Who doesn’t love smoked meats and barbecue, especially if it’s cooked in your garden? It’s easily a crowd favorite!
May it be a holiday or weekend, you’ll see people with their families and their smoker grills at beaches, parks, and even their backyards. If you’re planning to buy a grill for yourself, go for an offset smoker. However, you’ll need to know how to use offset smokers to get started.
Using an offset smoker can be an intimidating task, even for the most avid BBQ-ers. It’s the largest compared to all other types of grills and comes with separate compartments that make it confusing.
That doesn’t mean your dream barbeque party can’t be a reality. First, you’ll need to know the basic specifics and features of an offset smoker so that when you buy one, you know what to expect.
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The Basics of an Offset Smoker
As we mentioned, an offset smoker consists of two different compartments. There’s the main cooking chamber with ample space to place multiple briskets and rib racks. This metal chamber has an open lift door and a smokestack to give your food the barbeque flavor you need.
Attached to the main chamber, on both ends, is another box that looks like the smaller version of the cooking chamber. This is the firebox, where the heat and smoke are produced. You can access this chamber through the top of the side, depending on the model.
Smoke travels from the firebox to the cooking chamber through a small hole. After that, the smoke gets absorbed partially by the food, and excess smoke is released from the smokestack through the other end of the offset smoker. Some offset smokers also use the reverse heating technique to provide even heat throughout the cooking chamber and eliminate infrared heat from getting to your food.
Now that you know the basics of an offset smoker and how it works, let’s get to the main point.
How to Use Offset Smokers
Cooking up some delicious smokey barbeque is pretty easy when you’re using an offset smoker, and that is if you know what you’re doing. From lighting up your fuel to managing the smoke for that perfect flavor, there are a lot of aspects you need to take care of when using your offset smoker.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:
1. Ignite Your Offset Smoker
Starting the fire is the most crucial aspect when operating an offset smoker. If you get this one right, your cooking session will move on smoothly. For that, you’ll have to decide on the ideal type of fuel for your smoker.
2. Choose Your Fuel
Offset smokers work best with charcoal, which makes them cheaper to use. Along with that, you’ll have to choose the type of wood you want to use since it will affect the flavor you want in your food.
English birch and applewood are great options, but there’s a wide array of choices when it comes to barbeque wood that you can opt for according to your preference. Make sure the wood you use is completely dry, as any dampness will hinder the ignition process, and you’ll have to wait for more to get the smoker started.
3. Start the Fire
While some offset smokers come with dedicated ignition tools to help you get your fire started in no time, some smokers require manual work.
Firstly, fill your firebox almost halfway through with good quality charcoal. After that, light up some coals and wait for them to heat up to the ideal level. Once you see that your coal has caught ample heat, transfer the lighted coals to the empty half of your firebox and close the lid.
That will help your coals catch fire and light up more quickly. Leave the lid on for about ten minutes and place your wooden logs in the firebox. Remember, don’t place the wood directly on the coal just yet.
Let the wooden logs dehydrate completely and catch enough heat. Then place them over the red hot coals.
The ideal way is to place the hot logs one by one, as this will help you control the temperature of your fire. Every time you pop in a log into the fire, place another one to heat up in the firebox. This way, you can gradually increase the temperature according to your needs.
Besides that, you can light your coals up with a chimney starter, as well. Light them up first in your chimney smoker and transfer them in the firebox when they’re hot enough. Then, add the wooden logs in the same way we explained before.
4. Control the Smoke and Temperature in Your Offset Smoker
Nobody wants to eat blacked meat and burnt vegetables when expecting a barbeque feast. That’s why you need to be careful and maintain the temperature to the ideal level while you cook your food in an offset smoker.
5. Set Up a Smoker Thermometer
Unless you’ve bought a top-notch high-end offset smoker from companies like Oklahoma Joe's or Dyna-Glo, the in-built thermometer is not reliable at all. To measure the temperature while operating your offset smoker, make sure that you have a good smoker thermometer.
Set the probe of your thermometer to the grate level. That’s the place where you’ll keep your meat and vegetables for cooking. This placement will give you the exact temperature that your food is receiving.
6. Maintain the Ideal Temperature
When you observe that the fire has reached the temperature you desire for cooking, you’ll need to make sure the smoker does not heat up any further or cool down. In both situations, the quality of your food will be compromised, and you don’t want that.
Firstly, open the vents on either side of your firebox and the chimney. Make sure that these vents are not fully open, about halfway through is good enough. If the temperature gets too high and you notice a faint burning smell, place new coal briquettes into the fire to lower the temperature.
Similarly, if the fire starts to cool down, open the vents completely to increase the temperature. If you want a drastic increase in temperature, open up the chimney vents.
