The Wood Fueled Offset Pit Smoker

For making traditional wood fire barbecue, an offset pit smoker is the way to go. When that pale blue smoke bathes the meat for hours, you always end up with something special.

There are cheap pit smokers and there are expensive pit smokers. The least expensive ones can be found at the big discount stores in the lawn and garden section.

I've seen one at Wally World that costs just $79. It's made of thin sheet metal and is poorly constructed. My guess is that it would probably work, but controlling the temperature would be difficult. And that thin sheet metal would rust through after a few seasons of use.

High quality offset smokers are made of heavy quarter-inch thick steel. All the moving parts (lids, covers, intake and exhaust adjusters) fit well and work smoothly. The Oklahoma Joe smoker pictured to the left is a good example of a well make smoker.

Using An Offset Pit Smoker

The main things to consider when barbecuing in a pit smoker are...

  • The Fire - The fire has to burn clean and hot. The trick is to burn a small fire. That'll keep the smoke chamber from getting too hot.
  • Air Flow - Plenty of air is needed to keep the fire burning clean. The intake vents should be one-third to halfway open. You may even need to crack open the firebox lid a little to keep the heat down.

    The exhaust flue vent needs to be about halfway open too. There needs to be a constant flow going through the smoker. And the smoke should be so light that it's almost invisible as it exits.
  • The Correct Temperature - For true smoked foods, the temperature of the smoke chamber should hover around 225°F. That's perfect for smoking ribs, beef and skinless chicken. Run the temperature between 275-300°F when smoking poultry with the skin on. At the higher temperature the skin will become brown and crispy, while the meat gets its smoky flavor.

A Common Pitsmoking Mistake

The worst thing to do if the smoker begins to overheat is to close the intake vents and smother the fire. Sure, the temperature will go down. And you'll get a lot of pretty smoke.

But what you may not know is that suffocating fire is burning dirty. It's creating a lot of creosote, which is coating your food. And that's something you don't want. Creosote will ruin any food it touches with a tongue-numbing bitter taste.

If things are getting too hot in the smoker, open things up instead. Open the fire box lid wide for a few minutes to let things cool down. Remove a few of the hot coals and go with a smaller fire. When the temperature has dropped, close things back up a little. Burning a smaller fire should do the trick.

Add smaller pieces of wood or less charcoal when fueling the beast. Your offset pit smoker will do a good job of barbecuing if you remember that a small, clean burning, hot fire is the way to go.