How to Use a Charcoal Smoker: Definitive Guide

Jason Webster
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What you’ll need

If you already have a smoker, then you can move onto the next step. If not, then you’ll need to get an excellent smoker first before making your final decision because not every smoker is suitable for your needs.

Follow the below steps to find the smoker that’s right for you:

Cooking Capacity: Choose your smoker depending on the amount of food you plan to prepare. If you are a family of 2-4 people, you can opt for a Smoker that has a capacity of 200 cubic inches or even less. If you own a large family, go for a model with a much larger capacity.

Cooking Surface Area: The larger the cooking surface area, the more food you can smoke at a time. Opt for a smoker that has enough cooking space to fulfill your needs.

Temperature Control: One of the great things about owning a charcoal smoker is the ability to set a precise temperature. If you’re a first-time smoker, make sure you can control the temperature completely.

Ease of Use: The best smoker should be easy to use and should also produce great results most of the time. Try to look for models that come with clear instructions for their users. The ease of use will greatly affect the overall experience of smoking meat.

A smoker

Is a cooking device used for low temperature cooking at temperatures that are below 100C. Instead of applying the heat directly to the food, the heat is transferred using a heat transfer medium (the smoke in this case). This slower method of cooking was introduced to the modern world by the Native Americans and is commonly used in supermarkets for preparing poultry, ribs and beef. Aside from that, there are a lot of restaurant chefs that are happy to use a smoker for more experimental purposes; the kind of experimenting that can mix lots of different spices and herbs.

Choosing Your Smoker

The hardest part of using a smoker for the first time is choosing your smoker. The market offers lots of options that you have to choose between the various styles, the different features and the overall price. The good news is that if you are new to all this you don’t need to spend a lot of money on the device. There are cheaper models that will do their job just as well as more expensive devices.


The first thing to consider is the type of fuel you will use when cooking your meat. There are basically two types of smoke smokers on the market: a wood-fueled smoker and the charcoal-fueled smoker.

Charcoal briquettes

Like most wood based barbecuing methods, you will need to light coals on fire to maintain steady heat. You can do that easily with charcoal briquettes because all you have to do is put them on a charcoal chimney.

There are two types of charcoal you can choose from.

{1}. Mesquite charcoal briquettes
{2}. Charcoal briquettes

You can find both types of charcoal in supermarkets and at barbecue supply stores. They are often sold in packages of 25 and are cheaper when bought in bulk.

Both types of charcoal produce the same amount of heat. Mesquite charcoal burns longer than charcoal and tends to produce flarier, more intense heat. Charcoal produces a hotter and more direct heat and is thus preferred by many BBQ fans.

When buying the charcoal, you have to decide whether you want to buy charcoal that is ready to burn or charcoal that you will have to light. The latter is easier to use, and you will need to light it with a fuse lighter.

Wood chunks

One of the most crucial decisions you have to make when setting up your smoker is the source of heat. There are two common heating methods used in smokers, wood and charcoal.

Wood chunk smokers use wood as the fuel source instead of charcoal briquettes. However, in both cases, a fan blows air into the firebox to move smoke around.

This fan is usually present in a wood chip smoker. A wood chunk smoker does not require a fan to effectively move smoke around. So, just let the fan rest and start smoking food with charcoal.

Wood chunks are basic easy to use, and relatively cheaper than a wood chip smoker. You don’t require a fan to move the smoke around. Also, when using wood chunks, the smoky flavor in the food’s taste is much more prominent than compared to charcoal.

This is because there is a direct contact between the fire and the wood. Additionally, the long and slow burning process of the chunk generates a robust flavor that is unique and incomparable to other charcoal smokers.

On the other hand, wood chip smokers use charcoal for fuel. This kind of smoker needs a fan to move the smoke and food is regulated using a damp squib. Also, using this heat method is more convenient than wood chip.

Charcoal chimney

Chimney starter is a type of charcoal starter without using lighter fluid/gas or briquettes. This is a great way to start charcoal if you are interested in being an eco-conscientious person (from the environment, smell and carbon footprint) or simply don’t want to do the messy job of lighting up your charcoal with a lighter fluid.

To use a chimney starter, simply fill the bottom part of the chimney starter with crumpled newspaper. Make sure to fill it up to the top rim, just before you “grill the charcoal” would spill out parts of the starter.

