Skip to content

Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset: Which Performs Best?

Have you ever heard of reverse flow smokers and wondered what all the huff and puff was about?

Reverse flow offset smokers are often talked about as a superior alternative to the regularly designed offset smoker. But, what exactly is a reverse flow smoker? How are they different from a regular flow one? And, do they actually make a different to how easy an offset is to use or how good the food turns out?

In this reverse flow smoker vs offset comparison, we explore these questions plus more to help you decide if a reverse flow smoker is a must-have feature on your wanted list.

Burning Brisket is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read our affiliate policy to learn more.

A Quick Comparison of the Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset

Offset Smoker Reverse Flow
Primarily cooks from the top down
Primarily cooks from the bottom up
Larger temperature variance across grates
More even temperature across grates
Heat significantly affected by opening lid
Pit gets back up to temperature faster after opening
Takes a lot of time to learn how to master
Slightly easier to use because the temperature is more even
More fuel efficient
Can use up to 30% more fuel
Cleaner smoke production
Burn can create slightly bitter taste

Table of Contents

What is a Reverse Flow Smoker?

A reverse flow smoker is a type of offset smoker designed to provide an even distribution of heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber, resulting in consistent and flavorful barbecue.

Meadow Creek TS120P with doors open

How does it do that?

Reverse flow smokers have a metal plate, called a baffle inside the cooking chamber that forces the hot air and smoke through then back through the cooking chamber, reversing the air flow to exit the barbecue through the smokestack located on the firebox side of the unit.

How Does a Reverse Flow Smoker Work?

Diagram showing how a reverse flow offset smoker works

The heat and smoke pass through a reverse flow smoker like so:

Like a traditional offset smoker, a reverse flow smoker has a firebox attached to one side where wood or charcoal is burned to generate heat and smoke.

This solid piece of metal is positioned above the firebox and extends across the cooking chamber.

This baffle plate serves a number of rolls. Firstly, it blocks the direct heat from overcooking the meat that’s closest to the firebox. Secondly, it acts as a heat sink, to help to even out the temperature distribution. Thirdly, it’s a drip pan. And, lastly, it has an opening at the end furthest away from the firebox for the smoke to move through next.

As the smoke rises up into the cooking chamber, the draft from the chimney at the opposite end, pulls it back through the cooking chamber, penetrating the meat along the way to give it flavor and color.

Once the heat and smoke has made it’s way through the cooking chamber, it’s finally able to leave the smoker through the chimney that’s positioned at the end of the cooking chamber closest to the firebox.

This means it’s spent quite a lot of time in the barbecue, giving you more bang for your buck.

What are the Advantages of a Reverse Flow Smoker?

Using a reverse flow smoker offers several advantages that make it a preferred choice for many barbecue enthusiasts and pitmasters. These include:

The baffle plate in a reverse flow smoker helps distribute heat evenly across the entire cooking chamber. This minimizes but does not eliminate hot spots, providing a more consistent temperature throughout the smoker.

Because the baffle acts as a heat sink, holding and radiating the heat upwards somewhat independently of what the firebox is doing, they are less prone to temperature spikes. Additionally, reverse flows tend to get back up to cooking temperature a little faster than a normal offset after opening the cooking chamber’s lid for the very same reason.

A more even and consistent heat distribution means it’s easier to get consistent results cooking on a reverse flow smoker versus a traditional offset.

Another lesser talked about benefit of using a reverse flow smoker is that the more even temperature distribution means you can use the whole of the cooking chamber instead of losing the first quarter or so.

In a traditional offset smoker, it’s often just too darn hot to place a piece of meat for smoking close to the firebox. The baffle plate generally blocks enough of the direct heat coming off of the fire so you can use this space without having to carefully plan how to use the hot spot.

What are the Disadvantages of a Reverse Flow Smoker?

While there are good things about using a reverse flow smoker, they’re not the be all and end all. Here are some of the negatives to consider:

Offset smokers on the market are more often than not, a traditional style. By opting for a reverse flow design, you do cut out some otherwise good brands and models that could be a better fit for your needs size and price-wise.

While the regularity of temperature is definitely an advantage on a reverse flow smoker, it can also be a negative if you like having different heat zones to cook in.

For example, it can be useful to smoke some chicken at a higher heat near the firebox while you’re low and slowing larger cuts. The chicken might be ready by lunch but the rest will be finished at dinner time.

Some brands weld their baffle plates in. This means you can’t remove them which can make it hard or impossible to clean any grease from underneath it.

Reverse flow offsets can use up to 30% more fuel than traditional setups because, as heat is lost as it moves through the cooking chamber, you need a bigger fire to reach and maintain the same temperature.

