How To Use A Charcoal Smoker? A Complete Guide


A charcoal smoker is a fun way to cook delicious meals. Either you are planning a barbeque party at home or trying to take summer fun to the next level; a charcoal smoker will be there for you.

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What is Charcoal Smoker?

The charcoal smoker is a device that produces smoke. You can place the meat in it, and it slowly cooks and tenderize it for a long time.

You might assume here that charcoal grill and smoker are both the same thing. They are not the same though nowadays, many brands are selling the 2-in-1 grills, which work as a smoker and grill both. Now, the question here is how to use a charcoal smoker grill? So in this guide, we will tell you all the ins and outs of the charcoal smoker.

Related: Best Charcoal Smokers – Reviews & Buying Guide

The Working of a Charcoal Smoker

A charcoal smoker functions by cooking the food for several hours at a consistent temperature. The inner meat temperature will get to the container’s encircling air temperature in the long run and get the meat ready with a perfect tenderness.

Unlike traditional grills, it requires hours to cook the meat that enhances the flavor of the barbecue.

Cooking with a Charcoal Smoker

Cooking food in the smoker is somewhat different from what traditional grills do. Smokers tend to cook meat with indirect heat. Various factors, like adding water to the grill, the smoker’s temperature, and the time of cooking food, will calculate the food’s taste and tenderness. So the smoker’s proper setting is of utmost importance.

Just to tell you that there are two main types of smokers depending on their layout: vertical smokers and horizontal or offset smokers.

First off, we will tell you step-by-step cooking with a vertical smoker. So let’s get going with how to use a char broil charcoal smoker, which is a vertical smoker.

Cooking Food using a Vertical Charcoal Smoker

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First, let’s have a look at some of the main parts of the vertical charcoal smoker are:

  • Firebox

The firebox is responsible for generating heat. The coal occupies it and creates heat. You can add additional wood chips from time to time to add extra flavor to each batch.

  • Water pan

The water pan sits above the firebox. The water chamber requires to fill approximately ¾ with water. This chamber works as a function controller and cooking process initiator. It generates steam, which in the long run, will cook the food by consistent steaming.

  • Cooking chamber

The cooking chamber is room to place food. This chamber has cooking grates that a common grill has.

  • Lid

The top of it has a lid that is responsible for keeping the steam inside. This chamber function to provide necessary ventilation to let the smoke and steam out as it requires


Step by Step Guide for using Vertical Charcoal Smokers

The vertical charcoal smoker has an upright cylindrical shape. The lowermost part of the smoker has a fireplace for charcoals, and above it is the water pan’s place. Further, you will see the grilling grates. Many vertical grills such as Brinkmann charcoal smokers and Masterbuilt charcoal smokers have multiple grilling grates for cooking more food at once. And on top of all is the lid with vent and the thermometer. Cooking food in a charcoal smoker is no difficult at all. Let’s have a glance at the steps of using a vertical charcoal smoker.

  • Readying the fuel

First off, prepare the fuel for the smoker. For energy, it is apparent to get the charcoal. The regular charcoal briquettes burn at an appropriate temperature for smoking to do the job just fine. It is unnecessary to go for the out-of-the-box lump charcoal as it burns too hot for the smoker; so the ordinary charcoal is good. Furthermore, to add some unique smoke flavors to meet, you can add some wood chips. The most common smoke flavors prefer hickory, apple, alder wood, cherry, and mesquite. It is necessary to soak the wood chips for 30 minutes to use the charcoal smoker with wood chips.

  • Filling the pan with water for steam

The water pan is responsible for generating steam and maintaining the temperature of the charcoal water smoker. It is recommended to fill the water pan three-quarters for the smoker. But remember, fill the water pan with cold water; otherwise, it will spoil the purpose of temperature control.

  • Light up the charcoal

Now the next step is to ignite the charcoal. There are two ways to light up the charcoal with the chimney, and the other is stacking coal inside the smoker.

    • Start charcoal smoker without a chimney

If you do not have a chimney to light up the charcoal, you can pile them up in a pyramid shape and pour some lighter fluid to ignite them.  When coal gets a white coating all over, you can put them into the smoker.

    • With chimney

You can use a charcoal chimney for lighting the charcoal up too. The chimney comes with its instruction to follow, but generally, it is straightforward to use. Pour the charcoal into it and light it up. The chimney for burning the charcoal is the answer to how to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid?

  • Let sit the meat on the grill

Now mostly the vertical charcoal smokers have multiple grills to set the meat for slow cooking. While sitting the meat on the grill, remember that the lowest grill have a high temperature, place hard-to-cook food at the lowest level, and then gradually set the meet according to its cooking time requirements.

  • Regulate the temperature

To properly cook, the meat temperature between 220 and 250-degree Fahrenheit is ideal. You can use the two vents of a charcoal bullet smoker or regular smoker to maintain the temperature. The lower vent of the smoker lets the air into the smoker. The oxygen accelerates the temperature by burning coal at a hotter temperature. Conversely, the upper vent makes for the heat to get out of the smoker.

