How They Work
Offsets consist of two main components: the cooking chamber and the firebox. The cooking chamber is shaped like a large sideways barrel and it is what holds the meat during a cook. The firebox, which is where the wood or charcoal is burned, is a smaller barrel that attaches to the side of the cooker and sits a few inches below the cooking chamber. Heat and smoke flow out of the firebox and into the cooking chamber where it hits the meat before flowing out through a chimney on the top or side of the barrel.
The Barrel House consists of a single upright barrel. Rather than having an offset firebox, the coal basket sits in the bottom of the barrel, directly below the meat. Thanks to a specially engineered airflow, the drippings from the meat vaporize and surround it with a cloud of tenderizing moisture rather than flaring up.
For Barrel House, the airflow consists of an elevation-based intake and a preset exhaust that regulates the amount of oxygen that reaches the coals. A one-time adjustment of the intake will ensure that the cooker operates within the “hot and fast” temperature range of 275-315F for over six hours – long enough for nearly any cook. With reliable temperature control, cooking with the Barrel House is as easy as setting a timer and letting the Barrel House take care of the rest.
Juices from the meat drip onto the coals, vaporizing them and enhancing the tenderness of the meat.
The airflow on offsets is managed with intake dampers and an adjustable chimney, both of which must be individually adjusted to control the amount of oxygen that reaches the fire. Most commercially available offsets like the Oklahoma Joe Highland lack presets on the intake and exhaust, meaning dialing in the temperature is a matter of trial and error. Commercial offsets are also infamous for having air leaks that can interfere with the temperature and need to be monitored throughout the cook, making cooking on an offset far more labor intensive and time consuming.
Offset smokers and barrel cookers are both capable of burning all forms of charcoal. The Barrel House can burn wood chips and chunks in addition to charcoal for a more robust smoke profile while most offsets are capable of running entirely on wood for supreme smokiness. With the Barrel House, one six pound load of charcoal will burn for over six hours whereas offsets generally need to be stoked every hour or so to maintain consistent temperatures.
Versatility & Ease of Use
The most important distinction to make between the two is ease of use. The Barrel House has a detachable base with a premeasured coal basket for easy start-up. Simply fill the basket to the top, let the coals burn for fifteen minutes and you will be ready to cook. The lightweight, detachable base also simplifies clean-up by allowing the ashes to be dumped directly from the base rather than having to be scraped or scooped out. Additionally, the Barrel House’s sealed design and controlled airflow ensures consistent temperatures, eliminating the need to monitor it throughout the cook. With the Barrel House, there is no guesswork, no fussing with the airflow, no adding fuel and no babysitting.
Offsets, on the other hand, require a more hands-on approach. Starting a fire and preheating the cooker to the ideal range (225-250F for slow and low) can take up to an hour while maintaining consistent temperatures throughout the cook requires near constant attention. Between adjusting the intake, stoking the fire, turning the meat and refilling the water pans (for those who use them), cooking with an offset requires time and diligence.
The Barrel House Deluxe is $249 with free shipping.
In addition to producing delicious smoked barbecue, both platforms also offer a great deal of versatility. While offsets are designed for smoking, their indirect heating method also allows them to function as outdoor ovens while most models can also be converted to grills by loading the charcoal directly beneath the cooking grates. The Barrel House can also function as a grill by simply propping the lid open and allowing more oxygen to reach the coals while the vertical design makes it a great convection cooker, pizza oven and more. The detachable base can even be converted into a hibachi for searing and grilling on the go.
Fuel Source & Cook Times
Because offsets and barrel cookers usually operate at different temperatures, cook times and results will vary greatly. The ability to burn charcoal, wood or any combination of the two gives offsets a large degree of control over flavor. Additionally, the slow and low method is widely considered to be the best way to produce flavorful barbecue while also preserving moisture.
Ribs cooked on the Barrel House Cooker.
While the Barrel House is not designed for full wood fires, the ability to burn wood chunks in addition to charcoal gives users great control over the smokiness. Because the sealed design traps more smoke than most offsets, the Barrel House can achieve similarly smoky results much less wood. Additionally, because the hot and fast method cooks 40% faster than slow and low, it should dry the meat out more, but because the drippings vaporize and surround the meat with moisture, the Barrel House is able to produce similarly tender, juicy results in a fraction of the time and with almost no effort.
Size & Portability
Because offsets use a horizontal design, they also tend to be much larger than vertical cookers. The Oklahoma Joe Highland measures 57” in width compared to the Barrel House’s overall handle-to-handle width of 19”. Surprisingly, the significantly smaller design of the Barrel House does not lead to a reduction in capacity. Both the Oklahoma Joe (without aftermarket holders) and the Barrel House can hold up to six racks of baby back ribs. Because the Barrel House uses hooks to hang meat vertically, it maximizes total cooking capacity, allowing it to do more with less. Additionally, the Barrel House weighs just 33 pounds compared to 178 for the Highland, making it significantly more portable.
Affordability & Quality
Price is also an important consideration with these two styles of cooker. Offsets can range from as low as $100 for a leaky tin can to as high as $3000 for a top of the line backyard smoker. Generally, anything less than $1000 is considered mid-low end while anything that retails around $1000 or higher like a Horizon or Yoder is considered a quality smoker. Most smokers sold in department stores such as the $299 Oklahoma Joe Highland fall on the lower end of the spectrum and are often considered more trouble than they are worth. The thin metal does not retain heat well, the firebox leaks and the paint is bound to chip away, causing the cooker to rust out within a few years. Additionally, these smokers are often made in China and require a substantial amount of assembly before they can be used.
The Barrel House is designed and assembled in the United States, ships free to your door, comes almost fully assembled and retails for just $249. Built with a heavy duty steel frame coated in a protective layer of porcelain enamel, the Barrel House is made with high quality materials and is built to last.