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how to use a vertical smoker

How to Use a Vertical Smoker

So you’ve recently bought a vertical smoker at a bargain from a local garage or yard sale, but you don’t know how to use it. Chances are the instructions are missing. And we’ll admit that trying to use one without instructions can be puzzling. But we’re here to help.

In this article we’ll be giving you a step-by-step guide on how to use your vertical smoker. We’ll also explain everything worth knowing about this product; from  its advantages & disadvantages, how to pick one and a few handy tips.

By the end of the article, you’ll be a pro at using a smoker.

Let’s dive right into it.

How to Use a Vertical Smoker

Vertical smokers vary in design depending on the fuel source namely; propane, electric and charcoal smokers. While the exact step-by-step process differs from one smoker to the next, we’ll outline the basic principles incorporated when using a basic model.

Your Guide to Using a Vertical Smoker

Before we explain these steps and how to smoke meat, it’s important to know what parts make up the vertical smoker. Generally it comprises of three parts; lid, middle, and base section. The middle part is were all the magic happens—the section that you place your food. Fuel is added via the base section and the lid covers the unit.

Now for the steps.

Step 1: Clean the Unit

The first thing you want to do is to clean the smoker by scraping of any gunk, grime and residue that might have accumulated on the unit. This is particularly true for charcoal smokers. If not removed, these may fall onto the food during smoking. Pay special attention to cleaning the lid, edges and hinges of your smoker.

Step 2: Light Up the Smoker

Depending on your preference, add fuel using a blowtorch or chimney. You can either use wood, charcoal or gas depending on the smoker’s design.

Give it twenty minutes before transferring the fuel to the base of the unit. The fuel should be very hot by this time. Just make sure that it’s not flaming excessively as this will cause the wood to burn too quickly. Only then can you add extra wood.

 Step 3: Add Water to the Bowl

Vertical smokers have removable bowls located in the mid-section. Place this bowl securely inside the smoker and fill it up with water. Feel free to add spices to the water to enhance the final flavor and aroma of your meat.

 Step 4: Add the Food

Place your food or meat onto the grill provided in the mid-section.

 Step 5: Add Extra Woodor Charcoal

Z Grills

This step isn’t mandatory. But at this stage some people prefer adding extra wood or charcoal onto the base of the smoker.

 Step 6: Reassamble the Smoker

Here you reassemble the smoker by attaching the base to the middle section.

 Step 7: Monitor Heat

Leave the food to cook. The timeframe will depend on the food you’re cooking as well as the fuel source used. Monitor the temperature every now and again via your smoker’s external thermostat. Your food will be ready in approximately 90 minutes.



 Handy Cooking Tips

While the above steps seem simple enough, a lot could go wrong during the smoking process if not done the right way. We’ll give you a few pointers you can incorporate to help steer you in the right direction.


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–       Use moist wood. This allows the fire to burn in a slow a and controlled manner. Plus, it saves you the hassle of constantly refuelling your smoker.

–       Soak your wood for at least 30 minutes and drain the water. Make sure the wood isn’t too wet or dry. Being too wet might put out the fire while the latter will cause the wood to burn away fast.

–       Leave some space between your smoking meat when you place it inside the smoker. This allows both hot air and smoke to easily infuse into your meat.

–       Use gloves when reassembling the unit to avoid finger burns.

–       Feel free to add extra spices to enhance the flavor of your meat.


Avoid the following at all costs:

–       Don’t overfill the bowl. Remember that you’ll still need to attach the mid-section of your smoker onto the base after filling up the bowl with water. You don’t want to spill water onto the hot wood.

–       Try and avoid your meat from touching the sides of the smoker when placing it on the grill. Dirt or residue stuck on the sides might wind up on your meat.

–       Avoid removing the lid during smoking as this interferes with the cooking process.

What Are the Different Types of Wood?

Did you know that the wood you use affects the final taste of your meat? Take your pick from the following types and enjoy different kinds of smoke & flavors. Also, certain types of wood will work best when smoking particular foods as we’ll highlight shortly:

–       Apple: Pick apple wood if you want to enjoy meat with a mild and sweet flavor. But only opt for this type if you don’t mind slow and long cooking sessions because it burns slowly. This type of wood is ideally suited for smoking poultry.

–       Alder: Are you in the mood for smoking fish? Pick alder wood if you want your fish to remain intact throughout the cooking process. This is because alder wood is both light and delicate.

–       Cherry: If you want meat that has a mild and fruity flavor, buy cherry wood. For best results you can use it to cook white meat.

–       Hickory: Hickory wood chips are often paired with cherry. If a strong and traditional smoke flavor is what you’re after, this is the type to use. It’s ideally suited for smoking pork and sausage.

–       Pecan: Many pitmasters agree that this is the best wood to use when smoking beef. And it’s known to provide a rich and sweet flavor to your meat.

