Charcoal BBQ Tips: What is White Smoke vs. Blue Smoke?

Simply put, when you're charcoal grilling, thick white smoke is bad and thin "blue" or "clear" smoke is good. A lot of beginner charcoal smokers envelope their food in thick white smoke thinking it'll give their food that delicious smoky flavour we all love - they're sadly mistaken. In this blog post, we'll go over why the thick white smoke is bad and why you're getting it; and why the "blue" smoke is good and how to achieve it. Let's get started.

Why thick white smoke is bad: 


Although it definitely looks cool in pictures, thick white smoke is bad for a few reasons. The main reason that's probably most important to many readers here is: it tastes horrible. Thick white smoke will not give your food a desirable smoky flavour. Instead, it'll make your food taste like burnt, cancerous wood. Now, you may be thinking, "Wait, I cook my food with that kind of smoke and everyone, including myself, think it's delicious." Well, sorry to break it to you, but they're either lying to you or they're amateurs. Often times, amateur outdoor cookers can't always tell the difference, but that's why we're here - to be the experts you can trust. 

To be extra clear, before someone starts arguing with us, white smoke will make your food taste smoky, but in a bad way. This is because this white smoke is a sign that your charcoals aren't ready to cook with. While this white smoke is billowing, you'll likely be at low temperatures and getting ash all over your food. Moreover, white smoke will cause your food to taste "over-smoked," bitter, and give it an oily aftertaste. This undesirable taste is due to the build of creosote you just put on your food. 

Creosote is the molecular materials of wood that's vaporized and condense or solidify when they touch a cool surface (your meat). This is the layer of black flakey gunk that you may see built up on the inside of your barbecue (no, it's not rust or peeling paint, just scrub it off). 

Why thin blue smoke is good:

Charcoal Thin Blue Smoke from Big Green Egg Cooking Steaks and Potatoes and Couple Cooking on Charcoal BBQ

If you're grilling with thin transparent smoke, also known as "blue smoke," then you're in the clear - horrible pun, we know. Good thing we're better at grilling than we are with comedy. Anyway, achieving blue smoke means your coals are red hot. At this stage, the majority of your coals are likely burning thoroughly and more evenly, whereas white smoke is generated by having just the outside of your coals on fire which makes for uneven heat. Additionally, you won't get that build up of creosote on your food. So, think of our bad pun if you ever need help remembering when it's time to put your food on your grill. Take a look at the photo of the beautiful couple because they know what they're doing. See how their grill doesn't have any super thick white smoke, and it's more of a faint, practically transparent smoke? Now you might be wondering how to get thin blue smoke from charcoal; keep reading to find out how.

Why you're getting bad white smoke:

In short, your charcoals aren't hot enough nor have they been burning long enough. Thick white smoke is a sign of a dead or dying fire - and you want to be cooking on a live one. Although they say patience is a virtue and you'll have to wait for that blue smoke, there are still some things you can do to speed up the process.  

How to get good blue smoke:

Kamado Joe Charcoal BBQ with Thin Blue  Smoke Infusing Food

One of the biggest mistakes that beginner charcoal grillers do is not letting their fire breath before they throw their meat overtop of it. The pros will start their charcoal, let it burn until the white smoke billows away, then place their meat atop their grill. So, how do you speed up the process to get that blue smoke?

Firstly, if you still have white smoke, open all the vents on your barbecue. Let the air flow through and allow the fiery coals to breath. Secondly, be sure that little flame you've currently got isn't being smothered. Sometimes when beginners get too excited, they don't let their newly lit charcoals spread their flame to the others. Instead, they stir the charcoal around too early and now all the coals that were lit are on the underside of the chamber, not getting any air flow or oxygen to stay alive. Essentially, you want to be patient with your charcoal while giving them the best environment for the fire to spread. Good blue smoke will often appear 20 to 30 minutes after your charcoals catch a good flame. Check out the photo below. See how the group of people are letting that white smoke billow out of the fully open top vent with the bottom vent completely open too? Additionally, they're waiting with no food in sight - that's because it's not even close to the time for them to start cooking.

Kamado Joe Charcoal BBQ with White Smoke Billowing Out of Top Vent and Bottom Vent Open With Dinner Guests Waiting

If temperature and airflow control is something you struggle with, the Big Green Egg EGG Genius or the ThermoWorks Billows, Signals and Adapter Kit may be the answer to all of your problems. Check out this video here to see what they can do.


Recipes to Try

Now that you know how to get beautiful blue smoke, put your skills to the test with some original recipes by Barbecues Galore:

 Charcoal to Try


You're going to need burn through a good amount of charcoal before you can truly master the process of charcoal BBQ. So, why not get charcoal for the best price in Canada? Click here to learn more about our FREE Ember Members loyalty program.

Best Priced BBQ Charcoal in Canada at Barbecues Galore with Ember Members Loyalty Program


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