Indirect smokers rule the land of barbecue. Since slow and low is the name of the game, providing a constant stream of low, steady heat to an insulated cooking environment delivers incredible results.
Offset smokers achieve this effect by placing a fire box next to a lidded cooking area. When you light charcoal or wood in the wood box, smoke and heat travel into the smoker and cook your food to perfection.
This is how things work in theory. In practice, offset smokers are pretty tricky. Not only do these devices require a lot of skill and practice to use, the machines themselves aren’t always the best. Many low-cost and mid-range offset smokers suffer from critical design flaws that render them nearly unusable.
So which ones can you trust? Should you get a home offset smoker at all?
We’ll go over some of the best options on the market as far as both vertical and horizontal offset smokers go and compare them with other barbecue tools. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which offset smoker you should choose for your backyard.
Charcoal and Wood Smokers – Keeping Things Simple
* Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker
The Dyna-Glo DG01176BDC-D offset smoker is one of the most affordable high-quality smokers on the market. It’s one of the few inexpensive smokers that can maintain even low temperatures throughout the entire heating area.
Before we dive too far into why this vertical offset smoker is so much better than its competitors, let’s talk about the basics. This unit has an offset box that can produce up to 15,000 BTU when managed properly that comes equipped with an electric ignition system.
It’s got a separate cooking space with 1176 square inches of grates for you to use. You can also hang meats vertically, giving you more control in how certain foods cook. Each grate can hold 25 lbs of barbecue goodness.
Like other manual smokers, you control the temperature inside this Dyna-Glo by manipulating fuel and air. There’s a chimney on top of the unit that allows for subtle adjustments, while adjustable vents in the charcoal chamber give you coarse control. Finally, changing how many coals (or how much wood) you have in the chamber can raise or lower the heat as well.
While there’s a thermometer on the front of this smoker, you’ll probably want to supplement it with a specialty grill thermometer, ideally a wireless unit with a remote. The one in the door isn’t the most accurate thing in the world and won’t tell you how hot the inside of your brisket is.
So why is this Dyna-Glo sw much better than other offset smokers?
For one, it’s a vertical model. This is an important feature when it comes to heat management. Heat rises. This means that heat naturally flows from the bottom of this unit (near the offset box) to the top.
That’s pretty much what you want the heat to do: you want it to evenly distribute itself across all of your food. By contrast, in a horizontal smoker, the heat is more interested in going up than it is in going left (or right) to warm up the other end of your brisket.
The second big advantage has to do with insulation. While most smokers are made out of metal, they’re not all the same thickness. This Dyna-Glo smoker has plenty of material to help keep the heat in and the cold out. It’s well engineered, with an acceptably small amount of heat leakage in places that make sense.
Many users take things a step further and use various materials to make even tighter seals between the components of this smoker, turning it into an incredibly efficient tool that outperforms much, much more expensive smokers. Popular modifications involve aftermarket gaskets on the doors and silicon sealant for any gaps between two pieces of metal.
The third advantage comes from the cost of this Dyna-Glo. It’s cheap. Even if you do need to get your own thermometer, a couple of door gaskets, and a tube of silicon sealant to make it perfect, that whole package will set you back less than the cost of a smoker from some other brands.
A lot less, actually.
Dyna-Glo has done an incredible job keeping the cost of this basic upright smoker down, making it a great buy for anyone who needs a smoker for their backyard.
While it’s a bit more expensive than some barrel smokers, the Dyna-Glo vertical offset smoker is easier to control and load. This makes it a perfect budget option for any household that’s starting to get into barbecue.
The Dyna-Glo gives you a hands-on barbecue experience, letting you make perfect ribs, brisket, and more. With a bit of aftermarket insulation work, it’ll even cook terrific meals in freezing weather.
* Char-Broil Offset Smoker
Made by Char-Broil, this Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse Flow Smoker isn’t as simple or elegant as the Dyna-Glo. It’s a sturdy horizontal offset smoker that comes with a set of removable baffles to guide heat along the length of the cooking chamber. While this doesn’t solve the heating problem completely, it’s still a great step in the right direction that makes this offset smoker a great budget option.
How big of an improvement is this?
Huge. While standard Char-Broil offset smokers have a hot spot near the smoke box and a cool spot on the other side, the Highland tends to have a fairly even internal temperature during proper operation. More importantly, the baffles ensure that heat spreads out before it comes into contact with your food.
Barbecued foods don’t like it when things get too hot. Without the baffles, food that’s too close to your smokebox might get dry and overcooked, even if the overall temperature inside your smoker is more or less correct.
A number of other features help distinguish the Highland from other budget offset smokers. These include high-quality handles, wheels, and shelves, noticeably high-quality construction, and side-mounted vents that help keep temperatures in your cooking chamber fairly even.
