Smoker Temperature Control Using Air Vents

Learning the art of smoker temperature control is easy if you follow this guide. When you first start out it can prove to be a bit hit and miss but with a few simple techniques you'll have the skill mastered in no time at all.

Your smoker should have two vents, one at the bottom by the firebox and one on the top and by varying the apertures you can get perfect smoker temperature control.

Consider the bottom one as the air intake for the fire and the top one is the draft that pulls the air through. If you have both of them fully open, as the fire grows so the draught out of the top speeds up and this pulls more air in at the bottom. More air in the bottom vent by the fire box “blows” on the fire and the fire grows more and more. Get the picture? Both vents open and you get an ever increasing spiral of heat.

When you’re up to temperature the bottom vent acts as a crude regulator and the top vent for fine tuning. It would be nice if at this point I could give you a definitive rule about the degree of aperture opening and the temperature that you will achieve but it really is dependent on each individual smoker so the only way to work it out is to play around and learn.  

When your fire is going try half closing the bottom vent and leave the top vent fully open for 5 mins. Note the temperature and then close the top vent by a quarter and watch what happens to the temperature. Close by another quarter, etc etc and this will give you a feel for how to regulate heat. Once you get the knack of it it really is amazing to see how much control you actually do have.

As with any experiment the trick is to make sure that you only change one thing at any one time so you can measure cause and effect and know that the effect was directly related to the change that you just made.

Remember, when you reached temperature and are ready to add your meat, the meat will absorb a lot of heat to get up to temperature so you’ll still have to play around with the vents initially.

The effect is even more dramatic if you’re adding a water bath too. The water bath serves two functions:-

  • To add humidity to the cooking environment
  • To help stabilize the cooking temperature

The water bath acts as a thermal store ie. heat energy. If your coals die, the thermal staore will help keep the food chamber temperature constant by emitting energy. If your fire is running too hot then the thermal store absorbs energy so making the increase in temperature less sudden and less marked. In short, your water bath helps smoker temperature control by dampening the effect of sudden fluctuations.

In addition, opening the lid on your smoker will drain away a lot of heat in a very short space of time so always leave the lid down unless absolutely necessary. Remember the golden rule: "If you're lookin', you ain't cookin'".

Related Pages:-

Meat Smokers
Accessories and Cooking Equipment

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