How To Use A Smoker

How To Use A Smoker: Easy 8 Step Guide

Last Updated on February 17, 2022

Knowing how to use a smoker is vital to getting the mouth-watering succulent results your friends and family will love.

To a beginner, it can be a daunting task if not a little nerve-racking but worry not, our easy step-by-step guide will explain everything and have you set up and smoking in no time.

Smokers allow you to cook meat slowly, over a prolonged period of time. They use a combination of charcoal and wood chips to create low heat and plenty of smoke.

This indirectly cooks the meat until it is succulent, falls off the bone, and, of course, has that all-important smoky flavor.

For those who are used to cooking on a standard barbeque grill, getting to grips with a smoker can be tricky. Many brands offer units that can cook both ways, yet the two techniques could not be more different.

Whilst on a standard barbeque grill, the flames lick at the flesh and the meat sears in minutes, in a smoker, the heat is low and indirect, and the meat takes much longer to cook.

It requires patience and subtle adjustments, rather than the flashy, drama of barbequing. The process is super fun and the results are mouth-watering, so without further ado, let’s get into it.

First, we will explain the different parts of a smoker so you can more easily understand what each part is and what it’s used for, then you will learn how to use a smoker by following our easy 8 step guide.

The Parts of a Smoker

At first glance, a smoker can look very much like a standard barbeque grill. Vertical smokers stand upright on four legs, and the cooking chamber is barrel-like and is covered with a lid.

Smokers also have a separate firebox where the charcoal and wood chips burn, and a water pan that helps to regulate temperature and create steam. They also have a vent or chimney through which smoke and steam can escape.

The firebox

The firebox is an isolated chamber (usually adjacent to the cooking chamber) where your fuel is lit to create fire and heat. Charcoal and wood chips are generally used to create a wonderful, smokey fire, although some smokers use pellets or plant pulp.

You can open the firebox in order to stoke the fire and add more fuel whenever necessary, as it is entirely separate from the cooking chamber.

The water pan

The water pan either sits above the firebox or in the base of the cooking chamber. It is a tray of water that is used as both a temperature regulator (to prevent the smoker from becoming too hot) and as a steam generator, to help with the cooking process.

The cooking chamber

The cooking chamber itself usually has a grill (or a few tiered grills) onto which your meat can be placed. Smoke and heat from the firebox, funnel through into the cooking chamber, and slowly cook the meat. Steam from the water pan also fills this chamber and keeps the meat juicy and succulent.#

The lid 

The lid on a smoker is usually large and domed. It is closed in order to keep the smoke, heat, and steam contained. Smoker lids are usually fitted with a thermometer on the outside which tells you what the ambient temperature inside is. However, this thermometer does not tell you the temperature of your meat.

The vent and dampers

The vent looks a lot like a chimney, and it is how smoke and steam escape from the unit and stop it from overheating. Many smokers have dampers that are used to regulate the temperature by letting you adjust the airflow in and out. 

How to Use a Smoker – Step by Step Guide + Video

Step 1: Prepare the meat

Prepare the meat that you wish to cook in whatever marinades or seasoning you like. Take care to note the weight and size of your cut, as this will affect the cooking time and temperature that you are aiming for. 

thumbs up Top Tip:  cold meat will absorb smoke far better than room temperature meat, so keep it in the fridge for as long as possible before cooking. 

Step 2: Soak your wood chips

Wood chips should be soaked in water for 30 minutes before use so that they burn slowly. Different types of wood will create different flavored smoke. 

thumbs up Top Tip: popular flavor choices include: hickory, cherry, apple, elder, and mesquite. 

Step 3: Build the fire

Build your fire in the firebox by stacking charcoal briquettes in a pyramid formation and sprinkling your wood chips over the top. The wood chips should be used to supplement the charcoal, as a pure wood fire is too difficult to control. 

thumbs upTop Tip: Standard charcoal will burn at the proper temperature for smoking and is better than boutique charcoal lumps which tend to burn too hot (don’t waste money).     

Step 4:  Fill the water pan

Fill the water pan to about three-quarters full with cold water and place it in the unit (either beneath the meat in the base of the cooking chamber or above the firebox. You will have to keep an eye on the water level and top it up at various intervals as it evaporates.

thumbs upTop Tip: adding herbs and spices to the water will help to flavor the meat as it cooks in the steam.

Step 5: Light the fire

Use lighter fluid to light the charcoal and wood chips, then close the firebox and allow the smoke to funnel into the cooking chamber. Wait for the thermometer to reach your desired cooking temperature (usually between 225 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit for slow-cooked barbeque) before adding your meat.

thumbs upTop Tip: Try not to open and close the firebox too often because this will cause temperature fluctuations and mean the unit takes longer to heat up.

Step 6: Place your meat on the grill

Once your smoker grill has reached the desired temperature, place the meat in the middle of the cooking surface. Your meat should be cooked directly on your smoker’s grill grates.

Some smokers have just one grate, while others include both an upper and bottom grate for cooking many portions of meat at once.

Step 7: Maintain a constant temperature

It is important to maintain a consistent temperature whilst cooking your meat. You can do this by using the two simple vents(or dampers). 

The bottom vent will allow air to enter the smoker, and the introduction of more oxygen to the fire will allow the coals to burn at a greater temperature. The top vent will allow air to escape from the smoker and thus reduce the temperature.

You will need to top up the fuel in the firebox intermittently, and add wood chips as you go.

Step 8: Be patient

Allow your food to cook for as long as possible. Smoking charcoal takes a long time. Cooking a rack of ribs may take six to seven hours, while a full turkey could take up to 18 hours. Probe your meat with a meat thermometer towards the end of the cooking time to ensure that it is cooked through. 

Video: How to Use a Smoker


And there you have it! How to use a smoker in 8 simple steps. Though this process takes patience, we promise the results will be well worth waiting for!

If we missed something you think should be included contact us. We welcome all your questions, comments, and concerns as they will help make our content better for you and others.

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