How Much Charcoal to use for an Offset Smoker

Last Updated on: 27th May 2023, 04:10 pm

charcoal is the main heat source when it comes to smoking in an offset smoker. But while using offset smoker for first time you may get confused on how much charcoal to use in an offset smoker.

In this article we are going to clear all of your confusions about using charcoal in an offset smoker. Lets get started.

How much Charcoal for an Offset Smoker

The amount of charcoal to use in an offset smoker depends on various factors but normally 80-100 briskets or around 5.5 lbs lumps are enough to smoke for 8-10 hours .

But it depends on the temperature at which you are planning to smoke because if temperature is higher, it will burn more fuel.

if you are using a water pan inside your smoker to maintain the temperature , then you will need more charcoal because the smoker will take longer to heat up due to moisture produced by it.

It should be kept in mind that charcoal is used in offset smoker as a heat source to ignite the wood and meat is smoked by smoke produced. So. We only have to put enough charcoal to cover the bottom of the firebox to get started.

Some of the important factors that can affect the amount of charcoal to use in offset smoker are discussed below.

Measure accurately

To know the right amount of charcoal to use in an offset smoker,you should first consider having an accurate process for measuring the amount of charcoal being used. Different pitmasters prefer different methods for measuring charcoal.

Most of the pitmasters measure by using fractions of bag like half or 1/4 . While others find it convenient to count the pieces before placing them in smoker. But it can be inaccurate while using lumps because they are of uneven size.

Type of Charcoal 

There are different types of charcoal that can be used in an offset smoker and the amount of charcoal can also vary depending on the charcoal type. There are mainly two types of charcoal that are normally used in offset smoker.

  • Briquettes
  • Lumps

Briquettes are commercially available charcoal that are of even size . These can be helpful if you want to use charcoal by counting the pieces. They burn slowly and for longer time .

briquettes are go to choice if you want to produce consistent heat throughout your smoking process. The second type of charcoal are lumps.

Lumps are also available commercially but they are naturally formed from the wood and are not trimmed to even size like Briquettes.

These can’t be used by counting, so they need to be used by fraction of bag or weight. They burn faster and produce higher temperature in less time.

 Type of Smoker 

The type of smoker in which you are planning to smoke also affects the amount of charcoal required. If you are using an inexpensive or homebuilt offset smoker then you may face the insulation problem. If your smoker is not insulated then it can burn more charcoal due to heat loss.

Cheaper smokers also have gaps in their build which can result in heat loss. Good quality smokers are insulated which means the heat produced is retained for longer time . In this way insulated smokers preserve charcoal. you may need to insulate your smoker if its not insulated before.

Moreover different types of smokers also vary in their design and workflow which might also affect the amount of charcoal needed

Temperature at which you are smoking 

The temperature required for smoking also affects the amount of charcoal used during the smoking process. If you are smoking at higher temperature then you will have to open the vents to allow more oxygen to enter the smoker and increase the burning of charcoal. So higher temperature requires more charcoal.

If you are smoking at low temperature then you can start with less amount of charcoal and add more if needed during the process. In addition you have to close the air vents which also decreases the amount of charcoal burnt.

Smoking method

The amount of charcoal required for smoking in offset smoker also depends on the smoking method that you are using. There are two smoking methods used for smoking in offset smoker.

  • Snake Method
  • Minions method

What is snake method in smoking?

Snake Method is the most popular method used for smoking in offset smoker. It is used for low and slow cooking for longer time. Usually 100 briquettes are used to form a snake that can be enough for smoking upto 12 hours.

Snake is an arrangement of lumps or briquettes in circle forming the letter C. Briquettes are usually used in snake method because they are of even size and help burning if snake evenly.

To smoke by snake method you have to lit the last five or six briquettes and place wood on top of them. The snake will burn gradually providing heat and smoke at the same time.

What is minions method in smoking?

Another popular method used  for smoking in offset smoker is minions method. It can also be used for low and slow smoking for longer time. It works well both with lumps and briquettes but briquettes are better due to even size.

To smoke by minions method you have to follow the following steps.

  1. Place a pile of unlit charcoal within firebox
  2. Make a hole in center of pile like a donut
  3. Place some lit charcoal in that hole.
  4. Let the charcoal burn gradually.

5-6 lbs of charcoal is enough to smoke for 12 hours with minions method. Although you have to take other factors into consideration. If you are cooking in a cold weather then you may need more charcoal to compensate the heat loss.

Why Add Charcoal To Your Offset Smoker

Charcoal is the main source of heat in an offset smoker. It is made up of carbon which produces high heat on burning. In addition to the production of heat, it also helps pit masters in several other tasks. Some of the benefits of using charcoal are given below.

