Guide To Setting Up and Modifying Your Offset Smoker

Buying your first offset smoker is like getting your first kiss. You want it to be spontaneous yet perfect!

Not an exaggeration, though, but owning an offset smoker gives you that “macho” vibe. It’s pretty cool to own an offset which screams, “I’m your go-to expert in barbecue” or “I’m man enough to pull this off!” The good news is that you can buy one for cheap nowadays or even if you are on a shoestring budget. You can even buy one from Amazon for a measly $200.

Now, should you buy the cheapest offset smoker you can find? Absolutely not! While buying an affordable offset smoker can save you some serious money now, you may be in for a disappointment when it becomes defective and bogs you down.

Not sure how an offset smoker works? Check out our guide to offset barrel smokers here.

Our Top Offset Smoker Pick
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Quality should always be a priority rather than the price tag. You should always look at the long-term repercussions of your buying behavior.In the end, you get what you pay for! A lot of offset owners who bought it cheap end up frustrated and dumped their offsets for good.

They never touched an offset smoker again. This becomes a waste of money, time, and curiosity. This happens so often we created our guide to offset smokers.

Two Categories of Offset Smokers

Expensive Offset Smokers (EOS)

These are the sophisticated and high-end lines of offset smokers that would range from $800 and up much like the known brands of Lang and Horizon.

Expensive offset smokers are made of highly durable thick metal that can properly absorb and disperse heat evenly from all sides and from end to end. It also has tight dampers and doors to ensure strict control of temperature.

More so, an EOS also features a duct system that allows hot air to spread and traverse the entire length of the chamber with a thick metal plate that effectively warms up the space from right under. The chimney would also help pull the warm air into the meat.

Cheap Offset Smokers (COS)

This is the affordable line in which price tags would fall in the $400 and under category. The most common and popular cheap offset smokers are the Char-Griller Smokin Pro, Char-Broil Silver Smoker, Brinkmann Pitmaster, Char-Broil American Gourmet, and Brinkmann Smoke’N Pit Professional. Avoid these at all costs!

COS are totally not recommended for anyone who likes their barbecue well done. The main culprit is that the smoke tends to go up and not on the sides. The heat and smoke are unevenly distributed so one side of the cooking chamber would be much hotter than the other side.

In this case, when you put on several slabs of ribs or brisket, others would be done much faster than the others. Although you do have an option to adjust and move the slabs around but it would be so time-consuming, and you’d end up with the same frustrating results.

To make matters worse, COS fireboxes have serious problems with leaks. You’re unable to stabilize oxygen which is crucial to controlling smoke and temperature. In addition to that, the food chamber doors would also leak with hot air and moisture from the meat.

To be blunt about it, COS are very poorly structured and designed. It has poor heat retention mainly because the products are made out of thin metal. The functionality gets really worse especially in cold weather conditions. It’s not rust-proof and the paint would also peel off.

Please, whatever you do, don’t buy a cheap offset smoker. Take it from me; it’s a total waste of time and money. You have to invest on an offset smoker that is durable and efficient enough to last for a long time and get your barbecue done.
If you think it will make you look macho, then you can opt for a drum smoker. This will look more impressive and gives more value to your money than these cheap offset smokers.

Using Your Offset Smoker – Techniques and Tips

Whether you are using an cheap or expensive offset smoker, here are some value-packed tips and techniques to get you started on the right track.

Clean Your Smoker

As soon as you get your new offset smoker, make sure to clean its body with warm soapy water to keep it squeaky clean and get rid of dust, grease, or any shavings. Wipe the machine dry. Once it’s thoroughly dry, spray the inside section with cooking oil like vegetable oil.

Use Charcoal; Not Wood

Why can’t we use wood instead? Well, charcoal is easier to manage than wood especially if you are using a COS. It also produces more smoke and ash which can lead to meat spoilage. One of the common questions about using charcoal is this: “How much charcoal is enough when you smoke meat?”

Well, there are many factors to consider such as the weather, how cold the meat is, and how heavy or tight your smoker is. Every smoker is different and it would take a couple of tries before you get a feel of how your offset works.
For starters, you can try using 1 whole chimney of charcoal and adjust or add as needed.

Some offset or barbecue smoker experts would recommend adding wood as a supplement to charcoals and just to spice up the flavors.

Preheat Your Smoker

It’s very important to preheat your smoker before you place your meat in the cooking chamber. For one, it speeds up cooking time and allows you to cook your meat evenly.

Preheating your oven should be done by letting it sit for a while or for at least 10 to 15 minutes before you put the meat in.

