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Offset Smoker vs Kamado: Which is the Better Buy?

The offset and the kamado. They’re both great barbecues. And, because they’re actually quite different, ultimately it would be awesome to have both set up in any backyard. But, sometimes you just don’t have the space or the budget for it and that’s perfectly okay.

After having spent countless hours using and reviewing a whole heap of makes and models of both of these types of barbecues, in this detailed comparison, we walk you through everything you need to know about the offset smoker vs kamado.

We’ll talk about how they work, the pros and cons of each, which is easier to use, how the food turns out, plus a whole heap more.

Once you’ve decided which way to go, we’ll also point you in the right direction in terms of finding the best offset or best kamado to suit your needs and budget.

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A Quick Comparison of the Offset Smoker vs Kamado

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 all terms that are used to describe a barbecue where a separate firebox is joined to a cooking chamber for smoke and heat to flow through and cook the food that’s within.

Offset smokers are primarily 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. It’s what you’re eating at any quality barbecue restaurant and what most, but not all, of pitmasters use.

Some models of offset smokers are also designed to double as a grill as well. Many have a cooking grate that can sit above the fire in the firebox, giving you the perfect space to reverse sear, or grill yourself some lunch while dinner smokes away. Others also have insertable charcoal grates in the cooking chamber so that you can turn this large space into a grill as well.

Regardless of the make and model, offset smokers can be run off of real hardwood logs, charcoal, or a mix of both. Because of this, offset smokers can produce authentically wood smoked meats with a strong, smoked flavor which is probably why you’re considering buying one.

How Does an Offset Smoker Work?

Whether you’re looking at a horizontal or vertical offset smoker, they all work on the basic notion that the heat and smoke created in the firebox will move into the adjoined cooking chamber, dousing the food in the good stuff before exiting through a chimney or other vent.

What helps to create that airflow through the smoker, and allows you to regulate the temperature are vents, also known as dampers.

You’ll usually find one of these on the firebox for air to draw in, helping the fuel burn efficiently and another on top of the chimney stack where more minor adjustments to the heat can be made.

Open the dampers to let more oxygen into the smoker for a hotter burning fire, or close them up to create a slower burn.

Whatever temperature you want to cook at, you’re in charge and need to manually manage the fire by having enough but not too much fuel burning at any one time and the vents set to an appropriate position. Then, any offset, even good quality ones, will need frequent checking on and adjusting throughout the cook to maintain a steady temperature.

In the video below you’ll find some good information on how to use an offset smoker if you’re new to this way of smoking.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Offset Smokers

Pros
Cons

What Is a Kamado?

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.

Nowdays kamados can be made from a range of different materials, but most are high-fired glazed egg-shaped ceramic shells that house a charcoal fire in the bottom section with cooking grates that sit on top.

Although other types of smokers, including offsets, do cook food from the top down as well as the bottom up, ceramic retains heat better than most other materials giving you a remarkably even heat distribution 360 degrees around whatever you’re cooking.

For this same reason, they’re also extremely fuel efficient, keeping that heat inside the smoker rather than losing too much to the air around.

Because so much heat is retained in the kamados shell, even opening and closing the lid doesn’t have a huge impact on the ambient temperature. They’re not suseptible to temperature spikes but instead provide one of the steadiest temperature environments.

Kamados also don’t require much in the way of manual management once your cook is set up. Some people do go as far as considering a kamado to be a set and forget smoker. Regardless, they’re very hands-off to use once they’re going well. And, they’re also one of the most versatile types of smokers you can buy.

With a manually controlled charcoal fire, you can run them at low temperatures for hours with minimal intervention, or grill and sear directly over the open charcoal flame. And, it’s perfectly possible to set your temperature anywhere in between as well to bake or roast practically anything.

How Does a Kamado Work?

There are a lot of different ways you can set up and cook on a kamado. So, the specifics of how you set up your kamado will depend on what you’re cooking. But, for any cook on a kamado, you’re using a charcoal fire that sits in the firebox at the very bottom of your egg with a cooking grate or series of them sitting directly above.

