How to Use an Offset Smoker [Tips And Guidance

The offset smoker is one of the most popular and classic smoker appliances out there. There are different kinds of offset smokers, such as horizontal smokers, charcoal or vertical smokers, pellet grill, etc. Buying an offset smoker isn’t rocket science but how to use an offset smoker is another level of battle.

You need to learn how to use a offset smoker before anything else. It is totally different from other electric smokers where you only need to set the temperature, and you’re done. Using an offset smoker grill is challenging for the first time.

The offset smoker is made up of thick steel for fire management. The offset smoker heat management is designed in such a way that it maximizes heat control and stable temperatures. They can be heavy because of the thick steel is used for manufacturing. So it will be the critical point if you look for models with wheels.

However, if you buy an offset smoker with wheels, there is an advantage; you can move them more easily. The offset smoker comes with a charcoal smoker and smoke wood burn attached to it. By adding more coals to the charcoal smoker, it will keep the fire going for a longer time.

How an Offset Smoker Works

Just like any other electric or gas smoker, there’s a lot of things you need to know before using it for the first time. We are here to guide you properly so that you don’t mess it up.

Before going through the process, let’s know it’s working briefly. Offset smoker consists of a large chamber similar to a  metal box or oil drum. The food you want to cook will be placed in that chamber. The fire is burned in the small wooden box attached to the offset smoker. The heat and smoke are then transferred to the cooking chamber to add flavor and cook the food.

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We are here today to provide you a step-by-step guide on how to use an offset smoker. We hope after reading our article, you’ll find joy whenever you’re making smoked meat with an offset smoker. So without any further ado, let’s move towards our simple and easy tips on using the offset smoker. You’re now only some steps far from cooking delicious smoking meat. Let’s begin with the tips and guide on using an offset smoker.  

Step by Step Guide to Using an Offset Smoker 

As we discussed above, using anything for the first time seems a little tricky. Not only an offset smoker but all the other types of meat making products require the knowledge. But this one is something more when it comes to using it. But don’t let that put you down, as here is the complete step-by-step guide to assist you. 

1. Wash the Smoker

First things first, if you are using a brand new offset smoker, you need to wash the entire smoker with soapy water. It will wash away any dust, grease, or any other particle that would affect your cooking. Let the smoker dry completely. Once it is completely dry, spritz some vegetable oil inside the cooking chamber. Now let’s burn the fire. 

2. Starting the Fire

You must be wondering how to start a fire in an offset smoker. Well, not a big deal. The best way is to use charcoal to fire up your offset smoker. Once you have got the desired heat, then add the woods. But to fire up the charcoal, you will need gas.

Assuming you don’t have any gas connection to your offset smoker, use the chimney starter. Open all the vents of the offset smoker. Let the fire burn for 30 minutes with the vents open. Once your coals are lit, transfer them from the chimney smoker into the firebox.

Now it’s time to add the woods, place a couple of wood pieces in the firebox. Don’t put them directly on the top of the coals. It will blow out the coal’s heat. For instance, if we only need to heat the logs, the log size should be the diameter of a soft drink can.

When the logs are heated, you can now place them on the top of your coals. Now, wait for the fire to come up to the temperature you want.

While waiting for the fire to come up, warm up another log in the firebox. Every time you warm up the previous log, place a new one to heat it. It will save you time, as the heated logs catch fire quicker and will help you to cook fast and smoothly.

3. Setting the Temperature 

Once your firebox is ready, the next task you’ll have to do is set the temperature. Make sure you have already installed the probe setup right there where your meat will be cooking, i.e., in the cooking chamber.

You need to install two air probes. Place one of the probes near your food. For the most accurate readings, make sure to install the probes at each end of the cooking chamber. Or you can also mount them onto the grates of the cooking chamber. Now let us set the temperature.

Once you have got the desired temperature, position the vents of the firebox to about ⅓ open. And the chimney cap should be ½ open. Throughout the cook, keep checking the temperature and adjust the vents. It is because the wind can affect the temperature, so it should be checked after some intervals.

Don’t forget to check the firebox, look if logs have turned into the coals. If yes, then roll in the heated logs you had done before. And again, place another log to be heated up.

Keep making slight adjustments gradually so that the temperature will remain even throughout the cooking. 

4. Adding the Food and Adjusting the Heat

Before adding your food to the cooking chamber, do have a look at your chimney. The smoke does tell you how your meat is going to be cooked. If you see thick, black, kind of smoke coming out of your chimney, this means you have to wait a little more. It can also mean that your firebox is out of coals or woods, and you need to add more charcoals or woods.

Now let’s move towards the cooking process. 

5. Arrange your Food on the Grill Grate

Now place the food you want to smoke on the grill grate in the cooking chamber. You can also put cold meat directly. By doing this, the cold meat will absorb more smoke. Or you can place the room temperature meat also.

Now close the lid of the cooking chamber and let the meat cook. 

6. Add Briquettes to the Firebox to Maintain the Fire

You have to maintain the fire and heat in the smoke gradually. Or you can also bring it higher by adding charcoal briquettes in the firebox.

