You’ve heard you can smoke in a kettle grill. And, a kettle grill is cheap, familiar and good for a quick grill-up too. But, if you really want to give smoking a good go, should you just go for a purpose-built, doing it right offset smoker instead? In this article, we dive into the details of the offset smoker vs kettle grill to help you decide which is right for you.
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What's an Offset Smoker?
Also called a traditional smoker, horizontal smoker, barrel smoker, stick burner, pipe smoker or side firebox smoker, an offset smoker is what most people first think of when you mention smoking meat.
Keeping it simple, an offset smoker has a large cooking chamber that’s connected to a smaller firebox. The smoke and heat from the firebox passes through the cooking chamber, cooking and flavoring the meat with indirect heat and rolling smoke. It then exits the smoker through a smoke stack or small chimney.
Offset smokers are used very often in smoking competitions and can create some of the best results with crispy, flavorful bark. But, they’re not super easy to use. Great results require effort in stoking the fire, maintaining temperature and creating the optimal type of smoke. If you like being outside while you barbecue, having a beer, or, checking on it while doing yard work, there’s definitely satisfaction to be had in getting those competition-worthy results.
While offset smokers are primarily designed for smoking, many of them can be used for grilling too. Models like the Oklahoma Joe Longhorn Reverse come with a grilling grate that sits over the firebox so you can fire up some steaks while smoking. Or, you can change the whole setup of the cooking chamber to convert it into a giant charcoal grill.
What's a Kettle Grill?
A kettle grill is a round charcoal grill. It’s one of the most basic types of grills you can get and does a great job of cooking food over high heat to give it lots of flavor while retaining as much moisture as possible.
The simple design of a kettle grill consists of 5 key components; a bowl with a charcoal grate and cooking grate, and a lid with a damper to control the heat and keep heat and smoke inside. They’re straight-forward, inexpensive and pretty easy to use which is why they’re such a popular option for anyone grilling in their backyard.
But, grilling isn’t all the kettle grills are good for. When set up correctly, you can actually use a kettle grill to smoke food too. It’s not as easy and doesn’t hold as much as on a dedicated smoker. But, it’s an added bonus when you consider how inexpensive, space-saving and versatile a kettle grill is.
Offset Smoker Pros
- Capable of creating an exceptional smoke profile
- Holds a lot of food
- Works with either pure wood or charcoal and wood depending on your preference and availability of fuel
- Most can be used for grilling over the firebox or by converting the main cooking chamber to a huge charcoal grill
- Separate firebox lets you add fuel without disturbing smoke and heat in main chamber
- Durable design that should last a long time if looked after properly
- Large range of price and quality options to suit your budget
Kettle Grill Pros
- Great results when grilling
- Can be used for smoking too
- Uses less fuel than an offset smoker because of the smaller size
- Doesn’t take up a lot of space
- A high quality kettle grill (like the Weber Original) is a lot less expensive than a high quality offset smoker
- Most kettle grills are porcelain-enameled which gives excellent protection against damage from high-heat
- More portable than an offset smoker
Offset Smoker Cons
- Very hands-on way to smoke where you’ll need to be checking the fire and temperature every hour or so
- Can be harder to maintain temperature in cooler/wetter weather conditions
- Painted steel will flake and/or rust if not looked after properly. But, it’s pretty easy to sand and respray
- Takes a bit of practice to learn the ins and outs of
- A quality offset smoker is a lot more expensive than a kettle grill
- Cheap offset smokers don’t do a great job and generally won’t last a long time
Kettle Grill Cons
- Smaller capacity than an offset smoker
- It’s harder to smoke on a kettle grill than on a dedicated smoker
- Will take practice to master smoking on one
- Design means you need to remove food and cooking grate to add more fuel. Not only does this take ages, it completely disrupts the heat and smoke levels
Offset Smoker Vs Kettle Grill Comparison
Suitable for smoking and grilling (some models)
Suitable for grilling and smoking
Small to very large cooking capacity
Small to medium cooking capacity
$100 - $300+
Runs on wood or charcoal
Runs on charcoal with wood chips to create smoky flavor
Low-moderate running cost depending on what type of fuel is used
Low to moderate running cost
No power required
No power required
Generally not portable, but, you could load on the back of a truck
Portable models available
A Real Offset Smoker Compared to a Kettle Grill
Heavy-gauge steel with porcelain-coated grates
Porcelain-enameled steel with stainless steel grates
751 sq. in. smoking of cooking space + 309 sq. in. grilling
363 sq. in. of cooking space
2 year warranty
10 year warranty on body, 5 years on plastics, 2 years on other
Our Verdict on Offset Smokers vs Kettle Grills
Offset smokers are capable of achieving next-level results for anyone who wants to smoke with the added bonus of being able to grill occasionally. They look the part and hold a heap of meat.
Kettle grills are ideal for anyone who wants to grill most of the time but likes being able to smoke a single pork butt, or something similar, once in a while. They inexpensive for the quality you get and don’t take up much room in your backyard.
So, do you want to mainly smoke? Or, mainly grill?