoker is all about temperature, smoke, and air regulation. 

Read on learn how to enjoy the most delicious smoked meats with our easy guide on how to use an offset smoker!

What Is an Offset Smoker? 

You may have also heard it referred to as an offset barrel smoker, stick burner, pipe smoker, and horizontal burner, but they’re all describing the same type of equipment. These smokers all have a similar shape and design.

The main, large chamber is where all the cooking takes place and is typically barrel-shaped. On one end and slightly lower than the cooking chamber is firebox where you build a fire out of wood or charcoal. You can see now how “offset smoker,” gets its name–the firebox is slightly offset from the cooking chamber. 

The heat and smoke coming from the firebox flow from an opening connecting the firebox to the cooking chamber. Because of the unique shape, the heat and smoke flows throughout the chamber before escaping through the smokestack on the other side.

The unique airflow that an offset smoker produces gives your meat and veggies that unique flavor. 

How to Use an Offset Smoker

Now that you know what an offset smoker is, here are some basic step-by-step tips on how to use one for your first barbecue. 

1. Starting the Fire

It’s important that you start the fire and get the temperatures correct before you add food to the cooking chamber. The easiest and safest way to start up a fire is with charcoal and a chimney starter. Once the charcoal is lit in the chimney starter, pour them into the firebox.

If you don’t have a chimney starter, you can also take the unlit charcoal and arrange them into a pyramid shape inside your firebox. This allows you to light the top layer and allow the heat to naturally and slowly spread to the bottom. 

Once your charcoal is lit, you’ll want to add wood to increase the temperature. Place the wood chips or small logs on top of the burning charcoal. 

2. Adjusting Temperature

It helps to have a smoker thermometer at each end of the smoker, as the temperature can be vastly different on one side compared to another.

Remember that even when you initially get the temperature right, you’ll need to continue checking and making adjustments at least every hour. At the bare minimum, a temperature probe should be placed at the location your food will be cooking. 

However, you’ll want to keep the lids closed for as much as possible while your food is cooking so there aren’t constant temperature fluctuations.

To help keep the temperature more regulated, consider placing a shallow pan of water on a rack above your fire pit.

Once you reach the temperature you’re looking for, make sure to keep the vents of the firebox slightly open along with the chimney cap. The wider you open the firebox vent, the hotter the fire will burn. A large part of regulating the temperature of your offset smoker is adding wood or opening the vent wider if your temperature is too low. 

3. Regulating Smoke

When your grilling, you typically don’t want your food to taste too “smokey.” A great way to determine the quality of your smoke before you even place your food in the cooking chamber is to take a look at the chimney.

If you notice thick, black smoke coming out of the chimney, then this is an indication that you should wait a little longer for your fuel source to go through the beginning phase of burning. If you notice this black smoke later on, it could be a sign that you need to add more fuel for your fire. 

4. Rotating Meat

One of the easiest but most tedious aspects of using an offset smoker is remembering to regularly rotate the meat, especially if you’re using up the entire chamber.

The temperature won’t be completely the same on both sides, so you’ll need to remember to check your thermometers and rotate the meat so that it’s cooked evenly.

5. Cleaning Your Smoker

Last but not least, cleaning your smoker thoroughly after you use it is a great way to keep it in its prime condition for years. Let the ashes in the firebox completely cool before sweeping them out.

With a nylon bristle brush, brush off any leftover food from the grates and use a warm, damp cloth to wipe up any other spills or stuck food particles. For deep cleaning, you can wash the smoker with a degreaser and reseason with a clean burn for a few hours.

Using an Offset Smoker Is the Best Way

Now that you know how to use an offset smoker, your next step is to go outside and try it. It takes practice to know how to properly regulate the temperature and smoke, so make sure you’re patient with yourself and don’t be disappointed if you don’t end up with the results you expected.

Start with charcoal and then add wood logs or chips for a hot, consistent fire. Remember that opening the firebox vent wider will result in a hotter fire, and if you see dark, black smoke, wait for a little while until the fire regulates itself before you start cooking. 

Ready to invest in an offset smoker? Take a look at our best smoker guides today!