If you are serious about smoked meats and looking to make top-notch, high-quality BBQ, purchasing an offset smoker could be the best decision you will ever make. Not only do they look cool, but the best offset smoker can take you from backyard barbeque enthusiast to professional pit master quicker than you can say, “Come and get it!”
Before taking the plunge and making a major purchase though, you should know that not all offset smokers are equal in their creation. There are many factors to consider, but rest assured that we have done the research. We will show you how to get the most bang for your buck and pick the best offset smoker to bring your BBQ game to the next level.
- 1 What is an offset smoker?
- 2 Different types of an offset smokers
- 3 How do offset smokers work?
- 4 Offset Smokers Buyers Guide
- 5 Best Offset Smokers
- 6 Best Cheap Offset Smokers
- 7 Special Mention
- 8 Pros and Cons of an Offset Smoker
- 9 Offset Smoker vs Kamado vs Pellet Grill
What is an offset smoker?
Offset smokers are famous for their horizontal, barrel-like shape, allowing you to cook more food low and slow over an indirect heat source. It comprises of two separate, yet equally important chambers: the main smoke chamber/grill for cooking your meal and the firebox that supplies your heat source.
The wide expanse of the offset smoker’s main chamber gives you more space for ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and more. Also, it makes it easier to shift or rotate your meats during the cooking process. However, the firebox is what truly sets this style of smoker apart. Its placement off to the side and slightly lower than the main cooking chamber means that the air flowing into the cooking chamber will provide a low, indirect heat resulting in tender, juicy meat packed full of smoky flavor.
Different types of an offset smokers
While most people picture the best offset smoker as having a horizontal shape, offset smokers can vary in size, shape, and material. Here are the different shapes you can expect to find and the advantages and disadvantages of each one:
Vertical Offset Smoker
Easy on space, this offset smoker sits upright and is very easy to use, especially for beginners. It also tends to be the most affordable option. You can always identify a vertical offset smoker by three sections that are prevalent in all of them: the cooking grate at the top, a shelf for water (to add moisture to your meat during the smoking process), and the coal chamber at the bottom.
This style of offset smoker is very compact and easily portable. But it does not have adequate space if you plan on cooking for large gatherings. You will notice that it requires more frequent cleaning, and it does not have an automatic timer. If you are on the lookout for a smoker that does its job simply but doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of more feature heavy smokers, the vertical offset is a good choice. However, if you are seriously into smoking, want to cook for more than just a small family, and want the extra control that comes with additional features, it’s best to consider a different style.
Horizontal Offset Smoker
This traditionally shaped smoker takes inspiration from models that people used to build at home. It is a tried and true favorite among professional pit masters. And it is an (often large) investment that lasts a lifetime. This smoker’s barrel lays horizontally, which can require a lot of space. But it also adds a visual aesthetic to your backyard barbeque. With just one look, neighbors will know how seriously you take your smoker.
The best horizontal offset smokers can come in a variety of sizes. They are exceptional when it comes to cooking large quantities of food at one time. The one-time investment can come with a hefty price tag. Cheaper models in this category just can’t measure up in regards to quality, structure, and overall cooking capabilities. Beginners should anticipate a learning curve, as it can take some time to adapt to the horizontal offset smoker’s features.
Cabinet Offset Smoker
Similar to the vertical offset smoker, the best cabinet offset smoker sits upright but has more of a box shape. It contains several racks, increasing your total cooking space, and the automatic temperature control leads to fewer worries on your part to keep the temperature constant. These models are relatively easy to use and come in a variety of sizes.
A cabinet offset smoker will likely cost you more than a vertical offset smoker. You should beware of the cheaper models, as they will have problems with smoke retention. These models also need protection from the weather as they are more prone to rust.
Drum Offset Smoker
In what may be the least surprising news ever, a drum offset smoker gets its name because it uses a drum in its construction. Position the wood in the Lowe part of the drum and cook meat on a grate in the top. This model is budget friendly, and if you are especially handy, you can even try building your own at home.
Its design is great for heat retention and anyone can very quickly become an expert on how to cook with it. While not as visually pleasing as some of the other models, it is definitely an affordable option that fits just about anywhere in your backyard. However, there is not a lot of total cooking space available and you will have to clean this model frequently.
How do offset smokers work?
