The New Onyx Smoker


I added a new smoker to the arsenal this past weekend.  After some thought, planning, and most importantly, the blessing from Sharon, I decided to order the new BBQ Guru Onyx Everything Oven.  The thought process was as follows:

  • My Caldera, while still a great cooker, burns more fuel than I would like for a small cook.  The Onyx is both smaller and more efficient wrt charcoal consumption.
  • I realized that even with the Caldera, I want to have a second separate cooker for competition purposes. 
  • I love my Weber Smokey Mountain and I still use it a lot.  However, I like the slide out tray design of the Caldera that allows me to access any rack in the smoker without having to remove another rack.  The Onyx has that feature too.
  • Finally, I’ve been entertaining thoughts about doing other types of outdoor cooking beyond simply smoking meats.  The Onyx has the same flexibility as the Caldera. 

Based on the above criteria, I decided the Onyx was the best solution for me.  It’s light (83 lbs.), thus easy to carry around.  Also, the double wall construction and door gaskets make it super efficient, resulting in outstanding heat retention and less charcoal consumption.  Similar to the Caldera, it can accommodate standard steam table pans or the included racks, but the racks go in and out “sideways” which makes it easier to access the entire rack with a minimum of sliding.  And it looks cool (always a consideration). 

I’m able to run the Caldera and Onyx simultaneously with my CyberQ II controller and dual 10CFM Viper fans.  I was able to find a perfectly sized shelving unit at Home Depot that holds up to 1000 lbs. and assembles and breaks down in about two minutes with no tools necessary.  I added a piece of plywood on the top shelf as a drip guard and I’ve got a solid shelving unit for the smoker, temp controller, cords, charcoal and smoke wood.

As for the performance of the Onyx, I wasn’t disappointed.  It held a rock solid temp on the CyberQ II with a full load of charcoal for almost 20 hours.  The only thing I have to watch is keeping the water pan full.  I inadvertently let it boil out overnight, and the temp drifted up to about 300F (actually a testament to the double wall construction and door gaskets as it held thee for about three hours with the fan never kicking on the whole time).  Once I refilled the water it settled right back down to my selected temp of 230F. 

I am really going to enjoy using the Onyx for home, comps and small catering jobs, and I can’t wait to get it out in the field for Pork In The Park in just two weeks.

Here’s a pitch for portability.  That’s the Onyx inside my Mini Cooper!

The Onyx at home on the Home Depot-procured shelving unit

Key data display for the CyberQ II.  It was on its way up to the selected temp of 230F

And the graph view for data

Shot of the interior with one of my favorite pork tenderloin recipes on the grates

Looks like I am be home alone on Saturday, so maybe I’ll fire the Onyx up for a quick chicken cook since I haven’t had the chance to try it out on the  ol’ yardbird.   I’ve got a big Sunday event scheduled using the Caldera to make more of those boneless skinless thighs featuring Pork Barrel BBQ All American Spice Rub and Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Sauce, but Saturday will be all about the competition chicken. 

I just listened to Greg Rempe’s BBQ Central Radio Show podcast from March 16 where Kelly Wertz, Joe Amore and Troy Black talked about their chicken prep methods.  All three said they have cracked the code on bite through chicken skin, but none of them would reveal that part of their methods.  Damn you Kelly, Joe and Troy!!  Cyber shiggers want to know how you do it!!  Ah well, in the interim I’ll keep on working with the method I’ve been refining over the late winter and spring  as it seems to be yielding some halfway decent results with regard to moistness and skin texture.  Guess we’ll see just how “decent” in a few weeks…….                  


Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 10:08 am  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for a great review. I have a summer cottage and want to buy a smoker to use there. I have 18.5 WSM here at home, but have been thinking of the Onyx for the summer home. Sliding the racks in and out as well as not have to cramp racks of ribs seem to me to be a good reason to spend the extra. Again thanks for a great review.


  2. Buzz,

    It is definitely a less cramped cooker than the WSM. Not slamming the WSM, but the combination of volume, ease of loading/unloading, relatively light weight, versatility and economy of usage all make this a really great smoker. I’ll never give up the WSM completely, but the Onyx has definitely gone to the top of my “must use” list.


  3. HI Kit!

    Are all of the racks useable or is one significantly hotter than another? How would you compare this to something like the Stumps Baby or the Backwoos Chubby?

    As for the chicken, try mixing in a small amount of corn starch with your rub.

