Having too much smoke in your smoker can often lead to creosote build-up, and this will turn the taste of your meat from smoked to bitter. When it comes to smoking, always remember that less is more; that’s what I’ve learned in my 15 years of smoking.
Summary of the Key Findings
- Why and how excessive fuel, lack of oxygen and airflow management, charcoal ignition methods, and a dirty smoker can all create too much smoke.
- The best way to build a fire and reduce the risk of over-smoking is to get that perfectly smoked flavor.
We will look at the five primary causes of excess smoking and some simple methods to combat this when you barbecue and get that ideal blue smoke for optimum cooking results.
The Five Main Causes Of Excess Smoke
When your smoker is smoking too much, it is usually caused by one or more elements in the fire setup itself.
1. How Excess Fuel Can Cause Your Smoker To Smoke Too Much
One of the most common smoking questions I get asked is, “How much fuel do you need for your smoker?”
The first and usually the main cause of excessive smoking is too much fuel, and this occurs as a common mistake people make, especially novices. Remember this rule when it comes to smoking – the coal creates the heat, and the wood creates the smoke.
Two things happen if you add too much wood to your coal bed.
The coal heat will diminish as the wood will stop the oxygen flow, and when the wood does ignite and smolder, it will release copious amounts of smoke.
If you see white smoke pouring out of your smoker a few minutes after adding wood, open the lid and remove some of the logs, and set them safely aside for later use.
We’ll look at the best way to build a fire a bit later on, but for now, reducing the fuel load will allow the coals to burn properly and create better smoke from the wood leftover.
The ideal temperature for smoking is between 212℉ and 230℉ so having proper temperature control is easier to achieve with a ‘low and slow approach .
Tip: Don’t wet your wood or pellets before adding them to the fire. The dampness will cause excess smoke. Always look at dry wood for your smoker and use less wood to start with.
2. Manage Your Airflow To Avoid Too Much Smoke
Your smoker has vents to allow you to control the flow of oxygen to the fire, and this is the primary method to manage the temperature in your smoker.
If there is too much oxygen, the fire will burn hotter and faster.
You will get poor combustion results and lots of smoke if it is too little. It takes a little time and tinkering with your vents to get the right airflow, and using your thermometer to monitor temperature gives great feedback.
If you don’t have a thermometer, it may be time to get one. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to generate that TBS (Thin Blue Smoke) consistently.
Adjust your dampers as you cook, with the top one being open and the bottom one closed to improve oxygen flow.
Tip: Don’t open your lid too often to reduce smoke, as this affects the internal temperature and creates a sudden rush of oxygen into the chamber. Use your vents to control airflow.
3. Use The Charcoal Chimney To Ignite Your Coals
Remember that the coal is the heat source, so using the chimney to get your coals hot before putting them into the smoker is a good way to ensure you get the right temperature before adding your wood.
Having a good hot coal bed ensures your smoker will retain consistent temperature.
Using the chimney to ignite them will get them burning clean and avoid the white smoke emitted while the coal is burning up, especially if you are using briquettes.
Tip: Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster than briquettes, so look at this option when setting your coal bed.
4. A Dirty Smoker Can Cause Excess Smoke
Using your smoker, especially if you have struggled with excess white smoke before, means that there is a build-up of creosote in your smoker.
This is what gives the bitter taste to your meat and that numbing tingling ‘burn’ on your tongue and lips.
Keeping your smoker clean is vital for great smoking results and cleaning your smoker after every second cooking session is more than adequate to eliminate this ‘dirty’ smoker from affecting your meat.
Another cause of excess smoke due to poor oxygen flow is a dirty ash box.
This will reduce airflow to the fire, and emptying it after each cook is vital to maintaining a consistent oxygen supply to your fire.
Remember that airflow is critical for temperature control, so ensuring your ash box and air vents are clean will go a long way to reducing excess smoke.
5. Build Your Fire For Success
One of the best ways to avoid too much smoke in your smoker is to build your fire properly and have patience.
Smoking is a time-consuming process, especially if you want that incredible smoked flavor, and you should never rush a good thing!
After making sure your smoker is clean, start your fire by igniting the coals in the chimney and letting them burn clean.
When you first ignite them, you will find they emit grey smoke and then white as the combustion progresses.
Since you don’t want either of that smoke anywhere near your meat, wait till you have that first ash layer on the coal bed before adding wood .
When you have the bed, you can add a few small chunks of wood.
This will not influence the temperature and produce clean smoke or TBS, which is the goal for smoking perfection. Once those first chunks of wood have become part of the coal, only then should you add more.
Don’t be tempted to rush your fire, rather take your time and add fuel slowly and in small quantities as it is easier to manage to resolve excess smoke issues should they occur.