Offset smokers are beautiful and most people buy them based on looks. But, like most things in life, it is what is on the inside that matters.
When it comes to offset smokers you typically need to cross the magic line at about $1,000 to get something great although there is one feasible option in the $500 range. Here is a look at some of the best offset smokers available. Let’s see what it takes to make an offset great.
A quality offset smoker has three main characteristics:
- Large Thermal Mass
- Tight Seals
- Engineered Heat Distribution
Mass: Quality offset smokers are typically made from 1/4 inch steel and will weigh many hundred pounds depending on the length of the smoker. The mass of the smokers makes them slow to heat up but extremely stable once you have them dialed in. If you have ever smoked on a thin, light smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain then you know how fast a stiff wind can suck the heat out of it. You don’t have that problem when you are working with 300 pounds of steel.
Tightness: You want a smoker that has been built with tight fitting seals so the heat and smoke can be controlled. Smoke should exit the pit at the stack and not where the door meets the body of the pit. If the smoker is a leaker then it will be tough to control your temperatures.
Engineered Heat Flow: The basic design of an offset is inherently flawed and results in a cooking chamber with wildly varying temperatures. The temperature variations in an offset are dramatic and depend upon the location of the exhaust stack and the distance from the firebox. The best pit builders take the time to engineer in a solution to this fundamental problem.
Lang Smokers (Reverse Flow Offset)
Lang Smokers approach the uneven heat problem by introducing a baffle underneath the cooking grate. The baffle forces the heat to travel underneath the grate then up and back over the grate before exiting through the stack. This type of design is called a Reverse Flow Smoker.
I know I didn’t do a good job of explaining the idea so here is a quick video of a Lang smoker that shows you the details.
The reverse flow concept is an elegant solution to creating an even heat distribution but the hot baffle underneath the cooking grate has two side effects.
The hot baffle acts as a source of radiant heat to the underside of the meat. This isn’t a bad thing but does create a learning curve on how to use the smoker.
More interestingly, the hot baffle also vaporizes/burns any grease that drips onto it. This is the same concept that you get with “flavorizer bars” on a Weber Spirit or Genesis gas grill. However, this is not a flavor profile that is desired by some pitmasters. You can control this flavor profile by the addition of water trays on top of the baffle, etc. Not a big deal but something that you should consider.
Lone Star Grillz Smokers (Offset with Tuning Plates)
Many pit manufactures even out the heat with the addition of sheet metal “tuning plates” in the bottom of their offsets. Tuning plates serves a similar purpose as the baffle in a reverse flow smoker but are adjustable, removable and are typically an optional upgrade.
The video below is a nice walk through of a great offset with tuning plates from Lone Star Grillz. The video is a bit long so if you want to see what the tuning plates looks like then go ahead and jump to the 5:50 mark.
I like the concept of tuning plates because they let you play around with your smoker and dial in things just the way you want them. On the flip side, I am a cheap kind of guy and it pisses me off that I need to pay $2,000 for a smoker and then pay an extra $200 to get the tuning plates to make it cook evenly.
Horizon Smokers (Offset with Engineered Baffles)
Horizon smokers offer a patented engineered baffle upgrade that can be dropped into any of their smokers. I have tried to describe this thing before and have never found the right words. You can see the baffle at the 1:50 mark in the video below.
They have the Horizon smokers at my local Bass Pro Shops and the engineered baffle is NOT included as standard equipment. The baffle is sold separately exclusively through the company website.
Texas Pit Crafters Smokers (Offset with Water Tray)
I wasn’t able to find a nice video of a water tray offset so i snapped a few pictures of this sweet pit from Texas Pit Crafters.
This type of offset directs the heat underneath a large tray that acts as a baffle/tuning plate but also has sides which allows the addition of a large amount of water. The water reservoir adds moisture during the cook and helps to regulate temperature. The water tray is typically located several inches below the primary cooking grate.
Jambo Pits Smokers (Offsets with Angled Firebox Damper)
When I think about Jambo Pits the phrase that runs through my head is, “Done right the first time.”. The creator of Jambo Pits, Jamie Geer, spent a long time adjusting the angle of a short baffle between the firebox and the main cooking chamber. Once he dialed in the perfect angle he lowered a massive smoke stack down to grate level and ended up with an incredibly even cooking smoker.
I spent quite a while researching Jamie’s pit design but I will not claim to be an expert. The beauty of the performance appears to be based in getting many small details absolutely perfect.
The hallmark of a Jambo pit is a firebox that appears over sized in comparison to the cooking chamber. The firebox on these pits are not only massive but extremely well insulated. The end result is that you can run this offset with a small, clean burning fire. There was a LOT of R&D that went into the design of the firebox, baffle angle and massive chrome smoke stack.
But What About You?
Look, these high end pits are freaking awesome but the reality is that most people do not have $2,000-$10,000 to spend on a high end, well engineered offset.
If you really want an offset smoker but are on a budget then let me suggest two options.
If you live near an Academy Sports store then drive down and see if they have an Old Country Pecos or Wrangler BBQ Pit. I am a big fan of the Old Country smokers. They have great build quality and are relatively affordable but can be hard to find.
For most folks the Oklahoma Joe Reverse Flow Longhorn is going to be the best viable option.
The Oklahoma Joe Reverse Flow Longhorn comes in at a little over 200 pounds and includes a set of adjustable baffles to enable reverse flow cooking. The smoker offers 750 square inches of space on the main cooking grate and another 300 square inches on the grate over the firebox. This is a seriously large cooker.
The Longhorn is NOT sealed worth a dang and smoke will roll out of this guy like nobody’s business. That being said, you can do a quick search for “Oklahoma Joe Mods” and see exactly how people have fixed the leaks with gaskets and high temperature silicone.
The Oklahoma Joe Reverse Flow Longhorn made my list for the best smokers under $1,000 and I like the way they look. No, a $500 Oklahoma Joe does not perform the same as a $5,000 Jambo Pit. That’s okay…you can buy a lot of brisket with the extra $4,500 when you get the Reverse Flow Longhorn.