Adjusting Fire 

Adjusting the right temperature in a smoker is really crucial for the quality of smoked meat . A slight change in any of the multiple factors affecting fire can result in increase or decrease in temperature.

If temperature keeps Fluctuating while meat is being smoked in smoker then it can result in unevenly smoked meat. Adjusting the temperature in an offset smoker is complex in offset smoker and depends on several factors like airflow, humidity, weather conditions etc.

If charcoal is used in offset smoker then it becomes easier to adjust the fire in smoker. If you need higher temperature then using more charcoal and increasing airflow can result in heating up smoker to higher temperature.

On the other hand, if you need to lower the temperature then using less charcoal and closing air vents can do the trick.

Producing smoke

Although consistent heat and smoke are essential for smoking in offset smoker, meat is not exposed to direct heat . The meat in offset smoker is smoked indirectly by producing smoke.

Charcoal is burnt wood and doesn’t produce smoke on burning, so we need to add wood to start smoking. By using charcoal in start, the desired temperature is achieved pretty quickly and after that we can add wood logs to produce smoke.

In this way charcoal helps in producing smoke immediately while heating up the smoker to the desired temperature at the same time.

Consistent temperature

Consistent temperature is a critical factor for even cooking of foods in offset smoker. If the temperature is not constant then it can lead to uneven distribution of heat inside the smoker which results in improperly cooked meat.

With using charcoal, you will be able to produce a consistent temperature throughout your smoking process without fluctuations. To further minimize the effort, we can prelit charcoal in charcoal chimney to produce consistent temperature while added in smoker.

How much charcoal to use when you are using the smoker for first time?

If you have bought a new smoker or new to smoking and don’t know how much charcoal will your smoker use then it’s better to test it with a dry run. Before using your smoker for smoking it’s better to be familiar with it .

The charcoal cost depends on the various factors including the environment in which you are smoking. To determine the accurate amount it’s better to master it without any food. To test your smoker with a dry run, follow these steps.

  1. Set up your smoker
  2. Add lit charcoal in the firebox. Charcoal can be prelit in charcoal chimney.
  3. Open the air vents to reach the temperature quickly. Because we are not smoking any food so there is no risk of damaging it.
  4. Adjust the vents and charcoal when the desired temperature is reached.
  5. Write the amount of charcoal used for dry run.
  6. Now you can use your smoker for smoking by adding a bit more charcoal than dry run because the food will also absorb some heat.

frequently asked questions

there are several ifs and buts when it comes to smoking with offset smoker. so lets discuss some of these FAQs to have a better understanding of the process.

how much charcoal for BBQ

the amount of charcoal depends on the temperature at which you are grilling and the time period that you need to grill meat for. as per general rule, 30 to 75 briquettes are enough to grill your food for several hours without much input.
If you have an electric smoker, use the temperature gauge on your smoker to keep it at 225 degrees for indirect cooking. 

If you want to start cooking right away, place soaked wood chunks or chips on top of the coals. Place food on the grill grate in an indirect area of the firebox. Close all air intakes and vents completely.

If you want to smoke for longer than one hour, add more charcoal and soaked wood chunks or chips when needed. Keep soaking new wood until your food is ready to be pulled off the grill.

Can I use lump charcoal briquettes on a Weber Kettle Grill?

No, you cannot use lump charcoal briquettes on a Weber kettle grill. Lump charcoal briquettes are made from compressed sawdust and other wood byproducts and they tend to burn very fast and hot. The only fuel that should be used in a Weber kettle grill is hardwood lump charcoal or natural hardwood logs.

How Much Charcoal to Use When Grilling?

If you are using a charcoal grill, the amount of charcoal to use depends on the size of your grill. Small grills that hold less than 10 pounds of charcoal need approximately one-half to three-quarters of a pound of charcoal per hour. Larger grills that hold more than 25 pounds of charcoal need approximately one pound per hour.

The amount of smoke flavor in your meat is directly related to the amount and type of wood used in the smoker or grill. The most common woods used for smoking include:  hickory, oak, apple, cherry and mesquite.

The type of wood used also depends on the type of meat being cooked. For example, beef benefits from the use of mesquite wood while pork can be cooked using a variety of different woods.

The final verdict

The amount of charcoal required for smoking in an offset smoker depends on several factors. There is no universal standard for amount of charcoal for an offset smoker. You can decide how much charcoal your smoker needs by testing it with a dry run. You should choose briquettes over lumps because they require less effort to measure the amount of charcoal used.

We hope you enjoyed our blog about how to use charcoal for your smoker.

Jakob miller