If you think that the temperature is too low for the meat to cook, you can open the lower vent and close the upper vent to raise the temperature. And if the temperature gets high, you can lower it by opening the upper vents and closing the lower one. You can check for the temperatures during the course as most of the charcoal smokers have in-built thermometers. Be patient with the smokers, as it will take an attempt or more to use a charcoal barrel smoker.

  • Add the wood chunks

Once the meat goes through the quarter way of smoking and steaming, add the wood chunks you have for the smoke flavor. Just put the wood chunks in the firebox on the coals. You might have soaked the wood chunks, so adding wet pieces will allow cooking the food just the way you like it, slowly.

  • Wait for the food to cook properly

Cooking the food in charcoal smokers is a meticulous and lengthy process. It takes 4-18 hours to cook food, depending on the size of the meat. The chicken might take four hours to get ready to serve, while the turkey will cost you 18 hours. You can use the meat thermometer to determine whether the food is prepared or not. Just be patient while using the barrel smokers.

Complete Recipe for smoking fresh ham using charcoal smokers

Cooking Food using an Offset or Horizontal Charcoal Smoker

The layout of an offset or horizontal smoker is different and somewhat challenging than that of a vertical one. The following are the main parts of an offset smoker.

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  • Main Smoke Chamber

The offset smoker has a large drum-like cooking chamber. It is the place where you can place the briskets and other cuts to cook. You can place a water pan in this chamber for tender and saucy outcomes.

  • Firebox

Unlike the vertical smokers, these smokers have a small firebox at the main cooking chamber side. This firebox sits down a bit to the main chamber. The heat and smoke from the firebox travel to the main compartment for cooking the meat.

  • Grill Grates

the main chamber has wide grill grates to accommodate many cooking items.

  • Vents

The firebox and the main chamber come with the chimneys to maintain the temperature of the smoker.


Step by Step Guide for using a Horizontal Charcoal Smoker

Getting hands-on with the offset smoker is not easy an easy job. You do not want to forget any step to spoil the barbeque party. It requires knowledge and practice to get hands-on charcoal smokers. Below is the guide to help you get started with the offset charcoal smoker.

  • Starting the Fire

Get the regular charcoal for lighting up the smoker. Burn the charcoals in the chimney before placing them in the firebox. If you do not make for a chimney, you can light them up with some fire ignitors like lighter liquid, and once they get ready to burn, put them in the firebox. A point to ponder here is that place the coal away from the cooking chamber as they will keep you from reaching to fire when tending to it.

Place a few wood pieces at the side of the coals in the firebox. Once the wood pieces are dried up place them on the coal.  Now, wait a while to get the smoker temperature perfect for cooking. It is good practice to keep the wood pieces at the side every time you place them on the coal. These heated wood logs tend to catch fire easily while preventing white smoke. It keeps the vents open to get oxygen inside to ignite the healing process while heating the smoker.

  • Maintain the temperature

Once the smoker is heated up properly open the vents positioned at the side of the firebox about one-third, and the chimney cap should be open about half a bit. It is vital to check the temperature and adjust vents accordingly as there is a different factor to affect the temperature like the outside temperature, the wind, and the wood. If they turned white, keep checking the logs with the fresh pile of wood you placed at the side to fry up.

  • Manage the fire

Different factors are working to change the smoker’s temperature, so the best practice is to check the smoker every 45 mins. Look for the temperature change and the smoke coming out as they indicate the need for new wood logs or any other problem. Adding the latest pile of wood into the firebox keeps the firebox door open for a couple of minutes as it will let the oxygen in to fire up quickly. If you want to add moisture and tender to the meat, place the water pan above the fire in the firebox. Furthermore, change the sides of the meat from time to time to cook them properly.

Tips to Get Along with Offset Charcoal Smoker

Following are some tips to get along with an offset charcoal smoker

  • Combination of Charcoal and Wood for Cooking

The best practice to use the offset smoker is with both charcoal and wood. If you use the charcoal alone, it will miss the taste that wood provides, and if you use the wood only, it will end up with bitter and creosote-covered meat. Using burning coals and then adding the woodpiles are the best practices.

  • Pre-heating is a must for a Charcoal Smoker

Getting the smoker to the right temperature is necessary to make for creosote-free meat.

  • Use a Digital Thermometer for Temperature Monitoring

The thermometer on the smoker might not be accurate. So using the digital thermometer at both ends of the smoker is necessary to keep track of the heat.

Final words

Grilling and smoking meat is a fun activity, but it will be otherwise if you do not know how to get along with it. For this purpose, we put together this article to help your question how to use a charcoal smoker? For your convenience, we bring step-by-step methods for using both vertical and horizontal smokers. We say here that, It will take some time to use the smokers properly. Give yourself a try or two to get hands-on with it. I hope this guide of ours helps you. Happy meat smoking to you!

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