The offset smoker has the traditional and most recognizable smoker design. It features a long main smoking chamber with a firebox on one side and — in most cases — a chimney on the other.
How an offset smoker works
Food is cooked in the smoking chamber. The smoke and heat for cooking are both generated from the offset firebox so that the food doesn’t cook over an open flame. Because there is no direct heat, there is little danger of your food burning. Keeping the fire in the firebox helps to achieve the low temperatures and slow, consistent cooking that you need for true barbecue.
Offset smokers are typically fueled by wood or charcoal. You use the dampers on the side of the firebox to control the amount of heat that it sends to the smoking chamber, which means that they control the rate at which your food cooks. Wide-open dampers mean that more air goes in so that the fuel burns hotter; when you close the dampers, you cut the air off and lower the temperature.
You use the chimney to release smoke that might give your food a bad flavor. The kind of smoke that you want for flavoring is pale blue. Darker smoke may mean that your fuel is not burning properly and may make meat bitter and acrid-tasting. Open your chimney to let it out.
One of the key rules for good barbecue is to keep the smoking chamber closed during the cooking process. Since you don’t have to tend to fire directly beneath the food in the main smoking chamber and since there is no danger of food burning, there is no reason to open the smoking chamber when you are using the firebox. You can manage the fire and the cooking process from the firebox alone.
What to look for in an offset smoker
When choosing an offset smoker, consider factors like the thickness of the steel used to make it. Thicker steel retains heat. Heat retention can help to keep temperatures in the cooking chamber stable.
Look at the seals. Does the smoking chamber seal tightly when it is closed or does it leak heat and smoke? What about the firebox lid? You will also want to look at the point where the firebox and smoking chamber are connected. With many smokers, it is very difficult to tell where the leaks are until you use it the first time and by then it is usually too late.
Because of the heavier steel used to make a quality offset smoker, you should choose a model with wheels or casters to make moving it easier.
How do offset smokers compare to vertical smokers?
Vertical smokers are popular for a few reasons such as the fact that the price is relatively low. They also don’t need much fuel to operate. However, they come with some significant downsides such as the fact that you may need to invest in a digital thermometer to keep your food from burning. The risk of burning will always be there with a vertical smoker since you will be cooking right over a flame.
Another issue is a small size. Vertical smokers typically have a lot less room when compared to the long barrel of an offset smoker.