There’s something in an offset barrel smoker that separates a pit master from a guy who does a good job with smoking seafood and meats.
Well, you can use pellet, box, and water smokers but nothing would beat being an expert on an offset smoker.
Offset barrel smokers or also called as “hunka-hunka” smokers, pipe smokers, horizontal smokers, and stick burners have been considered as the king in the barbecue arena.
Barrel smokers are generally expensive but there are offset barrel smokers that you can buy at Lowes and Home Depot for cheap.
Yes, being macho need not be a pain on your pockets or credit cards with the affordable offsets available these days. Still looking? Thats why we created our guide to the best offset smokers here.
A Little History on Offset Barrel Smokers
The concept of offset barrel smokers started in the 1980’s. Welders who were far away from their homes and even from restaurants would DIY using surplus oil pipes and steel drums to create smokers and grills.
The offset design was based on a brick barbecue pit wherein the fire is set up in one chamber while the heat and smoke would go through the food in the opposite chamber.
At that time, the price of oil has dropped from $30 to a measly $10 per barrel. Wayne Whitworth, a metal fabricator based in Texas and founder of an oil business in Houston, discovered and built offset barbecue pits to supplement the income of his employees in the economic crisis.
He founded Pitt’s & Spitt’s, a local smoker business, which became one of the most popular names in the offset smoker industry.
Majority of horizontal offset smokers would have the same build or construction. This could either be characteristic of a box-like or liquid barrel-shaped smoker with a firebox connected to it on one end with a chimney at the other end. Some models would have the firebox installed at the back.
Basically, you would build either a charcoal or a wood-triggered fire in the firebox. You would want the heat to be right next to the meat. The combination of smoke and heat would flow around the food in the cook chamber and then go out through the chimney.
The mixed flow of wood smoke and hot air is so characteristic of a standard offset smoker. The aroma would just remind you of mouth-watering briskets, pork shoulders, and ribs.
Just by adjusting the exhaust vents and air intake, you get full control of the smoke flow and heat in your offset smoker. Open vents are synonymous with porous oxygen which fuels the fire. The temperature inside the offset cooking chambers would vary depending on its proximity to the firebox.
For instance, the end which is nearest to the firebox would be the hottest area. Aside from maintaining the fire, you would also have to keep an eye on the airflow and rotate the food to make sure it cooks evenly. In essence, the space or size of your grill would also equate disparity in temperature levels.
To keep the internal cooking temperature in check, manufacturers came up with the reverse flow technology. This may seem like a technical jargon but don’t let it intimidate you. One type of this would be the convection plate that you can spot on popular smokers such as Horizon in Oklahoma.
The metal plate would slide back and forth right under the food in the cooking chamber with the small air holes near the fire while the large holes are far from it. The positioning of the holes and plate actually help in equalizing the hot air flow.
There is a more advanced reserve flow technology system discovered by Lang BBQ Smokers of Nahunta, Georgia which makes use of baffles, piping, and the chimney placed on the firebox at the end of the offset smoker.
The mechanism goes this way: the smoke and hot air are pushed to go to the far end of the cooking chamber and then goes reverse or onto the food grate before it heads back to the firebox and exits the chimney.
This not only balances the temperatures on each side of the cooking chamber but also helps with heat retention especially when the lid is left open.
However, even if your offset smokers aren’t equipped with the reverse flow technology, you can cook the food evenly just by rotating or moving the food to ensure that all sides are well done in the cooking chamber.
The key here is to start with the fatter or bigger end of the pork shoulder or brisket towards the fire. You need to rotate or move the meat every hour starting from the cooler part of the cooking chamber that is closer to the fire.
With that scenario, offset smokers are truly more labor-intensive compared to pellet grills which do not require focused attention. However, using offset smokers is a challenge and it’s an enjoyable activity.
Smoking meat or any food for that matter is dubbed to both a science and a sport which is a battle of wit, muscle, and strategy.
If you are one of the rare cavemen who can build a fire from scratch then you would find it incredibly easy to use an offset barrel smoker.
If you use smokers at home, I would recommend having both the chimney vent and the air intake vent completely open. Use a natural lump charcoal in the chimney starter and then spread the embers evenly on the charcoal rack which can be found under the firebox.
Close the cooking chamber lid and then preheat your offset barrel smoker to the prescribed temperature (ranges from 225 to 275 degrees).
If in case the temperature becomes too high, all you have to do is close the vents partially and then allow the temperature to subside. If the temperature is too low, you can add more charcoal.
If you are using a new offset barrel smoker, it’s recommended to follow the instruction manual on how to season the smoker and remove any of the protective coating or factory grease before you begin smoking your food.
First off, arrange the meat or food on the grate inside the cooking chamber. You can use hardwood logs or wood chips to the fire. Replenish wood chips and fuel as necessary in order to maintain the right temperature.
If you are managing a restaurant or a catering business then you most likely have a large offset barrel smoker that uses sticks. I would recommend for you to add seasoned hardwood logs following manufacturer’s instructions.
