How to use an offset smoker requires a level of expertise that will speak volumes about your smoking ability. Smoking meats with this equipment takes a lot of focus and patience. Hence, you can’t help but appreciate seeing someone who creates delicious and flavorful smoked meats using an offset smoker. 

Getting yourself the best offset smoker in the market is just the beginning of your journey. In comparison to gas and even charcoal smokers, there are many things you need to know before you can make your own mouthwatering barbecue that’s cooked to perfection. 

The entire process will require you to understand how to use it properly. Unlike with an electric smoker, you can’t just set your unit’s temperature and leave it to take care of the rest. Although the learning curve is a bit steep, it’ll be all worth it in the end.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to use an offset smoker. The steps are simple and easy to follow and will surely make your smoking meat experience even more enjoyable.

How Do Offset Smokers Work?

Before jumping right into learning how you can operate your offset smoker, you need to first understand how it works. This outdoor cooking appliance got its name from the way it looks. 

An offset smoke comes with a large cooking chamber and a firebox attached to one of its sides and a little down below for building your fire. Some models have this at the back of its cooking chamber. 

Aside from this, an offset smoker features air intake and exhaust vents, making it possible to control both smoke and heat. Meanwhile, the large chamber of the unit that usually looked like a metal box or oil drum is where you’ll place your meats. Some of the best offset smokers today even feature the reverse flow technology. 

The smoke and heat traveling from the firebox and into the main cooking chamber are what will cook and give your food flavor. Moreover, the cooking chamber has a chimney typically placed at the furthest end and away from the smoker’s firebox. 

To control the temperature and the amount of smoke, simply adjust the air intake vents and tinker with the chimney. This is the part where your skills and effort becomes a major part of the smoking process. 

So regardless of how intimidating it may look or the amount of work it’ll require from you, smoking foods with an offset smoker is pretty straightforward.

Simple Steps On How To Use An Offset Smoker

An offset smoker is a favorite among grilling competitions and restaurant owners. Its design is quite different from all the other grill types you’re accustomed to. 

It’s not of those set-and-forget grills and will require work and knowledge on your part. Still, don’t let that discourage you. Just follow these easy steps on how to use an offset smoker, and you’ll be producing sumptuous smoked meats in no time.

  1. Choose 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.

  1. Learn About 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. 

  1. Start The Fire

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Controlling Smoke

Before placing your meat or other types of food, do not forget to check your unit’s chimney. This is a vital aspect after making your fire to ensure 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.

  1. 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.

Tips On How To Get The Most Out Of Cooking With Your Offset Smoker 

How You Can Add More Flavor To Your Meats

Marinating your pieces of meat before cooking will add more flavor to your food. Your meat will be more flavorful with a dry spice rub. Sprinkle your meat abundantly with a mixture of your favorite spices and rub it using your hands.

On the other hand, using brine will provide chicken, turkey, and other poultry with plenty of flavors. Make sure to soak your poultry in brine for about 24 hours.

Furthermore, you can also get the most out of your smoker by using wood, which comes in the form of chips, chunks, and logs. This will give your foods with a little more flavor that smoking meat needs. 

Another benefit you can get from this is that it also serves as an additional fuel source. Hence, combining wood with charcoal will not only make your meat taste better, but it’s cost-effective as well.

The Basics Of Water Pan

Sometimes your meat will come out tough and dry rather than moist and juicy. The reason for this is because you’re applying too much smoke or you don’t have enough water. 

The best way to make your meat tender and more flavorful is by adding a water pan to your offset smoker setup. Some units have a water pan sitting on the grill. But if your smoker doesn’t come with one, you can simply create your own using a small heatproof bowl and filling it with water. 

Put the bowl with water on the grill grate positioned right above the hopper. The water will increase the level of humidity inside your smoker grill and will keep your meats from drying out. 

Invest In A Good Meat Thermometer Or Temperature Probe

A thermometer or probe is another grill accessory that you may want to invest in. One of the things that most smokers complain about any offset smoker is that the temperature control or gauge that comes with their unit is not always accurate.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to get either one since this tool will always save the day.

Go Easy With Your Smoke

When it comes to smoking meat, less is always more. As mentioned, you can combine charcoal and wood. Or set the fire up with just coals, then for your smoke flavor, you can use chips, chunks, or logs similar to what you’d do with a charcoal or gas grill. 

When going this route, do not soak your wood, and add about 4 ounces at a time every 10 minutes or so when your temp has reached 200F.

Let Your Smoker Do Its Job

This is more of a necessity than a tip. It’s tempting to often check how your meat is doing but avoid opening the lid of the cooking chamber too much. Let your unit do its job and let your food cook in its own phase and time.

You’ll just slow down the whole smoking and cooking process if you keep opening the lid. Maintaining the heat in an offset smoker is hard enough, so leave it alone to ensure the temperature is perfect throughout.

Do Some Test Runs

Doing a couple of test runs can help you learn how to calibrate your smoker properly. If you think that it’s a waste of good meat, coal, and wood, then consider smoking cheaper cuts. 

If the results during your practice runs are not as amazing as expected, don’t be discouraged. Keep in mind that the point of test runs is to learn how your offset smoker works while figuring out your own set of tips and tricks.

Check The Weather

The weather will impact the inside temperature of your unit. So be aware of the weather on the day you plan to cook. Likewise, make sure you have enough supply of wood and charcoal to cover the difference. This is especially helpful when it’s cold, windy, or very wet outside.

Always Clean Your Smoker

It’s vital to clean your offset smoker after every cooking session. This will prolong the lifespan of your grill while ensuring that your next batch of smoked meat will not have an ashy and bitter taste. 

Final Words

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.