Pros: Quality, Efficiency, Appearance
I’ve been eager to share my thoughts on my purchase as this forum was a great resource when I was shopping for a new smoker and I’d like to contribute my experience.
Here in Portland, quality BBQ products aren’t as easy to come by as you may get in other parts of the country. There’s the big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowes and some local shops but they mostly focus on direct gas grills. Fortunately, after some online searches I found a local true BBQ business just outside of town called Sam’s Northwest BBQs, and along with other products Sam happens to be an authorized reseller for Horizon. This led me to research and eventually buy the Horizon Classic 16”.
Horizon smokers are made by the guys that used to make Oklahoma Joe’s, so in the photos you’ll notice a resemblance. I learned that Horizon smokers are notable for their quality design and construction, albeit with premium pricing. They are American made, and their key selling points are the thickness of the steel pipe (1/4”), and the quality of the welding which makes the unit very efficient. I debated for over a year on this purchase, but in the end I decided that this was something I would have for years and the quality has been worth the investment so far.
On to the Horizon Classic 16”. Classic is right: it’s a simple yet robust horizontal offset design. It looks like an old fashioned locomotive, and weighs about the same as one. The giant wheels make it easy to move around though, and with the weather here this Spring I’ve had to do some nifty maneuvering from time to time while the smoke was on.
Above: Horizon Classic 16"
Below: Zoom in on the stamped front label
I was fortunate to have the unit delivered by Sam himself, who gave me a quick lesson in seasoning, smoking, and caring for the unit. He answered all my questions and has since followed up as more questions have come up. No pressure sales approach and great service throughout the whole process--I highly recommend Sam’s NW BBQs if you are in the area.
Accessories and Seasoning
The specs on the unit: 16” by 32” in the chamber for 660 square inches of cooking surface. Mine came bundled with every accessory possible: A convection plate that promotes even smoke and heat distribution, a fire basket, cleaning tool, grease bucket, cover, manuals, etc. Within 30 minutes of receiving it I had a fire going and seasoned it up: sprayed a little Pam on the grates and rubbed the interior with some vegetable oil. This process also enabled me to test the thermometer and play with the dampers a little. Four hours later, you could tell the difference:
I’ve read on the forum that most people basically dump their factory thermometer for their smoker and go with something custom and often digital, but Horizon makes a quality one and so far it reads pretty accurate. It obviously isn’t a digital instant read, the probe is well above grate level, and I can’t move it around like my digital. But I’ve learned to trust it for general temperature reads, and it’s easy to see from a distance if I’m multi-tasking or inside looking out the window. Here’s a photo I took during a recent smoke:
Size and Capacity
The 16” is the smallest of the Horizon offset products. I went with this one because the next step up was the 20”, which represented a significant price jump and I felt that it would just be too much smoker for me, I was worried I’d be wasting a lot of fuel for small jobs. The 16” is great for a small family or small parties so it’s perfect for me, but if you have visions of hosting the neighborhood block party or doing a local firehouse cookout, you probably need the 20”. The firebox on the 16” isn’t quite large enough to hold a typical split fire log. At first this concerned me, but I’ve since realized that wood that large would probably generate too much heat anyway, and so instead I use half-sized “Chimenea” wood or basic wood chunks.
I did buy the Horizon rib rack, which holds 6 racks, but haven’t used it yet.
Fuel and Temperature Control
Now, when it comes to building a fire and controlling temperature, like most I use a chimney starter with lump charcoal, then add some charcoal and go with mostly straight wood after that. Here in the Pacific Northwest trees are plentiful and there’s no sales tax in Oregon, so wood is cheap. I’ve found a great local source for all kinds of wood varieties at great prices, and it’s actually cheaper for me to use seasoned firewood than lump charcoal. So I use a lot of cherry, almond, and oak in the firebox.