Once you finished filling it, place the charcoal chimney on your grill.

You should fill your charcoal chimney about 1/2 through with charcoal for small grills and 1/3 through with charcoal for large grills.

For grills that are about 50cm and lower, add no more than two pieces of newspaper. Make sure to add fresh charcoal to your chimney whenever lighter fluid is dripping on your grill and you feel that there will be no need for more lighter fluid. For grills over 50cm, you will need 3-4 pieces of newspaper.

At the bottom of the chimney starter, place the newspaper pool (if you are using a wired newspaper, no need to use newspaper pool).

Firestarters and a lighter

Before we get started, you’re going to want to have these essentials:

  • A lighter or a charcoal chimney
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Fire starters

If you want to get fancy, you can also invest in a quality thermometer, a fire starter, and a chimney starter.


The easiest way to get cooking with charcoal is to use a fire starter. They’re easy to light and start your grill or smoker quickly. There are a number of different kinds of fire starters. Some are made from charcoal and either sawdust or lighter fluid. They’re messy, but they work.

You can also buy natural fire starters. These are made from natural materials, and generate smoke (instead of flames). As your charcoal heats up, it will generate its own heat, and light the fire starter.

Chimney Starter

A chimney starter is a cylindrical metal container designed to hold your charcoal. It creates a large amount of heat, and lights your charcoal quickly. It’s also small and portable. This is an essential item for any barbeque, and worth the small investment.

Leave-in meat thermometer

A leave-in thermometer is a long stem thermometer that can be inserted into the meat to monitor the internal temperature without cutting a hole in the meat. This allows the meat to stay in its natural shape and form.

Many smokers come with a built-in thermometer built into the lid, although you can also pick up a basic probe thermometer for not much money if yours doesn’t.

These can be a real life-saver if you’ve got take-away, as you can monitor the temperature of your meat while you go and pick up the rest of your food.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can buy a wireless thermometer that can be used away from the smoker, but these are rather pricey.

Nice to have

The BBQ smoker is more of a tool than a piece of kitchen equipment. These are used to smoke and cook food most of which are meats and vegetables.

These tools are used to develop special taste in the food you prepare. The food that is cooked in it is not always through the use of meat. It could also be through using other types of food.

As seen, this tool is not just for meats, you could also have them for the preparation of other types of food.

To have an extra unique taste in your food, this is the right tool for you. It enhances the flavour and aroma that comes from the food that you are cooking.

With the help of oxygen, the BBQ smoker offers you a special experience. You will not enjoy having your food be cooked in the open air.

This tool offers a unique taste. It gives you a different experience, unlike the one you get if you use an oven. It has its own advantages.

When it comes to preparing your food, it gives you an advantage that you do not get when you cook your food in an oven. The difference between the two is that one offers more of an outdoor experience.

When you decide to use the BBQ smoker, you get a special experience. This is unlike the one your get when you use the oven for food preparation.


Make it easier to move the meat from the smoker to your cutting board.

BBQ Gloves

We started out on this quest for a better BBQ experience with my mother, my nephew and I, with four BBQ recipes.

We’re talking meat that Grillworks (a website that helps you cook your meat) claim is the best brisket in London – and it actually did taste more tender than anything I’ve had in the capital.

We’re talking about literally washing down your food in the blink of a grill with a Maui beach beer – what a perfect Sunday. But, most of all, we’re talking about gloves, goggles and beanies. I mean, we’re cooking on BBQs after all.

We’re BBQ rookies on facts and figures. But now we have our hands on the most definitive guide to barbecuing for beginners, I’m sure it won’t take us long to get the hang of this.

The Ultimate Guide to Barbecuing for Beginners

Whether you want to return to the basics, or you’ve never touched a BBQ in your life, there’s no better place to begin than on this legendary meat master.

Get prepared before you start smoking

The first thing to remember is that you are about to cook a tiny little piece of meat for a long time, so you better get everything ready before you start smoking meat.

Get the smoker warmed up to the right temperature. Give yourself enough time for smoking meat. You don’t want to spend time doing that while the meat is cooking or you may risk undercooking.

If you’re working with a charcoal smoker, now is the time to make sure you have your smoker ready for the performance.

Ensure there is enough charcoal in the smoker and select the right wood chips for the smoke. A good tip is to switch up between different types of wood to see how it will affect the taste of your sausage.

