How To Use An Offset Smoker Grill For The First Time (2023)

Traditional smokers, like offset smokers, are a lot of fun to use, but you’ll need to learn how to operate one properly.

This article will take you step-by-step through the basics of setting up an offset smoker, including controlling airflow and cooking temperature, monitoring the pit, building a fire, and offset smoker fire management.

Choosing high-quality wood is essential when using offset smokers for smoking food. Depending on how hot you want the smoke to be within the cooking chamber, you can use wood chunks or a whole split.

Keep reading to discover more on how to use an offset smoker and prepare unique smoked foods! 

What is an offset smoker?

offset barrel smoker

An offset smoker is a barbecue smoker that uses charcoal and wood to create smoke. It can be used for smoking meat, fish, and vegetables. Offset smokers are also known as box smokers. 

An offset smoker is typically made of steel or aluminum and has a long, narrow shape that makes it easy to set up in your backyard or garage. Offset smokers are designed to be used outdoors but can also be used indoors with the right ventilation.

Offset smokers are designed to smoke food without burning it up too quickly. They work by using indirect heat—meaning they don’t burn food directly at its surface—and they usually use smokeless fuel like wood chips or chunks of fruitwood.

How does an offset smoker work?

how to use an offset smoker

The idea behind an offset smoker is that it cooks the meat using indirect heat. The firebox on the side of the cooking chamber generates heat that is transferred to the meat in the cooking chamber.

There are several types of offset smokers, including the reverse flow smoker.

Some of these models have a removable drip tray to catch any excess juices from your meat.

How to season a new offset smoker for the first time use

Seasoning an offset smoker is the process of preparing your smoker for use. It helps prevent rust and smoke flavor from building up inside your smoker. 

Seasoning is also an excellent way to test whether or not your smoker is properly sealed because if smoke isn’t able to escape when you are seasoning it, then there is likely a leak somewhere that needs fixing before smoking.

To season an offset smoker:

1. Clean the smoker thoroughly before you season it. 

We need to clean the offset smoker before seasoning it because we want to be sure that there are no leftover grease or debris in the smoker. After cooking, the food can get stuck in the grill and become hard to clean.

By cleaning the smoker, we will also ensure that there are no pieces of meat or other matter that could cause a flare-up during seasoning.

2. Next, coat the smoker with cooking oil.

You’ll need high-point smoke oil in spraying form or oil in a bottle, which you’ll then rub over the smoker’s internal surface with a paper towel.

Coat all internal parts of the offset smoker with a thin layer of oil, except the stainless steel cooking grates, which do not need to be seasoned. 

Cover both sides of the heat management plates and the charcoal grates with oil. After coating the cooking chamber inside, repeat the process inside the firebox.

Note: Apply the oil only to the inside of the smoker, not the outside. If you have door seals, avoid spraying them.

3. Once you have seasoned your smoker, it’s time to light the fire in your smoker.

It’s best to start with a big fire in the chimney starter, then dump the burning charcoal into the firebox and get it up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This will take between 2 and 3 hours, depending on how much fuel you’ve put in.

Once you’ve reached around 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius), check on your smoker’s cooking chamber where you spray. If it’s still stacked up, then it needs more time. If the metal surface looks nice and smooth after this time has passed, then you’re all set!

How to use an offset smoker

Now that we’ve established what distinguishes an offset smoker, let’s get down to business: how do you use one? Let’s first go over how to prepare your grill for smoking. Below is a step-by-step guide to getting your smoker ready to go:

  1. Add charcoals to the chimney starter and start burning
  2. Add your wood to the charcoal and light it
  3. Close the lid to let the metal heat up
  4. Monitor the temperature
  5. Putting meat into the cooking chamber
  6. Adding more wood into the firebox when needed
  7. Take the meat out and let it rest
  8. When you’re finished cooking, clean things up!

Let’s go over each step in greater detail to get your offset smoker ready!

1. Add charcoals to the chimney starter and start burning

Fill the charcoal chimney with unlit charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. Light a tumbleweed and place your chimney on top of it. Dump the charcoal into the firebox when you see gray ashes around the charcoal briquettes. (it takes about 15 minutes).

air intake vent
air intake vent
air intake vent

2. Add your wood to the charcoal and light it.

offset barrel smoker

Once you spread the charcoal evenly inside the firebox, pile wood on top of the lit charcoal. Burning wood creates the smoked flavor that makes your food taste so good.

