How to Use an Offset Smoker


The offset smoker is a long, narrow barrel smoker. Stick burner. Horizontal smoker. Whatever you want to call them, this is the type of smoker that takes the prize at competitions. And there’s no doubt about it: when people think of a barbecue, they think of this sort of smoker.

Unlike electric, gas, or charcoal smokers, offset smokers use wood as their primary fuel source. This adds a bit of complexity to the process, but it’s also what gives the finished product that unique smoked flavor.

If you’re thinking about getting an offset smoker, or if you already have one and want to learn how to use it, this guide is for you. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right wood to smoking your first brisket.

How Offset Smokers Work

Heat and smoke from the firebox travel into the main chamber to cook and flavor the meal. It resembles an oil drum or a metal box. This is where you’ll put your food.

The smaller chamber where the fire is built is usually positioned to one side of the major chamber, sitting down a bit. It’s not uncommon to be completely separated from the main chamber. This is what gives the smoker its name: offset.

The firebox typically has a door so you can access the wood and coals, and it also has vents that you can open and close to regulate the temperature. The amount of airflow will determine how hot the fire burns and, in turn, how hot the smoker gets.

The main chamber will also have a door, and sometimes it will have grates that you can adjust to raise or lower the food closer or further from the heat source. These chambers typically don’t have vents, as you want to keep the smoke contained to flavor the food.

Are you still looking for a smoker? Take a look at our list of the top offset smokers for further assistance.

How Do You Use A Smoker Step By Step?

1. Choose the Right Wood

The first step in using your offset smoker is to choose the right wood. This can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a couple of key things to keep in mind when selecting wood for smoking.

The most important thing is to choose hardwood. Hardwoods have a higher density, so they burn slower and produce more smoke. The best woods for smoking are hickory, oak, maple, and pecan.

Avoid using softwoods like pine or cedar, as they burn quickly and don’t produce as much smoke. They can also make your food taste bitter.

2. Start a Fire

Now that you’ve selected the right wood, it’s time to start a fire. The best way to do this is with charcoal. You’ll need about 30 minutes to prepare the coals, so plan accordingly.

If you’re using a chimney starter, fill it with coals and place it on the grate in the firebox. Put a couple of pieces of wood on top of the coals, then light the paper.

Once the wood is burning, add more coals to the chimney starter. Dump them onto the other coals in the firebox when they’re fully lit.

If you’re not using a chimney starter, you can build a pyramid of coals in the firebox. Place a couple of pieces of wood on top of the coals, then light the paper. Once the wood is burning, add more coals to the pyramid.

3. Adjust the Ventilation

Once the fire is lit, it’s time to adjust the vents. The goal is to maintain a consistent temperature, so you’ll need to experiment to find the perfect balance of airflow.

Start by opening the vents on the firebox all the way. This will give the fire plenty of oxygen and help it to burn hot. After 10 minutes or so, check the temperature inside the main chamber.

If it’s too hot, close the vents on the firebox slightly. If it’s not hot enough, open them a bit more. Continue checking and adjusting the vents every 10 minutes or so until the temperature is where you want it to be.

4. Add the Wood

Now it’s time to add wood to the fire. The type of wood you choose will impact the flavor of the food, so be sure to use the same hardwoods that you selected earlier.

Start by adding a couple of pieces of wood to the firebox. Then, close the door and vents on the firebox. This will help to regulate the temperature and prevent the wood from burning too quickly.

After 30 minutes or so, open the door to the firebox and add more wood. Close the door and vents again. Repeat this process every 30 minutes or so until the food is cooked.

5. Remove the Food and Let it Rest

When the food is cooked, remove it from the smoker and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute, making the food more moist and flavorful.

Enjoy your smoked food!

There you have it! Follow these steps, and you’ll be smoking like a pro.

Tips For Cooking With an Offset Smoker

The optimum way to cook with an offset smoker is to use charcoal and wood in tandem. It’s a fiddly process cooking with just wood, and the food might end up bitter, creosote-covered. Cooking merely with charcoal results in reduced flavor.

Start your fire with fully-burning coals you’ve obtained from another fire, or use a chimney starter. You should only need to do this once as you can add unburned coals to the fire as it burns down.

To get good results, you’ll need to control the airflow into your smoker. The vents on the lid and the smokestack will be your main tools. If the temperature gets too high, close the vents; if it starts to drop, open them up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Just Grill On An Offset Smoker?

One of the great things about offset smokers is that they can be used for grilling and smoking. When grilling direct, you build a charcoal fire directly below the cooking grates and grill directly over the coals. This is a great method for cooking items like burgers or steak.

For smoking, you will want to build a fire in the firebox and let it burn until it produces white smoke. Then, place your food on the cooking grate and close the lid. The temperature inside the smoker will drop, and the smoke will slowly work its way through the food, giving it a unique flavor.

Offset smokers are a great option for those who love to cook outdoors. With a little practice, you can master both grilling and smoking on your smoker.

What Happens If You Smoke Meat Too High?

One common mistake when smoking meat is exposing it to too high a heat, resulting in dry, tough meat. This can be especially challenging when trying to smoke on a propane grill. The fix: Getting this right can take a few attempts, but you want to try and keep the temperature between 225-250°F (107 – 121°C).

Smoking at a lower temperature gives the fat a chance to render out slowly and baste the meat, ensuring that it stays moist and juicy. In addition, lower temperatures also allow for better smoke absorption, giving the meat a more flavorful smoke profile.

So next time you’re firing up the grill, keep it low and slow for perfectly smoked meat.

What Are The Advantages Of An Offset Smoker?

An offset smoker is a type of smoker that consists of two chambers, with the fire in one chamber and the food in the other. The offset design allows for indirect cooking, meaning the food isn’t directly exposed to the flames. This indirect heat produces juicier, more tender meat with a richer flavor.

In addition, the offset design makes adding more fuel and wood chips easy without opening the cooking chamber and disrupting the temperature and smoke levels. As a result, an offset smoker is ideal for cooking large quantities of food at once.

An offset smoker is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a smoker that will produce mouth-watering meats with a deep smoky flavor.


If you’ve just received an offset smoker or are considering purchasing one, you now have all the information you’ll need to light it up and begin smoking. Remember that a charcoal chimney is your best friend when getting your offset smoker started.

Wait until the coals are very hot before adding your meal; let the food sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. And most importantly, have fun!

Bobby Johnson

When he's not writing about barbecue, you can find Bobby smoking meat for friends and family. He's been a backyard pitmaster for roughly half his life, and has worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands-on guide to teach them BBQ, but that's what Bobby hopes to do with Electric Smoker HQ. He wants to help people create amazing food that they can be proud of.