The next thing you need to do is to control the smoke. Only provide that amount of smoke which meat needs to take the flavor. Check the temperature after every 20-30 minutes to ensure that the fire is still burning.  

Remember, too much smoke will burn your meat. And the meat will remain uncooked from inside. It will be a little difficult for your first time, but you will definitely love doing it after cooking a couple of times. 

7. Increase the Heat in the Smoker, If Needed

If the temperature in the firebox is dropping and you’ve already added the briquettes coals, add a log in the firebox.

For adding a log in the firebox, open the air intake vent that is on the side of the firebox. If you notice an extreme increase in the temperature, you can open the chimney vent to let the extra smoke out of the chimney.

Don’t open it for a long time. Close it as soon as the smoker is at the right temperature. Mostly, you only need to keep the vents open for 2 to 3 minutes. So you need to keep an eye on the smoker temperature while the vents are open.

8. Reduce the Temperature in the Smoker, If Needed

If you notice that the smoker’s temperature is getting too high, you can open the cooking chamber lid for about a minute. It will drop the temperature. 

9. Smoking Flavorful Food  

It is the easiest and most delicious step. Keep checking the fire in the firebox. Add a few wood chunks if you think the fire is getting low. Place the new wood next to the fire, not directly into the fire. So it will smolder instead of burning quickly.

Remember, you have to cook the meat on the smoke, so avoid using wood chips in the firebox as they will burn off too quickly.

If you need flavorful smoking, use hardwoods, nut woods,  or fruit woods. They will give the best-flavored smoke to your food.

Also, keep in mind to never soak the woods because the liquidness in them will cool off the coals in the firebox. 

10. Rotate the Food Once an Hour 

To ensure that your meat is cooked well and evenly, you have to rotate it. After every hour, open the cooking chamber lid and rotate the food using tongs.

If you are cooking a single and large piece of meat, to smoke it evenly, you still need to rotate it. You can also open the lid and adjust the damper to cook the meat evenly. 

11. Place a Pan of Water in the Firebox

This step is necessary if you don’t want your food to dry out because of a long smoking session.

All you have to do is put a metal rack in the firebox over the coals. Take a disposable aluminum pan filled with water and set it on the metal rack in the firebox. It will make the smoke moist before it flows into the cooking chamber.

Many people use this secret for smoking meat. We have revealed it to you so that everyone remembers you like a pro. It is the simplest and easiest way of getting flavorful and moist meat.  

The latest offset smokers come with an inbuilt water pan, but if your offset smoker does not have one, it’s not an issue at all. You can add your own water pan, as we discussed above. 

12. Spray the Food to Keep it Moist 

Once the meat is cooked properly from both sides, spray the food to keep it moist. Take a clean spray bottle and fill it with apple juice or any other vegetable juice and spritz the food with it. Spray the food every 15 minutes before dishing them out to make it more flavorful and moist.

How to Use Different Types of Offset Smokers

Now that you have learned how to use offset smokers. Let’s have a look at how to use different types of offset smokers.

They all have the same working method as given above. However, there are a few changes that you should keep in mind as per the type of offset smoker you have. Each has its own benefits and uses. Given below are the different kinds of offset smokers.

1. Vertical Offset Smokers

Vertical offset smokers are also called charcoal smokers. It is the most popular kind of offset smoker. This kind of smokers needs charcoal or wood as fuel.

A vertical or charcoal smoker has three parts. The bottom part contains the heat source, which is charcoal. Above the heat source, the second part contains the water pan. The water pan lets the system work properly. It is used to regulate and store the heat of the smoker.

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It also deflects the direct heat and provides moisture that prevents the meat from drying out. And on the top layer, there is a cooking chamber.  

It does not require as much attention as the horizontal smoker. Once the coals are lit, you need to adjust the temperatures with built-in dampers. It will control the airflow. You can also add wood chips or chunks to add extra flavor to your meat. All you have to do is burn the fire, fill the water, and place the meat in the cooking chamber.

The best thing about vertical smokers is that they are small, so you can place them anywhere. They are easy to move and do not need you to be an expert in using them as in the case of horizontal smokers. Also, they won’t need much power or fuel to work. So we can say they are quick and easy to use. 

2. Box Smokers

There’s nothing as simple as a box. The box smokers are also known as block smokers, cabinet smokers, or vault smokers. These offset smokers are basically like a rectangular box having a heat source in the bottom. The cooking chamber is usually at the top, just like a vertical or charcoal smoker.

Its usage is the same as the vertical or charcoal smoker. The main difference is that box smokers use natural gas. As these are gas smokers, so they are not supposed to produce smoke. Wood chunks and chips are added to it for a smoky flavor. 

Box smokers are easy to use as compared to any other offset smoker. It is effortless to control the temperature of the gas smoker. And even much easier to change the temperature of the heat than to charcoal or horizontal smokers.

It gets heated faster than a charcoal smoker. The box smokers are known best for quickly cooking meat as it only takes 15 minutes. It also has the option to use propane gas to produce heat. In case you run out of natural gas or you are on a picnic, you can use propane gas to fuel the box smoker.