    • Robert all racks usable. i would rotate during the cook, which is easy to do as the racks slide right out. I’ve never cooked on a Stumps or Backwoods, but from a portability standpoint the Onyx is far superior. It weighs about 89 lbs., and if I remove the charcoal drawer I can move it around myself easily. Thanks for the chicken tip!

  4. Just came across your blog…Wondering:1. if you have used ONYX in competition/results? 2.Does it internally have a smoke chamber/baffle (? not sure of terminology) like Backwoods that directs the smoke around? 3. The Backwoods I saw had what I’ll call a donut hole in the middle of the firebox. Not sure if it was original to the unit but the fire was started at one end and it burned around the donut hole or partition in a circular path. Onyx have anything like that?

  5. Forgot to add: Guru website lists weight of Onyx at 145lbs. You state 83lbs. I only saw one model, have they changed it since your purchase? Steve

  6. Steve,

    To answer your questions:

    The Onyx is not quite like the Backwoods wrt the baffle. It does have double wall insulated construction but doesn’t really have the reverse flow construction of the Backwoods. As for weight, BBQ Guru has revised the design a few times, particularly the firebox. However, I think the weight on the site may be the packed or shipping weight. When I removed the firebox I could pick up and move the unit easily.

    I used my Onyx in competition in 2010, but I sold it early in 2011. I decided to go all WSM because I was doing a lot of set ups alone and they were easier to move. My friend who bought the Onyx uses it in competition and is doing very well. In fact he took two 2nd place finishes at the Jack this year (ribs and brisket) using the Onyx.

    Hope this helps.


  7. Kit, Well… your selling it says something about it. The reasons you sold somewhat contradicts your April 2nd note on why you like it vs. WSM.
    Anyway…was judging at an SCBA event in Dec. and one of the teams had an Onyx. A door hinge was installed miss-aligned. A sheet metal screw on one of the corner pieces was screwed in at an angle so it wouldn’t go all the way in. Two teams down was a Backwoods. No comparison in quality…the ONYX looked like something out of a big box store. In this case the light weight benefit and portability was evident of the construction. The fittings, hardware, etc. all looked like low end and would not stand up to a lot of moving/competitions, or in my case, within a mile of salt water. I read a lot of blogs mentioning ONYX and it would seem quality is their issue both materials and assembly. Early models in particular had major problems with the fire box warping due to the thin walls. Most other complaints were the assembly issues similar to what I mentioned above. Unfortunate….but seeing one in person next door to a Backwoods makes understanding the price difference simple.

    • Steve,

      I found over time that although the Onyx was easier to move from the standpoint of being a single piece, it was still a bit of a struggle to move by myself compared to the WSM, which breaks down into pieces. At the time, that is part of the reason I sold it.

      I’m a big fan of the BBQ Guru’s temp control products, but that’s their core competency. I thought my Onyx was a good attempt at an insulated smoker, but I could never master using it. Turns out I had a few of the problems you described, namely a slightly off-center mounted door and the first generation firebox. To BBQ Guru’s credit, they remounted the door, provided a new reinforced firebox and upgraded the door gaskets, all at no charge. Those tweaks all seem to have worked for the new owner, so I’m happy for him. Oh, and I did buy a new smoker at the conclusion of this season. Yep, you guessed it: I’m now the owner of a Backwoods Extended Party. Yes it weighs 100+ lbs, but I am not overly concerned about mobility of the single unit as it will take the place of two WSMs. Build quality is first-class and it cooks like a dream. I’ve run it with my BBQ Guru CyberQ II and naturally aspirated and it really holds temp. So, bottom line, if you’ve got a $1000 budget, the Onyx isn’t a bad choice. The build quality has improved in later runs, BBQ Guru really stands behind their products and I know several teams that are using them with success.

      • The 2010 SC State Champ used WSM’s. He recently purchased a Backwoods. The 2011 SC State Champ uses a Backwoods. I had the good fortune to cook with both this year. Also cooked with a team using a Superior. Superior model he had was huge. Convenient for capacity but more challenging to move, he knew how and had a system. Top load chute is a convenience but…downside is they can “jam” and wood/briquettes may not feed down. I believe this years 3rd place team uses several Backwoods. I read in BBQ News that some of the top teams on I believe the West Coast use WSM’s. Best bang for the buck has to go to WSM’s. Plus the ease of moving components a plus, particularly if working out of a car or small pull trailer. For the serious and those who can afford, the toy trailers with the back open areas are great. They mount the cooker more or less permanently and just tow it around. Less need for pop up tents too…but, comes with a price… I surely don’t have! Then you need a vehicle big enough to tow it, etc. etc. Butt….you can still be top dog (hog) with a WSM!

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