When we were newly married and purchasing our first home, David could not have been more thrilled when the previous owners left behind their offset smoker to go with the house.
Barbecue was a hobby he had been wanting to get into but hadn't yet found the extra money to support that venture. A free smoker was right up his alley.
Eventually, we came to realize why they left that offset smoker behind so willingly.
At first, we chalked it up to user error, as newbies just learning how to use an offset. But after years of struggling to make decent barbecue on it, we accepted the fact that not all offset smokers are created equally and some are quite honestly going to provide more frustration than good food.
Grilling Gift Guide
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That free smoker is really largely to thank for us starting The Barbecue Lab.
Sometimes you just don't know how a product is going to perform until you've used it. And once you've gone to the trouble of building and using an offset smoker, it's too late to return it if you don't like it.
It helps tremendously to hear an honest review from someone who has had hands-on the product you're thinking of buying.
Why Trust Our Review
We have actually done the work to physically test every smoker we talk about in this article. The information, pictures, and data we share here is human-generated (no AI here, folks) based on first-hand experience.
How we picked and tested
Oklahoma Joe and Broil King provided sample units for us to use in our testing. We purchased the Char-Griller new and the Dyna-Glo used on Facebook Marketplace so that they could also be included in this group.
As affiliates through Amazon and other networks, we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase of one of these smokers through one of our links (which we greatly appreciate!), but other than that no financial compensation has been given to sway the results.
We aimed to test these offset smokers as equally and fairly as possible and are allowing the data to speak for itself. We may form our own opinions along the way, but we also understand that every backyard cook is different in what they like and what features mean the most to them based on their vastly different budgets.
Best Offset Smoker Winners
Ok, now that you've seen the winner, let's take a look at how each of the offset smokers we tested performed against the competition.
Best Offset Smoker Under $1,000
We took 6 different offset smokers from 4 different manufacturers and ran them through two weeks of different tests to help you decide which offset smoker is right for you.
At the time of our testing, every offset smoker in this roundup was priced at $1,000 or less. We all understand that the market can change quickly and without warning so those prices may or may not still be accurate.
The offset smokers we compared at this price point included (pictured above L-R) the Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Charcoal Smoker and Grill, the Broil King Regal Offset 500, the Char-Griller Grand Champ, the Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow smoker, Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn offset smoker, and Oklahoma Joe's Bandera Vertical Offset Smokers.
Best Under $1,000: Broil King Regal Offset 500
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Broil King really stood out in a number of categories. And boasting the highest price of the group, we would certainly expect that to be the case.
The Broil King held its temperature quite well and put a beautiful color on the meats that we smoked on it.
What we like:
What we don't like:
The Broil King is the true bells and whistles champ of the group. It's hard to think of an upgrade or accessory that this grill doesn't have.
Heavy gasket around the lid? Check. Double-Walled Lid? Check. Gasket all around the firebox so smoke and heat aren't lost between? Check. Charcoal Trays in stainless steel to make this a dual threat? Check. Ash Rake and Grate Tool? Check.
There are a ton of options that make this the best all-around grill of the bunch by truly being a full charcoal grill and a full offset smoker. If you want it all and don't want to settle, the Broil King produced the best-looking chicken and tied for 1st place on the brisket cook, so you can't go wrong here.
Other $1,000 Offset Smokers Worth Considering:
Dyna Glo Signature Series Vertical Smoker
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Dyna Glo was the only unit we tested that was previously used. So naturally there was already some rust and signs of aging. We're not entirely sure of the true age of this smoker so we can't really speak to the longevity.
While the offset firebox is intended to double as a charcoal grill, it is so low to the ground that we find that feature to be pretty impractical. No one wants to be tending to a grill at or below knee level.
What we like:
What we don't like:
If your budget for an offset smoker is sub-$500, you can't go wrong with the Dyna Glow. You'll get a lot of great barbecue from this vertical smoker.
Just keep in mind that a smoker at that price point will likely not last as long and may be a little more work to manage temps than those with a higher price tag.
