“Is My Smoker Creating Enough Smoke?”
So Your Pellet Grill Doesn’t Smoke As Much As You Expected. Learn What Might Be Happening.
Updated July 2021
You bought the best smoker you could find on the market. Bravo! You’re on your way to making mouthwatering and maybe even award-winning recipes. But if you’re new to using a pellet grill, you might have a few questions. One we hear a lot is how to tell if you’re getting enough smoke during each session.
The amount of smoke matters, especially if you’re cooking foods on your pellet smoker for hours and hours. The perfect amount of smoke will infuse meats, poultry, seafood, veggies and other ingredients with tremendously rich flavors. Plus, you’ll be able to get a great smoke ring on specific cuts like brisket.
So how do you know if your smoker is smoking appropriately?
Differences in Smoke
First off, pellet grills typically produce a TON of smoke starting up. The fire rod heats up and starts to smolder pellets until there is enough spark for the fans to stoke that into a flame. This is great to use to our advantage by placing large cuts of cold meat on the grill, creating a nice smoke ring. While most pitmasters have learned to harness this “start-up smoke,” you actually do not want that kind of smoke throughout the cook. It’s very thick, white and bitter, and not the ideal type of smoke.
For the best results, you should wait for the smoke from this initial stage to clear up before you throw your food on the grill.
Thin Blue Smoke vs White Smoke
Ideal smoke is whispy, thin blue smoke. At times, it can even be hard to see. This smoke gives proper flavor without the bitterness from thick white smoke. This thin smoke is produced when your pellet grill has finished the ignition phase and has settled in closer to its target temperature.
That isn’t to say you will not see smoke at all. You may see thicker smoke as the auger drops more pellets in the fire pot — the part inside the grill that ignites the dispensed wood pellets, and the source for all the flame. You will just see less of that “house on fire” smoke when your grill is hovering around your set temperature.
What you definitely don’t want is the presence of stale smoke. When the ventilation gets bad inside your grill, the smoke can’t flow as well as it should. The fans might grow dirty over time and have trouble circulating the air. Over time, the smoke that can’t escape will turn your food black and crusted. That’s the effect of bitter creosote building up to the point it ruins the flavor of your smoked meat.
You don’t want the shame of serving your diners a gross layer of soot on your food, so watch for any charring on the meat while it cooks. If you feel you’re not getting enough smoke from your pellet grill, it could be time for a thorough clean.
Make a habit of following the instructions for cleaning your grill so you get just the right distribution of smoke on every cook. Also, check before you ignite the fire so you don’t end up wasting food on accident. I clean and vacuum out my Silverbac and Grilla after about every 20 to 30 hours of use.
Kinds of Pellets
Now let’s address some things that play a large role in how much smoke should be produced. The pellets play the largest part. Using high-quality pellets without wood fillers is the single greatest thing you can do to ensure maximum smoke and flavor potential.
High-Quality Pellet Material
The material the pellet is made of is also critical. Some blends just do not create as much smoke. It has a lot to do with how dense the wood is. For example, I’ve found apple doesn’t smoke as much as hickory. I am not against apple pellets at all, but if you are worried about generating visible smoke, then you may want to try blending them with a bag of hickory or oak.
A Clean Fire Pot
The next thing to look at is the cleanliness of your fire pot. If your fire pot is full of ash, it will have a harder time efficiently igniting pellets and generating smoke.
A clean fire pot also decreases the instances of the grill going out in the middle of a cook. When a pellet pit errors out in the middle of a cook, the controller probably fed too many pellets on top of a dying fire, causing the fans to not keep the pellets properly stoked. You will know this was the case when you remove the heat shield and find a mound of pellets on top of about 2 inches of ash in the fire pot.
Always let the way the food tastes be your guide versus what you see visually. More times than not, there is plenty of smoke being created, producing rich flavor for your meal. If that isn’t the case, take a look at what pellets you’re burning. It might be time to clean out the pit.
Key Reminders for Smoking on a Pellet Grill
At this point, you’re pretty much ready to earn your pitmaster stripes. Still, it never hurts to have a few reminders when it comes to understanding smoke and the way it works.
1. Your Startup Smoke Will Look Different Than Your Cooking Smoke
On startup, smokers produce white, bitter, thick smoke. Some pitmasters use this type of startup smoke to get their smoke rings. However, you don’t want startup smoke during the rest of your cook.
Instead, you want a thin, blue smoke that might even be hard to see as it exits your smoker’s vents, as noted above. Blue smoke has zero bitterness and offers a steady stream of smoky flavor imbued with the wood type you’ve chosen for your pellets.
In other words, don’t worry if your smoke seems light, especially after you first fire up.
2. Your Smoke Shouldn’t Smell Stale
A good smoke doesn’t have to be prolific to be perfect. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t smell stale. If your smoke takes on a stale or unpleasant aroma, you should cool down your smoker and look for the issue.
Frequent causes of stale smoke include poor ventilation and dirty fans. You can fix these issues easily and keep your foods tasty rather than sooty. In the future, be sure to keep your smoker grill clean according to the maker’s instructions. Don’t forget to clean the fire pot, too!
3. The Wood Pellets You Choose Will Affect Your Smoke
Premium wood pellets light up efficiently and give off consistent smoke. Additionally, different types of wood pellets tend to produce heavier levels of smoke. Applewood pellets don’t smoke as much as their hickory counterparts, for example.
What happens if you want to increase the amount of blue smoke in your pellet smoker? Play around with the vents and grill temperature. In time, you’ll gain the confidence to manage your smoker.
Now that you know how to smoke like a pro, check out our collection of recipes to wow your family, friends and neighbors this weekend!