What Is A Reverse Flow Smoker? All You Need To Know

If you are in the market for smokers, you must be wondering what is a reverse flow smoker and what’s the hullabaloo around them. 

Salespersons might tell you that they help make your meat smokier and evenly cooked. If you are a beginner, they will say that a reverse flow smoker is an obvious choice as the meat and veggies don’t need to be turned often. 

Well, this article will demystify reverse flow smokers and recommend a few options.

Structure, Design, And Construction Of Offset And Reverse Flow Smokers

Traditional Offset Smoker

In a regular or traditional offset smoker, the food is placed on a grill grate in the cooking chamber. The large cooking chamber is shaped like a barrel or a trunk, which is why they are also called barrel smokers or horizontal smokers.

Behind or under the cooking chamber is a smaller chamber called the firebox. Because the firebox is separate and ‘offset’ these kinds of smokers are called offset smokers. 

Wood and charcoal are kept in the firebox, which when ignited generate heat and smoke to cook and flavor the food.

In a traditional offset smoker, the smoke and heat pass through the openings on the grill grate and out the chimney, or smokestack, located across the chamber from the firebox.

Reverse Flow Smoker And How It’s Different From The Conventional Offset

Meadow Creek TS120P Barbeque Smoker
Image: Meadow Creek TS120P Barbeque Smoker

A reverse flow offset smoker has an additional horizontal metal plate called baffle in the cooking chamber. 

The baffle is welded to the firebox end of the cooking chamber. It extends almost as far as the other end of the chamber but is not welded to that side. This leaves a narrow opening for the smoke and heat to rise towards the grill grate.

In this way, smoke and heat coming into the cooking chamber from the firebox are forced to travel the length of the baffle plate. The smoke passes through the narrow opening and over and through the grill grate to finally reach the smokestack. 

This is why in a reverse flow offset smoker the smokestack is built on the same side as the firebox. And since the flow of the heat is reversed over the food being cooked, it is called a reverse flow smoker.

How Reverse Flow Smokers Handle Temperature Management

Most smokers use a temperature gauge mounted on the lid of the cooking chamber. However, this is a good six to eight inches above the surface where the meat is getting cooked and is indicative of the internal temperature at best. 

Pitmasters use probe thermometers fitted at the grill grate to find the real temperature of the food.

Temperature is controlled by opening or shutting the dampers or vents. There are usually two. One on top of the cooking box and another on the side of the firebox. In some smokers, the smokestack too includes exhaust dampers. 

Both dampers need to be kept open at least partially at all times. If even one damper is completely shut, it will restrict the airflow and the fire will go out. The more open they are, the higher the temperature in the cooking box. 

You might want to do a few dry runs (without meat and veggies) to learn to get to certain specific temperatures (like 225°F) before you start using a smoker.

There are hot spots in a regular offset smoker, especially near the firebox. Therefore, the food needs to be tended regularly keeping in mind the irregular heating patterns. This is where a reverse flow smoker scores over its traditional counterpart.

Managing The Baffle For Reverse Flow Smokers

Due to the use of the baffle, the temperature in the cooking chamber of a reverse flow smoker remains more uniform. The baffle blocks the direct and rather harsh heat from overcooking food placed closest to the firebox.

It also doubles as a grease pan as it sears the fat that drips onto it from the grill grate. The even smoke distribution also ensures a more consistent taste through the food.

The baffle also acts as a heat sink, guarding against a temperature spike when more fuel is added to the firebox. It also ensures that the cooking chamber returns to the requisite temperature faster even after the lid of the chamber is open and shut repeatedly.

Keep in mind that the temperature in the cooking chamber of a reverse flow smoker is by no means the same from one end to the other. However, the variations in temperature (25-50°F) are not as high as in a traditional offset smoker.

This makes reverse flow smokers more suitable for beginners. The more consistent the heat, the more consistent the results of the barbecue. It needs a more experienced user to know the hotspots of an offset smoker and use it accordingly.

Quick Comparison Between Offset And Reverse Flow Smokers

We have looked at the structure of reverse flow smokers and the way they function. As we see, the presence of a baffle or baffles and the position of the smokestack are the biggest differences between the two offset smokers. Let’s compare in some detail.

Traditional Offset SmokerReverse Flow Smoker
Direct heat creates hot spots.Baffle encourages uniform temperature and smoke distribution.
Smokestack position across from the firebox.Smokestack on the same side of the firebox.
More prone to temperature spikes.Less prone to temperature spikes.
Ideal for experienced users who can exploit hot spots to cook different foods at different temperatures in the same cooking chamber.Ideal for beginners as the temperature remains uniform and the food requires less handling.

Their simple and effective design makes reverse flow smokers efficient but many cheap leaky models won’t last a couple of seasons. Here are a couple of our picks that are neither dirt cheap nor uber-expensive. They offer durability and more bang for the buck.

Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker

Oklahoma Joes Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker

Oklahoma Joe’s Longhorn Reverse Flow Smoker has an all-steel construction that helps it stand out from the crowd of flimsy and cheap smokers. 

The cooking chamber has 751 square inches of space — enough to cook 6 pork shoulders, or 6 baby back ribs or 3 briskets in one go in the main cooking chamber. The grates are porcelain-coated, making them easy to clean, rust-free and durable.

Grill grates over the firebox offer about 309 square inches of space. This additional space brings the total available cooking space to 1,060 square inches! 

Not only that, the firebox is big enough for small logs to be used, for that extra smoky flavor. It also has a swing-open door that makes brushing out the ash much easier.

This reverse flow smoker has four baffles, creating a large heatsink. These baffles are removable, so the user has more control over the heating and smoking process. Being removable makes cleaning the baffles much easier.

The smokestack is also removable and can be used across from the firebox to turn this into a traditional smoker. This will give the user a clean burn and greater airflow, especially with the high-quality dampers provided in the chamber.

If this model is too expensive or big for you, look at the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Reverse which has all the features described above in a smaller body (619 square inch + 281 square inch).

See price and buying options

Lang BBQ Smokers 36″ Original Patio Smoker

Lang BBQ Original Patio Smoker

Lang BBQ Smokers 36″ Original Patio Smoker is advertised as being suitable for a family. It has a 0.25″ rolled steel body and three racks. The upper rack slides out so you can easily turn the meat and veggies during cooking. 

It has a 476 square inch cooking area. However, this size allows for an approximately whole piglet to be smoked.

See price and buying options

Know Your Reverse Flow Offset Smoker!

Now that you have all the important points and features at your fingertips you could decide upon which smoker you want to buy. The reverse flow smokers are more efficient and convenient. They are ideal for beginners and there are many affordable and durable models to choose from.