Why Is My Charcoal Smoking So Much? – What To Do

A little smoke when lighting your charcoal, no problem. A constant billowing of thick white smoke, maybe a little concerning.

Although it’s natural for the charcoal to smoke when it’s first lit, it should be manageable. It should calm down within five or so minutes, and after 15 minutes it should be hardly smoking at all. But, if your charcoal IS smoking too much, then something else may be wrong.

Here are the most common reasons why your charcoal is smoking too much, and what you can do to reduce the amount of smoke it creates.

Why Is My Charcoal Smoking So Much?

Charcoal Smoking Too Much

You have to expect some smoke when you light your charcoal, no matter how you light it. Smoke is a natural part of the process. But, there are a few reasons which might explain why your charcoal is smoking so much. This is especially important if you’ve got neighbors close by or above you!

Your Charcoal Is Damp

I’ve learned the hard way by trying to use damp charcoal. I thought it was only a little damp, and I even mixed it with a fresh batch, but it had other plans.

When your charcoal gets wet, the moisture seeps into it, making it much more difficult to light and stay lit. Because of this, the temperature will be much less consistent when you’re cooking, and the charcoal may even go out entirely. As the charcoal tries to combust, it smokes much more as it struggles to burn properly.

Long story short, if your charcoal is wet it’s going to give off much more smoke and likely won’t combust properly, leading to a poor cook — believe me!

Something In Your Charcoal Grill

If you’re lighting the charcoal straight out of your charcoal grill or charcoal smoker, then there might actually be something in there that’s causing the charcoal to smoke excessively.

If there is used charcoal, food drippings, grease, or too much ash then it could be preventing the charcoal from combusting properly. If this is the case it will continue to produce smoke until it is properly lit.

Always keep the inside of the grill clean and free from debris, as it can play a big part in the overall cook.

What You Are Using To Light Your Charcoal

There are many ways to light charcoal, each with varying amounts of smoke being produced. Some produce smoke themselves, and others change how the charcoal burns entirely. 

For example, if you are using lighter fluid when lighting your charcoal then it will produce dirtier and more unpleasant smoke. I would always recommend using this as your absolute last option to avoid any lighter fluid taste on your food.


Try using natural fire starters, or a small bunch of newspapers to start your charcoal. Bear in mind, that if you do use excess newspaper, cardboard, or wood kindling then this may be the source of the excess smoke you are experiencing. 

You Haven’t Arranged Your Charcoal Properly

If you’re cooking and the charcoal is producing excess smoke, check to be sure that your food juices aren’t dripping onto the charcoal itself. This will happen more often if you’re not using a drip pan, or if you haven’t set up an indirect heat zone.

Indirect Heat Zone

To set up an indirect heat zone, simply shift your charcoal to one side of the grill, and optionally place a drip pan on the other side to catch any drippings from your food.

By setting up the indirect heat zone you can more easily manage the temperature of the food you are cooking. You will also reduce the amount of steam and smoke produced by the charcoal by not having the food directly dripping on the coals.

How To Reduce Smoke From Charcoal

There are a few things you can adjust during the charcoal lighting stage to reduce the amount of smoke being produced.

Use An Electric Charcoal Starter

  • Completely Hassle-Free
  • Produces No Extra Smoke
  • Can Use For Charcoal Briquettes & Lump Charcoal
  • Requires A Power Outlet

The Phoenix Pit Electric Charcoal Starter is one of the most popular electric charcoal starters in the market, and it even comes with a 6.5 ft extension cord to make it that much easier to find a connection.

Although it’s simplistic in design, it’s durable, reliable, and removes the need for any newspaper, lighter fluid, or anything else that contributes to the smokiness produced by the charcoal.

A good alternative to a charcoal chimney.

Light Half The Charcoal

Consider lighting half the amount of charcoal at a time, instead of filling up the whole grill or charcoal chimney. This will not only control the amount of smoke produced when you’re lighting it, but you might find you don’t need to use so much charcoal to begin with.

If you do think you need more charcoal than what you did light you can always add more charcoal during the cook with little to no impact.

Use Lump Charcoal

There are a lot of advantages to using charcoal briquettes vs. lump charcoal. But, when it comes to producing smoke, lump charcoal produces much less.

This is due to the difference in the formation process between lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are compressed, shaped, and processed with binders to burn consistently well. Whereas, lump charcoal is supposedly more natural as it’s just carbonized wood chunks, chips, pieces, etc. 

If you do prefer using briquettes, ensure you are always buying high-quality charcoal briquettes that have been formed properly, without any additives or chemicals.

If you want to try out lump charcoal, check out the best lump charcoal you can find in the market.

Charcoal Chimney Smoking Too Much?

Charcoal chimney starters are an answer to a lot of problems. But, just like when you’re lighting charcoal in a grill, these can produce a fair bit of smoke too. Again, it’s normal for some smoke to be produced, but if you are conscious of your close neighbors and your charcoal chimneys smoking too much here’s what you can do:

  1. Use half the amount of newspaper, or consider using all-natural lighter cubes.
  2. Use high-quality lump charcoal instead of charcoal briquettes, as it will produce less smoke.
  3. Avoid any lighter fluid or artificial lighter cubes. This not only will help it produce less smoke but it will also be cleaner.
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