When a fire starts in the firebox, the air and heat travel sideways into the cooking chamber, causing the cooking of food via indirect heat. Smoke envelops the food, imparting that delicious, smoky flavor that we all love. The air and heat eventually travel out of the chimney on the opposite end of the smoker. You can control the temperature by using the vent on the chimney and the damper on the firebox. This also allows you to control how much smoke fills the cooking chamber.
When you begin researching the best offset smoker, you might notice that there are two different kinds; a traditional offset smoker and a reverse flow offset smoker. What makes these two different from each other? It is all in the way the heat travels through the unit.
Traditionally, the design of the best offset smoker has the firebox on one side of the cooking chamber and the chimney on the opposite side. The food closest to the firebox cooks faster, and therefore monitoring and rotation of the food are essential.
The design of reverse flow offset smokers generally highlights two key differences. First, the firebox and the chimney are both on the same side of the cooking chamber. Second, reverse flow offset smokers feature a deflector plate in the cooking chamber underneath the grates. What this does is deflect the smoke and heat coming from the firebox, forcing it to travel underneath the grates and the full length of the cooking chamber before exiting the chimney. This provides a more even cooking temperature throughout the chamber, meaning less rotation and monitoring on your part.
Another difference between traditional offset smokers and reverse flow offset smokers is the price. Because of their extra parts and convenience, you can expect reverse flow offset smokers to come with the heftier price tag.
Offset Smokers Buyers Guide
If you are ready to commit to your grilling game and are ready to step it up with the best offset smoker, there are a few things that you should be considering when you start comparing models:
Price – Cheap vs Expensive Offset Smokers
Before banking on the bargain-priced smoker, consider this: You get what you pay for. The market is awash with cheap offset smokers with the rise in popularity of smoking your own meat at home. Be cautious! These bargain models are typically cheap, use thin metal and poor seals that allow smoke and heat to escape. You are also likely to experience uneven heat/smoke distribution, flaking paint, and rust.
Certainly, a cheap offset smoker is better than no offset smoker at all. But when you come to determine your budget, keep in mind that spending a little bit more on your offset smoker typically ensures that your unit will both last longer and provide the high quality of cooking that you would expect. Those extra dollars may save you plenty of headaches in the long run. Especially when it comes to flimsy wheels, poor ventilation, and uneven cooking.
If you do purchase a cheaper model and you happen to be especially handy, you have the option to customize some aspects of your smoker. It can be challenging, but many tutorials exist for different modifications such as adding your own deflector plate, extending the chimney, and even increasing the capacity of your cooking chamber
Smoking is best when it’s low and slow, which means you should carefully manage your cooking temperatures. Most of the time, running your smoker anywhere from 225 to 275 degrees will do the job. This is a pretty standard temperature range to look for.
However, if other forms of smoking interest you, you may need some leeway in terms of the temperature range. For instance, cold smoking is a type of very precise smoking that cures and preserves meat such as salmon. It involves exposing the meat to smoke without much heat. So you’ll need a smoker capable of temperatures lower than 200 degrees and preferably closer to the 100-degree range.
Occasionally, you might also need a higher temperature than the standard 225-275 degrees. If you have got a giant pork butt that you need to have ready in time for your afternoon barbeque, it may require temperatures upwards of 300 degrees or more.
When deciding the best offset smoker, make sure you pick one that has a temperature range to cover all of your smoking needs. From highs to lows and everything in between.
Thicker metal is your friend! Thicker metal aids in heat retention and even heat distribution. You will require an offset smoker constructed with metal that is at least inch thick. This makes it is less likely to warp and rust when exposed to the elements. Bear in mind though, smokers that do possess metal inch thick will have a higher cost up front. They are ultimately worth it in the long run though.
You will also want to look for a high-quality paint job on your potential smoker. You might not think that paint would be important, but if a poor quality paint exists on the smoker, then flaking can occur if you expose it to high heat or just over time. Flakes in your food are definitely unappetizing. However, a poor paint job can also lead to the metal underneath becoming exposed and more prone to rusting.
Seals and dampers are responsible for not only temperature control and fuel usage, but also for the main reason you want a smoker: smoke retention! If juicy, smoky meat is your thing, high-quality seals and dampers on the best offset smoker is an absolute necessity.
The worst move you could make is to pick a smoker that doesn’t fit your space. Before making your purchase, there are two things to think carefully about in regards to capacity. First, how much outdoor space do you have to dedicate to your smoker? And second, how much food do you plan on smoking at one time?
