The best offset smokers have a few things in common. Solid construction, excellent airflow control, and the authentic smoke flavor that only real hardwood can provide. You buy an offset smoker because you are serious about barbecue. For you, meat smoking is more than an occasional excuse for a cookout. Barbecue, with all its variations and possibilities, is a way of life.
- What is an Offset Smoker
- What are the Advantages of Offset Smokers
- What are the Disadvantages of Offset Smokers
- Best Offset Smokers
- Who Should Buy Offset Smokers
- Best Fuel for Offset Smokers
- About Me
- Affiliate Disclosure
- Contact Me
What is an Offset Smoker
Smokers come in wide varieties. From the difference in fuels to the shapes and sizes. One of the oldest styles of smokers is the offset smoker. This configuration has been wildly popular with caterers, competition cooks, and BBQ joints for decades. The offset is easy to use but does have a learning curve. The best offset smokers, however, can be controlled precisely without any electronics.
The offset smoker gets its name from the fact that the fire is held in a box, offset from the cooking chamber. This creates indirect heat and allows for access to the fire and the food independently. Offset smokers are powered by charcoal or hardwood. When burning hardwood, these cookers are sometimes referred to as stick burners. You can use combinations of fuel, mixing charcoal (lump or briquette) with hardwood logs or chunks depending on the size of the firebox.
In form, the offset smoker is divided into two sections. There is the firebox and the cooking chamber. The firebox sits lower than the cooking chamber to the side (sometimes beneath or behind). The cooking chamber is a large chamber with grates for food. There are two styles of cooking chambers, the long, low chamber, and the tall, vertical chamber.
The two chambers are connected allowing smoke and heat to flow from the firebox to the cooking chamber. A vent on the firebox controls the airflow into the smoker, while a vent (typically a smokestack) on the cooking chamber lets air flow out. Adjusting these vents controls the smoking temperature.
Reverse Flow Smoker
A reverse flow offset smoker reverses the course of the airflow. A metal plate sits at the bottom of the cooking chamber. The heat and smoke from the firebox flow under this plate to the opposite side of the chamber. Then back, over the food, and out through a stack on the side of the firebox. This is how you tell a reverse flow offset smoker from the standard configuration.
If I was going to build an offset smoker, I would make it reverse flow. It is a better design. However, being a reverse flow smoker doesn’t make it better. It’s an improvement. Standard offset smokers can still be fantastic. Don’t pick a reverse flow smoker for that factor alone. Also, the vast majority of offset smokers are not reverse flow.
What are the Advantages of Offset Smokers
Offset smokers are loved for their authentic smoke production and the flavor they can produce. This is traditional barbecue at its best. This is why so many serious barbecue cooks turn to an offset design for their cooking. With their use of hardwood or charcoal, you get high smoke production in ratio to the heat produced. By combining charcoal with hardwood, you can adjust the smoke flavor and level.
Offset smokers are scalable, meaning they can get very large without impacting function. There are wildly popular BBQ joints that do all their cooking on a single offset smoker. In fact, larger offset smokers have more even heat and can be easier to control than smaller units. Offset smokers can cook a lot of food. And many models can grill as well as any charcoal grill.
Affordability is also a strong pro on the offset smoker’s side. While I don’t recommend the cheapest on the market, when you compare the cooking area of offset smokers with that of Kamado Grills or Pellet Grills, you find that you can get a lot more cooker for the money. This is not to say that some of these smokers don’t run into the thousands of dollars. But from a value standpoint, these are great options.
What are the Disadvantages of Offset Smokers
The biggest disadvantage of the offset smoker is time. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of the smoker. They are not hard to use, but you need to know the proper way to build a fire and adjust the vents to get to and maintain your target temperature.
Offset smokers can also take time to heat up. This is often longer than it takes to start a charcoal fire. With this style of smoker, you need to build the fire and then bring the cooking chamber up to temperature. The larger the cooker the longer this can take. They also may not recover temperatures quickly, so keep the lid closed as much as possible.