Tomahawk Steaks Grilling on the Kamado Joe Classic I

With a vent down low to draw air into the fire, open it up for a hotter burn or close it off for a lower temperature. From there, the heat and smoke naturally rises, hitting your food and the sides of the kamado from which is can radiate back onto your food for an all round cook as well.

At the top of any kamado you’ll see a short chimney with an adjustable vent. This is used to fine-tune the temperature and is where the heat and smoke will leave the barbecue.

Because the cooking grates sit directly over the charcoal fire, a heat deflector can be added between these two elements to block the direct heat and create an ideal environment for smoking.

For a woodier flavor, wood chunks can also be added to the charcoal below and these will naturally smoke away as the charcoal burns.

Check out the video below to see how to set up a kamado for different types of cooking.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Kamado

Pros
Cons

How Similar Are Offset Smokers and Kamados Similar?

Both offset smokers and kamados have these things in common:

How Are Offset Smokers and Kamados Different?

Flavor and Smoke Quality

Kamados can smoke and grill some really great food, but there’s a reason a lot of the pros use offsets, they make the very best barbecue.

To create really good smoke clear, blue smoke that gives the best flavor, you need a fully oxygenated fire which you just can’t get inside a kamado.

On a kamado, instead of truly burning, the charcoal smolders which produces a strong and harsher type of smoke and flavor. Don’t get us wrong, meat smoked on a kamado can be really great! But, eat both side by side and you’ll probably notice a difference. To me, it’s significant, to some it might not be.

Pit Boss K22 Kamado In Use

Cook well on an offset smoker and you’ll get a gentler smokey flavor that doesn’t have any of that slightly bitter or acrid flavor to it. There’s a reason stick burners are considered the ultimate and for anyone chasing perfection in their smoked brisket, an offset will give you the edge in those results.

Smoking on the Oklahoma Joes Highland offset smoker

Level of Involment in the Cooking Process

Offset smokers count on you to regulate the fire, keeping it stoked just right and the vents positioned adequately to maintain a steady heat throughout your cook. They’re very much hands on and getting distracted with getting stuff done around the house, watching the game, or playing with the kids can really mess your cook up.

Offset smokers are a labor you want to love. They’re perfect if you like the idea of committing an entire day, and potentially waking up before dawn, to play around with that fire, split wood, and sip a few beers. The rewards are there to be had, and it can be a relaxing thing to do if you’ve got the time.

Getting the fire right inside an Oklahoma Joe's HIghland offset smoker

But, if dedicating a day to barbecue just isn’t something you can or want to do, a kamado gives you a similarly strong smokey flavor, but not the same, without so much hands on involvement.

To smoke on a kamado, you’ll be involved in getting the charcoal going, and adjusting the vents to dial in the temperature. But, once you’ve got that thing sitting right where you want it, the slow burning coals combined with the heat retaining shell mean that you can leave it to and get busy doing something else while the temperature stays fairly steady without having to do a thing.

Kamado Joe Classic I with Pork Shoulder and Rack of Ribs

You shouldn’t need to add more charcoal, turn the meat, or adjust the dampers for the most part. When smoking on a kamado, we tend to wrap whatever we’re cooking after a certain amount of time, then just wait until the meat thermometer tells us the temperature has dipped or the meat’s ready. Using one can be quite hands off although not as set and forget as a pellet smoker.

Cooking Capacity

With a circular shape, the cooking capacity of a kamdo is naturally pretty limited compared to an offset smoker.

A wider grate can get you enough space to fit racks of ribs or even a whole brisket. But, it’s nothing compared to the length of a larger offset.

Some kamado manufacturers have gotten pretty creative with their utilization of the space inside them though. The Kamado Joe Series III has three tiers of cooking grates allowing you to fit a really respectable amount inside even the 18 inch grate.

Grilling set up on Kamado Joe Classic III

Even with a multi-level system, you’re still looking at a significantly smaller cooking space than you can get on an offset. In fact, it’s difficult to get a small offset smoker as most are set up for smoking a lot of food at once.

