Good versus Bad Unfortunately, for the consumer the best way to tell a good offset smoker from a bad one is to fire it up, and you've probably already made the purchase at that point. A bad offset leaks smoke through the doors and connection between the firebox and the smoking chamber. The only place smoke should be seen coming from an offset smoker is from the smokestack. The second problem with offset smokers is uneven heating. Temperatures near the firebox in poorly designed offsets can be 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) more than the temperature on the other end. The simple truth is that there are a number of inexpensive offset smokers on the market that are not engineered well enough to be classified in the good category and this leads to modifications. Many inexpensive offset smokers need to be modified to work effectively. This has led some people to dismiss the offset smoker entirely and that would be a shame since some of the best smokers on the market are offset smokers.
The Better Offset has doors and seams that seal tightly. This not only keeps the smoke where you need it but improves the airflow of the smoker making it more efficient. To solve the problem of uneven heating and eliminate that nasty radiant (infrared) heat from the firebox, the better offset uses reverse flow. This modifies the basic design by placing a sheet of metal in the bottom of the cooking chamber. Now heat and smoke travel from the firebox, under this sheet to the opposite side of the cooking chamber before rising to the food and traveling back towards the firebox where the smokestack should be placed. Reverse flow heats the cooking chamber indirectly and allows a cooler smoke to flavor the meat. Look for an offset smoker with the smokestack near the firebox.
Getting What you Pay For Because inexpensive offset smokers can be so difficult to operate, if you are not willing to make the investment you probably shouldn't be buying an offset smoker. Instead stick with the Vertical Water Smoker. If you do have the money, there are some really great offset smokers, and they still dominate the competitive barbecue world. Smokers by Lang and Jambo are well built, produce great and large amounts of barbecue and are just plain nice to look at.
More than just Barrel Smokers When people think of offset smokers, they typically think of a round, barrel design. Well I would argue that the Good One Smoker, like the Good One Open Range, are offset smokers. You have a separate cooking chamber and firebox and the same airflow, but the Good One has a square firebox that runs parallel to the cooking chamber. Good One Smoker also have the key ingredient that makes a great offset, thick metal. Thin metal smokers can not hold heat.