Pro’s and Con’s of Reverse Flow (RF) versus Tuning Plates (TP): They are two completely different designs to distribute air flow in an Offset smoker.
My statements are based on my personal experiences as a cook and as a BBQ Pit Designer and Fabricator for the past 20 plus years.
First, I need explain a bit about the design of each, so we will start with RF. Usually, RF is a solid steel plate that is welded inside the food or smoke chamber from the offset firebox end toward the opposite end of the firebox. They is an open space opposite the firebox end where the air/smoke is allowed up and “reverses” back over the food racks and exhaust out a smoke stack that is located on the firebox side of the food chamber. Hence, “reverse flow.” To help better understand, you can Google “reverse flow images” and see drawings of this design.
With the above description of RF design, we can now move on to what is the purpose of RF? The purpose is to assist in cutting down or minimizing the typical “hot spot” that offset smokers are picse to have. Air is forced horizontally down to the opposite end of the firebox and somewhat cools down as it travels its way down, up and back toward the smoke stack. Simply, redirecting heat throughout the food chamber. As, hot air is forced under the plate, the plate tends to heat up and thereby emit radiant heat to the food that rest above it. The combination of hot air/smoke and radiant heat from the steel plate, allows the cooker to run more evenly.
Sounds great, right? Well, as with most things, there are Pro’s and Con’s. What are they with RF? Pro 1: RF is an old school design from years back that was and is used today by many that build “Smokers” in the attempt to more evenly distribute heat thru out the smoke chamber. And, it does help. Pro 2: It is a relatively easy to design and install in a smoker when building. Con 1: By forcing all the air/smoke to the opposite end and all rising in one area of the food chamber, you have simply moved the “hot spot” from the firebox end to the opposite end of the firebox. So, food closest that end will cook hotter/faster than food elsewhere. Con 2: Being that the steel plate is welded solid inside the food/smoke chamber, the plate can’t be removed for cleaning the plate or easily getting under the plate to clean the belly of the cooker. Con 3: Because of the restrictive air flow of redirecting the air/smoker one direction and then forced back in a reverse direction, you may experience restrictive air flow. Restrictive air flow can cause your meat to be “over smoked”, causing that bitter tasted and later burping the BBQ later in the day or at night. Con 4: RF will require allowing more time for the cooker or BBQ pits to get to desired cooking temperature and more wood or fuel to maintain that cooking temperature once obtained. Con 5: Fixed plate doesn’t allow the Cook or Pitmaster to adjust “on the fly,” so to speak. RF will cook or run the same every day. You can’t control how air/smoke flows. And, that can be important when cooking various different cuts of meat.
Moving on to what are TP? TP also direct heat thru out the food or smoke chamber, but does so in conjunction with how the air/smoke wants to naturally travel. Vertically. TP are a series of plates that are located below the food racks. They are slight spaced out from one plate to the next, allowing air and smoke to travel between plates, up and around the food on the food racks.
Again, sounds great, right? And, with anything there are Pro’s and Con’s. What are they with TP? Pro 1: TP are removable. So, you can easily take out for cleaning the plates and the belly of the cooker. Or, if you don’t need the TP for a particular cook, you can remove. Pro 2: TP are adjustable. They allow the Cook or Pitmaster to control where he/she wants to direct more or less heat. Or, for that matter, more evenly distribute heat/smoke thru out the food chamber. Pro 3: TP don’t move the “hot spot.” TP virtually eliminate the typical “hot spot” that offset smokers are known. Pro 4: On Gator Pits the TP are lockable. The Cook or Pitmaster can set the plates to how he/she likes to cook in a particular cooker and lock the position of the TP in place. This allows the cooker to cook the same way each and every time fired up. Pro 5: Because TP allow the air/smoke to travel a more natural route thru the chambers, there is zero air restriction. Meaning, you will not have to build a larger fire or work harder to maintain a cooking temperature. Pro 6: TP will actually burn less fuel to maintain a cooking temperature. You get a more direct air/smoke flow to the meat in addition to the radiant heat off the TP below the meat. Con 1: I honestly don’t know of any real negatives to Tuning Plates. It took what the RF design was originally designed to accomplish and actually does it better.
With all this said, you have to look at each “smokers” overall design and the reputation of the Builder in designing BBQ Pits. There are various RF designs and there are as many TP designs out there. Many Cookers and Pitmasters will swear by each design and knock the other. It is the Ford versus Chevy argument. When it comes down to it, what works best for YOU is the way to go. Do your research.
Writtten by Ritch Robin
Property of Gator Pit of Texas, LP