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How To Use A Charcoal Smoker (Complete Guide)

smoker grill

Charcoal smoker are getting more and more popular every year because they offer a different way to smoke food that tastes just as good as food that has been smoked manually with wood chips or logs.

However, if you’re new to charcoal smokers, it can be difficult to know how to use them.

The main reason is that it’s hard to get the right temperature. You have to be careful not to burn your food and check on your food often. If you don’t do this, then your food will be ruined. But don’t worry, we have you covered!

This article will go over the complete guide on how to use a charcoal smoker and lay them out in an understandable manner so that you can see how easy it is to use a charcoal smoker to great effect. 

Let’s dive in!

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What is a charcoal smoker?

A charcoal smoker is a device used for cooking food in a closed system. It produces smoke heated by fire using charcoal and wood.

The burning wood or charcoal heat is transferred directly to cooked food, producing a smoky flavor.

A charcoal smoker can be used for cooking a wide range of foods, including meats, vegetables, and seafood. 

Most charcoal smokers have an internal water pan, which should be filled with water during cooking to prevent burning.

Reasons You Should Own A Charcoal Smoker

How-to-Use-a-Charcoal smoker

Whether you’re new to smoking or a seasoned veteran, there’s no denying the benefits of using a charcoal smoker.

In addition to cooking delicious food and enjoying a unique experience with friends and family, it can also help you save money and time. Here are some reasons why you should consider adding one to your home:

  • It’s easy on the pocketbook: Charcoal smokers are relatively inexpensive, especially if you already have some wood on hand. You can purchase an entire smoker for as little as $150.
  • It’s fun to use: Many models come with grilling plates or even accessories that help keep food from falling off the grill when it is not in use (like skewers). You can also find ones without attachments, so they’re easier to store away when not used.

Also, the best part about using a charcoal smoker is that you don’t need to use any other fuel besides charcoal and wood.

Necessary supplies for smoking meat with a charcoal smoker

A charcoal smoker

A charcoal smoker is an essential tool for smoking meat, and it’s one of the most popular ways to add smoked flavors.

A smoker is a device that holds heat on one side and releases it on the other so that the food inside remains smoldering hot but doesn’t burn.

One of the best options for smokers we want to recommend is the Weber Smokey Mountain. It’s easy to use, highly efficient, and extremely durable—so you can expect years of reliable service from this product.

our top pick

charcoal-grill

Weber Smokey Mountain

The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker is a great choice for both beginning and experienced smokers.

It has a removable door to make it easier to clean and also comes with dampers so you can control the heat.

Fire Poker

Fire Poker is a small metal rod made with fireproof material that lets you adjust the coal and wood fuel burning in your fireplace without getting your fingers too close to the coals or wood.

You can use it to stir up the fire, too!

our top pick

Coghlan’s Expandable Fire Poker

Charcoal briquettes 

Next, you’ll need charcoal.

The best kind to use is briquettes, made from hardwood sawdust and consistently burn more than lump charcoal.

It’s important that you buy the right size for your smoker; if you’re using a small one, you’ll want smaller pieces of wood than if you’re using a large one.

our top pick

Kingsford Charcoal Professional Briquettes

Wood Chips or Wood Chunks

Wood chips or wood chunks are a great way to add flavor and smoke to your meat. Wood chips are made from hardwood like oak, hickory, or mesquite.

Wood chunks are similar to wood chips, except they are bigger—so they take longer to smoke, but they also give off more smoke. You will want to use chunks of wood that are at least 1-inch thick and cut into 2-inch pieces.

The most important thing to remember when using wood chips or chunks is that you need a good amount of them, or else they won’t burn properly.

our top pick

Fire & Flavor Premium All-Natural Hickory Wood Smoking Chunks

Make sure to soak wood chunks or chips in water for around half an hour before putting them on top of the lit coals.

There are two reasons for this:

One, we don’t want them to flame up. Two, we don’t want to burn them up right away. We want to have nice smoke for as long as possible.

Charcoal chimney starter

A chimney starter is a funnel-shaped device that holds your charcoal.

The chimney is made of stainless steel and can be used with any type of charcoal grill, but it’s especially handy for smokers.

Using a charcoal chimney is important because it allows airflow through the smoker to ignite the charcoal inside more effectively.

You’ll want to ensure there’s no clog in the chimney by regularly cleaning it out with water and soap, which will also help keep it from rusting or cracking.

our top pick

KINGSFORD Heavy Duty Deluxe Charcoal Chimney Starter

Newspaper and a lighter

You will need a lighter and a piece of newspaper. They are used for lighting the charcoal chimney, which will help get your coals ready to go.

Grill brush

A grill brush is essential for any charcoal smoker, especially if you’re smoking meat, because it allows you to clean out the ash, grease, and other unwanted debris that builds up on the grates over time. GRILLART Grill Brush and Scraper

our top pick

GRILLART Grill Brush and Scraper

Digital Meat thermometer 

For the best results, you’ll want to use a meat thermometer. This will ensure that your meat is cooked evenly.

You might also want to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your smoker at regular intervals—especially if it’s a charcoal smoker.

