Cooking with offset smokers, also called barrel smokers, can be a fun and rewarding experience. Offset smokers have a separate firebox attached to the cooking chamber which allows for direct grilling in the firebox, and direct or indirect cooking in the smoking chamber. When mastered, the indirect cooking method turns out fantastic barbecue, smoked meats, poultry, and fish. The secret of the indirect cooking method lies in the ability to maintain an even cooking temperature over a long period of time. For the novice, this can be a difficult and frustrating skill to learn. This article offers some basic tips that will help you become master of your offset smoker.
When buying an offset smoker, one of your main considerations should be the thickness of the steel. Thin gauge steel does not retain heat very well. This makes it more difficult to maintain a consistent cooking temperature. Also, the temperature near the firebox can be hotter than at the other end of the cooking chamber. The thinner the steel, the more pronounced this heat difference will be, and you may have to rotate your meat fairly often. You can still cook exceptional barbecue and smoked meats with a thin gauge steel smoker, it just takes a bit more work. My choice is the Bayou Classic offset smokers. They are built to last with heavy 10-gauge steel and 1200 degree heat resistant paint.
No matter which offset smoker you choose, the key to low and slow cooking is to maintain a consistent cooking temperature. To do that, you need to get a feel for how your particular smoker cooks. It takes practice, a little experimentation, and a lot of patience. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.
*Season your smoker. Itís really a simple process, just like seasoning a cast iron skillet only on a larger scale. First, coat the inside of your smoking chamber with cooking oil. Any type will do, so donít use anything expensive. Next, build a fire in the firebox and add wood chips for smoke. Maintain the temperature at 250 to 275 degrees F and let it go for two or three hours adding chips for smoke when needed. Itís that simple. The oil and smoke will create a barrier on the inside of you smoker and protect it from rust. This is also an important step for the simple fact that it gives you a dry run on your new smoker.
*Use coals for your fire not wood. Charcoal burns at a consistent pace, and is much easier to control than wood. Once youíve mastered the charcoal fire, go ahead and experiment with wood if youíd like. But until then, do yourself a favor, cook with charcoal and add wood chips for smoke.
*Pre heat the cooking chamber to the desired cooking temperature.
*Keep the lid closed. You cannot maintain an even cooking temperature if you keep opening the lid. If you are cooking a lot of meat and are using all the grill space, you may need to open it occasionally to rotate the meat away from the firebox. Otherwise, keep the lid closed.
*When adding coals, use a charcoal chimney to pre start them prior to adding them to the fire. Adding unlit coals will cool your fire and you donít want that.
*Donít soak your wood chips. Wet wood chips can cool your fire. Again, you want your fire to burn as consistently as possible.
Clean the ashes in the firebox and the grease from the cooking chamber. You should get in the habit of doing this after every use. Just scrape out the ashes and grease. You donít want them building up in your barrel smoker, they can trap water and cause rust.
Well, thanks for reading and I hope these tips help. Go grab a beer, or a glass of wine and fire up that offset smoker. But don't drink too much, you have to pay close attention to that fire.