Why is My Pellet Smoker Not Making Enough Smoke
Smoking is an amazing way to cook, preserve and add flavor to any meat or food you cook over the fire. The availability of smart smokers like the trusty units from Pit Boss and Traeger has birthed a smoking rennaisance.
While it doesn’t take much to be a smoker master, you still have to bring over your grilling basics and learn some new smoker concepts. The most important is monitoring how much smoke is enough.
With this knowledge, you will easily identify when your Traeger smoker is not making enough smoke and compensate or figure out when it is making too much smoke.
How Much Smoke Should Be Coming Out of My Pellet Smoker?
The ideal smoke from a ready-to-go smoker is thin and blue. Any other color or overpowering plumes of smoke means the smoker isn’t ready yet, or there’s a problem (intentional or accidental) in the unit. Read on to find out more.
Controlling the amount of smoke you get from your pellet smoker is crucial when preparing different dishes. For instance, slow cooking for hours at slow temperatures needs different smoke levels compared to a quick smoking session to infuse poultry or seafood with your favorite pellet smoke taste.
Pellet Smokers Have Different Types of Smoke
To understand how much smoke you should expect from your smoker, you first have to know the different types of smoke the unit produces.
The Thick Startup Smoke
Like any firewood fire, your pellet grill will produce much smoke when igniting. This happens when the fire road heats up and smolders the pellets. They will keep smoking heavily until there is enough temperature and spark to turn the smoldering into flames.
Even though you can channel this smoke into a heavy smoking session, you wouldn’t want it anywhere near most of your foods since it is heavy and bitter. It rarely gives food an exquisite smoky taste – unless you are specifically looking for that bitterness.
Best practice would be letting the heavy smoke blow away and throwing on your food only after the grill has started up and heated to your preferred smoking temperature.
A cloud of visible white smoke is common before the smoker reaches the correct temperature. It will also happen when the auger adds pellets into the fire pot. This is only momentarily and will disappear when the pellets ignite.
This white smoke that resembles what you see from a burning house will be less common as your smoker hits the target temperature.
Thin Blue Smoke (The Ideal Smoke)
A Thin blue smoke that is almost indiscernible is the ideal smoker status. It has a good flavor than your chosen pellets and will not make your food taste ‘the bad smokey.’ It will only happen after the grill is beyond the ignition stage and heated to your preferred temperature.
This is the ideal smoke, and you should always strive to grill within this range. Since you can’t see it, you shouldn’t be worried if your smoker isn’t producing plumes of smoke. You will usually only tell how much smoke you received by tasting your food.
The Undesired Stale Smoke
The final smoke you might see from your favorite smoker is a stale smoke that only comes on when your grill isn’t well ventilated. In this scenario, smoke isn’t flowing well, the fans are dirty, and the air isn’t circulating.
Smoke starts building up and will cover your food turning it black and crusty. If left unchecked, the smoke and bitter creosote will build up on your smoked food, eventually ruining it.
If you think you are not getting enough smoke from your pellet grill, it could mean there’s no circulation, and all that juicy smoke is turning into creosote.
Frequently cleaning your smoker to encourage proper airflow and smoke circulation is critical in getting the correct type and smoke volume. Brushing and vacuuming your smoker after around 20 to 30 hours of use is proper maintenance.
Why is My Pellet Smoker Not Producing Enough Smoke?
Now that you know what ideal smoke to look for when smoking, it is time to look at some things that will limit how much smoke your pellet smoker produces.
Using Old. Bad Quality or Soggy Pellets
You will get the perfect burn and smoke from any set of pellets if they are high quality, dry, and fresh.
Any pellets that absorb moisture or stay out in the open for weeks won’t burn as well as fresh dry ones. If they take in too much moisture, they will start to rot and grow mold.
- Store your pellets in a sealed bucket
- Empty, unused pellets from the hopper at the end of cooking
- Buy high-quality pellets with the perfect tasting smoke for your application
The Temperature is Too High
Smoking works best at low temperatures. It is the best slow cooking approach. You won’t get as much smoke if you set your smoker to high temperatures for faster cook.
The higher temperature encourages complete combustion, where most smoke and creosote burn up before leaving the grill. This is an ideal clean burn if you are going for maximum temperature, but it is bad news if you want to infuse smoke flavor into your food.
Here are two scenarios—slow cooking chicken at 220F and searing steak at 450F.
You won’t produce as much smoke when searing the stake since those high temperatures will have the pellets burning quickly and efficiently. The lower slow cooking temperature will give the pellets a chance to smolder and not enough temperature to burn off all the smoke.
ProTip: Lower the cooking temperature and extend the cooking time if you think you aren’t getting enough smoke.
The Auger is Jammed
Cramming too many wrong-size pellets into your hopper could jam the auger. This is also common if the pellets are a bit damp.
A jammed auger won’t feed pellets into the fire rod or the burning chamber. If it happens when the grill is already up and running, you will notice a drastic drop in smoke levels.
You might also get an error warning on the control screen and will note a steady drop in the smoking temperatures.
Remove the heat shield and check if there is a pellets pileup around the auger or firerod. Some clogs are easy to fix with quick jabs of a stick or poker, while others will have you turn off the grill and completely clean the entire hopper and auger.
You can avoid clogs by:
- Using the correct size pellets for your grill smoker
- Ensure your pellets are dry and fresh
- Constantly check on your hopper and ensure there’s no tunneling
ProTip: You will get the same effect if the hopper runs out of pellets and the auger has nothing to feed the fire
A Dirty Firepot
Letting ashes accumulate in your firepot makes it harder for pellets to ignite and burn efficiently. This will leave you with less smoke and lower temperatures. If your grill supports error reporting, you will also get an error message for this.
