Howdy, Neighbor! June is the official Grilling Month and of course the month of Father’s Day, so this article is apt when it comes to grilling: Size Does Matter! There is nothing like big, honkin’ ¼” steel casing crafted into an offset smoker to produce a platter full of noble grub. When it comes to smoking a brisket, ribs, Boston butt, or whatever, size matters.
But where did this beautiful behemoth come from? Short answer: the oil patch. No one knows the exact starting date, but Texas’ history – along with its history of brisket, the king of barbeque – is inescapably tied to the oil ‘bidness. Think about it: cows were on top of the land and oil was underneath, so somebody was bound to make the connection. And thank goodness they did.
The business of drilling for and transporting oil requires BIG metal. Nothing fancy, just big and strong. And a lot of it, too. Inevitably, after oilfield projects were completed there would be scrap pieces of metal of all shapes and sizes. What’s more, it typically would be in the middle of nowhere. So, you have big pieces of scrap metal, hungry guys with welding torches, and they’re both miles from anything close to resembling civilization or a restaurant. Stir in some blistering Texas sunshine and prairie full of mesquite, and you now have a recipe for some creative culinary genius. VIOLA!… the offset smoker is born.
At first, these cookers were a hodge-podge mix. Herb Detmer, owner of Jeff’s Backyard, is a retired oilfield welder, and he recalls from the 1960s fellow welders piecing together anything they could find. He himself has built more smoker pits than he can recall using square pieces, round pieces, or whatever was available. Necessity was the mother of invention, yet it was artistry on a tonnage scale. Eventually, a progression of precision and consistent cooking results evolved into what we see today: typically, new 20” diameter, ¼” thick carbon steel pipe (“casing”) that is sliced into two sections in about a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio. The smaller piece is then dropped about halfway down the larger piece and then welded back together with a solid steel plate fitted to cover the open gap on top; the bottom gap is intentionally left open as it serves as the airway between the two pieces of the cooker. This smaller section is called the “fire box” while the larger piece is the “cook box.” It is called an “offset” cooker because the actual heat source in the fire box is set away from the cooking area, so you are actually cooking with convections of hot air/smoke and not direct flame as you normally see in outdoor cooking.
This cooking method allows you to use a process that is called “low and slow,” which is typically no more than 225°F to 250°F. Once heated to the appropriate temperature, the thick, industrial quality steel casing helps insulate this carefully crafted cooking environment, and the all-welded construction helps retain the heat and smoke whether you’re cooking in January or July. At these low temperatures, it takes longer to cook a brisket – sometimes 12-14 hours or more for a single cook – but it’s the tried and true process that produces the succulent results we all love so much.
You can find cheap, mass produced replicas of offset smokers in big box stores, but they will mostly have a thin metal skins that will not properly insulate the cooking chamber for the duration of the cook. You can gamble on that, but just remember: you get what you pay for. If you truly want to make a good quality brisket, Size Does Matter!
Jeff’s Backyard is family owned and operated and is your expert in backyard cooking equipment. Call us at 210-342-4760 – or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – with any questions about your outdoor grilling needs. See our ad/coupon in the Welcome Home newspaper to get a free shaker of Bubba Rubba seasoning!