Why is My Smoker Not Getting Hot Enough

Milton Greenaway

Your smoker may require a low and slow approach, but it still needs enough heat to ensure your brisket, pork butt, ribs, and whatever else you’re smoking is safe to eat.

It can be a case of never reaching the desired temperature or fluctuating up and down, but diagnosing the reason behind why your smoker is not getting hot enough can be easy. It can be different depending on what type you use, so we’re going to take a closer look to make your smoker a success every time.

Common reasons your smoker isn’t getting hot enough

It doesn’t matter what type of smoker you’re using, here are some of the common issues that could be affecting the temperature:

1. Intake vents aren’t open wide enough

You don’t need to be told that fire needs oxygen, without an ample supply, fire won’t burn to the temperature you want. 

Open all the vents when lighting the fire to get it nice and hot, then gradually adjust them until you reach the right level of heat. It’s better to go higher than your target before scaling it back. 

Don’t add the meat until you have reached the right temperature for a consistent amount of time. 

2. Damage to the smoker

Cracks in the smoker are common as wear and tear take their toll. This is more likely on smokers that have been left outside to battle the elements.

Look for signs of leaks around the seals as they could be letting enough cold air into the smoker to reduce the temperature. 

3. Faulty temperature gauge

Are you still using the temperature gauge installed on the smoker? They are known for their inaccurate readings so it is always best to get a second opinion of a dual probe thermometer.

These can measure the internal temperature of the meat, and the grill, providing accurate readings you can have confidence in.  

4. You’re opening the door/lid too frequently 

Checking the progress of the meat is always so tempting, but if you want to smoke your way to the right temperature, you may need to resist the urge to open the door or lid of your smoker.

Heat escapes every time the lid is opened, especially on a cold day. This leads us to…

5. You’re smoking on a cold day

You’ll need to pile on extra charcoal on the winter days because the smoker itself will be colder than usual. This means you’ll be starting at a deficit so add extra coals and give it a chance of reaching the target temperature sooner. 

Check if the brand of your grill has a compatible thermal blanket as these will stop the weather from making life difficult for you when the temperature drops. 

6. Too much meat

When you add large quantities of meat into the grill, it will drop the temperature slightly. Try and increase the temperature slightly higher than you target before adding the meat to compensate for this.

Charcoal smokers

Your Charcoal is too damp

A common reason behind a lack of heat is that the charcoal is going out easily. Maybe it is even struggling to ignite because you aren’t using fresh coals.

Anything that has been left in a damp area for the winter may not be in top smoking shape so go grab a fresh bag and give it another go. 

You’re not using enough charcoal

There’s a balance between not enough and too much charcoal. But if your smoker isn’t getting to the desired temperature then try adding some more coal into the mix. 

Ash build-up 

Too much ash can stop your fire from burning properly, suffocating the flames so they don’t burn as hot. 

If your fire basket isn’t raised, ensure it is an inch or so above the bottom so it has somewhere to go and doesn’t get in the way of a perfectly good fire.  

Electric smokers

You’re not using enough fuel

Add some more wood chips into the mix or upgrade to a better quality of wood chip to raise the temperature in your electric smoker. 

Without the right amount of fuel in the smoker at any given time, it won’t get to the temperature you need for a successful smoke.

Your chips are damp

Damp chips are a technique many people use to burn faster, but this can be stifling your heat. 

Try using dry chips and see if it makes a noticeable difference where the temperature gets to the perfect level quicker. 

The chip tray is loose

When the chip tray becomes loose and isn’t sitting on the burner element as it should, the smoker will struggle to generate enough heat. 

Place it back onto the burner element and make sure it is clean before adding chips next time. 

Offset smokers

The reason is similar to that of a charcoal smoker so check for damp fuel, cracks, and too much opening of the lid.

Otherwise, add more wood when the temperature drops and be sure to open the damper on the firebox all the way to maintain a high temperature. 

Propane smokers

The safety valve is activated 

If the flame isn’t moving after turning the valve, the safety valve can still be activated. 

Fix this by turning the safety valve and turning the smoker tank off before detaching the smoke regulator from the tank. Leave it for a minute 

Next, reconnect the regulator to the tank and then turn the smoker tank on. Wait for 30 seconds before lighting the propane smoker. Hopefully, this will work. 

It’s clogged

The burner tubes could be clogged which means dissembling control valves and burners to make sure they aren’t clogged with insect nests and other pests.

Use a thin wire or an air compressor to give them a thorough clean. 

The tank 

You may find yourself the unlucky owner of a faulty or leaky propane tank. Alternatively, you may just be running low on propane so checking for leaks or hooking the smoker up to a new propane tank can be an easy fix.

Frozen regulator

The cold weather may be playing havoc with the working parts. Propane will not be able to get through to the smoker if the regulator is blocked so try disconnecting the smoker for the unit and use a hairdryer out of the way of propane to unfreeze the regulator. 

Related: How to Regulate Temperature in a Propane Smoker

Final Word

Smokers are ways to use once they get up to heat, but knowing how to get them up to the right temperature is a matter of trial and error. The above guidelines should have you smoking in no time.