When smoking meat, maintaining a consistent temperature is crucial for achieving the best results. When your smoker loses heat, it can ruin the cook and be frustrating, especially if you’ve put in the effort to get it up to temperature in the first place. To help alleviate this problem, it’s essential to understand the reasons why your smoker might be losing heat. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the most common reasons that smokers lose heat, along with possible solutions to help you get back on track.
There are several reasons why a smoker may lose heat, including not building a large enough fire in the beginning, opening the lid or door too often, living in a cold climate, insufficient airflow due to closed vents, an inaccurate in-built thermometer, adding a large chunk of cold meat to the smoker, using a water pan, using a cheap smoker with thin metal or leaks, soaking the wood, using old or damp charcoal, or a broken heating element in an electric smoker. To address these issues, it’s important to build a hot and large enough fire in the beginning, minimize the number of times you open the lid or door, use a windbreak or set up the smoker in a protected area in cold weather, ensure proper airflow, use an external digital thermometer, bring the meat to room temperature before adding it to the smoker, remove the water pan or use hot water, invest in a higher-quality smoker, avoid soaking the wood, use fresh, dry charcoal, and replace or repair a broken heating element as needed.
Reasons Your Smoker is Losing Heat
|You didn’t build a big enough fire in the beginning.
|Make sure to build a hot and large enough fire in the beginning to maintain the desired temperature for the duration of the cook.
|You’re opening the lid/door too much and letting heat out.
|Try to minimize the number of times you open the lid or door of the smoker to check on the food or add more fuel. Every time you open the lid or door, heat is lost, which can cause the temperature to drop.
|You live in a cold climate.
|In cold weather, it can be more challenging to maintain the temperature of the smoker. One solution is to use a windbreak or set up the smoker in a protected area to help reduce the impact of the cold on the temperature.
|The vents aren’t open enough, so there’s no airflow.
|Proper airflow is essential for maintaining the temperature of the smoker. Make sure that the vents are open enough to allow sufficient airflow, but not so much that the fire goes out.
|The in-built factory thermometer is inaccurate.
|If you suspect that the in-built thermometer is not accurate, you can use an external digital thermometer to more accurately gauge the temperature of the smoker.
|A big chunk of cold meat will lower temperature.
|When adding a large piece of cold meat to the smoker, the temperature will drop as the meat comes up to temperature. To minimize this effect, try to bring the meat to room temperature before adding it to the smoker.
|A water pan will lower temperature.
|A water pan in the smoker can help to stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking environment, but it can also cause the temperature to drop slightly. If the temperature is dropping too much, you can try removing the water pan or using hot water instead of cold water.
|You’re using a cheap smoker that leaks and has thin metal.
|Cheap smokers may not be as well insulated or built with thick metal, which can make it more challenging to maintain the temperature. Investing in a higher-quality smoker may help to improve temperature control.
|You soaked the wood, which is pointless and drops the temperature.
|Soaking wood before using it in a smoker can actually lower the temperature and make it more challenging to maintain the desired temperature. It’s generally not recommended to soak wood for smoking.
|Your charcoal is old and damp.
|Damp or old charcoal can be more challenging to light and may not burn as hot, leading to a drop in temperature. Make sure to use fresh, dry charcoal for the best results.
|The heating element is broken on your electric smoker.
|If you are using an electric smoker and the temperature is dropping, it’s possible that the heating element may be broken. In this case, you will need to replace the heating element or have it repaired.
1. Build a Bigger Fire
If you don’t build a big enough fire to begin with, it won’t last the distance, and the temperature will drop. If you don’t have enough coals in the basket, then the only way to bring the temperature up is to add more charcoal. It doesn’t hurt to overshoot your target, because you can always bring the temperature down.
If you feel the temperature is diving, start another charcoal chimney and then dump it in the coal basket once it’s fully lit. Give it five or 10 minutes, then your smoker should be up to temperature again.
A charcoal chimney is not only great for lighting coals, but it also works as a good measuring cup. Note how much charcoal you’re using, so you have a reference for future cooks. Once you know your smoker, you can judge how many coals it will take to reach your target temperature.
2. Don’t Open the Lid Too Much
Constantly opening the lid of a smoker is one of the worse things you can do to lose heat, especially in colder climates. Opening the lid can also have the opposite effect and send the temperatures soaring. Some smokers will take a while to heat, so if the lid is open for too long, you will lose all that precious heat. This is especially true for vertical smokers and kettle grills.
Opening the lid or door of a smoker too often can cause the temperature to drop because it allows heat to escape from the smoker. Every time you open the lid or door, heat is lost, which can make it more challenging to maintain a consistent temperature. Additionally, the sudden influx of cold air can cause the temperature to drop significantly, making it even harder to maintain the desired temperature.
To minimize the impact of opening the lid or door on the temperature of the smoker, it’s important to minimize the number of times you open it. This means checking on the food or adding more fuel only when necessary and trying to avoid opening the lid or door unnecessarily.
