Believe it or not, smoking meat is the oldest way of preparing food and the best offset smoker will get you there easily. Smoking predates civilizations and goes way back to the era when prehistoric humans lived in caves and simple huts. We are going to explore the reasons why is this ancient way of preparing food still popular today. Not only are we going to talk about the ups and downs of smoking, but we are also going to go through some of the most popular models on the market.
This info will be summed up in our offset smoker reviews you can find below. Use this guide to check on things you can expect, and to decide on the model you want to get. There is a lot of important info to cover, so let’s dive right into it.
What is an Offset Smoker and Should You Have One?
No matter where you live, we are sure that you have some knowledge about smoking meat. An offset smoker is an ideal appliance to use if you want to get that nice, zesty, smoky flavor on your steaks and poultry. Now, you might think that an offset smoker is just a grill, and even though that would not be entirely wrong, smokers differ in one key thing: the food you cook is not exposed directly to the heat source. Hence the tag “offset”.
The separated offset firebox provides second-hand heat to the main cooking chamber, where the meat is placed. This allows you to cook with more control and less risk of burning or overcooking the food. More control always results in richer flavors and softer and juicier meat, no matter the spices you use.
Before We Get Into It
Let’s get one misconception out of the way: smoking meat does not mean that additional preparation is needed. Many believe that the smoking process alone is not enough to make your food safe to eat, but that could not be further from the truth. This just implies the lack of experience and curiosity some people have. The sole process of smoking food is more than enough, and some pitmasters suggest that it can even be healthier in some cases.
Preparing food without additional grease, fat or oil is the best way to go, and smoking food requires none of those. All you need is a good piece of meat, some top-rated lump charcoals and/or wood, and an offset smoker. Spices are a good addition if you like to experiment or have your own preferred taste palette. Your imagination is the only limit, so feel free to try out different temperatures, woods, and spices to get to that ideal crust and juicy middle.
One of the main reasons this type of preparing food stuck around for millennia is the simplicity of doing it without sacrificing flavor or fuel. If you know how to use an offset smoker, you barely have to do any extra work to get to that tasty final product.
Best Offset Smokers Comparison Chart
DYNA-GLO DGO1176BDC-D VERTICAL OFFSET SMOKER
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ROYAL GOURMET CC1830F GRILL WITH OFFSET CHARCOAL SMOKER, BLACK
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LANDMANN 560202 VISTA BARBECUE GRILL WITH OFFSET SMOKER BOX, BLACK
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Z GRILLS PELLET GRILLS & OFFSET WOOD SMOKER 700SQ
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OKLAHOMA JOE’S HIGHLAND REVERSE FLOW SMOKER
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CHAR-BROIL OFFSET SMOKER, 30″
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Best Offset Smoker Reviews (Updated List)
1. Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Vertical Offset Smoker
The very first model we reviewed is the only vertical offset smoker on our list, coming from Dyna-Glo. It is one of the most stylish smokers out there, with black powder coating and smoothed edges. The main manufacturing material is steel, making it extra durable and resistant. It weighs a total of 57 pounds, which is not a lot considering how much cooking surface it provides (a total of 784 square inches, spread over 6 vertical levels).
The inside of this smoker is protected with a double door system, which is great for retaining heat and securing the meat inside. Under the charcoal burning chamber, there is a large, removable ashtray to help you get rid of the excess ash during the smoking session. This offset smoker has an electronic pulse ignition system that helps you start it, and once it gets going it can smoke up to 100 pounds of food at a time. The heat regulating valves come with detailed regulation openings, which is great for smoking fish and poultry. This model has an analog thermometer installed.
2. Royal Gourmet CC1830F Grill with Offset Charcoal Smoker, Black
Here we have a highly versatile, yet affordable model by Royal Gourmet. This offset smoker belongs to the classic horizontal group, with a firebox on the left side, and a 2-wheel system on the bottom for more portability. It weighs a total of 57 pounds, which is great considering its total cooking surface of 800 square inches.
