Many believe offset smokers to be the purest form of meat smoking and produce the best tasting meat. However, stickburners aren’t recommended for beginners because of the level of difficulty and the time and attention they demand. You don’t just buy a stickburner; you work your way up to one! If you’re thinking about working towards an offset, then this guide help you along the path.
An offset smoker is a meat smoker that uses logs of wood as the primary fuel source, rather than charcoal. Offset smokers, also known as stickburners, have a firebox “offset” to the side, separate from the cooking chamber. This design allows the meat to cook indirectly. The smoke produced from stickburners is a clean smoke and from wood alone, which is why offset smokers produce the best tasting smoked meat. Offset smokers are large pits, are difficult to manage and can be very expensive.
What Are Offset Smokers?
- Offset smokers have two chambers. One chamber is for the meat and the other chamber is for the fire.
- Logs are the primary source of fuel and smoke.
- Offset smokers are difficult to control temperature fluctuations.
- Offset smokers offer the best form of indirect cooking.
- There’s a big difference between cheap offset smokers and expensive offset smokers.
- Real offset smokers are very expensive. Especially the shipping costs.
- Cheap offset smokers are a waste of time and money.
Are Offset Smokers Better?
Regular charcoal cookers can produce bad tasting smoke because grease and meat juices drip down onto the fire. This isn’t always a bad thing, but over-exposure to “dirty smoke” can affect the smoked flavor. The smoke produced from stickburners is a clean smoke and from wood alone, which is why offset smokers produce the best tasting smoked meat.
Offset Smoker Design
The 2-zone setup is often talked about in barbecue and is one of the most important concepts to understand. Meat will turn out tough and chewy if exposed to high heat for a long period. The beauty of an offset smoker is designed purely for the indirect cooking method. When meat is cooked in the indirect zone. It can retain its moisture, resulting in tender, juicy meat. Also, tougher cuts of meat such as brisket or chuck can render the fat and gristle over hours of indirect heat. The indirect zone is also good for cooking meat with sugary rubs or marinade. If sugar is exposed to high heat, it burns and turns the meat black and bitter.
Are Offset Smokers Hard To Use?
An offset isn’t a “set-and-forget” smoker. If you get a lot of satisfaction from the meat smoking process, then you’ll love smoking meat on stickburners. For some people, spending the day tending the fire, mopping meat and managing temps is a wonderful way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon relaxing in your backyard. However, offset smokers aren’t for beginners. Here’s why:
1. Hard Work – Beginners should use a ‘set-and-forget’ smoker until they grasp the basics. Stickburners require more work than other smokers. When you are new to smoking meat, there’s too many other things to worry about.
2. Hard To Control – It’s more difficult to control temperature on an offset smoker. Wood is unpredictable in the way it burns and can cause huge temperature fluctuations.
3. Expensive – A decent offset smoker will set you back at least $1500-$2000 if you include shipping. There are many cheap imitation stickburners that look like offsets, but perform nothing like a genuine stickburner.
Offset Smoker Firebox
The major difference between an offset smoker and a charcoal smoker is the firebox. With an offset, you feed logs into the fire inside the firebox, separate from the cook chamber. So because the fire is ‘offset’, this design allows for indirect cooking.
Most types of charcoal grills have some kind of fire basket that holds the coals and wood. This charcoal basket normally sits at the bottom of the smoker. Charcoal smokers can produce a dirty smoke because the meat juices and fat drip down onto the fire. Although this can add a nice flavour, too much of this smoke isn’t ideal, especially if you are smoking an all day brisket.
Stickburners can produce a cleaner smoke because the firebox is attached separately to the cook chamber and doesn’t have grease dripping onto it. The smoke produced from the firebox is purely from wood.
How to Use Offset Smokers
“Know your smoker” is the first rule of meat smoking. Try cooking inexpensive cuts of meat such as whole chickens or do a dry run. Keep a journal and note how much wood you used, the time of day, the weather, etc. These variables will affect the temperature of your smoker. The metal of the cook chamber will freeze cold on a winter’s morning but hot on a summer afternoon. Both these scenarios will require different amounts of wood to bring the cook chamber up to the target temperature.
How to Light an Offset Smoker
The first stage is to get the smoker up to target temperature. This is done by lighting a good fire in the firebox.
1. Direct smoker so wind is blowing into the firebox
2. Lay three logs in the firebox.
3. Loosely place small pieces of dry wooden top and around the logs. Without packing too tightly.
4. Use a firefighter, kindling or newspaper to ignite the fire. Eventually the wood will turn to coals, which will be the foundation of your fire.
5. To eliminate bad smoke, open the cook chamber, all doors and vents as the wood is igniting.
6. After 30 minutes, once black smoke has cleared, close the cook chamber and doors. Adjust vents until you reach target temperature.
