How to Use an Offset Smoker (Use it Like a True Pitmaster)

Ready to upgrade from using your charcoal grill as a smoker?

One of the most common types you’ll come across is the offset smoker.

An offset barrel smoker is quite different from your usual charcoal, gas, or electric smoker.

So  I’ve put together this to teach you all you need to know about the standard offset smoker.

PLUS how to use it to its full potential.

how to use offset smoker in the yard at home about to place a brisket in
My offset smoker. just about to clean the rust off so I can do a brisket this weekend.

How Offset Smokers Work

Offset smokers — or stick burners re are comprised of two cylindrical-shaped metal compartments.

While the most common type is the horizontal smoker, which is very wide and looks like a metal log. There are vertical offset smokers, which are quite tall.

 In the horizontal smoker, one of these chambers is larger than the other.

The bigger metal compartment is where the food is placed to cook. And the smaller one is built to store the heat source; the fire.

 This firebox is usually located next to cooking chamber

See below for a detailed view of each part of the offset smoker.

how an offset smoker works

This type of smoker also comes with a chimney vent, that’s more often than not located on the cooking chamber lid.

All of the heat and smoke is produced in the smaller chamber, and then this travels to the cooking chamber, then out the chimney.

In a way, an offset smoker operates just like charcoal smokers. The airflow vent, however, is located on the side of the offset grill’s firebox rather than on the lid. Much like how you would operate a charcoal grill, the vents can be used to control the cooking temperature.


See below for how an illustration of how a offset smoker works

This is how smoke and heat smoke around an offset smoker
This is how smoke and heat move around an offset smoker

Reverse Flow Smoker Vs. Offset Smoker

You may have heard of something called ‘reverse flow smokers’ (I have put an image below that shows you how reserve flow smoker works).

It is important to note that not all offset smokers have this reverse flow technology.

In normal offset smokers, you’ll find that the heat distribution inside the cooking chamber can be rather uneven.

For example, areas that are furthest from the firebox might not be of the proper temperature or receive the right smoke levels. 

However, in a reverse flow smoker, you’ll find that there’s a metal plate that solves this issue. This sheet of metal ensures that the heat and the smoke flow reaches all areas of the cooking chamber.

This ensures that the internal temperature stays more consistent. And you won’t have to keep such a close eye on the smoker’s temperature.

In short, reverse flow smokers have better smoke control and distribute heat better.

how a reverse flow offset smoker works - offset wood smokers
This how heat and smoke move around a reverse flow offset smoker.

7 Steps to Using an Offset Smoker

You now know what an offset smoker is, how it’s structured, as well as how it works. Now it’s time to learn how to properly use it.

Here are seven easy steps for you to follow.

1. Picking an Offset Smoker

First of all, before we get into the actual smoking process, you’ll need to decide on an offset smoker.

This is important because certain features differ from smoker to smoker. They also come in different sizes and shapes.

Here are some of the basic features that you might want to look out for to make your smoking experience a little easier:

  • a water pan
  • built-in thermometer (which makes it a lot more convenient to maintain temperature control.)

Next, you’ll have to think about this.

Does your actual cooking process require the functionalities of a reverse flow smoker? This is important because you have to think about the extra cost that comes with those additional features.

Are you a barbecue enthusiast or someone who cares a lot about how the smoke and heat distribution can affect the final cooking results? If so, then we’d say that the results are well worth it.

On the other hand, if you’re new to smoking and don’t have a big spending budget, then it might be best to learn how to use a traditional smoker first. 

2. Your Fuel Source

Unlike pellet smokers, gas smokers, or electric smokers, an offset smoker can utilize both wood and charcoal as its fuel.

This is great because nothing beats that natural smoke from charcoal.

But wood adds an extra layer of flavor to whatever you’re smoking. And the thing is, you can customize this flavor because there are so many different kinds of fruitwoods out there. 

Here’s a list of different kinds of wood chips we recommend trying out:

  • Applewood wood chips
  • Hickory wood chips
  • Cherrywood wood chips
  • Mesquite wood chips
  • Oakwood chips
  • Alder wood chips
  • Maple wood chips

3. Getting The Fire Going in Your Firebox

It’s best to use a combination of coal and wood chips in your firebox. But how would that work? And how should you go about getting the fire started?