You will need some barbecue sauce and mustard. You may want to have some coal and wood chips on hand while you smoke meat.

Coal is the cleanest choice for removing the meat after smoking. The advantage of coal is that you can put it in a pan and then pour the fluids that leak from the meat into the pan as well as the juices that drip after smoking meat.

You can then easily dispose of the liquid or use it for cooking other foods. Wood chips also work fine and give the meat a nice woodsy flavor.

A great way to get the best flavor is to use wood chips that you would commonly find in a smoker.

Cleaning your smoker

Charcoal smokers need to be kept clean to prevent damaging the metal.

It isn’t difficult to clean a charcoal smoker, but there are certain parts that need to be cleaned more frequently than others. One of the most important parts to clean is the rack. There is a channel on the sides of the smoker that are designed to collect grease and ash. This channel is where grease and ash tends to build up.

When the channel is full of grease and ash, it can be dangerous to use the smoker. To avoid this, brush out the channel after every use with a wire brush.

Prepping your food

To rub or not to rub, that is the question.

I will not preach you to rub or not to rub, that is your choice, but personally I prefer to “rub” most foods before cooking them.

There are certain foods that I won’t rub, for example I don’t rub anything that’s already red meat (like beef).

Let’s not debate. Rub or no rub, what really matters is what you want. The end result is smokey, tender and juicy all day long, doesn’t matter if you rub or not.

The procedure for preparing the food’s skin is the same for every protein. Check out this great video for getting started.

Here’s what I do:

  • Preheat oven to the lowest temperature setting. It won’t be used for cooking; it’s just for warming the meat before rubbing.
  • Pat the meats dry with a paper towel. This is important. Wet meats will steam immediately, preventing any nice coat of spices to stick onto the meat.
  • Apply a thin layer of oil to the meat.

Arranging your cooking area

To be able to use a charcoal smoker, you must have a good foundation to work with. Get the temperature up as high as possible, even at the expense of cook time.

It is a good practice to put the charcoal chimney directly onto a bed of charcoal so you can “pre-heat” the smoker when you light the charcoal to get to a very high heat.

A great way to do this is by surrounding the bottom of the charcoal chimney with charcoal so the chimney draws coal from the bottom up. Add more charcoal underneath every 15-20 minutes until you have a solid bed of charcoal coals. Make sure the charcoal is lit.

Assemble the smoker with the water pan in place to catch any juice from the meat drippings and keeping your smoker from overheating.

Make sure your charcoal is well lit. Add more coals if you need to.

How to use a charcoal smoker (step by step guide)

Charcoal smokers put the smoker in smoker, using charcoal to provide the heat for barbecuing meat.

They might require a bit more patience and knowledge to get the hang of, but it’s worth all the extra effort. With a charcoal smoker, you can achieve that authentic BBQ taste that you may not get with other bars, especially those found in restaurants.

They’re also great for smoking larger quantities of meat in one go.

Charcoal smokers have the advantage of measuring and controlling temperature better than other barbecue cooking methods.

However, for the best results, it’s important that you closely follow the right steps to use a charcoal smoker.

The steps involved in using a charcoal smoker are similar to BBQ smoking on a gas smoker. Read on to learn about them.

Disassemble your smoker

A charcoal smoker is a great way for you to get delicious, smoked food without having to use old-fashioned charcoal or wood like in open BBQ or smoker.

Compared to electric smokers, a charcoal smoker is less expensive. At the same time, it makes less mess than other smokers and doesn’t use electricity.

Before you start your barbecue, check if your smoker includes all the necessary components that you need to smoke food.

If it doesn’t, take it to a local hardware store and buy the items that make your smoker functional.

Add wood chunks

As the charcoal gets going, you’ll need to add fuel to keep the fire burning at the right temperature. Wood chunks will give you the best flavor as they slowly burn. Avoid using wood chips or sawdust here as they can clog up your chimney starter and create a smoky mess.

You can use your favorite hardwood or fruitwood (apple, cherry, peach, etc.) for the smoke, though hickory is by far the most popular choice.

The best approach is to select a very hard wood like hickory or mesquite, and then coat it with a protective coating of lighter fluid before you use it.

This will help to prevent it from catching on fire and burning before you put it into the smoker.

