How to Use the Top and Back Vents on an Electric Smoker

Learn how to properly use the vents on an electric smoker and why they are so important to ho successful your food comes out.

Learn whether the top and bottom vents should be open or closed and in what situations.

air vent on an electric smoker


If you are new smoking, or using an electric smoker in particular, you may be wondering what the vents do on an electric smoker and how to use them.

Understanding how the vents work on an electric smoker is very important when learning how to use an electric smoker safely and properly.

Using the vents correctly will also result in better smoke production and better tasting food!

Today we are going to try and cover this form the following angles:

  1. What does the vent do on an electric smoker?
  2. How to adjust the vents on an electric smoker
  3. How to use the back vent on an electric smoker
  4. Whether to open or close the top vent on an electric smoker
  5. Should you leave the vents open or closed when preheating or seasoning an electric smoker?

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!


What Does the Vent do on an Electric Smoker?

Many folks familiar with using a charcoal grill or smoker understand that adjusting the vents is how you control airflow and temperature.

The more open the vents, the more air will flow through, thus providing more oxygen to the burning charcoal and raising the temperature.

But on an electric smoker, we usually set the temperature manually like an oven, and then the smoker maintains that temperature automatically.

That’s the beauty of an electric smoker.

So why do you need to know anything about using vents?

Well, even though the electric smoker computer is monitoring and controlling the heating element and the internal temperature, you still need airflow inside the smoker for combustion and smoke production.

If you tried igniting and smoldering the wood chips in an airtight smoker, you wouldn’t have much luck, hence the need for air vents, even on electric smokers.

Because heat rises, air gets sucked in and enters the smoker through the lower back vent, and escapes through the top vent.  You need BOTH vents for air circulation to occur.


How to Adjust the Vents on an Electric Smoker

Now, here comes the wonderful part about using the vents on an electric smoker compared to a propane or charcoal smoker.

In almost all cases, you just want to leave both vents completely OPEN when smoking, and close them when storing.

It’s that simple.  But let’s take a look at why.


How to Use the Back Vent on an Electric Smoker

The back vent is where your main source of airflow is coming IN to the smoker.

You need oxygen and airflow for a number of reasons:

You need old smoke to go out the exhaust so that creosote does not accumulate and land on your food.

If stale, old smoke is left to accumuate insde the smoker it can leave a sour nasty taste on your food in the form of creosote accumulation.

This is ot what we want.  We wnat smokey flavor from continuous, FRESH smoke surrounding and penetrating our meat.

You need fresh oxygen to help the wood chips smolder and create smoke.

If exposed to TOO much oxygen, your woodchipps will ignite and burn quickly, not what we want, (think of just throwing a handful of wood chips on some lit charcoal).

But we are not controlling the airflow to the wood chips with the vents.  The airflow to the woodchips is limited by placing them in the wood chip tray, much like using a smoker box on a gas grill.

Masterbuilt MB20074719 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker, 40 inch, Stainless Steel

So adjusting the vent positioning is not adjusting the oxygen flow to the wood like you might with the dampers on an offset barrel smoker like an Oklahoma Joe.

So don’t overthink it, the whole point of using an electric smoker is for ease of use.

You need a flow of air for the maillard reaction to occur and for your meat to brown properly and develop a crispy bark.

This one is debated in some BBQ circles, but if you read any smoking forums like this one, you’ll see countless posters complaining that their meat turned gray or rubbery when they tried smoking with the air vents closed.

While some humidity is good inside the smoking chamber, if it gets OVERLY humid inside your electric smoker with no air exchange and too much stale smoke buildup, it’s not going to be good for your meat.


Whether to Open or Close the Top Vent on an Electric Smoker

top vent on an electric smoker

The answer to this one is easy once again:

Open the top vent on an electric smoker when smoking, and close it when storing.

You can’t have airflow with only one vent open, regardless of which one it is.

You need an exhaust for the stale smoke to leave and a way to creat airflow so that new air comes into the smoker in the first place.

If the top vent is closed you will have no air exchange, no matter how much you open the bottom vent.

Think about opening windows in your house as an example.

If you open just one window, not much air from outside comes through, but if you open another window on the other end of your house, you get a nice breeze coming through the house as air moves from one window and out the other.


Won’t All the Smoke Escape if I Open the Vents on an Electric Smoker?

Yes, but that is ok.

There’s more smoke right behind it if you keep your wood chip tray replenished.

You don’t want stale smoke accumulating and therefore creosote forming on your meat.  Yuck.

You want fresh smoke consistantly penetrating your meat and then once its done its job, leaving through the exhaust.

This is the basic premise of almost any type of smoker whether it is a pellet grill, vertical smoker, or a big competition style barrel smoker.


Should you Leave the Vents Open or Closed When Preheating or Seasoning an Electric Smoker?

This is a great question that gets asked a lot in BBQ forums.

Masterbuilt MB20074719 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker, 40 inch, Stainless Steel

You do not technically NEED to open the vents when preheating your smoker.  Like an oven, the smoker uses an heating element to raise the temperature inside the cooking chamber and airflow is not required to for this happen.


It is best practice to just open them right from the beginning. You will likely forget to do it later when you are thinking about adding your wood and getting your meat on.

PLus, you may experience a big temperature swing if you preheat first, the put on your meat and open up the vents.

The smoker will eventually adjust automatically, but in order to avoid this, just open the vents when you start preheating the smoker.

The same goes for seasoning your new smoker, especially if you are using wood smoke when seasoning it.

Keeping the air vents open will reduce the humidity inside the chamber, so that is is less likely to get moldy and need to be cleaned, and also help exhaust any nasty fumes from the manufacturing chemicals you are trying to burn off in the first place.




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