How to Control Temperature on Your Charcoal Smoker

Jason Webster
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How to use Air Vents to Control Smoker Temperature

Controlling the temperature in your smoker is essential to running a successful and delicious cook. The temperature on most smokers is primarily controlled by an air vent. Managing air flow from the vents can help you maintain a consistent temperature.

The vents are the base for the stack of charcoal briquettes. In most cases, there are two: one at the side or the back of the smoker, and the other at the top with the stack of charcoal briquettes in between. Typically, the top vent controls the temperature, while the other vent helps to control airflow.

Before you start cooking, take a few minutes to adjust the vents to your desired temperature.

If your smoker comes with more than one vent, close the vents on the opposite end of the smoker to the vents you want to use. Close off the vents you want to use.

To maintain a consistent temperature, decide what temperature you want the cooker to reach, generally between 225 and 250 degrees. Get there by controlling the top vent.

As the temperature climbs, open the top vent and close any opposite vents to compensate for the heat rise. Don’t remove the top vent completely, as excessive smoke release will cause the temperature to drop too rapidly.

Don’t fret if you overshoot and the temperature exceeds your target; just use the opposite vents to bring the smoker back under control.

Effective temperature control on a charcoal smoker is well worth the little bit of extra time. Nothing sucks more than having to drag a hot smoker in and out of your garage every 15 minutes when the temperature won’t stay consistent.

There are several methods to control the temperature on your smoker. Each has their pros and cons. There is no perfect or the best way to control temperature.

Each method also affects the way that your smoker handles the heat, so also consider how each method will affect the quality of your smoker.

With that said, the most effective way to control the temperature on your charcoal smoker is a combination of the top 2 methods.

Basically, you change your charcoal order to adjust when you want the temperature on the smoker to be low or high.

The more charcoal you have in a coal basket or pile, the more heat it will throw. The less charcoal, the less heat it will throw.

As simple as this sounds, the trick becomes the temperature you set your smoker at, keep it at there, and how to change the charcoal basket usage to adjust the temperature.

The smoker should be around 225 degrees F around the whole chamber and the food also.

The Correct Way to Adjust Smoker Temperature

It is important to note that cooking food directly over coals is not the same as cooking on a grill, and is not recommended in the same way. The hot air that directly rises from the coals can scorch fat and cause meat to drip several degrees below actual temperature.

However, cooking food directly over coals does offer a great way to cook very large hunks of meat such as whole turkeys or pork butts. Adjusting smoker temperature on a charcoal pit is primarily used for adjustments when grilling. It can also be used to smoke your meats without adding extra coals to the fire.

There are several ways to adjust the temperature of your charcoal smoker:

{1}. A temperature gauge can be attached to your pit to measure temperature both inside the smoker and inside the smoker lid.
{2}. Dump the ashes from the grill bottom and from the smaller grill basket on your charcoal smoker.
{3}. Pour more coals on the pile above or below the grate and on the opposite side of the small basket.
{4}. Move the coals to different sides of the pit for more or less heat.

Always do a ‘dry run’ on a new smoker

There are multiple factors that affect how your smoker will cook.

At the most basic level, you can set the cooking temperature, change the amount of charcoal you use and how you control the smoke.


You can control the temperature of your smoker by controlling the amount of air that is introduced to the charcoal.

The temperature of your smoker is basically a tradeoff between how much charcoal you use versus how much air you let in.

For your first cook on the smoker, your goal is to get a sense of how each temperature setting looks, smells, and feels. Take notes on what you notice about different temperature settings and how you can use that knowledge to get the most out of your smoker. Cook a pork butt or brisket to experiment.

Smoke and Air Controls

There are two main controls that affect how much air can flow into your smoker and how much smoke gets generated.

The first is how many holes there are in the bottom of the charcoal chamber. A lot of holes in the charcoal chamber allows for a lot of air circulation but produces very little smoke.

The second is how open or closed the lid is. The lid must be kept open just barely enough to get some air to flow in and in enough of a way that smoke can escape.

What to do if You See Thick, White Smoke?

It is a general rule that humid air should not come into contact with hot charcoal or hot sides of the smoker. Condensation will form and drip into your smoker, causing your food to come out soggy.

To avoid this, there are several things you can do before you start your cooking.

Make sure your water pan is filled up with boiling water and well sealed with foil.

Next, open up the top vent or the exhaust and close the bottom vent or entrance. There are vent dampers on the front of your smoker. Blocking the bottom vent prevents the moist air outside from entering your smoker, and opening up the top vent allows you to avoid sucking in all that bad air. This sounds counter-intuitive at first, but bear with me.

Open the top vent until your smoker temperature reaches about 200 degrees Fahrenheit and close the top vent or the exhaust for good, once your smoker temperature creeps above 250 degrees.

Now your food will be cooked at a lower temperature from two directions: top and bottom. This should make your smoking experience a lot easier.

How the weather can effect your smoker temp

One of the most common issues with charcoal smokers is temperature fluctuation. Controlling temperature on a smoker can be quite difficult at first. Make sure you check out the smoker instruction manual and manufacturer’s website for any tips.

Temperature control problems on a smoker can be exacerbated by the weather. Temperature outside is affected by humidity, whether the conditions are hot or cold and wind speed at the place where the smoker is placed.

When the weather is cold, air is more dense and contains less moisture. The air is able to absorb more heat therefore the smoker loses its heat more rapidly. In short, your smoker needs to be fed a little more charcoal.

When the weather is hot, air is relatively dry and warmer than usual. This is the complete opposite, meaning that the smoker holds heat really well and your charcoal needs to be fed a little less charcoal.

The best way to figure out if the smoker is out of control is to use an accurate temperature gauge. Then you’ll be able to see if the temperature is too hot or cold at a given moment.

Making small adjustments to your burn rate can make a big difference in the overall time that it takes you to cook your desired item.

Turn your charcoal smoker into a ‘set it and forget it’ smoker with an automatic temperature controller

Temperature control for your charcoal smoker is essential for good barbecue. A quality automatic temperature controller is a must-have for your smoker in order to make barbecue.

The most popular and reliable temperature controllers on the market today can be found in the Masterbuilt i-series Smoker.

If you don’t have the budget to install a temperature controller into your barbecue pit, there are some basic tips you can follow to ensure that your barbecue goes well:

Don’t fire up your smoker until the coals are glowing orange, and make sure that it is completely covered in charcoal before you close the door.

Keep the smoke puffing. While the fire is stabilized at a certain temp and you’re barbecuing, you need to be constantly adding wood chips to maintain a constant level of smoke.

Raise and lower the smoker lid to check your food on a regular basis.

Place a close lid on your smoker if you see flames, or if you feel that the smoke stack is venting too much heat.

If you don’t check your smoker often, it can reach temperatures over 500 degrees. When you add meat to such a hot smoker, you risk causing the outside of your food to be too dark and the inside of it to be too moist. In this case, the barbecue temperature would be too high.

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