16 Most Common Smoking Mistakes

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 21, 2021

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Contrary to a popular belief, smoking isn’t quite as simple. If you want to get the best results possible, you should keep expanding your knowledge all the time as well as eliminate the mistakes you make.

Most people make at least one of the below mistakes without even knowing it. Most of them are not that important, but some of them can have a very negative impact on smoking ( I’m talking about things like using lighter fluid ).

Read the list below carefully and try to eliminate at least the most critical mistakes, and your results of smoking will be much better.

16 most commons bbq smoking mistakes

Top Smoking Mistakes you should avoid

First of all, make sure you have a decent smoker, if not take a look at our guide on the best smokers for beginners.

1. Using Lighter Fluid

I understand that for most people who use lighter fluid to get the charcoal burning it is simply about the speed and convenience. You need to know, though, that there are much better methods that are free from any chemical additives.

Lighter fluid is nothing but chemicals that you should avoid at all costs. Manufacturers advertise their product claiming that after just about a dozen minutes from the fire starting you can start cooking. The reality, though, is that the scent of the lighter fluid stays for much longer, very often influencing the food’s flavor even after a much longer time from getting the charcoal burning.

For those inexperienced, it might be a very fast and simple method to get the charcoal burning. You need to know, though, that there are much cheaper, faster, easier and most of all chemical-free methods to get the charcoal burning. Personally, I can very honestly recommend the charcoal chimney starter, which gives the best results at low cost and without any chemicals.

2. You don’t take it slow

Meat smoking is for the most part an art that shouldn’t be rushed. The key to great results is an adequately fixed temperature, which is hard to stabilize if you don’t approach the topic properly.

Start with a smaller amount of fuel and gradually increase its amount, aiming for the right temperature. If you achieve a too high temperature, you might have problems with getting it lower, which is why it’s better to start slowly.

3. You don’t Preheat The Smoker

Never start smoking with an unheated smoker, it is a very significant mistake. All recipes include the estimate cooking time based on a warmed-up smoker. On top of that, you will also be able to precisely predict how much time your meat needs. It is very important when you don’t have the right accessories ( a thermometer with a leave-in probe ).

4. Too big temperature fluctuations

Too big temperature fluctuations have a very negative impact on the entire smoking process. For example, too low a temperature might prolong the smoking process by as much as few dozen percent. On the other hand, too hot a temperature might lead to a meat that looks good on the inside while being actually raw on the inside. In order to achieve the best results, take care of stable temperature throughout the entire cooking process.

5. Not controlling temperature or not doing it often enough

It’s a serious mistake, especially if you don’t have the right tools to monitor the temperature. If you want your smoking results to be very good, you definitely need to take care of a fixed temperature. If you don’t have a modern thermometer with an app and a Wi-Fi system then you should definitely take a peek once in a while at what the thermometer on the lid says. I encourage you, tough, to buy a dedicated thermometer as soon as possible, as a regular standard thermometer on the lid isn’t quite as accurate.

An experienced person can predict many smoking-related situations, like how long a fixed temperature will be maintained. A beginner, on the other hand, might have huge problems with this task, which is why I encourage you to monitor the temperature often.

6. Changing The Settings too often

If you change the air vent settings or adjust the amount of fuel then you should do it at large intervals. All those changes take time for you to see results. If you want to increase or decrease the temperature then get ready for having to spend some time on it.

Nothing happens instantly, so you should avoid making changes every few minutes. You won’t fix anything that way, in fact you will only make your situation worse. Smoking is a slow process, the key to which is stabilization and the right temperature. Precise control of the temperature as well as of the entire smoking process is only possible when you make wise changes ( preferably as few as possible ).

7. Too much smoke

Plenty of beginners think that the more smoke the better. It is a wrong reasoning that one should let go off as soon as possible. Too much smoke has a negative impact on the food’s flavor depending on the wood’s type. Great smoking results are achieved through maintaining a balance in form of the amount of smoke, among other things.

Stick to a small stream of smoke and avoid huge puffs of smoke. A large amount of smoke gives the meat too intense a scent and flavor which very often makes the smoking unsavory and inedible.

When it comes to large amounts of smoke, one has to properly adjust the air vents in order to let out the excess smoke without altering the temperature inside the smoker. Try to add more wood gradually as well so that you have a full control over the amount of smoke produced.