There are many good and bad box smokers available in the market. They can be differentiated by the insulation system. A bad box smoker has no insulation. They are not even appropriately fitted or have thin metal. They are also cheap.

On the other hand, good box smokers have a highly controllable environment. They do cook large amounts of barbecues and cost a little more. They are the best smokers for people doing barbecues at large scales such as catering, restaurants, competitions, etc. Also, they are easy to carry and easy to use.

3. Pellet or Grill Smokers 

Pellet smokers are a combination of an oven and a smoker. They give the actual and extra smoky flavor to the food. One of the best benefits of the pellet smoker is its multiple usages. It can be used as a grill, smoker, or even as an oven. It’s kind of all in one cooking solution.

A pellet grill smoker consists of an external storage bin known as a hopper. You have to fill the hopper with wood chunks or chips to add a wood smoky flavor. A heated metal rod is placed inside the pellet smoker, which causes the pallet to combust. With the help of the rod, it also creates heat and smoke and transfers it to the cooking chamber.

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These types of smokers contain built-in thermometers, which are used to stabilize the temperature. The built-in thermometer is also useful for creating a consistent heat.

An incredible benefit of pellet smokers is that they provide a combined flavor of both the actual wood and cooking system. Also, they don’t require much effort while cleaning. A plus point is that you don’t need to babysit the charcoals like in other offset smokers. It will work as both the smoker and grill.

Having a computer control system, they are easy to operate. You can operate it in the same way, just like an ordinary oven. They don’t need to sit there and watch if the meat is cooked or not. You can manage your other house chores while cooking delicious food in pellet smokers.

4. Electric Smokers

As the name suggests, this is a kind of smoker that does not need any fire to start it up. These smokers are the perfect free fire smoking solution. You don’t need to burn coal, move a propane cylinder with you, or clean a lot of mess.

Using an electric smoker means setting the temperature, using a BlueTooth app, setting time while you enjoy watching your favorite show. So if you are away and want your offset smoker to serve the meal when you reach home, it is possible with the electric smoker.

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These smokers use a heating element, meaning you’re free from burning coals or carrying a propane cylinder. Just like other offset smokers, it also consists of three parts. The bottom part is for heating purposes. Above the bottom part, the water pan is located in the second part. And then on the top position, there’s a cooking chamber.

The water pan here has two purposes. Firstly it moist to the food, and water vapors add a smoky flavor. Secondly, it protects the food from indirect heat, which can cause diseases. Electric smokers are easy to use and are best for people who don’t have enough knowledge to use offset smokers. Simply put your food in the smoker, set the timer, and let it do the rest of the job for you. 

5. Drum Smokers

This smoker has become so much popular because of the simplicity it provides. These smokers are easy to use, affordable in price, and also lightweight. So they can be carried anywhere. It is made up of a steel drum containing a firebox at the bottom. And a cooking rack on top of it.

The best thing about drum smokers is that the base and lids are sealed together, preventing the smoke from leaking. There is no water pan in the drum smokers, so the charcoal will do the part of the water pan. The radiant energy and heat produced by the burning of coal cook the food.

Drum smokers are best for making chicken as it doesn’t need much smoke or heat to cook properly. But it can be a little challenging for pork and briskets since it does not have a water pan, so there will be chances for food to dry out. To overcome this problem, wrap the meat in the foil having larger cuts so it won’t dry out the food. 

Using a drum smoker is very simple. You have to put the charcoal in the firebox and let them burn. When the charcoal is ready, place the food on the top of the chamber rack. Put the lid on and lock the smoker. Adjust the vents to the desired cooking temperature. It shouldn’t be too high nor too low. After that, it will do the rest of the job itself.


How should I control heat flow in offset smoker?

You can adjust or control the heat flow in the offset smoker by adjusting the air intake and exhaust vents. When you open the vents, more oxygen enters in, which results in a hotter fire. In contrast, if you want to lower down the heat flow, close the vents.

Is it safe to leave the smoker On overnight?

Most smokers don’t require refueling and can work for longer hours, so if you want them to work overnight, they can. However, it is not safe to leave the smoker unattended as real fire is burning in it. But if you want a night long barbeque party, you can do it overnight under your supervision.

Should I keep on adding wood chips while smoking?

There is no set rule for when you should add wood chips to your smoker. However, the necessary thing is to keep a count on the quality of the smoke you are getting. If it is alright, there is no need for more chips if your smoking plan is not long.

Should I soak wood chunks before smoking?

It is not necessary to soak the wood chunks before smoking. Because when it is time to smoke, wood chips will have to be dry to produce smoke. In other words, there should be no moisture in chips so that they can start making smoke.

Should I put water in my offset smoker?

Water vapors, when come in contact with the meat, they cool it down. As a result, the cooking process slows down. In slow cooking, more tissues and fats in the meat breakdown, and the meat gets tender and juicy. So if you want your meat to be moist from inside, put water into the smoker.

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