Clean Smoke Vs. Dirty Smoke in BBQ Smoking


You must be aware that smoking wood can produce both clean and dirty smoke.


Clean smoke is thin blue smoke that gives meat the flavor that you want to infuse in it. 

However, dirty smoke is much thicker and looks quite white, and instead of making your food taste better, can make it taste ashy and bitter.

So, of course, you need to make sure that when you produce smoke in your smoker to cook your meat, you’re producing clean smoke. 

We are here to help you achieve clean smoke and avoid dirty smoke so that you don’t end up ruining your meat.

What Color Should Smoke be When Smoking Meat?

Clean smoke should be thin and blue. In fact, it’s so thin that it almost looks transparent instead of blue. As long as you have smoke that you can see through, you can assume that you are doing things right.

It might even seem like that smoke is too little for meat to properly be able to flavor it, but that’s fine! Most people assume that the more the smoke is, the better. That is not true at all. 

When it comes to smoking meat, a little smoke can leave a very intense flavor in your meat. Therefore, the lesser the smoke is allowed to contact the meat, the better.

So this means that you need to burn only a very little amount of wood chips for flavoring your food. 

This is especially important to note for smokers which do not use wood as their main fuel source and the only purpose of added wood chunks or chips is to produce a light, think smoke to flavor the meat.

It’s also quite important to notice that you can’t produce thin blue smoke as soon as you start burning the wood. Initially, you will get a gray smoke, then it will turn a little thick and white, and eventually, after full combustion of the wood, the smoke will turn almost transparent like blue.

Read Also: Basics of Smoking Meat 101

What Color is the Dirty Smoke?

A lot of people think that when their smokers are producing large amounts of billowing smoke, they are doing things right. Which is not true at all!

When your smoker starts producing thick white smoke that makes your surrounding atmosphere quite uncomfortable, you are producing dirty smoke.

Dirty smoke is produced as a result of incomplete combustion of the wood that is being burned.  This means that a lack of oxygen can turn your tasty meat into a bitter feast.

One way to resolve this is by of course opening the smoking vents a little more and allowing more oxygen to enter the fire for complete combustion to take place.

If you need more help understanding how bad smoke works, this video can help you out:

3 Ways How to Maintain a Clean Smoke

If not supervised properly, your thin clean smoke can also turn thick and white midway and end up ruining your meat when you least expect it. 

Therefore, we are here with a few of our favorite tips that help us maintain clean smoke in all our smoking sessions successfully.

1. Open the Smoker Vents

Like we mentioned, thick smoke rises from the incomplete combustion of wood, and hence a lack of oxygen.

So, at all points during the smoking process, you should ensure that your smoker’s vents and exhausts are open wide enough for adequate oxygen to enter and the burning wood keeps producing more clean smoke.

This might disrupt the temperature of the smoking chamber a little, but that’s fine. Because the alternative would be to maintain a steady temperature with closed vents but allow the meat to be bathed in bitter smoke.

2. Allow the Coal Bed to Form

Before burning wood for producing smoke, you should build a charcoal bed in your smoker’s firebox. This will help maintain a steady temperature inside the smoker.

Now, when you add the wood chips or chunks to the smoker, one by one, the wood will ignite slowly and the temperature will also rise more steadily.

This gradual burning of wood will help produce cleaner smoke more easily.

3. Use Dry Wood

This is one of the most important factors to ensure when using wood to produce clean smoke for smoking meat. 

Most people think that using wet wood is better for smoking, which is not true at all.

In fact, it’s best to use dry wood when you are trying to avoid billowing white smoke coming out of your smoking chamber. 

This is because wet wood takes quite a lot of time to ignite, and even when it starts burning, it has to first get rid of all the moisture locked inside it. 

It also produces steam before it can produce smoke. This steam prevents future ignition of other wood chunks easily, and so disrupts the overall temperature and heat control inside the firebox.

Wrapping it Up

If you have been dealing with white and thick smoke lately and aren’t happy with the bitter meat you get as a result, it’s completely okay! 

This is quite a common problem that many people face. However, we were here to help you get rid of the undesirable smoke and get the right smoky flavor for your meat!


Tyler Lachance is a cookout professional. His expertise on cooking grilled food, creating marinades, formulating sauces and matching his food with the perfect drink is unrivaled.

Born and raised in a family that has a long history of cookout, he has treated this activity as a part of his culture and who he is.