How to use a BBQ Smoker

Apr 10, 2020

When people first see my smoker in the backyard, the most common question is, how do I use a BBQ smoker?

A BBQ smoker uses charcoal or wood on low heat to produce smoke that tenderizes and adds enormous rich flavor to meat, typically, but it’s not all. Have you ever tried smoked mac and cheese? It goes perfectly with about any BBQ, and the kids love it. Follow our guide to learn how to use a BBQ smoker.

Get a Smoker and Fuel

First, you will need to get a smoker if you do not already have one. If you already have one and have seasoned your smoker, then you can skip ahead. If you do not currently have a smoker, these are our suggestions on BBQ smokers for beginners. Wood and charcoal, pellet, or electric are your three basic options.

Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker

Electric Smoker

Royal Gourmet CC1830F Charcoal Grill with Offset Smoker, Black

 Charcoal Smoker

Z Grills ZPG-700E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker


Wood Pellet Smoker

Next, you will need to assemble your smoker if it didn’t come pre-assembled from the store. Follow the instructions that are provided and pay close attention to the firebox and air vents. It doesn’t hurt to get some high-temperature sealant for any joints to prevent smoke from leaking out. Once assembled, you want to place it in an open-air where it won’t be a fire or health risk.

Once that is complete, you will need to buy some wood and charcoal or pellets to use as fuel for your smoker.

Season the Smoker

Now, before you can start cooking, you need to season your smoker. You only have to do this the first time or if you deep clean the inside. Seasoning your smoker is as simple as removing your grates from the inside of your smoker. You will want to wash these off with soap and water and then let them dry before placing them back into the smoker. After that is done, coat the inside of your smoker with cooking spray. You don’t have to worry about too much, the excess will drop off and go into the drip pan.

Use the charcoal or pellets to start your BBQ smoker. The charcoal goes in the firebox, which is the smaller box that is to the side if you’re using an offset smoker or on the lowest grate if you’re using a vertical or barrel smoker. For electric smokers, plug it in and turn it on. You don’t need wood pieces in there yet for flavoring but doesn’t hurt either way.

If you want to learn more about pellet smokers, view our post on How Do Pellet Smokers Work.

You want to get the temperature up to 400 °F or higher for at least two hours. Having it go four hours would be best. This will protect your smoker from rust and remove any contaminants on the inside. Once this is done, your smoker will have a subtle shine on the inside and is ready to use.

If you want to learn how to use an Electric Smoker, view our post on How to Use an Electric Smoker.

Get the Food Ready

Prepare your meat, vegetables, or other dishes that you are going to smoke before you are ready to cook it.

Depending on what you are cooking, you probably will want to trim the meat, especially if you are cooking ribs or brisket.

It’s best to use some olive oil or mustard or some other binder before you lather a heavy portion of dry rub to your meats. The longer you can let the dry rub sit and soak into the meat, the better. Storing it in the refrigerator overnight will really allow the seasoning to absorb.

Depending on the type of smoker you have, there are different positions to place a water pan. Typically it is positioned on a grate close to the fire opening that is directly under the meat that you are smoking. This will help keep some moisture back in the smoker and protect the meat from the flames in case any flareups while managing the fire. You can put some wood chips and herbs into the water pan as well that will infuse the meat as you cook it.

Fire up the Smoker

Now you’re ready to start cooking. Choose your type of wood or pellets and fire up your smoker the same way you did to cure it, but you want to be in the 225 °F to 250 °F range.

Once you get to the desired temperature, place your thoroughly marinated meat on the smoker above the water pan. A rough estimate is 1-1.5 hours per pound, but I always go by temperature and not time. It is best to get a good thermometer to really know when the meat is cooked.

After the smoker is to temp and the meat is on, sit back and relax a little. Take a second to enjoy the moment. This is one of the benefits of cooking BBQ. Make sure that the fire is still going and place a new piece of wood on the firebox.

Every couple of hours, look at the meat and apply some more seasoning and rotate if needed. People take this opportunity to use a mop or sprayer to add more moisture and flavor. Remember to do this sparingly because “if you’re looking, you ain’t cooking.”

Once your meat is ready, remove it from the smoker and put it to the side to rest, then you are ready to eat!

If you want to see a full list of Smokers and their specs, view our post on how much does a BBQ Smoker weigh.

Smoking Tips

If you are having trouble getting the right temperature, then you will need to adjust your dampers or add more fuel. The dampers regulate airflow at the top and bottom of the smoker.

Opening the lower damper will allow more air to the fire and increase the heat. Closing the lower damper will limit the airflow to the fire and cause the temperature to lower.

Opening the upper damper will release more air and lower the temperature, and closing the upper damper will retain more air and increase the heat. Closing the upper damper all the way will prevent the smoke from escaping and could cause your meat to have a stale.

If you notice your fire dying out as soon as you close the firebox, then you need to get more airflow. Having a small fan at a distance blow air into the lower damper will help with this problem.

You may need to clean out the ashes, depending on how long you are cooking for. Only use a metal bucket because the coals are still hot and will melt or catch fire. This will allow more airflow to get under the fire and keep it going instead of getting smothered on ash.

Cleaning and Maintenance 

To clean your smoker, brush down the grates with a nylon bristle brush while it is still warm and remove any built-up grease at the bottom of the smoke chamber. You may need to use a putty knife if bits of food have built up. Wipe down any spilled sauces or marinades with a warm damp cloth. If you start to notice any rust spots, buff it out with steel wool then re-season your smoker.

For a charcoal smoker, once it is completely cooled down, clean out the ash from the firebox.

For more information on how to clean your BBQ smoker, view our post on How to clean a BBQ Smoker.

We hope you found this info helpful, and please follow us to stay up to date on all of our latest posts., Inc.

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

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