Offset smokers are large and heavy grill equipment you can use to cook large pieces of meat outdoors. Unlike vertical smokers, offset smokers come with a long, horizontal main chamber where the food is cooked and a small chamber where you build your fire.
In other words, instead of fire being created right below the meat, fire is built on the side. Once the fire is started, heat and smoke would travel to the main chamber to cook and flavor the food.
There’s a chimney on the other end of the main chamber and an air vent on the side of the firebox, which you can adjust to better control the airflow and temperature of the heat inside.
The mechanism sounds pretty simple: build a fire, heat travels to the main chamber, make sure temperature is maintained, and wait for the food to cook.
However, if you’re new to the idea of using offset smokers or you’ve just bought an offset smoker recently, you might find this challenging. That’s why we’ve prepared a guide, so you know the basics of how to use your offset smoker.
Guide To Using An Offset Smoker
Unlike your electric or charcoal burners, offset smokers are a lot more challenging to work with. They are even regarded as one of the smokers that requires the most experience to use.
But don’t worry because we’re giving you a step-by-step guide on how to use your offset smoker. But just a tiny reminder, make sure that you’re in an open area before you start cooking.
As you know, these smokers are large, and since you use wood for the fire, it tends to get really hot.
Starting The Fire
This may sound like common sense, but starting the fire in an offset smoker may not be as simple as you think it is.
You see, although these smokers are designed so you can use wood as a fire source, it’s highly recommended to fire up the smoker with charcoal first. Once the charcoal heats up, you can add the wood logs.
We recommend using a chimney starter to burn your coal. This way, you get to ensure that you’re burning them off cleanly and fast. Once all the coals are burning inside the chimney starter, pour them into your firebox and add the wood logs.
Make sure that you get the appropriate size of the log. Place them first around the burning charcoals to ensure that they dry out, in case moisture still remains, before putting them on top of your coals. Again, your goal here is to produce clean smoke.
After placing the logs on top of the charcoal, add more wood on the side again to heat them up. Then, after a few minutes, you can place them on top of the coals again. Do this continuously until you get the desired heat you need.
Remember to keep the air vents open and the firebox’s door slightly cracked open until you reach the desired temperature for the main chamber.
Offset smoker usually comes with a built-in thermometer attached to the lid of the main chamber so you can monitor the heat inside without the need to open the lid. However, these things are not reliable, so you might need to buy a good smoker thermometer or have the built-in one calibrated.
Set two temperature probes in the smoker, one for each end of the cooking chamber, for a more accurate reading. Once you have reached your desired temperature, make some slight adjustments to your air vents and chimney cap.
It’s recommended to open your air vents about ⅓ and turn the chimney cup open halfway. Check your temperature every time before making adjustments, and be sure to do it slowly. Also, continuously check on your fire if you need to put in more logs.
Other than the temperature, you should also manage the fire. Check the firebox every 45 minutes or an hour to see if you need to put in more logs. An abrupt lowering of the temperature is already an indication of this.
If you need to put in new wood logs, leave the fire pit door open so that more oxygen can come in, and the temperature rises faster.
Next, check the smoke that’s coming out from the chimney. Try to notice if it’s white or blue. White smoke indicates that your wood is not burning cleanly, which may cause your meat to taste bitter. Added to that, creosotes would tend to form.
Cooking With An Offset Smoker
The three steps above are the main fundamentals you should know before operating an offset smoker. But once you get to familiarize yourself with how to start a smoker, control the temperature, and manage fire, you can finally start with the whole cooking process.
So, how do you cook with an offset smoker? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Don’t put food inside your smoker unless you’ve already reached the desired temperature. This will help avoid creosote build-up, which makes the food bitter.
You see, if the wood is not yet entirely burned off, it’s producing way more smoke than what you need. Added to that, smoke produced in the early stages when using this smoker is usually white, which causes creosote to form. So, you’re not really helping your food become more flavorful.
Adding More Flavor
By using wood, you already get to give a smoky flavor to your meat. But if you want to add more flavor, you can marinate the meat overnight before you put it on the flame. You can also use a dry rub to add some spice, or you can use these two together.
You can also think about the wood you use. Hardwoods, fruitwoods, and nut woods are your best options, but make sure to choose the appropriate wood for the meat you cook.
Rotate The Meat
When it comes to offset smokers, there are noticeable differences in the temperatures on both ends. So while cooking, don’t forget to rotate the meat. Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s essential to ensure that your meat is evenly cooked throughout.
Do this every hour until the meat is fully cooked. If you’re only cooking one piece of meat, rotating them is still very important.
Water Pan Basics
The water pan plays a critical role in your offset smoker. This is because they are responsible for retaining moisture in your meat.
If you’ve been having problems because your meat came out dry and tough, then this is probably because you were not using enough water to balance the smoke.
Other than moisture, a water pan also helps with:
- Temperature control: It is said that water pans stabilize a smoker’s temperature by ensuring that it stays at 225 °F. If the temperature goes beyond, the water starts boiling and will evaporate, leaving the air cooler. If the temperature drops, the water helps produce hot steam, maintaining the temperature inside.
- Improve favor: Water vapor usually condenses on the meat’s surface, allowing smoke to stick to it. Because of this, the meat becomes more flavorful.
Don’t over smoke
Of course, we all love a good, smoky flavor on our meat. However, if there’s one important rule you should never forget in smoking, it’s that you should never over smoke meat.
Less is always more. Depending on the wood you use, you’ll only need a very minimal amount of smoke to bring out the best flavors on your meat.
A lot of flavors can already come from the combination of your wood and charcoal. If you don’t want too much of the smoky flavor on your meat, then you can start by using just charcoal and then adding some wood chips, chunks, or pellets.
If this is your first time using an offset smoker to add flavor to your meat, we highly suggest putting in wood slowly. Try to estimate how much flavor the wood can give to your meat. Some wood tends to have a more robust flavor than others, so be sure to do your research ahead of time.
Also, keep track of the temperature inside the meat and also the temperature inside the smoker for perfect cooking. This way, you get to ensure that you’re not drying out the meat.
Using A Temperature Probe
Using A Temperature Probe
In the earlier part of this article, we have already mentioned that you need at least two temperature probes to get an accurate reading of your smoker’s temperature. As you know, the heat inside an offset smoker is inconsistent, so a temperature probe would really help you monitor proper cooking temp.
To use the probe correctly, insert it on the deepest area of the meat. The meat will be your basis of when you’re going to take the food out. It also helps you avoid smoking the meat until it’s dry or tough.
Keep track of the smoker’s internal temperature, too, as this will also help you gauge if there’s still fire in your hopper. Then, you can add more charcoal or wood.
Offset smokers are undeniably challenging to use. However, with practice and experimentation, you’ll surely be able to get it even if you’re a beginner.
So, as a summary, remember the following:
- Start the fire using charcoal
- Learn how to control the temperatures using the air vents and chimney
- Manage the fire well by checking every hour
- Make sure to preheat the smoker before cooking your food
- Use a water pan and a temperature probe
- Never oversmoke
If you’re a beginner, these may all take some time to get used to. But you’ll definitely get it through time and frequent cooking.