Why Does My Smoker Turn Food Black? [Causes & Fixes]

You love a low and slow cook in your smoker to make your favorite cut of meat taste great. So, imagine your disappointment when your brisket comes out black and tastes like tar! Sometimes a smoker turns food black and gives it an acrid taste, there are two possible reasons for this, and one could be bad for your health!

When a smoker turns food black, it may be because of a creosote build-up in the smoker, coating the food in a potentially poisonous substance. Alternatively, poor ventilation could be trapping smoke in the smoker, turning food black. Cleaning the smoker and all the vents solves both problems. 

why does my smoker turn food black

It is a waste of good meat and food, and it is also very disappointing to put so much effort into a cook only to have disastrous results. When you first used it, your smoker didn’t make food black, so how do you get your smoker back to producing great smoked food?

Let’s get low and slow in this post to see how and why creosote and smoke build-up cause food to turn black in a smoker and how to eliminate this problem in your smoker for good.

Creosote Could Cause Black Food In A Smoker

If there is black residue on the outside of food and it tastes bitter when you take a bite of it, it could be a creosote build-up in the smoker transferring to your food while cooking.

It would seem logical to assume that meat and other food will get a little black in a smoker because it is surrounded by smoke and soot for long periods. 

This is not the case; while food will change color, you will immediately see the difference between meat cooked in a smoky environment and food covered in creosote. The creosote is dark black and may even drip off the food.

In some extreme cases, the creosote can cause your tongue to go numb or tingly, signifying something is poisonous. Exposure to creosote can also irritate the eyes, nose, and airways. Excess consumption of creosote is a health hazard.

What Is Creosote In A Smoker?

Creosote is a black and oily substance that remains in the smoker after a long cook at higher temperatures. Wood-fueled smokers produce creosote. 

What Causes A Creosote Build-up In A Smoker?

Creosote is produced in a smoker when the wood inside the smoker doesn’t burn properly. It is a by-product of the smoke and is especially noticeable from dense hardwoods that are allowed to produce too much smoke in your smoker.

Creosote can result from one of the following:

  • The smoker has too much fuel.
  • The fuel is burning too fast, and the temperature is incorrect
  • The airflow is restricted inside the smoker
  • The wood is producing smoke, but they are not burning hot enough

The easiest way to tell if your smoker is possibly producing creosote is if the smoke is too heavy, dense, and dark as the cook progresses. 

Combining these three is a good indicator to check everything is going as it should inside the burner.

How To Stop And Prevent Creosote In Your Smoker

Regularly cleaning a smoker will prevent creosote build-up in the smoker. This is why food only turns black occasionally or after heavy use because it requires a build-up before it becomes a problem.

It is easy to clean creosote from the smoker, and it can be prevented with a few minor changes in your smoker care routine.

It is best to clean your smoker thoroughly and regularly.

Heavy Smoke Could Cause Black Food In A Smoker

Sometimes a smoker over-produces smoke. So, when food stays in the smoker, it could leave a layer of soot on the food. This is unappetizing and a waste of money. 

What Causes An Overproduction Of Smoke In A Smoker?

If oil or fat drips off the food and into the burner while cooking, the oil will burn with a cloud of black smoke, leaving a black residue on the food.

Poor ventilation can cause excess and stale smoke in the smoker and produce too much smoke. Even though it is called a “smoker,” creating too little smoke during the cook won’t get you the desired flavor, and too much smoke will overpower the food. So you must get it just right.

How To Prevent Your Smoker From Producing Too Much Smoke

To prevent too much smoke and a layer of stale smoke build-up on the food you are smoking: check vents, clean the smoker, assess your fuel, and check the temperature.

To be sure your smoker is in good working condition and won’t turn food black, follow these steps:

Step: 1

Check your smoker’s vent: A build-up of stale smoke in the smoker could be caused by something as simple as a blocked vent. First, check that the right amount of smoke is coming from your smoker’s vent. 

Do this when the smoker is ready to use, before putting any food inside. Then, if the vent is blocked, you won’t have wasted any food.

Step: 2 

Clean your smoker often: Most companies recommend cleaning a smoker after 3-4 long cooks. Unfortunately, many people overlook this process because it takes time to clean a smoker. Most people would rather fire up the grill and start cooking instead of spending time cleaning it.  

Then after cooking, the grill must cool down after use before cleaning it, and by the time it is cool enough, you are busy with other things. But a clean smoker will produce better results every time. 

If there is any excess fat spatter or grime in the smoker, it may begin to produce black smoke from the burning oil when it heats up. This is precisely what you are trying to avoid.

Step: 3 

Always check your fuel before a cook: High-quality fuel is less likely to produce black smoke or too much smoke. Unless you have an excellent knowledge of wood and can make the right amount of woodchips for your smoker, it is best to use flavored wood pellets from trusted brands. 

If the pellets in the hopper create too much smoke or black smoke, it is time to try a different brand.

Step: 4 

Ensure the fuel is at the right temperature: Give your fuel and pellets time to reach their full heat. A smoker is designed to smoke meat and other food gently; if the smoke is thick and white, it may leave a layer of soot on the food or overpower the food with an unpleasant smoke taste. 

Always make sure the fuel is burning fully and producing the right amount of smoke. It is ready to use if the smoke is bluish and is not billowing in thick plumes.

Final Word

There are two main reasons a smoker may be turning food that should be delicious into black and horrible tasting waste: because of a creosote build-up in the smoker. 

Creosote coats the food in a potentially poisonous substance; when there is poor ventilation, the smoke can’t escape. Therefore it turns the food black. 

Both causes are easy to clear up by cleaning the smoker and all vents. If the vents are clear and the smoker is clean but still coating food in black residue, check the fuel you are using and ensure the fuel is burning properly before putting food in the smoker.

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