How to Use an Offset Smoker in a Few Simple Steps

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While the basic function of every smoker is to cook food, the offset smokers take the cooking flavor to another level.

They have the ability to cook food and adding a unique flavor using wood pellets.

However, if you want to properly cook your food, you need to set the right temperatures and smoke levels.

Just like any other type of smoker, offset smokers are easy to use once you get familiar with how they work and what to have in mind.

Let’s explain in just a few steps on how to use an offset smoker to achieve the best possible results with your food.

1. Choosing the Best Offset Smoker for Your Needs

Setting-up-the-Smoker

Before we start with the how to use process, you first have to make sure that you choose the best offset smoker model, which fits your needs and is capable of offering you optimal cooking performance.

Most of the offset smokers have a horizontal design, made of two boxes, one being the smoker box and the other one the chimney. Both these boxes are connected together at some point and the smoke is produced in the smoker box and is transferred into the chimney box, and eventually coming out through the top chimney.

The food isn’t actually cooked over the fire but is the heat of the smoke which cooks it. This makes the food to not get burned and to get a unique flavor, which direct fire cooking cannot provide.

After you have picked the right offset smoker model for you and set it up, you can jump in the next step.

2. Prepare the Fuel 

Lighting-the-Coals

After you have the smoker ready, you should continue to prepare the fuel you will use.

Most models use charcoal and wood for fuel, which in the long term, lowers the offset smokers running costs.

You are free to choose the fuel type based on what results are you looking for and which you think is best for your recipe.

I recommend you to choose high quality charcoal, which will burn better and give you the best heat for cooking.

Also, make sure that the wood is dry before using it as this way it will help you create the best results.

After you have prepared the charcoal, it is recommended to first start the fire in a separate hollow container until you are sure that the charcoal is all lighted up and ready to use.

3. Load the Fire

After you started the charcoal, now it is time to load the fire into your offset smoker.

The best way to do it is by firstly fill the half of the firebox with un-lighted charcoal.

Then, get the lighted charcoal and transfer it to the firebox, by merging with the other half and then closing the lid.

Let the lid closed for about 10-12 minutes so the coals are completely lighted up.

Then, open it and add the dry wood. Wait for it to light up partially and close the lid again.

4. Control the Flavor

Adding-Wood

After lighting up the fire, then your job is to control the chimney and see if the smoke is good or you need to do any adjustments.

You should keep the chimney open during cooking, so you can allow the bad smoke to escape from the food and fresh flavored smoke comes in.

Keep in mind that in this case, the chimney doesn’t serve as a regulator for the airflow.

5. Using the Dampers

Dampers-Control

The dampers are the airflow regulators for offset smokers. They help you to control the level of air that goes into the firebox and makes the coals to light more and produces more smoke or not.

Most of the models have dampers located on the side and they have a couple of different levels to adjust to your needs.

If you open them fully, a lot of air and oxygen will get into the firebox and the coals will burn faster and produce more smoke.

A partial opening will allow only a small portion of air to reach the charcoal, so it will not burn faster thus the smoke produced is not at the highest levels.

If you choose to fully close them, then no air will go into the fire and as a result, the heat and smoke will be reduced drastically.

6. Don’t Open the Smoker Box Lid

After you prepare the food, marinate it and place inside the cooking chamber, you should close the lid of the smoker and not continuously open it.

It is recommended to only open the cooking chamber lid when you need to add fuel to the fire.

Beside this, leave the lid closed at least one to one and a half hours before you open for the first time. If you continuously open the lid every 10-15 minutes, the heat will escape and the food will have difficulties to get cooked properly.

7. Adjusting the Heat

Managing-Fire

While your food is being cooked, you should regularly check the temperature. The cooking temperature should be between 210-275°F for the food to get properly done.

If it has been a while since you started, open the firebox, add some more wood and wait about 10 minutes for it to catch fire before closing the lid.

Be careful to add wood and not charcoal. Charcoal is for other purposes and wood is used for the smoke flavor.

8. Manage Temperature with the Dampers

At this point, you only need to adjust and manage the temperature using the dampers. Close them halfway, so the airflow is not to high and the smoker is not too heated.

Useful Tips

Here are a few tips to have in mind when using an offset smoker:

Stay Safe

While you use an offset smoker or any other cooking equipment, make sure to keep in mind your safety.

Always wear safety gloves when cooking or when you are near fire as the smoke walls can get very hot and you may get burnt if you accidentally touch it.

Keep an Eye for Bad Smoke 

You should keep an eye for fire producing bad smoke. You want your smoke to have a light and blue color.

When you notice thick and heavy smoke, it is time to do an immediate check and see if the dampers are closed more than they should.

The lack of oxygen always produces thick smoke but it can be easily fixed by just opening the dampers and using a metal rod to stir the fire and allow the oxygen in.

Clean the Smoker after Each Cooking

It is always recommended to clean your smoker after you finish cooking. The smoker is cleaned more easily when it is a bit warm.

Here it is a step-by-step cleaning guide for offset smokers for you to make this process even easier.

Cooking Tips when using Offset Smoker

Here are a few cooking tips to make the most out of your offset smoker:

Cook with a Combination of Charcoal & Wood

For the best results when using offset smoker, cook with a combination of charcoal and wood.

If you use wood only, it can be fiddly and lead to a bitter, creosote covered food while cooking only with charcoal, can miss out the wood flavor.

It is recommended to first start the fire using fully lit coals and then eventually add wood to keep the fire going.

Don't Open the Lid Often

In order to keep the temperature, you should keep the lid closed as much as possible.

If you open it often, the heat will escape. I know that you will need to open the doors to add wood or check the meat, but try to have a digital thermometer, so you rarely have to open the doors, only if it is mandatory.

Control the Smoke Amount

When it comes to smoke, you should know that it is not good to have a lot of smoke.

A lot of people think that more smoke is good but when you are cooking low and slow, less is better.

The amount of smoke is heavily impacted by the way you start the fire too. Start the fire using charcoal only, and then add pellets or chips slowly, to create the perfect smoke amount.

Also, soaking your chips is not always good. Try to add them every 10 minutes and not in large amount.

Watch the Weather

You should know that the weather outside will have an impact on your smoking process. 

If it is very cold outside, your smoker will need more time to reach the recommended temperature. Also, the smoker will consume more wood if it is cold outside, so have that in mind to get more woods before starting the smoking process.

About Kendrick

Kendrick is an outdoor cooking enthusiast, currently living in Kansas, who loves to share his knowledge about cooking and grilling with everyone (Read More)

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