Your food may not be cooked properly if the heat source is not kept at the proper temperature.

our top pick

Thermoworks Signals BBQ Alarm Meat Thermometer

Grill tongs

If you’re going to smoke meat with a charcoal smoker, you’ll want to use tongs.

They allow you to hold the meat while smoking it, which is especially helpful if you’re using wood chips or chunks.

You can also use them to turn food over, which will help keep the food from burning on one side. 

Grill tongs are also great at holding smaller items like sausages or burgers while they cook.

our top pick

Weber Original Portable 2-Piece Stainless Steel Tool Set

What To Do Before Smoking Food

Prep your meat by removing excess fat.

Before you torch up your favorite piece of meat, take a few minutes to make sure you’re preparing it properly.

If you’re cooking beef or pork, remove excess fat from the surface of the meat by trimming away any visible fat and then freeze it for later use (if possible).

If you can’t do this before smoking, try storing the meat in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to cook.

When you’re ready to smoke your meat, ensure you’ve prepped all of your other ingredients so they are ready to go when you need them.

Season your charcoal smoker before use

When you’re done getting the meat ready, it’s time to prepare the smoker. 

Start with a dry burn. You can do this by starting a fire in the smoker and leaving it for about 15 minutes. This will let you burn off the remaining manufacturing grease.

Once the dry burn is done, it’s time to clean the cooking grates. Use a grill brush to get rid of any ash or dust that is still on the grill grates. Then, use soapy water to clean them.

Finally, after rinsing off all the moisture from the grill grates, put a thin layer of oil on the surface of the cooking grate. This will help prevent rust and keep heat from escaping.

Seasoning your smoker with oil can be messy and greasy sometimes. So instead, you can use a seasoning oil and conditioner for more convenience.

Step-by-Step Instructions On How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

Step 1: Prepare a fire.

To burn the charcoal, you’ll need some pieces of slightly wadded-up newspaper.

Remember not to wad the newspaper up too tightly so that air can flow in and speed up the process.

Once ready, put the wadded-up newspaper into the bottom of the smoker.

Next, place the chimney starter on top of the newspaper. A chimney will help you measure the correct amount of charcoal and allow airflow to pass through.

Step 2: Light up the fire and add charcoal to the chimney

charcoal grill

After you’ve placed your chimney on top of the newspaper, light the newspaper “balls” by igniting their ends. Then, pour the charcoal into the chimney as soon as the newspaper catches fire.

Let it burn for 15-20 minutes until all the coals are covered in grey ash. After 20 minutes, pour the lit coals into the smoker’s bottom.

Step 3: Add wood chunks or chips on top of the charcoal.

lump charcoal

If you’re using wood chunks, soak them in water for 25-30 minutes in a bucket or soaking tub filled with water before placing them on top of your charcoal. 

After all the wood chips are soaked, drain them and sprinkle them over your charcoal.

Remember to add enough, so they’re not too close to the edge of the pile, because if they are too close to the edge, it will make it harder for them to catch fire.

Step 4: Put the water pan and the cooking grates into the smoker

First, take out the water pan and fill it with about 2 inches of water before putting it into your smoker. This will help keep the coals alive and make sure that they don’t burn up before you can use them.

It’s important to use enough water so that it doesn’t evaporate too quickly during cooking time, but not so much that it spills out over everything else in your smoker!

After that, place the grill grates on top of the water pan to hold the meat.

Step 5: Place your food in the smoker and close the lid

Use a pair of tongs to place the food on the grill grates. You can smoke what types of meat you like, but we recommend starting with something that is easy to prepare and can be cooked quickly so that it’s not going to overcook while it’s smoking.

After that, you need to monitor your smoker’s temperature, and the most common way is with the use of a meat thermometer.

The thermometer should be inserted into the center of the meat or food and left there during the smoking process. A good rule of thumb is that the smoker should be between 200°F and 250°F.

After that, close the lid and use the vents to fine-tune the temperature of the smoker.

Step 7: Maintain your fire throughout the process.

You should also keep an eye on how much smoke is coming off of your smoker throughout cooking time so that you know when it’s time to add more wood chips or other fuel sources to maintain a consistent temperature.

Maintaining your fire throughout the cooking process is crucial to charcoal smoking. But how do you know when it needs attention?

The best way to tell is by looking at the meat’s temperature by checking it with an electronic thermometer you’ve inserted into the meat before.

Step 8: The wait is over, so take it out of the smoker!

After checking the temperature with a thermometer, take your food out and let it sit for a few minutes before serving. This will allow the juices in your food to redistribute for more flavor.

FAQ

Final Thoughts

So there you have it!

Charcoal smokers might be a little tricky for beginners to use for the first time, but there’s no denying that they are effective for smoking meats.

However, many people who try to smoke using charcoal tend to have trouble controlling the temperature and so end up with food that isn’t cooked as well as it could be.

As long as you know what you’re doing and follow the instructions on how to use a charcoal smoker in this article, charcoal smoking should be a breeze.

Hopefully, this article has helped and given you some insight on using one and creating special smoked meals for your family and friends!

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