If you want to smoke at a lower temperature, then use wood chunks, but you can also use whole splits if you want to cook at a hotter temperature.

Tips: When adding wood, leave the firebox and cooking chamber lid open to prevent dirty white smoke deposits on the grill grate and allow as much airflow as possible. 

3. Close the lid to let the metal heat up

fire management

Wait for the temperature to settle down to 250 degrees Fahrenheit before rearranging the coals with a fire poker or long-handle tongs. Close the lid when the coal is well lit and preheat the smoker with the lid closed for 15 minutes. It will help to create the right amount of smoke and heat to cook the meat. 

Tips: Instead of adding cold wood on top of already-lit charcoal, set the next split or chunk of wood on top of the firebox to drain off any water within and help it ignite more quickly.

4. Monitor the temperature.

You want your temperature to rise to a high level at this point before falling to a proper cooking temperature. Since it’s live fire, there will be a lot of fluctuations, but as a general rule, aim for 250, go as high as 275, and stay as low as 225.

You can use the gauge thermometer if your smoker has one. But for more accuracy, I recommend using a wireless digital thermometer like Thermoworks.

All left to do at this point is wait until the temperature reaches 250 before putting the meat into the cooking chamber.

5. Putting meat into the cooking chamber

fire management

Place your meat in the cooking chamber once the temperature has stabilized. You can choose the location of the meat on the grill grate based on how quickly you want it to cook. The closer your meat is to the firebox, the faster it will cook. Placing the meat away from the firebox will cook slower and have a stronger smoked flavor.

Tips on how to maintain the temperature inside the smoker:

6. Adding more wood into the firebox when needed

reverse flow smokers

Adding more wood to your offset smoker will help you maintain the heat and more intense smoke.

However, remember to add wood before the temperature drops too low. If you want to hit 250, you’ll need to add more wood when the thermometer reads 253 or 254.

This is because when you put wood in the firebox, the temperature does not immediately rise; everything moves slowly. So you don’t want to wait until the heat drops too low because you’ll lose too much temperature and take a long time to get back to your desired cooking temperature.

Then repeat the process until your meat is done!

7. Take the meat out and let it rest.


You want to take the meat out of your smoker and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before you serve it. This will allow the juices from the meat to redistribute throughout its surface so that when it hits your mouth, you’ll have a nice juicy bite with every bite instead of one that’s mostly textured protein with a little bit of juice on top.

You can also use this time to prepare any sauces or condiments you would like to serve with your barbecue.

8. When you’re finished cooking, clean things up!

There are countless suggestions for what to do. But the best way I’ve seen is to simply open everything up, let in as much oxygen as possible, and let the fire burn itself out. Then there are only ashes left; you can return the next day to clean everything up without burning yourself.

How to maintain offset smoker temperature?

In an offset smoker, the cooking chamber’s temperature is controlled by the amount of air that enters it. The firebox is a small box attached to the top of your smoker and holds your wood for smoking.

To maintain an optimal temperature in your offset smoker, you need to ensure enough oxygen is entering the firebox so it doesn’t burn out too quickly.

To do this, set the side damper to a quarter-open position and fine-tune it. The more oxygen that enters the firebox, the hotter the fire will be.

However, with an offset smoker, you do not want your smoker to be extremely hot; instead, you want to smoke your meat “slow and low”.

Also, keep the smoke stack 3/4 closed to keep the smoking heat inside the cooking chamber.


Smoking with a cheap offset smoker is the same as described above; the only difference is that there is often less space in a cheap offset smoker, so most of the coal can be burned away faster, and the wood isn’t burning hot enough during the cooking process. So we need to add unlit charcoal into the firebox because the coal isn’t hot enough to keep the wood burning to create smoked flavor if we don’t.

Yes, a water pan will help preserve the flavor and moisture in the meat far better than a pan-less smoker.

Yes, you can use wood chips, chunks, and logs in the offset smoker. It’s a great way to flavor your food and give it a smoky taste.

Final thoughts

This tutorial will hopefully give you a better understanding of how to use an offset smoker to create your special BBQ recipes. It’s always good to experiment with these tools, so feel free to play around until you achieve the desired effect.

The main thing to remember is that different woods and cooking temperatures will produce different results. Still, in the end, if you’re patient and persistent, you’ll burn everything with the desired effect.

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