How long to preheat a smoker for? The perfect time add the meat!

It may surprise you that adding your meat to a charcoal smoker immediately is a big no no! “Ok so how long to preheat a smoker” I hear you say. Well there is a number of objectives that should be reached before adding meat to smoker.

Time is not the only target you should set when preheating a smoker. Before we get into that you should probably understand why you shouldn’t just chuck the meat straight onto a smoker.

Should you preheat a smoker?

Preheating a charcoal smoker before adding the meat ensures all bacteria inside the cooking chamber has been given sufficient time to burn away.

Secondly the wood of choice has been given enough time to settle and burn a slow and consist blue smoke, I will explain this later. We want the wood to smoulder away releasing smoke slowly not burn away in a fireball quickly.

The last and most important reason you should preheat a smoker, is to allow yourself the chance to set of all the dampers to reach the desired cooking temperature. By ensuring the temperatures have stabilised inside the smoker this means a more even cook to the meat. Less adjustments to the smoker will also be made once the meat is added.

Yes, you will remove/open the lid of the smoker to add the meat and the heat will escape. But as the smoker has been ‘set’ via the dampers to a set temperature, the smoker will return to the set temperature.

You may only need to make minor adjustment to the dampers. Not start all over again or risk the temperature shooting up too high.

What should you do before adding meat to smoker?

A little checklist to ensure that you have done everything before adding a meat to the smoker is to ensure you have:

  • Fuel
  • Smoke
  • Temperature


Ensure you have enough fuel in the grill to last either the maximum length of time or more than enough for the meat you are smoking. Limiting the amount of times you need remove meat or potentially relight the charcoal will result in better smoked meat.

Thin Blue smoke

As soon as the wood starts to burn it can sometimes give off a lot of very heavy smoke. Usually after 10 minutes or so the thick smoke will clear to a nice consistent thin blue tinted smoke. Thin blue smoke is an indication that your fire is burning clean and no toxins in the wood are being released.


The temperature you are choosing to smoke at should be set. Once this has held consistently for 5 – 10 mins it is safe to assume the temperature will not shoot up randomly and should carry on holding(remember the smoker still needs checking and temperature adjusting regularly).

After all of the above scenarios are met you should then add the meat.

How long to preheat a smoker by time only?

It is very difficult to say how long to preheat a smoker by time only as all grills are different. If you are to go by an approximate time you could say it will take 30 minutes to preheat a smoker. 30 minutes is a pretty accurate time to go by for most smokers.

However, one smoker could take only 10 -15 minutes to preheat correctly. Some have better heat retention and allow the heat pass through into the cooking chamber better than others. Some smokers just respond when controlling the air dampers than others.

Remember to account for extra time to boil the water if using a smoker water pan.

how long

It will also come down to experience and hands on grill experience with your smoker.

Final Say

Once you have built up experience of smoking meat, setting up and preheating a smoker takes very little time. You will take up the ’30 minutes’ doing last minute preparations to the meat so the time is rarely wasted stood around.

Lastly, preheating a smoker is just as important as the smoking itself. Ensuring you have just ticked off all the boxes before adding meat to the smoker will ensure that an expensive cut of meat is done the justice it deserves.