How often do you check your smoker? It depends!

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 27, 2022

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Newbie to smoking meat? It’s pretty common to have questions like how long a specific meat cut should be smoked and what are the best practices to get a delicious smoke flavor.

However, another problem that I found pretty prevalent surrounds the frequency at which you need to check the smoker while smoking your favorite cut of meat.

How often do you check your smoker? It depends!

You should only check your smoker to add more wood, and how often you need to do that depends on the type and size of the smoker and which wood you are using. The smoker type decides the general duration of smoking, the size determines the amount of wood required for consistent temperature, and the wood type decides the frequency at which to add new wood chips or chunks. 

Why and how? Let’s discuss each of the aforementioned factors in detail.

How often to check your smoker – what controls it

Except that you have the terrible habit of checking the meat every few minutes, the only time you should check the smoker is when you need to add wood chunks.

And that is controlled by three factors: the type of smoker you are using, the size of the smoker, and the type of wood you are smoking with.

The type of smoker you are using

Different types of smokers have different durations of burning wood.

Where one kind of smoker might take about 45 minutes before you need to add more wood chips; others might take more than 4 hours.

To explain it more clearly, below described are different types of smokers along with their specific burning durations and how often will they require you to ‘check’ them.

If you’d like to know the basics of how a smoker works first, read my guide here

How often to check an electric smoker

Although electric smokers have a low capacity for storing wood, they burn it quickly and are ravenous for more.

And that’s why you will need to add wood pellets every 45 minutes as you smoke your favorite cut of meat.

To prolong this duration, you can also use soaked or moist wood chips.

However, there’s a controversy here! Many bbq savvies absolutely despise the practice, while some favor it.

Whether you should soak the wood before smoking? Well, It’s up to you. I’ve written a full post on the discussion here.

How often to check a gas smoker

Unlike the electric smoker, the gas smoker doesn’t come that harsh on wood, making it ideal for low and slow cooking.

The average frequency at which you will need to change wood while smoking meat with a gas smoker lays between 4 to 5 hours.

Moreover, when adding wood chips or chunks to the smoker box attachment, you have the option of adding wood chips over the existing burned wood or just replacing the charred wood with fresh wood completely.

How often to check a pellet smoker

Pellet smokers or pellet grills require the same time as gas smokers before adding more wood pellets to keep the temperature consistent.

An average pellet smoker takes about one hour to burn three pounds of pellets. This means a 20-pound bag will last for 16-20 hours.

Nevertheless, the temperature you smoke at will significantly affect this duration.

How often to check a charcoal smoker

The charcoal smoker takes the legacy of the electric smoker a bit ahead and takes even less time.

On average it needs around 30 to 60 minutes maximum, depending on whether you are using lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes.

Charcoal briquettes burn more slowly and consistently compared to simple coals. Additionally, they provide great results while staying cost-effective at the same time.

Generally, 20 lbs lump of charcoal can last up to 18 hours when heated at a consistent temperature of about 400 F, which, by the way, is ideal for smoking brisket.

Adding wood chips every few hours in lit coals is often preferred for enhanced flavors. However, make sure not to add excess wood.

This can lower the heat from the ideal temperature range by blocking the oxygen supply to the coals, resulting in too much smoke, thus, imparting an unpleasant flavor to the smoked meat.

Also read: How often do I add charcoal to my smoker?

How often to check a reverse flow smoker

A reverse flow smoker is also known as a stick burner. It is only recommended for seasoned smokers as it requires extensive care and experience for proper handling.

Apart from the many unique qualities, one of the most prominent characteristics of stick burners is their pure reliance on wood. Yup, no charcoal, no gas, no nothing!

When smoking with a reverse flow smoker, you would like to check the temperature at least every twenty minutes of the smoking process if you want it to be consistent throughout.

The ideal time to check the smoker would be a maximum of 45 mins.

In case of any delay, the smoker’s temperature can get too low, ultimately prolonging the smoking session and drying out the meat.

The size of smoker you are using

The bigger the size, the larger the smoking chamber, and thus, more will be the wood required to keep the smoker’s temperature consistent.

