How To Use An Offset Smoker – For Beginners

How To Use An Offset Smoker – For Beginners

There are many smokers out there in the world, but Offset Smoker here is considered as a classic and stands out for two things – firstly it gives amazing flavors to your food, and secondly it really does test your patience.

This smoker may give you a tough time while cooking, but once you take that bite of your cooked food, it will take away the frown on your face and put a Cheshire cat smile on your face.

So whether you are a beginner or a halfway expert, this article will tell you the perfect way to use your Offset Smoker, and of course some important tips for better experience!

What is an Offset Smoker?

Offset Smoker was built with a purpose of producing succulent flavors for your BBQ but only if you manage things right. This sweet chunk of metal comes with two chambers – the main chamber for cooking and the firebox as the heat source.

How To Use An Offset Smoker

It has a built-in temperature gauge so you can keep track of the temperature inside. Moreover, it has a vent and an exhaust pipe which altogether gives a pathway for air to flow.

How does an Offset Smoker Work?

Offset Smoker is unique because it works with small hot fires that burn the wood directly unlike other smokers.

Now how does it really work? Well, the lit charcoals and burning wood produce the heat and smoke in the firebox. The side chamber and the main chamber are both interconnected, so the hot smoky air produced in the firebox enters the cooking chamber, surrounds the food to maximize its flavor and leaves the chamber through exhaust pipe at the opposite end. This constant flow of hot smoky air in your smoker gives the irresistible taste to your food.

How To Use an Offset Smoker? – A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 – Lit the Charcoal

To start your Offset Smoker, the first thing you will need to do is firing up your coals. Throw your coals in a charcoal chimney, take a crumpled paper or tissue, drizzle oil on it and light up the paper. Once it catches fire, place your charcoal chimney on top of it so the coals start burning too.

Let your charcoals burn for about 15 minutes and once it gets red and hot, dump the lit charcoals in the firebox.

Step 2 – Add Wood Splints

Why wood? Because charcoal alone can’t get you enough temperature for low and slow BBQ so adding wood gives you more heat and ultimately rises the temperature without having to add more charcoal unnecessarily.

The small hot fire in the firebox is actually fueled by your wood splints. These hardwoods come with many flavors – apple, maple, mesquite and many more. So choose the flavor that will satisfy your cravings and put them on top of the burning charcoals in the firebox.

Add Wood Splints

Remember that we are not aiming for a wild fire here. So, use the right size of wood splints to maintain the temperature.

Step 3 – Preheating Your Smoker

Before starting off your BBQ session, it is important to warm up your smoker. Preheating this huge chunk of metal takes about an hour or two, and if done properly, it will take away half of your worries regarding the consistency of temperature and fire management. The ideal temperature for preheating is around 225 °F.

Step 4Add Water Pan

After preheating your smoker, add filled water pan in your main chamber. This will not only make your meat tender and juicy, but also help you in controlling the temperature and makes the low and slow smoking process easy.

Step 5 – Add Your Food

Place your food on the grate in the cooking chamber of your smoker. Make sure you are putting it at the right place because if your food is closer to the heat source, your meat will cook faster. If its away from the firebox, it will obviously require more cooking time but it gives more smoky flavor to your meat.

Step 6 – Maintaining Temperature

Once your food is in the smoker, always keep an eye on the firebox and make sure the woods and charcoals inside are burning steadily. If one of these fuels do not burn steadily, it will start producing that thick unwelcoming black smoke. Remember that we are aiming for an almost invisible bluish smoke here so that your meat tastes delish. If that dark-colored smoke ends up touching that precious food of yours, your food will end up tasting like trash.

How To Maintain Heat in Offset Smoker – Fire Management

Different meats require different temperatures to cook at. Fishes cook at around 225 °F, Poultry at 240-275 °F and Beef at 225-240 °F. Hence it is important to maintain the temperature at the given range to get the tender juicy outcome.

