Grills, Smokers

5 Best Offset Smoker For Any Budget

Barbecue connoisseurs can argue over types of wood or seasonings, but most agree offset smokers produce some of the best results. Offset...

Bob Richards Written by Bob Richards · 6 min read >

Barbecue connoisseurs can argue over types of wood or seasonings, but most agree offset smokers produce some of the best results. Offset smokers are the contest-winning big boys of barbecue. 

Some can fit in your backyard, too, and you can get started on a pitmaster career with smaller units that won’t hurt your budget. In this article, we’ll go over important points about offset smokers and what to look for, and then review 5 of the best offset smoker models to see how they match up. 

Offset Smokers: The Ultimate Barbecue Machine

What is an Offset Smoker?

Offset smokers are available in smaller sizes, but look like the big barrel cookers you see at cookout contests. Usually mounted horizontally on a stand, these cookers originated in remote cattle-rich Texas oilfields where, surrounded by oil drums and pipe, workers welded together an amazing smoker: it’s been copied ever since.

The design has two sections: the cooking chamber (barrel), and a separate firebox on one end for burning the fuel. The heat and smoke from the fire rises, flows over the food, and exits through a pipe chimney or other exhaust vent mounted on the other end of the barrel. 

Pitmaster’s Tool

Offset smokers provide an optimal way to slow cook meat or other items without drying them out, and you can cook a whole lot of food, too. 

Offset smokers are more labor-intensive than some other slow cook methods, because the heat must be tended and refueled, the meat must be regularly turned and repositioned, and any water pans in use must be refilled.

Here’s a video showing basic steps of cooking with an offset smoker. Like anything, the ultimate takes an extra bit of effort. 

Advantages of an Offset Smoker

• The dual-chamber design—the “offset”—means you can refuel with wood without disturbing the cooking chamber. 

• The large cooking chamber provides plenty of room for smoking a large quantity of food at once. Some smokers have the option of using a grate over the firebox for direct grilling.

• The cooking grates allow for large cuts of meat to be smoked intact.

• Offsets only require charcoal or wood for fuel, and don’t need electricity to operate.
They are ideal for “off-the-grid” gatherings. 

• No moving parts to wear out or break.

• Many useful accessories or optional features are available.

• These are the archtype barbecue cooker. They look cool and lend glory to your pitmaster cred.

• The champion of barbecue contests worldwide, an offset smoker is a finely-tuned tool in the hands of a skilled pitmaster.

Disadvantages

• Quality offset smokers represent a serious investment that can run into the thousands of dollars. 

• Most offsets have a large footprint that may not fit a limited outdoor space.

• Offset smokers are less efficient than smaller cookers or vertical units, and use more fuel for the same result.

• The unbalanced and top-heavy design is stable for cooking, but it’s no fun to move or maneuver.

• Building and keeping the fire takes patience and skill, and it takes up to an hour to preheat the grill. Its internal temperatures are affected by weather.

• Cooking on an offset smoker is high-maintenance: you’ll need to keep an eye on the process and fuss with it frequently.

Important Features

Offset smokers are great for outdoor use and can cook large amounts of meat and veggies to perfection. There are pitfalls though. Don’t let a poorly-made offset ruin discourage you.

Here are important features to check before buying:

Important Features

Steel Thickness – Thickness of the metal is a good way to determine quality in a smoker. The ideal is for the walls to be made of heavy-gauge, quarter-inch steel, but economical units are much thinner. Thicker walls retain heat more effectively and insulate against temperature and the elements.

Seals – A quality seal is needed to control heat and retain smoke, and it cuts down on fuel waste, too. Unfortunately sealage can be hard to determine without actually lighting the firebox … of course, then it’s too late to return. 

To avoid the junk, be sure to check feedback and reviews. If possible, inspect the seals of the firebox and chamber lid, as well as the dampers.

Quality Construction – The base should be sturdy and stable, and you probably want the base to be wheeled: it’s MUCH easier to move. Check that the welds are complete and strong, and that the hinges are well-secured.

Temperature Gauge – Temperatures on one side of an offset smoker can be a different than the other; ideally, you want to have a thermometer on either end. Temperatures should be taken at the grate level, not the lid.

Reverse Flow technology – In this design, the stack is placed on the same side as the firebox because the heat circulates.

Options – Offset smokers have a many options, from the quirky to the near necessities. A few examples:

– Extra grill plates and shelves

– Insulated handles

– Warming box

– Multiple thermometers

– Jerky smoking racks

– Weatherproof / Thermal Covers


Reviews: 5 Budget-Friendly Offset Smokers

Dyna-Glo Charcoal Offset Smoker

This unique vertical smoker performs better than its class for heat retention and smokiness, despite thin walls that resemble the metal of a file-cabinet. It’s a superior smoker that needs a little extra work to set up, but it has 784 square inches of smoking area: it delivers up to 100 lbs of cooked food each session. 

The enameled steel can chip and rust after an impact, so this doesn’t qualify as a potential heirloom. It is leaky, so be prepared to reseal the weak spots with high temp silicone. 