7. Adjust the vents on the firebox until the wood is blowing.
8. Raise the temperature of the cook chamber to 275°F.
9. Add the meat once target temperature is reached and you have a nice, clean smoke.
10. Maintain a stable temperature by adjusting the vents. Add a log every hour or whenever the temperature drops.
11. If you want to bring the smoker up to temperature faster, using charcoal to make a hot bed of coals will speed up the process.
Using Charcoal on an Offset Smoker
Follow the steps above but ignite the fire:
1. Fill a chimney with charcoal and light.
2. Once the coals are fully lit, dump the coals in the firebox.
3. Lay two or three splits of dry wood on top of the bed of coals.
4. Open all vents and doors and cooking chamber while wood ignites. Allow the black smoke to clear before adding meat.
5. Once white smoke appears (about 30 minutes), close all doors including cook chamber and begin adjusting vents and work towards raising the temperature to 275°F.
6. Add the meat once cook chamber is 275°F.
How To Get Thin Blue Smoke On An Offset Smoker
When the wood is burning clean, it should produce a thin, blue smoke. Never put meat in the smoker if the smoke is black or grey. To maintain the fire, continue to add wood to the firebox. There will be temperature spikes after each piece of wood is added, depending on the size, shape and speed the wood burns. Meat will absorb the smoke only for the first few hours, which is why the better quality of the wood should be used during the two- or three-hour window. Wood matters less on the back end of the cook. The second half of the cook, the meat is usually wrapped in foil and is more about maintaining a stable temperature.
Always Do This
- If the fire is burning too hot and the temperature of your smoker is soaring, remove some wood from the fire.
- Add a water pan to keep the meat from drying out and remain nice and moist.
- Use your own thermometer. I wouldn’t trust the built-in thermometers for an accurate reading. Use a digital, duel probe thermometer that allows you to monitor the temperature of the cook chamber and another probe to measure the meat temp.
Avoid These Things
- Never put the fire out to start again because the meat will be exposed to a lot of bad smoke during the initial phases of starting a fire.
- Avoid grease dripping onto the bottom of your smoker. Always use a drip tray and clean your smoker regularly. Grease buildup can start fires and create bad smoke that will taint the meat. Buy a smoker with a grease trap.
What Wood Do You Use in an Offset Smoker?
Wood is available in pellets, chunks, sawdust, logs, and woodchips. Pellet grills use pellets, electric smokers use wood chips. Charcoal smokers use lump charcoal or briquettes as the fuel source and wood chunks for smoke flavour. Offset smokers use wood logs as the primary source of smoke for flavor and fuel for the fire.
How to Add Wood To An Offset Smoker
Smoking with logs isn’t as simple as throwing logs on the fire. Working with logs takes some practice. Logs produce bad smoke when they burn at lower temperatures, which is why stickburners should maintain temps above 275 – 300°F for a nice, clean smoke.
Charcoal fires are predictable and relatively easy to control. Logs on the other hand are difficult to control and cause temperature fluctuations. Therefore, it is crucial to get to know your smoker before you launch into a brisket. Learning how to control the temp on your stickburner is the first rule of meat smoking.
This isn’t essential, but some people burn their logs the day before the cook and then use the wood embers as the foundation of their fire.
Best Wood For Offset Smoker?
The best wood for smoking meat is the hardwood variety and wood from fruit or nut trees. Hickory and mesquite produce a strong smokey flavour and should be used with caution. Mesquite has a very strong flavour and can overpower your meat. Wood varieties like oak, maple or pecan are safe choices, while fruit woods such as apple or cherry provide milder smoke. It’s not uncommon to mix and match woods either.
Dry Wood Only
Make sure to always use dry wood because wet wood produces bad smoke. Damp wood will also cool the fire and mess with your temperatures.
Remove the Bark
Bark has a distinct smoke flavour, which is why some people like to remove it before throwing a log into the fire. Bark isn’t harmful, but try to remove as much of it as you can.
Where To Buy Wood For an Offset Smoker?
The best place to buy wood splits for your stick burner is from the hardware store or barbecue shop. You also might eat to check out places where firewood is sold, but just make sure the wood you are getting is what they advertised. If they advertised it as oak, make sure it’s oak.
Find Your Own Wood
You can source your own wood as long as it’s suitable for smoking meat. You never want to use wood that has been sprayed with chemicals, is mouldy or full of mildew. Mould is dangerous because it contains toxins. You also want to make sure the wood has been dried undercover for at least a year. Otherwise, the wood can be dried in a kiln.
