How to Use A Charcoal Smoker (7 Easy Steps) – For Beginners

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In this article, we will tell you how to use a charcoal smoker in 7 easy steps, and we will guide you through the entire smoking process. We have written some expert BBQ tips for smoking as well.

There is nothing more American than a good old BBQ in the backyard right? That is a lot of people including me use a charcoal smoker to smoke chicken, turkey, beef, or any type of meat.

You can ask any BBQ lover about the meat produced by the charcoal smoking process falls off the bone and has a jaw-dropping Smokey flavor. It just hits different.

The low and slow style of smoking breaks down the collagen in the muscle fibers. The meat becomes super tender like a “melt in your mouth goodness”.

I am going to tell you what you need for charcoal smoking, and how to use a charcoal smoker in 7 easy steps.

What is A Charcoal Smoker?

A charcoal smoker is a device that cooks/smokes food over a long period with indirect heat produced by charcoal. The heat is often low.

The main difference between a charcoal grill and a smoker is that a charcoal smoker keeps the fire in a separate place and smokes the food with low and indirect heat. A grill, on the other hand, keeps the heat directly under the food.

4 Basic Components Of A Charcoal Smoker:

  • Firebox: The combustion takes place in the firebox. A standard 15-pound bag of charcoal can burn for 15 hours or more depending on the smoker.
  • Water pan: The water pan or water chamber is positioned above the firebox. It is roughly filled with three-quarters of the cool liquid. It works as a temperature regulator. It prevents the smoker from getting too hot, and the steam helps in the cooking process.
  • Cooking chamber: Your food sits inside the cooking chamber on the cooking grates.
  • The lid: The tight lid/seal at the top prevents the smoke from leaving the cooking chamber. The lid will have a vent-type structure to let the smoke or steam leave as needed.

Things You Need For Using A Charcoal Smoker

  • A charcoal smoker
  • Charcoal
  • Wood chips, pellets, or chunks
  • A flame
  • Aluminum foil
  • Meat
  • Meat thermometer (most smokers have built-in thermometers)
  • Grill tongs
  • A grill brush

How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

Charcoal works on a simple principle, but it takes some practice and expertise to get the cooking process right. Following 7 steps will help you to smoke the most delicious meat ever.

The following steps are for a vertical charcoal smoker, but the basic concept is the same for all.

1. Prepare The Charcoal:

Instead of going for the boutique lump charcoal, use ordinary charcoal briquettes, because they burn at the proper temperature for smoking.

We use wood chips or chunks as well for that distinct smoky flavor. Soak the wood chips into the water for 20 to 30 minutes before spreading them over burning charcoal. We want the maximum smoke that is why we soak them.

I use Hickory wood chips but you can use whatever brand you want.

2. Fill Your Water Pan:

Fill your water pan three-quarters full. Coldwater will function as a temperature regulator, and provide moisture to enhance the cooking.

3. Light The Charcoal:


Use a charcoal chimney or all natural-fire starters. All you have to do is pure come charcoal onto the chimney, take a newspaper and place it on the charcoal pan, put the chimney on top of the paper, and light it up.

Lighter fluid should be your last option if the paper technique doesn’t work. Lighter fluid messes up with the food taste a bit.

4. Place Your Meat On The Cooking Grates:


Put your water pan on the bottom of the smoker, then place your meat directly on the cooking grates, and seal it with the lid.

Most smokers have only one large cooking grill, but some come with more than one cooking grate like DYNA-GLO 36” vertical smoker.

If your smoker has multiple racks, use the top one to help keep a consistent temperature. The bottom ones tend to get hotter.

Note: If you want to cook multiple types of meat at once, it is up to you. Use whatever recipe you want, but allow the meat to cook for at least 30 minutes before adding any seasoning.

5. Add The Soaked Wood Chips:


Now the charcoal is ready to fire, rub your meat with decent seasoning and add wood chips onto the charcoal.

Soaked wood will burn slowly and produce more smoke which is desired here. Dry wood will flame and increase the temperature of the smoker.

6. Temperature Control:

The ideal smoking temperature in a charcoal smoker is around 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You will have to be very careful with the vents or dampers.

If you open them up completely, the fresh air will blow in and increase the combustion process, and you will end up losing most of your coal quickly, and the internal temperature will rise.

If the temperature is getting too hot, open the upper vent and close the lower vent. If the temperature is too low, partially open the lower vent and close the upper vent.

Use the smoker’s built-in thermometer to help gauge where your temperature is. You can open or partially close the vents or dampers according to the reading.

Most built-in thermometers are crap, so I use my wireless probe and monitor the temperature on my phone using Bluetooth.

7. Patience:

Your meat is going to take a while to fully smoke. Ribs usually take 6 hours, and brisket takes 20 hours depending on the size. Full chicken takes about 3 hours.

Keep adding the soaked wood chips about every 90 minutes. Keep an eye on the temperature throughout the process.

Here is the guide about How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

How often do you add wood chips to a charcoal smoker?

For about every 90 to 100 minutes. Before adding more wood chips, check if the previous batch is still smoking. Use soaked wood chips. Dry wood will quickly burn by raising the internal temperature.

How long should charcoal burn before smoking?

Depending on the ignition methods and quantity, 15 to 25 minutes is the average time to let your charcoal properly heat up before adding it to the smoker.

How do you keep a smoker at 225?

-If the temperature is getting too hot, open the upper vent and close the lower vent.

-If the temperature is too low, partially open the lower vent and close the upper vent.

-Normally, 5 lit coals are enough to get you up to 225 degrees. Use the smoker’s built-in thermometer to help gauge where your temperature is.

-Invest in a good wireless probe and monitor the temperature on the phone using Bluetooth.
You can open or partially close the vents or dampers according to the reading.

Can you put wood chips directly on coal?

Yes. Soak the wood chips for 25 minutes. Then spread it on top of charcoal only after 30 minutes of smoking, not at the start of the smoking. Wood chips add a distinct smoky flavor to the meat.

Lightupbbq was started by Freddy Zeus, an environmental engineer and a professional chef who has been around the world learning the craft of cooking.

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