It’s definitely one of the better offset smokers in its price range.
As far as size goes, the Highland offers 619 square inches in the main cooking chamber and 281 square inches of cooking space in the firebox. It’s got a couple of built-in shelves that allow you to store plates, tools, and sauces while you cook. The cooking chamber and firebox open separately, while a third door gives you access to the ash chamber for easier cleaning.
I mentioned that baffles help control the flow of heat through this smoker, but there’s one more level of heat control that you have access to with this Oklahoma Joe. The chimney on this smoker can be moved, enabling you to entice air past all of your baffles into a U shape.
This is what earns it the “reverse flow” moniker. You can also put the chimney in a more traditional spot opposite the firebox, giving you a more traditional flow of air.
Like the Dyna-Glo above, the OK Joe Highland really shines when you put a bit of aftermarket care into the product. Users recommend lid seals, sealant around the fireplace, and even latches to help keep the doors closed while you smoke.
A wireless remote grill thermometer remains a necessity.
These additions help ensure that this smoker keeps heat where you want it: inside the cooking chamber. A little bit of sealant will go a long way towards giving you a reliable even temperature throughout your smoker.
Also like the Dyna-Glo, assembling this product will take an hour or two. It’s best to have a friend or family member handy. Don’t be afraid to consult YouTube for videos of other customers putting their grills together. Unless you’ve got lots of experience assembling other smokers, you’ll probably save yourself a bit of headache.
The Highalnd is a small, affordable offset smoker that’s perfect for casual backyard barbecue. Armed with a bit of charcoal, you can utilize the network of baffles and air vents to control the flow of heat and air through the cooking chamber.
With a bit of practice, you can even make competition-quality brisket, ribs, and more. Is it the best smoker on the market? No. It is, however, one of the best budget options, especially if you know you want a horizontal offset smoker.
* Broil King 958050 Offset Smoker
If you’re after a heavy-duty offset smoker, the Broil King 958050 is one of the best options around. It’s a classic example of getting what you pay for. While the Broil King is much more expensive than the two offset smokers above it, it’s sturdier, retains heat better, and has a number of incredible ease of use features that make smoking food on it a breeze.
That said, it won’t make food that’s leaps and bounds better than the stuff you smoke on the units above. Don’t get this smoker expecting to experience a revolution. Instead, purchase it with the expectation that you’ll get a quality product that will last a long time.
One immediate difference between this Broil King and cheaper offset smokers is the thickness of the metal walls. The cooking chamber is double walled, giving your food an extra barrier to trap in heat. The doors swing open with ease and give you plenty of options to adjust things while you cook without letting in more cold than necessary.
While this design is great for keeping your food hot, it’s even better for keeping it warm.
Maintaining 225 on the smokers above can be a massive chore. The additional insulating material and careful heat control built into this smoker makes the task of maintaining a low temperature much easier. It still takes some experience and finesse, but it’s a lot more do-able.
Inside this smoker, air can be controlled through a series of adjustable vents. A chimney at one end provides a predictable point of exhaust, while Broil King’s “roto-draft” dampers ensure that hot smoke performs a circuit of the whole cooking chamber.
This particular smoker has 625 square inches of cooking surface. The interior has slots for water trays and food racks, enabling you to set up your smoker the way you want to. Perhaps most importantly, a removable ash tray makes cleanup incredibly easy when you’re done.
If you’d like a hands-on barbecue experience, the Broil King 958050 is a great option.
While it’s expensive, the higher quality construction and engineering gives you more control over your food’s temperature. If you don’t want to fiddle with adding gaskets and sealant to a cheaper smoker, this is probably the charcoal offset smoker for you.
How Pellet Smokers Compare – Electric Smoking Options
The offset smokers above are affordable and effective. They provide you with a framework that you can use to control a charcoal or wood fire. The resulting food is totally up to you. You’ll need to light your fuel, add more as it burns down, and manage the flow of air to the fire to get your smoker to the right temperature.
For some people, this process is a bit much. Barbecue involves some pretty long cooking times, especially when you’re smoking big briskets extra slowly so you get more of a smoky flavor. This means that you’ll have to keep a close eye on your smoker for many hours if you want to get the best possible barbecue.
Pellet smokers are a simple solution to this problem.
Rather than using a charcoal fire, pellet smokers burn special pellets of choice hardwoods that impart your food with complex smoky flavors. These pellets sit in a hopper on the side of your smoker until they’re needed.
Then, an electrically controlled auger feeds them into a firebox. Special circuit boards manage the entire process automatically, letting just enough fuel and air into the fire to get the smoker to the exact temperature you’ve dialed in.
You can’t quite think of a pellet smoker as an electric offset smoker.Offset smokers tend to use charcoal or wood as fuel. Pellet smokers don’t necessarily have their fireboxes located in the same place that you’d find the firebox of an offset smoker.