The best offset smoker is big to begin with. So you want to make sure you have got enough space in your yard that you are ready to dedicate to this smoker. If you’re an apartment dweller with little to no yard, this purchase may require to be put on the back burner.
As for your cooking chamber size, consider much meat you plan to cook at any given time. Will you be cooking for a small family or for a larger gathering of friends? Select a smoker that has a lot of space on the grill and plenty of racks or hooks for cooking larger quantities of food at one time. While bigger may always seem better, it’s also important to note that if you select a smoker that’s too large for your quantity of food, you might be facing fuel inefficiency and longer cook times.
In any cooking method, the temperature is key. When smoking meat, it is important to be able to get an accurate reading of the temperature inside the cooking chamber. Preferably without opening the lid and letting the smoke and heat escape. In the best offset smoker, look for a temperature gauge that is at grate level for the most accurate reading.
While one gauge at grate level is great, two is even better. With a gauge at both ends, you can distinguish any differences in cook temperature and adjust your meat placement accordingly. It is also highly recommended that you invest in a decent quality meat thermometer to ensure the doneness of your meat.
Being outside, your offset smoker is going to come into contact with the elements. Protect your smoker from rain, sleet, snow, and more by keeping it covered when not in use to prevent damage and rust. The best offset smoker will include a cover with your purchase, but others will offer it as an additional accessory.
Make sure your offset smoker cover possesses a heavy-duty, fade resistant, waterproof material. It should have vents to prevent wind lofting but preferably lined with mesh as to not allow moisture inside. Padded handles are a definite bonus, as they make removal quick and easy.
Your smoker’s vents control the flow of oxygen within the unit, and therefore they also control your smoker’s temperature. The more your air flow increases, the hotter your fire will burn. If you’re stuck with vents that are too difficult to open and close or those that are too small to function correctly, you are likely to have a harder time keeping an even temperature throughout your cook time.
An offset smoker is unique in its double chamber design. But it is important that your firebox sits below the grill level of the cooking chamber. Any higher and it defeats the purpose of an offset smoker. Since heat rises, the lower firebox allows the heat to distribute more evenly throughout the cooking chamber. This is rather than being at the same level or higher than the meat. This is one of the major benefits of the reverse flow offset smoker’s design.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the best offset smoker is fairly large. They can be rather hefty to haul around, so if you’re planning on moving your smoker even just slightly, sturdy wheels can be a major advantage.
Even if you don’t plan to move your smoker at all, the convenience of having durable handles and wheels is immeasurable. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
Why let space go to waste? Just as with many grills, a good smoker will utilize all of the space available. Often using the area between the legs for a storage shelf or grate. A side or front shelf can be convenient for holding sauces, spices, and your beverage of choice. Utensil hooks are also convenient for your grill tools and the prevention of any accidental knocks and spills.
Like we mentioned with the cover, some smokers will come with accessories and others might have them available as an additional purchase. What kinds of accessories, you might ask? Everything from rib hooks to extra racks, grill tools to charcoal chimneys. The options are endless, so do your research and see what extra perks your preferred smoker provides.
You want your smoker to last a lifetime, and with the proper TLC, it technically should. However, having a warranty can protect you from the unexpected and unfortunate circumstances that sometimes happen. Pay for that extra peace of mind, and you’ll never have to worry about your offset smoker not lasting for the long run.
Best Offset Smokers
After doing the research, we believe these to be the best offset smoker:
Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
When it comes to the best reverse flow offset smokers, the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker model is one of the most affordable on the market. Thanks to its design, automatically you are going to have a higher quality offset smoker that provides even and consistent results. With 900 square inches of total cooking space (619 in the cooking chamber alone), it has plenty of space for what most home grill masters require.
The Oklahoma Joe’s Highland model is heavy duty, made of steel, and weighs in at almost 200 pounds. With that, you’ll be glad to know that, yes, it does have wheels, and those too are steel. Dampers in the chimney, as well as the four baffles under the grate, help to guide the heat and airflow through the cooking chamber. This helps deliver even cooking at a consistent temperature. This is a great entry-level model for anyone looking to break into the world of offset smoking
Dyna-Glo Signature Series Barrel Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker
With an impressive 675 square inches in the cooking chamber and the ability to convert the 287 square inches of firebox into additional cooking space, the Dyna-Glo Signature Series Barrel Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker.
has more than adequate cook space. It features a slide-out ashtray drawer (which makes cleanup a breeze), sturdy legs and wheels, and porcelain enameled steel grates.
