Offset Smoker Vs Pellet Smoker: What’s Best?

Offset smoker vs pellet smoker

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.

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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

Suitable for smoking and grilling (some models)

Suitable for smoking, baking, roasting and grilling (some models)

Small to very large cooking capacity

Small to large cooking capacity

$200-$2,000+

$300-$2,000+

Runs on wood or charcoal

Burns 100% wood pellets and has an electric powered motor

Low-moderate running cost depending on what type of fuel is used

Moderate running cost

No power required

Power required

Generally not portable, but, you could load on the back of a truck

Some are portable with folding legs or smaller briefcase design

Some of the Best Offset and Pellet Smokers Compared

To help you decide where you are in the offset vs pellet smoker debate, here’s a run-down of the best budget, mid-range and high-end smokers currently on the market.

But, for the full details and more reviews, check out our articles on the best offset smokers or the best pellet smokers.

The Best Budget Offset and Pellet Smokers

$

$$$

Powder-coated steel with cast iron grates

Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated grates

N/A

180 - 450°F

580 sq. in. of smoking space + 250 sq. in. grilling

459 sq. in. of cooking space

N/A

15 pound hopper

1 year warranty

3 year warranty

  • Removable charcoal drawer for easy ash dump

  • Adjustable fire grate for better control

  • PID temperature controller

  • Hopper window

  • Hopper cleanout

  • Manual feed button

  • Includes grill cover

The Best Mid-Range Offset and Pellet Smokers

$$$

$$$

Heavy-gauge steel with porcelain-coated grates

Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated grates

N/A

180 - 450°F

751 sq. in. smoking of cooking space + 309 sq. in. grilling

884 sq. in. of cooking space

No hopper

18 pound hopper

2 year warranty

3 year warranty

  • Reverse flow baffle plate

  • Stainless steel fuel basket

  • Can be set up as traditional offset

  • Swing open firebox

  • Digital Pro Controller

  • Dual meat probes

  • Hopper cleanout

The Best High-End Offset and Pellet Smokers

$$$$$

$$$$

100% stainless steel

Powder coated steel with stainless steel grates

N/A

180 - 500°F

960 sq. in. of cooking space

869 sq. in. of cooking space

N/A

24 pound hopper

2 year warranty

3 year warranty

  • Inverted Flame Firebox creates perfect, blue smoke with no effort

  • Dual convection fans

  • Thermostatically controlled heat

  • Hand-made in USA

  • Fully insulated

  • WiFire

  • Stainless steel front shelf

  • Bamboo cutting board

  • Super Smoke mode

  • Low pellet sensor

  • Included meat probe

  • Turbo Temp

  • True Convection

  • Dual position smoke & sear bottom plate

  • Hopper cleanout

For full reviews of these barbecues and more, check out our articles on the best offset smokers and the best pellet smokers.