Why Does BBQ Smoke Follow You and How to Prevent It 

  • By: Peter Allen
  • Date: 07/07/2021
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Smoke is inevitable when dealing with BBQs, and it will most certainly follow you. But here is a question – why does BBQ smoke follow you?

When barbecuing, the burning fire creates a vacuum, which the cool air from the surrounding should fill. Because you’re standing next to your BBQ, you slightly block the air from filling the void, which creates a low-pressure zone. The smoke from the grill will start flowing to this low-pressure area, giving off the impression of smoke following you.

No matter where you stand when grilling, smoke will just follow you. To the surprise of many, it comes down to it that the smoke isn’t really following you; it is reacting to changes in airflow.

In this post, you will learn the science of why smoke seems to follow you when barbecuing and other useful information about the subject. Read on to discover the fascinating answer to the rather curious question.

The science behind BBQ smoke following you

First off, let’s agree that BBQ smoke is enthralling and fun. Everyone likes the compelling aroma of a char grill. Who doesn’t?

While the grill smoke is fun, no one wants their face buried in a cloud of thick smoke. It hardly helps you breathe normally and may contain carbon monoxide plus other harmful substances.

Back to the main question: Why does BBQ smoke follow you? There are two scientific reasons that BBQ smoke ever seems to follow you. Here is what happens whenever you stand next to your glorious outdoor grill when it is lit.

You create a low-pressure zone: When your BBQ is lit, it creates a mild current of warm air that rises above it. As the hot air and smoke rise, they create a partial vacuum, and the surrounding cool air is drawn in to fill the vacuum. If you’re standing beside the grill, your body mass partially blocks air from moving towards the fire, thus creating a point of lower pressure, which in turn leads to atmospheric imbalance. The rising smoke seeks a low-pressure area to move toward, and, unfortunately, that low-pressure area is where you are standing.

Clothes absorb heat from the BBQ: The heat absorbed by your clothes is also causing BBQ smoke to follow you. Although grills do not emit a lot of heat like campfires, your outer clothing will certainly absorb heat from them. The heat trapped in your clothes not only keeps you warm but also warms the air around you. The warm air rises, creating a partial vacuum, which causes the BBQ smoke to gravitate towards the vacuum in front of your body. In no time, your face will be buried in a cloud of smoke.

Notably, smoke will react to atmospheric imbalances created by your body mass no matter where you are sitting by the fire.

Besides the obvious physics, someone may argue that smoke follows you because the universe is against you, which is also completely probable.

If you stand in the direction of the wind, it is a no-brainer that the nasty phenomenon will occur, and you will be smelling smoke by the time you’re leaving your BBQ location.

Can you stop smoke from following you?

Now you know why BBQ smoke “follows” you.

So, what can you do to stop it?

The only way to stop BBQ smoke from following you is by not grilling at all. Even so, there are a few tricks to avoid too much smoke following you when barbecuing.

Utilize the wind: There is always a chance that the wind will be blowing when you’re grilling. Although you don’t want to cook on your BBQ when the wind speeds are high, you can leverage wind direction to avoid BBQ smoke coming to your side. Because the smoke will naturally flow in the direction of the wind, standing opposite downwind means you will not have a lot of smoke following you. If the wind direction changes, reposition yourself.

Aim for a smokeless fire: To be honest, a fire can’t be completely smokeless, and for you to reduce smoke, you need to understand that smoke is a product of particles left unburnt during combustion. In a barbeque setting, a cloud of white smoke is a sign of nearly-dead fire. To reduce the amount of smoke coming from your grill, you need to maximize oxygen intake to your grill, particularly if you’re using a charcoal grill. Operating your grill at high temperatures means you will have fewer unburnt particles, which translates to a barely visible, fast-moving blue-grey smoke, which won’t be annoying as much when it follows you.

How to Prevent Smoke from a BBQ

A BBQ steak is one of the delicious foods you can make at home. It is easy to make one as long as you have a grill. The best thing is that it’s not limited to just cooking meat, you can make others foods such as vegetables. The most effective ways to prevent smoke from BBQ include:

  • Ensure there is no excess ash in the grill
  • The grill should be clean
  • Use kindling woods instead of wood chips to start the BBQ smoker
  • Wait a little longer before you close the lid to allow plenty of air in
  • Ensure your charcoal doesn’t go off as it can cause smoke in BBQ

If you let bad smoke come into contact with your BBQ, you may have to throw it away. But, you can always prevent excessive smoke from your BBQ by following the steps below:

  1. Keep the food smoker or charcoal BBQ free of ash

If you do not remove excessive ash from your food smoker or charcoal BBQ, you starve its oxygen circulation. This is one of the major causes of too much smoke in BBQ. It also prevents the grill from attaining the desired temperature.

