Why Won’t My Charcoal Smoker Keep Smoking?

Are you frustrated with your charcoal smoker not producing enough smoke to cook delicious meals? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! There are several reasons why your charcoal smoker may not keep smoking, and in this article, we will cover all of them.

From the type of charcoal and wood chips you use to the temperature control and air vents, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to keep your smoker producing a steady flow of smoke.

So, if you want to enjoy perfectly smoked beef brisket or any other dish, read on carefully to uncover the secrets to consistently producing delicious smoke.

Why Won't My Charcoal Smoker Keep Smoking

Why Won’t My Charcoal Smoker Keep Smoking

There are many reasons why your charcoal smoker won’t keep smoking and how to fix it.

1. Not Enough Charcoal

If you’re having trouble keeping your charcoal smoker smoking, one of the main culprits could be that you’re not using enough charcoal. When there isn’t enough charcoal in the smoker bowl or grate, it can be difficult to maintain steady cooking temperatures and produce adequate amounts of smoke.

To address this issue, it’s important to determine the appropriate amount of charcoal needed for the desired cooking time and temperature. A good rule of thumb is to use about 30 briquettes per hour for low and slow cooking. If you’re aiming for a longer cook time, you’ll need to add more charcoal and adjust the airflow as needed.

When lighting the charcoal in your smoker, it’s essential to use a chimney starter rather than lighter fluid. Not only can lighter fluid affect the flavor of your food, but it can also make it harder to control the temperature inside the smoker.

Properly arranging the charcoal is also key to ensuring even burning. When loading the charcoal, create a pyramid structure that is higher in the center to promote airflow throughout the cooking chamber. This will help the charcoal burn more evenly and produce adequate amounts of smoke for your meats.

2. Inadequate Air Ventilation

Inadequate air ventilation can cause issues with your charcoal smoker, such as difficulty maintaining a steady temperature and lack of smoke production. To address this issue, it’s essential to understand how the air ventilation system works in your smoker.

The airflow system in your charcoal smoker relies on the air vents to regulate the amount of oxygen that flows into the cooking chamber. If the air vents are blocked or clogged with debris, it can impede the much-needed flow of oxygen, resulting in inadequate air ventilation.

To ensure proper air ventilation, check the airflow system regularly and make sure that the air vents are not blocked or clogged. If you notice any blockages or debris, clean them out before using the smoker.

Another factor that can affect your smoker’s airflow is how you place the charcoal inside the smoker. Make sure that you have the right amount of charcoal and that it is stacked in a way that allows enough air to flow through it. Proper charcoal placement will help the charcoal burn more evenly and produce adequate amounts of smoke for your meats.

When lighting the charcoal, try to set up the air vents correctly from the beginning. Start by opening both air vents gradually, allowing oxygen to reach the ignited charcoal. Managing the intake damper is also essential in controlling the oxygen flow.

Once the temperature has reached your target temperature, try closing the air vents slightly to avoid overshooting. This way, you can maintain a steady temperature throughout the cooking process while ensuring adequate air ventilation for the charcoal to burn correctly.

3. Wrong Combination of Wood and Charcoal

The combination of wood and charcoal is essential in achieving the desired smoke flavor when using a charcoal smoker. It’s important to note that not all types of wood are the same, and they each produce a distinct smoke flavor. Choosing the right type of wood is therefore crucial in achieving a delicious finished product.

Some of the most popular types of wood chips for use in a charcoal smoker include mesquite, hickory, and applewood. Each of these woods has its own unique flavor, and it’s important to consider how it will complement the meat you plan to cook.

However, the wrong combination of wood and charcoal can have negative effects on the smoking process and flavor of the meat. For instance, pairing mesquite wood chips with poultry can result in an overpowering smoky flavor that is not very pleasant. On the other hand, using hickory wood chips with fish can result in a bitter taste that can ruin the dish.

It’s also important to avoid using damp or wet wood when smoking meat. Damp wood can produce smoke that is unpleasant and can ruin the taste of the meat. It’s important to store wood chips in an airtight container to avoid moisture from affecting them.

4. Unstable Temperatures During Start-up

One of the most common issues when starting up a charcoal smoker is unstable temperatures. It is crucial to address this issue as it can adversely affect the final outcome of your barbecue. Without stable temperatures, the cooking process can become unpredictable and result in an overcooked or undercooked meal. Therefore, taking necessary steps to maintain a steady temperature during the start-up process is essential.

Firstly, it’s important to consider the ambient temperature before starting the smoker. The amount of charcoal you use should be adjusted accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to use around 30 charcoal briquettes for every 25 degrees Fahrenheit of the ambient temperature. This step will help to ensure that the heat produced by the charcoal is adequate for the cooking process.