Don’t Use These Woods
Never use wood from old furniture or scrap wood from lumber yards. These woods could contain paint or chemicals which can not only ruin your meat but be harmful. Also, avoid the following woods: pine, redwood, cypress, eucalyptus, fir or spruce.
When To Add Meat To An Offset Smoker?
You never want to add meat until there is a clean smoke, or you risk ruining your food. Your fire will put out a billowing white smoke while the fire is infighting. Too much of this type of smoke is not good for your meat.
Don’t add your meat to the grill until you have a nice, almost clear smoke. The perfect smoke that pitmasters pride themselves on is the clear blue-tinged smoke. This is the smoke you want if you are cooking a brisket or ribs.
Cheap Offset Smokers
Cheap offset smokers aren’t worth the money or trouble. A shiny, new stick burner for a few hundred bucks may look tempting, but they don’t work like an offset. They may look like a stick burner, but they don’t come close in performance. There are cheap imitations available, but they are made of thin metal and are a waste of money. The major problem with cheap offsets is they don’t maintain a consistent temperature, which makes them useless. Cheap offsets smokers leak an awful amount of smoke and heat from the firebox.
If you want to upgrade to a stick burner, it will set you back a lot of money. One of the better stickburners will have thick metal and tight seals, so they won’t leak heat.
Quality Offset Smokers
The difference between a cheap smoker and a quality smoker is the steel. If a smoker has thick, high-quality steel, then it will keep the heat better. Cheap offset smokers are made with thin metal, which makes it easy for heat to escape. Quality offset smokers retain heat because they’re constructed from solid metal and are well sealed. Importantly stickburners provide an even heat across the cook chamber which allows the meat to cook evenly.
Why Are Offset Smokers So Expensive?
For a quality offset smoker, you are looking to pay anywhere from $700 up to 10k for a good stick burner. Some of the expensive stickburners are attached to trailers. These models are used by catering businesses or competition smokers who travel around the country.
Stickburners are all different, but the basic principles are the same. All will have a firebox and a grate at the bottom of the firebox. The wood sits on the grate a few inches from the bottom. This is an important feature because it allows airflow to circulate and ash can fall through the grate. If ash builds up, it can choke out the fire.
Offset Smoker Shipping
You could buy a cheap imitation offset from a local store, but they aren’t real stickburners. If you want a decent offset smoker, unfortunately you have to fork out extra money for shipping, which is sometimes nearly as expensive as the smoker itself.
Shipping Costs For Offset Smokers
Shipping costs are steep with stickburners, so we did the research to give you a ballpark figure for shipping quotes. When upgrading to a stickburner, factor shipping costs into the price. With the size and weight of a heavy steel offset like a Lang or a Yoder, shipping will be at least $500 within the USA and upwards from there if it’s shipping internationally. The cheapest shipping available is when you buy an Old Country “Brazos” from Academy Sports, where shipping is sometimes as low as $99, but recently it’s $299.
Best Brand Offset Smoker
When you’re serious about upgrading to a quality offset smoker, choose your brand before you choose your smoker. There are a handful of top-notch manufactures in the USA that make top quality units. Search online forums and certain names will keep appearing. To narrow your research, I’ve compiled a list of names to save you hours of searching.
What Are The Best Offset Smokers? The Top 3 Picks
1. Lang 36 Patio Smoker
Shipping $500 +
When people talk of upgrading their stick burner, often they say they want to upgrade to a Lang. The Lang family has a solid reputation for producing quality smokers. They make several designs, but the 36” Patio is the best model for home use.
- They construct Lang smokers from solid steel so it won’t leak heat like a cheap offset.
- It also has heavy duty tires and wheels.
- Unique Reverse Flow Design.
The unique design feature of a Lang smoker is the reverse flow system. A reverse flow smoker has an increased heat and airflow when compared to other stickburners. A reverse flow smoker has the chimney on top of the firebox whereas most other stick burners have the chimney on one side and the firebox on the other side.
The other feature unique to Lang is they cook clean. Lang’s are designed to divert the gunk and grease away from the fire.
The Lang 36 Patio Smoker Features
- Holds 72 lbs of meat.
- 17″ x 17“ firebox
- Weighs 665 lbs
- L x H x W: 70″ x 73″ x 39″
- Can smoke 6-8 full racks of ribs
- Can hold a whole piglet.
- 931 Square Inch Capacity
- Made in the USA
2. Horizon Smokers
Why Horizon Smokers Are Good
Smokers that are built with heavy steel hold heat longer. They build horizon with high-quality steel. Horizon’s come in a few different sizes with the 20″ Marshal and the 20″ Classic. The Marshal is slightly longer than the Classic, but the Marshal has a much bigger cook chamber (250 square inches of extra cook space) and a much larger firebox. Horizon claims the Marshal can feed 100 people.