Dyna-Glo’s Offset Smoker is a good buy if you’re willing to pound it straight and seal it first. Those who modify the smoker tend to love it; otherwise, you probably won’t.

Pros

• Lightweight, space-saving design
• Electronic pulse ignition
• 784 square inches of total smoking area 
• Steel smoke stack with adjustable flue
• Porcelain-covered steel wood chip box
• Removable ash pan
• Optional fitted cover
• 1-year warranty

Cons

• No Wheels on Base
• Significant assembly Required


Char-Broil Offset Smoker, 40″

This horizontal smoker has a classic design and appearance, and some nice extras like shelving, grill plates, and storage space. It’s large enough to cook for a family of four, and has 8-inch wheels for easy mobility.

The basic design is effective, with adequate convection through a steel pipe stack. There’s a convenient ash door for easy cleaning, and a second set of charcoal grates for direct grilling in the firebox. It offers 739 square inches of primary cooking area.

The issue is the construction. The metal is thin 18-gauge metal: it warps, leaks smoke, and burns off its own paint. If you like the look and want to make this unit work, you’ll need to do some extra assembly fitting and sealing, and repaint it after use.

Char-Broil is a popular name in grilling but, frankly, this unit isn’t really why. It’s a nice family grill, the storage space is great, and you can smoke up a good amount of food—but you’ll be doing a lot of maintenance of this machine beyond the normal fussiness of cooking on an offset smoker.

Pros

• Secondary grill plates in firebox
• Wheeled Base
• Steel stack
• Ash door
• Optional fitted cover
• 1-year Total-Unit Warranty

Cons

• Lid Thermometer
• Assembly from 45m-2hrs
• Paint requires retouching for appearance and longevity


Royal Gourmet Grill with Smoker

This Royal Gourmet offset is a great grills with 800 square inches of cooking surface, but it’s less attractive as a party smoker. It works as a beginner’s pit that you’ll move up from.

The problem is that the metal is too thin or low-quality to be durable, though it can last longer with the optional cover. How thin? The company doesn’t say: a bad sign.

The design is effective, though, and the heat is distributed well … so, if you repaint and do touch-ups with high temperature paint, seal the biggest leaks, and use a charcoal box to keep live coals from touching the metal, you can get some nice barbeques out of it.

This cooker is a nice value for light use. It requires some upkeep to look its best and isn’t going to last long, but it’s acceptable to learn on, or for a single season’s use. 

Pros

• Lightweight, space-saving design
• Porcelain steel cooking grates
• Chrome warming rack
• Wheeled Base
• Optional fitted cover

Cons

• Lid Thermometer
• Paint flakes off


Royal Gourmet BBQ Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker

This compact cooker is a bit more popular than the Royal Gourmet model above, though it has many of the same drawbacks. It’s a middling smoker, but it makes an effective and attractive grill. 

This lightweight unit has a small footprint that fits a modest backyard or patio, and wheels so it can be easily moved. Its porcelain wire cooking grates cover an ample 438 square inches, and a swing-away rack offers additional grill space—part of why this model is so popular for grilling. 

As an inexpensive smoker, this unit is plagued with the usual roll call of inadequacies. The walls are thin metal that warps and rusts or burns through in a few seasons; the paint flakes easily; it leaks like a sieve. You can repaint and reseal the unit for use as a passable smoker, or just use the grill and forget about rest. 

Pros

• Lightweight, space-saving design
• Porcelain wire cooking grates
• Swing-away secondary cooking rack
• Wheeled Base

Cons

• Lid Thermometer
• Requires resealing to use as a smoker


Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker, Deluxe

This offset smoker has enough quality in the design and features to make it good for learning on, but it’s not a long-lived appliance. You can get some good meals from it while it lasts, without breaking the bank.

The cooking chamber’s main grate is 670 square inches of porcelain wire, with 355 additional square inches available on the swing-away rack. It also comes with two firebox grates for additional cooking space. That’s a lot of cooking area for a compact machine.

There’s a convenient front shelf and wire undercarriage rack, and chrome-plated cool-touch handles with a lid-thermometer that doesn’t work. Of course, no lid-mounted thermometers work. 

This is a bit pricey for the quality, but it should serve well for a season or two. If you favor the brand name and just want to give smokers a try, this one is worth looking into.

Pros

• Wheeled Base
• Ash-cleaning pan 
• Chrome-plated cool-touch handles
• Steel box holds wood-chips
• Adjustable top chimney vent

Cons

• Requires significant assembly 
• Lid-mounted thermometer
• Limited Warranty information


Conclusion

Offset smokers are the barbeque champions’ tool because it lets you finesse so much of the process for amazing results. Well-made offset smokers can deliver world-class slow-cooked meat—in quantity. 

It’s a major piece of equipment, and it’s hard to find quality at a bargain price. While you can find good values at an economical price, the market is flooded with cheap offset smokers that feature shoddy construction, flaking paint and leaky seals. Unfortunately, many folks don’t discover the issues until they light it up, putting the smoker out of warranty and destroying resale value.

Our choice as best smoker is the CharBroil 40″, which is versatile but does work as a best offset smoker for beginners or casual users. 

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