Does your smoker leak smoke? If so, you might be worried that it will affect the flavor, tenderness and overall quality of your food. This is a common concern shared by countless pitmasters. In this post, we’re going to explain whether it’s normal for a smoker to leak smoke.

The Basics of Smokers and How They Work

Before we reveal whether it’s normal for smokers to leak smoke, let’s first go over the basics of this common outdoor cooking device. Smokers are designed to cook food at a low temperature over a prolonged period of time by exposing the food to smoke. They typically contain one or two fuel compartments in which you can place charcoal and/or smoking chunks. Experienced pitmasters usually add both charcoal and smoking chunks to their smoker. As the charcoal burns, it produces heat that releases flavorful smoke compounds from the adjacent pile of smoking chunks.

While all smokers rely on flavorful smoke to cook food, the way in which they operate varies depending on the type. Some of the most common types of smokers include the following:

  • Offset Smoker: The most common type, an offset smoker, is a type of smoker with a firebox attached to the side. The firebox in offset smokers is the main compartment in which charcoal and smoking chunks are added. Since the firebox is located away from the cooking grate, food is exposed to less heat.
  • Drum Smoker: Also known as a barrel smoker, a drum smoker is an alternative type of smoker that’s characterized by a drum-like design. In fact, many drum smokers are made of real drum barrels. Drum smokers are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from just 30-gallon drums all the way to 85-gallon drums.
  • Bullet Smoker: As the name suggests, a bullet smoker is a type of smoker that’s shaped like a bullet. It’s essentially a variation of the drum smoker, with the only difference being that bullet smokers have a water pan or bowl below the cooking grate.

Photo: Eric Kilby

Yes, Some Smoke Leakage Is Normal

Although it sounds alarming, it’s normal for smokers to leak some smoke. Whether you have an offset smoker, drum smoker or bullet smoker, it will probably leak some smoke. If the lid, for example, doesn’t create an airtight seal, smoke will inevitably escape. This is particularly true when speaking about new smokers.

Contrary to popular belief, new smokers are more likely to leak smoke than old smokers. When a smoker is still new and hasn’t been used many times, it will have a smooth and clean finish. If you frequently use your smoker, on the other hand, it will develop a layer of carbon on the surface. This layer of carbon acts as a seal to prevent smoke from leaking. As a result, smoke can escape new smokers more easily than old smokers.

All Smokers Must Release Smoke

It’s important to note that all smokers must release smoke. You can’t smoke or grill food in a completely closed and airtight environment. If there’s no air flowing through the fuel compartment, the charcoal or smoking chunks won’t burn. And if the smoking chunks don’t burn, they won’t produce the flavorful smoke that’s responsible for cooking your food.

To allow airflow through your smoker’s fuel compartment, you must adjust the dampers. Dampers are the adjustable air vents that you can open or close. Most smokers have two dampers: one on the top and another on the bottom. Normally, you should keep the top damper open and the bottom damper closed. With the top damper open, your smoker will release smoke out the top. At the same time, it also allows air to flow in and out your smoker, ensuring that your smoking chunks continue to smolder at a low temperature.

You can use the bottom damper to adjust the temperature of your smoker. Keeping the bottom damper creates a cooler environment by minimizing airflow. Assuming the top damper is open, your smoker will still have enough air to keep your smoking chunks smoldering. With the bottom damper closed, though, only a small amount of air will flow into and through the fuel compartment, thereby keeping the temperature of your smoker — and your food as a result — in check.

Excessive Smoke Leakage Is Not Normal

You can expect your smoker to leak some smoke, but it shouldn’t be leaking an excessive amount of smoke. If you see large amounts of smoke pillowing from seals or between the lid, you may struggle to cook delicious food. The lack of smoke means your food won’t have the same smokey flavor as it normally would. You can still cook delicious food using a leaky smoker, but it comes at the cost of less flavor.

Furthermore, smoke does more than just enhance the flavor of food; it makes food more tender. The smoke compounds break down the otherwise tough tissue of meat to create a superior level of tenderness. But if your smoker leaks too much smoke, you won’t be able to cook tender meat. For the best flavor and tenderness, you need to expose your food to lots of smoke from high-quality wood, such as smoking chunks.

Again, it’s normal to a small amount of smoke to leak. What’s not normal, however, is for thick plumes of smoke to roll out the sides and seals.

How to Prevent Your Smoker From Leaking Too Much Smoke

If your smoker is leaking an excessive amount of smoke, there are a few things you should do. First and foremost, try using your smoker more frequently. As previously mentioned, the inside surface of a smoker will develop a layer of carbon over time. Each time you use your smoker, some of the carbon-based particulate matter from the smoke will stick to its interior walls.

When using your smoker, make sure the lid — the top piece — is properly positioned over the bottom piece. If the lid is tilted just slightly to the left or right of the bottom piece, it won’t create an airtight seal. The lid must be aligned with the bottom piece. Otherwise, smoke will escape through the gap between the two pieces.

You can also minimize the amount of smoke that escapes your smoker by adjusting the dampers. For most smoking activities, only the top damper should be open. If you open the top and bottom dampers, smoke will escape out both these air vents. Keeping the bottom damper closed ensures that smoke only escapes out the top, which is necessary to keep fresh air flowing into the fuel compartment.

When all else fails, you may want to upgrade to a different smoker. Cheap, low-quality smokers are more likely to leak than their higher-quality counterparts because they are poorly constructed. By upgrading to a high-quality smoker, such as a Primo Oval, you shouldn’t have a problem with smoke leakage. With their ceramic construction and premium craftsmanship, Primo smokers are universally recognized as being some of the best smokers on the market.

For the best quality smoking chunks, visit our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey, all of which will allow you to smoke delicious meat.