8. Poor Quality or Mismatched Wood

First and foremost, make sure that the wood isn’t green and wet. Such wood can easily make the meat very bitter and unsavory. Just in case, only use tested seasonal leafy wood, but never use resin wood.

Another very important issue is choosing the right type of wood for the type of meat. That’s because not all wood goes well with beef or pork for example. Because of that, you should look for a special wood smoking chart that will allow you to pick the right wood for your meat quickly and easily.

9. Inconsiderate amount of fuel

Take into account that smoking is usually a multi-hour process that not only requires a fixed temperature but also the right amount of fuel. Make sure that there are no situations where you suddenly run out of wood or charcoal in the middle of smoking.

On top of that, take into account the amount of fuel you’re going to use. Keep it balanced and don’t go overboard, especially with wood that can generate too much smoke. If you want to add wood or charcoal during smoking, do it gradually. By adding an inconsiderate amount, you can easily increase the temperature significantly, which will then be difficult to lower fast.

10. You lift the lid too often

Probably one of the most common mistakes among beginners and experienced people is lifting the lid too often. It’s a habit that sticks with most people from the start of their journey with BBQ which is why sometimes it’s difficult to quit doing this.

Lifting the lid every minute won’t make it smoke faster, it will actually make the whole process longer. By opening the lid, you let the heat accumulated inside leave the smoker very fast. The result of this activity is large temperature fluctuations that have a negative impact on the whole smoking process.

A fixed temperature is incredibly important when smoking, which is why you should avoid lifting the lid, or better yet don’t open it until the food is ready.

11. You trust the thermometer on the lid

Most manufacturers install poor quality, inaccurate thermometers on the lid. The main problem with them is not just the quality but also their location. A thermometer on the lid is located much further from the grill grates and doesn’t 100% reflect the conditions at the grill grates height. In many cases, the difference might be really significant which is why I’m pointing it out.

When smoking, it is very important for the temperature to be perfect which is why the best solution is to invest in a good quality smoker thermometer, which will solve the problem.

12. You don’t use a thermometer with a probe

A smoker thermometer with a probe makes it possible to precisely monitor the temperature in all the places you are interested in ( it even measures the temperature inside the meat ). When you have two probes, you can at the same time monitor the temperature inside the meat and inside the smoker.

I believe that it is a must-have for everyone who’s familiar with BBQ and wishes to be sure about their food. Perhaps it happened more than once to everyone that they served great looking, yet raw on the inside meat.

Even the most experienced pitmaster might make mistakes, as it’s difficult to tell if the meat is going to be perfect without such tools. In order to avoid disappointment and make sure that the meat is certainly ready, simply use a decent smoker thermometer.

13. Lack of patience

Smoking is not grilling which usually takes few to few dozen minutes tops. It’s a process that is complicated to beginners, and it requires the right preparations. It’s not enough to just get the charcoal burning, you have to make sure that there are perfect conditions inside the smoker ( temperature and amount of smoke ).

Depending on the type of meat, smoking takes as long as few hours and there is no way to make this process faster. All changes to the settings or adjusting the air vents won’t give instant results as is the case with cranking a knob on a gas grill.

All changes take time and patience, which is why smoking isn’t good for everyone.

14. Smoking for too long or not long enough

Both situations are bad and lead to unsuccessful smoking, which is why the best solution is once again buying a good thermometer that will allow you to easily monitor the temperature inside meat without any surprises.

In many cases, meat looks visually done on the outside but, when taken off the grates a dozen minutes too soon, it might be raw on the inside. On the other hand, a meat kept there for too long will simply be dry on the inside, which is not a good thing either.

15. Too demanding meat for beginners

It sometimes happens that beginners in their confidence start with complicated meat right away. Sadly, in most cases it doesn’t end well which is why I recommend to first start with the least demanding types of meat for smoking ( whole chicken or turkey ).

That way you will gain the necessary experience and most of all, learn how your smoker works. It’s very important as, contrary to a popular belief, a regular charcoal smoker isn’t as easy to use as it might seem.

16. You don’t let the meat rest after smoking

It’s a very serious mistake that is ignored by many people, mostly due to lack of patience. Why is it that important? Cutting the meat right after the end of smoking results in losing a significant amount of juices located inside the meat.

Juicy meat is definitely tastier so in order to avoid such situations, it is recommended to leave the meat for about 10-15 minutes to rest. After that time, the juices get trapped inside the meat, which will make the smoking results the best they can be.

I know that it’s hard to restrain yourself after few hours of smoking, but believe me that it is worth it.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.