Why Does My Charcoal BBQ Smoke So Much?

A BBQ should be smoking whilst the food cooks. However, large amounts of smoke can affect the cooking process, while also creating an unpleasant smell. Fortunately, this issue is fairly easy to get under control.

When a charcoal BBQ is smoking a lot, it is often due to an abundance of ash being left under the grill. This may also be caused by grease on the grates or improper circulation of air. If your BBQ is smoking and then going out, using more firelighters to correctly ignite the charcoal can help.

This article explores these solutions in detail, so you can prevent your BBQ from smoking excessively. We also identify the issues caused by extreme amounts of smoke.

Why Does My Charcoal BBQ Smoke So Much?

Why Your Charcoal BBQ Is Smoking So Much

Understanding why your BBQ is smoking excessively can help greatly with prevention. Let’s take a look at the causes and provide an explanation for each.

Ash Under The Grill

After the charcoal is finished burning, ash is left behind. If not removed, a layer can begin to form on the bottom of your BBQ. This layer can block air from entering. Without a suitable airflow coming from beneath, smoke can begin to accumulate rather quickly. In addition, it can stop the BBQ from reaching a suitable temperature.


The leftover ash is likely to contain levels of oil and fat, most of which will come from the food cooked previously. When you next fire up the BBQ, these oils and fats can burn, causing more smoke. This is particularly prevalent if you BBQ irregularly, as it gives these substances time to deteriorate and harder. It is likely, that you may also notice a terrible smell in this instance.

Grease On The Grates

As you cook food on a BBQ, grease is often left on the grill grates. When you start your next cooking session, this grease can ignite and cause smoke. If the grease becomes firm, this increased amount of smoke can be apparent for long periods of time. For those who cook with their grill close to the flames below, smoke can start to billow almost immediately.

This is another issue that can be identified with your nose, as the odour from burnt grease is far from pleasant. The older the grease, the worse the smell tends to be. Smoke caused by this issue is typically black, giving you an immediate indication that something is wrong.

Improper Air Circulation

The air supply is crucial to any fire. If your BBQ is starved of a stable airflow, smoke can quickly start to accumulate. This can happen due to ash, as previously mentioned. However, closing the lid immediately after lighting your charcoal can cause the same problem. If lots of smoke becomes visible and you notice that your charcoal is no longer alight, improper air circulation is likely the source.

Why Does My Charcoal BBQ Smoke So Much?

How To Stop Your Charcoal BBQ Smoking So Much

Now that we’ve established why your BBQ is smoking so much, it’s time to find a fix. Here are a few methods you can use to keep smoke at an appropriate level.

Cleaning Carefully

Most people know the importance of cleaning your grill grates, however, a quick scrub after a cooking session isn’t enough. To clean the fat and grease from your grates, start by removing them from the BBQ. Without doing this, the bottom of the grate will likely still contain unwanted residue. There are a few different cleaning substances you can use, but soapy warm water will do just fine. Correct cleaning of your grates should consist of:
  • Scrubbing the grate to remove large amounts of grease.
  • Leaving it in a soapy water solution for 1 hour.
  • Removing the grate and giving it another scrub.
  • Ensuring that the grill grate is dried thoroughly.

You can then place the grate back on the BBQ, or keep it inside before the next use.


In addition to the grill grates, you’ll want to perform some maintenance on the BBQ itself. Remove ash as best as you can. Waiting until the ash is cool is necessary. Throwing out charcoal that hasn’t burned properly is also a good idea. Keeping small coals may save you a tiny amount of money, but it’s not worth running the risk. 


You don’t have to scrub the base of the grill or use any product, just make sure there’s nothing blocking the airflow. If you remove the biggest portion of ash and charcoal, your next BBQ is much more likely to avoid excessive smoking.

Keep The Lid Open

Shutting the lid on your BBQ is fine, however, you must make sure that the charcoal is completely alight before doing so. Igniting your coals and immediately closing the lid can create smoke, as there is no air to feed the flames. While the air may be coming from beneath the coals, having it flow through the charcoal is key.


The correct time to shut the lid is usually after your food has started cooking, as this will give the charcoal sufficient time to burn. Closing the lid is great for adding flavour, controlling heat and ensuring food is cooked thoroughly, so shutting it prior to this is unnecessary. If you want to be extra safe, open the air vents, which come as standard on most BBQs.

Starting Your BBQ

Firelighters make starting a BBQ easy in most cases, but this isn’t without cost. Vast amounts of smoke will likely be emitted, making it difficult to control the flames from the beginning. Instead of directly lighting the charcoal, you could utilise kindling to make a steady fire before slowly applying your coals. While this may take slightly longer, it can help to minimise the smoke output.


If using firelighters is a must for you, make sure to spread them out evenly between the charcoal. Using 3 is recommended, however breaking them into medium-sized pieces (Or breaking them into halves) could lead to better coverage.

Why Does My Charcoal BBQ Smoke So Much?

Why Your BBQ Smoking Excessively Is Bad

Small amounts of white smoke are generally nothing to worry about. Contained smoke will do very little besides add flavour to the food. However, larger amounts of similar smoke or thick, black smoke could cause problems.

Food

Lots of smoke can have a negative impact on the taste and overall quality of the food cooked on your BBQ. An overly smoky, burnt taste is something that many experiences in this case. A more pressing issue, however, is that food may not cook properly at all. As we’ve discussed, thick smoke can cause the charcoal to lose heat, which can leave food not being cooked thoroughly.

Smell

To put it simply, the smell that excessive smoke can make is pungent. Guests, neighbours and even yourself are likely to be impressed. Even worse, if you or an adjacent house have windows open, the smell can linger in a room for days to come. Shutting all windows and notifying your neighbours is good practice in any case, but thick smoke can make the situation much worse.

Harder To Control

If your BBQ is smoking profusely, it’s likely you won’t want to be anywhere near it. Sore eyes and just generally not being able to see the charcoal are issues to consider. Besides being uncomfortable and ruining the experience of the chef, this can lead to complications when cooking. If you can’t get a good view of the coals, it will be much harder to make the necessary adjustments.

Conclusion

By taking the measures featured in this article, you can prevent your BBQ from generating unwanted amounts of smoke. Maintaining minimal smoke will keep everyone happy, including your neighbours! Remember that in any case, cleaning your charcoal BBQ is an important procedure that should not be overlooked. If the above techniques don’t solve the issue, it may be worth getting your BBQ checked by a professional. Alternatively, you could even consider seeking a replacement.  If you need to add more charcoal during cooking then check out this article may help you: Can You Add More Charcoal While Cooking On A Charcoal BBQ?

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