This amazing cooking surface is there due to the multiple uses of the firebox, and the warming shelf right in front of the main food chamber. The firebox has an ash removal tray, and if you want to use the smoker as a grill, the firebox can be transformed into one too. The cooking surface of the main food chamber is 438 square inches, which is the only one used when smoking. All cooking surfaces are made of porcelain-enameled steel.
On the food chamber lid, there is an analog thermometer, which is not to be trusted completely because it can stray away for about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Landmann 560202 Vista Barbecue Grill with Offset Smoker Box, Black
This dark black Landman model is also a horizontal combo (smoker to grill) offset smoker. It is designed to look modern with sharp edges, and a side table for condiments and spices. The whole smoker weighs a total of 78.7 pounds, which is considered heavier compared to the models in the same class. However, the whole body is mounted on a 2-wheel system, making the smoker easy to move around the yard or camping site.
the whole body is made of stainless steel, hence the weight, and the main cooking surface measures at 363 square inches, while the secondary, optional one goes up to 201 square inches. What makes this model a great smoker-to-grill combo is the additional charcoal tray underneath the main food chamber, considering that most of the models have a tray on the smoker box only. Unfortunately, this model has a somewhat inaccurate analog thermometer on board, which requires getting used to.
4. Z GRILLS Pellet Grills & Offset Wood Smoker 700sq
Now comes the most popular model on our list, the luxury offset smoker from Z Grills. It is a horizontal smoker, with a large smoke box and a big, circular main food chamber. This offset smoker weighs just under 150 pounds, making it extra heavy, however, it is due to the heavy-duty materials. For your convenience, the whole body is mounted on a 2-wheel system.
The special thing about this offset smoker model is the automated heat regulation system installed. It lets you pick the temperature and time you want your meat to be smoked on, and the smoker will do it without you having to do anything. Additionally, the main food chamber can be turned into a grill at your command. The total cooking surface is 700 square inches, including the warming rack above the main grill grate. This model should be used with wood pallets, as recommended by the manufacturer.
The automatic temperature regulation system also has a digital thermometer which shows the temperature on a small LCD screen.
5. Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
This offset smoker model also comes at a slightly higher price, but it delivers more than its peers. Made of stainless steel, this Oklahoma Joe smoker/grill hybrid weighs a total of 200 pounds. It is mounted on a 2-wheel system for better portability. Nevertheless, it is still quite hefty.
On board, there is a warming tray, and underneath the main cooking chamber, there is a tray for condiments, spices, and cookware. The total cooking surface of this hybrid model is 900 square inches, with 619 being the main food chamber, and 281 being the surface of the firebox that can be turned into a grill. We were surprised that the built-in analog thermometer was quite accurate, which is rare.
Below the firebox, there is a large, removable ashtray. The grates are made of porcelain coated steel, which retains heat with great efficiency. What makes this model stand out is the 4-baffle ventilation system which allows you to customize the amount of smoke the meat is going to be exposed to.
6. Char-Broil Offset Smoker, 30″
Next up, we have a standard horizontal offset smoker model from Char-Broil. It is designed to look traditional, and the finish paint is grayish black, making it fit into any surrounding with ease. The whole smoker weighs a total of just under 70 pounds, and it has a 2-wheel system installed for extra portability. Under the food chamber, there is an extra shelf, which you can use to store meat, spices or cookware.
A nice touch on this model is its porcelain-coated cooking grate. The total cooking surface on this grate is 477 square inches, which is above average in this smoker`s class. The firebox is located on the left side, and it has an ash removal tray underneath it. This model has a slightly inaccurate analog thermometer installed, which is not a big problem once you get the hang of it.
Additionally, if you so wish, you can open up the main food chamber and use it as a grill, which makes this model versatile and useful in many situations.
How Does an Offset Smoker Work?
Even though the sole process of smoking food is ancient and simple, do not be fooled, it has its tricky sides, and, as with any cooking skill, it takes some time to master. Before we talk about the features you should look for in the ideal smoker for yourself, let’s see how the smokers actually work.
