Trying to decide between buying an offset smoker vs kamado? Both of these barbecues are awesome backyard additions! But, when it comes to which one is better, it’s a totally personal decision. To help you work out which type of barbecue you should buy, this article dives into the pros and cons of both the offset smoker and the kamado. We’ve even thrown in a handy comparison chart along with our favorite of these ‘cues at different price points to make your decision a little easier.
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Table of Contents
What is an Offset Smoker?
Offset smokers are your original southern-style smoker. They’re basic, they require manual work and they give darn good results because of it.
You might have also heard of the terms horizontal smoker, stick burner, pipe smoker, pit smoker or side firebox smoker. They’re all the same thing and are basically a smaller firebox or pipe that’s connected to a larger cooking chamber where the heat and smoke is filtered through to smoke what’s within.
Offset smokers are designed to cook food low and slow meaning at a low temperature for many hours. This results in meat that’s well penetrated with that true smoky taste, moist on the inside and finished with a crispy outside shell.
But, offset smokers can also double as a grill as well. Many models also come with additional grates in the firebox so you can flame grill while you’re smoking. And, some can even be configured so that the main cooking chamber can be filled with charcoal and used as a huge charcoal grill.
Regardless of the make and model, offset smokers are designed to run off of a mix of charcoal and real wood. That’s what gives them what’s undeniably the most authentic smoked flavor of all types of smokers and is probably why you’re considering buying one.
What is a Kamado Grill or Smoker?
A kamado is one of the oldest forms of the oven that dates back thousands of years. They looked a little different but were originally used in many ancient civilizations around the world including tandoors in India and rice steamers in Japan.
But today, kamado’s are one of the most popular types of barbecues on the market. Made from ceramic, insulated steel or another similar material, a kamado offers excellent heat retention properties making them highly efficient in terms of fuel usage and cook times.
Powered off of charcoal and wood chips to add a smoky flavor, the fire is built at the bottom of the ‘egg’ above which food is placed on grates. From here, the heat is radiated back onto the meat from 360 degrees thanks to the natural heat-holding properties of the kamado’s shell material.
This, and the high temperature level that’s easily achievable on a kamado, makes them ideal barbecues for high-heat grilling and searing. But, by adding a heat diffusing plate above the fire and below the food, kamados also double as a smoker, creating a lower and slower temperature that’s ideal for locking in the flavor and moisture that’s necessary for delicious smoked meats.
Offset Smoker Pros
- The separate firebox creates room for an energetic and oxygenated fire that’s essential to create the best smoke for flavor and bark
- Large cooking capacity
- Can be cheap or free to run if you can source wood locally
- Most double as a grill in the firebox or the cooking chamber can be switched out for a charcoal grill
- Separate firebox means you can add fuel without disrupting the heat and smoke levels in the cooking chamber
- Durable, long-lasting smoker as long as proper care is taken
- Inexpensive to buy (check out the best offset smokers under $1000)
- Relatively easy to move around, although, the size means they’re not portable
- Stand-alone unit that usually includes plenty of storage space for fuel and utensils
- Highly versatile barbecue that can be used for grilling, searing, smoking, baking, roasting and broiling almost anything including desserts and pizzas
- Virtually a set and forget smoker which doesn’t need much attention once it’s going
- Suitable for beginners to experienced cooks
- Radiates heat from 360 degrees when the lid is closed for very even cooking
- Generally very efficient in terms of fuel usage due to great heat retention quality of the shell combined with confined cooking space
- Ideal for using in colder climates including snowy winters without the need for extra insulation
- Produces very moist smoked meat
- Very durable, long-lasting build
- Requires minimal maintenance
- Doesn’t take up much room
- Smaller cooking capacity may be better suited to most families
- Can be used as a stand-alone barbecue or built into outdoor kitchens
Offset Smoker Cons
- Not set and forget! You need plenty of time to tend to the smoker while you’re cooking
- It takes time to master cooking on an offset smoker
- Large cooking capacity means more fuel usage even if you don’t fill it up
- Most of the offsets on the market aren’t ideal for cooking in very cold/freezing conditions as the metal is too thin and you’ll lose too much heat
- Expect some smoke leakage from most of the common models unless you seal with an aftermarket gasket
- Most, especially the ceramic models are very heavy and can be difficult to move around
- Not portable
- More expensive than an offset smoker
- Small to medium cooking capacity can mean needing to cook in batches when entertaining
- Smoky flavor isn’t the same as what you get off an offset smoker
- Ceramic is prone to breakages if you run it too hot or drop it
- Need to be careful to open lid slowly as oxygen-starved fire can cause flashbacks when opened too quickly
Offset Smoker Vs Kamado Comparison
Suitable for smoking and grilling (some models)
Suitable for grilling, searing, smoking, roasting, baking and braising
Small to very large cooking capacity
Small to medium cooking capacity
$300 - $4,000+
Runs on wood or charcoal
Runs on charcoal with wood chunks or chips to create smoky flavor
Low-moderate running cost depending on what type of fuel is used
Low running cost
No power required
No power required
Generally not portable, but, you could load on the back of a truck
Most aren't portable except for a couple of models
Buying One or Buying Both?
When you’re looking at the offset smoker vs kamado debate, it’s not necessarily an either-or situation.
Offset smokers and kamado barbecues are quite different. And, if you’ve got the budget for it, there are benefits to having both of these awesome ‘cues in your backyard.
While offset smokers can be used for grilling, they’re best at doing what they’re specifically designed for, smoking. And, while kamado’s can be used for smoking, they’re better at grilling, searing and baking foods. So, most people who do have both tend to use the kamado for fast cooks and the offset for the low and slow stuff.
A kamado doesn’t truly replace a traditional offset smoker. But, if you’re after the versatility and only want one unit in your backyard, they’re a pretty decent compromise that’s easy and cheap to use and doesn’t require so much babysitting.
Some of the Best Offset Smokers Compared to Kamados
After laying down the facts, here are some of the best offset smokers and kamados compared in the budget, mid-range and premium price ranges.
But, for the full details and more reviews of our favorites, check out our articles on the best offset smokers and the best kamado grills on the market.
The Best Budget Offset and Kamado Smokers
Powder-coated steel with cast iron grates
Powder-coated, triple-walled steel with porcelain-coated interior and cast iron grates
580 sq. in. of smoking space + 250 sq. in. grilling
314 sq. in. of cooking space
1 year warranty
1 year warranty
The Best Mid-Range Offset and Kamado Smokers
Heavy-gauge steel with porcelain-coated grates
Ceramic body with stainless steel grates
751 sq. in. smoking of cooking space + 309 sq. in. grilling
256 sq. in. of cooking space in basic setup, 407 sq. in. with grill expander, 508 sq. in. with 2 sets of grates or 660 sq. in. with 2 sets of grates and expander
2 year warranty
Lifetime warranty on ceramics, 5 years on metal, 3 years on heat deflector, 1 year on gasket
The Best High-End Offset and Kamado Smokers
100% stainless steel
Solid cast aluminum with stainless steel grates
960 sq. in. of cooking space
314 sq. in. of cooking space
2 year warranty
For full reviews of these barbecues and more, check out our articles on the best offset smokers and the best kamado grills.