Ever wondered how pit masters achieve and maintain the perfect temperatures on the pit? The concept of bringing your smoker up to the temperature for what you are going to be cooking is rather simple, but if you’re just starting out smoking meat, you probably ended up here to figure out how to properly use your dampers on your smoker.
Some models of smokers, specifically pellet smokers and electric smokers, you can adjust the temperature setting to where you want it and it will maintain that temperature. However, when cooking with sticks, lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes this is where the challenge of temperature comes into play.
So, we all know the science behind fire – It requires oxygen as fuel to create heat. With that being said, proper airflow from the intake vent, through the firebox, into the smoke chamber, and out the exhaust vent is critical to the cook and maintaining your temperatures. Unobstructed airflow is very important from start to finish from the intake to the exhaust.
The best way, hands down, to figure out how your specific smoker adjusts temperature is by starting a fire in the firebox and playing with your dampers on your vents. Don’t even cook anything – just adjust your intake and exhaust vents along with the amount of your fuel (charcoal, sticks, etc.) you’re using and check your temperatures when you adjust. Make a note of what the temperature holds at with the vents ¼ open, ½ open, ¾ open and at different amounts of fuel.
What do you do if your temperature isn’t high enough? If it’s too low, you need to increase airflow. Open your intake vent another ¼ turn to allow more oxygen into the fire box. Adjust open even more if need be. (Note: If your airflow from the intake to the exhaust is good, it is possible you might have too much meat on the smoker OR something is obstructing the flow of air from the fire box into the smoke chamber and out the exhaust.)
What do you do if your temperature is too high? Crack open your exhaust vent another ¼ to ½ turn to allow some of the heat to escape the smoker box. You may also close your intake vent a little more to reduce the oxygen flow into your fuel source.
The ultimate goal after making the necessary adjustments is to produce a light, clean blue or clear colored smoke. This type of smoke will achieve the best flavoring of the meat during the smoke and will keep your smoker box cleaner. If you end up with a thick heavy white smoke there are a couple possibilities – Your fuel source isn’t burning properly or the fuel source is wet. If you burn wet wood or wet charcoal in the fire box, you lose your heat, flavor, and cleanliness of the smoker box.