The Best Alternative – A Wood Smoker

IMG_5165A wood smoker is and will forever be the best way to smoke food. There is a bit of a learning curve if you are used to using a charcoal, gas or electric smoker but the results are worth the time and effort you put into learning this fine art.

I think the biggest mistake pitmasters make in using a wood burning smoker is in building too big of a fire.

I have always recommended starting with around 3 sticks of wood and using proper air flow to maintain a 220-240 degree temperature.

I generally start with the exhaust opened all or almost all the way and the inlet open about a third of the way.

This induces proper air flow and allows the burning wood to become a hot bed of coals that will remain at a constant temperature for several hours with minimal maintenance.

Proper air flow is imparitive to preventing creosote from building up on the meat and on the inside of the wood smoker. The smoke must be allowed to move into the smoker kissing the meat genly as it passes over and then be allowed to escape effortlessly thru the full open exhaust.

In the event that the smoker gets out of control you can spray the coals with some water to cool it down but be careful to not stir up the coals or you will have ashes all over your precious meat.

As far as what wood to use… that is a matter of personal taste. I love mesquite but I usually mix it with apple or oak at a 1:3 ratio to prevent it from overpowering the meat. You can use hickory, apple, oak, pecan and most other fruit and nut woods without the smoke becoming too strong.

Experience will be the best teacher in the proper use of your wood smoker and you will soon discover what you and your family like best.

Click here to learn how to build and maintain a fire in your wood smoker.


  1. KoolBrother July 14, 2015 at 10:16 am - Reply

    What's the name of the smoker you use? Is is offset better than traditional?

  2. TC December 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    Hey Jeff, I'm smoking another turkey for Xmas eve. Approx 30 lbs. I had issues at the start with over heat and under heat. My question is do you use charcoal then put wood on or just straight wood no charcoal thanks for the info


  3. Matt April 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Hey Jeff,

    I'm looking at buying a new smoker with a side fire box, and wondered if you could point me in the right direction on where to purchase one (or which brands to look at). I've heard there are a few places in Oklahoma that build them, but I don't know where they're located. I just want to make sure I don't end up with something that is cheaply made that will end up needing replaced in a couple years. I don't need anything real big, just similar to a standard grill size…

    Please let me know when you get a chance.



    • Eric June 12, 2014 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      Go with a Primo Grill. A bit costly, but well worth it. You will have some of the best smoked, moist meat that you have ever have. Check it out on YouTube.

    • Maryann Srbljan August 2, 2015 at 6:30 pm - Reply

      As far as smokers in Oklahoma I'm looking at the Yodar that is made in Yodar Ks or the Horizan made in Perry Ok. None of them are cheap, I'm planning on buying one that will last me the rest of my life.

  4. Nathan April 15, 2014 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Mr. Phillips I have a couple of questions.
    1. I have a barrel smoker with a side fire box. Should I put a pan of water over the wood? I have been just letting the smoke run from the fire box to the smoke chamber.
    2. I was wondering about termometer probes. What is the correct placement, do you put them in horizontally into the thickest part of the meat or vertically? How do you use one on ribs?


    Nathan W Williams

    • Jeff Phillips April 15, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply


      1. Water never hurts in a smoker and works great as a barrier to keep the heat from hitting the meat directly. I would sit it on the grate right where the heat enters the smoke chamber if possible.

      2. I like to place the thermometer probe horizontally into the side of briskets, pork shoulders, etc. as this allows me to flip the meat over if I want to, without removing the probe.

      Ribs should always be cooked to tenderness rather than temperature and for this reason, I rarely, if ever, use a probe or even check the temperature on ribs. If you do feel the need to check them, you have to get the probe into some nice thick meat making sure the probe is not touching the bone at all.

      Ribs reach the safe temperature for whole cuts of pork (145°F) way before they are tender enough to eat. Tender ribs will be in the 180-190°F range in my experience.

  5. Ken June 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    I am looking at a couple of BBQ Pitmakers and would like some advice.

    Lang Pit, BBQ by Klose & Gator Pit of Texas & Jambo Pits?

    I am thinking 20 x 48 smoker w/ 2' fire box or 24 x 48 w/ 2' firebox

    what to do?  recommendations?  thoughts? 


  6. Jaxon April 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    You have earned a lot of respect in the worl of smoke.  I am just inside the threshold of that world and I am wanting to learn what I can.  

    My forist question concerns a smoker.  I would like to get to the point of cooking several boston butss and some ribs at one time.  We have Academy Sports nearby.  They feature a rather large smoker – Old Country BBQ Pits Wrangler Smoker.  It is within my budget.  Would this be a good smoker for me to "learn" with?  I have been using the Cajun Injector Barrel smoker for quite a while, so I have SOME experience.

    I also have an infrared gas grill and a master forge charcoal grill along with a materbuilt 40 " electric smokehouse.  I'm just wanting to get into wood smokin'.

    Thanks for your help.



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