Only Add Fully Lit Charcoals

It is best to allow your charcoal to heat up for at least 10 minutes before you put it into your smoker. Wait until all your coals are gray before you pour them into the base of your grill. It could take a while and your guests may wait for a bit but that’s the right process to it.

Why so? If you rush it and pour the coals prematurely or when some parts are still black, then you won’t manage the temperature very well. This could lead to undesirable or uneven cooking of your meat.

Insert Good Digital Thermometers on Both Sides

Don’t rely on dome thermometers that are preinstalled into your smokers because it’s proven to be very unreliable. This ruins your timing with cooking. Use digital thermometers instead. Insert them into both ends of your cooking chamber to get a more accurate temperature reading.

Never Soak Your Wood Chips

Some people think that soaking wood chips is necessary to enhance or deepen the aroma and flavors of your meat. Well, that’s a myth!

To set the records straight, it’s absolutely unnecessary to soak your wood chips because it could result to white smoke or black smoke which could be toxic or carcinogenic. Dry wood chips are the best! Damp or wet wood chips also result in disequilibrium in temperatures.

Keep the Smoker Lids Shut

It’s not necessary to be checking on your meat every minute. Well, I understand that you might not be able to contain your excitement but constantly opening the lids on the cooking chamber of the firebox could disrupt the oxygen balance on the charcoals.

Closing the lid allows convection to occur. This is similar to how an oven works. Basically, when you keep the lids closed you are sealing in the warm air and allow you to cook meat thoroughly.

Once you dig into your ribs or brisket, you’ll know it was worth the wait!

Move the Meat Around

Arrangement of meat slabs are crucial to getting that cooking right. It’s important that you rotate your meat so that both sides are evenly cooked. Basically, you have to rotate or move from top to bottom and left to right or vice versa to ensure that the doneness of your meat would be excellent.

Large cuts of meat would need to be rotated but the smaller ones won’t need it because it easily cooks without having to move it around.

You have to arrange the meat in such a way that everything would be cooked evenly. You can place the cold meat inside the cooker as it does so much better with heat absorption than when it’s in room temp. It also keeps the flavors more interesting this way. Add wood chips to keep the temperature well-regulated.

Concentrate on a Single Vent at a Time

If you have cheap offset smoker, you’d find a chimney baffle and an intake baffle in it. So, the best way to do it is to focus on how you can control the temperature using the intake baffle and then leave the other chimney open.

It’s the intake baffle that you need to focus on because it controls the flow of oxygen to coals. This also greatly impacts the cooking temperature. The chimney has some control of the smoke and the temperature in the cooking chamber.
Smart cooking with the intake held wide open. Stop once the cooking chamber is at the right temp.

Close the lid halfway or slightly open until the temperature becomes stable or at a range of 225-250°F. Never close the intake completely because you can starve the fire and this leads to creosote production. Let the cooking chamber stabilize for about 30 minutes or more.

Avoid Too Much Smoke

You don’t want your brisket to taste like tar because of white and dirty smoke. Less is definitely more with this. You don’t want a cloud of thick smoke. It’s overbearing and smells off! The goal here is to achieve that thin blue smoke and nothing more.

Too much smoke can ruin the taste and aroma of your meat. You can use wood chips, pellets, or chunks. Don’t put in too much. Just start with 4 ounces and add up to 4 doses every 30 minutes.

Keep the Weather in Check

Any changes in the weather conditions can significantly affect the cooking temperature. Erratic temperatures can impact your meal. Meat smoking in a snowy, cold, and rainy weather can be a real test of patience and skills.

On the other hand, the cold weather or the snow is actually very conducive for smoking a brisket and a few cold beers to match. So, I guess the challenge is how to make it work in such challenging circumstances.

Here’s how you do it: You can buy an insulation blanket or wrap for your offset smoker or perhaps could DIY. Using double foil insulation would be cost-efficient, safe, and also durable.

Get a Chair and Relax by the Smoker

This shouldn’t be a bore or a chore. You and your loved ones or buddies can pull up some chairs and enjoy the cold weather while keeping watch on your cooker. You can also bring a book, guitar, and some refreshments or cold beer while at it. This way, you can kill time but still be very productive!

Keep Your Cheap Offset Smoker Rust Free

Your offset smoker, especially of the cheaper variety, are prone to rusting. This isn’t a good sight at all. So, the best way to ensure that it’s clean and rust-proof is to park it safely in your garage and toss a cover on it to protect it from the harsh external elements.

If it’s rusty, you can sand it off and then repaint using a heat-resistant paint. Let the paint dry before you use it for cooking as it can be toxic for your meat.