It’s also a good idea to be as efficient as possible when opening the lid or door. For example, if you need to add more fuel, try to do it quickly to minimize the amount of time the lid or door is open. By following these tips, you should be able to maintain a more consistent temperature and achieve better results in your cooking.
You should only open the lid to baste or wrap the meat, then put the lid back on as fast as you can. If you’re checking meat with a thermometer, make sure you’re using a fast instant-read thermometer.
3. You live in a Cold Climate
If you live in a colder climate, then it will be difficult to maintain heat in your smoker. Ceramic smokers like The Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe are the best smokers for colder climates, because they have an amazing ability to keep all the heat inside.
Another thing you can do if you live in a cold climate is wrap your smoker in a welding blanket (or a thermal blanket). This will help retain heat.
Do your best to keep ice off your smoker, because it will freeze the metal, and it’s going to take a long time to raise the temperature. If you live in a cold part of the country, buy a good cover for your smoker, this will save you some trouble when you go to cook. Expect to go through more charcoal in the cold months, because it’s going to take twice as long to bring the smoker up to temperature.
If you live in a cold climate and want to use a smoker, there are several things you can do to help maintain a consistent temperature. Some of these include:
- Invest in a well-insulated smoker: A smoker with good insulation will help to keep the heat inside, making it easier to maintain the desired temperature, even in cold weather.
- Use more fuel: In cold weather, it may be necessary to use more fuel to maintain the desired temperature. This could include adding more charcoal or wood to the fire, or increasing the heat on an electric or gas smoker.
- Make an insulation blanket: An insulation blanket can help to keep the heat inside the smoker, making it easier to maintain the desired temperature. You can make an insulation blanket by wrapping the smoker in a layer of reflective material, such as foil or a reflective blanket.
- Set up the smoker in a protected area: Try to set up the smoker in a protected area, such as a garage or shed, to help reduce the impact of the cold on the temperature.
- Use a windbreak: A windbreak can help to block the wind and reduce the cooling effect of the cold air on the smoker. You can use a windbreak made of materials such as blankets or tarps, or you can use a natural windbreak, such as a wall or fence.
By following these tips, you should be able to use your smoker successfully in a cold climate and achieve delicious results.
4. The Vents Aren’t Open Enough
Another reason your smoking might not be getting hot enough is because there isn’t enough airflow. Check that you haven’t closed off the vents too much. When lighting a smoker, open all the vents and really get the fire going. There’s no meat in the smoker, so it won’t do any harm. Once you’ve reached the target temperature, slowly wind back the vents until it’s stabilized. Vent control is one of the most important aspects of meat smoking, and the primary way to understand your smoker.
Proper airflow is essential for maintaining the temperature of a smoker. If the vents are not open enough, there will not be sufficient airflow to keep the fire burning hot and maintain the desired temperature. On the other hand, if the vents are open too much, the fire may go out, and the temperature will drop.
To increase the temperature in a smoker, it’s important to find the right balance of vent opening to allow sufficient airflow while still maintaining a hot fire. This may require some experimentation and adjustments to find the optimal vent setting for your specific smoker and cooking conditions.
In general, it’s a good idea to keep the vents fully open when starting the fire and getting the smoker up to temperature. Once the desired temperature has been reached, you can adjust the vents as needed to maintain the temperature. If the temperature starts to drop, you can try opening the vents slightly to increase airflow and raise the temperature. Conversely, if the temperature is too high, you can try closing the vents slightly to reduce airflow and lower the temperature. It’s important to monitor the temperature closely and make adjustments as needed to maintain a consistent temperature.
5. Is Your Thermometer Accurate?
Another reason the smoker may not be hot enough is the thermometer is inaccurate. Unfortunately, you can’t put your trust in the factory thermometer.In-built factory thermometers on are notoriously inaccurate.
Buy a decent thermometer from a trusted company like ThermoWorks or ThermoPro. They guarantee the thermometer will be accurate, or they’ll replace it.
Make sure you get a wireless thermometer with at least two probes, so you can monitor the temperature of the meat and the cooking chamber. I use the TP20, which is the number one selling thermometer on Amazon, and it only cost me around $50.
6. The Meat Drops the Temperature
Keep in mind that when you add a big, cold chunk of meat to the smoker, it’s going to drop the temperature. Cold meat will soak up a lot of heat. To avoid this, overshoot the target temperature before you add the meat. Then slowly bring the temperature back down. This will allow the temperature to drop after you add the meat.
Adding a large amount of meat to a smoker can cause the temperature to drop for a few reasons. First, the cold temperature of the meat will cause the temperature of the smoker to drop as the meat comes up to temperature. This is because the cold meat will absorb heat from the smoker, causing the temperature to decrease. The larger the amount of meat and the lower the initial temperature of the meat, the more the temperature of the smoker will drop.
Also, the process of cooking meat can also cause the temperature of the smoker to drop. As the meat cooks, it will release moisture, which can lower the temperature of the smoker. This is because the moisture in the air can absorb heat, causing the temperature to decrease. The more moisture that is released into the smoker, the more the temperature may drop.