Horizon Design Differences
The cook chambers of most stickburners will get hotter next to the firebox. Horizon designed their smokers to deflect that heat with a siding convection plate which deflects the heat downward resulting in a more even heat distribution through the cook chamber.
Some Features of the Horizon 20″ Marshal
- Tight sealed
- Lifetime guarantee
- 1200 square inches of cooking surface
- High-grade steel
- Thick 1/4″ Pipe
- Built in the USA
- Enormous cook chamber
- Wood storage shelf
- Heavy duty hinges
- Cool 16″ wagon wheels
- Chrome spring handles
- Side firebox door for ash removal
- And many more extras
3. Yoder Smokers
Yoder smokers are what many competitions pitmasters use to smoke their prize-winning meat. Yoder is a revered brand in the meat smoking community for their range of charcoal smokers and offset smokers. Yoder are renowned for their craftsmanship for smokers.
Like most quality smokers, Yoder they construct offsets from 1/4″ thick steel, which is why these smokers have superior temperature control and heat distribution.
Yoder’s Loaded Wichita 20”
- 20″ diameter
- 42” cook chamber length
- 22” fire box length
- 600 sq in cooking chamber
- 750 sq in cooking surface
- 518 sq in slide out shelf
- Dual-damper draft control system
- 1/4″ thick steel pipe
- Lifetime guarantee
Best Affordable Offset Smokers – Top 4 Choices
There are a number of other quality offset smokers that are worth looking at if you are on a tight budget.
1. Texas Original Pits
Luling Offset Smoker 20″ x 32″ x 18″
The Luling Offset Smoker is a very popular model from Texas Original Pits.
What’s So Good About This Smoker
- 1/4″ thick steel
- 20″ x 18″ firebox
- There’s a grill and grate in the firebox
- 20″ x 32″ smoke chamber
2. Old Country “Brazos”
Shipping – $99 – $299
This stick burner is the best of the cheaper high-end offset smokers. Academy sports sell these for $999. Shipping is $299, but sometimes it ships for as low as $99. Although the Brazos is made in Mexico, it’s a well-constructed pit and is made of solid 1/4 inch steel. The best thing about the Brazos is the affordable shipping cost. For a similar offset of the same weight and size, shipping is normally $500 plus.
The Best Features of the Brazos
- Cheap shipping
- 1/4 inch steel construction for heat retention
- Sliding grates
- Deflector plate
- Big smoke stack to draw in air
- Grease drain
- Work shelf
- Storage shelf
3. Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Offset Smoker
If you want a solid smoker at a cheaper price, there is nothing wrong with an Oklahoma Joe. They are well constructed smokers with sturdy wheels, handles and shelves. Most offsets have a chimney on top, but the Oklahoma Joe has a chimney on the sides.
- 1060 Grilling surface
- Solid steel construction
- Multiple dampers
- Clean-out door
- Large work surfaces
- Cast iron wheels
4. Meadow Creek SQ36 Smoker
Meadow Creek is another company renewed for producing quality constructed smokers. The SQ36 smoker is big enough to smoke 5-6 Pork butts or 5-6 Rib racks.
- Stainless steel cooking grates
- Heat enters through a heat distributer
- Sliding ash pan
- Grease drain
- Stay cool handles
- 13-gauge welded steel
- Black heat-resistant paint
Unfortunately, you can’t put all your trust in the thermometer that is built into your smoker. If you are serious about smoking meat, buy yourself a decent digital thermometer that allows you to measure the temperature of the cook chamber and the internal meat temperature. You especially need a good thermometer with offset smokers because of the temperature fluctuations.
How To Modify An Offset Smoker
If you are stuck with a cheap offset smoker and can’t afford to upgrade to an expensive rig just yet, then there are a couple of modifications that you can do to get the best out of the cheap imitation.
1. Add a Deflector Plate
Try adding a deflector plate. A common problem with cheap offsets is that the temperature doesn’t spread evenly across the cook chamber. Typically, the section of the cook chamber closest to the firebox will get hotter. Installing some kind of deflector plate should disperse the heat around the cook chamber. This can be done by attaching a thick piece of metal between the firebox and the chamber.
2. Add a Water Pan
Some people find adding a water pan to the firebox increases the humidity inside the cook chamber, therefore preventing the meat from drying out.
3. Use a Charcoal Basket
If you add a charcoal basket to the firebox, you can then cook as you would in a regular charcoal smoker. This is especially helpful if you want to do long cooks where you can empty the Snake or the Minion Method.
4. Seal The Gaps
Cheap offset smokers will leak heat in all directions. Use a sealant to fill the gaps where heat and smoke is escaping. Below is a helpful video on sealing offset smokers.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.