This post is in response to a friend of mines who usually cooks on a charcoal grill and produces good food in this manner. Well, he tried out his new offset smoker for the holiday and things didn’t turn out so well based on what he said. So I’ll provide some tips to help you and him when cooking on an offset smoker.
Offset smokers can be one of the most difficult cookers to operate within the realm of BBQ, it takes time getting to know your specific smoker and how it will perform. First allow me to briefly cover what an offset smoker is… It’s usually a barrel-shaped cooker that runs horizontally, known as the smoker box, with a small chamber or box attached to it at one end usually towards the bottom 3rd of the smoker box, this is commonly called the firebox. If some of these terms are not familiar to you I encourage you to visit our glossary page where explanations are provided. Offset smokers are often referred to as COS and EOS which stand for Cheap Offset Smoker and Expensive Offset Smoker. A COS is usually what you will find at big box stores like Wal-Mart or Home Depot. These smokers are usually fairly priced, $500 or less, and don’t cook that great right out the box, you usually need to perform some modifications to them so they will cook fairly well. Because of their design they usually have heat differences of up to 100 degrees from end to end.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what an offset smoker is let’s get into some of the tips that will help you make better BBQ every time you cook on it.
Seal The Doors
Purchase some food safe high temperature sealant, put it around your smoker box and firebox doors to stop any leaks, you don’t want any smoke escaping these areas. The only smoke you should see should come from your smoke stack. How to do this? Place a nice bead of sealant all around the opening of the smoker box, not on the door, cover it with wax paper and close the door, allow it to set which should take about 2 to 4 hours, open the door and remove the wax paper being sure to trim any excess sealant off. For your firebox door, only do this if it opens like your smoker box door. If the opening to your firebox is on the end of the firebox then you can skip this step. Here is an Amazon link so you can get the sealant – http://amzn.to/2s2L1vm
You can see the red sealant I used on my smoker and how you should apply it.
A baffle is nothing more than metal, it’s purpose is to stop the heat from coming into the cook chamber and instantly rising to the top of your smoker. The baffle goes in front of the opening connecting the firebox to the smoker box and forces the heat downward and across the length of the baffle plate. I had mine made, which is pictured below but there is a company that manufactures baffles specifically for different smokers. Here’s a link to their site – http://www.bbqsmokermods.com
Many COS come with a thermometer in the smoker box door…..IGNORE IT!!! You want to install at least 2 thermometers at opposite ends of your smoker box doors which will poke through just about at the cooking grate level. Why? Your thermometers will be at grate level which is truly the temperature which your meat will be cooking. Yes, you will need to use a drill and a couple of tools to install them. Here is an Amazon link so you can get them – http://amzn.to/2rOcQb9
Get Some Bricks
I know you may be saying to yourself “what in the hell does bricks have to do with cooking on an offset smoker?” Well, the bricks heat up and retain heat during the cooking process and helps to regulate the temperature throughout the smoker box. Get the red bricks, about 4 to 6 of them and cover them in foil, this makes for easy cleanup, placing them in the bottom of your smoker box. Quick thought, NEVER PUT CHARCOAL IN YOUR SMOKER BOX!!!
Charcoal & Wood
When starting your fire use a chimney starter. Place your other charcoal in the firebox. When the coals in the chimney starter are lit, dump them into 1 end of the firebox, you don’t want all the coals to fire up at once. AVOID using lighter fluid. At this point add your wood. I suggest using wood splits or logs! Chips are pointless, chunks are ok but not preferred. Allow the charcoal and wood to burn long enough to get your smoker up to the desired cooking temperature. Open your smoke stack vent all the way and adjust the damper on your firebox to achieve your desired cooking temperature. Only place your meat in the smoker box after the heavy white has subsided. Also, place additional pieces of wood you will add later on top of the fire-box, this helps to heat the wood up so it will combust faster and smoke a lot less when you add it during your cook. Once again, AVOID USING LIGHTER FLUID!!!
Use a water pan! I usually use the disposable aluminum pans in the medium size. The water helps to also regulate the temperature plus it helps to add humidity/moisture to the smoker box during the cooking process. Whenever adding water remember to add it about 15 minutes before placing your meat on the grill and ALWAYS use hot water, cold or cool water will cause your temperature to drop and now the cooker has to heat the water. Always place the water pan in the smoker box close to the firebox.
Wireless Meat Thermometer
When smoking meat it’s more of a temperature thing than just a timing or look thing in many cases. For instance, I just cooked a brisket for the holiday and I knew I wanted to cook it to an internal temperature of 203 to 208 degrees. Based on its size and the temperature I cooked at it should have taken about 9 to 10 hours but it hit the target temperature at the 8.5 hour mark. A good meat thermometer will provide the temperature of the meat and also have an extra prong so you can see the grill temperature or the temperature of a second piece of meat you may be cooking. I suggest a Maverick like the one we did a product review on, check it out.
Take your time!!! I can’t stress this enough! prepare yourself to be occupied for at least 4 to 6 hours if you’re cooking ribs and up to 10 to 12 hours if you’re cooking a pork butt or brisket. Get yourself something good to drink, some good music, maybe a partner in crime, I personally take that time to smoke a good cigar and enjoy some music. This time can be used to learn your smoker and see how it will react to the weather conditions. You can also see how it reacts if you open or close the damper on the fire-box ever so slightly, or how long it takes for it to get back up to temperature after you have had the smoker box door open. Simply put, take your time and begin to master your smoker so you can consistently produce great BBQ time after time.
These are some of the more common things that will get you off to a good start cooking on an offset smoker. There are still a number of things that can be done to help even more but we will cover those things at a later time, for now, use these tips and let us know how things work out for you.