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Why Smokers Get Too Hot
Smokers can run hotter than the optimal temperature range for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, a new smoker can be expected to run on the hot side before it is broken in because the interior is shiny and ultra-reflective of heat.
While a new unit may spike the cooking temperature up to 50 degrees or so hotter than the smoking zone, the good news is that as the smoker is used, it will get broken in and this issue will alleviate.
Depending on the particular environment, the vents can also cause smokers to run hotter than normal. If all three bottom vents and the top vent are opened as much as possible, the maximum amount of airflow will fuel the firebox and raise the temperature.
Running the smoker with an empty water pan can also cause hotter than desired temperatures as there is no liquid to absorb heat energy.
External temperatures can also cause a Smokey Mountain unit to run hot, especially when being used during the middle of a summer day in a hot climate. When the smoker is completely loaded with fuel it will run hot as well, so the amount of fuel should be matched to the amount of food being cooked.
Finally, the process of cooking can sometimes cause temperature spikes.
At the beginning of a cooking session, the raw meat absorbs most of the heat energy from the firebox, but as it cooks it absorbs less and less and the smoker temperature can rise.
What to do when a Smoker Gets Too Hot
There are several levers the cook can pull if a smoker is running too hot for barbecue cooking, first and foremost being vent adjustment. The three bottom vents should be the first area to examine.
If all three vent doors are wide open, they can be closed partially until the temperature is brought back into the smoke zone.
The top vent can also be closed as necessary, but it is better to adjust the bottom vents as the top vent acts as an exhaust vent and promotes proper air circulation around the unit.
The water pan is another variable that can be modified. In general, the more water in the pan, the cooler the smoker will run so if the temperature is higher than it should be, adding liquid to the water pan should bring it back into line.
Though not optimal, if there is too much fuel in the firebox, a few charcoals could be removed carefully to help lower the temperature.
The fuel access door at the bottom of the unit should also be checked to make sure it is closed.
If the door is propped open for some reason, additional air could fuel the fire and make the smoker spike in temperature.
Finally, adding food to the smoker if there is room on the cooking racks can help bring the temperature down as this adds surface area to absorb heat.
How to Prevent the Smoker from Getting too Hot
It will be much easier to take a few steps at the beginning of the cooking process to ensure the smoker does not get too hot than to have to reduce a temperature running out of the smoke zone.
Some good habits to build include keeping a journal of settings and matching the food and fuel amounts.
The more a smoker is used, the easier it should be for the cook to dial in the settings to the individual unit including vent doors and water pan. Keeping a notebook on external conditions, amount of water used, how the vents were positioned, and the amount and type of food cooked will make for a useful reference guide and take much of the guesswork out of the process.
Roughly trying to match the amount of food cooked with the amount of fuel used will also help get the smoker into the proper zone and keep it there. For example, if a particular session is only using one cooking rack, then loading the smoker completely full with fuel will make it run too hot.
For large pieces of meat and completely full smokers, more fuel will be needed, and using the Minion Method outlined earlier will make sense.
Is a Little Too Hot OK?
When cooking times run several hours long, temperature fluctuations are to be expected. While keeping the temperature in the 225-275 range is ideal, it is common for smoker temperatures to spike for periods of time.
As wood chunks and charcoals catch fire and burn, it is normal to observe temperatures rising out of the smoke zone, but they should return to normal in relatively short order. The longer a particular cut of meat cooks, the less heat energy it will absorb as the internal temperature rises, which can also cause the smoker temperature to rise out of the smoke zone.
Again, this is a normal part of the process and should work itself out over the duration of the cooking session. In general, short periods of higher than desired temperatures are normal and typically alleviate quickly. These short spikes should not be concerning and should not have an adverse effect on the cooking session.
How Hot is Too Hot?
Thanks to the design of the Weber Smokey Mountain, it is difficult to run it higher than a temperature of about 275 degrees for extended period of time, especially with a full water pan. If for some reason such as too much fuel being used, sometimes the smoker could run too hot, at 300 degrees or higher.
This effectively turns the smoker into an oven, and takes away from the indirect heat that is optimal for barbecue. Using the steps discussed above, the cook should have several tools to use in order to keep the smoker in the smoke zone of 225-275 degrees.
How to Cool Down a Smoker
If the Smokey Mountain is running too hot, the vents and the water pan are the best tools to reduce the temperature. The three bottom vent doors can be closed partially as needed, which reduces the airflow to the firebox and should bring the temperature back into the desired range.
Utilizing the water pan also reduces the smoker’s temperature, as the liquid absorbs the heat inside the unit. Besides water, other liquids can be used to not only absorb heat, but impart flavor as well. Adding some bourbon, beer, Worcestershire sauce, or apple juice can be a functional and flavorful way to maintain a consistent temperature.
How to Maintain Temperature Stability
The goal for a long cooking session should be a consistent smoker temperature of 225-275 degrees. First and foremost, matching the amount of food to be cooked to the amount of fuel used will go a long way to creating the best cooking environment. Big loads of food need big loads of fuel, etc.
For longer sessions, employing the Minion Method of blending lit and unlit coals will go a long way to keeping a consistent and uniform temperature throughout the unit, and minimize the need to open the fuel access door to add more coals. Starting out with a full water pan will help maintain the range that the Smokey Mountain is designed to cook in and where it performs best.
Let the water do the work of regulating the smoker’s temperature. As the hours pass and the smoker runs, periodic adjustment of the vent doors are a good way to make small variations of the temperature, opening them to raise it and closing them to lower it.
Finally, resisting the urge to lift the lid and take a peek at the delicious food inside will prevent unwanted temperature variations. If a few steps are taken at the start of the process, the Smokey Mountain largely provides a set it and forget it type experience.