One of the best feelings when using your offset smoker is building and starting your own fire with a beautifully clean smoke and consistent temperature.
Charcoal helps immensely in the lighting process and acts as a strong foundation to your fire, helping the first and all subsequent logs to catch and smoke properly — without suffering from tempearture fluctuations!
Let’s jump into why adding charcoal to your offset smoker helps with consistency and fire management, how much to use, and what the alternatives are.
Why Add Charcoal To Your Offset Smoker
Because of the design of charcoal, being more dense and rich in carbon, charcoal naturally burns hotter, longer, and more consistently. Adding charcoal to your offset smoker will help with fire management, keeping the temperature consistent, and acts as a good hot base to build the fire on.
The most challenging aspect of using an offset smoker is also the most rewarding. Fire management. Keeping an eye on temperatures, adjusting vents, restocking the fire, and making sure you don’t get any dirty smoke.
Adding charcoal to your offset smoker will make it much easier to control the temperature. Because charcoal burns hotter than wood you’ll be much less likely to have low temperature issues and can easily just open the dampers/vents to raise the temperature.
Strong Base For Your Fire
A strong fire and clean smoke is vitally important at the start of the cook as the meat typically absorbs more of the smoke within the first half of the cook, before the formation of the bark.
By starting the fire with charcoal you can quickly and easily get the smoker up to temperature and ready to smoke. I would recommend lighting the charcoal using a charcoal chimney and then adding the charcoal once it’s white, ashy, and ready to use.
After adding the charcoal to your offset smoker, wait till it comes up to your desired temperature and lay one large or two small logs on the coals to get the smoke going. When the wood starts smoking cleanly you’re ready to go.
Cook And Temperature Consistency
Because of how consistently well charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal burn, it makes it easy to keep a constant temperature. Think of the charcoal like a temperature anchor, more easily keeping temperature when adding more wood or reacting to the opening or closing of the damper vents.
By using charcoal in your offset smoker it will reduce the likelihood of the temperature fluctuating wildly in response to opening and closing the hoods, adding more wood, and even to help smoke meat in cold or windy weather.
How Much Charcoal To Add In Offset Smoker
How much charcoal to add to your offset smoker varies between brand and type of charcoal (i.e lump charcoal vs. charcoal briquettes), as well as how efficient your offset smoker is at heat retention.
However, as a general rule of thumb and in my experience, it will last anywhere between 4-8 hours which is plenty of time for you to get a proper fire built and consistent wood smoking.
Remember, you only need charcoal at the start of the cook, as it presents such a strong base for your fire. Therefore, you only need a single or half load of charcoal for your offset smoker, just enough to make a single layer on the bottom tray in your firebox.
This should be enough for you to build your base, and use to ignite the initial loads of logs over the first few hours. Remember, you can always add more charcoal during the cook if you have to.
Do You Need To Add Charcoal To Your Offset Smoker
Just to be clear, you do NOT need to add charcoal to your offset smoker if you don’t want to. But, charcoal is most commonly used as a base to start and build the fire, given that it burns so easily and consistently.
If you have run out of charcoal, are confident in your fire management abilities, or prefer the 100% wood flavored smoked, then you can absolutely just start a fire using kindling, newspaper, and wood and be on your way. This will ensure the flavor is 100% wood smoke, but will also require slightly more attention to execute correctly.
Also remember, although you can add charcoal to an offset smoker, you should never add charcoal to a pellet grill or pellet smoker!