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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
Two of the most effective smoker types are a reverse flow smoker and a horizontal offset smoker. A reverse-flow smoker uses baffle plates to redirect the heat back towards the firebox, providing even heat for perfect grilling conditions.
In an offset smoker, you get a cleaner burn and lots of airflow. It is harder to maintain the temperature control in an offset, which some find challenging and others annoying.
Whether you appreciate the skill it takes to use an offset smoker or want a set-it-and-forget-it type of device is up to you. Either choice will result in tasty smoked offerings.
What is Offset Smoking?
There are two types of offset smokers – traditional and Texas-style. With Texas-style smokers, the firebox is open, setting it apart from the conventional model, which has tuning plates and a closed firebox.
The traditional offset style is much more common and easily compared to the reverse-flow smoker. In a standard offset smoker, also called a horizontal offset smoker, the firebox and cooking chamber are two different entities. Heat travels through the cooking chamber and exits out the other end.
A firebox is attached to one end of the cooking chamber, which is usually a large drum shape, and then an exhaust pipe draws up from the opposite end to let out the smoke and heat. You should look for an offset grill made of steel so that it retains the heat well. This also makes these smokers very heavy.
A benefit of traditional offset smoking is that this type of cooking method cuts down costs and energy while also allowing you to hang, skewer, and otherwise arrange a lot of meat in the cooking chamber. Unfortunately, offset smoking only allows for one direction of heat flow, and hot or cool spots often appear, cooking your meat unevenly.
Other types of offset grills come with tuning plates (also known as convection or baffle plates), which redirect the chamber’s heat flow to one end and then back to the other end. This is called reverse flow cooking, as the plates reverse the heat back through the chamber.
More information about the best offset smoker products on our offset smoker reviews.
What is Reverse Flow Smoking?
Reverse flow smoking uses steel plates set inside the cooking chamber, parallel to the cooking surface, to divert the heat flow from one end to the other. With these types of smokers, you can stock the firebox and then forget about it once you have a fire burning.
All reverse flow smokers are offset smokers (because the firebox is offset), but not all offset smokers have reverse-flow capabilities. If they don’t have tuning or baffle plates, the heat only flows one way.
The baffle plate sits below the cooking surface and collects grease as the meat smokes above it, dripping down. This grease heats up and steams the meat, adding moisture and flavor to your meals.
The cooking experience is different between a reverse flow smoker vs. offset, as the reverse-flow is easier to use, but an offset smoker lets you tweak the smoking process in a more focused manner.
Which is a Better Method of Smoking?
Although reverse flow provides a more consistent cooking temperature, the offset smoker offers an excellent airflow for a clean burn. Some pitmasters enjoy the hot zones and slightly cooler zones this type of smoking creates as you can vary what you’re smoking where.
1. Temperature Control
It’s relatively easy to set the temperature in a reverse flow smoker, whereas you need to be more vigilant in an offset. After stocking and lighting the firebox, you can adjust the temp in a reverse flow by opening and closing the intake and outtake valves, but for the most part, these types of smokers are a set-it-and-forget-it type of devices.
Offset smokers, or horizontal offset smokers, need more attention than a reverse flow smoker. You may need to reduce or resize your fire halfway through the process, and the smokestack dampers are crucial to heat and smoke distribution.
When you’re using a smoker, a hot bed of charcoals provides heat, and the wood that you lay on top adds the flavor. For a reverse-flow smoker, you get the coals going and then lay the wood on top for a lively fire that you don’t have to check too often.
Without a baffle plate, you need to be more fussy with an offset smoker. The fire may take a while to start, and you have to tend it very consistently to make sure that it’s emitting the right amount of heat.
A reverse flow smoker’s rigid baffle plate sits below the grill grate, making it difficult to get all the grease and meat scrapings off this surface. You may need to use a scraper and a lot of elbow grease to get a reverse-flow smoker spic-and-span.
When considering reverse flow smokers vs. offset smokers, offset horizontal smokers are much easier to clean after a smoking session. Its barrel shape and lack of baffle plates make this type of smoke a cinch when it comes to clean-up.
4. Temperatures Zones
Since these two types of smokers are differently built, they have unique distributions of smoke and heat in their chambers. The choice between them depends on the expectations of the pitmaster.
The strongest asset of a reverse flow smoker is keeping the temperature consistent in the cooking chamber. Heat flows through the cooking chamber and radiates from the baffle plate, creating constant heat throughout the area and cooking your meat at an even-handed rate.
In an offset smoker, there are both hot and cool zones, creating a patchwork temperature effect. Some pitmasters love this as it takes more skill to smoke and grill in this environment, but it also gives you some variety. If you have thicker cuts, for instance, you can put them in the hotter zones. Smaller, more delicate meats can be smoked in the offset smoker’s cooler zones.
5. Cooking Styles
An important distinction to note is that, in a reverse-flow smoker, the items cook from the bottom to the top due to the low heat emanating from the baffle plate. With a horizontal offset smoker, however, the meat is smoked from the top down. Heat rises, and without induction plates in place, the area at the top of the smoker is the hottest.