Wood Smokers, aka Horizontal Pit Smokers

For traditional smoked meats, wood smokers are the way to go. The burning wood bathes the meat in clean, blue smoke, adding flavor that can't be duplicated in electric or gas smokers.

The heart and soul of a wood smoker is the smoker firebox. Feed it with the right amount of wood, let it breathe just enough air, and it'll put out just the right amount of heat and smoke. There's a knack to tending the firebox correctly.

The Smoker Firebox
Controlling Wood Smoker Temperature

Start the fire like you'd start any campfire, just on a smaller scale. On a bit of crumpled up paper, stack progressively larger pieces of wood.

Starting with small twigs and sticks for the kindling (must be very dry). Place a few larger twigs, and then small chunks on the pile. Light the paper to get it all burning.

As it burns, add slightly larger chunks until you have about good sized pieces burning. By good sized, I mean about 2 to 3 inches in diameter and 6 inches long.

Keep all the vents wide open as the fire gets to going. When the wood is burning hot, close up the firebox lid, and leave the vents wide open. Leave the smokestack wide open, too.

After ten or fifteen minutes, check the smoke chamber temperature. If it's too high, close the firebox and smokestack vents by 25%.

Wait another 10 minutes and check the temperature again. Keep working with the vent adjustments until you get the proper temperature.

Never close the vents more than 50% total. If you do, the fire will choke. It will start making a lot of dense smoke, which will make your food bitter.

The smoke coming out of the vent should be barely visible. Remove a piece of the burning wood if you can't get the temperature down with the vents.

Cracking the top access door open an inch (if it has one) will help cool the smoker too.

On the other hand, if the smoker is too cool, add one more piece of wood to the fire. Build it up just enough to get the temperature where you want it. Leave the vents open.

And while you're getting a handle in the temperature, keep the fire stoked to where there are a few pieces of wood burning atop a small pile of wood coals. As the coals and wood burn away, gradually add fresh wood.

If you can maintain your wood smoker temperature close to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, you're doing great! If you are smoking poultry, use a larger fire and get the temperature up to between 275-300 degrees. Your chicken and turkey will get a nice brown skin at that heat level.

Using Wood Burning Pit Smokers

Now that your offset smoker is at temperature, put the ribs, brisket or chicken in. The temperature will be hotter at the firebox end - cooler at the vent end.

You can rotate the food from end to end for even cooking. To help regulate the temperature, place a pan of water right next to the firebox. It'll absorb the excess heat.

The benefits wood smokers have to offer are:

  • Cheap or free fuel source
  • Very clean smoke (when you're experienced)
  • Dry heat
  • Excellent air circulation around food
  • Jealous neighbors...

Because face it, wood burning meat smokers are cool. Everybody wants one!