Reassemble your smoker and add food

Return the cover plate by sliding it back into the slot on the smoker body. You may find it easier to angle the plate back into place. Place the wood chip box back in the wood chip chamber and replace the silicon gasket and screw. Light the smoker and let it warm up for about twenty minutes while the food cooks.

How to control temperature on a charcoal smoker

Temperature control in charcoal smokers can be done by adjusting the airflow.

Always start with a temperature that is slightly higher than the setting you need to give you overshoot and using the dampers to adjust your temperature is the way to reach to your desired temperature.

There are two different ways of adjusting your dampers.

First, remove one of the dampers completely. With one damper removed you have full airflow into your smoker and it is like having it wide open. With full airflow, you can adjust your temperature to the desired temp by opening or closing the dampers. As the temperature drops bring the damper back in until the exhaust from the smoker is balanced with the fresh air going in.

The second method of adjusting your dampers is with the fire still burning. With this method you will be able to slightly drop your temperature and add a little more smoke or flavor.

Most smokers have two smaller dampers or one large damper cut in half.

The Damper on fire: With the damper still attached to the smoker and the fire still burning.

How to Add More Smoke without Increasing Heat

Simply open the dampers by a quarter inch each or so and keep a small pile of charcoal on fire at the front of the fire box. Your hot coals will slowly burn down and use less oxygen. This will give you a slightly more smoky flavor.

Turn your charcoal smoker into a ‘set it and forget it’ cooker

One of the most important things that you need to learn how to do with your charcoal smoker is how to use it on a ‘set it and forget it’ basis.

In other words, you need to understand how to use the temperature probe control system that comes along with all commercial or a lot of home grill smokers.

An internal electronic temperature probe comes with most grills. It allows you to control the grill temperature by setting it up on a certain level you like and setting is so that it will turn off when it reaches that temperature.

You need to understand how to use this tool and set the temperature that you want to cook at.

When you understand this, using your smoker will be a far easier task.

Make sure you take the time to learn what temperature you should try to maintain throughout the cooking process. This way, you can just set and forget it.

It simplifies the entire experience and removes so much guesswork that is involved with cooking in a grill smoker for the first time.

How long do you need to cook for?

Many folks are intimidated by smoking meats, but cooking with a smoker couldn’t be easier. You will want to start by cooking for 2-3 hours to get your desired tenderness.

To avoid drying out your meat, you will want to replenish the smoke periodically by adding a few more charcoal chunks.

You can use a basic meat thermometer to cook any meat, but pork, poultry, and sausages require lower temperatures and longer cooking times than beef and fish.

Usually, the best temperatures to cook your smoked meats are between 225-250 degrees for the bulk of the cooking time.

Ensure that your smoker is heated to the proper temperature by keeping an eye on the temperature gauge. To get a nice brown and delicious bark, you will want to increase the temperature to about 275-300 degrees for the last hour or two.

Here’s a quick peek at my cooking times for smoking different meats:

Pr. TIME Recommended Temperature Size of Meat

Wrapping it all up

The best way to get more flavor out of your smoked foods is to use charcoal. The combination of charcoal and smoke is what gives smoked foods their signature taste.

So the next time you’re smoking a brisket, or even your Thanksgiving turkey, you know what to look for.

Tomahawk Steak Guide – Where to Buy, How to Cook and Are They Worth the Cost?

This is the ultimate charcoal steaks guide. In this guide, you’ll learn about one of the premier steak cuts, the Tomahawk steak, from the season they are harvested to tips to cooking them on the grill.

Included in the guide is also a brief history of the Tomahawk steak, why and how to choose a Tomahawk steak, and where to buy one and if they’re worth the price.

The Tomahawk steak, also referred, misspelled as tomahk steak and tomahauk steak, is a bone-in rib eye steak. A Tomahawk steak, if cut correctly and cooked right, that can be absolutely delicious and a meal fit for a king.

Given the right care, the Tomahawk can be one of the most tender, juicy and flavorful cuts of steak you’ve ever eaten. That is, if you cook them in the right way and eat them right.

The Tomahawk steak is a masterclass piece of meat that will certainly impress your guests, and if you are lucky enough to have a butcher on hand that carves your meat for you, it will likely have a lasting impression on everyone at the table, that’s why you’ve come to Tomahawk Steak Guide.