You visit a Texas smokehouse and have some of the best brisket you have ever tasted in your life. Your eyes roll back in your head as you take a deep breath from the pure satisfaction that comes from consuming prime Texas beef slow smoked by a professional Texas PitMaster. The beef was kissed by the smoke produced from a clean burning wood fire with a constant flame managed full time for 12-16 hours.
Your mind starts to wander as you begin your quest to try and produce the same quality of brisket at home. Your first thought is to purchase an offset smoker thinking they are all created equal. You run up to your local box store looking at the various options. They are all the same, right?
Cheap Offset Smoker at Local Box Store
When someone gets the itch to smoke a brisket or ribs, the first place they go is their local big box store. They walk the aisle looking for a pit and most of the time they end up with a cheap offset smoker. If you plan on buying a cheap offset smoker, you might as well take your money and throw it in the trash. Buy a Pit Barrel Cooker instead. If you wan’t to grill and smoke, buy a Kamado grill. You can thank me later.
The unit you purchase will be a thorn in your side the whole time you own it. It will not hold temperature correctly due to thin metal and after a couple of years it is going to rust out and be thrown away. This is a huge mistake and I’m going to tell you why. If your looking for a pellet smoker, check out our MAK 2 Star pellet grill review.
Fire Management is Real Work
If you buy an offset smoker, you need to learn how to properly manage a fire. If you don’t, you will end up with nasty tasting food. Fire management done properly takes a large investment in time but will produce great results. Doing a quick search on YouTube will yield some great videos on how to manage a fire on an offset smoker.
Fire management in a well-built offset smoker takes a lot of work. Fire management in a cheap offset smoker will take even more work to maintain the proper fire. The metal is so thin it won’t retain heat therefore causing you to work constantly to keep the fire going. Some good offset smokers offer very thick and/or insulated fire boxes which are good at maintaining heat over long periods of time.
There is No Airflow
Cheap offset smokers are not designed properly. The air intake on the firebox side is too small as well as the hole that goes from the firebox to the cooking chamber. Another issue is the smoke stack diameter is too small therefore preventing the smoker from expelling the hot air and smoke quick enough to keep a properly burning fire.
I recently smoked Dino beef ribs for about 8-9 hours on the exact smoker pictured above. It was one of the most exhausting cooks I have ever been a part of. In order to have a clean burning fire, I left the fire door on the side fully open. The airflow through the smoker was not enough to maintain the properly “clean” burning fire we needed since we were cooking with mesquite splits.
To fix the issue, we had to prop the top door on the firebox open about two inches with a piece of square tubing. We also turned on a large fan we had on the patio sitting about twenty feet away and directed it toward the firebox. This additional air fueled the firebox enough to keep a clean burning fire.
The downside is mesquite splits burn quickly so the additional oxygen and cheap thin firebox metals meant throwing on a new split every twenty minutes or so. It was lots of unnecessary work that could have been avoided if I was cooking on my Pit Barrel Cooker. Instead of relaxing and enjoying everyones company, I constantly worried about rendering a quality product while cooking very expensive beef ribs that someone else purchased.
Quality of Construction is Poor
Cheap offset smokers at the big box store are all cheaply manufactured units that are made in China. Most of these smokers use very thin metal with cheap hardware to connect the various parts. The way the story goes is you purchase one of these units to have it burn out on you in less than three years. We see this like clockwork.
Many times the smoke stacks are installed in the wrong area of the pit to get a good draw for proper airflow. Also, they are usually way too small and the stack is not high enough to create a good draw. Another issue you have is the fire box may be too small therefore putting the heat too close to the meat. If the smoker does not have a baffle blocking the direct heat from the fire box that could be an issues as well.
What Should I Buy Instead?
The Pit Barrel Cooker is the best smoker for most people. And it’s affordable.
I am not saying this because we earn a commission if you click the link in this article and make a purchase. The Pit Barrel Cooker really is the best smoker for most people. It offers an easy way for anyone to cook wonderful smoked meats without the fuss found in cheap traditional units. We did a full review of the unit you can find here.
I would start with a Pit Barrel Cooker for all your meat smoking and then after using it for a while you can decide if you need a wood burning offset smoker. Heck, my guess is if you need more capacity you will probably end up buy another Pit Barrel Cooker. They are that enjoyable to use, portable, and they produce excellent food.
Fire Management Is Easy in The Pit Barrel Cooker
Fire management in The Pit Barrel Cooker is simple. You cook with charcoal as your primary heat source and you can add small chunks of flavor wood if you choose. The fire basket holds enough charcoal to cook for eight hours or more before having to refuel.
This is crucial when doing long cooks such as briskets or pork butts. Cooking pork butts can take 8-10 hours and briskets can be even longer. Being able to throw a large chunk of meat on your pit without worrying about it for hours is a huge plus.
Freedom To Sleep or Go Boating with The Pit Barrel Cooker
If you have a Pit Barrel Cooker, you can throw a brisket in the pit and go to bed. The cooker will slowly burn at the optimal temperature while you sleep like a baby. No need to wake up in the middle of the night to add wood to the smoker like on a cheap offset pit.
If you are cooking at the lake, The Pit Barrel Cooker is the perfect smoker. You can throw up to eight racks of ribs on and go out on the boat, and they will be ready in 4-5 hours. I have even cooked ribs in as short as 3 hours. You have one bottom vent you can adjust to increase the temperature of the cook.
The same goes for larger meats. Briskets and pork butts can be cooked overnight or while you are out boating or drinking beer at the sandbar. No need to sit by the fire like a hostage adding wood every hour or so. The Pit Barrel Cooker gives you the freedom to go have fun and come back to perfectly cooked food.
Run Some Errands on Saturday With The Pit Barrel Cooker
Maybe it’s a Saturday and you’re doing chores around the home. You need to run up to your local hardware store for some home improvement parts. Go for it. The Pit Barrel Cooker will be cooking away while you are gone. There is no fire to manage or vents to adjust. Hang the meat and cook the meat to your desired done ness and that’s it. Total and complete freedom to do what you need to do.
The Pit Barrel Cooker ships to your door in a complete package that includes everything you need to get started smoking meats. They have upgraded packages on their website that offer real value by including accessories you might use.
The company was founded by a retired veteran of the US Military, and he offers instructional videos on their website on how to use the cooker. Buy one today and you will be making great BBQ without the frustration found in traditional, cheap offset smokers found at your local box store.
Everything we discussed about the Pit Barrel Cooker also applies to a Kamado grill. Fire management is easy and you can walk away from the smoker and not worry about the fire going out or temperature fluctuations. A Kamado style grill will also be better at day to day grilling if that’s important to you. We have owned a Big Green Egg for years and it has been a faithful, reliable cooker without fail.
My first recommendation for anyone who just want’s to smoke meats will always be The Pit Barrel Cooker. Hands down. There is always so much enjoyment pulled from the simplicity of this cooker. I would recommend it over a pellet smoker any day and even a Kamado if smoking is all you want to do.
If your looking for a pellet smoker, check out our MAK 2 Star pellet grill review. It’s not the cheapest pellet smoker, but it will still be standing while most other sub $2,000 pellet grills are sitting in a recycle yard.