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Buying is the easiest part, but how to use an offset smoker is an entirely different story. Unlike other types of smokers like charcoal, gas, or electric, an offset model requires time and focus.
There’s a lot of things you need to learn before you can smoke delicious meats and veggies. You don’t just set its temperature and turn your back on it.
An offset smoker needs a level of expertise that will say a lot about your smoking ability. And often, that steep learning curve is what keeps people from buying one.
But don’t let that discourage you. The key here is understanding how an offset smoker works and following the simple guide we have here. In no time, you’ll be able to smoke your favorite meats like a pro. So, let’s dig in.
Table of Contents
What Is An Offset Smoker?
An offset smoker is a special type of smoker. What sets it apart from other smokers is that it has two or more compartments, whereas traditional grills and smokers only come with a single compartment. This is where you place your food and fuel source. With an offset smoker, you’ll be able to separate your meats from your heat source.
Moreover, it usually has a larger chamber in the center and another smaller one on its side. This type of smoker got its name from the fact that its side compartment, known as firebox, offsets the main chamber.
The firebox is where you can store your fuel sources such as wood, charcoal, or a combination of both. On the other hand, the main part is where you’ll find the grate where you place the food you’re going to cook.
Benefits Of Cooking With An Offset Smoker
There’s no doubt that you can use any grill or smoker to smoke delicious foods. However, an offset smoker enables you to smoke meats at lower temperatures. The reason for this is because you have a separate chamber for your fuel source.
So no matter what you’re cooking, you’ll expose it to less heat, which allows for longer smoking. This matters because the amount of time you’ll expose your food to smoke will have an impact on its flavor. Generally, the longer you smoke meat, the more flavor it will acquire.
How Does Offset Smokers Work?
The first thing you need to do before learning how to use an offset smoker is to understand how it actually works. As mentioned, this smoker has a cooking chamber and a firebox attached to its side.
Aside from these, it also features air intake and exhaust vents, making it possible for you to control the amount of smoke and heat level. Additionally, some of the best offset smokers today even boast a reverse flow technology.
An offset smoker operates by smoking your meat once you got the fire going. The heat produced by the fire goes through its main cooking chamber, where your food is waiting. To manage the heat, you need to adjust its chimney and air intake vents.
And this is where your skills and physical effort will come into play throughout the entire smoking process. So although its size and the work needed is a little intimidating, smoking meat with an offset smoker is relatively straightforward.
Difference Between A Reverse Flow And Offset Smoker
When shopping around for offset smokers, you’ll come across reverse flow smokers. As mentioned above, reverse flow is a feature or technology that you can find on some offset smokers.
The difference here lies in the heat distribution. A standard offset barrel smoker’s heat will vary depending on the cooking compartment’s area. Some areas will cook your meat faster while some, particularly those farther from the firebox, may cook your food slower.
On the other hand, a reverse flow smoker uses a sheet metal angled away from its surface. This means that the plate directs both smoke and heat downward before it goes to the cooking surface at lower temperatures.
One of the main benefits of reverse flow technology is that it will enable you to maintain a steady heat level without the need to check the temps periodically.
A Step By Step Guide On How To Use An Offset Smoker
An offset smoker is not like those set-and-forget smokers. In comparison to other models, it’ll require more work and knowledge. Here are simple steps on how you can operate one:
1. Look For The Best Offset Smoker
Finding the best offset smoker suitable for your needs is the very first step of achieving flavorful smoked foods.
Look at the space where you’ll place your unit and decide which will fit better, a vertical or horizontal offset smoker? Also, consider how you want your meats to be smoked since this will play a role in whether you need a standard one or something with a reverse flow function.
Make sure to see if the smoker you’re eyeing has a large enough capacity for the amount of meat you’ll smoke regularly. Aside from this, there are still a lot of factors you need to take into consideration like the thermometer, water pan, and other features.
Moreover, you have plenty of options out there that will be able to meet your budget. All you have to do is to do your research during your decision-making process.
