Campfires, controlled burns, BBQ smoke—it doesn’t seem to matter.
Wherever you are standing at the moment, that’s where the smoke tends to go. There’s a saying, “smoke is attracted to beauty.”
Maybe that has something to do with it, but the truth is, smoke is attracted to low-pressure zones.
Cool air is drawn to fire because heat rises away from it.
When you are standing around (or scrambling around, trying to get away from the incessant smoke), you are creating a pocket where the cool air cant rush in.
That’s a low-pressure zone and the smoke pulls right to it. There is probably a scientific formula for it.
We’re talking physics, after all.
The formula probably takes up an entire blackboard or something crazy that basically boils down to, smoke going to low-pressure points.
And that generally means wherever you are standing at the moment.
Can You Reverse the Process?
There are a few things that you can do that are more preemptive than anything else, such as grilling out whenever there is a bit of a breeze going on.
If you’re dealing with dead air, you’re going to be sucking in a lot of BBQ smoke whether you like it or not.
Of course, if there is a hurricane-force gale going on outside, it’s probably not the best idea in the world to fire up the grill.
But, the idea is, you set the grill up according to the wind so that you’re always upwind of where the wind is blowing.
You can enjoy your grill while all of your smoke blows over into the neighbor’s yard.
If they don’t appreciate the finer points of pork butt, maybe they should remove themselves from the low-pressure zone.
Some people go for smokeless fires.
If that’s your thing, it will certainly help, even though no smokeless fire is completely smokeless.
What Causes all the Smoke in the First Place?
Smoke is a product of material that is not burnt. It’s the part of the fire and material that escaped the chaotic reaction of combustion.
That’s why, when you throw green leaves and branches on a hot fire, the smoke becomes far more intense as you cool off the burning matter below.
This will allow some of the matter to escape in the form of smoke.
Unless you plan on using the smoke for cooking and flavoring purposes, you want to create an even level of burn that isn’t what you might call a “poor combustion” level.
That means increasing the oxygen to feed the fire.
Of course, grilling out is a subtle balance between temperature, smoke, and oxygen.
Too much heat and everything on the grill is going to be as tough to chew on as the slab of an oak tree.
There are times when you just have to reduce the heat.
Unfortunately, that means you will have to deal with a bit of smoke until the heat and oxygen levels are increased once again.
How to Prevent Smoke from Your BBQ
Since you now know that the unburnt particles are the parts of combustion that causes the volume of smoke, you can work to reduce that as a factor whenever you step outside and fire up the grill.
Keep Your Grill Clean
All of that excess build-up on the sides, bottom area (where the charcoal rests), and on the grill are major contributors to the amount of smoke from the fire.
Keeping the thing clean is important if you don’t like the smoke.
For some, a whole lot of smoke is just another part of the grilling process.
But if you don’t like it, you have to keep a clean grill.
That also means getting rid of all the ash. Ash is a huge purveyor of smoke when you light up your BBQ again.
It’s not the ash that converts to smoke, however, it’s the fact that the ash is there, reducing the ability of oxygen to reach the fire.
Of course, that keeps the fire cooler than you intend and the cooler a fire is, the more smoke that billows out.
Scour and Clean Your Grill Plates
Leftover grease and excess moisture from the food that you have grilled before are also smoke magnets.
These things don’t burn because they are sitting on the grill but they do get hot.
When they get hot from the heat of the coals, they fail to ignite while creating a ton of unburnt material in the form of smoke.
You can reduce this big time if you use a metal wire brush or a scouring pad to thoroughly clean your grill plates when you are done grilling.
It’s best to do it when the grease and the excess food are still hot. It cleans off a whole lot easier when it’s fresh and hot.
If you try to come back a day later, once it had time to harden and turn into that rock-like substance that you practically have to shatter with a chipping hammer, it’s a lot harder to clean.
What About Gas BBQs?
The same cleaning and preventative maintenance tips still apply to a gas grill just like they do for a charcoal grill.
The biggest difference between a gas grill and a charcoal grill is the pressure on the incoming gas, which you can always reduce.
The higher pressure puts out more flame than necessary, which will end up spitting out more smoke than you intend while overcooking everything.
Rescue the pressure and you reduce the smoke.
Besides, slow cooking (when you are not looking to sear or blacken) is often the best approach.
If you are working off of a gas valve because your home has natural gas, you’ll need to talk to your gas provider about the pressure.
All Things Considered
That’s really all there is to it.
Smoke doesn’t come after you because it’s magic but because you are creating a low-pressure bubble that the smoke is attracted to like metal to a magnet.
You can’t stop yourself from creating that low-pressure, but you can always take advantage of the air around you or simply stand behind someone else.