Offset smokers, also known as barrel smokers or horizontal smokers, are used regularly by professional and home chefs to make the most of meats and other foods. Though some offset smokers are powered by electricity, more traditional models burn fuel, such as charcoal or propane, in an external firebox attached to the cooking chamber. This generates heat and smoke, which circulates through the cooking chamber and out of an exhaust vent to smoke food.
The best offset smoker for your patio or deck depends on the type of fuel you prefer, the size and weight of the smoker, and the method of temperature control. Use this guide to get a good idea of what product is best for you and read up on the following models, all considered among the best offset smokers available.
- BEST OVERALL: Masterbuilt MB20040220 Gravity Series 560 Digital
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Royal Gourmet BBQ Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker
- BEST PORTABLE: Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Smoker
- BEST ELECTRIC: Masterbuilt MB20073519 Bluetooth Digital Electric
- BEST PELLET: Z GRILLS ZPG-550A 2020 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
- BEST GAS: Oklahoma Joe’s Charcoal/LP Gas/Smoker Combo
Types of Offset Smokers
Offset smokers come in several different types, differentiated by the fuel they use, including electric, charcoal, wood pellets, and gas.
Electric smokers create heat using a heating element that sits at the bottom of the smoker. This element requires a connection to an external power source, such as an extension cord plugged into a power outlet outside your home. Being tethered to a power source means electric smokers are not portable, unless you also have a portable generator.
This style of smoker is good for beginners, thanks to an automatic internal thermostat that lets you precisely control the temperature. Some models may even have Bluetooth connectivity so you can control the heat settings through apps on your smartphone or tablet.
Charcoal is the most popular fuel used by grill cooks because it produces more smoke than electric or gas smokers, infusing food with a deep, smoky flavor. These offset smokers and grills are relatively easy to operate, but to truly master them you must learn how to control the temperature using the intake and exhaust dampers.
While these smokers suit folks who enjoy having hands-on control, there are charcoal models available with fully automatic temperature control—ideal for people who want the charcoal taste without getting their hands dirty. Charcoal offset smokers should be cleaned regularly to prevent the buildup of creosote (a thick, oily substance left over by fire) and other byproducts that could negatively affect the taste of food.
Pellet offset smokers infuse natural smoky flavor to food by slowly burning wood pellets. The pellets include natural wood, mesquite, and hickory, and imbue food with a range of different flavors—sweet, whiskey, and even charcoal.
For ease of use, these offset smokers typically have a dial or digital temperature control; all you need to do is put food into the cooking chamber, add the pellets, set the temperature, and then just keep track of time. You can check on the food and change the temperature if necessary, and the offset smoker will automatically adjust the dampers to increase or decrease the temperature to the new setting.
The average gas smoker uses liquid propane or natural gas to provide a low, slow-cooking heat that is easy to adjust and control. These typically have a built-in ignition switch, making them easy to light with the push of a button. The continuous supply of gas from an attached tank can be slowly increased or decreased to adjust the temperature as needed.
Gas smokers are usually smaller than electric, charcoal, or pellet models, so they aren’t ideal if you’re cooking for a big party. However, the smaller footprint and gas fuel source suit smaller outdoor spaces and in areas with restrictions on charcoal use.
Features to Look for in the Best Offset Smoker
To find the best offset smoker for your patio or deck, consider the important factors and features below.
A smoker’s quality will affect its durability, so if you’ll be using yours frequently and/or keeping it outside where it’s exposed to the elements, invest in a well-built model with a lid that closes firmly and a strong seal between the firebox and the main chamber. A sign of good quality is a smoker body and cooking grates constructed of rugged, weather-resistant stainless steel.
Insulation and Ventilation
Smoking food is a slow process that requires the cooking chamber to maintain a relatively steady temperature. The best smokers require sufficient insulation so that you don’t burn more fuel than necessary to achieve the desired results.
While insulation helps maintain the optimum heat level, the temperature within the smoker is actually controlled by the ventilation system. This generally includes at least one intake damper and one exhaust damper, though some models provide additional vents for more precise control. Opening or closing the damper vents increases or decreases the flow of oxygen, smoke, and heat throughout the smoker for an ideal slow-cook experience.
The thermometer on an offset smoker can range from a standard dial unit attached to the lid to an electronic thermometer with temperature controls that can be set to automatically adjust the ventilation system to increase or decrease the temperature.
An experienced grill cook may not want or need the convenience of digitally controlling the smoker’s temperature, and will find a simple dial thermometer sufficient. Newbie grill cooks, however, may wish to learn using precise temperature controls before transitioning to a traditional charcoal offset smoker. Charcoal smokers call for more knowledge and experience to properly control the fluctuating heat with the intake and exhaust dampers because charcoal is more susceptible to rapidly climbing and falling temperatures.
Smokers range in size from portable smokers with a 150-square-inch cooking surface to full-sized smokers with one or more cooking surfaces and a combined size of over 800 square inches. Choosing the right size smoker will depend on the amount of space available, the number of people you expect to cook for regularly, and whether portability is a factor. If you have a small patio, you may not want a smoker that takes up most of the square footage. If you typically entertain crowds of eight or more, look for a cooking surface of at least 600 square inches.
Portable offset smokers are typically gas models that can be connected to a small propane tank. They should be light enough for one or two adults to lift and load into a car or truck. If you want portability without sacrificing too much on size, consider a smoker that comes with wheels. This will let you move it around without significant effort.