Cheap offset smokers are not worth buying. There are many better options of the price and size like the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker for instance. A good offset is solidly built with thick steel. The doors and vents close tightly and all the parts line up correctly. Bad offset smokers tend to lack all these factors. If you don’t want to make the investment in a good offset smoker, consider a different style of cooker.
Best Offset Smokers
The Good One Marshall
The Good One Marshall
I know what you are thinking. This doesn’t look like an offset smoker. I assure you, it is. It has a separate firebox that connects to the cooking chamber through a vent. Air flows in through this firebox and out through the vents on the top. What the oddly named ‘Good One’ is, is an improved offset smoker. The vents rotate on screws for more precise temperature control. Now, the Marshall is big. It will cook nearly 150 pounds of food or up to 9 briskets at a time. If you want a more patio-friendly model, I recommend their Open Range model.
While I wholeheartedly recommend this smoker, it does cost around $2,500USD, so it isn’t the answer for many. It is, however, an excellent offset smoker that breaks the runs and smokes easier, better, and more efficiently than almost any other charcoal smoker. Good One Smokers are handmade in the United States.
Total Weight: 495 Pounds
Smoking Area 2,400 square inches
Read my Full Review of The Good One Marshall
Yoder has become a leader in hardcore barbecue. They are known for making some of the best pellet grills in the world, but they bring equal quality to their charcoal offset smokers. The Yoder Cheyenne is designed as their backyard smoker. It is comparatively small for its $1,200 price tag, but it is excellently built. This is a classic, direct flow stick burner smoker with heavy, solid construction.
There are many upgrades that you can add to this smoker. The one I recommend is the heat management plate that helps improve the evenness of the heat in the cooking chamber. It’s an extra hundred dollars, but worth the investment. Cared for, this is a lifetime smoker and as such, it comes with a lifetime warranty.
Total Weight: 315 Pounds
Smoking Area: 703 Square Inches
Horizon 20-Inch Classic Smoker
Horizon 20-Inch Classic Smoker
Not many people seem to have heard of Horizon Smokers. Which is strange. This company, founded by Roger Davidson, has a linage that goes straight back to the original Oklahoma Joe’s (yes, that Davidson). The smokers that Horizon now builds are part of a legacy decades old. Solid and classic, these units have become a secret favorite.
Horizon smokers are handmade in Perry, OK, and shipped directly to you (there are some retailers to check that first since you pay for shipping from the factory). The 20-Inch Horizon Smoker is large enough to cater out of or do competitions. The heavy construction and fantastic build quality mean that you will be able to keep this smoker cooking for decades. I particularly like the oversized firebox on this unit. The Horizon 20-Inch starts around $1,550USD.
Total Weight: 450 Pounds
Smoking Area: 975 Square Inches
Pitts and Spitts Ultimate Smoker Pit
Pitts and Spitts Ultimate Smoker Pit
Pitts and Spitts of Houston, TX have been making serious smokers since 1983. They are one of the biggest names in hardcore barbecue cookers. Their Ultimate Smoker Pit is actually a series of cookers ranging in price from $2,400 to $3,300. The reason for the steep price compared to size is in the features. The Ultimate Smoker Pit has several stainless steel body parts as well as a 30,000 BTU gas burner for lighting the fire. Yes, load it with logs, turn on the burner, and you will have a fire burning in ten minutes.
Basically, the Pitts and Spitts Offset Smoker is designed to be a more accessible, easy-to-use cooker. The lid rolls over so no need for counterbalances or even a lot of strength. With the size options, you can go from a smaller smoker perfect for the family to a large-sized unit ready for catering.
Smoking Area: 853 to 1855 Square Inches
Meadow Creek SQ 36 Barbeque Smoker
Meadow Creek SQ 36 Barbeque Smoker
Meadow Creek Smokers have become a favorite on the competition circuit. The SQ36 is listed as their entry-level smoker. It comes standard with 510 square inches of smoking space but that can be nearly doubled. Of course, this is a $2000USD smoker without any of the extras that can be added to it. The Meadow Creek SQ 36 has an efficient design that optimizes cooking capacity for the size. Without the option extra cooking rack you can smoke 6 pork butts.