1. The Fire Chamber
Also known as the fire pit, coal pit, or the coal chamber, this is the heart of the offset smoker. On the most common drum models out there, the fire chamber is located on the left side of the smoker. Most models use burning fuels like charcoal and wood to produce heat. However, there are some liquid propane models that use wood only to add that special flavor to the meat.
The fire chamber is divided into two parts – the upper and the lower section which have a grate as a divider. Both sections have their role to play:
- The upper section is where you put and ignite the charcoal and/or wood. During the smoking process, you can add more or remove some lumps in order to adjust the heat or the amount of smoke.
- The lower section acts as an ash collector. The wood and charcoal you use to smoke meat produce a lot of ash, and this section accumulates it on the bottom side. This way it is easier to remove the excess ash without stopping the smoking process.
The fire chamber of an offset smoker can be reached through 2 openings: a big one at the top, and a smaller hatch on the side. The side opening has 3 roles to play:
- Adding or removing charcoal and/or wood to and from the fire chamber
- Removing excess ash after the fuel burns up
- Controlling temperature – the hatch opening usually has a smaller vent, for fine temperature tuning.
2. The Cooking Chamber
Also known as the food chamber, food rack or simply the grill, this is the biggest part of an offset smoker, and the chamber where the magic happens. Most popular models have a single, large grill grate as a cooking surface, though some models have several, in vertical levels.
The cooking chamber of an average offset smoker can prepare food for 4+ people simultaneously. People often make the mistake of disregarding smokers as a viable option because of their immense size, but remember, you do not have to fill the food chamber to the max in order to smoke food like a pro. More space just gives you the option to prepare more food in case of parties, cookouts, or if you simply have a large family.
Similar to the fire pit, this part of the smoker is also separated into two parts by the grill grate.
- The lower part is where the extra juices and fats from the meat go, allowing healthier cooking during the whole process. Some people like to leave a metal cup or a metal bowl filled with water. This provides extra juiciness and is usually practiced with low-fat meats like poultry.
- The upper part where smoking is happening. This is the section of the smoker where your meat is getting cooked and flavored with the smoke from the fire chamber.
3. Controlling the Heat
The combination of these two well-engineered chambers slowly cooks the meat by sending indirect heat and smoke from the fire pit to the food chamber. However, the control of temperature is something you have to master. Similar to the top-rated kamado grills, an offset smoker’s temperature is controlled by feeding and choking the fire in the burning chamber.
This is achieved by opening and closing the vents. The smaller one is usually located on top of the exhaust pipe, and the slightly larger vent is on the side of the burning chamber. Opening the vents feeds the fire with oxygen, allowing it to reach higher temperatures, and closing the vents chokes the fire, lowering the heat. This system takes some practice to master, but it is a small price to pay for even a single piece of perfectly smoked meat.
Offset Smoker Buying Guide
So, we’ve learned how offset smokers do their magic, and what the essential components are. Now it is time to dive into the intricate details and see what features and additional options are there in different models. Equipping yourself with knowledge is the safest way to get to the best-suited model to match your cooking needs unless you don’t want to build your own smoker. Even though offset smokers are simple, there are things we need to cover, so, without further ado, let’s get right into it.
1. Body Type
The very first thing you should consider when making a decision is the sole build of the offset smoker. There are 3 main groups with the criteria being the shape and the size of the smoker.
This is by far the most popular, and the typical shape of an offset smoker. Mounted on 4 legs, or 2 legs and a 2-wheelset, drum-shaped offset smokers often have a single large, horizontal cooking surface. The majority of these models are powered by charcoal and/or wood, and they are the easiest to master. There is a couple of heat regulating valves, one on the fire pit, and one on the exhaust pipe. People usually opt for this type of smoker because it resembles a standard grill.
This is a somewhat rare build type when it comes to offset smokers. They can be powered by charcoal, wood or liquid propane, which adds to the versatility a bit. Their strong suit, however, lies in having multiple grill grates inside the food chamber (stacked vertically), which is great if you are preparing different types of meat, and you need to separate them. Some grill masters even leave a grate on top for smoked veggies as a side dish, and use the moisture plants have to make the meat below juicier and tastier.