Regular offset smokers have better airflow than reverse types, and more air means a cleaner burning fire for healthier, tastier smoke.

The top down cook you get in a regular offset smoker renders the fat cap that sits on top of a brisket really well, resulting in a nice and dark bark.

The difference isn’t hugely noticeable but you don’t get so much of a melt when you’re cooking in a reverse flow smoker.

With the temperature gauge positioned where it usually is, at the top of the cooking chamber, you can actually get too much retained heat in a baffle plate. This transfers to your meat and can burn or overcook the meat from the bottom up.

What is a Regular Offset Smoker?

A regular offset smoker is one of the most basic barbecue setups whereby a fire is housed in a separate firebox where the heat and smoke move through to a separate cooking chamber.

Smoking on the Oklahoma Joes Highland offset smoker

How Does an Offset Smoker Work?

Diagram showing how a regular offset smoker works

The heat and smoke pass through an offset smoker like so:

An smaller, offset firebox is attached to one side of a cooking barrel where wood, charocal, or both are burned to generate the heat and smoke needed for indirect cooking.

Like a traditional offset smoker, a reverse flow smoker has a firebox attached to one side where wood or charcoal is burned to generate heat and smoke.

The heat and smoke naturally move straight on through to the cooking chamber where natural convection currents circulate the good stuff to flavor, color, and cook the food inside.

The heat and smoke naturally draws across the cooking chamber to the chimney that sits at the end opposite to the firebox. This allows the heat and smoke to move through the entire cooking chamber before exiting.

What are the Advantages of an Offset Smoker?

Sticking with the traditional offset smoker gives you these benefits:

With good, proper air flow, you’re able to create the cleanest burn possible for thin blue smoke. Not only does this taste better but it’s also better health-wise.

When the heat and smoke in a regular offset smoker hit the top, it circulates down again. These natural convection mean that your food cooks from the top down as well as the bottom up.

For large and uneven cuts like a whole brisket, this setup helps to melt the fat cap that sits on top of the brisket really well for a more even cook.

A regular offset smoker can use as much as 30% less fuel than a reverse flow offset smoker. This can significantly reduce the running costs and adds up over the long term.

The area of cooking grate closest to the firebox will always run hotter than the bit further away on a regular offset smoker.

And, while this can be a disadvantage if you want to load your smoker up with only low and slow meats, it can also be an advantage.

I personally love being able to cook my lunch on the offset and have it easily done well before dinner is ready. But, you can also use the dual zones to thoughtfully position different cuts of meat, or even just sit your water tray.

Generally, there’s more regular offset smokers to choose from than reverse flow smokers. So, you’re more likely to find a good one that fits your size and budget requirements.

What are the Disadvantages of an Offset Smoker?

The temperature at one end of an offset smoker can be significantly different to the temperature at the other.

This can be tricky to smoke on, particularly if you’re new to smoking altogether. But, we’re big believers that if you want to do it, just jump in and learn.

If you’re trying to smoke all your meat low and slow, you might not be able to use the first 1/3rd of your pit because the temperature there is often just too hot.

Comparing the Performance of a Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset

Oklahoma Joe’s make both reverse and regular offset smokers. In the video below, they objectively test the performance of both setups to cook a brisket.

Cost Comparison of an Offset vs Reverse Flow

Some people claim that reverse flow smokers are slightly more expensive than regular offset smokers because they use more metal. But, you’re talking one baffle plate more steel, it’s not a huge difference.

Price-wise, whether you go reverse or regular flow, an offset should set you back a similar amount of cash.

There is a huge difference price-wise between a cheap offset smoker, a quality one, and a top of the line, competitive offset though. Check out our best offset smokers review for more information on pricing.

Pitmaster Opinions

As with anything in barbecue, there’s as many people who tell you something’s better one way as there are people who will tell you it’s better the other way. And, when it comes ot the reverse flow vs regular offset smoker debate, it’s the same.

In our opinion, both reverse flow and regular offsets can be good smokers. There are far more important qualities when it comes to choosing a good one than the direction of the airflow. We dive into what to look for in an offset smoker in our best offset smoker guide.

But, if you are interested in seeing what the professionals use, here’s some well-known pitmasters and their preferences:

Sticks to using his regular offset smoker. Not because it’s necessarily better but because he’s already experienced on it and doesn’t feel the need to learn how to master a reverse flow.

In this video, he states that he believes it’s more about the pitmaster than the pit.

As he talks about in his book, Aaron is dead set against using a reverse flow setup and recommends to everyone to stick with the traditional offset setup.

