With their multiple compartments, cooking with an offset smoker can be intimidating for beginners. Even if you have experience smoking food in a traditional smoker or grill, you may not know how to use an offset smoker. This shouldn’t prevent you from trying it, however. In just a few easy steps, you can smoke delicious meats and veggies in an offset smoker, regardless of whether you’ve used one before.

What Is an Offset Smoker? Get the Facts

An offset smoker is a special type of smoker that’s characterized by two or more individual compartments. Traditional smokers and grills have a single compartment in which the fuel source and food is placed. Offset smokers, on the other have, have two or more compartments, allowing you to separate your food from the heat source.

In an offset smoker, there’s usually a large compartment in the center and at least one other, smaller compartment on the side. It’s called an “offset smoker” because the side compartment offsets the main compartment. Also known as a firebox, the side compartment of an offset smoker is used to store charcoal and/or wood, which acts as the fuel source, whereas the main compartment of contains the grate on which you place your food to smoke it.

Benefits of Using an Offset Smoker

While you can smoke delicious meats and veggies using any smoker or grill, an offset smoker allows you to cook food at a lower temperature. With the fuel source placed in a separate compartment, your food will cook more slowly. Regardless of what exactly you are cooking, it will be exposed to less heat, allowing you to smoke it for longer. Why does this matter? Well, the amount of time to which your food is exposed to smoke will affect its flavor. The longer you smoke food, the more flavorful it will be.

Preparing the Firebox

To get started with an offset smoker, you must fire prepare the firebox with your desired fuel source. You can use either cooking wood — wood logs, smoking chunks or smoking chips — or a combination of cooking wood and charcoal. With that said, most home chefs prefer the latter, as combining charcoal with cooking wood offers the best of both worlds. It produces consistent, stable heat while releasing thick plums of flavorful smoke in the process.

To use charcoal and cooking wood in an offset smoker, start by adding the charcoal to the firebox, at which point you can light it with a match or fire starter. After waiting about 20 to 30 minutes, the charcoal should be nice and hot.

Add Cooking Wood to the Firebox

Now that your charcoal is nice and hot, you can add your cooking wood to the firebox. Just place your desired cooking wood logs, smoking chunks or smoking chips directly over the burning charcoal. If there’s enough space in the firebox, you can place your cooking wood next to the charcoal instead so that it will burn more slowly. This isn’t necessary, however, and it’s perfectly fine to place your cooking wood directly over your charcoal.

Place Food Inside Main Compartment

After placing your cooking wood over the charcoal, you can now add your food to the offset smoker’s main compartment. Inside the main compartment is a grate similar to those found in grills. Just place your meats or veggies on this grate and then close the lid. As the charcoal burns inside the firebox, it will heat up the cooking wood, thereby releasing smoke. Both the heat and smoke will travel from the firebox to the main compartment of your offset smoker to cook your food more slowly and at a lower temperature.

Regulate Temperature Using Air Vents

When smoking food in an offset smoker, you’ll need to regulate the temperature using the smoker’s air vents. Most offset smokers feature several air vents, which can you can open or close to control airflow through the smoker. If you discover your charcoal is dying out and isn’t producing enough heat to cook your food, try opening the air vents. You don’t have to open all the air vents, nor do you have to open them completely. If you only need to increase the heat of your offset smoker by 20 or 30 degrees, try opening a single air vent partially. Just a small opening in the air vent will pull fresh oxygen into your firebox to create a bigger and brighter flame.

If you need to lower the temperature of your offset smoker, close the air vents. By restricting your charcoal and cooking wood of fresh oxygen, it will burn at a lower temperature.

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