Pellet vs Offset Smoker: Which Is Right For You?

pellet vs offset smoker

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This is a topic where we can drill down into the nitty gritty, but it really comes down to two simple questions:

  1. Do you want the most authentic barbecue with the best smoke flavor and are prepared to put in the work? Get an offset.
  2. Do you want to make barbecue while you get on with your life? Get a pellet smoker.

Still not sure? I’ll go through the differences in more detail below to help you make up your mind.

Pellet vs offset smoker: what’s the difference?

Competition teams and traditional pitmasters favor the offset smoker. Also known as a traditional, horizontal, stick, barrel, or pipe smoker, it was once made out of unused oil drums.

The firebox is “offset” to the side, below the main barrel-like cooking chamber. The wood and or charcoal burns in the firebox, and the smoke and heat cross over the food before leaving through the chimney (usually but not always on the other side).

Oklahoma Joes Highland offset smoker

The pellet smoker (also called a pellet grill) is a lot more innovative and modern. They look similar, with the pellet smoker being a smaller size with an attached pellet hopper.

But the main difference is you can set and forget your pellet smoker. The built-in digital controller automatically feeds pellets to an electric firepot, adjusting the flow of pellets to maintain the temperature you set.

It’s great for beginners starting out or pros who want more convenience and the option to put a brisket on and then sleep through the night.

As someone with a young family, I’ve found pellet smokers a godsend, as I can leave them unattended for long periods of time without worrying about fire management.

Z Grills Backyard Warrior  pellet smoker

In contrast, when using an offset smoker, you must constantly monitor the temperature and adjust the fuel and air vents (dampers). However, the reward for this extra effort is unparalleled smoke flavor and bark.

Pellet vs. offset smoker: head-to-head

We pit the pellet and offset smoker head-to-head across several areas.


A pellet smoker’s only fuel source is hardwood pellets. These are fed by an electric-powered auger and ignited by a small rod.

With an offset smoker, you can burn pure wood splits or charcoal. You can use either or a combination of both.

A pellet smoker wins concerning fuel efficiency, thanks to its convection fans and automatic temperature regulation. Pellets are also more convenient as they come in 20lb bags, so you don’t need to make room to store lots of firewood.

Ease of use

As mentioned, this is the most significant difference between a pellet and an offset smoker.

Pellet smokers use electricity and digital technology (hello, LCD panel) to manage the heat and smoke generation for you. The built-in digital controllers use thermometers to keep a consistent temperature, and the smoker automatically changes the airflow and fuel amount.

Some models also allow you to control things from afar through an app.

Digital controller with LCD display makes it extra convenient to use a pellet smoker

Offset smokers are the exact opposite. Firstly, it takes about an hour to bring it to temperature and start cooking.

Then, you must religiously monitor the temperature, adjusting it by adding fuel or altering the air vents. If you don’t, it’ll directly impact the meat’s taste and texture. It takes skills and patience to learn how to use an offset smoker.


The offset smoker is for you if you want to be in control. It’s also adaptable.

The pellet smoker is extremely versatile, so you can grill, smoke, bake, and roast. Built-in convection fans circulate the heat, regulate the temperature, and create the perfect baking and roasting environment.

Thanks to the pellet grill’s digital controls, you don’t get any severe temperature changes. So it’s difficult to burn or over smoke your meat, which means no more bitter-tasting meat for you.


When run by a skilled pitmaster, the offset wins regarding smoke flavor. No other smoker comes close, which is why they’re so popular with competitive teams and restaurants. Each pit master has the chance to impart their signature through the type of wood they use and how they manage the fire.

This isn’t to say the pellet doesn’t give a good flavor. It’s just milder than what you can achieve with an offset smoker.


Pellet smokers are much smaller and weigh less. So, it’s easier to move around than an offset smoker. Plus, you can buy foldable pellet grills. You’ll want to put your heavy-set offset in one spot and never move it unless you get a competition trailer.


Pellet smokers are a bit of a pain to clean . You have to remove the grates and heat deflector, and then vacuum pellet dust out with a shop vac every 1-3 cooks.

cleaning pellet grill cooking chamber with shop vac
It takes about 15 min to clean a pellet grill, but it must be done regularly.

Offset smokers are easier to clean. I’ll often just drain the grease out of mine and hit it with a torch to burn off any built-up debris.


