How to light a smoker – step by step advice from the experts

Fan of the long, slow cooking and tender results of a smoker? Lighting one is simple with these steps

person cooking on a wood pellet smoker grill
(Image credit: Traeger)

The slow cooking of a smoker produces fabulously succulent meats and once you’ve discovered how to use one well, you can deliver such consistently delicious results it may become your number one way to cook outside. 

Discovering how to light a smoker is part of the vital knowhow you need to gather, but once you’ve learned the steps you need to follow to get the most from this type of grill, you’ll be on the way to feeding family and friends beautifully tender meat.

Here, we explain the steps for lighting a smoker for delicious alfresco cooking and dining.

Expert tips on how to light a smoker

Firing up a smoker isn’t difficult. However, just as with lighting a charcoal grill, it’s important to build the time it takes to do so as well as the time it takes to reach the temperature required into the cooking schedule. 

The steps for lighting a smoker vary according to the model, so always check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific details, but below are the typical steps for lighting a smoker easily, as well as those for a Traeger.

person cooking on a large wood pellet smoker grill

(Image credit: Traeger)

Lighting a smoker with a chimney starter

Using a chimney starter is an efficient way to light a smoker. This is what you need to do to light your grill using this method.

  1. Add charcoal to the chimney starter following smoker instructions on quantity, light then wait around 15 minutes for the charcoal to begin to ash over.
  2. Fully open the vents (also know as baffles) of the smoker to draw in oxygen. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your model, but it’s likely to have two.
  3. Carefully add the charcoal to the firebox. Wait for the smoker to reach the desired temperature. Keep the doors closed.
  4. When the smoker is up to temperature, add the meat. Close the door. Adjust vents as necessary for heat control during cooking. Add additional lit coals from the chimney starter as required.
  5. Wood chunks can also be added for flavor. Follow the grill guidelines on adding these to the smoker.

How to light a Traeger grill

Smoking on a Traeger grill? Jo McDonald, Traeger country manager UK and Ireland, explains how to light the grill. 

  1. Plug in your grill, turn the power switch on the back of your grill to on and press the standby button on your grill controller.  
  2. Turn the grill dial to the desired temperature, press the dial to confirm the selection and then press and hold the ignite button.  
  3. Control the temperature and smoke levels from the app on your phone or Apple watch. ‘Typically a temperature between 160 and 225˚F would be used for low and slow smoking, delivering a delicious wood smoked flavor,’ says Jo.


Why won’t my fire stay lit in my smoker?

There are some different reasons why a fire won’t stay lit in a smoker. One is that it isn’t getting the oxygen that’s necessary. This is also one of the main reasons why a charcoal grill isn't lighting too. 

Open the vents when you’re lighting a smoker (check the manufacturer’s instructions if you aren’t clear on where these are located on your smoker model). It’s only when the smoker is heated up and you’re starting to cook meat that you should adjust the vents as necessary.

It’s also important to be aware that damp charcoal can cause a problem. Charcoal needs to be dry when it goes into the smoker. Don’t store it anywhere damp like a basement; keep it in a well-sealed container in an environment that is cool and dry.

Be sure to store wood pellets correctly if these fire your smoker. They should be kept in a dry, airtight container. For those who live in a humid climate, indoor pellet storage is highly recommended.

How long does a Traeger take to ignite?

‘Getting cooking on a Traeger is quick and easy,’ says Jo McDonald, Traeger country manager UK and Ireland.

‘From starting the process to light the grill to the fire being fully established should take no more than five minutes. You should then allow it to preheat for 10 to15 minutes or until the desired temperature is reached, then you’re ready to start cooking.’

Although you might think that lighting a smoker is trickier than lighting a gas grill, it's relatively straightforward as long as you follow the recommended guidelines. 

Having a space near your outdoor grill station where you can keep your chosen fuel dry and ready to go will help ensure that lighting it is a breeze.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.