Leaving a smoker unattended can be a tempting option, especially if you have other things to do or you want to do an overnight cook. However, is it actually safe to leave a smoker unattended? In this article, we’ll explore the potential risks and hazards of leaving a smoker unattended and provide tips for staying safe while using your grill.
In general, it is not recommended to leave a smoker unattended because most smokers carry some form of risk. A grease fire or a change in weather can cause huge temperature swings in charcoal smokers, which can ruin your meat or pose a fire risk. Pellet grills can sometimes have an active backburn in the auger, causing an excessive amount of smoke to come out of the hopper. Although many of these problems are rare, they are not uncommon. Leaving a smoker unattended depends on the smoker you are using, the fuel source, the weather, and where your smoker is situated.
- It is generally not recommended to leave a smoker unattended due to potential hazards such as grease fires or temperature swings
- Factors that can affect the safety of leaving a smoker unattended include the type of smoker, fuel source, weather, and location
- Choose a safe location for the smoker, use proper ventilation, and have a fire extinguisher nearby
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the smoker
- Pellet grills are generally safe to leave unattended due to built-in safety features such as temperature sensors and automatic shut-off
- However, pellet grills can potentially explode if the smoke stack becomes blocked or there is a malfunction in the electronic control board
- To prevent pellet grill explosions, keep the grill clean and clear of blockages, regularly inspect for damage or malfunction, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and maintenance
- Back burns in the auger of a pellet smoker can cause excessive smoke and be a fire hazard, which can be caused by blockages in the auger or a malfunction in the control board
- To prevent back burns, keep the auger clear of blockages, regularly inspect and maintain the grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- Charcoal smokers can be a fire hazard if they become too hot; follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep an eye on the temperature to prevent overheating
- Temperature controllers can help to maintain consistent temperatures in a charcoal smoker, but are not a substitute for proper safety practices
- To prevent grease fires in smokers, trim excess fat from meats, use a drip pan, keep an eye on the temperature, clean the smoker regularly, and never leave it unattended
- Choose a safe location for the charcoal smoker and use proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- Some types of charcoal smokers, such as drum smokers and Weber Smokey Mountain smokers, and Kamado ceramic smokers, are generally considered to be safer due to their design and construction
Potential Smoker Hazards
|Do not leave unattended||Most smokers carry some form of risk, such as grease fires or temperature swings. It is generally not recommended to leave a smoker unattended.|
|Consider factors that affect safety||The safety of leaving a smoker unattended depends on the type of smoker, fuel source, weather, and location.|
|Choose a safe location||Make sure to place the smoker in a safe location away from flammable materials and structures.|
|Use proper ventilation||Proper ventilation is important to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and to allow gases to dissipate.|
|Have a fire extinguisher nearby||In case of a fire, it is important to have a fire extinguisher within reach to quickly extinguish the flames.|
|Follow manufacturer’s instructions||Every smoker is different, so it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and safety.|
|Pellet grills are generally safe||Pellet grills are generally safe to leave unattended due to built-in safety features, such as temperature sensors and automatic shut-off.|
|Prevent pellet grill explosions||To prevent pellet grill explosions, keep the grill clean and clear of blockages, regularly inspect for damage or malfunction, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.|
|Prevent back burns in pellet grills||To prevent back burns in pellet grills, keep the auger clear of blockages, regularly inspect and maintain the grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.|
|Prevent overheating in charcoal smokers||Charcoal smokers can be a fire hazard if they become too hot. To prevent this, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep an eye on the temperature.|
|Use temperature controllers for charcoal grills||Temperature controllers can help to maintain consistent temperatures in a charcoal grill, but are not a substitute for proper safety practices.|
|Prevent grease fires in charcoal smokers||To prevent grease fires in charcoal smokers, trim excess fat from meats, use a drip pan, keep an eye on the temperature, clean the smoker regularly, and never leave it unattended.|
|Choose a safe type of charcoal smoker||Some types of charcoal smokers, such as drum smokers and Weber Smokey Mountain smokers, and Kamado ceramic smokers, are generally considered to be safer due to their design and construction.|
Are Pellet Grills Safe?