Offset smokers range in weight from just 20 pounds to over 200 pounds for extra-large models. Weight isn’t a major consideration unless you are planning to move your smoker around regularly. Many cooks keep a smoker in one place, especially if it’s a large model.
The weight of the offset smoker can also be influenced by the size of the hopper: a narrowing compartment in the smoker where charcoal or wood pellets are loaded to be automatically added to the smoker when necessary. The larger the hopper, the less often the smoker needs to be refilled.
Offset smokers may include a variety of useful accessories. These can run the gamut from simple items like grill utensils, pellets, or charcoal to more valuable extras such as a cover for the smoker and storage racks to hold charcoal, utensils, or food.
Keep in mind that accessories can add to the price of a smoker, so consider whether you’ll actually use them. There’s no reason to pay for a set of wheels, for instance, if you have no intention of moving your smoker from place to place.
Our Top Picks
This list of top offset smokers was selected based on quality, price, and efficacy. Keep the above shopping considerations in mind as you read on, and you should be able to find the best offset smoker for your backyard feasts.
If you want the convenience of connectivity and the smoky taste of charcoal, this Masterbuilt model is worth checking out. Connect this digital charcoal grill/offset smoker through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth using your smartphone to control temperature and cook time. There’s also a built-in temperature gauge and a meat probe thermometer to monitor your food.
The sleekly designed smoker weighs 147 pounds but sits on four lockable wheels so you can move it around with ease. The hopper holds up to 10 pounds of lump charcoal or 16 pounds of charcoal briquettes, enough to let you cook for up to 15 hours before needing to refill. Once the temperature is set, the digital fan and gravity-fed hopper will work in unison to increase or decrease the temperature rapidly to the desired setting, taking the guesswork out of your next backyard barbecue.
Folks who like to keep it simple and save money may find this Royal Gourmet model a great choice. The nicely priced traditional charcoal grill with an offset smoker doesn’t have an electronic thermometer or digital controls, relying instead on a basic, effective design that lets you use charcoal plus flavored wood pellets to produce delicious results. In fact, it takes value a step further by including a package of apple barbecue wood pellets.
The medium-size offset smoker features a 183-square inch grill surface in the external firebox and 438 square inches of porcelain-coated surface in the cooking chamber. There are intake and exhaust dampers to control the flow of the heat and smoke, and a 179-square inch chrome-plated warming rack keeps cooked foods at the right temperature until ready to serve. This 54-pound smoker includes a set of wheels should you want to move it around your yard.
If portability is important, this 22-pound gas smoker may be just the ticket. It includes two side-mounted carrying handles and an elevated base so you can pick it up with ease and use it on most flat, heat-resistant surfaces.
This smoker uses infrared heating elements to grill on a 180-square-inch grill surface or roast in the included roasting basket. You can also connect a portable propane tank to fuel the smoker, which is loaded using the side-mounted smoker box. Monitor the temperature with the meat thermometer, then clean up quickly and efficiently thanks to the removable shelves and grease tray.
Attention busy barbecuers: This electric offset smoker lets you monitor your meat to the exact temperature, thanks to a built-in probe thermometer you can check via Bluetooth and your smartphone. The app also lets you control the temperature, lighting, and power input while you multitask (or relax in your lounge chair!).
The electric heat source sits in the bottom of the smoker, while a side wood pellet loading system gradually adds pellets to the smoker to increase the heat and smoke in the cooking chamber for optimal results. The smoker doesn’t have wheels, but at 54 pounds one or two adults should be able to move it around if necessary.
Grilling beginners and folks with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality may find the Z Grills ZPG-550A a great choice. It does everything from controlling the ignition to setting and maintaining consistent temperatures. There’s a 423-square-inch main cooking surface and a 167-square-inch warming rack for a full 590 square inches of space for food.
This offset smoker can be loaded with up to 16 pounds of wood pellets, which are added gradually by the smoker based on your selected temperature settings to maintain the ideal temperature. An electronic ignition switch means there’s no need to mess with matches or a lighter: Just push the ignition button, set the temperature between 180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and let the smoker go to work.
If you like the clean burn of propane but enjoy treating your gang to the flavor of charcoal smoke too, this combination gas and charcoal offset smoker may be right for you. The offset smoker features an external firebox with 310 square inches of cooking surface as well as two separate cooking chambers for charcoal or gas grilling or smoking. The combined cooking surface between these two chambers is 750 square inches for a total of 1,060 square inches.
This offset smoker comes with two temperature thermometers to accurately gauge both cooking chambers, and it also has multiple adjustable dampers to precisely regulate heat and smoke.
It weighs a hefty 205 pounds, but two heavy-duty wheels allow you to push it around your outside space.
FAQs About Offset Smokers
Consider the answers to these frequently asked questions as you finalize your choice of the best offset smoker for your needs.
Q. Are offset smokers better than vertical ones?
Offset smokers offer a wider range of versatility than vertical smokers, including cooking capacity, fuel type, and even the type of cooking you can do. This makes offset smokers a great option if you want to smoke and grill without using two separate cooking devices.
Q. What is the optimal temperature range for an offset smoker?
The optimal temperature range for smoking with an offset smoker is between 225 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Q. How long does an offset smoker last?
On average, a quality offset smoker can last 10 to 15 years, depending on the frequency of cleaning and maintenance as well as the cumulative exposure to the elements.