Offset Smoker is considered hard to use because of the continuous temperature fluctuation. To master the art of maintaining temperature, there are few things that you should keep in mind:

How To Maintain Heat in Offset Smoker
  • Charcoal

Charcoals come in different sizes and qualities. The most recommended ones are the lump charcoals and briquettes because they preferably burn hotter and longer.

Adding too many charcoals can cause an unnecessary increase in temperature and adding too little will have you struggling to get to the optimum temperature. So, make sure you are adding the right amount of coals, and if your coals do not burn as brightly as they were before, know that it’s time to set fire to a new batch of charcoals.

  • Wood Splints

These too, come in different flavors and sizes. The key to maintaining temperature when it comes to hardwood is adding the wood splints of right size at the right time.

While your food is cooking, keep an eye on the wood through the vent of the firebox. When your wood looks completely burned and does not produce enough flame, know that it is time to add another piece of wood.

Make sure the wood you are adding is not wet because damp woods are of no good use when it comes to offset smoker, it delays the cooking time instead. Clean and dry woods are not just useful for firing process, it also helps in getting the clean smoke for your smoking too!

  • Vent and Exhaust Pipe

These two structures were built for a steady inflow and outflow of air. The vent is usually found at the side of the firebox. When open, the oxygen in the atmosphere enters the side chamber which keeps the burning process going and helps in increasing the temperature.

Exhaust pipe, on the other hand, is found at the opposite end of the cooking chamber. It ejects the smoke used for cooking. During cooking, make sure the exhaust pipe is slightly open so that more smoke is trapped inside surrounding your food – this will not only cook your food deliciously but also help you in maintaining the temperature.

  • Doors of Chambers

Curiosity sure did kill the cat, however, your curiosity could make all your hours of efforts and struggles go in vain. Rule number one: Once you have put your food inside for cooking, do not give in to the temptation of peeking.

Opening the doors of chambers decreases the temperature of the offset smoker drastically, and will make you work on getting that optimum temperature again. So, make sure you do not open the doors of chambers too frequently.

Offset Smoker as a Grill

Another fantastic thing about this Offset Smoker is that it can also be used as a grill with both direct and indirect heat.

For direct grilling, you can convert your cooking chamber into a grill by adding the burning charcoals beneath the cooking grates, and putting your food on top of the lit charcoals.

For indirect grilling, dump the burning coals in the firebox and put your food on the grate in the main chamber (cooking chamber).

Important Tips For Cooking With an Offset Smoker

Offset Smoker as a Grill
  • Weather

Make sure your smoker is placed in a well-ventilated area so that the smoke ejected can escape easily, but at the same time make sure your smoker is well-protected from strong winds and/or rain, so you don’t end up yanking your hair out of your head for constantly failing to get the optimum temperature for your smoking.

  • Thermometer

It comes as no surprise when we say that the built-in temperature gauge do not show the accurate readings. And for that reason we recommend installing another thermometer to your smoker. The right place to install the thermometer is at the side of your cooking chamber, preferably at the same level where you have put your food at.

  • Horizontal Grate in Firebox

People normally dump the lit charcoals at the bottom of the firebox, and this actually gets their job done. However, this method burns off the material and weakens it –  making your smoker less durable.

To save yourself from losing your smoker too soon, we recommend adding a horizontal grate in your firebox and then dumping the burning charcoal and wood splints on it. This will not only save your smoker, but also gives more airflow to your BBQ.


This all may sound a bit tough but years of practice could make you pro in the game of smoking. As a master of the offset smoker, your battle is only against the firebox of your offset smoker. So keep your eyes open and make sure all the activity inside your firebox is going smooth and steady, and most importantly, don’t let the offset smoker defeat you!

Rita Williams

Rita Williams

Hey, it’s me Rita! My love for BBQ began at an early age, learning the art of smoking meats from my dad in their small town in Texas. Weekends were filled with smoky aroma of brisket or ribs as family and friends gathered for backyard cookouts.

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