The image below is a moderately large offset that you can read our review of in our best offset smokers lineup.

Yoder Loaded Wichita Offset loaded up with chicken

Heat Distribution

Kamados are known and loved for their even temperature distribution throughout. The heat absorbing ceramic or insulated shell takes whatever’s thrown at it and radiates it back for one of the most even smoking environments that you can get.

Plus, the small cooking chamber means you don’t have a large grill space to have temperature discrepencies across.

On an offset smoker, you can have significant heat zones that can be a pro and a con.

Because the firebox is positioned closer to one end of the cooking grate, that end tends to run hotter. So much so that the first third of an offsets chamber can be a bit of a dead zone where you can sit a water pan or just leave it empty, setting your meat to the other end of the chamber.

Offset smoker set up with sides cooking closest to the firebox

That being said, the temperature variance can be used to your advantage, giving you somewhere to smoke slightly hotter while the rest is cooler.

And, reverse offset smokers, where the heat and smoke passes under a baffle before filtering through the cooking chamber and out a smokestack located closer to the firebox, do quite a bit to even out the temperature right across the smoker so you can maximise that cooking real estate.

Read more about reverse flow vs offset smokers for a more in-depth discussion on what’s better.

Versatility

Some offset smokers do come with grilling grates so that you can grill either directly over the firebox’s fire, or set up the main cooking chamber as a giant charcoal grill. And, in terms of performance, offset smokers do grill alright like this.

Just be aware that to grill directly over the fire in the firebox, you are working very close to the heat source and it can be easy to accidentally burn your food. Also, with the firebox’s lid open to grill, you’re not getting the heat and smoke rolling through your cooking chamber in the same way so doing both at once isn’t as good as it can seem.

Grilling over the firebox fire with an offset smoker

On the other hand, a kamado is the best type of smoker in terms of versatility.

You can smoke with indirect low and slow heat thanks to a simple heat deflector plate. Or, take it out and have access to an open flame fire for the best in grilling and searing. But, you can also sit it happily at any temperature in betweent these two extremes. Kamados bake and roast food incredibly well.

And, the multi-level and split rack systems you get in something like the Kamado Joe gives you the ultimate flexibility in how you set up your kamado.

Example of a 2-tier setup on the Kamado Joe Classic II

There’s a lot of options. A kamado can do a great job of everything from a slow smoked rack of ribs to a high-heat baked pizza. Dessert’s great on it too.

Learning Curve

Whether you go for an offset or kamado, you’ll have a bit of learning to do. You’ll need to work out how much fuel you need in your particular model to get the temperature you want, where the vents are best set to, and how they perform in cold weather conditions versus a nice, fine day.

But, overall, the learning curve to master a kamado isn’t as high as it is on an offset.

Yes, it’ll take some time to work out how you like your kamado set up best, and how to use the different heat zone setups to do exactly what you want. But, there’s not so much to learn in terms of fire management.

Beginners can 100% learn how to use an offset (after all there’s no other way to learn other than jumping in and doing it). But, you have to be happy with giving yourself the time to do so. You will mess up more than a few briskets and racks of ribs along the way. It’s all part of it. You’ve just got to ask yourself if you think it’s worth it to learn this style of smoking.

Fuel Efficiency

With excellent heat retention and a somewhat smouldered fire, a kamado is the most efficient type of smoker you can get. You’re really getting your money’s worth out of a bag of charcoal. And, because of that natural insulation, they also perform fairly similarly in winter, giving you a very efficient way to smoke year round.

Run off of charcoal or wood, offset smokers do use a lot more fuel than a kamado. Especially cheaper offset smokers that have thin steel and gaps which leak heat and smoke.

That being said, if you’ve got the right kind of hardwood trees that can be used for smoking, you can source your own firewood for free or very little actual money, negating the fact that you will use more fuel.

If you do have to buy hardwood or charcoal for an offset smoker though, it will cost you more to run than a kamado. There’s no doubt about it.