–       Mesquite: Mesquite is known for its intense flavor. As such we’d strongly recommend that you use it as wood chips as opposed to solid fuel.

How to Pick the Right Vertical Smoker

If you don’t already own one, we outline the most important features to consider so you pick the best one for your needs.

 Thick Material

Consider the material used in the unit’s construction. A vertical smoker made up of thick material will not only last long but will retain heat for longer.


Free airflow is important during smoking to allow smoke to infuse evenly into yoor food. Pick a smoker that has ventilation abilities.

 Easy to Use

You want a smoker that allows for easy access to all its parts. This determines how easy it is to use. Whether you want to add fuel or meat, both processes should be hassle free.

Number of Racks

The number of racks on the smoker will affect the amount of meat you can cook at one go. Vertical smokers can have between three to eight racks—with the latter being ideal if you usually host large gatherings.


In addition to racks some models come with hooks. This way you can cook even more meat at once; simply suspend any additional pieces of meat.

Temperature Ranges

Vertical smokers have different temperature ranges which affect the cooking time and process of meat. Slow and low cooking requires high temperatures. Case in point; poultry requires temperatures that range up to 400ᵒF while steak needs a unit that can reach 500ᵒF. Ultimately the type you pick will depend on your preferred cooking method.


Heavy vertical smokers are better than light ones with regards to performance. A heavy smoker basically means that it’made up of stronger and thicker materials. As stated earlier this is ideal for effective heat retention. The end result is well cooked meat.

It follows that lightweight smokers are usually made of cheaper quality materials. In this case not only is the durability of the entire unit questionable but it doesn’t smoke as well as its heavy duty counterpart does.

Just bear in mind that the weight will affect ease of mobility. A heavy vertical smoker is much more difficult to move around than a light one. It all boils down to what you’re willing to sacrifice; is it performance over mobility?

Alternatively you can opt for one with wheels. This will make it easier to move around regardless of weight.


Consider the warranty period that covers the unit before making any purchases. A warranty is basically proof that the manufacturer is confident in the quality and performance of their product. You want a unit you can get repaired or replaced in the event of malfunctions or damages.

Additional Features

Some manufacturers go the extra mile by incorporating additional features onto their vertical smokers. Of course, such units will often fetch a higher price. But some extra features such as a meat thermometer or hooks are certainly worth the additional amount.


how to use a vertical smoker

Advantages of a Vertical Smoker

As the name suggests this type of smoker is vertically orientated. Compared to the horizontal smoker, this type is loved the world over for its:

–       Small footprint: Thanks to its efficient design, the unit won’t take much space if you have limited space available.

–       Fast cooking turnaround times: Your food will be ready in no time with this type of smoker compared to when using other types.

–       Energy efficiency: Vertical smokers use less fuel in general compared to other types.

–       Durability: Most feature a sturdy construction that guarantees durability.

–       Heat retention: Because of the heavy steel construction, you can expect excellent heat retention from this smoker.

–       Set up anywhere: Vertical smokers allow you the convenience of setting it up almost anywhere because it doesn’t require electricity.

–       Affordability: Vertical smokers are mostly inexpensive units compared to the other types.

–       Portability: Generally vertical smokers are considered to be more portable compared to their horizontal counterparts.

Disadvantages of a Vertical Smoker

Like any product, there are always drawbacks associated with it. We’ll outline a few cons to this unit so that you know what you’re dealing with:

–       Because of the vertical design, getting meat in and out of the unit isn’t easy when compared to a horizontal smoker.

–       You’ll  find rotating the meat a little tedious.

–       Adding fuel can be pretty challenging especially if your unit doesn’t have a dual door design.

–       Cooking large pieces of meat is also difficult because of the narrow racks. Hooking the meat inside the smoker might be a better option.

–       Unfortunately you can’t use them for grilling, only smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer a few questions you might have regarding vertical smokers before we wrap up the article.

How do you clean a vertical smoker?

Earlier on we mentioned the importance of cleaning your racks to remove residue and grime. Thankfully clean up is pretty easy. Soaking your racks in soapy water usually does the trick.

Is it difficult to assemble the unit?

You’ll be  happy to know that you won’t need to pay an expert for the job. Assembling your vertical smoker is relatively straightforward. We strongly advise that you make use of the user manual provided as it usually contains easy to understand step-by-step instructions of how to do the job.

Does the fuel source of the vertical smoker you pick matter?

Quite frankly, the type of fuel you use will affect the final taste of your meat. But the general consensus is that charcoal smoke is the best as it provides the better flavor.


We love a vertical smoker for its space saving design and fast cooking abilities. And you’ll appreciate how it won’t run up your electricity bill. Plus it’s affordable too.

Are you now confident enough to use one? Follow our above mentioned method and tips and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Do you still need more information about how to use your vertical smoker? Feel free to drop any questions you might have in the comment section below. We’re more than happy to help.

How to Use a Vertical Smoker