Char-Griller Grand Champ
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Char-Griller Grand Champ boasted the most cooking space on the main grill grate (780 sq. inches), with a secondary cooking grate pushing the total to 1200 square inches of cooking space.
What we like:
What we don't like:
The Char-Griller is just plain huge and is made to feed a crowd. The exhaust is gigantic which makes air flow a breeze. If you're looking for a good middle-of-the-road offset for around $600, you can't go wrong with the Grand Champ.
Oklahoma Joe's Highland Reverse Flow Smoker
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Oklahoma Joe's Highland was the only reverse flow offset smoker we tested. It was quite interesting to observe the differences in how this one performed against the others.
What we like:
What we don't like:
The reverse flow Highland is really designed for those who like to run it low and take it slow.
It took us much more wood and a much hotter firebox to get the dome temperature we were after for these test cooks. By having the heat and fuel go through the baffle plates and the entirety of the cooking chamber before returning at grate level and hitting the food, we found that the air cooled considerably during the journey and it just took more in the firebox to achieve the same results.
What I didn't like is that I needed to run the firebox so hot that after only 3 cooks I'm starting to lose the paint on the firebox and on the side of the cooking chamber. My guess is that Oklahoma Joe's really designed this reverse flow to be a true low and slow cooker, and 275-300 aren't temperatures they want you to be running. That's just my guess though.
I would say that the Highland Reverse Flow is really designed for someone who wants to run 200-250 with a true low and slow fire over a long period of time.
Oklahoma Joe's Bandera Vertical Offset
Read our full review of the Oklahoma Joe's Bandera here.
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Bandera was probably the cleanest-running smoker. The smoke was almost always clear to transparent blue, so if you want that clean smoke, it's a great unit for that.
What we like:
What we don't like:
The Bandera is a great unit if you like to cook for a crowd and your favorite proteins aren't that sizeable. While a brisket flat fits easily on each shelf, a full packer brisket has some challenges fitting on a rack unless you like to trim aggressively.
There's so much space with the provided shelves that you can feed an army, as long as you're okay with all of the meats above dripping on all of the meats below while you cook.
Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn
In this roundup of offset smokers, the Longhorn was probably one of the easiest smokers to run.
What we like:
What we don't like:
The Longhorn is best for beginners who want one of the easier offsets to run as they get used to this type of cooking. I wish this was the unit that I had when I got started, but it wasn't, and I struggled to the point of wanting to go back to propane.
The Longhorn is a fantastic cooker that produces respectable bbq and won't break the cook in the process. If you're just getting into offset cooking, I'd take a hard look at the Longhorn.
Choosing The Best Offset Smoker
Is an offset smoker better than a pellet grill?
Most offset smokers do a better job of infusing food with smoke than pellet smokers. You will generally get a better bark and smoke ring as well as a deeper smoke flavor on meat smoked in an offset smoker.
However, the trade-off is that pellet smokers offer the convenience of being able to set-it-and-forget-it. Longer cooks like an overnight brisket are easier to manage while still going about your day (or night) without having to frequently tend to the fire.
Additionally, many pellet smokers also offer connectivity through an app that allow you to monitor the temperature of the cooking chamber as well as the food being smoked.
Is a Vertical or Horizontal Smoker Better?
Vertical smokers have considerably less width than horizontal smokers, so longer meats like a full packer brisket might present a challenge. However, in spite of that, they typically offer more overall square inches of cooking space due to their ability to house 5-6 shelves simultaneously.
Horizontal offset smokers offer many more inches of cooking space on the main grate, however are limited in height to just one or maybe two shelves.
Another difference is that hot spots are more commonly seen in horizontal offset smokers than in vertical smokers. Since the firebox is located beside the cooking chamber, whatever food is placed closest to that end will typically cook hotter than the that at the other end.
Hot spots are not as much of an issue in vertical smokers since there generally is not any food being cooked directly beside the fire box, but rather further up in the vertical cooking chamber.