Pellet grills allow you to set the temperature and cooking time. Once you set the temperature and time, the grill will automatically feed the wood pellets into the fire pot to keep the temperature at the right level. This means that you don’t have to keep checking on the grill or adding more fuel. You can just “set and forget”, and the grill will take care of the rest.
Pellet grills are mostly safe to leave unattended because they have special safety features to prevent accidents. For example, they usually have a sensor that will shut off the grill if the temperature gets too high, or if there is a problem with the fuel or the controls. This means that you can leave the grill alone and it will still be safe.
Pellet grills are also good for cooking overnight because you can set the temperature and time, and the grill will keep the temperature steady while you sleep. This is especially useful if you are cooking something like a big roast or a brisket, which takes a long time to cook. Just be sure to check on the grill every once in a while to make sure everything is okay.
Pellet Grills Can Explode!
Pellet grills have a smoke stack or chimney, which is designed to allow the gases produced by the burning wood pellets to escape safely. If the smoke stack becomes blocked or restricted in some way, the gases may not be able to escape, which can cause a build-up of pressure inside the grill. This can lead to a pellet grill explosion, which can be dangerous and cause damage to the grill and surrounding area.
There are a few potential causes of a pellet grill explosion. One common cause is a blockage in the smoke stack, which can be caused by debris or an accumulation of creosote, a byproduct of burning wood. Another potential cause is a malfunction in the electronic control board, which can cause the pellet grill to overheat and ignite the fuel in the hopper.
To prevent a pellet grill explosion, it is important to keep the smoke stack and other parts of the grill clean and clear of any blockages. It is also a good idea to regularly inspect the grill for any signs of damage or malfunction, and to have it serviced or repaired as needed. Also, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and maintenance of the grill.
Back Burns In The Hopper Are Also Common
Sometimes, a pellet smoker can experience a back burn in the auger. This means that the pellets are not being fed into the fire pot in a consistent manner, and instead are building up and burning in the auger itself. This can cause an excessive amount of smoke to be produced, which can be a fire hazard.
There are a few potential causes of back burns in the auger of a pellet smoker. One common cause is a blockage in the auger, which can be caused by a clump of pellets or other debris. Another potential cause is a malfunction in the electronic control board, which controls the operation of the auger.
If you suspect that your pellet smoker is experiencing a back burn in the auger, it is important to take steps to fix the problem as soon as possible. This may involve cleaning the auger and hopper, checking for and removing any blockages, or replacing any faulty parts. It is also a good idea to stop using the grill and allow it to cool down until the problem can be resolved.
Can You Leave Charcoal Smokers Unattended?
It is generally not recommended to leave a charcoal smoker unattended while it is in use. This is because a number of potential safety issues can arise if the smoker is left unattended, including:
- Grease fires: As mentioned earlier, grease fires can occur when excess grease or cooking oil drips onto the heating element or charcoal. If a fire does start, it can spread quickly and cause serious damage if not promptly extinguished. If you are not around to monitor the smoker, you may not be able to catch a grease fire in time to prevent it from getting out of control.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning: Charcoal smokers produce carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas that can build up if the smoker is not properly ventilated. If you leave the smoker unattended, you may not be able to monitor the ventilation and make sure that the gas is dissipating safely. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.
- Accidental fires: There are many potential sources of accidental fires when using a charcoal smoker, such as flammable materials getting too close to the smoker or an accidental spill of lit coals. If you are not present to monitor the smoker, you may not be able to take immediate action to prevent a fire from spreading.
- Changes in weather: Charcoal smokers can be affected by changes in weather, such as strong winds or heavy rain. These changes can cause the coals or heating element to become unstable, which can increase the risk of a fire. It’s important to monitor the weather conditions and make any necessary adjustments to your smoker to ensure it is safe to use.
- Flying embers: Another potential hazard of using a charcoal smoker is the risk of flying embers. Embers can fly out of the smoker and land on flammable materials, such as dry grass or leaves, potentially starting a fire. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to keep your smoker away from flammable materials and keep a close eye on the coals to make sure they are not getting too hot.