Next, you should use a chimney starter to preheat the charcoal before adding it to the smoker. This ensures that the charcoal lights evenly and produces a more consistent fire. Heat up the charcoal until it is white hot before dumping it into the charcoal bowl of the smoker.

Furthermore, it’s important to position the charcoal grate correctly to ensure that the coals are evenly distributed. Additionally, place the charcoal in the center of the smoker to provide indirect heat. This will help to spread the heat more evenly across the cooking chamber and prevent hot spots.

Lastly, when you open the air vents, make sure not to leave them completely open. While it’s important to have adequate ventilation, leaving them entirely open can cause the temperature to spike. Adjust the air vents accordingly to maintain a consistent temperature.

5. Improperly Placed Charcoal Grate

If your charcoal smoker is not smoking properly, one common cause could be an improperly placed charcoal grate. The charcoal grate is an essential component of your smoker because it serves as a support for the charcoal, allowing for adequate airflow around it. This helps the charcoal burn cleanly and steadily, ensuring a consistent and flavorful smoking experience.

If the charcoal grate is not placed correctly, it can lead to problems with smoke production and temperature control during the smoking process. For example, if the charcoal is placed directly on the bottom of the cooking chamber, it may not burn evenly or produce enough smoke to properly flavor your meat.

To avoid these issues, it’s important to place the charcoal grate in the correct location within the cooking chamber. The first step is to make sure you have the right size and type of grate for your smoker. Once you have the correct grate, place it in the bottom of the cooking chamber, ensuring that it is level to provide uniform airflow around the charcoal.

If you’re using a water pan, it’s important to make sure that the grate is not touching it. Placing the grate directly above the water pan can cause the charcoal to burn too quickly or produce excessive smoke, leading to a poor smoking experience. Instead, try to position the grate slightly above the water pan to allow for proper airflow between the two components.

Finally, once you have the charcoal grate in place, it’s time to prepare your charcoal. Add the desired amount of charcoal on top of the grate, making sure that it is spread out evenly. Once the charcoal is in place and ready to be lit, you should be able to produce a steady, consistent flow of smoke that will help your meat achieve the perfect flavor profile.

6. Too High or Low Internal Temperature

When smoking meats and barbecue, one of the most crucial factors to consider is the internal temperature. If the temperature is too high or too low, it can significantly affect the tenderness and juiciness of the meat, ruining the entire smoking process.

To maintain a suitable internal temperature for optimal smoke generation, it’s important to use a dedicated thermometer like the iGrill to ensure that the temperature is accurate and consistent. A dedicated thermometer is especially important because it provides real-time temperature readings that you can adjust as necessary.

Aside from using a dedicated thermometer, adjusting the airflow of the cooker is another way to regulate the temperature. This can be achieved by opening or closing the air vents or intake dampers to increase or decrease the amount of oxygen that is reaching the charcoal.

It’s also crucial to start with the cooking chamber’s temperature and ensure that the smoker remains within the target temperature range throughout the cooking process. The target temperature range may vary depending on the type of meat being smoked, but generally, a temperature range between 225-275°F is ideal to achieve a slow and even cooking process.

To prevent temperature spikes and retain a moist environment to prevent the meat from drying out, it’s recommended to place an aluminum pan filled with water in the cooking chamber. This will help regulate the temperature and produce a moist environment inside the smoker that aids in the smoking process.

7. Not Enough Air Intakes for Hot Coals to Maintain Temperature

One common issue that charcoal smokers can experience is not having enough air intakes for hot coals to maintain a steady temperature. Without sufficient airflow, hot coals can cool down, resulting in an inconsistent cooking process that can compromise the meat’s texture and flavor. Thankfully, there are several strategies that you can employ to address this challenge and ensure that your smoker stays at a consistent temperature.

The first step in addressing this issue is to identify the location and size of the air intakes on your smoker. Some models may only have one or two air intakes, which can restrict airflow and cause temperature fluctuations. Ideally, your smoker should have multiple air intakes positioned to allow for even airflow across the charcoal. Once you have located the air intakes, make sure they are open and free of debris that could block airflow.

If your smoker still isn’t getting enough airflow, you may want to consider adding an additional air intake to increase the amount of oxygen that is reaching the charcoal. This can be done by drilling a new hole or enlarging an existing one. Just be sure to place the new intake in a location that will maximize airflow across the coals.

Once you have addressed the airflow issue, it’s important to monitor the internal temperature of the smoker. This can be done by using a dedicated thermometer to ensure that the temperature stays within the target range. Monitoring the temperature will also help you avoid overheating or underheating, which can impact the final product. Remember to adjust the air intake as necessary to maintain a steady temperature throughout the cooking process.