However, with plenty of air in circulation, your charcoal BBQ will quickly attain as high as 600 degrees. It is too hot to make any food, but you can minimize oxygen supply and bring the temperature down without worrying about smoke. You can leave some ash without causing any smoke, and, interestingly, it won’t affect how you BBQ cook.

  1. Always clean off grease and food fluids.

In most BBQs, the accumulated fats from your steak will cause smoking. Nothing smells bad like grease left on the grill since last summer. It produces a pungent smell that can ruin your appetite. Wash the BBQ once it cools down and do not go back into storage in the dirty state after cooking. This not only prevents smoke but also maintains your BBQ and increases its lifespan. If your cuts have too much, reduce it as it can also cause a lot of smoking. By ensuring your steak has manageable amounts of fats, you can also stop fat build-up.

  1. Use Enough Firelighter.

When starting your charcoal BBQ, you are likely to struggle because the charcoal can keep going off. This happens when they do not catch light properly. Placing the lid before the coal turns into white embers, the fire goes out. You should never try to save firelighters. In fact, use a little more than what the manufacturer recommends. Also, avoid breaking them into very small pieces as they do not produce enough fire to ignite your charcoal. After the charcoal starts catching fire, give it time and allow circulation of ample oxygen for excellent burning.

  1. Kindling Wood Is Better Than BBQ Smoker

Use kindling wood and the old-fashioned newspapers because they burn fast and produce less smoke. Add some pieces of wood when the fire is raging, then add pieces of charcoal after some time. This method also burns off fats and any charred materials, which prevents smoking. However, always make sure you use carcinogenic-free timber.

  1. Allow the BBQ to light up.

Whether you are using a gas or charcoal BBQ, do not close the lid too soon. You may starve the oxygen and suffocate the fire, leading to smoking. This happens because burning ceases. When using a gas BBQ, the fat builds up and smolder’s when the lid is down. It is possible to get tempted to place the lid down.

  1. Reduce heating pressure

When using a gas BBQ, check the pressure. The high pressure causes excess flames that lead to smoke. You can also talk to your local gas provider about the high pressure.

  1. Use the right coal

You will come across various types of coals in the market. Go for the best quality that will not produce much smoke. Another alternative is coconut, and it costs like coal, so you will not be incurring extra costs. Besides, try to wait until your charcoal turns gray before you start cooking. It can take up to 20 minutes to reach this point.

How to maintain clean BBQ fire

Always use dry wood

If you use wood that is not properly seasoned, the moisture will hinder its ability to light up. The water turns into steam in the firebox and cools down, therefore preventing ignition.

Create a bed of coals

Wait until a hot coal bed develops in your firebox and it maintains even temperature without producing smoke. Use small logs to ignite the charcoal. This will ensure easy uniform temperature and prevent spikes while giving out only clean smoke.

Avoid stifling the fire.

Lack of enough oxygen is the primary cause of smoke in a BBQ. It occurs when you stifle your fire because it closes the smoker exhaust partially and causes the wood to smolder. It may not last for long, which could affect your meat negatively. The dirty smoke can alter your meat’s flavor terribly. Always keep the smoker exhausts and vents wide open when barbequing.

What does the color of smoke indicate?

The color of smoke says a lot about it. It communicates to you and indicates what is happening in your grill. Most people do not know this and end up with badly cooked steak. If the smoke is white, it means your food in the grill is accurate, and the smoke is a result of the grilling process. There is nothing to worry about. However, if your grill is releasing black smoke, something is amiss. You have to make some adjustments, and you start by lift the lid before moving your food to the indirect section of the grill. Go ahead and reduce the heat. If using a gas grill, turn it into low or medium temperature. On the other hand, if you have a charcoal grill, you need to close the vents.

It is easy to prevent smoke from a BBQ with the above ideas. If you experience more problems, you should talk to a technician who checks the BBQ. Sometimes, smoking in your BBQ may need some repair.

How to clean your grill to reduce smoking

Does your grill smoke every time you use it? Smoke is inescapable when BBQing, and while the smoke from your BBQ is fun, it can be annoying. To ensure you have the best experience preparing your beloved succulent meals, you need to stay on top of techniques that help minimize smoke from your BBQ.

Food remains are certainly the most common reason for smoking in grills. As you cook, food particles and overflowing juices will stick to the grates, which will produce smoke when subjected to high heat in your subsequent grilling. You can correct this and prevent smoke by cleaning your grill regularly. The best way to clean your grill is by scrubbing the grates with a hard-bristle brush while it is still warm.

If you are using a gas grill, you might need to disassemble your grill, clean the dirt that might have clogged your burner tubes, and clean the interior. A spatula and a good quality putty knife will do an excellent job in scrapping particles and removing the grease that often collects inside your machine.


There is no way to avoid smoke when dealing with a grill. Interestingly, there are ways you can prevent or reduce smoke from your grill. Most importantly, make sure to clean your grill and carry out regular maintenance. That way, your machine will last longer, and it will emit less smoke.