- Overheating: If a charcoal smoker becomes too hot, it can become a fire hazard. To prevent this from happening, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and keep an eye on the temperature of the smoker to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. If you notice that the smoker is overheating, take steps to cool it down or extinguish the coals to prevent a fire from starting.
For a more detailed article, check out Cleaning Your Smoker: How Often Should I Clean My Pit?
Use A Temperature Controller For Your Charcoal Grill
To make your charcoal smoker safe, consider buying a temperature controller. This will turn your charcoal smoker into a set-and-forget. Temperature controllers can be a useful tool for maintaining consistent temperatures when using a charcoal grill. These tools use a fan to regulate the flow of oxygen to the coals, which helps to maintain a stable temperature.
According to barbecue guru Harry Soo, temperature controllers can be especially useful for long cooks, such as when smoking a brisket or pork shoulder. By maintaining a consistent temperature, the food is less likely to be overcooked or undercooked. Temperature controllers can also help to save fuel, as the coals burn more efficiently when the oxygen flow is regulated.
To use a temperature controller, you simply attach it to your grill and set the desired temperature. The controller will then automatically adjust the fan speed to maintain the temperature. It’s important to note that temperature controllers are not a substitute for proper grill maintenance and safety practices, and it’s still important to follow all safety guidelines when using a charcoal grill.
I’ve written a full article on the best barbecue temperature controllers on the market. If your interested, check it out here: What Are Automatic Barbeque Temperature Controllers? The Complete Buyers Guide
Grease Fires In Charcoal Smokers
- A grease fire occurs when cooking oil or grease overheats and catches fire. This type of fire can be very dangerous and can spread quickly, so it’s important to take precautions to prevent them from happening. Grease fires happen when excess grease or cooking oil drips from the food being cooked onto the heating element or charcoal. The heat from the smoker can cause the grease to ignite, resulting in a fire.
- How to prevent grease fires: To prevent grease fires in smokers, it’s important to:
- Trim excess fat from meats before cooking
- Use a drip pan to catch any drips
- Keep a close eye on the temperature of the smoker to make sure it doesn’t get too hot
- Clean the smoker regularly to remove any built-up grease or oil
- Never leave a lit smoker unattended
Charcoal Smoker Safety
- Choose a safe location: Make sure to place your charcoal smoker in a safe location away from flammable materials, such as dry grass or leaves. It’s also important to keep the smoker away from any structures or buildings.
- Use proper ventilation: Charcoal smokers produce carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure to use your charcoal smoker in an area with good ventilation. This will allow the gas to dissipate and keep you safe while using the smoker.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby: In case of a fire, it’s important to have a fire extinguisher on hand. Make sure to keep the fire extinguisher within reach so you can quickly put out any flames if necessary.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions: Every charcoal smoker is different, so it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use. Make sure to read the manual carefully and follow all safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable barbecue experience.
Some Charcoal Smokers Are Safer Than Others
Some types of charcoal smokers are generally considered to be safer than others due to their design and construction. For example, drum smokers and Weber Smokey Mountain smokers are both well-sealed and relatively insulated, which can help to prevent temperature fluctuations and reduce the risk of fires. These smokers are also typically made of heavy-duty materials, such as stainless steel or ceramic, which can withstand high heat and are less prone to wear and tear.
Kamado ceramic smokers, such as the Big Green Egg, are also known for their durability and insulation. These smokers are made of thick ceramic walls that help to retain heat and prevent temperature fluctuations. The ceramic material is also resistant to rust and wear, which can help to extend the lifespan of the smoker.
Before You Leave Your Smoker – Understand Your Pit
Before you consider leaving your smoker unattended, it’s important to have a very good understanding of your pit. You need to have mastered temperature control over that particular smoker and know how the temperatures fluctuate. Once you have done multiple cooks on a smoker, you can be more confident leaving it alone. You will know how much charcoal will last and what temperature.