Keep a Water Pan Nearby

Once you have poured the coals into the base of your smoker, cover it with grate, and then put a water pan on it. This will boost humidity levels of the smoke and will also greatly enhance tenderness and flavor. Also, it’s not necessary to mix in apple juice with water on the pan.

Do a Test or Dry Runs

You need to somewhat break in or calibrate your new offset smoker by doing some dry runs or tests without any food on it. In this way, you will have a feel of how you will set it up so it can hit your target temperatures.

To get your offset smoker calibrated, you would need a digital thermometer. Don’t use the cheap built-in thermometer on your cooker because it’s unreliable. It’s set up on the dome which can’t calibrate the temp at the grate where your meat sits.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with anything else, practice makes you better with your offset smoker. Practice without using any food so you can observe first-hand how your offset would behave.

Modify Your Offset Smoker

Don’t be intimidated by technology. You can try some of the below modification or “mods” on your COS to make it work optimally.

Add a Duct, Convection Plate, or Deflector

The cooking chamber would usually be hotter on the part which is near the firebox. Once the heat moves to the other end, the heat tends to quickly dissipate. This wouldn’t be a problem with tight and thick cooking chambers. However, most offset smokers tend to be thin and leaky. This could be a huge problem.

Here are ways to fix the problem:

Buy a baffle

Create a metal flap that you can use to cover up the opening that connects the firebox to the cooking chamber; and then latch or screw it on. This will help seal the heat and direct the smoke downward.

As an alternative to convection plates, you can wrap the cooking rack near the firebox using foil and then poke a few slits to make it work. This will help keep temperatures stable.

You can also have a local or neighborhood body shop fabricate a custom flap for your offset.

Here is one excellent solution to try out: You can fabricate a heavy steel duct and then transfer the chimney near the side of the firebox. This is referred to as the “reverse flow” design. This would help funnel all the smoke into the far end of the cooking chamber. This will be directed up the cooking chamber and then radiate to the food to be flushed out of the chimney.

Move the Chimney Downward

Smokers would usually have chimneys mounted on top. Heat and smoke would commonly exit that route. Now, if you are able to reduce the intake of the exhaust then you will also be able to pivot the heat at a much lower level across the grates and same thing with the cooking chamber.

You can also use an aluminum roof that you can buy from a local hardware store. Just roll it up. Start by inserting it from below the chimney then stretch it to extend to the same diameter as that of the chimney. Next, pull it down to reach the grates.

Add a Water Pan to the Firebox

Adding a water pan into the firebox helps combine the aromatic smoke and steam to give the brisket its smoky and juicy flavor. Yeah, that mouth-watering goodness! It also keeps the moisture into your meat so it becomes tender and savory.

This method basically puts the moisture and humidity back into your meat so you get to enjoy a bite afterwards. This also prevents your food from drying out. Wait until the cooking chamber’s heat is stable before you add in the water pan with water. This will help even out the heat distribution so your meat comes out perfectly done.

Mount a Bottom Grate to Your Firebox

The bottom grate or rack is mainly used to feed or fuel the fire and increase the temp in your cooking chamber. This helps dispense the heat so it spreads evenly across the cooking chamber and not just concentrated on one side for an even cooking.

Build a Charcoal Basket

Jim Minion invented the “Minion Method” which can be achieved with the use of a charcoal basket. This is created mainly to hold maximum volume of coals in the firebox.

With this technique, you can basically maintain or keep temp stable by filling the bottom of the basket with unlit coals while the hot or lit coals stay on top.

The science behind this is that the hot coals would slowly heat up the coals beneath which will help increase the temperature of the offset and keep it at that rate for an extended period of time.

A charcoal basket is helpful when you cook using indirect heat for rotisserie and in searing steak. This provides you tons of searing power over the charcoal basket. You can DIY and create your own charcoal basket or get it custom-made for you.

Try the Mud Pan Charcoal Fuse

You can put this fuse in the firebox or one side of your cooking chamber to create a slow yet steady burn. The key is to place the lit coals on top of the fuse which would slowly ignite the coals below it.

To create this device, you would need two stainless steel mud pans that measure 4” x 14” that can easily hold the coals and wood chips. Drill a couple of holes in the sides, bottoms, and ends. Snip the matching notches from each pan while leaving one flap loose which can connect the two trays.

Fill it with coals. Make sure to leave some space at one side for the lit coals. If you have more space, you may opt to add more trays to lengthen its burn time.

You can simultaneously remove expired coals and refill while other coals on the rest of the other trays remain burning. This is a great way to be more time-savvy and multitask with ease. This method is recommended especially for those who will be cooking for long hours.

