The Differences Between a Cold Smoker & Offset Smoker

smoke house
Homemade cold smoke house with smoker box

When you first dip your toe into any new hobby or project there is a lot to learn. There is going to be a lot of information coming fast and furious from lots of different sources making it hard to know what’s important and what’s not. The first thing needed to understand is the lingo and dialect within said hobby, and the BBQ world is no different. Words like injector, brine, rub, offset, fat cap, and bark keeping popping up and not making sense in the short term. Cooking seemed so harmless, didn’t it? Add two more words to the list, cold smoker, and offset smoker. They are similar sounding but couldn’t be further apart in what they do. The Smoke Ring Society is here to explain the differences between a cold smoker and offset smoker.

The Cold Smoker

Cold smokers are what you would use to smoke things like cheese, salmon, or to preserve meat like in the old days. The smoke they produce is used to add smoky flavor and to act as a preserving agent. A typical cold smoker would consist of a smoke house with a series of hooks and rods in towards the top on which the meat is hung. They have a stone or concrete floor so a fire is set within the smoke house. Some versions will have lava rocks over the fire to absorb the soot and bad stuff from the smoke.

Smaller cold smokers look like the smaller cabinet style complete with shelves so you can set things on them. They come with a smoker box next to it with some kind of attachment to carry the smoke to the cabinet. When cold smoking you never want the temperature to get above 150 degrees inside the cabinet or smoke house. The goal isn’t to cook the food but to infuse it with smoke. Obviously cold weather climates are ideal for this, but it can be done in warm climates also, it just involves more preparation and attention.

The Offset Smoker

Offset smokers are what most people are familiar with and what they think of first. An offset smoker has a smokestack, thermostats, grills, and a smoker box attached to it where the fire is set, and coals tended. The smoke from the fire travels from one end of the smoker, through the cook chamber, then up and out the smokestack. It is the hot, moving smoke that slowly cooks the meat and the cleaner the smoke, the better the flavor. Offset smokers are used to cook ribs, briskets, chicken, and whatever else you can think of. The purpose is to raise the internal temperature anywhere from 180-210 degrees with the intent of eating the food soon after taking it off the smoker.

The Difference Between Them

Cold smokers are what you use to infuse, and offset are used to cook. That is as basic a description as there is. Both use fire, smoke, and time to make meat taste better but the end game is what sets them apart. The cold smoking process is used for preservation and takes weeks if not months before the food is ready for eating or storing. An offset smoker is used to hot smoke food for immediate satisfaction. The Smoke Ring Society recommends learning both to become a true legend of the smoke.

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