Home Buyers Guides Offset Smoker vs Vertical: Which Should You Buy?

Offset Smoker vs Vertical: Which Should You Buy?

by Burning Brisket
Offset smoker vs vertical

It’s basic physics: heat moves upward. So then, isn’t cooking on a vertical smoker better than a horizontal offset? It’s a question we’re often asked and it’s a good one. So, today we’re going to dive into the offset smoker vs vertical debate to take a look at how each of these barbecues work and what the pros and cons of both are. We’ve also included an easy comparison guide and links to our favorite offset and vertical smokers in different price categories to make shopping easy for you too. Because after all, the sooner you order that smoker, the sooner hot smoked meat will be coming to your dinner table…

What is an Offset Smoker?

Best Offset Smokers Compared

Offset smokers were born out of the Texas oil fields. Also known as horizontal smokers, barrel smokers, stick burners, pipe smokers or side firebox smokers, they’re probably what most people first think of when you say ‘smoker’.

Offset smokers feature a smaller firebox that filter heat and smoke through to a larger, interconnected cooking chamber. The smoke and heat then exists through a chimney that usually sits at the end furthest away from the firebox.

However, some offset smokers with a reverse flow design have an additional baffle plate. This thick steel plate with holes it in sits below the cooking racks in the main chamber and serves two purposes. Firstly, it acts as a heat sink to distribute the heat more evenly throughout the entire cooking chamber and, secondly, to filter the smoke through more slowly so that everything you’re cooking gets exposed to a similar amount of heat and smoke and you don’t need to rotate pieces throughout your cook. Reverse flow offset smokers are easy to distinguish from regular offset smokers because their chimney is positioned at the end of the cooking chamber that’s closest to the firebox. This is because the smoke and heat is encouraged to pass back over the meat, further increasing the evenness of the cook. For more information on reverse flow offset smokers, check out our article, what is a reverse flow smoker.

Offset smokers can be run on a pure wood OR a pure charcoal fire. Alternatively you can combine both or just add some wood-chips for a smokier flavor.

What is a Vertical Smoker?

Char Broil Bandera Vertical Offset Smoker

A vertical smoker is essentially any smoker that’s vertically orientated. That means that they include a whole heap of different fuel types including vertical offset smokers, charcoal vertical smokers, water smokers, ugly drum smokers (UDS) box smokers, electric smokers and propane smokers. But, if you’re searching for an offset smoker vs vertical smoker comparison, we’re going to assume that you’re looking for something with a similar fuel type i.e. charcoal and/or wood and tell you about those.

So, vertical smokers that use charcoal as a fuel type are essentially a vertical box or cylinder where you either place your fire at the bottom of the cooking chamber itself (UDS, water smoker, box smoker), or in a separate firebox that’s joined to the cooking chamber by an internal damper (vertical offset smokers).

Vertical smokers work by drawing the heat and smoke directly upwards through what’s usually at least two cooking racks to exit the smoker at the top of the drum. Single chamber vertical smokers may also have one or two extra pans that sit above the fire, holding water and/or wood chips to help you achieve great results.

Vertical smokers are designed to run best from a charcoal fire with wood added for smokiness. But, vertical offset smokers can be powered by a wood fire if you so wish.

Offset Smoker Pros

  • Most people claim that offset smokers deliver the most authentic tasting barbecue
  • Large cooking capacity
  • Ideal for large cuts of meat as they can be easily laid across single, huge cooking grate
  • Dual chamber design makes it easy to add more fuel
  • Adding fuel won’t disrupt the heat and smoke levels in the cooking chamber
  • Most double as a grill either in the firebox or by switching out the cooking chamber grates to make a large charcoal pit
  • Can be run on pure wood
  • Doesn’t require power so can be set up anywhere
  • Long-lasting barbecue
  • Reasonably inexpensive

Vertical Smoker Pros

  • Can also create competition-winning results
  • More set and forget than an offset smoker
  • Large cooking capacity
  • Small footprint due to vertical design
  • Some feature a dual door design to make it easy to add fuel mid-cook
  • Generally use much less fuel than an offset smoker
  • Faster cook times than an offset smoker due to more efficient design
  • Durable barbecue
  • Doesn’t require electricity so can be set up anywhere
  • More portable than an offset smoker
  • Most vertical smokers are better suited to cooler climates than offsets
  • Usually inexpensive to buy