This type of smoker is losing on its popularity because it is not that simple to get into. Not to mention the aesthetics of having a cooking barrel in your yard. Not many people like that. However, a barrel type smoker is not exactly offset, and this can represent a problem to people who want their food to be heated by an indirect source of heat.
2. Heat-controlling vents
While deciding on an offset grill for yourself it is important to pay attention to the heat control system the model has. As we mentioned, the temperature is controlled by feeding and choking the fire by opening and closing the vents, but not all models have the same system. If you are experienced with offset smokers or kamado grills, you shouldn’t have any issues.
But, if you are a beginner, look for a model that has intricate vents. By intricate we mean vents that have the option to be opened in segments and not just the open and close option. This way you will be able to master the technique of getting that optimal temperature for each type of meat. Some models even have smaller vents on top of the existing one and utilizing them you can achieve fine temperature scaling while the coal burns. The more details on the vents, the better.
3. Fuel type
Even though this might seem unimportant, fuel type makes a difference. Most models are powered solely by charcoal and wood, but there are popular liquid propane models as well. It does sound intuitive to have a charcoal burning offset smoker, but a propane smoker is easier to get into because of easier heat control.
Remember all the hustle with the vents? Well, liquid propane offset smokers do not require that much attention because you control how much gas gets burned, so you control the temperature in a more direct manner. With propane models, you still get to use the top vent, but that is more or less to control the amount of smoke inside the food chamber and doesn’t serve that much in regulating heat.
However, propane doesn’t get you that crisp smoky flavor you want from a smoker in the first place. That is why these models have an additional option to burn wood, which adds to the flavor. The most popular ones are oak and hickory, which got their fame for their recognizable strong grill taste.
If you want to go full-on traditional, charcoal and wood combination is the safest way to go. It will provide unstable heat at first, but the famous smoke flavor we all love will be there the first time you fire up.
There is no direct and one-sided answer on which fuel type is the best to be burned inside an offset smoker. Both gas and charcoal have their advantages and setbacks, and with enough experimentation and patience, you can achieve wanted results on both types. If you do not want to deal with a lot of coal dirt, go liquid propane. And if you prefer stronger flavors with more smoke, pick a charcoal burning offset smoker.
Whether you want your smoker to be static or you have a bigger yard and you want to move it around, portability is a feature always welcome, and it comes in various shapes and sizes. Of course, the best portability option you can have on your offset smoker is a set of wheels. This is usually a part of the main body, with two stable rods and two wheels as the most common combination. So, if you are looking for an offset grill that you would like to move around, aim to get a wheeled model.
Another thing affecting portability is, of course, weight. Truth be told, considering the build of these models, do not expect a lightweight piece of metal. Offset smokers are made to last, and they’re usually made of heavy materials. However, some models have handles designed to make transport easier, and that is not to be dismissed as just a visual addition. Look for a smoker that has sturdy and heavy-duty handles to help you move it to a wanted location, being it another corner of the backyard or to a camping trip. But of course, if the portability is your most important feature, it’s always a good idea to have a top-rated tabletop grill or a small propane grill.
Chances are that you will want to do more with your food than just smoking it. Different offset smokers offer different options when it comes to heat duration and heat intensity, allowing you to roast, sear and grill your food as well.
For example, a great asset of vertical smokers is the possibility of making more than one type of food at the same time. Usually, vertical smokers have 3 or 4 racks to put the meat and veggies on, and that opens a lot of possibilities.
Drum type offset smokers are known as the most versatile. You can use the lower part of the food chamber as a coal container and turn your offset smoker into a grill in no time. This, however, should be done as the manufacturer instructs, because there is a slight possibility of damaging the smoker.
Believe it or not, a drum type offset smoker can even be used as an oven and a very powerful one at that. Grill masters around the world have made magnificent modifications that are worth your time if you want to dive into it and maximize the potential of your smoker. The lack of versatility is one of the reasons barrel offset smokers are declining in popularity.