2. Understand Fuel Source
Your next step should be identifying the right fuel source to use. One of the advantages of offset smokers over other grill types is that it can use both wood and charcoal. Therefore, you may want to spend a bit of time on this step.
Both fuel sources are good. However, the best way to get that smoky goodness is to use charcoal. Wood, on the other hand, can enhance the flavors of your meat while adding dynamics to its taste.
Nevertheless, there’s science involved in using a certain type of wood for specific types of meat. For example, you need to use the appropriate wood when smoking beef, pork, or turkey to ensure that the chemistry of each meat blends well with it to bring out their character.
Also, if you don’t have the right skills for wood-only setup, then you may see yourself with bitter-tasting meats. Meanwhile, using only charcoal will not provide you with the joy that comes with feasting on meat with hickory or maple flavor that you can only get with wood chips.
3. Start The Fire
You may be surprised, but charcoal is the best way to fire up an offset smoker. Here’s how to do it:
- Fill the firebox with charcoal.
- Get the other half of charcoal from the firebox, place it in a chimney starter, and arrange it in a pyramid shape.
- Light up the topmost part using a match or lighter. The flame spread slowly to the bottom part.
- Then transfer the lighted coals to the firebox. Close its lid for around 10 minutes to help your fuel source light faster.
- Afterward, open the firebox lid add the wood of your choice. Let it light up a bit before closing the lid.
When using wood, place the pieces inside the firebox directly. Do not soak the wood since doing so will make it difficult to achieve the smoke you need.
4. Adjust Airflow And Set The Temperature
Once the firebox is all set up, your next step is to change the airflow to adjust the heat. Likewise, you need to set the temperature of your offset smoker using a meat thermometer or temperature gauge.
This is a vital tool in this step, as well as the airflow vent or damper, typically placed on the side of offset smokers.
The firebox will take in more air when the damper is completely open. This, in turn, will make your fuel source burn faster, hotter, and brighter. Then, see if you’ve reached the temperature you want by checking the temperature gauge.
However, it’ll be better and more accurate if you’ll use a meat thermometer instead. You can either apply a low temperature in the 100F range or higher in the 300F range. What this will do is prep your smoker before placing your food.
If you think you have the right temperature, then you’re basically done with the preheating process of your offset smoker. At this point, make sure the lid of the cooking chamber is kept close to contain all the hot air inside.
Then, close the dampers halfway through to reduce heat but still maintain the temperature you want. If you haven’t achieved your desired temp, keep the air vent open and your thermometer nearby for checking regularly until you reach the proper temp.
5. Managing Smoke
Before placing your meat or other types of food, make sure to check the chimney of your smoker. This is a vital aspect after making your fire. It will ensure that you won’t end up with a bad smoke and only get the good kind in your meats.
If the chimney is letting out a black, thick cloud of smoke, then your fuel is still on its initial stages of burning. Likewise, it may mean that you’re running low on coal or wood. If that’s the case, you may want to take out your food first and add enough fuel source.
Once everything is going smoothly and you’re getting good smoke, your next step is to control it. The amount of smoke will depend on how much you want your food to acquire the smoky flavor.
You may fully or partially closing the dampers if you see a lot of smoke. However, this will cause both the heat and smoke to decrease. If you’re a first-time smoker, the entire process will be trial and error. But eventually, you’ll be able to master it after a few batches of smoking.
6. Turn Your Food
Turning your food is the easiest part but it’s also a little monotonous. However, this is the part that will make sure every side of your meats is evenly cooked.
For this step, the meat thermometer or probe should be nearby so that you’ll be able to maintain the heat. Simply open the smoker’s lid, use your probe or thermometer, adjust the dampers if necessary, and turn your meat for even smoking.
Now that you know how to use an offset smoker, the only thing left to do is to enjoy the entire cooking process. The learning curve may be a little steep, but the guide we have here covers everything you need to know to make your smoking journey easier.