Offset Smoker Cons

  • Takes most people longer to learn how to use an offset well than to do the same on a vertical
  • Requires frequent tending to throughout the cook
  • Will lose a lot of heat when using in cooler climates
  • Less fuel efficient than a vertical smoker
  • Regular offset smokers do vary a lot in temperature from one end to the other so meat requires careful arrangement and/or turning

Vertical Smoker Cons

  • Most can’t be used as a grill – they’re dedicated smokers only
  • Getting meat in and out or rotating it is logistically harder than on a wide, open offset smoker
  • Without a dual door design, adding fuel is difficult and requires moving the meat
  • Depending on the size, cooking larger cuts like brisket can be difficult and ribs need to be hung from hooks instead of racked

Offset Smoker Vs Vertical Smoker Comparison

 Offset SmokerVertical Smoker
Type of cookingSmoking and grillingSmoking
Cooking capacitySmall to very largeSmall to large
Price range (USD)$100-$2,000+$100-$1,000+
Fuel typeWood or charcoal with wood chipsCharcoal with wood chips
Running costHighModerate
Requires power?NoNo
Portable?Yes, but, will be difficultYes

Some of the Best Offset and Vertical Smokers Compared

To help you compare what you can get for your buck, here’s a simple comparison of the best budget, mid-range and high-end smokers in the offset smoker vs vertical debate.

But, for the full details, don’t forget to check out our review articles the best offset smokers and the best vertical smokers.

The Best Budget Offset and Vertical Smokers

 Char-Griller Smokin Pro Offset BarbecueDyna-Glo Vertical Offset Smoker
best offset barbecue on a budgetbest vertical offset smoker
Price range (USD)Under $300Under $300
Features* Powder-coated steel smoker
* Cast-iron cooking grates
* Timber handles and side racks
* Lightweight cart
* Removable ash tray
* 'Smoke zone' temperature gauge for simple heat targeting
* Powder-coated steel smoker
* Porcelain-enameled steel wood chip box
* Adjustable flue for temperature control
* Separate side firebox
* 'Smoke zone' temperature gauge
* Sturdy legs
Type of cookingSmoking and grillingSmoking
Cooking capacity580 sq. in. smoking + 250 sq. in. grilling1,176 sq. in.
Warranty1 year1 year
Buy Now on AmazonBuy Now on Amazon

The Best Mid-Range Offset and Vertical Smokers

 Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn Reverse Flow Offset SmokerWeber Smokey Mountain 22" Cooker
Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn Reverse Flow Offset SmokerBest Weber Smoker
Price range (USD)Under $800Under $600
Features* Heavy-duty powder-coated 2.5mm steel firebox and cooking chamber
* Reverse flow design
* Cool-touch wire handles
* Sturdy cart with built-in wheels and side racks
* Accurate temperature gauge with additional bung
* Grilling grate in firebox
* Grilling grates provided to convert cooking chamber to charcoal grill
* Porcelain-enameled body gives durable finish
* Large fuel door
* Sturdy stand
* Cool-touch handles
* Quality dampers
* Cooking space split over two racks
* Accurate built-in temperature gauge
* Removable ash catcher
Type of cookingSmoking and grillingSmoking
Cooking capacity751 sq. in. smoking + 309 sq. in. grilling726 sq. in.
Warranty2 years10 years
Buy Now on AmazonBuy Now on Amazon

The Best High-End Offset and Vertical Smokers

 KBQ C-60 Barbecue PitBackwoods Chubby 3400 Charcoal Smoker
KBQ C-60 BBQ Smoker PitBackwoods Chubby 3400
Price range (USD)Under $2,000Under $1,000
Features* Full stainless steel design
* Trademarked Inverted Flame Firebox creates perfect, blue smoke without any effort
* Dual convection fans circulate heat for even cook
* Thermostatically controlled heat level
* Large cooking capacity split over multiple racks
* Small footprint
* Hand-made in USA
* Double walled design offers superior insulation
* Stainless steel box interior
* Powder-coated box exterior
* Quality latches for excellent seal
* Double door design
* Cooking space split over multiple racks
* Can be used as a grill or barbecue pit
* Very easy to use
Type of cookingSmokingSmoking and grilling
Cooking capacity960 sq. in.1,023 sq. in.
Warranty2 years1 year
Buy Now on AmazonBuy Now on Amazon

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

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