They’re much more expensive, they require special fuel, and they have complicated electronic parts that can break. A charcoal offset smoker, by contrast, is pretty much solid metal with some sealant. It’s quite rugged.
* Camp Chef Woodwind SG 24 Pellet Grill
Pellet smokers offer a much less personal cooking experience. Nevertheless, they’re quite convenient, giving you the ability to cook perfect brisket by the numbers. If you’d rather have a machine that you can set and forget, this Camp Chef Woodwind is an excellent option. It’s a modern, fairly priced pellet smoker with plenty of cooking space for most households.
The temperature controller outperforms many competing models, especially when you take advantage of the two built-in meat probes. An included “sear box” lets it double as a high-temperature grill for finishing off steaks, burgers, and more. It’s a brilliant pellet smoker that you’ll love having in your backyard.
Non-Offset Electric Smokers
* Masterbuilt 20071117 30″ Digital Electric Smoker
Offset smokers need an offset firebox in order to be worthy of the name. Since electric smokers don’t actually make a flame, there’s no reason to have an offset box. Electric smokers instead use electric heating elements to heat up wood chips in an insulated chamber with your food.
They’re essentially special electric ovens with a number of design features that help with this particular task. Internal temperature controls, special barbecue racks, and trays for keeping your wood chips help make these machines worth your while.
While electric smokers can make some delicious food, you’ll probably notice a difference between something smoked in one of these and something smoked with charcoal or wood pellets. That’s because an electric smoker doesn’t burn anything. The facsimile of fire created by heating wood chips doesn’t add quite the same sort of smoky flavor to your food.
Again, the food that comes out of an electric smoker (like this Masterbuilt) is still incredible. Electric heating elements are very easy to control electronically, giving these units incredible temperature control. They’re safer, too, with no fire. This particular unit is quite sturdy and has a reputation for lasting for decades in the homes of avid barbecue fans.
Like pellet smokers, electric smokers are essentially set-and-forget options.
You stick in your food and wood chips, set the thermostat, and come back when the timer goes off. A digital remote thermometer is again helpful, enabling you to double check the reading on the smoker’s thermostat, but it’s less necessary.
This Masterbuilt is affordable, big, and fully featured. It supports temperatures of up to 275, has a gigantic water tray for extra-long smoking sessions, and has a very accurate internal thermostat. Coupled with its legendary durability, these factors make it a great choice for someone who wants an easy smoker that doesn’t take special fuel.
The Best Offset Smokers – Backyard Barbecue Beasts
Whether you’re trying to practice your competition barbecue, you want a more hands-on cooking experience, or you simply love brisket, an offset smoker gives you a great opportunity to cook some incredibly delicious meals.
Wood, charcoal, electric, and gas offset smokers are all designed to cook your food slowly at low temperatures, giving complex smoky flavors lots of time to permeate your meat, vegetables, fish, or even cheese.
In general, less expensive offset smokers tend to be poor buys because of simple physics.
Heat’s tendency to rise works against the cheap, thin walls of a budget smoker. Since the firebox is on the side of the device, one side (the side near the firebox) will get really hot, while the other side stays cool. All the heat will simply escape from the top of the smoker before it can reach the other side of the cooking chamber.
That said, there are a handful of cheaper offset smokers that counteract this problem to an acceptable degree. The Dyna-Glo above is an excellent example of a vertical offset smoker. By arranging your food vertically, the heat will naturally flow in the direction that you want it to go.
The Char-Broil Oklahoma Joe Highland instead uses a series of metal plates to control the flow of air and coax heat in the right direction. It’s more expensive and requires a bit more set up, but it’s a surprisingly effective solution to the heat problem.
If you don’t mind spending more money, the Broil King above offers better engineering, thicker metal, and more ease-of-use features. Its fully adjustable interior and double-walled cooking chamber make it easier to use than the options above.
You’ll be less tempted to add your own gaskets and sealant, too.
Finally, if managing a smoker by hand seems like a lot of work, consider an electric smoker or a pellet grill. Both of these options use thermostats to control the internal temperature of the cooking chamber to a few degrees.
Electric smokers simply heat up wood chips with electric heating elements to release complex flavors while cooking your food. Pellet grills, by contrast, burn a special kind of hardwood fuel. Since this fuel takes the form of small pellets, an electric auger can control the rate of fuel to the fire and control the temperature of your grill.
No matter which of these options you choose, remember to take things slow and give your food the time it needs to smoke properly. One of the biggest mistakes that beginner chefs make is checking their food too much.
Leave the lid closed and use a remote meat thermometer to monitor the temperature of your food. Your patience will be rewarded with moist, flavorful barbecue that will earn you the respect of your friends, family, and dinner guests.