I’ve been around the “bbq block” long enough to tell you that there are very mixed and strong opinions about which is the better pick; reverse flow smoker vs offset. You are either in favor of one or the other, there’s no middle ground. That’s why I thought it necessary to explain how these two smokers function and if one is indeed better than the other.
What I can quickly point out is this; both are equally effective smokers. Their main difference lies in how flow and offset smokers function and handle heat distribution. From my experience, a reverse flow is the better option. Why? It more or less serves to correct the differences in temperature heating dynamics associated with a traditional offset smoker.
A traditional offset smoker—also known as a horizontal offset smoker—allows heat to enter the cooking chamber from one end. The heat travels across the meat and exits the chamber via the exhaust vents on the other end. This unfortunately creates hot spots in certain areas of your chamber which may adversely affect your smoking process.
A reverse flow smoker, on the other hand, also allows heat to enter the cooking chamber via one end. The only difference is that heat moving inside the cooking chamber is first diverted under a metal plate. It then moves back through the cooking chamber in the reverse or opposite direction and exits the chambers via the firebox end.
In simple terms, a reverse offset smoker allows for optimum or uniform heat distribution inside the smoker. A regular offset smoker? Not so much. Why? The position where the firebox is situated in an offset smoker tends to get very hot. This might burn or overcook the meat in that area if temperatures aren’t monitored carefully. And that’s where a reverse flow smoker comes in; to force the hot air to move along the entire length of the cooking chamber. This process is designed to bring the heat across the meat while it’s on its way out.
Traditional offset smoker lovers believe that your smoking skills to a large extent determine your ability to regulate a smoker’s cooking temperatures. And this is whether or not you use a reverse flow or offset smoker.
Check this video if you want to go more into the tech behind the differences between reverse flow and offset smokers.
But let’s not leave it to hearsay. Rather let’s discuss how they both work, their pros and cons and where each best unit excels. Ultimately, I want you to make up your own mind on the matter.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Use an Offset Smoker
- 2 How to Use a Reverse Flow Offset Smoker
- 3 Benefits of Offset Smoker vs Reverse flow Smokers
- 4 Disadvantages of Reverse flow Smoker vs Offset Smoker
- 5 When to Use a Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset Smoker
- 6 Key Differences and Similarities
- 7 Conclusion
How to Use an Offset Smoker
To use an offset smoker, you must follow these steps:
- Start off by firing up your coal and dump them down the firebox once they are lit. Make sure you place the coal on the far side of the firebox so you don’t reach over the fire each time you tend to your smoker.
- Heat up your logs by placing them on top of the firebox so they catch smoke much quicker.
- Place the heated logs on top of your coal.
- Set up your probe thermometer at the grate level
- When the smoker reaches the desired temperature, partially open the chimney vents
- Go ahead and place your meat.
- Check your fire box every 45 minutes and add more wood when necessary.
How to Use a Reverse Flow Offset Smoker
To use a reverse flow offset smoker, you can follow these steps:
- Fire up your charcoal and place it in the firebox together with your wood.
- Adjust the vents till the temperatures reach 225 degrees. Be sure to use a probe thermometer to ascertain this.
- Place your meat on the racks.
- Close the lid.
- Monitor the cooking temperature after every hour.
- Add more charcoal or adjust the vents if the smoke starts to die down.
- Smoke meat till it’s tender.
It’s clear that you follow more or less the same process when using an offset and reverse flow smoker. The only difference lies in your and the smoker’s ability to manage temperatures.
Benefits of Offset Smoker vs Reverse flow Smokers
Reverse Flow Smoker Pros
Aside from allowing for better heat distribution, reverse flow smokers offer the following benefits:
- Improving flow of smoke in your unit’s cooking chamber.
- Prevents harsh and direct heat form overcooking certain parts of your meat (particularly the meat closest to the firebox).
- Allows for a more even cooking temperature so you can expect consistent results. This is why novice smokers will find them easier to operate.
- The metal plate acts a grease pan. Fat dripping from the pan to your meat incidentally adds more flavor to it.
- Even smoke distribution for enhanced flavor.
- Less temperature spikes when you add more fuel to your smoker.
- The cooking temperature returns to normal quickly if you open the cooking chamber’s door.
Offset Smoker Pros
Moving on to offset smokers, the unit also come with several advantages such as the following:
- Firstly, an offset smoker is considered more aesthetically pleasing than its reverse flow smoker counterpart. Maybe it’s because the unit doesn’t have features such as additional metal pan as found on the reverse flow smoker.
- You can cook different foods that require different cooking temperatures simultaneously. This is something you’ll appreciate if you’re hosting a BBQ for a crowd with diverse palates.
- You don’t have to necessarily open the cooking chambers when you want to add more fuel to the fire. Simply add via the firebox. That means zero disruption in cooking temperatures and smoke levels.
- You don’t use up a lot of fuel because they are more energy efficient and easier to run.
- You can grill foods on offset smokers making them pretty versatile.
- They are designed to last long provided that you handle and maintain the unit with care.
Disadvantages of Reverse flow Smoker vs Offset Smoker
Reverse Flow Smoker Cons
While the benefits of using a reverse flow smoker are numerous, the unit also has its own drawbacks as I’ll mention below:
- If you’re cooking different foods at the same that require different cooking temperatures, the uniform heat distribution is a huge disadvantage.
- Air flow is usually restricted with a reverse flow smoker which may compromise a clean burn.
- Takes a while to heat up since heat has to first travel under the metal pan and then back through the cooking chamber.
- Uses up a lot of fuel.
- Most metal plates are welded inside the reverse flow smoker which makes cleaning them a hassle.
- Because they are better suited for a low and slow cooking method, it means the smoking process may take a while.
- Bulky and heavy design.
Offset Smoker Cons
I’ll admit it’s pretty difficult not to love offset smoker given the numerous benefits they offer. But they like reverse offset smokers also have a few cons of the own namely:
- Most offset smokers present a huge learning curve. You’ll require a lot of practice before you can master how to use the unit.
- Smoking in colder climates can be pretty difficult ad they can take much longer to heat up.
- Most offset smokers are pretty large which can be a huge problem if you’re working with limited space.
- Along with being bulky, they are pretty heavy. Moving the unit from one place to the other is a pretty cumbersome process.
When to Use a Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset Smoker
Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages each unit has to offer, let’s discuss in which situations the smokers excel.
Use a regular offset smoker under the following conditions:
- If you require plenty of airflow.
- Prefer very clean smoke.
- Want to cook different foods that require different temperatures or heat zones.
- When slow smoking large meats.
Use reverse flow smokers under the following conditions:
- If you want a low and slow cooking method throughout the entire cooking temperature.
- You don’t want to move or rotate your meat to high temperature zones.
- You’re new to the world of smoking. Have a look at the video below for more tips if you’re a novice smoker.
- Want added flavor provided by the fat dripping from the grease pan.
- If you want to cook different types of foods at the same time.
Key Differences and Similarities
I’ll round up the article by including a few key differences and similarities between the two smokers in the form of a comparison table.
|Reverse flow smoker||Offset smoker|
|Ease of cleaning||No||Yes|
|Airflow||Minimal airflow||Plenty of airflow|
|Position of stack||Opposite end of the fire box||Same end as firebox|
|Cooking time||Longer||Slightly faster|
You have all the facts, now it’s time to make a decision. In your opinion, which of these two smokers is better? The smoker you pick is ultimately based on factors such as your preferences, cooking skill, preferred cooking method and type of foods you are cooking.