''What's the best offset smoker for the least money?''
A question I see asked time and time again on the groups and forums.
I will tell you now, this mythical creature doesn't exist, here at Pro Smoke BBQ we've cooked on them all and like to think we're a brand you can trust to tell you the truth.
Material thickness is absolutely the most important thing you should consider over anything else, and the main thing that will drive the price of a smoker up.
Thickness is even more important if you're reading this in Europe, our climate and humidity will make running a thin, poorly insulated offset a nightmare.
''How thick should you go?''
Ideally, you're looking for 7mm steel, as seen on all of our Cactus Jack models.
This has many benefits:
1) Once hot it will retain heat, meaning you start with a very large fire to heat it through, then as your coal bed grows and the smoker is up to temperature you may only need a good log every 30 minutes.
2) You'll be able to keep a log fire burning easily, thin smokers will loose heat very quickly, allowing your embers to die and not have enough power to ignite the logs you feed it.
3) Thick steel will reduce temperature swings across the cook chamber, simply because the whole unit stays hot, on lower gauge smokers the left side may cool rapidly while the right side stays hot.
If all we consider is material thickness, that narrows our search for a great offset unit to just a handful of well-known brands:
- Cactus Jack (EU/UK)
- BBQ Mates (UK)
- Yoder (US)
- Lone Star Grillz (US)
- Gator Pit (US)
Thick heavy steel is expensive to buy, work with and ship, but will last forever, hence the often £2,000.00 plus price tag.
So you can see why there's no cheap, good, offset smokers out there.
''I've found a thick steel smoker, anything else to consider?''
Yes, design! One that drafts well.
Your only goal when using an offset smoker is to get clean heat through the cook chamber, over the meat and out the stack, the faster you can move the air the quicker your meat will cook, this is why fan ovens are more efficient than conventional.
All the above brands will do this, as the smokestacks are all long enough, this creates the drawing effect through the smoker as heat rises out.
Often the cheaper brands have very small chimneys, this makes the drafting effect very low. In conjunction with your heat escaping through the thin gauge metal body, you get a very high maintenance cook.
''What's the most fuel-efficient offset smoker'
Efficiency and offset smokers shouldn't really be in the same sentence.
You're going to be buying wood by the dumpy bag.
English hardwood is pretty cheap in the scheme of things, find a local supplier and negotiate a deal, half pickup truck loads are about £50 delivered.
You really don't want to skimp on your fuel either, using lots of wood is where the magic happens when cooking with it, the subtle aromas it will impart on your food when properly combusted is very unique, and better than any charcoal and wood chunk mix.
My typical wood consumption is a minimum of 6 logs to start the fire and establish a coal bed, then a good size log every 20 minutes to keep building that coal bed, a thick coal bed is your only priority early on. This will save you wood in the long run and help you maintain even temperatures.
You might even be able to stretch your refuel times to 30-40 minutes after a few hours with the above method.
The unique thing about our Cactus Jack smokers is you can and are encouraged to run them with both fire doors open, this allows a lovely big healthy fire with lots of air. The chimney stack is balanced to draw just the right amount of heat for slow cooking.
When using the ceramic filter stone you can lower the temperature in the cooking chamber to the 225F range, or removing it to bump your temperatures to 275f+. But most importantly this method won't force you to try and manage a very small hot fire, plus the logs you can add are bigger, making fire management a breeze.
To be continued.....