Many people have issues with their electric smokers not getting hot enough. Usually, there is a fairly straightforward solution to this which I’ll discuss in this article. It is vitally important when smoking meat that the temperature does get up to the correct temperature, generally in the 200-220 def F range, to ensure the meat is adequately cooked and free of any pathogens that may survive at a lower temperature.
If your electric smoker is not heating the meat to achieve a consistently high temperature, in the region of 220 degrees F, you have problems, and will need to take a good look at not just the smoker itself, but also your actions. Continuous lid opening, not understanding the vent mechanism, not using a probe to monitor temperatures can all lead to a poor result, and potentially, a dodgy tummy too.
As someone who once made the mistake of cooking pork, wrapping it in foil, then eating it a few hours later on an English Channel ferry crossing, I can confirm that eating certain meats that have not been adequately cooked is a mistake. The following day of constant vomiting and nausea confirmed this to me. Pork is tricky meat, but smoking any meat at too low a temperature is risky.
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Electric smoker not getting hot enough? What should you do?
There are essentially two possible issues as to why your electric smoker is not getting sufficiently hot or losing heat during the cooking process. These are:
- A fault with the smoker itself, generally the element not getting hot enough or the thermostat is faulty, or…
- User error. Not understanding how to use the smoker’s venting system, or constantly allowing heat to escape by over-checking on the progress of the smoking.
Read on as we discuss these potential problems, and how to deal with them. Understanding the basics is essential if you want to learn how to use a smoker effectively.
How hot should a smoker be?
As already mentioned, irrespective of whether your smoker is wood or charcoal-fired, or electric, the range that is required for smoking meats safely and effectively is in the 200-250 deg Fahrenheit range, typically somewhere around 220 degrees. An easy way to measure this is to grab a meat thermometer and dangle the probe in through the top vent on your grill. Most thermometers also have an alarm that you can set to signal if the temperature has dropped too much.
Electric smokers often ship with a built-in thermostatically-controlled heating element, which should make it super easy to keep the heat in the correct range, but occasionally these fail. In fact, using a thermometer like this one to check the internal temperature of your smoker is a good plan, if nothing else, it allows you to confirm that the electric smoker’s built-in thermostat is indeed working properly. You can also use it to check the internal temperature of meat whether you are smoking it, barbequing, or cooking a chicken in the oven. Definitely a useful bit of kit to have.
Signs your smoker is losing heat
If you don’t have a thermostatically controlled smoker or a meat thermometer with an alarm, it can often be the case that you don’t realize your smoker has lost its heat until you go and check it. Consider that you may be smoking a joint like a brisket for 4-5 hours or longer, and flipping every couple of hours. Unless you are regularly checking, heat loss could have occurred long before you check. And if you are checking too often, opening the lid every 15 minutes, you’ll be losing heat every time. A victim of your own diligence.
So, having an alarm-based digital thermometer or similar system is what you really need if you plan on doing the job properly. Set a high and low range alarm and sit back. You’ll get an audible warning if your smoker’s internal temperature drops below, say 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This will give you plenty of time to take any necessary action. There are a couple of other reasons your smoker may lose heat, let’s take a look.
Why a smoker loses heat
Insufficient fuel source – Whatever smoker you have, manual offset smoker or electric, it will require some sort of fuel to provide the heat or impart the smokiness to the meat. Many electric smokers have quite specific requirements for the size and quantity of wood chips to provide the appropriate amount of smoke to the meat. So checking whether your fuel source has run out is something that you need to check. If you closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to fill the smokebox, what chips are best, and how long a full box will last, you are on the right track. Take a look at this short read on how pellet grills work to help your understanding if you are new to the topic.
Incorrect vent setting – Smokers, barbeques, chargrill units all have a venting system to allow you to closely control the loss of heat from the unit, and/or to provide enough airflow to keep the fuel burning. This is obviously far more important to a smoker which is fuel-fired, without an electric heating element, but even an electric smoker will lose all its heat if the vent is left in the wrong position.
Someone pulled out the electric lead – This sounds silly, but it happens. If your smoker is utilizing some sort of extension cable, double-check that the connection hasn’t been severed due to a careless foot, or that it hasn’t been unplugged at the wall by an unknowing third party. This stuff happens all the time, and losing your mind before checking the basics could make you feel a little foolish, or raise your blood pressure without good cause 🙂
A windy or unduly cold environment – Running your smoker when the outside conditions are drawing heat away is often a bad idea. If you have to smoke in the middle of winter, at least try and position your smoker in a sheltered area so that the wind isn’t hitting it. Or build a simple windbreak with some plywood.
There are probably many other reasons what a smoker can lose its heat, but this covers the main ones that I have experienced. If you have any great stories, leave a comment below.
How do you keep a smoker hot?
How to increase heat in an electric smoker
Electric smoker brands have a variety of different functions, but the basics are typically the same. Here are a few tips to increase the heat in your smoker:
- Change the thermostat settings
- Ditch the water chamber and pan, opt for dry heat only.
- Protect from the wind
- Make sure smoker lid or door is a tight fit and seals are serviceable
Be aware that electric smokers typically cannot produce temperatures over 300 deg F, they are super convenient, but not designed for such high temperatures. If you need that level of heat, charcoal or wood-fired smoker is a better option. Knowing the limitations of your equipment is essential, but to be honest, an electric smoker can do a great job for the average person wanting to smoke themselves some meat. If you turn into a smoking guru, then maybe it is time to reconsider.
Electric smokers are wonderful. They provide convenience, fairly fool-proof smoking, and allow you to really enjoy the process. But they have certain limitations which definitely need to be understood from the outset. If your electric smoker is not getting hot enough, do the basic checks first. You will likely find out it is something you have overlooked. Check these things before assuming that there is a fault with the unit, although of course, these do occur. A check of your manual or a glance on the manufacturer’s website will often give you all the troubleshooting you need.
Good luck, enjoy our smoking.