The Horizon smoker boasts great efficiency so getting it warm and keeping it warm is easy. You’ll notice a little smoke leakage right at the start, but after about five minutes it gets into a flow and there’s no leakage at all. I find myself adding a little fuel about every 60-90 minutes, though in calmer, warmer temperatures it is much easier to load it up and keep a steady 225-250 without constantly adding fuel. Following Sam’s advice, I set the lower intake at about a quarter open, and the chimney exhaust about half open, and that seems to be about right for most jobs, and always results in thin, blue smoke.
Temperature balance within the smoker is pretty good. I do notice a disparity as you get closer to the firebox, but not dramatic enough to cause problems and rotating the meat keeps things even. I believe the convection plate helps moderate the chamber. Time will tell how steady the longer smokes are on bigger cuts of meat, so far in my 5-6 hour smokes I’ve been able to maintain the right temperature range.
If the drawback to this type of smoker is the required attention to the temperature, the payoff is an incredible smoke. By that, I mean I get a consistent deep smoke ring every time, and a good smooth flavor. Am I going to enter any BBQ competitions soon? Most definitely not, I’m still learning. When I first started with this unit I tended to run it a little hot, always paranoid the temperature was too low, so I know that I’ve occasionally lost points on tenderness and I’ve overdone some ribs. But my smoke ring seems to always be good and nobody has sent my BBQ back yet:
Above: Smoked pork spares (left) and beef ribs (right)
So far I’ve done mostly pork and beef ribs, chicken, and turkey, but soon I’ll be taking on bigger projects like pork butt, and brisket.
I have also begun to use the firebox, which has it’s own drop-in grate, for some direct grilling of steaks, fish, and even artichokes and corn. It’s kind of neat because from the side door you can see in to what you are grilling and tell if you are getting a good sear:
Above: Top view and side view of the firebox with a ribeye directly over a mix of charcoal/wood
Also, the top of the side firebox is flat, and after about an hour it gets pretty hot, making it perfect for warming up a skillet of peppers, beans, you name it. Oh and here’s a trick…rub down the skillet with canola oil and put it in the smoke chamber for about 30 minutes, you’ll get a perfectly seasoned skillet with just a hint of smoke!
Price and Value
This unit MSRP is around $750, and doesn’t include freight (from Oklahoma) and accessories. I used to have a vertical Brinkman all-in-one, and that was a $125 unit that yielded some great BBQ at lower capacity. In the end, I felt that this is a long-term buy for me, and probably the only large capacity smoker I’ll ever need to buy. I really wanted heavy-duty craftsmanship, liked the idea of buying American, and finally my wife convinced me to just go for the Horizon, and I haven’t looked back.
To summarize on price: it’s an expensive product relatively speaking, but great value as well. I can’t imagine not having the accessories, so factor those in as well. And if you find one used, I would guess it’s in good condition cause they are built like tanks. Note: buying from a local reseller worked great for me as I explained earlier, though I’ve read of people in the Midwest having a fine experience buying direct from Horizon.
Care and Cleaning
The cleanout tool is handy for removing ash mid-smoke without disturbing the fire or meat. I also use a cheap little fireplace broom to clean out the firebox before my next smoke, and the little stainless steel grease bucket looks like new after a quick rinse. The smoke chamber grate is easy to clean in place with a typical BBQ toolset, or you can power wash once in a while to get any residue off. I diligently use the smoker cover just to stay dust-free, we’ll see if I can stay disciplined on that.
So what don’t I like about this product you ask? Well, so far I haven’t come across any major flaws or surprises. While seasoning the unit I did have a little grease drip out of the front door, which created some streaks, and I had to take care to wipe it down so as to not tarnish the outside. The front tray could be a little deeper to make it easier to hold food trays and such, but that’s getting picky. Honestly, I haven’t had any moments of “I wish I had known that before I bought it,” and I don’t expect to.
This product represents classic backyard smoking and I would recommend Horizon and the 16” Classic without hesitation. I hope this review has been helpful for those of you in the market for a new smoker, or if you were just passing by maybe this has been a good introduction to the lesser-known Horizon brand.