Barbecue has quickly turned into a nationwide phenomenon, growing out of the traditional smoking regions of Texas, Kansas City, and the Deep South. From coast to coast, backyard cooks are buying smokers and joining the exciting world of barbecue.
For many, the smoker of choice is an offset smoker. Offset smokers add a smoker box to a traditional grill. The wood is burned in the smoker box, with the smoke piped into the grilling chamber. The result is meat that rivals professional barbecue from a traditional pit–if it is done correctly with the right kind of offset smoker.
If you are interested in venturing into the barbecue world, the first thing you’ll have to do is choose a smoker. As we’ve noted, an offset smoker will be a very appealing option for you because it allows you to do the standard hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, and chops when you’re not smoking.
With that said, there are plenty of offset smokers on the market. Before you make a purchase, get some information from an authority on smokers, then choose the model that will make your smoky dreams come true.
You should also keep these four characteristics in mind as you shop.
Correct Air Flow
Maybe we should say smoke flow. Whatever you call it, the whole idea of a smoker is to get the smoke in contact with the meat. If the natural path of the smoke does not pass directly through the meat, you will not maximize the flavor value of your smoke. Instead, it will bypass the meat and roll out of the lid with no impact on your final product.
This is a particularly important consideration with offset smokers. Some designs are basically grills with no consideration given to the exact placement of the firebox or how the smoke will travel to and through the meat. An offset smoker should be designed as both a great smoker and a great grill, not as a jack of all trades.
Room for Adjustment
The best barbecue cookers, whether they’re home-based or commercial, know that the ability to adjust cooking conditions is vital. A cookie-cutter setup will yield a cookie-cutter product.
The best offset smokers provide you with flexibility on the damper for the smoker box. At the same time, you have the ability to tweak temperatures in the meat box itself, because it is set up to operate as an ordinary grill when you’re not smoking. Balancing the influences of the various adjustments helps you dial in your cooking condition and get the best possible barbecue.
The Right Temperature Gradient
The biggest mistake inexperienced cookers make is getting impatient, and their usual response is to increase the temperature when they don’t see the meat cooking as fast as they think it should. In an offset smoker, it is important to keep the cooking chamber at the right “low and slow” cooking temperature.
This is partly up to you, but it is also partly up to the design. A firebox that is too close to the cooking chamber or that burns too hot might provide well-cooked meat, but it will not get the best possible smoke flavor.
A good offset smoker will keep the smoking chamber at just the right temperature to keep the meat from finishing before the smoky flavor can be maximized.
An important characteristic of smoking barbecue is that you are typically dealing with a large quantity of meat. Whether it’s beef brisket, a pork shoulder, or a big pile of ribs, you need lots of room in your offset smoker. After all, you don’t smoke every day. You need to make it worth your while.
This is an area where offset smokers sometimes lag behind. Many grillers like a more moderate size for their gas and charcoal cooking, permitting them to do a flame-cooked meal for five or six people at the most. That has created a market for offset smokers that are undersized.
As you shop, use hard numbers. Take a tape measure to the grocery store and make a quick measurement of a Boston butt or rack of ribs. If that gives you a grill that’s too big for everyday use, well, you don’t have to use the whole thing.
Barbecue is one of the most unique and delicious foods in the world. The appeal of the amazing flavors it provides may have given you the inspiration to pile up some hickory or mesquite and get started with your own smoking. That’s great–as long as you approach it the right way.