If you want to increase the temperature gradually, place a log inside the firebox to heat up and place it in the fire. Do this while heating another log in the firebox to continue the process and gradually increase the temperature.
To keep your meat from getting tough or completely black, the best way is to increase or decrease the temperature gradually. This helps you avoid temperature fluctuation in your food and makes sure they’re cooked perfectly. Huge, spontaneous adjustments can disrupt the cooking process and spoil your food.
7. Manage the Fire
How you manage the fire in your offset smoke depends on the brand and model of your smoker. While the basic procedure is quite easy, most beginners learn the trick through trial and error.
8. Keep Checking
Unlike your slow cooker pot in which you can leave your food and forget the whole thing until it’s done, an offset smoker requires regular attention. This doesn’t mean you should open the lid and check on your food. On the contrary, you should avoid opening the lid of your offset smoker at all costs.
To regulate the temperature and make sure your cooking is going on the right track, check the firebox every hour or 45 minutes. Put in new logs or briquettes if needed.
After you add new logs, don’t close the firebox lid completely. Leave it open a little for some time to increase the temperature.
Similarly, check the smoke coming out of your chimney. The situation is bad inside the firebox if you notice white smoke coming out of your chimney. The bad smoke can spoil your food and make it inedible; pay attention so that you can catch the problem before it gets worse.
9. Rotate Your Food
As the firebox is on one end of the offset smoker, there’s bound to be a considerable difference in temperature on both sides. That’s why you’ll need to rotate your food from one end to another to make sure the food near the firebox does not get burnt, or the food on the other end is not undercooked.
Besides that, change the sides of your meat regularly to get that perfect, even cook on both sides. Complete the rotation quickly so that you can close the lid again after a brief interval, as leaving it open can disrupt the cooking process.
You can also get some offset smokers with a reverse heating system. This system helps maintain an even temperature throughout the cooking range, so you won’t have to open the lid and rotate your food. Nevertheless, you will need to open the lid to flip your food from time to time.
While you’re checking the cook on your food and rotating it around your grill, it’s a good idea to spray on it to keep it moist. You can use apple juice, beer, or even water to keep the meat moist while it’s cooking so that it doesn’t get tough and rubbery.
That’s it. When your cooking time is up, put the fire out, take your food out, and serve it to your family and friends.
Click here to read our Review of Char-Broil Offset Smoker American Gourmet Grill
Tips for Using Your Offset Smoker
Now that you know the basics of how to use offset smokers, here are some expert tips to help you cook your barbeque like a pro.
1. Always Preheat Your Smoker
Especially if you’re cooking meat, get your smoker to the right temperature before you place the food. This helps you avoid unhealthy creosote getting into your food.
Besides that, offset smokers tend to produce a lot of smoke when the coal starts to burn. However, that’s not the sort of smoke you want in your food, so the best way is to wait until the temperature is right, then place the food on the grill.
2. Manage One Vent at a Time
Operating vents is a crucial aspect of maintaining the ideal fire in your offset smoker. First of all, when you’re getting your fire started, you should concentrate on the vent on the firebox. This directly helps increase the temperature of your fire.
Keep this vent open in the beginning when your fire is starting up. After that, close the vent gradually as the fire starts to heat up.
Secondly, you’ll have to adjust the chimney. Once the fire is stable for about half an hour, you can close the chimney since this will keep the heat from escaping. Never shut the chimney or any of the vents completely, unless you want your food to be bitter and covered with creosote.
3. Go Steady with Smoke
Most newbies think that with an offset smoker, the more smoke is absorbed, the better the flavor gets. Well, that’s not the case at all.
You need to maintain the smoke levels to an ideal limit to get that delicious flavor. Excess smoke can spoil your meat and make it taste bitter.
4. Pay Attention to the Weather
The weather can have drastic effects on your offset smoker. If you’re planning to conduct a barbeque on a windy, rainy, or cold day, your smoker will require more time and effort to get to the temperature you want. Make sure you have ample extra fuel and wood to make up for the temperature difference according to the weather.
5. Keep a Water Pan Handy
A water pan is a great way to regulate the temperature in your offset smoker. It adds moisture to your meat as well. If you notice a sudden rise in temperature, or if you feel the meat is getting rubbery, add an extra rack above your fire pit and place a tray or pan full of water over it and watch the magic.
Click here to read our Review of Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
Using an offset smoker is quite easy once you get over the nitty-gritty of the procedure. Mainly, you have to light the fire and wait until the coals are hot. Then, heat up your fire to the ideal temperature, add food to the smoker, and get cooking!
Overall, an offset smoker requires more attention and expertise than a pellet smoker. After all, tending to the smoker is part of all the barbeque fun, right? Happy feasting!