How to Use an Offset Smoker in 4 Simple Steps

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Not long ago, smoking meat was unfamiliar to me. I love making barbecue, but smoking was something I didn’t pay a lot of consideration to. Until I realized that offset smokers take the meat flavor to a whole new level.

You can cook the food and add a unique flavor to your meals using wood pellets. So, after hours of watching YouTube and reading every bit of information available on smoking, I finally learned how.

An offset smoker has been my choice for cooking the meat for a couple of years now, and it is amazing. It eliminates the risk of scorching your expensive chicken or brisket and keeps the heat source away from your meat.


Are Offset Smokers Hard to Use?

how to use an offset smoker with wood chips

Many BBQ enthusiasts find it hard to cook meat on an offset smoker perfectly. This is because they did not master its temperature control and mode of operation, which is very important. An electric smoker is easy to use, as it is simple to operate and master, but once you understand the workings of a charcoal smoker, it is pretty easy as well.

In this article, I will take you through a complete step by step guide on how to use an offset smoker. If you are new to this kind of cooking, let’s start by answering some questions you may have.

What is an Offset Smoker ­and How Does It Work?

This is a type of smoker that looks like two barrels, the first and main one is the place where your meat is, and the smaller, a second offset barrel is where the fire is built, also called the firebox.

Offset smokers have been used in cooking for a long time, although there are different design variants, the basics are the same. The construction of an offset smoker (often called horizontal smoker, the offset barrel smoker or stick burner) is simple.

The cooking chamber is housed in the main barrel and has a hinged lid. On one side is the firebox/offset smoker, positioned a little below the height of the cooking chamber, hence the name ‘offset.’ In some models, the firebox is positioned at the back of the smoker, but a side-mounted firebox is more common.

how to properly use an offset smoker

Can an Offset Smoker Be Used for Grilling?

The cooking chamber of an offset smoker cannot be used specifically for grilling, as the main firebox is not directly located under it.

But it is possible to start a fire under the cooking grill. In many horizontal smokers, grates can be placed atop the firebox, giving your offset smoker the ability to grill.

How to Use an Offset Smoker in 4 Simple Steps

Step 1: Meat Preparation

The first step is the preparation of your meat of choice.

It is advisable to trim surplus fat from your brisket before smoking, leaving just about 1/4-inch layer of fat to lubricate and moisten the brisket as it cooks.

Rub the meat with your seasoning of choice. It often pays off to rub and store it in the refrigerator overnight or at least to allow it to stay on for an hour before cooking so that the meat can absorb the seasoning.

Step 2: Start the Fire

how to use an offset charcoal smoker
  • Put your fuel of choice in the firebox. It is advisable to use charcoal as the main heat source. This is because charcoal does not usually taint meat taste after it has been smoked. Ensure you use only dry charcoal.
  • Using wood in the firebox will increase smokiness in the cooking chamber, which may taint the meat flavor. Wood is not essential, though. You will find many flavored wood chips on the market which can be purchased online to add flavor to the meat.
  • Open the exhaust and intake vents fully. The exhaust should be at least partially opened throughout the cooking process.
  • Fire the charcoal using fire starter, once it turns red, add the wood or wood chips to increase smoke and generate more heat.
  • Place your thermometer probe at the grate level to get an accurate indication of how your vents should be manipulated. When the temperature readings reach 200 degrees F, for safety purposes close the intake vent halfway. If the temperature reading continues to climb, close it to 1/4 open.
  • Make small incremental adjustments to maintain the temperature around 215-250 degrees. This may take around 10 to 15 minutes for the changes to take effect and to stabilize the temperature.

Step 3: Controlling the Heat

As mentioned earlier, temperature control plays a huge role in smoking and cooking in general. For adequate temperature control, use a remote BBQ thermometer.

To generate heat, your offset smoker needs oxygen. The easiest way to control the smoker's oxygen intake is through the dampers. Most offset smokers come with two dampers, one at the end of the smokestack, and the other at the firebox. Ensure the dampers are fully opened when lighting up the coal. The dampers can later be adjusted when the smoker heats up.

Make sure the cooking chamber and the firebox doors are closed during cooking. Opening them triggers temperature changes, allowing heat and smoke to escape.


how to use an offset vertical smoker

If this is your first try to use an offset smoker, you will likely encounter temperate problems. As earlier mentioned, the perfect temperature for offset smoking is any temperature between 215 and 250 Fahrenheit.

If you have a low-temperature challenge, like not being able to get it above 200 Fahrenheit, first, check if the fire has not gone off completely. If the fire is on, and there is a good flame, check the damper on the firebox.

If the damper is closed, it means there is little or no airflow. To increase the temperature, open the damper, and watch the temperature increase rapidly.

The key to efficient temperature control on an offset smoker is adjusting the dampers, both at the smokestack and at the firebox. In very simple terms: more airflow equals bigger fire and higher temperatures, while less airflow equals: smaller fire and lower temperatures. That’s all!

Step 4: The Cooking Process (Give It Time)

Offset smoking takes a lot of time, especially if you want to cook the meat to tenderness. So, you need to give it a lot of time, but you need to turn it from time to time. The key thing here is patience if you want to have good smoked meat. You need to give the cooking process a lot of time to allow the inside of the meat to be well cooked. Check the temperature readings on the thermometer regularly until your meat is ready.

The time required to smoke the meat will depend on the type of meat you are smoking, and its thickness. For instance, a sausage won’t take as long as a chicken, or a 15 lb. brisket.

The video here succinctly captures how to use an offset smoker.


If you have just bought an offset smoker or planning to get one, you now have all the necessary knowledge to light it up and start smoking.

Light up your charcoals, get the cooking chamber up to temperature, add your food, and monitor the temperature using a thermometer. Remember, offset smoking takes a lot of time, so always adjust the dampers for your desired temperature levels.

Do not open the lid without a good reason ­– this is no place for stickybeaks!
You will need to babysit your offset smoker more than a pellet smoker, but if you are an old school smoking fan, it’s all part of the whole smoking experience.

We would love to hear about your smoking experience, so please share them with us in the comment box below.

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