Thanks to the technology and more complicated design, pellet smokers aren’t the cheapest smokers. You’re going to be spending around $400 for a budget model like the Z Grills 450B, while a made-in-the-USA Yoder 640S will set you back $2400.

While you can buy low-cost offset smokers, they’re a liability you don’t want to deal with. Poor construction makes temperatures hard to control.

We recommend investing in a higher-quality model that’ll last longer and produce better-tasting food.

Our favorite off-the-shelf option is the Yoder Wichita which will set you back around $3000.

With offset smokers, many competition teams pay more for custom and semi-custom builds. At the low end you’re looking at around $4,000 for a custom offset, but can go all the way up to $25K-$30K for all the bells and whistles and multiple cooking options.

Pellet smoker pros and cons

Set and forget: If you want a more hands-off and convenient smoking experience, choose the pellet smoker. Set it up and forget it, allowing the digital technology to control your temperature and fuel.Requires electricity: Needing an electricity hookup can be a con for some, especially if you want to take your smoker on the go.
Multiple functions: Pellet smokers are a smoker, grill, and oven in one. Whatever you want to cook, you can do it on your pellet.Less smoke flavor: Compared to the offset, you’ll get less smoke flavor. But this can also be a pro, depending on your flavor preference.
Fuel efficiency: Thanks to convection fans, digital temperature control, and insulation, pellet smokers are very fuel efficient.More parts to break: Because there are a lot of electronics in a pellet grill, there is a lot more that can break or go wrong compared to an offset.

Offset smoker pros and cons

More control: If you want more control and a more hands-on, traditional smoking experience, an offset smoker is for you. Not cheap: As mentioned, we don’t recommend purchasing cheaper offset smokers. It’s better to invest money in a higher-quality model that won’t leak or dry out your food.
Size: If you have a crowd to feed, you can fit much more food in a bulky offset smoker. You can also grill over the firebox’s fire or arrange charcoal in the cooking chamber’s bottom to accommodate even more food.Take patience: Offset smokers definitely test your patience, as you need to be on standby to constantly monitor the temperature and control the smoke. With low and slow cooks, this means patiently waiting for hours on end. But if you have the patience and skills, the payoff is worth it.
Flavor: There’s nothing better than the barbecue taste and bark from an offset smoker.Big footprint: Before you buy an offset smoker, you’ll need to determine if you have room for one because they’re not small and aren’t easy to move.
No electricity needed: You need electricity to use pellet smokers, which gives the offset an added advantage.

Do you like staying up all night?

I could have covered this under the pros and cons section, but this is such an important part of the offset vs pellet debate.

The biggest reason I like to use a pellet grill is that I can put a brisket or pork butt on just before going to bed and let it smoke all night without losing a wink of sleep.

raw seasoned brisket on the grill
This brisket went on the Pit Boss just before bedtime, so I got a full night’s sleep.

By the time I wake up the meat is usually ready to wrap, and then it’s just a few hours before my meat is resting in the cooler to serve for lunch or dinner.

Now if you like the challenge of staying up all night to manage the smoker, I’m not going to hold that against you, but with three young kids, I value my sleep slightly more than a deeper smoke flavor.

Top pellet and offset smoker brands

Ready to bite the bullet? Here are some recommendations for the best pellet and offset smoker brands.

Pellet smokers

Offset smokers

  • Best budget is Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker. We have a comprehensive review. But this is our top recommendation for anyone wanting to drop less than $1000 on an offset smoker.
  • Best high-end is, once again, a Yoder. The Yoder Wichita, to be exact. From the build quality to the even temperature and optional extras, there’s nothing we don’t like about this American-made offset smoker. Except maybe that it costs a pretty penny. But if you’re serious about smoking, it’s worth it.

Pellet vs. offset smoker: which is better?

It’s clear the pellet and offset smoker have more differences than similarities. So when it comes to choosing which is better, it’s up to your personal smoking needs.

Choose a pellet smoker if:

  • You want to set and forget it without too much effort.
  • You’re a beginner smoker.
  • You want to grill, smoke, bake, and roast.

Choose an offset smoker if:

  • You want a smoker you can control closely.
  • You want fantastic smoke flavor.
  • You need to feed a big crowd often.

This is part of a larger series of articles we’ve done comparing different types of smokers. We also have a pellet vs electric you may want to check out.

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