Even heat is provided by an internal diffuser that allows smoke and heat to flow evenly into the bottom of the cooking chamber. The smokestack is mounted opposite the firebox, but in many ways, this smoker functions similarly to a reverse flow unit. That smokestack is mounted low, almost at the bottom of the cooking chamber. This means that the Meadow Creek holds onto smoke longer and better.
Total Weight: 310 Pounds
Smoking Area: 510 Square Inches (expandable)
Broil King Smoke XL 32-Inch Offset Charcoal Smoker – BEST VALUE
Broil King Smoke XL 32-Inch Offset Charcoal Smoker
Broil King of Canada makes virtually every type of outdoor cooking equipment and has done so for decades. This offset smoker is simple and small. But it is also under $500USD. Of course, for that price, you get a Chinese-made smoker that is lightweight. Aside from these limitations, it is an excellent, budget smoker. You have enough space for your family and can make some very good barbecue. With care, you can fit up to 6 racks of ribs on the Broil King Smoke XL.
Total Weight: 150 Pounds
Smoking Area: 955 Square Inches
Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker – BUDGET FRIENDLY
Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
This Oklahoma Joe’s isn’t the company of 20 years ago. This is something else. Yes, this is a reverse flow offset smoker and you can buy it for around $500. This makes it very comparable to the Broil King above. What makes that smoker better is the attention to detail. This isn’t a bad smoker. In fact, for the price, it is a good offset. It is also the most widely distributed offset smoker on this list.
Total Weight: 180 Pounds
Smoking Area: 900 Square Inches
Who Should Buy Offset Smokers
Offset Smokers are for those interested in serious barbecue. You don’t dump in pellets and push a button. And, you are probably wasting fuel and potential if the most you cook at a time is a rack of ribs. There is an art to the offset smoker and once you have mastered it, you will be the envy of all those neighbors with lesser cooking equipment.
The larger offset smokers are perfect for those interested in barbecue competitions or catering. They have the capacity and quality that you can rely on to perform at your best. And you get to hang with the stick burner crowd. Offset smokers require some skill. Not a lot, but just enough to set you apart from the others. And don’t worry. Many offset smokers can be connected to temperature control devices to make your life even easier.
Best Fuel for Offset Smokers
One of the advantages of an offset smoker is that it can burn any type of hardwood or charcoal. However, there are proper ways to build a fire and to get the level of smoke you want. Remember, more smoke doesn’t necessarily mean better barbecue. It just means a stronger smoke flavor. Not everyone enjoys heavy smoke so you adjust as necessary.
A strategy used by a number of competitors is to start with standard Kingsford Original Charcoal. I know there are some who think this is a lesser charcoal, but when it comes to consistent heat output, Kingsford is the best. It might not produce the highest burn temperatures, but for an offset smoker, you don’t need it.
Use the Kingsford charcoal as a base layer. Get it to a full burn. This means a high heat with full coverage of white over the briquettes. Smooth out the coals into an even layer and then you can put on hardwood logs, wood chunks, or lump charcoal. With an offset smoker, you build a fire in layers. Once it is going, add additional fuel to keep the fire strong, but controlled by the vents.
If you want to light your offset smoker like a professional consider a propane weed burner. You can buy this almost anywhere. Connect it to a propane tank, light it up and then blast your fuel to get it burning. This way you can light a lot of charcoal or hardwood very quickly. Just promise me that you will be careful with one of these.
I have been writing about Barbecue & Grilling for 25 years. I have cooked on almost every grill or smoker ever built. In that time, I have endeavored to match people with the grill or smoker that is right for them. I believe that the right product is the one that you find easy to use, capable of doing everything you want, and is reliable. If you have a good first experience, you will be back for more. In this way, we grow barbecue for the next generation. I want you to make the memories that your children will cherish.
This article and the website it appears on uses sales affiliates to cover the cost of operation. If you choose to purchase a product through the links provided, a portion of that sale will go to me. It helps me create content, so I can help you and others have the best barbecue experience. I am grateful to all my readers over the years that have been so kind as to assist me in my exploration of outdoor cooking. Thank you.