The smoker grill (or offset smoker, as I usually hear them called) is sort of the ultimate evolution of the grill. While not as technologically advanced as something like an electric smoker, it has an appealing simplicity to offset its lack of fancy electronics, and does end up a bit more versatile, since it’s nice to just be able to grill your food. The only thing more versatile and effective, really, would be a pellet grill…and you pay a quite high premium for the quality of those babies.
So, how do you make use of your smoker grill combo? Well, let’s go over it.
Grilling is easy. You use it just like any other charcoal grill. If you’re rusty on that, here’s a refresher.
Use your preferred lighting method; whether it’s stacking up a pyramid of charcoal, using a chimney starter, or whatever other method works for you, you want to get that fire nice and stoked, preferably without using any lighter fluid (since it will impact the taste of your meat.
Once your coals are lit and turn white, spread them out over the bottom of your grill. Compared to a kettle grill, these offset smokers are pretty huge, so you may need to use more coals than usual if you’re going to be grilling a ton of things along the whole length of the grill.
Once the coals have cooled to a smolder, throw on your meat, cook it until it’s done, and take it off! Easy.
Using your grill and smoker combo as a smoker is where it gets complicated. Entire books have been written on the art of smoking, some of which you should probably check out if you plan to get serious about cooking your food this way. However, the basics aren’t too difficult to grasp.
You light your smoker the same way you would the grill. However, you’re spreading the coals in the offset smoker box to the side in this case. From there, the smoke is going to drift into the grill portion on the side, where you’re going to place your meat.
Quick tip: cold meat absorbs smoke better than warm or room temperature meat, so take it straight from the fridge and slap it on the grill rather than bringing it up to room temperature first.
If you want to add a woody flavor, you also will want to ready some wood chunks of your choice (popular favorites are hickory, mesquite, and apple wood) and put them in the firebox next to the coals. Note that it’s important you put the wood NEXT TO the coals, not in them; you want the wood to smolder but not combust, as while wood smoke adds a delicious flavor, it also tends to produce a lot more creosote and ash than your charcoal (which has already had much of that burned away).
Finally, add some moisture to the smoke by hanging a pan of water above the coals; most smokers come with a water pan, and you can buy one easily enough.
Maintain a temperature of about 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours (up to 24 hours for really serious smoking jobs), until the food is done.
This all sounds simple, and most of it is…except that last part. Let’s talk about that.
By far the most complex skill to learn when it comes to smoking on one of these offset smokers is how to effectively manage the temperature inside the larger portion of the smoker (the grill part).
Because the grill is so wide it’s going to have a ton of hot and cold spots throughout, with the part of the grill furthest away from the firebox being by far the coldest.
This can actually be a feature, not a bug, for advanced users to slow or cold smoke things at different temperatures by ensuring, say, the firebox produces enough heat that the nearest side of the grill is maintained at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit for relatively fast cooking (something you want to throw on there to eat for lunch on a long day of smoking) and the farthest side is easily enough maintained at 250 degrees for smoking.
However, that takes a lot of practice, as does even rudimentary temperature control. As mentioned, these grill and smoker combos don’t come with any fancy electronic gadgets to help automatically regulate the temperature of the interior; you need to rely on purely mechanical means out of the box.
I suggest fixing that as soon as possible. A big offender here is the temperature gauge on the lid of the grill. Every grill has one, and on smaller grills they can be fairly accurate; if you’re using a kettle grill with something like 250 square inches of cooking space, the temperature inside may only be a degree or two different from the thermometer, if that.
But for a grill like this, all it tells you is how hot the lid is on the inside, basically. Not much else.
Instead, buy some digital temperature probes. Preferably ones with very slim wires so they don’t leave gaps in your grill’s lid where air and heat can leak out. A pair of them works best, one for each side of the grill.
This will give you a much more accurate temperature reading, and if closely monitored will tell you when you need to adjust the temperature.
From there, learning another complex skill is on the docket, as you now need to start manipulating baffles. There are usually two: one on the firebox, and another on the chimney; the intake and “exhaust” valves, respectively.
The latter should almost always be kept fully open (except in extreme circumstances) while the latter is what you influence the most to increase or decrease airflow (increasing or reducing heat respectively).
Alternatively, you can buy a digital temperature controller and install that, but it’s best to know how to do the task by hand first so you can troubleshoot any discrepancies with the controller later.