What to do when your barbecue smoker has too much smoke

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 20, 2021

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In order to smoke meat, you need smoke; there’s no 2 ways about it.

But sometimes, there can be too much!

When there’s an overload of smoke, meats can take on a bitter flavor that isn’t appealing to most palates.

BBQ smoker produces too much smoke

If you’re consistently getting too much smoke, it could be due to a number of variables, including the woods you’re using and the methods you’re incorporating into your cooking.

This article will look at what you should do if your barbecue smoker has excess smoke.

How much smoke should come out of a smoker?

Some people think that a smoker should produce a lot of smoke, but that’s not the case.

You want to see thin, wispy streams of smoke drifting up from the chimney. That’s how you know you’ve added enough wood to get the perfect smoky taste!

What to look for in your smoke

Smoke can vary in color and texture.

It can be heavy, black, and sooty, or it can be a transparent gray-blue. In other instances, it can fall somewhere in the middle.

You’ve probably already figured out that you want to avoid heavy black smoke at all costs. This type of smoke contains sooty particles that’ll give your food a bitter flavor.

You also want to consider the smell of the smoke. It should be notable, but subtle. An overwhelmingly smokey smell is a bad sign.

When smoke first comes out of your smoker, it’ll be gray in color. In time, it’ll start to become that transparent blue you are looking for. Don’t put food on the grill until it achieves this blue color.

If this isn’t happening, then you may want to follow some of the smoking tips listed below.

How to get great smoke without too much smoke flavor

If you don’t want to overpower your meat with too much smoke flavor, the first step is deciding what type of wood to use and how much. This will depend on the size and style of grill that you use.

For example, when cooking a small cut like ribs or pork chops for 2 people, I’d recommend 2-3 ounces, as this is enough smoke flavor without an overpowering and intense smoky taste.

Here are some tips for getting that blue, translucent smoke you’re looking for!

Use dried wood

Wood takes several months to dry.

If it isn’t properly dried, the moisture will hinder ignition and cool the flame. Instead of allowing a fire, it’ll only produce steam and smoke that’ll give your food an unpleasant taste.

Although some advise soaking wood before using it for smoking, this isn’t a great idea.

Build a coal bed and add wood gradually

You can also avoid an excess of smoke by building a coal bed before you start smoking. Allowing a bed of hot coals to develop in the firebox will maintain an even temperature.

Add small logs gradually as you smoke. These will ignite easily and keep the temperature stable to prevent spikes that create smoke.

If you begin adding too much wood, white smoke will start to appear. This is a sign that you might want to cut back on how rapidly you’re adding the wood.

While a bit of white smoke is nothing to worry about, if you get massive amounts, it’ll affect the flavor of the meat.

A good rule of thumb is only to replace the wood after it becomes part of the coal bed.

Don’t stifle the smoke

Smoke often gets dirty due to a lack of oxygen.

Stifling the fire by partially closing the smoker exhaust and intakes in the firebox will reduce the oxygen in the smoker. Smoldering wood can maintain a steady temperature but it’ll also create dirty smoke.

The best step to take is to make sure the smoking vents and exhausts are wide open.

The upper air valve is also instrumental in helping control smoke. The valve should be open at all times during smoking.

However, if you need a little more smoke, you can close it momentarily.

Know your smoker

Every smoker is different, and understanding how yours works can help you get the perfect smoke.

For instance, as mentioned earlier, some smokers emit thick white or gray smoke that eventually turns to the desired translucent blue shade.

Every smoker takes a different amount of time for the thick smoke to wear off. Make sure you know what to expect so you can figure out the best time to add the meat.

The way you position the wood and the amount you open the vents may also affect how your smoker cooks. Experiment or do some research to find what works best for you.

Keep your smoker clean

Creosote is the product of incomplete combustion. It can remain on the grill to give your food a bitter taste.

When combined with leftover grease, ash, and soot, it can also cause an undue amount of smoke. That’s why it’s a good idea to clean your grill between use.

