Smoker grills can be a little trickier to use compared to your regular grill there are certain factors that although aren’t very big differences, they are prominent, and one of them is regulating a smoker’s temperature. How does one go on about, doing that? We’ve got your back!
What is the difference between grilling and smoking, though?
It is possible to smoke your food in a grill (for example many people use charcoal grills to smoke), but when it comes down to grilling and smoking there are three main differences that you should take note of the levels of heat, the time of cooking, and the flavor of your dish.
When you’re grilling something (for example meat), you tend to do it with the lid put up and over high heat, for a short period of time- say minutes. As for the flavor of your food, it will most likely stay more moist and flavorful than a dish cooked in a smoker, if grilled properly.
When you’re smoking something, however, you need to close the lid over the smoker and use very low heat. The process of smoking can take long periods of time- from hours to weeks; however, the prolonged time cooking the meat only works wonders to gives your food the traditional, well-known smoky flavor of barbeque.
What produces the smoke when smoking?
When smoking, you will be in need of three things: heat, water, coals, and wood.
The indirect heat will work with the water and wood combined together. The coal and wood burning is what produces the smoke and the wood gives your food the smoky flavor you’re looking for; lastly, the water aids in keeping the internal temperature of the smoker stable and constant throughout the cooking session, and keeps a hot and moist environment- and another plus is that it keeps flare- ups at bay.
What is the right heat to use during smoking?
To know how to regulate heat, you should know what the temperature you’re looking to reach is, no?
If you were to compare it to an average grill (which can have temperatures that go as high as 900° F), the internal temperatures that a smoker can reach are relatively low, ranging from 160° F to 500° F and in between.
The reason for the low numbers of internal temperature for a smoker is because the point of smoking is to take it low and slow so that the meat can drink up the smoke to produce the smoky flavor.
You should try to maintain the proper heat to smoke because that way, you can keep moisture trapped in your dish, as well as sear it correctly and prevent it from sticking onto the grates.
The ideal temperatures you should use in each heat for smoking are:
- For high heat, you should look to achieve a temperature of 400° F to 450° F.
- For medium-high heat, you should fire the smoker up to 350° F to 400° F.
- For medium heat, you should use heat at 300° F to 350° F.
- For low heat, you should keep the internal temperature at 250° F to 300° F.
With that being said, the internal temperature that most people find ideal to work with when smoking is a low heat of 225° F to 250° F.
How do I fire up my smoker?
As we mentioned before, you’ll be needing heat, charcoals, wood, and water when smoking. But how and when do they come in handy? We’ll briefly talk about how to fire up the smoker.
- Light up coals in the chimney starter.
- Open the intake and chimney baffles: Most smoker grills have an intake baffle, which is located near the firebox and controls the oxygen intake, and a chimney baffle, which true to its name: is in the chimney and is in charge of controlling the smoke and temperature in the cooking chamber. Open the two of them fully before adding fuel so that oxygen can come in and out freely.
- Add more coals: This time, add lit coals into the firebox and wait for the smoker to reach the temperature you desire.
- Maintain the temperature: once you reach the desired temperature (most people go for 225° F), avoid opening the lid or causing any disturbances.
- Add chunks of wood: while you can use wood as the main source of fuel, it is slightly more work and might be bothersome for some. Instead, many people place one or two chunks of wood in the firebox as an item to give the meat a smoky flavor.
- Add water: water means moisture, and moisture is key. Moisture will help the meat absorb the smoke from the wood easier, and helps maintain a stable internal temperature. There are two ways you can add moisture in the form of water to your smoker: the first way is: you put a grate over the charcoals in the firebox, then put a water pan on top of said grate. The second way to do this is by spritzing water on the meat when it looks dry (careful! too much water spritzed can take the flavor of smoke away).
- Give it some time: as we said, smoking is different than grilling and can take from hours up to days. This is the price to pay if you want to have perfectly smoked steaks for dinner with the family. Patience is a virtue!
- Invest in a thermometer or two: knowing the internal temperature of the smoker is a bit tricky since it is not recommended that you open the lid as you’re cooking the meat since heat can escape, as well as air can come in in a surge and mess with the flames, potentially causing flare-ups. Invest in a thermometer or two to place on either side of the cooking chamber, as close to the food being cooked as possible so that the measurements can be correct.
How do I regulate the temperature of my smoker?
Now we’ve reached the main point of the article: after lighting up my smoker- how can I maintain a constant temperature?
First things first, we’re going to continue from here on as if you are aiming to use a low heat of 225° F.
Place a thermometer on one (or both sides, if you have two thermometers) side of the cooking chamber, and try to get it as close to the area where your steak would be placed, as possible, as this will indicate to you what the internal temperature is. If your smoker has no area to put the thermometer in, you can drill a small hole enough to fit it through.
One of the keys behind controlling temperature is all in the hands of oxygen. With a lot of oxygen, your coals will burn hot and fast, but can also hurt your food in the process. With a limited amount of oxygen, the cooking temperature decreases, and the coals burn slower.
The other key to control temperature is to master the vents; the vents on the top and bottom of your smoker allow you to control the flow of oxygen and increase/ decrease accordingly to your preference and help you stabilize coal temperatures so that they don’t get out of hand.
Now, let’s say that after checking on the thermometer you placed, the temperature shows to be way above 225° F; if you desire to lower the temperature, close down the vents slowly (always leave the vents slightly open so that the fire doesn’t overpower the inside). By closing the vents, you’re reducing the heat, slowing the cooking process, and increasing the cooking time.
However, let’s say you’ve noticed that the thermometer shows that the internal temperature of your smoker is below 225° F, and you want to increase the temperature. You should open the vents wide to allow oxygen to flood in and make the coals burn hotter; this also leads to high- heat grilling and increased grilling temperatures. If you wish to make it burn hotter, you can also carefully add more unlit coals to the firebox., and the already lit ones will burn up the new ones added.
In the case of flare-ups: we recommend smoking your food with a two-zone fire. Smoking with a two-zone fire will only benefit you because you’ll be able to move the food away from the area where the flare-up is happening, onto the side with no lit charcoals. Do not try to put out the flare-ups with water as this leads to ash from the coals flying on to your food. Once you’ve noticed that the flames have calmed down, you can go back to putting your food in their original place over the fire and closing the lid- while leaving the vents partially open for a bit of airflow.