6. Additional features
As with any kind of a kitchen upgrade, getting an offset smoker with some extra stuff is always welcome. Almost every model comes with a built-in thermometer (usually analog). We were not so satisfied with the accuracy of said thermometers in general, however, some models surprised us with the marginal mistake of only 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another great addition is automation, or the automatic heat control system. Some offset smoker models in the higher price range have them, and they are super convenient. If you have other things to do, or you just did not master the vent temperature regulation system yet, automation is there for you. These automatic sets are built into the burning chamber, and they regulate the temperature by opening and closing the vents on their own. All you have to do is set the wanted temperature (depending on the meat and recipe you have) and you are all set. When the time comes, the smoker will notify you by ringing, and all you have to do is open it and pick up that delicious brisket.
7. Food portions
Lastly, the thing you should factor in while making this decision is the amount of food you will be preparing. Maybe there is no need to go all out and buy a gigantic offset smoker that you will always keep half full. If you are new to this, consider getting a model in the middle class and build up from there. Also, be careful not to underestimate the portions you make, because smoking lasts somewhat longer than grilling, and making multiple rounds of smoked meat is not always an option, speaking strictly time-wise.
FAQ about Offset Smokers
1. How do I start my offset smoker?
This is actually a good question because there is a well-established order of operations you should learn if you want to get the best results. Now, some grill masters have their own systems, but the regular order would be:
- Empty any used up, leftover charcoal or wood from the fire pit, and replace it with fresh lumps.
- Start the fire by lighting the freshly put fuel on fire using a piece of paper, or any kind of solid fire starter. Avoid liquid fuels and fire starters at all costs, because they are known to be hazardous for your health, and can even damage the metal construction of the smoker.
- Wait for at least 50% of the charcoal to ignite and close the lid of the fire pit
- After the smoke rises, open the food chamber and put your food in, far side first.
- When the initial smoking is done, you can put a piece of special wood to enhance the flavor of the meat. For example, an apple gives a sharp taste, while the olive tree gives a mild and sweet taste to the food you are cooking.
- Make sure to adjust the temperature using the vent system. If by any chance you go over the wanted temperature, close the vents, and open the main lid of the food chamber. This should lower the temperature. Repeat heat regulation until you get it right.
2. How should I clean my offset smoker?
The beauty of offset smokers is that they require little to no maintenance. The firebox doesn’t require any extra attention besides emptying the ashtray every once in a while, because if it gets full you risk getting an ash-riddled steak.
When it comes to the grill grate in the food chamber, there can be 2 scenarios depending on the material. If it is a cast iron grate, you will have to follow the seasoning routine closely. Remember, it is not that complicated as long as you season it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the case of a steel grate, all you have to do is heat it up, and clean it with a gentle brush.
No matter the material, never use steel wool or wire of any kind. It increases the risk of damaging the grate beyond repair. The rest of the smoker is cleaned when necessary with a cloth and some warm water.
3. How to avoid drying out the meat while smoking it in my offset smoker?
This is the most common question people have when they start smoking meat using an offset smoker. The answer is actually pretty simple. A bowl of water can take you a long way if you learn how to utilize it. Get a metal cup or bowl and fill it with water. Before you put your food in the cooking chamber, find a nice place for the bowl. Put it in just before the meat, and take it out after the cooking is done. In the case humidity rises more than you’ve wanted, take the cup out and wait for a little for the humidity to drop. When affected by water, smoke can become heavy and too sticky, so give it a few minutes before you put the water back in.
As with everything else in cooking, this skill takes some time to practice, so do not be discouraged if you fail to put the perfect amount of water on the first try.
Now, armed with knowledge, you are ready to get the best offset smoker as an addition to your cuisine. There is a lot of information to take in, and the choices are plenty, but if you use our guide and Offset smoker reviews, we are sure that you will get to a good decision as quickly as possible.
Smoking food is healthy, fun, and, after all, delicious. You should not be afraid to try it, no matter the previous experience you had. Nowadays, this technology is available and affordable to anyone, and it would be a shame not to have a taste of homemade smoked ribs. As you’ve seen, you can also modify and use some models as a grill, meaning that the only thing standing between you and that tasty food is your imagination. Feel free to experiment, and after all, have fun while cooking!