When grilling outdoors, nothing is more important than good temperature control. Choosing the right meat and chips is part of the fun, but getting it to the right temperature is a whole different challenge. You regulate the temperature of your BBQ smoker.
You may already know how difficult it is to keep your charcoal grill hot. Doing the same with a grill is just as challenging.
There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting beautiful, quality meat. Not checking the temperature readings is a surefire way to do it.
Regulating the temperature in your smoker is critical to a perfectly cooked meal. You’ll need to learn how to adjust the intake and exhaust dampers to create a steady stream of blue smoke perfect for grilling.
Thanks, it’s not hard to learn. In today’s guide, I’ll show you how YOU can control the temperatures in your smoker and use it to smoke your meat to perfection.
How do smoke vents work?
As with grills, smoke vents play a crucial role in stabilizing temperature levels. YOU should be able to use it to maintain a constant level of warmth at all times.
Smoking meat requires cooking the food at a lower, slower heat. This is not possible if your grill is exposed to temperature fluctuations. Over the course of the 4+ hours you cook, a lot of the heat goes away.
Smoking meat requires that the meat be exposed to temperatures around 107°C (225°F) for a minimum of 4 to 8 hours.
Whether you’re grilling or charcoal smoking, there are two sources of fuel you need to be aware of. On the one hand the charcoal itself and on the other hand the oxygen that flows through the grill.
Add more oxygen and release heat.
Reduce your oxygen intake and the heat will subside.
Most smokers have two sets of vents. One set is located near the bottom of the smokehouse and WILL be called the intake port or intake door. This is where the oxygen enters the grill.
The other set of vents is called an exhaust vent or exhaust damper. It’s usually near the top of the grill and helps remove air from the smoker. In addition, it allows smoke, gas and excess heat to escape from the chamber.
Opening this flap allows gases to escape. This creates a vacuum in the grill, allowing more oxygen to enter.
This is the best way to think about it. The inlet port feeds the smoker, while the outlet port releases pressure and smoke from the chamber ( source ).
Learn to control your air vents
It’s tempting to think that leaving both flaps wide open is the best way to fire your grill. However, for good temperature control, you should avoid this.
The constant streams of oxygen keep the charcoal burning well above our desired 225°F.
Charcoal can take a while to heat up, but once you get started, it heats up very quickly and can be difficult to come off. Exceeding the target temperature in this way is referred to as overshoot.
It’s important to control your burn rate as much as possible, and the key to doing this is adjusting your vents before setting your desired temperature. This will help fight the excess.
Once your charcoal shows signs of speeding up as it heats up, begin closing the inlet port slightly. Close is not quite.
This is very convenient, but the idea is to try and time the oxygen supply reduction to be as close to 225°F as possible. Any changes made will take some time to take effect. If you are too reactionary, your temperature will be everywhere.
If you feel like you need to turn up the heat, I recommend checking your firebox first to make sure you have enough charcoal. Do this before opening the vents again.
Try a dry run
If your smoker is new, give it a try. A test cook will help you get a feel for how quickly it heats up and how you die on adjustments die on the vents.
Different smokers may reach different levels, so the exercise will help you understand how you get the desired temperature. It’s a great idea. You can then calibrate your smoker to get the most out of it for future runs.
Invest in your own air probe thermometer
By now it should be clear that getting an accurate reading of the internal temperature of your smoker is crucial to grilling properly. Air probe thermometers have come a long way in the past few years, so if you don’t already have one, I highly recommend getting one.
Many modern BBQ smokers come with built-in thermometers, but many of these have proven unreliable and can even miss readings of up to 50F.
Recommend getting a dedicated thermometer instead. Dual probe models are great because they give you two readings. One for the room temperature of the chamber and the other for the internal temperature of the meat.
I know this sounds tedious and boring, but if this is your first time using your smoker, it pays to take notes. Notice how long it takes your smoker to heat up and how it responds to small adjustments to the vents.
Aim for blue smoke
Colors of smoke can vary in grilling and smoking, but both with the type of smoke we want to see and blue smoke that shines through quickly.
