How to Use an Offset Smoker?

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Last Updated on March 4, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked, has written widely about the world of barbecue and grilling.

cooking with an offset smoker

An offset smoker infuses your meat and vegetables with a delicious smoky flavor that you just can’t get using other grill types. Offset smokers are also incredibly fun to use, requiring an appreciation of how to control airflow and the skill to react to temperature changes within the cooking chamber.

The name comes from the firebox’s position in relation to the primary cooking chamber, and they use an indirect cooking style that can slow cook meat to succulent perfection. 

If you’re ready to raise your grilling game to the next level, an offset smoker is an ideal choice.

1. How an Offset Smoker Works

Traeger Ironwood at the backyard

Before using an offset smoker, it’s vital to understand how it works. Most models have a large cooking chamber, and the firebox sits slightly to the side and just below, allowing smoke to rise to enter the cooking area. There are built-in vents for controlling the amount of oxygen that reaches the flames, with more oxygen meaning a hotter and faster burning fire. 

There is also a chimney extruding from the cooking chamber, which you can open and close, depending on how much smoke you want to use when cooking your food. Opening the chimney allows more smoke to escape into the air, producing a light smoky taste.


2. Using an Offset Smoker

heavy duty grilling using Traeger Ironwood 650

Using an offset smoker requires a level of expertise that other grills don’t demand. Besides being an immensely rewarding cooking experience, you can amaze your friends and family with an expert grilling display using an offset smoker.

Lighting the Fire

The best way to light an offset cooker is by using charcoal. This fuel source lights quickly and also provides that sought-after smoky flavor throughout your meat and vegetables. 

Use a chimney starter, which comes with predrilled holes and vents for near-instant lighting, and then tip the glowing coals into the offset smoker’s firebox for the fastest results. Try to place the lit charcoal at the back of the firebox, so when you stoke the fire, you are not reaching over the burning coals.

When the fire is burning, it’s time to add wood to maximize the smoky flavor. You can choose from a range of woods, experimenting with oak, apple, cherry, and others. Many tastes combine well with certain meats, so you can find the ideal wood to go with steak, chicken, or turkey. 

For the first 10 minutes, place the wood beside the hot charcoal, allowing it to dry out and heat. When the wood is sufficiently dry, you can set the pieces on top of the charcoal.

It’s a good idea to put another piece of wood beside the charcoal each time you move a separate log onto the coals. This means you always have a warm and dry log to place on the coals when one has burned through.

Set the Temperature

Your offset smoker has an airflow vent, otherwise known as a damper, which you open and close to control the amount of air that reaches the charcoal and wood. Flames need oxygen to burn, and opening the damper allows more oxygen into the firebox, which is ideal when raising the temperature.

Your offset smoker may have an integrated thermometer, or if your model doesn’t have one, you should invest in a separate temperature gauge. Watch the heat level rise, and when you reach your desired level, partially close the damper to maintain a steady temperature.

Usually, it’s best to leave the damper open by ⅓ or sometimes ½, to allow some oxygen to fan the flames. You need to monitor the temperature throughout cooking and open and close the damper accordingly to ensure the temperature remains steady.

Smoke and Fire Management

An offset smoker requires constant tending, and you need to control the amount and type of smoke to obtain the best results. Open the chimney stack, and you can view the smoke produced by the fire, which can tell you a lot about your firebox’s readiness. 

If you see thick, black smoke, your fire is still in the early stages of burning, and you should wait before putting meat on the cooking grates. Dark smoke could also mean that you need to add more charcoal or wood to the firebox, so you should keep a fuel source nearby. 

When the smoke becomes less dense, this indicates you are ready to cook on the grill. However, you need to control the amount of smoke while you cook, as it can change if you add more fuel, run low on wood or charcoal, or even if the weather changes. Sudden gusts of wind could add too much oxygen into the firebox resulting in a rapid increase in heat and smoke.

Use the damper and chimney stack to manage the fire and smoke levels, and this is a skill that becomes easier with experience and practice. The amount of smoke you require depends on how much flavor you want to infuse into your food, and this may change depending on how thick the cut is and the texture of the meat.

Rotate the Meat

The temperature in an offset cooking chamber can vary dramatically from one end of the box to the other. It’s essential to monitor your meat and rotate it regularly to ensure it cooks thoroughly and that there are no hot or cold spots. 

It’s a good idea to use a temperature gauge to check the heat level in various sections of the cooking chamber, and a meat probe is excellent for ensuring the food is ready for serving. If you use the entire cooking surface area, remember that some foods could be cooking quicker than others, so you need to check each piece of meat individually.


jim bob

Author: Jim Bob

The Takeaway

Cooking on an offset smoker is an enjoyable experience that is different each time you grill. You can experiment with various fuel sources for different tastes, and the weather plays a significant part in how the flames and smoke react. While it can take practice to know how to use an offset smoker and expand your skill in cooking, it is well worth the time and effort.