Why is my smoker smoking so much? [+ways to deal with it]

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 11, 2022

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Smoking meat is all fun and games until your smoker becomes the long-lost brother of Snoop Dogg, releasing smoke that feels like tearing up the stratosphere singlehandedly.

As for the food, the effects of this excess smoke are far going.

Too much smoke could turn your meat into bitter-tasting cardboard, with toxicity just enough to give you a not-so-nice trip to the hospital.

Why is my smoker smoking so much? [+ways to deal with it]

This excess smoke can have a myriad of causes. It could be due to a dirty smoker, lack of sufficient oxygen, or incomplete hot coals combustion due to insufficient oxygen supply. The latter problem is generally caused due to excess fuel.

How to deal with it? Well, walk with me as we go through every problem and its solution in this helpful article.

Why is my smoker releasing so much smoke?

Here’s the thing. You just can’t blame a single factor for excess smoke.

Sometimes, it could be due to one thing, other times another. In some cases, it could also be a combination of factors.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

But what are those factors exactly?

Let’s have a more detailed look at some of the reasons your smoker could be emitting too much smoke:

Too much fuel

Were the coals burning nice and fine before you put the wood on them?

If yes, you could be blocking the optimum oxygen supply required for the coal to burn properly. Thus, leading to smoldering.

A simple fact is that the coal is meant to maintain the heat while the wood is there to enhance the flavor and give the meat the signature smoky taste you enjoy.

Adding too much wood will lower the temperature, prolong the smoking time, and impart a bitter flavor to the meat due to extended heat and smoke exposure. It could also dry out the meat.

The solution

there’s a simple solution for dealing with excess smoke.

That is to remove extra fuel, let the coal burn properly, and then place wood chips or chunks on it, just enough to produce flavor.

The keyword here is balance! Ideally, the temperature between 212 F and 230 F is perfect to smoke the meat low and slow.

You could also use a thermometer to find the sweet spot for your temps. In fact, I would insist you use a proper thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature.

Also read: BBQ smoker danger zone | How cold is too cold?

Dirty smoker

How many times have you cleaned the smoker after putting on a nice bbq party? Once? Twice? or never at all?

Sometimes, the problem could be as small as a tiny bit of remains. Or perhaps, some grease and gunk from the last smoking sessions?

Anyways, the thick smoke you see is fumes produced from this dirt. These fumes could impart a weird taste to the meat while also filling it with harmful toxins.

The solution

This problem only has one solution, and you already know it. And that is to clean up any mess present on the grill or any other part of the smoker.

The optimum cleaning frequency for a smoker should be every two cooks. A grill brush or scraper will work well enough.

You should also dust the charcoal basket and dust all around the smoker for extra caution.

Find my review of the top 4 best grill cleaners here

Poor airflow/oxygen supply

Oxygen is the primary catalyzer of combustion. This means it directly controls the intensity of the fire.

Without sufficient oxygen, the charcoal won’t burn properly, thus leading to incomplete combustion.

This incomplete combustion makes a lot of byproducts like carbon dioxide and water vapors.

We see the mixture of these two in the form of thick white smoke coming out of the smoker.

The solution

You can easily control how much smoke is produced by tinkering a bit with the vents.

Usually, It’s good to keep the top damper (exhaust) open and the bottom damper half-closed.

This will ensure that the optimum amount of air is drawn in and out of the smoker, allowing more oxygen circulation, thus facilitating proper combustion.

You could also open the bottom damper fully if you want to quickly raise the temperature of the smoker during preheating.

Cooking directly over the fire

If you put a fatty meat chunk directly over the fire inside the smoker, all the moisture and fat inside the meat will drip down on the fire.

This increases the chances of a grease fire with a lot of extra smoke, leaving you at two disadvantages:

  1. First, the extra heat produced due to the grease fire will mess up the smoker’s internal temperature.
  2. Second, the dirty smoke produced will ruin the meat’s whole flavor while also giving your smoker the look of a kiln.

The solution

Well, isn’t it obvious enough? Just keep the damn piece away from the fire.

It’s best to burn the fire at one corner while placing meat at the other corner of the smoker.

Moreover, it’s always good to place a drip pan underneath the meat to reduce the risks even more.

Isn’t it simple?

Wondering if this means you can or cannot smoke with your normal grill? It’s not that hard actually, I explain how here

Using soaked or wet wood

Ah! Tell me you haven’t fallen victim to the ancient myth; “soaking produces more smoke?” If you have, it’s time I debunk it for you.

Soaking wood does not improve the smoke! And perhaps it could be one of the biggest reasons your smoker is producing too much smoke, or may I say vapors.

Yup! This thick white smoke arising from your smoker is not even smoke, but all the water trapped inside the wood converted to vapors.

This ruins the overall flavor of the meat and milds down the smoker’s temperature.

The result? The same as I repeatedly mentioned: dry meat with a funky and bitter flavor you don’t want to taste.

The same holds for using green or wet woods as well. It’s a straight no-no!

The solution

The key to solving this is to always use perfectly seasoned woods with minimum moisture content inside.

This will ensure that the meat is only exposed to flavorful, thin blue smoke.

This is also necessary to impart the authentic wood flavor to the meat, ensuring maximum taste, however, without overpowering the actual essence of meat.

How much smoke does meat need?

According to the general take on this question, meat only absorbs smoke for the first few hours of smoking.

After that, the crust or bark developed on the surface stops the smoke from penetrating the meat.

One of the best ways to ensure maximum smoke absorption is smoking meat right off the refrigerator instead of keeping it at room temperature.

The logic behind this is simple. As cold surfaces attract the most smoke, placing the meat a little colder will ensure that it absorbs maximum smoke flavor in the minimum time.

Conclusion

You might have heard the saying: “Everything in excess is poison.” In smoking meat, it’s the smoke.

Where it is responsible for enhancing the overall taste and aroma of the meat, too much smoke can also ruin it!

In this article, we not only discussed the major culprits that could be causing excess smoke but also shed light upon some practical tips to avoid it.

That being said, I hope my two cents help make your next BBQ session delightful.

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.