What's the difference between a traditional offset smoker and a reverse flow smoker?
The easiest way to tell if an offset smoker is traditional or reverse flow is by observing where the exhaust vent is in relation to the firebox. Traditional smokers place the exhaust vent on the opposite side of the cooking chamber from the firebox. In reverse flow smokers, you'll find the exhaust located on the same side as the firebox.
Reverse flow smokers have baffles under the cooking grate that prevent heat and smoke from entering the cooking chamber until it has traveled the full lenth of the chamber underneath and then rises up on the opposite side, over the food, and then exits out the exhaust vent close to the firebox.
In theory, it minimizes hot spots in the cooking chamber and provides more even heat distribution.
Can you grill on an offset smoker?
Most cheap offset smokers are not intended to be run at a high enough heat to grill. In fact, many of them contain a warning in the manual instructing users to not exceed a temperature of 350° because it will damage the finish and lead to rusting sooner.
However many offset smokers include grill grates to be used inside the firebox, so you can grill a small amount of food directly over the coals, which would be considerably hotter than the main cooking chamber. So, yes you can grill, but it may only be 4 burger patties as opposed to 12 because of the limited space you're working with.
A couple of the offset smokers we tested also include an ashpan and charcoal grate for the main cooking chamber below the cooking grates. The Char-Griller Grand Champ and the Broil King Regal were the retail offset smokers that we tested that were best equipped to direct grill over charcoal in the main cooking chamber. The Longhorn and the Highland both claim to have that ability, but the space and opportunity for a charcoal fire in the main chamber is pretty limited.
Offset Smoker Use and Maintenance
How do I keep my offset smoker from rusting?
Step 1 to fighting rust on your offset smoker is to read the manual. The manufacturer has probably laid out a number of warnings and precautions that will aid in greater longevity of your smoker if followed.
The most important of which is probably limiting how hot you run your smoker. Higher heat leads to bubbling exterior paint, which then leads to rust.
Additionally, giving your grill interior a good seasoning with oil prior to use is important. However, it's kind of a catch-22, because it requires high heat to properly season, so you almost have to break rule #1 in order to follow rule #2.
Cleaning your smoker properly will also help prevent rust. Removing ash as soon as it has cooled, draining grease as much as possible, and cleaning cooking grates right away will create an environment less conducive to rust.
Lastly, invest in a tight-fitting cover that will protect your smoker from the elements.
How often do you clean an offset smoker?
The firebox should be cleaned out after every cook. All remaining ash from previous cooks should be brushed or swept out before starting a new fire. Additionally, if ash is left to sit in the firebox, it may absorb moisture which leads to rust.
Likewise, the cooking grates should also be cleaned between cooks.
Different smokers drain grease differently. Some have a drain from which you can hang a bucket and the grease drains out on its own thanks to gravity. But heads-up: Some offset smokers have that drain but do not come with a bucket (in particular the Char-Griller, Highland, and Lonestar). So you'll have to purchase one separately or else you'll end up with grease draining directly on your patio below.
Others, like the Broil King Regal have a removable tray in the bottom of the main chamber that collects grease (or ash if direct grilling with charcoal), that you can pull out to drain and clean.
The bottom line is that the more often you clean your offset smoker, the smaller the job will be and the longer your smoker will last.
How often do you add fuel to an offset smoker?
Offset smokers will require more fuel every 30 to 60. We generally start with a chimney full of charcoal briquettes and then transition to wood for the remainder of the cook. I find that I usually have to add a new split to the fire every 45 minutes, but a lot depends on the size of the firebox and how long of a piece of wood it will hold.
Should you use wood chips in an offset smoker?
I would not recommend using wood chips in an offset smoker. Wood chips are intended more for an electric smoker or propane smoker where the heat source isn't producing smoke on its own. Offset smokers are designed to burn charcoal and actual wood chunks or splits.
Cooking In An Offset Smoker
What's the best meat to smoke for beginners?
