Monk: Happy National Barbecue Month! This week, we are switching things up a bit and have a guest post from Darren Weyland who blogs at BBQ Host where he shares “all of his tips, tricks, and best secrets for creating the best barbecue you – or any of your friends and neighbors – have ever had.”
If you are interested in contributing a guest blog post, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For The Love Of Smoke: Mastering Your Offset Smoker
Offset smokers–also known as “horizontal smokers” or the more esoteric “stick burners”–are an essential addition to any barbecue lover’s grilling lineup. Don’t be put off by their intimidating appearance. It’s actually very easy to use an offset smoker once you get the hang of it, and the flavor it imparts (especially when it comes to favorites like slow-cooked pulled pork) is second to none.
Although there’s a definite trick to the technique, the rewards are well worth the effort. Once you’ve taken that first succulent bite, you’re sure to be hooked. To that end, we’ve listed several ways to help you make the most of your offset smoker purchase.
How They Work
You’ve probably seen an offset smoker before, even if you didn’t know what you were looking at. The units resemble large barrel-shaped grills, with a smaller compartment located off to one side. Sometimes, this attachment is located to the rear of the smoker instead. The food is placed in the larger compartment, while the fire is stoked in the smaller attachment. The heat and smoke from the fire feed into the cooking chamber, infusing the food with flavor.
How To Build The Perfect Fire
1. Don’t be tempted to start with wood. This will take too long and coat your food with a layer of unappetizing ash. You’ll get much better and faster results if you start your fire with regular charcoal, adding wood once you have a good blaze going.
2. Use a chimney starter to light the coals. If you prefer, you can substitute the lighter fluid method, but we don’t recommend this. Lighter fluid can upset the delicate flavor balance, which is the main reason you’re using an offset smoker in the first place.
3. Empty the lit coals into the fire box, as close to the cooking chamber as possible.
4. Gather your wood, using logs that are about 4 inches in diameter and 6 inches long. Using pieces of a uniform shape and size will help you regulate the temperature with a higher degree of accuracy.
5. Add a few pieces of wood to the fire box, without putting them directly on top of the coals. This will remove any excess moisture, giving you a more efficient fire.
6. When the logs have dried, place them atop the coals. Keep drying and adding new logs as needed to keep the wood flavor flowing into the main chamber.
7. Position the vents and chimney cap so that they’re open by about a third, and no more than half.
8. Check your temperature probe regularly until your fire has reached the desired temperature. If you notice frequent fluctuations, adjust the vents slightly, or add more logs as needed.
– Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Unlike gas grills, which can be used in all types of weather, offset smokers are greatly affected by ambient temperatures. This can adversely affect your cooking experience. Don’t fire up the smoker if the weather is particularly cold or windy.
– Start with a couple of inexpensive cuts of meat, prepared just for you and your immediate family. Once you’ve gotten a feel for how this particular smoker works, you can graduate to more complex cooking applications.
– Position a rack above the area where your fire will be hottest. Fill a disposable aluminum tray with water and place it on the rack. In addition to regulating the fire’s temperature, this will add flavor and moisture to your meat.
– Keep an eye on the smoke that pours out of the chimney once the food has been added. If you see a great deal of white smoke coming out, it’s probably because your logs weren’t sufficiently dry when you added them to the fire. If this isn’t the case, then the firebox might not be operating efficiently. Check the manual and examine the unit before you attempt to start another fire.
– Don’t add any food until your cooker has reached the desired temperature. This can add a layer of creosote to your finished product, which is both unattractive and unpleasantly flavored. Remember that an offset smoker gives off a great deal of smoke before the fire reaches its peak–far more than you might be used to from a traditional charcoal smoker.
– Keep the lids closed during cooking. Open them only to add wood to the firebox, to check the temperature, and to adjust the ingredients for even cooking (see our next tip below). For low and slow cooking applications, you won’t need to check the temperature that often anyway.
– When cooking meat, be sure to rotate it at least once to ensure even cooking. This is especially vital when it comes to larger cuts like pork butt and brisket.
There’s no question that offset smokers require more skill and attention than pellet grills or regular charcoal smokers. Fortunately, they also give you more control over the process–and therefore, over the flavor of the food. As long as you’ve followed our advice and paid attention to the quirks and demands of the unit, your offset smoker can yield consistently delicious results.