What’s The Weather Forecast?
Before leaving your smoker alone, you should also have a good knowledge of your local weather. Where I live, there’s always a strong afternoon breeze, so I definitely wouldn’t leave a charcoal smoker unattended any time after lunch unless it was in a well protected area. A strong wind can cause temperature in your smoker to fluctuate because an intake of oxygen can change the temperature fast.
Never leave your smoker in poor weather. Cold days require more fuel so you will need to be home to add more coals to the fire. It is dangerous to leave your cooker unattended if you live in an area with hot, dry conditions. One ember can start a big fire.
Flying Embers are a risk in windy conditions if you leave a charcoal smoker unattended. Embers can set fire to gardens or wooden decks.
Buy A Decent Thermometer For Peace Of Mind
Thermometers are important tools for monitoring the temperature of a smoker, whether it is being attended or not. This is especially useful for overnight cooks. At least your thermometer will wake you up if the temperature of your smoker is fluctuating.
There are several reasons why monitoring the temperature of a smoker is important:
Dual probe thermometers are the best for monitoring the temperature of a smoker. These thermometers have two probes, one of which is placed inside the food being cooked, while the other is placed inside the smoker itself. This allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the food as well as the temperature of the smoker, which can be especially helpful when cooking large cuts of meat or when the smoker is being left unattended.
- Safety: Monitoring the temperature of a smoker can also help to ensure the safety of the smoker itself. If the temperature gets too high, it can increase the risk of a fire or other accident.
- By using a thermometer to monitor the temperature, you can take steps to prevent the smoker from overheating and reduce the risk of an accident.
Understand The Meat That You’re Smoking
If you’re going to leave your smoker unattended, you will want have a good understanding of the meat you are smoking because every cut of meat is different and will require specific techniques. Smoking a brisket is different to smoking ribs, and smoking turkey is something different all together. Some cuts of meat require more time and attention when smoking than others. This is because different cuts of meat have different levels of fat, connective tissue, and muscle, which can affect the way they cook.
So before you walk away from your smoker, it’s important to consider the type of meat you are smoking and the specific cooking requirements it has when deciding how much time and attention it needs in the smoker.
How Long Will You Be Gone?
Listening to experienced pitmasters, many regularly cook overnight but few leave the house with their smoker unattended. It only takes one time for an accident to happen. If the temperature rapidly rises and starts a grease fire, you need to be there to deal with it. Those who sleep with something in the smoker will always have a good thermometer by their bedside to alert them of any significant temperature changes.
If you want to pop down to the store, the risk of anything bad happening is much lower. However, if you are going to be away from your smoker all day, that carries a great risk. You at least want to have somebody home in case of an emergency.
What If My Smoker Is Wi-Fi Controlled?
The merging of technology and barbeque has made monitoring your smoker much easier to leave your smoker unattended.These days there are a lot of the automated “set and forget” smokers that make low and slow cooking seem so simple and you can monitor your pit from remotely. However, when you are cooking with a fire, care always needs to be taken because it only takes one time for something to go wrong and disaster can strike.
There are several Wi-Fi thermometers on the market, and several pellet grills with Wi-Fi controllers. The Wi-Fi allows the thermometer or pellet grill to connect your smoker to a cloud and can be monitored via an app. You could be anywhere in the world and know how your smoked turkey is tracking. This technology has led to some complacency. It’s far more tempting to leave your smoker for the afternoon if you can keep watch on the temperature with an app on your smartphone.
If you are interested in Wi-Fi technology merged with barbecue, you might be interested in an article I’ve written about Wi-Fi thermometers that allow you to monitor your smoker via Cloud technology and an App. You can find the article here: Best Wi-Fi Meat Thermometers (We Review the 5 Top Models). Also Traeger now make Wi-Fi pellet grills, and you can read all about them in this article: Which Traeger Should I Buy? The Complete Guide To Traeger Pellet Grills
Can you Leave Your Smoker Overnight?
