Offset Smoker vs Vertical: What Should You Buy?

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…

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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 tell apart 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

Suitable for smoking and grilling (some models)

Suitable for smoking

Small to very large cooking capacity

Small to large cooking capacity

$200-$2,000+

$100-$1,000+

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

Moderate running cost

No power required

No power required

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

More portable, but, still large so best loaded onto the back of a larger vehicle

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

$

$

Powder-coated steel with cast iron grates

Powder-coated steel with porcelain-enameled steel wood chip box

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

1,176 sq. in. of cooking space

1 year warranty

1 year warranty

  • Removable charcoal drawer for easy ash dump

  • Adjustable fire grate for better control

  • Adjustable flue for temperature control

  • 'Smoke zone' temperature gauge

  • Sturdy legs

The Best Mid-Range Offset and Vertical Smokers

$$$

$$

Heavy-gauge steel with porcelain-coated grates

Porcelain-enameled body with stainless steel grates

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

726 sq. in. of cooking space

2 year warranty

10 year warranty

  • Reverse flow baffle plate

  • Stainless steel fuel basket

  • Can be set up as traditional offset

  • Swing open firebox

  • Large fuel door

  • Quality dampers for easy heat control

  • Cooking space split over two racks

  • Reliable built-in thermometer

  • Removable ash catcher

The Best High-End Offset and Vertical Smokers

$$$$$

$$$

100% stainless steel

Powder coated, double walled steel with stainless steel inside and grates

960 sq. in. of cooking space

1,023 sq. in. of cooking space

2 year warranty

1 year warranty

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

  • Dual convection fans

  • Thermostatically controlled heat

  • Hand-made in USA

  • Convenient double door design

  • Cooking space split over multiple racks

  • Can be used as a grill or barbecue pit

  • Very easy to use

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