How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

How Do Pellet Grills Work (2)

Learning how to use a charcoal smoker doesn’t need to be an arduous process. In fact, you can master the skill set to be the best smoker in town in a short space of time!

These cookers allow for ease and convenient cooking whilst smoking your meat to perfection.

If you are a fan of braised brisket, slow-roasted turkey, or succulent ribs, then charcoal smoking is the best way to enhance the taste sensation!

If your garage contains a charcoal smoker then you should dust it thoroughly and start smoking.

A charcoal smoker grills meat with indicated heat at far lower temperatures than a traditional grill.

Whilst the meat may take longer to cook, it is this process that ensures that the meat is cooked immaculately. The slow cooking process ensures that the collagen contained in the meat’s muscle fibers breaks down effectively in order to tenderize it beautifully.

If you choose to use some hardwood such as cherry or hickory, you’ll be able to further enhance the flavor of your meat.

What Do I Need To Use To Smoke Meat?

There are a variety of charcoal smokers that are available. The most expensive forms of charcoal smokers contain a grill that ensures that you can both grill and smoke your meat.

These smokers can usually be used as a charcoal grill by simply removing the cylindrical smoking chamber and cooking the meat in the lower section of the smoker.

Crucially, you should purchase a charcoal smoker that provides accessibility to this chamber, so you can make alterations and add more charcoal when needed.

There are a variety of smokers on the market, so you should research thoroughly prior to making your purchase.

There are a variety of other things that you will need in order to smoke your meat to perfection.

These include the following:

  • Hard wood chunks: By adding untreated wood to your smoker, you can ensure that the meat absorbs an authentically smoky flavor.
  • Paraffin cubes: small cubes of clean-burning paraffin will ensure that the coals are heated without adding unwanted chemicals or toxins to your food.
  • Long neck lighter: These lengthy lighters will ensure that you remain safe during the lighting process and are exceptionally useful when lighting and relighting coals.
  • Newspaper: You can utilize sheets of newspaper when igniting the coals that have been placed in the chimney starter.
  • Sturdy Brush: A wire brush will help to remove any excess debris on the grill. Lava stone is a great alternative, but there is nothing quite like a sturdy grill brush when removing unwanted grime from your grill.
  • Aluminum Foil: Foil is exceptionally useful for wrapping up your meat during specific parts of the smoking process. It is also useful to avoid grates becoming excessively dirty from the meat juices.
  • Tongs: A good pair of fireproof grill tongs is essential in order to place and adjust your meat whilst ensuring that you boost your coals without damaging yourself or the smoker.
  • Meat Thermometer: A high quality meat thermometer is a great investment for any meat smoker.

What Is The Best Charcoal To Use To Smoke Meat?

Some fancier forms of charcoal can burn incredibly hot. Therefore, a larger bag of traditional charcoal will work better for slow cooking.

How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

What Is The Best Meat To Use For Smoking?

This is a matter of personal taste. However, the most popular smoked meats are brisket, ribs and pork shoulder.

Legs of lamb are also frequently smoked, and you can also smoke whole turkeys for Thanksgiving or Christmas!

If the temperature is kept at a low level, you can also smoke olives and cheese!

Usually, smoking is used to tenderize tough cuts of meat, like brisket, as this ensures that the meat is not toughened irreparably during a quick cooking process.

How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

The best way to consistently smoke your meat is to establish a consistent temperature within your smoker. The best way to do this is to follow the following process when igniting your smoker:

  1. Ensure the charcoal grate is exposed. Removing the center section of the smoker will expose the lower grate/grill and the fire ring. You should ensure these areas are relatively clean prior to grilling your meat.
  2. Place your charcoal briquettes into the fire ring. You should ensure that the briquettes have a hole in the center in order to allow oxygen to move through them. Then, place numerous paraffin cubes between the coals.
  3. Add in your hardwood chunks if you are seeking to add extra flavor to your meat. Place medium to large chunks into the upper half of the coals nearer the vents. You should only use a few chunks in order to avoid overstocking your meat and turning it bitter.
  4. Ensure the vents are opened for efficient air circulation until the smoker has reached its peak temperature.
  5. Fill the chimney starter halfway using more coal briquettes. Then, use newspaper to stuff the bottom accordingly. Once your coal briquettes have turned white and are emitting an orange glow, they are ready to be poured into the hole that you have made in the coal. These ignited coals will help the other coals to ignite and this will sustain a slow cooking process.
  6. Return the cylindrical part of your smoker to the bottom.
  7. Fill up your water pan. This will ensure that your meat remains succulent. The vast majority of smokers will contain a water pan to ensure that the meat remains moist.
  8. Open the door to your smoker and fill your water pan 3/4 of the way up. You should check the water levels throughout the cooking process and refill it accordingly. Adding aromatic spices to the water can also increase the flavor of the meat.
  9. Close the door to your smoker and ensure the vents remain open. Place the lid back onto your smoker, ensuring that the lid vent stays open.
  10. Exercise patience whilst your meat cooks. Check that your smoker has reached the optimum temperatures of 225-250 degrees and adjust it accordingly. It typically will take 30 minutes to reach this point.