While it’s a definite step up from cheaper models, you can still expect some heat loss due to a thin metal construction. The firebox is also on the smaller side, so you’ll be using more chips than logs with this model. The baffle is also small and can be hard to operate (be sure to protect your hands, it does get hot!). Overall though, it provides a decent amount of smoky flavor and is a good fit for the casual smoker.
Yoder Smokers Cheyenne
Do not let the price tag scare you away – this offset smoker stands apart from the rest of the competition. With 703 square inches of cooking space and weighing in at 315 pounds, pound for pound the Yoder Smokers Cheyenne is worth the price. You can tell you’re working with high-quality craftsmanship. It’s noticeable whether you just go for the basic set-up or if you splurge on some of the numerous accessories.
It resembles a steam locomotive and the build is just as solid. There’s one baffle on the firebox, but it’s large and works well for regulating the air intake. You can store spare logs on its sturdy between-the-legs shelf. And there are also shelves in front of the main chamber and the firebox. Yoder Smokers has the reputation for making competition grade products, so you’re getting the real deal with this offset smoker.
Broil-King Offset Smoker
Broil-King is a well-known name in the world of grills, but they also produce smokers. The Broil-King Offset Smoker isn’t exactly the best of the best in regards to offset smokers, but it delivers a great product at a value price. It’s mid-size with 625 square feet of cook space, making it perfect for a backyard barbeque. Grates use durable cast iron, and it also has several extra features such as utensil hooks, removable ashtrays, plenty of storage space, and even a bottle opener.
On the downside, the steel is only 2mm thick, but still thicker than some of the other cheaper models. There’s also only one thermometer, which lives directly in the center of the lid. This can prove less reliable for accurately measuring your cooking temperature. You won’t be smoking at a professional level with this offset smoker. However, it’s certainly superior to several others on the market.
Char-Griller Competition Pro 8125
While not exactly “competition” material, the Char-Griller Competition Pro 8125
does do a decent job. There’s plenty of space, with 719 square inches of cooking space, and a rather large 293 square inch firebox. There’s a double lining in the bottom to help retain heat. But there will be a learning curve when it comes to working the adjustable dampers. Definitely BYOT (Bring Your Own Thermometer), as the center-mounted thermometer won’t provide the accuracy that you’ll need.
This smoker features a warming tray on top of the firebox, front shelf, bottom storage, and very sturdy wheels. It is an especially good model if you plan on upgrading it with your own modifications. Home smoker enthusiasts will find that this model adequately meets their needs and their budget.
Best Cheap Offset Smokers
If you’re not quite ready to put down the big bucks for the models above, these affordable options deliver an excellent value and performance.
Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Smoker
This vertical model draws the heat up from the firebox and allows for even cooking on several racks. The Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Smoker is made from heavy gauge, powder-coated steel and is capable of smoking an impressive 150 pounds of meat at one time over 1,176 square inches of cooking space. If you plan on cooking for a lot of people at once and want the best offset smoker that doesn’t break the bank, this is the model to consider.
The construction of the firebox features porcelain enameled steel and the adjustable flue adds more control over the temperature. It comes with six adjustable cooking grates and has a built-in thermometer. One of the biggest perks to this unit is that the maintenance of the firebox is made simple because of a second door system. This helps prevent the heat from escaping while adding additional fuel. It also makes clean up quick and easy.
Char-Boil American Gourmet Offset Smoker
Talk about a bargain price! The Char-Boil American Gourmet Offset smoker is a versatile unit capable of smoking, grilling, and barbequing. It has 670 square inches of cooking chamber space and 255 square inches in the firebox. This model also comes equipped with a 355 square inch swing-away rack. Just remember – the thermometer mounts in the center and can be unreliable. So definitely have your own thermometer ready.
The build is solid and features all-black steel and includes cool-touch handles. There’s also a warming rack, plenty of storage space, sturdy wheels, and a side door in the firebox for easy ash removal. It can handle up to eighteen burgers at a time. So if you’re looking to be king of the neighborhood BBQ, this model won’t let you down. The price is a steal, making this one of the best entry-level offset smokers available.
