What is a Reverse Flow Smoker?

Smoking is one of the most delicious, flavorful ways of cooking fish and meat, as anyone with Southern roots can attest to. 

It brings a whole new meaning to barbecuing that goes beyond your American-style hamburger, and the intense, oaky flavors that are produced during smoking gives meat a new lease of life, despite it already being dead. 

Like any pièce de résistance, it takes time, knowledge, and the perfect tools to create a masterpiece. But which is the best type of smoker to bring about such a sensational, succulent dish? 

If you’re in the market for a new smoker to achieve these types of results, it’s likely you’ll have come across the term ‘reverse flow smoker’ before. But what does it mean? What is a reverse flow smoker? And how do they differ from a regular offset smoker? 

How Reverse Flow Smokers Work

Reverse flow smokers are perfect for cooking tender, delicious dishes such as beef brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs, or pretty much any cut of meat you can pick up at your local butcher shop. 

Don’t be put off by joints with marbling or lots of fatty tissue - the higher the fat content, the better! The slow smoking process brings out the best of these flavors as the searing fat drips from the meat and results in wonderfully tender, tasty food. 

Similar to offset smokers in many ways, reverse flow smokers have been adapted to include an additional metal plate, also referred to as a baffle, and that’s where the difference between these two types of smokers comes in. 

The baffle pulls hot air and smoke underneath itself and delivers it around the cooking chamber, reversing the airflow for it to be released through a smokestack which is usually located on the same side as the firebox. 

Offset smokers don’t have this additional baffle so your meat isn’t shielded from the heat, leaving it more at risk of charring and leaving an acrid rather than smokey taste. 

If done correctly, using an offset smoker does mean you can achieve a cleaner burn, but it requires more frequent turning of your meat for maximum smoke exposure. 

Benefits of Using a Reverse Flow Smoker 

Using a reverse flow smoker ensures steady, even temperature control throughout smoking meaning it’s easier to achieve consistent results, hence why many people (especially those who are new to this style of barbecuing) prefer a reverse airflow system to offset smokers. 

There are plenty of other benefits, including:

  • Better distribution: Both temperature and smoke are more evenly distributed thanks to the addition of the metal baffle.  
  • Improved taste: Because the baffle plate distributes smoke more effectively, you can achieve more intense, smoky flavors and tender cuts with less effort. Plus, any searing fat that drips onto the plate will only add to the depth of flavor.  
  • Easier to monitor: The improved consistency of the heat distribution means you don’t need to flip your meat or move it around to avoid hotspots in the chamber. 
  • Less spiking: You can add more fuel without worrying about the internal temperature spiking too much.

Disadvantages of Using a Reverse Flow Smoker

In the interest of full disclosure, it has to be said that there are some areas where the reverse flow smoker falls slightly shorter than a regular offset smoker.

Some of the disadvantages of reverse flow smokers include:

  • Non-removable plate: On certain models the baffle plate cannot be removed from the chamber because it’s been welded in place, which makes it harder to clean. 
  • ‘Dirtier’ smoke: The baffle means there’s less airflow as it reverses, so air circulates for longer in the chamber therefore it is less ‘clean’. This can sometimes lead to oversmoking which results in an unpleasant, acrid flavor to your meat.
  • Less fuel efficient: It takes longer for a reverse flow smoker to reach the desired temperature due to its design and the additional baffle.

How to Use a Reverse Flow Smoker

Prepare your meat

The first thing you’re going to want to do whenever you’re planning on using your reverse flow smoker is to prepare your meat well in advance so the flavors have a chance to marinate.

Season it well with your preferred dry rub mix and leave it to rest in the fridge. If you’re new to smoking and don’t have a favorite yet, there’s plenty of recipes online.

Light the charcoal

The next step is to light the charcoal. You can use a chimney starter to help get it going and place the lit coal in the firebox.

Feel free to add in a few hardwood chips if you prefer an intense, smokier flavor. Not sure which ones are the best to use? See our article on the top 5 best types of wood for smoking here.

Adjust the dampeners 

You should adjust the dampers on your reverse flow smoker until they reach approximately 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is an ideal temperature for the majority of meat cuts, although it can vary depending on the size of the joint. 

Place meat on the cooking racks and close the lid

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.

Monitor the temperature

Keep an eye on the temperature and be sure to check it at periodic intervals so you know if you need to add more charcoal. Just like you did earlier, use a chimney starter to light it and place the charcoal in the chamber to help maintain a consistent temperature. Adjust the dampers as and when it’s necessary.

Keep smoking 

Not advice you expect to hear these days.

Keep smoking your meat according to its smoke time or until it’s visibly tender. You can also use an internal meat thermometer to see when the middle of your joint has reached the desired temperature. 

Remove your meat from the cooking racks

Once your meat is cooked, remove it from the cooking racks and place it on a plate.

As tempting as it is to get stuck right in, allow your meat to rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving. This will allow the smokey juices to redistribute around the meat for maximum flavor. 

Cleaning a Reverse Flow Smoker 

In order to maintain your smoker, it’s important to clean it properly after each use. Not only does this help keep it in good condition and help to prevent rust spots from forming, but it also results in the tastiest food.

No one wants to take a bite of the freshly smoked steak you’ve been laboring over to find notes of burnt beef brisket all because you haven’t cleaned it after last week’s use.

  1. Clear away the ash, as once it’s left to build up it will store humidity which can lead to rusting. Use a brush to sweep them out after they’ve cooled, and then dispose of them responsibly using a sealed metal container.
  2. Clean the surfaces using a warm, damp cloth. Wipe away any spills or sauces that might have dirtied the surface of your smoker. 
  3. Brush any burnt bits off the grates using a nylon bristle brush. 
  4. Ensure there’s no grease or charred scraps of food left in the cooking chamber by using a 4-inch putty knife to scrape it out.  
  5. If you see any patches of rust starting to appear, use some steel wool and scrub the spots until you’ve buffed them out. Re-season the area using beef tallow, or if you don’t have any of this you can use another high-temperature cooking oil.

There you have it. Everything you need to know about what a reverse flow smoker is, what it does, and how you use it.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to get started, check out our article on the best smoker recipes. It’ll be sure to have your mouth watering! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to soak my wood chips?

There’s much debate both for and against soaking wood chips before adding them to your smoker, but the general consensus is that it’s not necessary to achieve well-rounded, smoky flavors. 

How do I distinguish an offset smoker from a reverse flow smoker? 

The smokestack is the most obvious way to tell what kind of airflow system your smoker uses, as this will be located on the side closest to the firebox on reverse flow smokers. 

If the smokestack is positioned further away or on the other side of the firebox, then you’ll know it’s an offset smoker. Alternatively, the type of airflow system your smoker uses will always be specified in the product information. 

Are reverse flow smokers better than offset smokers?

It’s difficult to say whether a reverse flow smoker is definitively better than an offset smoker, as each one caters to a different type of backyard cook. 

More experienced barbecuers might want to take advantage of the different hot spots created in an offset smoker to smoke other cuts of meat that require different temperatures, at the same time. 

That’s some serious multitasking, however, and if you’re new to smoking a reverse flow smoker is definitely a better choice.