How to Use a Charcoal Smoker (7 Step Guide)

Are you looking for tips on how to use your charcoal smoker? 

Well, you’re in the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn:

  • The basics of a charcoal smoker
  • Supplies you’ll need
  • How to Use a Charcoal Smoker (7 Step Guide)
  • And much more!
How To Use A Charcoal Smoker

Table of Contents

What else is more American than barbecue? We love grilling so much that about 1.36 billion US dollars’ worth of grills and barbecues were sold in the United States in 2019.

Something about cooking meat over smoke just gives the food a distinct flavor.

That’s why we like using charcoal smokers to cook our meat in low temperatures and long cooking times to taste that unique, smoked barbeque.

Time and science have made smoking meat an easier process that any amateur cook can follow.

With our easy guide, you’ll be using your charcoal smoker to cook meat that can pass for a culinary masterpiece!

How To Use A Charcoal Smoker Facts

What You Need to Know About Using a Charcoal Smoker?

One of the most important things to remember when using a charcoal smoker is to be patient. 

You’re cooking with indirect heat, which can make some of these smokes last 6, 10, or even 20 hours! That will all depend on what you’re smoking and how big it is. 

When you smoke “low and slow” with a charcoal smoker, the collagen in the muscle fibers breaks down and turns into that unforgettable melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

When you begin, you’ll quickly find out the different types of wood chunks or chips really do matter. All it takes is using a strong wood like mesquite on chicken one time and you’ll never do it again!

Read More >> Top 5 Best Woods For Smoking Chicken (2021 Review)

Supplies You’ll Need for Using a Charcoal Smoker?

1. A Charcoal Smoker
2. Charcoal
3. Wood Chips or Wood Chunks
4. A Flame (lighter or propane torch)
5. Meat
6. Meat Thermometer
7. Water Pan

Of course, you need standard cooking tools like tongs to handle your food and gloves to protect yourself from hot surfaces.

We like using a charcoal chimney starter to start our charcoal, but this is optional. As long as you can get your coals to light up, you’re golden.

Read More >> How To Put Out A Charcoal Grill (3 Quick and Easy Steps)

How to Use a Charcoal Smoker (7 Step Guide)

Now that you’ve got your supply list ready, let’s run through the 7 steps to using your charcoal smoker!

1. Get Your Charcoal Ready
2. Fill Your Water Pan
3. Light Your Charcoal
4. Add Your Meat
5. Add Your Wood
6. Temperature Control
7. Smoke Your Meat

Step 1: Get Your Charcoal Ready

Whether you’re using briquettes or lump charcoal, you’ll want to get them ready. 

You want to get as much charcoal as you can in there without disrupting airflow. Don’t pack it down (I learned this the hard way). 

Read More >> Top 5 Best Lump Charcoal (2021 Review)

Step 2: Fill Your Water Pan

Use cool water and fill a pan of water about halfway.

A water pan helps with controlling the temperature and providing more moisture to the air to keep your meat moist. 

Step 3: Light Your Charcoal

Using a charcoal chimney or all-natural firestarters makes this much easier. 

Avoid using lighter fluid. You don’t want any of that taste on your food. 

If you’re using a chimney, add your hot, lit coals to the rest of the coals now.

Step 4: Add Your Meat

Because we’re smoking with indirect heat, put your meat directly on the grilling grates. 

If you have multiple racks, use the highest one to help keep a consistent temperature (avoid the bottom getting hotter than the top). 

Quick Tip >> Allow at least 30 minutes from when you add seasonings or rubs to your meat to when you put the meat on the grill grates.

Step 5: Add Your Wood

Because your meat can only take in so much smoke, add your wood chips or wood chunks now. 

You do not have to soak your wood before putting it in the smoker.

Some do to help it not burn quickly, but soaking your wood just creates steam until it’s dry enough to create smoke. 

Step 6: Temperature Control

For most meat you’ll smoke low and slow, you’ll want to keep the temperature between 220ºF-275ºF. 

The vents, or dampers, on your charcoal smoker allow you to control the temp. 

If you have bottom vents, those allow air to rush in and make your coals and wood burn hotter, increasing the temperature. 

On the flip side, the top vent allows air to escape easier, which cools the temperature. 

Use your smoker’s built-in thermometer to help gauge where your temperature is and try to keep it in the sweet spot. 

Step 7: Smoke Your Meat

When you’re using a charcoal smoker, you should have your expectations aligned with reality. 

It’s going to take awhile to get great food from a smoker. 

Ribs usually take 6 hours, especially if you follow our 321 method

Briskets can take as long as 20 hours depending on the size. 

I always recommend using a meat thermometer. Not only does it help keep the meat at a safe internal temp, it tells you exactly when your food is done. 

You can use an instant-read thermometer and continually check it when you believe your food is nearly done. 

Another option is to keep a digital meat thermometer (or meat probe) in your meat during the entire smoke to monitor progress throughout the smoking process. 

A meat probe also helps avoid lifting the lid and letting all of the heat escape your charcoal grill. 

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Shawn Hill

Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I run this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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