Although it is not an offset smoker, Pit Barrel Cooking Co.’s 18-1/2 in. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker, is worth a mention. It works in a similar manner, with the heat a good distance away from the meat. So this grill is a viable option for people looking to purchase an offset smoker.Highly rated and budget-friendly, this barrel cooker comes equipped with 8 stainless steel hooks for hanging your meat. The hook-n-hang method is a major highlight for this smoker, but you can also grill using the standard grate.
Pros and Cons of an Offset Smoker
- The biggest pro is that delicious, rich, smoky flavor that only comes with authentic BBQ.
- Offset smokers have a spacious cooking area capable of cooking large quantities of meat at one time.
- Add a grate over your firebox and you can easily use your smoker for grilling and searing.
- Offset smokers are considerably inexpensive to operate due to charcoal being far cheaper than other fuel sources. No electricity necessary!
- With the firebox being separate from the cooking chamber, you don’t have to disrupt your cooking to add more fuel and/or wood chips. This helps maintain a more even temperature.
- Even the low-end models can turn from ugly ducklings to beautiful swans with the right modifications.
- The design means they should last a lifetime (and the right one will do just that!).
- We can’t deny it – the best offset smoker just looks cool! The classic offset smoker design is exactly what most people think of when they think about smokers.
- Offset smokers require a lot of work when it comes to maintaining even temperatures, rotating the meat properly, and overall just cooking low and slow for several hours at a time. If you like to set it and forget it, an offset smoker is probably not the right choice for you.
- You get what you pay for, so the best offset smoker will come with the bigger price tags.
- Practice makes perfect. And you are going to need a lot of experience to learn how your smoker works. Where and how your meat should be placed, and how to maintain a constant temperature throughout the unit.
- They’re big and bulky. The best offset smoker will require a lot of space and plenty of muscle to move them.
- Cold weather or wet climate can affect the cooking process, requiring you to be constantly attentive to the firebox.
- Starting the fire and letting it heat the cooking chamber properly can often take upwards of an hour. This makes the smoking process slow to start.
Offset Smoker vs Kamado vs Pellet Grill
While the best offset smoker may be the most used type of smoker by professional pit masters, kamado grills and pellet grills are also fairly popular among backyard BBQ enthusiasts. Which one is right for you? Take a look at what makes them different:
Fuelled by charcoal and wood, an offset smoker can take some work to fully master the heat distribution. Due to its unique placement of the firebox, meats closer to the heat will cook faster and require more rotation. Reverse flow offset smokers mostly eliminate this problem. But there’s still a bit of a learning curve to mastering your smoking technique.
The best offset smoker can also be a major investment. Most cheap models aren’t worth the price you pay due to cheap materials and low quality. More expensive models achieve the great quality BBQ you are aspire to. But you have to be willing to shell out the big bucks for the best models. They are also far larger than either the kamado or the pellet grill, so you will require more outside space
Known for their egg or oval shapes, the kamado grill is the smallest of the three options, and it has very little cooking space. However, it is one of the most versatile units capable of smoking, grilling, baking and more. Fuel comes from charcoal and wood, and while it takes a while to build up heat, the kamado easily maintains a constant temperature thanks to its thick, ceramic walls.
Reference that Kamado grills are simply “ceramic grills” is a common occurrence, but with ceramic objects come many pitfalls. This unit is very heavy and not particularly mobile. If your kamado happens to tip over, you are extremely likely to have to buy an entirely new grill. That should definitely factor into your decision making. Especially because you’d be looking at a similar price point to a good offset smoker for less space and more fragility.
The easiest of the three to cook with, pellet grills generate their heat by (as you might have guessed) burning wood pellets. With an electronically controlled auger system, the pellet grill is more of a set it and forget it model. This makes it popular among home smokers looking for that element of convenience.
Loading the hopper with wood pellets, you can then heat it to the temperature that you’ve designated This helps to keep the cooking temperature constant. If temperatures start to fall, an automatic blower turns on to increase airflow. If the aim is to smoke your food without the learning curve of a more intricate smoker, a pellet grill is worth considering. However, many users complain that pellet grills don’t achieve enough of the smoky flavor that they desire.
The best offset smoker will produce great tasting food and can turn a backyard BBQ enthusiast into a professional pit master. We hope our research has helped you consider all of the different options available. And that it helped you to select the best offset smoker that best suits your needs. Now, it’s time to toss on some brisket or a rack of ribs, and get to smoking!