To minimize the impact of adding meat on the temperature of the smoker, it’s a good idea to bring the meat to room temperature before adding it to the smoker. This will help to reduce the initial temperature difference between the meat and the smoker and minimize the drop in temperature.
Another thing to remember, it’s important to monitor the temperature of the smoker and make adjustments as needed to maintain a consistent temperature.
7. Water Pans Lower the Temperature
If your smoker is finding it hard to reach the target temperature, then consider losing the water pan. Water pans are good for long cooks like brisket because they add moisture to the atmosphere and will keep the temperature under control. But if your smoker is struggling to come up to temperature, a water pan is only going to make it worse. If you add water, don’t put cold water in the pan, use hot water.
Water pans are a common accessory in smokers, and they are used to add moisture to the cooking environment and help stabilize the temperature of the smoker. However, water pans can also cause the temperature of the smoker to drop slightly. This is because the water in the pan absorbs heat, which can lower the temperature of the smoker. The more water that is in the pan and the hotter the water is, the more the temperature of the smoker may drop.
If you are trying to maintain a high temperature in your smoker and don’t want the temperature to drop, it may be best to avoid using a water pan. Alternatively, you can try using a smaller water pan with less water or using hot water instead of cold water to minimize the impact on the temperature.
It’s important to note that the effect of a water pan on the temperature of the smoker will depend on the specific smoker and the other factors that are influencing the temperature, such as the size of the fire, the type of fuel being used, and the ambient temperature.
8. Cheap Smokers Have Poor Seals
Cheap smokers are difficult to maintain temperature. They have thin metal and are full of leaks. We refer to these smokers as Brinkman’s, or ECB’s (El’Cheapo Brinkman’s). Search YouTube for “Brinkman Mods” and you’ll find dozens of videos on how to get these smokers working better. The modifications will show you how to insulate the smoker and seal any leaks.
Brinkman and similar smokers are made of thin metal, so they’re terrible at retaining heat. These cheap smokers need to have the leaks sealed, otherwise all the heat will escape. Another common modification is to drill holes in the charcoal pan. Most smokers have a charcoal basket with good airflow, but El’Cheapo’s usually just have a metal bowl as a charcoal basket. These metal bowls have poor airflow, and fire needs good airflow, so drill some holes and put the smoker up on legs.
9. Don’t Soak the Wood
Another possibility is you soaked the wood. You should never soak wood, it’s a waste of time. If wood is your fuel source, then damp wood will do nothing to help you maintain a good temperature.
Soaking wood before using it in a smoker can actually cause the smoker to not produce heat or smoke when smoking meat. This is because the water in the wood will need to evaporate before the wood will begin to burn, which can take a long time. This can cause the temperature of the smoker to drop significantly, making it more challenging to maintain a consistent temperature.
Also, the wood may not produce much smoke when it is first added to the smoker because the water in the wood will need to evaporate before the wood will begin to smolder and produce smoke.
Soaking wood can also dilute the natural flavors and aromas of the wood, which can negatively impact the taste and smell of the smoked meat. For these reasons, it is generally not recommended to soak wood for smoking. Instead, it is better to use dry wood and add additional wood chips or chunks as needed to maintain the desired level of smoke.
10. Use Dry Charcoal
Check your charcoal isn’t too old. Old, damp charcoal isn’t going to burn hot and will fade out quickly. Lump charcoal will burn hotter than briquettes. Using dry charcoal is important for maintaining heat in a smoker because damp or wet charcoal can be more challenging to light and may not burn as hot. This can lead to a drop in temperature, making it more difficult to maintain a consistent temperature while cooking.
To keep your charcoal dry, it’s important to store it in a dry place, away from moisture. If you live in a humid climate, it’s a good idea to keep your charcoal in a sealed container to help protect it from moisture.
Also, you should make sure that your charcoal is completely dry before using it in the smoker. If the charcoal has been stored in a damp place, it may be necessary to dry it out before using it. One way to do this is to spread the charcoal out in a single layer on a sheet pan and place it in a dry, well-ventilated area for a few hours before using it in the smoker. This will allow any moisture to evaporate, and the charcoal will be ready to use.
11. Check the Heating Element in Electrics
Another reason your smoker might not be heating is the heating elements have failed. This is common in electric smokers. In an electric smoker, the heating element is responsible for generating the heat needed to cook the food. It is typically located in the base of the smoker and is controlled by a thermostat.
If the heating element breaks, it will no longer be able to generate heat, and the smoker will stop working. In this case, the temperature of the smoker will drop, and the food will not cook properly. Depending on the severity of the problem, it may be possible to repair the heating element, but in some cases, it may need to be replaced. If the heating element cannot be repaired or replaced, the smoker will not be able to function.
Keep A Smoking Journal
So if you combine all these strategies, your smoker should be able to maintain a high temperature. Much will depend on what type of smoker you have, and your climate. It pays to take notes by keeping a smoke journal. Count how much charcoal you use for each cook and then note the temperature. Take note of the weather, and not how it influenced the temperature of your smoker. Once you have a good understanding of your smoker, be our maintain consistent temperature.
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.