If you’re shopping for a new barbecue but can’t decide between a traditional offset smoker and a trendy pellet smoker, I hear you! While they both look similar, they run off different fuels, cook slightly differently and are in a whole different boat when it comes to ease of use. And, that’s before you even consider their different price points. But, if you’re tossing and turning, this article will give you all the information you need to compare the offset smoker vs pellet smoker so that you can make the best decision for your new backyard edition.
What is an Offset Smoker?
An offset smoker, also known as a horizontal smoker, barrel smoker, stick smoker, pipe smoker or side firebox smoker, is one of the most traditional and basic types of barbecues. Most simply consist of a small firebox that’s connected to a larger barrel or box where the cooking takes place.
But, in this case, basic is definitively not a bad thing! Offset smokers are renowned as the gold standard when it comes to smoking. They’re ideal for cooking meat and other food at low temperatures for a long period of time and, do so, as the heat and smoke from the fire pass through the cooking chamber and out through the chimney.
Offset smokers can be run on a pure wood fire, or a charcoal fire with the addition of wood chips to create that authentic smokey flavor.
What is a Pellet Smoker?
A pellet smoker, also known as a pellet grill, is kind of like a modern-day, electronic upgrade of the traditional offset smoker. They look similar and even work in round about he same way. But, the fire in a pellet smoker runs on 100% pure hardwood pellets that are drip fed into the firebox as is needed to automatically maintain the temperature that you set on what’s usually an LCD display panel.
So, unlike the offset smoker, pellet smokers don’t require so much babysitting to low-and-slow a brisket to perfection. But, they do require access to power and, hard-core enthusiasts will say that the results from a pellet smoker are slights less smoky and a bit more moist than what you get off a traditional smoker.
However, pellet smokers are becoming a popular choice on the competitive barbecue circuit so you can’t argue too much with being able to make competition-worthy meats so easily at home.
Offset Smoker Pros
- Gives that true, authentic barbecued taste with the best barbecue bark
- Ideal for cooking lots of food
- You can grill over the fire in the firebox or simply arrange charcoal in the bottom of the cooking chamber for a bigger grill up
- You can add more fuel through the firebox door so you won’t loose valuable heat and smoke
- With a bit of maintenance, a quality offset smoker should last for years and years to come
- They’re generally cheaper than pellet smokers
- Doesn’t require electricity so you can grill anywhere without any hassles
Pellet Smoker Pros
- Set and forget technology means you can barbecue AND get some of those jobs ticked off the list
- Automated temperature control means you won’t get temperature dips and spikes which poorly affect your meat
- It’s very hard to burn meat and end up with that bitter, charred taste
- Some have WiFi so you can control your barbecue right from your phone
- Ideal for beginners, but, the pros are using them too
- Convection fans circulate the heat for an even cook and creates the ideal environment for baking and roasting too
- Some pellet smokers can be used to grill as well
- Can be very efficient in terms of fuel usage
Offset Smoker Cons
- It takes some time and practice to learn how to cook well on an offset smoker
- You’ll need to check on the temperature of your smoker regularly during your cook and manually adjust the fire when necessary
- Cooking on an offset smoker in cooler/wet climates can be VERY hard due to difficulty controlling the temperature
- Many models are painted steel which are susceptible to rusting if the paint starts to flake, but, this can be fixed reasonably easily
Pellet Smoker Cons
- Requires electricity to run so you might need an extension cord or inverter if you’re cooking on the go
- Generally more expensive to buy than an offset smoker
- Often turns out food that’s a bit less smoky tasting than that cooked on an offset smoker, but, this can be a pro, depending on your taste preferences
- Lots of pellet smokers CAN’T be used for grilling as the temperature just can’t get that high
Offset Smoker Vs Pellet Smoker Comparison
|Offset Smoker||Pellet Smoker|
Type of cooking
Smoking and grilling
Smoking, roasting, baking and grilling (in some pellet smokers only)
Small to very large
Small to super-sized
Price range (USD)
$100 - $2,000+
$300 - $5,000+
Pure wood or charcoal with wood chips
100% pure wood pellets
Some of the Best Offset and Pellet Smokers Compared
The Best Budget Offset and Pellet Smokers
|Char-Griller Smokin Pro Offset Barbecue||Green Mountain Davy Crockett WiFi Pellet Grill|
Type of cooking
Smoking, roasting, baking grilling
580 sq. in. smoking + 250 sq. in. grilling
219 sq. in.
The Best Mid-Range Offset and Pellet Smokers
|Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn Reverse Flow Offset Smoker||Traeger Pro Series 34 Pellet Grill|
Type of cooking
Smoking, roasting, baking
751 sq. in. smoking + 309 sq. in. grilling
884 sq. in.
The Best High-End Offset and Pellet Smokers
|Old Country BBQ Pits All-American Angus Smoker||Memphis Grills Pro Pellet Smoker|
Type of cooking
Smoking, roasting, baking, grilling
1,961 sq. in. total
4,230 cubic in.
3 years on electronics, 7 years on all other parts