8. Intake Damper Settings

When it comes to smoking meat in a charcoal smoker, maintaining a steady temperature is crucial for achieving that perfectly cooked, juicy, and flavorful piece of meat. The intake damper in your smoker plays a major role in regulating airflow within the smoker and controlling the temperature. In this article, we will guide you on how to adjust intake damper settings to maintain and control the temperature of your charcoal smoker.

Before lighting the charcoal in your smoker, ensure all dampers are fully open to provide maximum oxygen to your coals. This is especially important when you’re just starting. Once you have added lit charcoal to one side of the grill, wait for 5 minutes and then take a temperature reading.

If the temperature is above your target temperature, you can partially close the intake damper to reduce the amount of oxygen in the smoker. Lesser oxygen will lead to a decrease in heat and can help stabilize the temperature. On the other hand, if you find that the temperature is below your target, you will need to open the intake damper a little wider to increase oxygen and get the temperature up.

It’s important to remember that the intake damper needs to be adjusted gradually. Make small adjustments and wait for 5 minutes to let the smoker stabilize after each adjustment. This process of monitoring and adjusting your intake damper settings may need to be repeated several times throughout the cooking process to maintain a consistent temperature.

Regulating the airflow in your charcoal smoker is essential for controlling the temperature. The intake damper, in particular, plays a critical role in controlling oxygen flow and ultimately, the temperature within the smoker. By adjusting the intake damper periodically to control the amount of oxygen in the smoker, you can stabilize the temperature and achieve that perfectly cooked meat.

9. Ambient Temperature Affects Heat Transferring Efficiency

Ambient temperature plays a crucial role in determining the heat transferring efficiency of your charcoal smoker. Different weather conditions, including temperature and wind exposure, can significantly impact how well your smoker maintains a steady temperature.

For instance, during hot and calm weather conditions, your smoker may run hotter than usual, making it challenging to maintain steady temperatures. On the other hand, cold and windy days can rob the smoker of heat and significantly affect its performance.

These temperature fluctuations can have a significant impact on the smoking process, leading to unevenly cooked food. It is therefore important to take into account the weather conditions when determining how much charcoal to use, how and when to adjust the bottom vents, and where to locate the cooker.

To address this issue, it is recommended to move the cooker to a shady or sheltered location if possible. Using a windbreak can also help to regulate the temperature by reducing the impact of windy conditions. Additionally, regulating the heat with a water pan can help maintain a steady temperature, ensuring that your food is cooked evenly.

10. Lump Charcoal vs. Dry Charcoal vs. Wet Wood Chips

Charcoal smokers are a classic way to achieve mouth-watering flavor when cooking meats. However, keeping a steady smoke can be challenging, leaving you with a subpar meal. One of the most common reasons for this issue is the type of fuel you’re using – namely, lump charcoal, dry charcoal, and wet wood chips. Understanding how each one performs can help you keep your charcoal smoker smoking.

Lump charcoal is made from pure hardwood and has an uneven shape and no additives. It creates an intense, smoky flavor appreciated by any grill master. It’s ideal for searing steaks or smoking large cuts of meat like beef brisket. Lump charcoal is quick to light and reaches its maximum temperature in minutes, making it easy to control the grill’s heat. However, it also burns out fast, requiring frequent refills, which can be troublesome during long cook sessions.

Dry charcoal, on the other hand, is easy to find and burns efficiently. It is made from sawdust and is compressed into briquettes. It is an affordable and readily available fuel source that can burn evenly for several hours, maintaining a constant temperature within the cooking chamber. Dry charcoal can create milder smoke, which some may consider less desirable for authentic barbecue flavor. It can also leave a layer of ash on your food, detracting from its appeal.

Wet wood chips are a classic and popular choice for flavoring your meat. Woods such as mesquite, hickory, and applewood are often used to give the food an earthy, smoky taste. However, using wet wood chips can be challenging. They need to be soaked in water before use to avoid catching fire and becoming useless. Wet wood generates white smoke, which can overpower the meat, creating an unpleasant experience. Additionally, the moisture in wet wood can cause temperature fluctuations, and it can be a hindrance to maintaining steady temperatures.


In conclusion, maintaining a steady temperature in a charcoal smoker is crucial for achieving great tasting meat. Temperature fluctuations and lack of smoke can ruin even the best cuts of meat. To ensure your charcoal smoker keeps smoking, it’s important to use dry charcoal and wood chips and to avoid using wet wood that can generate white smoke, overpowering the meat and hindering maintaining constant temperatures.

Additionally, using a dedicated thermometer can help track the cooking temperature and avoid undercooking or overcooking the meat. By following these tips, you can enjoy perfectly smoked meat every time you use your charcoal smoker.