How to Use an Offset Fire Box Smoker

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Using natural lump charcoal in offset fireboxes imparts better flavor to meat.
Using natural lump charcoal in offset fireboxes imparts better flavor to meat. (Image: hot charcoal image by Ludovic LAN from Fotolia.com)

Barrel grills equipped with offset fireboxes are the slow-cookers of the grilling world, imparting smoky flavors to meat during long cooking times and incorporating low heat for tenderness. Offset fireboxes connect to the main smoking chamber of grills but sit to the side of and slightly lower than the cooking chamber, meaning heat sources don't scorch meat. Smoking grills with offset fireboxes work best for larger, fattier cuts of meat, rendering tough meat tender with rich flavor.

Things You'll Need

  • Aluminum foil
  • Large bag of natural lump charcoal
  • Charcoal chimney starter
  • 2 to 3 sheets of newspaper
  • Long grill lighter
  • 5 pounds hardwood smoking chips
  • Large plastic bowl or bucket
  • Dry-rub seasonings

Meat, Wood Chip and Grill Prep

Sprinkle the desired meat generously with dry-rub seasoning and rub the spices into the meat, covering all surfaces. Place the meat on a clean dish or platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Place the hardwood smoking chips into the large plastic bowl or bucket and fill the container with enough water to completely submerge the chips. Soak the wood for at least an hour prior to smoking time.

Open the hatch of the main smoking chamber (the largest of the two barrels), remove the cooking grate and line the bottom of the chamber with foil to catch meat drippings during the smoking process. Replace the cooking grate and close the lid.

Fill the chimney starter about half full with natural lump charcoal -- about five or six large handfuls. Open all grill vents and chimneys wide.

Crumple up the newspaper into balls and place them on the charcoal grate inside the offset firebox -- the smaller of the two barrels.

Place the chimney starter atop the crumpled newspaper and light the newspaper, sliding the long grill lighter through the lower vents to ignite the paper. Wait 20 minutes or until coals become gray and glow.

The Smoking Process

Open the main smoking chamber and place the seasoned meat in the center of the grate, then immediately close the hatch.

Toss a handful of wet wood chips atop the lit coals in the offset firebox and close the lid.

Replenish a handful or two of wet wood chips every 30 minutes and a handful or two of charcoal every hour to maintain the cooking fire and flow of smoke.

Smoke the meat for several hours at between 250 and 300 degrees. Cooking time and temperature depends on meat type and weight.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use natural lump charcoal -- not briquettes -- for superior flavor and ease in lighting. Natural charcoal -- made from actual wood chunks -- catches fire faster and lacks the chemical additives and binders of briquettes. Choose hardwood smoking chips based on meat type. Hickory and oak match up well with most meat types. Mesquite complements beef best, while fruit-based woods, such as cherry or apple, work best for fish. Maintain consistent temperatures by adjusting grill vents and chimneys. Widen vents to raise temperatures, and close vents narrower for temperature reduction.
  • Wear protective gloves or grilling mitts when opening hot grill lids or hatches or adjusting grill vents to avoid burns. Use long-handled spatulas or tongs when removing meat from cooking surfaces.

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