When you are exclusively burning wood, it’s imperative to have good airflow to ensure that the smoke flavor would not overwhelm the meat.
There are tons of different types of offset smokers in the market – some provide outrageous value while some are average. Make sure that you do serious research before you buy an offset barrel smoker.
What Should I Look Into When Shopping For An Offset Smoker?
Determine Your Budget
Knowing your budget sets limits on your purchases. With offset smokers, you can go for cheaper units that are sold for as low $200 or go for high-end or customized units that sell for at least $5000 or higher.
Look Into the Gold Standard
Your offset smoker should be made of ¼ inch heavy-gauge steel. The base should also be compact and stable.
Check the Craftsmanship
Is your offset barrel smoker durable? Look into the handles to see if they’re well-insulated. The welds and other movable parts should be strong and robust. The lids of the firebox and cooking chamber should also be perfectly sealed.
Size Does Matter
The size of your offset smoker would depend on how you use it. Is it solely for family cooking or home use? Do you own a restaurant or participate in cook-offs? Then you might need a larger offset smoker to accommodate more people.
You can also buy different grillers or smokers to use for varied occasions. In that way, you will have more flexibility when smoking your favorite ribs or brisket.
Check for Add-ons
You can get extra smoking racks, grill grates, shelves, warming box, trailer, counterweight for the cooking chamber lids, and removable charcoal rack.
It’s important to check the warranty of your offset barrel smoker. This will help you know your protection status for purchasing the unit. Do note that some high-end offsets would have a lifetime warranty.
What are the Benefits of Using an Offset Barrel Smoker?
You can easily add wood chips, logs, chunks, or wood pellets, and stoke the fire without the need to open the cooking camber.
There are offset barrels that come complete with grill grates while others would need to install a grill grate at the firebox. Having a large size of an offset smoker would provide you ample space to smoke more food.
There are no moving parts in an offset smoker that would need to be replaced or electric circuitry that needs to be burned out.
Well-known brands or manufacturers do provide different styles of accessories and customization options.
Owning an offset smoker is incredibly cool and gives you that macho vibe especially if you opt for a big black steel model type.
What are the Disadvantages of Using an Offset Barrel Smoker?
These cheap offsets in the market are poorly structured and designed that those who bought it swore to never touch offset smokers again. It’s very difficult to assemble, paint would peel off, temperatures are very hard to control or manage, metal would rust, and hinges break.
The cheapest price for high-end offset units would cost around $1000 or higher. This is not a price that everyone can afford.
It can take at most an hour to preheat your pit. Hereinafter, you will need to constantly check on it. This isn’t convenient for after-work cookouts.
It’s not as portable as you think. Even the small or average size of offset smokers would weigh tons which make them entirely difficult to move around especially without assistance.
Extreme changes on temperature or weather conditions like heavy rains or snow can impact the performance or functionality of your offset smoker.
Offset smokers would usually have a large body or footprint may be difficult to incorporate into a small outdoor space.
Maintaining a good fire would require a lot of focus, patience, and practice. If you’re the type who can’t commit to being patient with your offset smoker, then this might not be the right tool for you.
Q & A Problems and Solutions on Offset Barrel Smokers
Problem: I just bought my cheap offset smoker a few years ago but it’s now beginning to show some signs of aging like rust and the grill grate has become rough.
Solve It: You need to sand the rough and rusty spots using steel wood and repaint it high-temp paint. With the grill grate, you can either have it sand-blasted at a nearby automotive repair shop or replace it with a new one.
Problem: Smoke would leek escaping the lid of the firebox and cooking chamber.
Solve It: Try sealing the lids using a high temperature gasket that you can buy by the roll or high temperature silicone.
Problem: It’s very difficult to maintain the right heat especially when the temperatures drop.
Solve It: You can try putting a non-fiberglass space blanket right on top of the lid of the cooking chamber or line the bottom part of your offset smoker with fire brick before you preheat it. Some brands would have special insulated blankets that would be compatible with their offset smokers.
Problem: I will be hosting a huge family event in a month and planning to smoke pork spare ribs but my grill grate lacks the space to accommodate the large volume of racks that I need.
Solve It: Purchase in rib racks or a DIY trick is to coil each rack of ribs and then put it in place using bamboo skewers. Hold the coils in an upright position on the grill grate. They would take up less space that way.
Problem: The temperature would change on both sides of the smoker.
Solve It: You can DIY a heat deflection by installing either a cookie sheet or a sheet metal baffle. Attach the short side just above the firebox with a self-setting screw that is angled in a downward fashion or towards the other side of the cooking chamber. Rest its bottom on the firebricks.
The goal here is to push the smoke and heat downwards to reduce the temperature differential. Another option is to place the aluminum baking pan on the grill grate right next to the firebox.
When the smoker reaches its target temperature, fill it up with beer or water. This will help minimize the temperature adjacent to the firebox while also keeping your food and the smoker moist.