Cost Comparison

There’s a big price difference between a very cheap offset or kamado smoker and a top of the line one.

At the very cheapest price range, you can get an offset or basic kamado for a few hundred dollars. But, in the mid-range, you can generally pick up a decent offset smoker for cheaper than you can a decent kamado. When it comes to top of the line, offset smokers are usually more expensive than really good kamados.

Check out the following offset smokers and kamados to get a bit of an idea about how much each of these type of smokers costs.

Check out our best offset smokers review for a full and better selection of offset smokers. Or, our best kamado review for more options in that category.

So, What’s Better? An Offset or a Kamado?

Which is the better smoker, an offset or a kamado isn’t a clear cut question. They’ve both got their pluses and minuses and because of that, what’s best for you might not be best for someone else.

Personally, I like to keep both an offset and a kamado in my backyard at all times and use them for different things. An offset is unbeatable in terms of low and slow performance when I have the time. And, I really like grilling and baking on a kamado but I’ll only use it for smoking when I just want to do a small cook.

But, understandably, having both of these smokers available for different days of the week isn’t the best solution for most people. We wouldn’t if this wasn’t our job.

Instead of us giving you a hard and fast about which you should buy, we’re going to highlight who for, and when, each of these types of smokers is best.

An offset smoker is usually the best choice if you:

  • Enjoy the hands-on process of smoking
  • Have the time to learn how to use one properly, and manage the fire every time you use it
  • Value doing things the ‘proper’ way
  • Want a cleaner burning smoker
  • Are aiming to make competition or restaurant-quality meats
  • Have your own source of hardwood because it doesn’t get much better than a bbq that’s free to run

Kamados are generally the best choice for people who:

  • Don’t have all day to dedicate to smoking so want something that’s more set and forget
  • Want to grill more than smoke because they’re better set up for it
  • Appreciates the lower running cost but doesn’t have access to free wood
  • Doesn’t want such a large capacity
  • Has a lower budget but still wants a top quality barbecue

Buying a Good Offset or Kamado

Hopefully after getting this far, you’ve decided which type of smoker is best for you. Now for the exciting part, deciding which model to get!

Here’s a sample of some of out favorite offset smokers and kamados but you’ll also find a link to our full reviews below.

Our Favorite Offset Smokers

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Highland
4.6/5
Yoder Loaded Wichita
Yoder Loaded Wichita
4.9/5
Dyna-Glo Wide Body Vertical Offset Smoker
Dyna-Glo Wide Body
4.3/5

Our Favorite Kamado Grills and Smokers

Kamado Joe Classic II
Kamado Joe Classic II
4.7/5
Pit Boss Kamado
Pit Boss Kamado
4.5/5
Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker
Char-Griller Akorn
4.4/5

Read our full review of the best kamado smokers.

FAQs About Offset Smokers vs Kamados

In terms of smoking performance alone, offset smokers are considered by most people, us included, to be better than kamados. Because a kamado doesn’t have as much airflow as an offset does, the charcoal tends to smoulder a bit, producing smoke that does have a harsher flavor than offset smoke.

That being said, kamados really can make some great food and most people won’t even notice much of a taste difference between that and the golden offset.

Kamados are also more fuel efficient than offsets, require a whole lot less care and attention when using one, and offer versatility that an offset simply can’t match.

No, kamado smokers are not designed to burn hardwood logs like an offset does. Instead, they should be used with lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is essentially hardwood that’s been burned down to provide a steadier heat with less ash.

Once your fire is going and you’ve adjusted a kamado’s vents to reach your target temperature, you shouldn’t have to do much more than wrap your meat and grab it off the barbecue when it’s done.

So, a kamado is considered a set and forget smoker by a lot of people. It is nowhere near as time intensive to run as the fire should regulate itself quite well without you having to manually manage it.

Both a good quality offset smoker and a kamado are capable of lasting a lifetime with their proper care. But, in the mid-price range, I’d expect to get a better lifetime out of a kamado than a mid-range offset. I’d only expect to get a few years out of a very cheap offset or kamado.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

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