Additionally, the amount of food you put in the smoker will also decide how much charcoal and wood it will consume per smoking session.

A tip for you: use wood chunks instead of chips. Wood chunks burn slowly and take their time, emitting flavorful smoke for a longer duration.

This makes them ideal for a low and slow smoking process.

If we talk about wood chips, they burn relatively faster and produce a lot of heat, making them a good choice for fast cooking processes like grilling only.

The type of wood you are using

The type of wood plays a crucial role in determining how often you need to check your smoker. Some woods burn at high heat while some at medium.

Plus, as I have previously mentioned, using wood chunks or chips also plays a vital role in deciding the overall duration of smoking, e.g., chips burn hotter and faster than chunks.

That being clear, below mentioned are some of the most preferable woods for smoking, along with their average burning time at normal smoking temperatures:

Hickory

Hickory is one of the smokiest and most frequently used woods for smoking in the hardwood family.

Due to its high density, a single log of hickory can burn for at least four hours before you need to add fresh logs or chunks to the smoker.

It’s one of the reasons hickory is preferred for low and slow smoking.

Mesquite

Nothing beats mesquite when it comes to imparting ultra smokey flavor.

But as much as it is flavorful, so does it burn hot and fast; one of the reasons it is preferred by experienced pitmasters for stick burners.

With mesquite, the chunks need to be replaced every 30-40 minutes with fresh ones if you want maximum flavor.

Pecan

Pecan has a nutty and slightly hearty flavor, and it burns low and slow, just like hickory.

Nevertheless, pecan chunks produce smoke that is extremely hot and thin. This makes it ideal for smoking and grilling alike.

The best part? You won’t have to check the smoker too often.

Cherry

Cherry has a unique, sweet, and subtle flavor that goes great with anything.

It burns at medium heat compared to most hardwoods and will require you to check the smoker less often.

Ideally, it’s a great idea to use cherry wood chunks instead of chips and let it burn for at least 2 hours before refueling the smoker with more wood.

Apple

Like cherry, apple also has a subtle flavor with more sweetness. It burns just like cherry wood, medium hot and slowly, making it an ideal choice for low and slow smoking.

How to know when to check your smoker

Well, If you are new to the world of smoking, I know it can be challenging to handle and process every information about different woods and smokers, etc.

Therefore, I would highly recommend using the smoker temperature or internal meat temperature to indicate when to add more wood or check the smoker.

It’s simple! Just buy a high-quality meat thermometer.

It tells you when your smoker or grill needs attention by telling you when the temperature drops or rises than the recommended reading.

With the help of this, you can then check whether you need to add more hot coals or wood or simply adjust the airflow inside the smoker for better combustion.

If you need to add coals, a pro tip is always to add lit charcoal briquettes or pure lump charcoal in an optimum amount.

It will ensure that the temperature of the smoker remains consistent throughout.

If you add unlit coals, it will affect the smoking process in two ways.

First, if in excess amount, adding more unlit coals can block the oxygen supply to the lit wood or coals, causing extra smoke due to poor combustion.

Second, unlit charcoal takes time to burn properly, which can drop the smoker’s temperature for a certain amount of time and prolong the smoking process.

This imparts a bitter flavor to the meat and makes it dry, ruining its taste.

You can use a chimney starter to efficiently light the charcoal before adding it to the smoker.

The same stands for adding extra wood chunks. You simply don’t want an excess of anything when smoking meats.

Conclusion

Smoking is a tricky business, even for experienced smokers.

You’ve got to make sure the meat temps remain consistent, the wood is all in order, the smoking time is right, and much more.

The bottom line is to keep everything optimum for the best taste.

Of course, that’s impossible without keeping a proper check and balance.

But guess what, even that “check and balance” have to be in balance. What I mean is that even checking the smoker a lot can ruin the meat flavor!

That being said, I discussed different types and sizes of smokers and woods. Plus, how do these factors control how often you need to check the smoker.

Moreover, I also shared a few tips to make the process efficient and easier for you.

Still looking for a good smoker? These are the 5 best BBQ smoker brands (+ a complete buying guide)

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.