Cleaning the grill will also keep it free from rust, which can shorten the lifespan of your grill.

And while creosote can be cleaned off the grill, you can also take measures to prevent incomplete combustion and stop it from forming in the first place.

Here are some steps that are recommended:

  • Don’t use too much fuel in your smoker
  • Make sure your coals are hot enough before cooking
  • Open air vents adequately
  • Maintain the temperature; a raging hot fire will fully burn the fuel in the smoker to cause incomplete combustion

Is it about the wood?

Certain woods are known for creating a smokier taste than others.

Hickory, mesquite, and oak are known for producing smokier tastes, while fruit woods like cherry and apple are known for being mild.

When people get an overly smokey taste in their foods, many of them blame the wood.

However, the wood really shouldn’t be the source of your problem. After all, many people smoke with heavier woods and end up with their desired flavors!

What you should really be looking at is your ability to maintain temperature.

If you’re able to properly maintain temperature in your smoker, you shouldn’t have to worry about a bitter taste, no matter what woods you’re using.

Sure, a lighter wood may help out if your meats are coming out with a flavor that’s a little smokier than you’d like it to be. And yes, you do need to watch your cooking methods while using heavier woods.

But if you’re getting a consistently bitter taste, you should focus on your ability to maintain temperature while cooking.

As mentioned above, the temperature can be regulated by starting with a coal bed and adding wood gradually. Not stifling the smoke and using dried wood can also help.

Of course, there are some types of wood that’ll never get you a good smoke.

Woods like plywood should never be used for smoking meats. Not only will it give the meat an unpleasant taste, but it may also contain chemicals that shouldn’t be ingested.

Woods with a lot of resin (such as pine and evergreen) should be avoided for similar reasons.

In addition, woods that aren’t in season won’t burn well and they’ll give your meat a bitter flavor.

Green wood that isn’t treated by a professional can also give your meat a bad taste.

More smoking tips

While controlling smoke will be effective in giving your meat a terrific flavor, there are other tips that’ll also help you get a great taste every time.

Here are some additional measures you may want to take!

Be patient

We already mentioned the importance of waiting until the smoke gets to that nice blue color.

Even after that occurs, you have to continue to be patient while the meat smokes. Meat takes several hours to smoke, and pulling it too early can be a serious mistake.

Don’t open the lid too often

Opening the lid too often will cause the smoker to lose heat and add to your cook time.

It may be tempting to lift the lid to check on your food, but you should really try to avoid this at all costs.

If your smoker requires you to open the lid to add wood, try to keep this to a minimum.

Let the meat sit after smoking

Meat should be allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes after smoking. This will help it to reabsorb the juices it lost.

You can increase its ability to absorb juices by covering it in tin foil. Adding barbecue sauce will also add to the taste.

Don’t overseason your meat

The wood will give the food a delicious flavor, so it really doesn’t need to be seasoned excessively.

While you can add some spices, adding too many can spoil the taste.

Use the right meat

If you’re new to smoking, start by using a meat you’re comfortable with.

If you’re starting with a lean meat, then it’s important to start by brining it. This will keep the meat from drying out.

Don’t smoke too much meat at once

If you put too much food on the smoker at once, not every piece will cook evenly.

If you do plan to smoke a lot of meat, plan for extra cook time.

Don’t use lighter fluid to ignite the smoker

If you’ve ever smelled lighter fluid, you’ll understand why you shouldn’t do this.

The chemicals in lighter fluid can give your meat a terrible taste. You’re better off using gasoline or a few pieces of newspaper to get the fire going.

Make sure your barbecue doesn’t produce too much smoke

Now that you know how to maintain the right amount of smoke in your smoker, you’re ready to cook a tasty dish. No matter what type of meat you grill, you’ll be able to keep excess smoke at bay with our tips!

Also read: these are the best and most ESSENTIAL BBQ smoker accessories you can buy

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.