To avoid such a problem, clean the ash and debris from the previous cook just before starting up your pellet grill.
A clean grill burns clean and produces the perfect smoke for your smoking recipes.
The pellets in your grill need a proper oxygen ratio to ignite and burn. If there is no proper airflow within the grill, they will not burn perfectly. You will get huge plumes of thick white smoke that is no good for smoking or the dreaded stale smoke that coats any food it touches in black crusts.
Some of the things that can hamper ventilation in your smoker include:
A Faulty Fan
If your grill has a fan that sucks air into the firebox to facilitate better burns, check if it is running every time you light up the grill.
A broken fan will limit airflow. This will make your pellets smolder slowly and produce more white smoke and less heat.
A fan could also stop working if there is a power blackout or you have blown a fuse. After all, it relies on mains electricity to run.
Check this too: Is it Safe to Grill in the Garage With the Door Open?
Apart from checking on the van, you can confirm that nothing is blocking the vents on your pellet grill.
All that air and smoke in the grill needs an outlet to create a siphoning effect that pulls in fresh oxygenated air for a clean burn.
Avoid placing anything over vents and only use them as expected to control the burn.
A Generally Dirty Interior
Finally, clean and vacuum the interior of your smoker more often to get rid of any soot, creosote, and ash.
A dirty grill is not only unsightly but will also burn less efficiently. You will not get the light blue smoke you so desperately want, and you will also have difficulty controlling your grill’s temperature.
There is no point in running a dirty, inefficient smoker; all you have to do is vacuum it every 20 or so grilling hours and empty any smoke and unburnt residue before the next cook.
How Do I Get My Pellet Smoker to Smoke More?
If you are burning at the right temperature and still feed your smoker isn’t producing enough smoke for your recipes, you could try the following hacks.
Get Different Pellets
Different grill pellets have different cooking optimizations. Some are optimized for high-temperature searing, while others are specifically formulated to release as much clean smoke as possible.
Smoker pellets have different flavor profiles like hickory, apple, and oak. Going the extra step and choosing these flavored pellets will ensure you get the right taste in your food without worrying about how much smoke is coming out of your grill.
Use smoking pellets for the perfect smoking experience.
Cook at Lower Temperatures
As we have already established, pellets produce the most smoke when burning at lower temperatures. If you are following a smoking recipe, chances are it will give you an initial cooking temperature between 225F and 250F before allowing you to ramp up the temperature and sear the food.
If you are following your recipe, start by smoking at temperatures as low as possible. This varies depending on the meat you are working with.
For instance, poultry must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165F, while other meats can make do with 145F for safe human consumption.
The lower the temperature, the longer you will have to cook to give your meat a tender texture. Be patient. Smoking takes hours, entire afternoons, and even full days, to be precise.
What Temperature Produces the Most Smoke on a Pellet Grill
The best smoking range averages between 200F and 220F. This is high enough to ensure you cook the meat to the target internal temperature but still low enough to produce good smoke for the perfect flavor infusion.
Use the Smoke Stetting on Your Grill
Some pellet grills have different cooking modes, one being the ‘smoke’ mode. This is a perfect setting if you want to get the most out of your smoking pellets.
For instance, Traeger Ironwood and Timberline grill series have a smoker mode that will give you denser blue smoke when cooking between 165F and 225F.
You can select these smoker settings on the control panel and set a 12 to 16-hour timer. This is perfect for the low temperature and high smoke combo we’ve been talking about.
Camp Chef Woodwind grills also have a Smoke Control in the app, which lets you select different levels of smoke. The setting you choose will have the grill automatically regulate how many pellets the auger feeds into the fire pot and your grilling temperature.
Add a Smoke Tube to Your Grill
Get a smoke tube if your grill hasn’t dedicated smoker settings, and the pellets change didn’t do it for you.
Smoke tubes are perforated stainless steel pipes that sit on the coals of older charcoal or pellet grills forcing the burning material to smolder and produce more smoke.
Alternatively, you can get a smoker box. This is a small boxy contraption that sits on the grill grate. You put some pellets in it, and heat from the grill will make these pellets smolder, producing the smoke you so much desire.
Fix Any Visible Smoke Leaks
Finally, your smoker could produce enough smoke, but you are not getting enough flavor since you are grilling with the lid open or your smoker is leaky.
Your smoker shouldn’t end up with smoke streaming out of all seams and seals. It should come out from dedicated vents and in small amounts.
If your grill is leaking smoke all over, you can use high-temperature silicone to make the seams airtight or replace any damaged or worn-out gaskets that are letting smoke escape.
ProTip: The smoker shouldn’t be air-tight. Don’t block ventilation holes or the chimney as these are designed to keep steady airflow and the fire burning.
How to Get More Smoke Flavor from a Pellet Smoker
Other than following the above tricks to get more smoke from your pellet smoker, you can also modify how you put your meats or foods in the smoker for optimum flavor infusion.
One simple solution is to avoid wrapping your food in foil. While this is a good move to retain moisture and end up with juicy meat, it will prevent the smoke from getting to the food.
Using a smoker box or folding the aluminum foil into a pouch-like shape is better as the smoke can get to the food.
As for the moisture, put some water in an oven-safe or grill-safe container and place it on the grill grates. This will evaporate and create moisture that will prevent the meat from drying.
Additionally, keep basting the food you are smoking to ensure it remains moist and juicy. The low smoking temperatures are rarely enough to dry up the meat if you take the above precautions. However, it takes some trial and error before getting the perfect procedure to avoid smoking your food crispy dry.
That is why it takes many hours to gather the skill and experience needed to become the ultimate grill and smoker master.