How To Control The Temperature Of My Charcoal Smoker?

Now that the smoker is set alight, you may be required to adjust the settings slightly in order to reach its optimum temperature.

It is vital to establish that the temperature is steady prior to adding any meat to your cooker. This extra caution and attention to detail will ensure that your meat turns out as succulent as possible!

The biggest advantage to keeping the temperature at a low heat is that it allows for the smoke to fully flavor the meat itself whilst naturally tenderizing it.

As mentioned, slow cooking meat allows for the natural muscle fibers within the meat to break down and soften.

In order to set your cooker to the ideal temperature, you should ensure that your vents remain open until the cooker has reached its optimum temperature.

This is because with the top and bottom vents open, air is sucked through the bottom of the smoker before being drawn upwards towards the food.

If your smoker is far too hot, then you should use the lower vents in order to adjust the temperature accordingly.

Closing these vents will cut the oxygen supply and ensure that your smoker cools down, whilst leaving them open will allow an abundance of air to circulate and inherently ensure that the cooker heats up.

You can always strike a balance by slightly closing the lower vents until the temperature has adjusted. You should bear in mind that closing every vent will extinguish the cooker entirely.

How To Boost The Temperature In A Charcoal Smoker

If you have used a sufficient amount of briquettes, then you will have enough smoke to last for the entire cooking process.

However, when you are cooking a large amount of meat like a whole turkey, you may need additional coals or to move them around more frequently in order for them to burn hotter.

If your coals have started to cool down after the 10th hour of the cooking process, then you should open up the lower vents and ensure that you are stirring the charcoal to reignite.

Knocking any excess ash off of the coals will also cause them to reignite and if needed, you can relight your chimney starter with fresh coals before adding them to the chamber.

You should be prepared to exercise patience during this process as any changes may not be apparent until 10-15 minutes after you have made alterations.

When Do I Add Meat To My Charcoal Smoker?

Once your smoker has reached the appropriate temperature and the heat has stabilized, you can place your meat into the smoker.

You should ensure that you have cleaned the grate with a wired brush prior to placing your meat on there.

If the smoker contains both lower and upper grates, then you should position your mood to be smoker on the lower grate initially before positioning on the upper grate.

You should try to check the temperature of your smoker every hour or two in order to adjust the vents when necessary and maintain the optimum temperature of 225-250 degrees.

You should always cook your meat with the lid on and try to resist the urge to remove it during the smoking process as this will cause havoc in regard to the temperature of the cooker.

You should see a thick stream of smoke surrounding your meat during the smoking process. The smoke should also be moving in order to prevent any creosote from forming.

Keeping your vents open as much as possible will ensure that the smoking process runs smoothly. You can also use aluminum foil during the cooking process to further enhance the quality of your meat.


To conclude, using a charcoal smoker requires you to have an understanding of the cooking process.

You should ensure that you are keeping the lower vents open when possible in order to ensure that your cooker maintains a consistent temperature.

If your cooker begins to overheat, then you should partially close these events whilst avoiding losing the heat entirely.

Closing every vent will stop the cooker from smoking at all, and you should try to strike an even balance in order to smoke your meat effectively.

Smoking meat has always been incredibly popular and with practice and by following these steps, you will become the best smoker in your neighborhood!

As always, exercise caution when working with hot instruments, and you should ensure that you are cleaning your smoker regularly in order to avoid any creosote from forming.

Unwanted debris will also lead to an unpleasant taste and thus, you should use a wire brush to clean any excess from your smoker prior to placing any meat inside.

Ultimately, the perks of learning how to smoke meat effectively and the patience exercised during the slow-cooking process is well worth the results!

Annie Plummer
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