Seal the Leaks

If you have a cheap offset smoker then it is probably prone to leaks especially around the doors. One solution to this is to make a gasket or you can buy a replacement gasket. There are also high temp silicone sealants available in the market that can easily plug the leaks.

If there are leaks, you won’t be able to control the temperature in your smoker. This would be bad for your meat.

Add Additional Insulation

Low end offset smokers are usually made of thin metal so the heat would naturally escape quickly. To manage heat loss and reduce it, you can insulate the cooking chamber by using a foil insulation blanket or a welding blanket.

You can also place bricks at the bottom of the cooking chamber and then cover them with foil. While it may take some time to reach high temperature with this method, the heat will be maintained longer and thus distribute more evenly on all sides.

This will give you a juicy and delectable brisket or ribs. This also prevents spikes in temperature.

Clean Up the Grease

COS isn’t easy to clean because it has a small drain hole. It would only work if you tilt it towards the grease cup; otherwise, it would tend to overflow and is such a mess. Some techniques that you can do are to put a ball valve or to line its bottom with foil.

Scrub the insides of the smoker using a cleaner and then put a bucket right under the valve. Pour hot water inside to clean the smoker and then open the valve. Repeat the rinsing procedure and then wipe it up.

Add a Drain

Making a drain will help you clean up your offset by letting the grease flow. You only need a few materials to get started. Using hole saw, drill a hole (1”) and then install it with the use of ½” ball valve, ½” black pipe nipple, and ½” conduit nuts.

Use a Chimney Cap

Adding a chimney cap into your offset helps to protect your cooking chamber from getting drenched when it rains.
It acts as a protective shield for your offset smoker. This also keeps the snow out and keeps it rust-proof. Apart from that, a chimney cap controls airflow and internal temperature.

Add a WiFi-enabled Thermostat

Using multiple thermostat controllers is an advantage for those who have to watch multiple offset or barrel smokers.
There are advanced thermostats that are WiFi and bluetooth-enabled so that you can easily manage your offset temperature with multiple devices like your smartphone, laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

You can also set alarms for a certain period of time or at a specified temperature range. This allows you to multitask without getting all stressed out!

Invest in a Good Cover

With a good cover, you get to shield your offset smoker from the harsh external elements like rain, snow, and critters. You must always go for a quality cover than for a cheap one. This ensures that your offset smoker remains in mint condition for a long time.

How Do You Keep Smoke Blue and Thin?

Well, there’s a bit of art and science to it. You basically have to start with a clean burning fire. This means your fire has enough oxygen.

Lack of oxygen can smolder your fire and produce that white steam or dirty smoke. You don’t want your meat to be over-smoked because the taste and smoke could spoil your appetite.

If you happen to get some white puffy smoke, here’s what you do:

  • Open up the chimney damper and the inlet vent.
  • Open the firebox and then make some adjustments on the wood until you achieve a steady flame.
  • When you have clean smoke, sometimes you won’t even see any visible smoke from the chimney especially if you are using only charcoal and no wood chips. Don’t worry about this because you still get to achieve the same impeccable taste and aroma.

How to Take Care of Your Smoker

Once you are done cooking, you need to clean up your offset so it’s ready the next time you use it. Here are some tips to do that:

Tip #1 – Make sure to empty the grease cup from your offset to keep it clean of fatty meat residue or grease.

Tip #2 – Open your firebox and cooking chamber so you can let the moisture out.

Tip #3 – Scrape off all food residue and grime from the grates. Use warm soapy water so you can get all the dirt and oily residue out.

Tip #4 – Clean up all the remaining coals or ash from the firebox. You can use a coal bucket and pail for this. Make sure to use gloves for your safety.

Tip #5 – Store your offset in the garage or indoors. Cover it if you have to store it outdoors.

Start Cooking on Your Offset Smoker!

Cooking on an offset smoker or barrel smoker can be complicated at a glance. It could even be intimidating for some. However, this guide will show you how easily you can get started cooking with an offset smoker using basic modification tips and techniques.

The best way to learn how to use and set up an offset smoker is by getting right to it. You just have to start doing it and you’ll soon get the hang of it!

Cooking using an offset smoker gives that “macho” impression because you’re cooking out of wood and fire which is very manly.

I mean, not everyone can do it! It takes a certain level of skill and expertise to be able to operate an offset smoker. However, with this guide, we have proven that absolutely anyone can do it.

It may not be perfect on your first try but it’s still a good start!

It takes practice and experience to be a master of your own pit. You’re not just the barbecue guy but you’re someone who knows how an offset works from inside and out. We have covered the basics and now it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and start cooking!