No doubt, the most common reason people leave their smoker is at night. An overnight brisket is common practice. Once the brisket has been wrapped, you can bring it inside and finish in the oven. You need a good thermometer to do this, and if something changes, at least you will be alerted. Leaving a charcoal smoker outside all night is a little risky. I would never leave a cheap charcoal smoker unattended, but feel more comfortable leaving a Weber Smokey Mountain, an Ugly Drum or a Kamado. However, even though those high-end smokers are well insulated, they can get hot very fast and need the vents closed off immediately.
More Meat Smoking Safety Tips
Here are some general safety tips to keep in mind when smoking meat to ensure you keep yourself, your family, and your house safe.
- In the event of a fire, you need to remove the fuel source, oxygen or heat.
- If your smoker catches fire, you need to deprive it of oxygen.
- If you are using an electric smoker, in the event of fire, close the doors and unplug the smoker from the power.
- If using a gas/propane smoker, in the event of fire, turn off all knobs, valves, and the main gas tank. Close all the doors and lid so oxygen can’t get in.
- With charcoal smokers, close the vents, doors and lid top to deprive the cooker of oxygen.
- Always have a fire extinguisher available.
- Have a welding blanket available to smother a fire.
- Keep your smoker away from your house or any other flammable objects.
- Be aware of the dangers if your smoker in on a wooden deck. Embers can set fire to your deck.
- Keep your smoker clean. Grease is a huge fire hazard. Be especially careful when cooking meat such a pork that can produce excessive grease. Grease commonly will build up at the bottom of the cooker.
- Keep heat-proof gloves nearby so you can quickly remove meat or other items from your smoker.
- Ensue your drip pan is in good condition and free from holes. If grease drips down onto the coals, it could start a grease fire. Some people recommend double pan your drip trays or an extra deep pan. Avoid using foil drip pans because they can easily fold, bend, or leak.
- Do not overload your smoker with too much meat. Overloading will cause excess grease that can spill over onto the flames.
- If it’s a hot and windy day, embers can travel and start fires. If you live in a hot, dry area, check if there is a total fire ban before firing up your smoker.
- No matter how different companies market their cookers, no meat smoker is purely “set and forget”. Whenever you are handling fire, there is always a risk.
The Dangers of Cheap Smokers
Some smokers on the market are more “set and forget” than others. If you have a cheaper smoker, be mindful of massive temperature swings. Cheap smokers are not well sealed so a change in temperature can see them destabilize quickly. If you have a cheap offset smoker, it will need re-fueling every hour.
Can you leave an Electric Smoker Unattended?
Electric smokers are generally considered to be safer than other types of smokers for a few reasons:
- No open flames: Unlike charcoal or gas smokers, electric smokers do not use an open flame to cook food. This means that there is less risk of a fire starting due to a spark or ember.
- Fewer fire hazards: Electric smokers do not use flammable fuel sources, such as propane or charcoal, which can pose a fire hazard if handled improperly.
- Consistent temperature control: Electric smokers use a heating element to produce heat and smoke, which allows for more precise temperature control. This can help to prevent overheating and reduce the risk of a fire.
- Easy to use: Electric smokers are generally easy to use and do not require as much maintenance as other types of smokers. They also often come with built-in safety features, such as temperature sensors and automatic shut-off.
- No carbon monoxide: Electric smokers do not produce carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that can be produced by burning charcoal. This makes them safer to use in enclosed spaces or areas with poor ventilation.
It’s important to note that all smokers come with some inherent risks, and it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and proper safety guidelines to minimize these risks.
Can You Leave a Propane Smoker?
Gas smokers are one of the safer smokers, but as with all smokers, someone should be available to turn off the knobs, valves, and main gas tank in the event of fire. The doors need to be closed so oxygen can’t get in. The other risk of gas smokers is the flame could go out and your meat won’t be cooked.
Kamado Fire Safety
Ceramic smokers like The Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe are safe and easy to use, but can be dangerous if left unattended because the temperatures can spike fast. Ceramic smokers are designed to cook with the lid closed. If a curious kid from the neighborhood wandered into your backyard and opened the lid, things could change dramatically.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.