Blue smoke is a sign that the wood is burning cleanly at our target temperature and quickly guarantees a perfect smoky aroma in our food.
If you see white smoke coming out of your smoker, this is often a sign that your wood is not burning properly. Moisture is often the cause of this, so be sure to only use dry wood.
Protect yourself from the elements
Weather can affect or amplify your grill, especially wind.
Because airflow is so important, wind can wreak havoc on your smoker. It can greatly increase the speed at which air is drawn into the smoker, causing the internal temperature to rise. This can be both dangerous and annoying.
Consider placing your smoker on your patio, with your home or garage acting as a windbreak. If you can’t, you can use a windbreak around the grill.
If you can’t die, just take the added wind elements as an external factor that needs to be balanced. You may need to close the vents a little more than normal to compensate for the wind’s influence.
Get a smoker temperature control system
This might seem like a lazy easy way out, but I love temperature controls for smokers. They are an excellent way to prevent the effects of phone calls or wind on the indoor temperature.
Smoker controllers work with what is supposed to be a variable speed blower. These gadgets save the grill with just the amount of air it needs to reach a certain temperature.
It has an air probe that sits in the cookbox near the meat and measures the temperature of the air so it can be adjusted if necessary.
I would never recommend leaving everything in the hands of a controller. But is used daily as an electronic safety mechanism by having procedures in place to mitigate the effects of unfortunate changes in airflow.
The best controllers also come with graphs and datasets to help you become even more familiar with how your smoker is responding to ventilation settings.
Regulate the heat with a pot of water
Sudden changes in temperature and prolonged exposure to heat can dry out food. A very good way to combat them is to place a bowl of water in the bottom of the chamber .
Some smokers have built-in water bowls, but if they don’t, don’t worry. You can just get a disposable fan and fill it with water. This helps stabilize the heat in your smoker while adding some moisture.
Do not open the smoker all the time
As tempting as the magazine may be, don’t look for your food all the time. Opening the chamber allows both heat and smoke to escape from the smoker, altering the cooking temperature.
Keep this disruption to a minimum. For example, if you need to replace the charcoal, try refilling the water pan while turning the meat (if necessary).
Frequently Asked Questions
Still having a hard time figuring out your smoker’s temperature controls? Here are some frequently asked questions to help perfect the art of grilling.
My smoker is not getting hot enough. What should I do?
If both sets of dampers are fully open and you’re still having trouble getting your smoke temperature to 225°F, there are a few things to consider.
First, check your coals. If they’ve been burning for a while, maybe they’re burning right now. Replace them with new ones.
Then check for leaks. Some cheaper models are less likely to be as airtight as higher-end models, which prevents leaks from heating up the smoker as quickly as we’d like.
Also, make sure you use a dedicated thermometer. Most thermometers that come with smokers are very inaccurate. It’s often far better to invest in your own. Make sure you get one that IS accurate and can be calibrated quickly.
How do I lower my smoker’s temperature?
Instead of closing your grill vents quickly, it’s important to adjust them slowly. If you close them quickly, you risk filling the chamber with smoke that could ruin your food.
Learn how to use the vents on your charcoal grill
Slowly close the air vents every few minutes. This should allow the temperature to drop more evenly without suddenly exposing the meat to more smoke.
How do I keep my smoker running overnight?
This question is difficult to answer as there are many factors that could disturb your grill while YOU are not around.
Rain and wind cause disruptions, while sudden drops or increases in temperature aren’t counteracted unless you’re prepared to deal with them.
But there is a way. The key is to develop a range, which means you need to lower the cooking temperature to accommodate the longer cooking time. For example, if you can smoke pork at around 250-280°F, you should aim for around 200°F instead.
Check if the meat you are using can handle it. Some types of meat can still be prepared well at a low temperature, others not. Case beef brisket does not lend itself well to low temperature cooking while pork is very flexible.
You’ll also need to use plenty of charcoal, enough to last at least 8 hours. In addition, transport a whole log of wood instead of wood chips. Choose a wood like hickory or walnut as regular oak burns too quickly and won’t last the full 8 hours.
This is very handy, but as long as YOU keep the flaps half open and use a large log, YOU are at least halfway done.