Gravity Fed Smokers (Know the Science Behind It)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 4, 2023

As an avid and long-time enthusiast of smoked meat and meals, I am always looking for the simplest and easiest ways to get the best results from my smoker, and when it comes to the ‘light it and forget it’  concepts, the gravity smoker is right up there!

Quick Summary

  • Gravity-fed smokers use a sealed oxygen environment and gravity to move heat and smoke around the cooking chamber.
  • The smoker is fuel-efficient, with a full charcoal chute burning for up to 16 hours, and temperature control is easy and consistent.
  • Gravity-fed smokers are cost-effective, require less maintenance, and are suitable for beginners and professionals.

The Parts Of A Gravity Smoker

Close up images of gravity smoker parts

This smoker has the following components :

  • Chimney With a Damper
  • The Ball Valve
  • The Air Intake Damper
  • The Smoker Ashtray
  • The Fire Grate
  • A Charcoal Chute
  • An Open Firebox (Situated Below)
  • Cooking Chamber
  • Water Pan (Optional)

The Science Behind Gravity-Fed Smokers

Side view of an old gravity smoker

Gravity-fed smokers use a ‘sealed oxygen’ environment to create the dynamics of moving the heat and smoke around the cooking chamber.

Unlike other smokers, where vents and dampers control the level of oxygen, the gravity smoker uses a ball valve to do this.

Instead of the smoke rising upwards from the fire-grate as with other kinds of smokers, the gravity-fed smoker pulls the smoke down from the charcoal chute and directs it into the smoking chamber.

How The Gravity Fed Smoker Works

Opened lids of the gravity smoker
  1. Charcoal is loaded into the airtight charcoal chute and lit from the bottom.
  2. The oxygen flow is controlled through the dampers and the ball valve, limiting the oxygen inside the charcoal chute.
  3. There is only oxygen at the bottom of the chute, so the charcoal burns only at the bottom.
  4. There is very little air at the top of the chute, and so the charcoal cannot burn at the top.
  5. The heat is pushed out of the bottom of the chute by gravity.
  6. The heat rising over the wood chips causes them to start smoldering, creating the smoke needed to cook.
  7. The smoke then moves into the smoking chamber and infuses the meat on the cooking grates.
  8. It also heats water in the water pan (if there is one), which creates moisture and humidity in the cooking chamber, prevents the meat from drying out, and makes it more tender.
  9. The ash is dropped into the cashbox as the charcoal burns, and the coal gradually descends lower into the charcoal chute.
  10. More coal can be added to the top of the chute if required.

The Benefits Of Using A Gravity Fed Smoker

There are several advantages when using a gravity-fed smoker so let’s look at some of those.

Temperature Control Is Easier With A Gravity Fed Smoker

Thermometer connected on the gravity smoker

For starters, controlling the temperature is easy with the gravity-fed smoker, and like the electric smoker, it requires little or no management during the cooking process.

Where you want to set and forget your food and let the smoker do all the work, this is the smoker for you.

Once the fire is lit, you set the temperature you need and forget about it.

The heat and smoke are evenly and consistently distributed through the cooking chamber.

The ball valve acts as the temperature regulator as it controls the amount of oxygen permitted to maintain the required set temperature.

Gravity-fed smokers allow for very consistent temperature due to their design, and this provides a very little temperature fluctuation during the whole cooking process, as little as 2°F!

Gravity-Fed Smokers Produce More Smoke With Less Fuel

An empty inside of a gravity smoker

As the coal burns under the control of the ball valve, the smoke produced are more dense and plentiful as it is condensed at the bottom of the smoker before rising through the chamber.

This would allow for a far more consistent smoke distribution through the cooking chamber and easier control using the vents and dampers, reducing the overall footprint.

This is one of the reasons that gravity-fed smokers are popular in competition cooking events and beginners, as the effort required to maintain both temperature and smoke density is much less than other solid-fuel smokers.

Gravity-Fed Smokers Use Fuel Efficiently

The charcoal chute is filled before lighting, burning for as long as 16 hours.

So if you are doing a long cook, then replacing and managing the solid fuel source is not a concern.

Because the fuel burn rate and temperature are controlled through the ball valve, the charcoal in the chute burns a lot slower, so while you may need to use a full bag of coal to start with, it’s unlikely you’ll need to top it up beyond that.

As discussed above, the temperature is evenly maintained and controlled, so there are no massive fluctuations in heat levels during the cooking process.

Gravity-Fed Smokers Adjust Faster During Cooking

A meat inside the gravity smoker being cooked and checked

With other smokers, removing or adding wood chips during smoking can be a mission, but with gravity-fed smokers, this is easily done so you can adjust your smoking levels as you need.

Because these smokers drive hot air through the wood chips at speed from underneath, you can adjust the size of the heating area by controlling both the airflow and the number of wood chips being used.

This allows you to increase or decrease the smokiness in the food accordingly and use the chimney to vent smoke or air to reduce the temperature or smoke intensity.

Gravity Smokers Require Less Maintenance

Compared to other solid-fuel systems, the gravity-fed smoker is easy to clean and maintain as it has very few moving parts and components.

The gravity smoker will have less downtime with any repairs required, and any unused coal or wood chips can be easily removed and stored.

Gravity Smokers Are Cost-Effective

The simplicity of the gravity-fed smoker is one of the reasons these smokers are so popular with beginners and pros alike. Their only consideration is the cost as they can run from $500 - $1500.

But the saving on fuel you achieve and the efficient cooking system make this a good option as you have no limits on the types of food you can cook using this smoker.

As with anything, you get what you pay for. When it comes to a long-term investment like this and the opportunity to be able to create delectable smoked meals as and when you want, with little effort and management, the gravity-fed smoker certainly ticks most, if not all, the right boxes.


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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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