Sells a range of reverse flow, gravity fed offset smokers that he claims give incredibly even cooking temps without needing to stoke the fire.

We haven’t used his smokers so can’t comment on how good they are.

So, What's Better? A Reverse or Regular Offset Smoker?

While a reverse flow smoker creates a more even temperature distribution across a barbecue, offset smokers are often preferred for their top down cooking, slightly better crust, and fuel efficiency.

Given the choice of just one for our own backyard, we would go a regular offset smoker. We like the simplicity the traditional design and feel that because you’re already working very closely to manage the fire, you might as well go the whole hog and go at it the old school way.

In saying that, both a reverse flow smoker and an offset smoker are powerful barbecues that can turn out some incredible food. Going for one over the other won’t make or break your results.

Should I Get a Reverse Flow Smoker?

Although there’s a lot more to whether it’s a good offset or not than the direction of airflow, a reverse flow is generally a good choice if you want:

  • A more even temperature throughout the cooking chamber;
  • You don’t want to move meat mid-cook; and/or
  • You’re a beginner so would benefit from the easier temperature management.
Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker

Should I Get a Regular Offset Smoker?

A normal offset smoker is best if you:

  • Prefer to cook with the cleanest quality smoke;
  • Like having different heat zones; and/or
  • Have found a good regular offset smoker that you want to buy (a reverse flow isn’t a must-have in our opinion).
Getting the fire right inside an Oklahoma Joe's HIghland offset smoker

The Best Reverse Flow Smokers

If you’ve decided to go reverse flow over a regular offset smoker, be sure to check out these favorites.

BEST VALUE

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker
OKJ's Highland Reverse
4.6/5

BEST QUALITY

Meadow Creek TS120P
Meadow Creek TS120P
4.8/5

The Best Regular Offset Smokers

Here’s a sample of some of our favorite regular flow offset smokers. Feel free to check out our best offset smokers review for other good brands and models.

BEST VALUE

Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker
OKJ's Highland
4.6/5

BEST QUALITY

Yoder Loaded Wichita
Yoder Loaded Wichita
4.9/5

BEST COMPETITION

Yoder Cimarron
Yoder Cimarron
4.8/5

FAQs About the Reverse Flow Smoker vs Offset

In a regular offset smoker, the heat and smoke is drawn into the cooking chamber from the firebox, filtering straight through the cooking chamber and out the chimney at the opposite end.

On a reverse flow smoker, the heat and smoke from the firebox moves into the cooking chamber but is initially stuck under a solid metal plate that forces it to the opposite end of the barbecue before it can move upwards, and then pull across the cooking grates to exit out the chimney that’s located at the end nearest to the fire box.

Reverse flow on a smoker means that the heat and smoke enters in one direction before being forced to do a 180 turn, heading back towards the way it came from before exiting the barbecue.

They’re different. The reverse flow design evens out heat and smoke distribution for a much more uniform cooking environment. Steadier conditions = more consistent results with less work.

But, a regular offset smoker is great when you want big air flow for a very clean burn. Or, if you like having different temperature zones to make use of the hotter area near the firebox and put the low and slow stuff further away.

I also find that a regularly set up offset smoker creates better heat convection that cooks the food from the bottom down which is exactly what you want when cooking something thick and irregular like a brisket. That’s why they’re traditionally used in Texas style barbecue.

We’re also able to get slightly better bark on a regular offset smoker.

You use a reverse flow smoker the same way that you would a regular offset smoker.

Start by lighting a charcoal or wood fire in the firebox and dial in the heat by adjusting the dampers as required. Then, you’re going to add your meat, cooking it until it’s ready.

A wireless meat thermometer makes it easy to know exactly when it’s done.

If you want to wrap you meat mid-way, you can do that too. But, you will be checking on the pit’s ambient temperature every 45 – 60 minutes, adding fuel when required and/or adjusting those dampers to keep a steady temperature.

Unless a smoker has a convection fan to mechanically move the air like in a regular oven, it’s impossible for the temperature to be completely uniform throughout a smoker.

How much variance you get from one end to the other will depend on the make and model because there’s a lot of different factors that impact that.

But, on average, you can expect the temperature to vary 25 – 50°F in a reverse flow smoker.

Look at the smoke stack.

If it’s on the side closest to the firebox, it’s reverse flow. If it’s furthest away from the firebox, it’s a regular offset smoker.

Just like offset smokers, some reverse flow smokers can be used to grill as well. Check out the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse that has grilling plates over the fire.

Jared Brown BBQ Expert Burning Brisket

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

Browse BBQ Reviews
Cook Better Barbecue

Get our latest reviews, guides, and recipes to help you move from burnt to simply brilliant!