First, you’ll want to place a layer of the unlit charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal into the firebox.

Then, you’ll want to light an equal amount using a charcoal chimney starter. It is best to also include bits of newspaper into the starter to get the fire going.

Next, dump the lit coals on top of the other in the firebox. You’ll then want to ensure that all your charcoal is evenly lit before you move onto the next step. 

Once the fire’s fully going, you’ll want to add in your chosen wood chips.

However, if you’d like the smoke to be of peak quality, then it’s best to place the wood chips in completely dry. If you’re worried about their longevity then you might want to look at using wood chunks as another option.

Wood chucks are great if you don’t want to keep replenishing the wood during a long smoking session.

4. Getting the Temperature Right

This is where a temperature gauge or an air probe thermometer comes in handy. Keep checking up on temperature readings until the smoker gets to your desired cooking temperature. And that’s all you need to do when you’re preheating a smoker.

5. Fire Management with the Airflow

Locate the damper or the air intake vent that should be on the side of the firebox.

Opening it up will allow more oxygen in. And as we all know, the more oxygen, the bigger and hotter the fire grows.

Hence, you can use the damper to control the heat levels inside. Remember that increasing the airflow increases the heat while reducing airflow limits the heat.

6. Controlling The Smoke

Your offset smoker should have a chimney. This is how you can determine the condition of your smoke.

If it’s white, it’s no good. This is because white smoke signals that you’ve got incomplete combustion going on. And if there’s dense black smoke being produced, then you might have to check your fuel levels and add more; if you see fit.

You should be looking out for a thin blue-grey smoke because this is an indication of clean smoke. Meaning, you’ve got the airflow, heat levels, and fuel all balanced out. 

Now, if there’s too much smoke being produced then it means that you’re fire’s burning a little too strong.

You can control this by adjusting your intake vents and limiting the amount of airflow to your firebox.

7. Rotating The Meat

 Just like when you’re frying or grilling meat, you have to rotate it when you’re smoking it too. This ensures that you’re evening out the heat distribution, ensuring that the entire surface of the meat is being cooked properly.

 All you need to do is open the cooking chamber and rotate the meat accordingly.

Inside my firebox and cooking chamber

Getting The Full Potential From Your Offset Smoker

We’ve also got some final tips to teach you how to cook with an offset smoker.

Look Up The Weather

Believe it or not, the current weather will affect the smoking conditions. This is because the insulation inside an offset smoker isn’t the best. That’s why offset smokers work best on moderate to sunny days. 

However, you can still use it on colder days. You’ll just have to overcompensate by adding more fuel to build a hotter fire.

Use a Good Thermometer

You can’t just rely on the temperature indicator that is located outside of the smoker. This is because it’s doesn’t give a precise temperature reading of the internal heat levels inside the smoker.

Therefore, we’d recommend buying a separate thermometer. One that you can stick into the smoker chamber. This way, you can receive an accurate reading as and when you need to during your cook.

Preheat the Cooker

This is kind of a no-brainer but just like you would an oven, you’ll need to preheat your smoker. This will make it easier for you to set up your smoking session.

It also makes it easier for you to maintain the proper heat levels for the rest of your cook.

Keep it Clean

 An offset smoker is no different from any other type of grill in this regard. You will always have to clean it to ensure the longevity of your smoker. Cleaning it will also make sure that you’re getting the best quality smoke.

Letting all of that ash, grease, and dirt build up on your offset smoker will lead it to develop rust over time. 

Leave the Lid On

If you can, don’t open the lid. Limit the number of times your check-up on your piece of meat, and you’ll get a better result.

This is because every time your lift that lid up, or pull that chamber door open, you’re letting out all the good heat and smoke.

Now it’s time for you and your family to enjoy the fruits of your labor! delicious smoked meat!!

I hope I have helped you to understand a little more about offset smokers. Just follow all of the steps we’ve laid out and you should be good to go!

Happy smoking

Charlie 🙂

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking and getting out in nature with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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