If you're a barbecue beginner, I highly recommend starting with a pork butt to make pulled pork. It's very forgiving, economical, and a fairly easy "win" to give you some confidence before venturing into more difficult and/or expensive cuts of meat.
We have put together a playlist on YouTube with our "Barbecue Basics" videos that break down some of the more common barbecue favorites into step-by-step instructions easy for a beginner to follow and find success.
What's the hardest meat to smoke?
Most seasoned pitmasters would (or at least should) admit that beef brisket is the most challenging meat to smoke. I think there are a few factors that contribute to this.
For starters, it's a very large cut of meat, particularly if you're smoking a full-packer brisket which can range in size from 12 to 18 pounds. Additionally, brisket has a significant amount of fat and collagen that takes a lot of time to break down and render.
Typically when the internal temperature of a brisket reaches about 165° it experiences something called "the stall". This is when the fat begins to render, continuing to cool the meat, and preventing it from making much progress in the temperature department.
In order to push through the stall, many pitmasters will utilize a technique called the Texas Crutch and wrap the partially smoked meat in heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper for the remainder of the cook.
What's the quickest meat to smoke?
Smoked chicken breasts or bone-in chicken thighs are pretty quick and easy to smoke, taking around an hour of actual cooking time. The preparation is also quick and simple as we generally just use a dry rub and skip brining it altogether.
What's the best meat to smoke for a crowd?
In my opinion, the best meat to smoke for a crowd is pork shoulder. It's one of the easiest meats to smoke and you can usually get them for a great price per pound.
In fact, last summer, with the help of a few friends and quite a few volunteers, we smoked pulled pork for 800 people at our church.
Brisket is another meat designed to feed a crowd, particularly if you're smoking a full-packer brisket. It comes at a per-pound price of at least double the pork shoulder and takes more total cooking time, so I guess the decision falls on how much you like the crowd you're serving!
What to Look For in an Offset Smoker
Weight is an important characteristic to consider because a heavier grill will retain heat better than a grill constructed with thinner metal. Grills tend to blow in the wind if they’re not heavy.
Thicker metal means longer use before they burn out and need to be replaced. So, as a general rule, the heavier and sturdier that an offset grill is, the more likely that it is to be a reliable and consistently effective smoker.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when considering a smoker:
- Does it feel sturdy?
- How does it feel when you push on different parts of the grill?
- Does it give?
- Does it flex?
- Are you going to leave this outside?
- Will the metal rust easily?
- How are the wheels?
- Will you be able to move it around easily?
Another key characteristic to consider is the construction of the smoker. Larger wheels are better, because offset smokers are usually very heavy grills.
You must ask yourself all of these questions before deciding on a grill to be sure that you’re getting the one that fits your needs best.
What to Look For in Accessories
Consider the accessories and extra features that the offset smoker that you’re considering comes with. Ask yourself:
- Does it come with a front shelf?
- Any cooking utensils?
- Is a cover included?
- How portable is it?
- Do the wheels lock?
Some of these may not be completely vital to you. A couple though, like finding if the wheels lock, is very important. You don’t want a grill that will move in the wind or roll down an inclined surface.
What to Look for With Cooking Space
Last, look at how big the cooking surface of the grill is. You want space to be able to cook more than one kind of meat at the same time. Ask yourself:
- How much could you cook on this unit at a time?
- Is there more than 1 cooking grate/multiple cooking levels?
Smaller cooking spaces may be fine for you, depending on how many people you’re cooking for at a time or if you’re cooking competitively.
Every question that you ask yourself will be subject to what you feel that you actually want and need.
Offset grills specialize in being able to cook large amounts of meat at one time. Offset grills vs Kamado Joe or Green Egg grills for instance should be able to cook two or three times more meat at one time than those grills, but not necessarily your standard gas grills.
If you were thinking about what you want out of an offset smoker while looking through this guide, you may have found an offset smoker that is able to accommodate your needs. It can be tough to find the perfect offset smoker for you with so many different options out there. However, we hope this buyers guide has helped you find your top pick in offset smokers.