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Can You Use A Smoker In A Garage

Bring on the rain, sleet, snow or hail.  There’s not much that can diminish my cravings for delicious smoked meats.  Practically speaking though, getting out the smoker during a rain storm isn’t too appealing.  Especially, if you don’t have a covered patio to keep you out of the elements.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, rain is almost a daily occurrence.  That would be a lot of missed opportunities to fire up the smoker.  Like many people new to using smokers, I started to wonder if it was safe to use a smoker in the garage.  

So, is it actually safe to use a wood smoker, or even an electric smoker, in the garage?

The short answer is no.  It is not safe to use a smoker of any kind in a garage because they produce harmful levels of carbon monoxide.  Even small amounts of carbon monoxide is harmful and it is deadly under certain conditions.  Smoke damage and fire hazards are another good reason to avoid using a smoker in enclosed spaces like a garage.

In all fairness, there is a bit of gray area to the safety concerns though.  There are certainly plenty of people who use smokers in a well ventilated garage without incident.   And what about detached garages?  Is that safe?  Keep reading and we’ll discuss everything you need to know.

The dangers of carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is no joke.  It’s invisible, odorless and it often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.  Any cooker that uses combustion to generate heat and smoke also produces carbon monoxide.

Obviously, that includes smokers.  But how much carbon monoxide does a smoker produce?  Well, that depends on the kind of smoker.  Charcoal and gas smokers that burn large wood chucks to generate smoke emit very high levels of carbon monoxide.  Whereas, pellet smokers, like the Traeger, certainly burn cleaner but they generate CO at unsafe levels too.

Smokers are especially dangerous due to long cook times.  A full brisket may take 8 to 12 hours to fully cook in a smoker.  And it’s kicking out CO the entire time.  

You might be thinking that the garage is separate from the house so what’s the big deal?  For starters, you still need to check on the smoker as things cook.  Every time you open the door to the garage, a concentrated mass of CO and smoke flows back into the house.  

Also, if you have a furnace in the garage it may pull all that bad air through your ventilation system into the house. 

What if you keep the garage door open

Okay, so we get it.  Smokers cause a build up of poisonous gases like CO.  Why not just open the garage door?  With some smokers like electric or even pellet smokers, leaving the garage door open could provide enough ventilation.  The only problem is you don’t know until it’s too late.  That’s why I don’t take the chance.  And especially not with charcoal smokers.

There is simply too much smoke and invisible carbon monoxide being produced with most pellet and charcoal smokers.  Not to mention, if the wind is blowing wrong or there is no wind at all, the smoke and CO concentrates inside.  Even with the door wide open, ventilation is still an issue since hot smoke and air rises, trapping harmful gases in the garage.   

Are electric smokers safe indoors

No matter how much I discourage someone from using a smoker in a garage, there are always a few who insist on trying it.  

Under no circumstance should you use a smoker in any indoor space like your home or garage.  Even if you think you are taking all the precautions, it is never 100 percent safe.  Don’t risk it!

Some would argue that using an electric smoker in a detached garage or shop is safe.  Detached garages usually have plenty of ventilation and are not connected to any living spaces.

Some people on forums mention that at a bare minimum, you can follow these steps to ensure safer operation of an electric smoker in a detached garage.   

  • Fully open the main garage door and any windows or man doors.  
  • Use a fan to continuously circulate air.
  • Remove any flammable material or combustable liquids from the garage.
  • Install a CO and smoke detector in the garage.
  • Do not leave the smoker unattended for long periods of time.
  • Limit the amount of wood chips used to reduce smoke and CO generation.
  • Have a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Unplug your electric smoker at the first signs of trouble.

It’s also worth noting that you should consult with your fire department for code violations in your area before putting a nice juicy brisket on the smoker in the garage.  

Any fires or CO poisonings that occur as a result are a liability that could land you in trouble.

Again, as you can see even using an electric smoker in a detached garage is really not worth the hassle.  That’s why I don’t use mine in the garage, nor do I recommend it, even if it’s probably okay.  

I would rather live to eat meat another day.

Other hazards to be aware of

Carbon monoxide is only one possible danger to consider when using a smoker in the garage.  

Fire departments respond to numerous house and garage fires as a result of BBQs and smokers used improperly.  Whether you are using the smoker inside or outside the garage, always keep flammable liquids like gasoline or paint thinners a safe distance away or in a separate storage shed.

Flammable vapors may make their way to the ignition source of a smoker and cause serious fire damage. 

While you’re hopefully not likely to experience that extreme scenario, smoke damage is also something to consider and can result in expensive repairs.  After time, using a smoker in a garage will cause discoloring of the interior walls and ceiling.  

Also, odors from the smoker will permeate everything in the garage.  Although, the smell of smoked turkey legs isn’t such a bad smell to have lingering around.  

Can you use a smoker in the rain

The reason you’re probably reading this article in the first place likely has to do with trying to keep you and the smoker out of the rain.  That begs the question, can you actually use a smoker in the rain?

A light rain or drizzle won’t spell doom for a smoker, even electric ones.  But a down pour or prolonged rain could cause damage to electrical components and result in corrosion of unprotected metal parts.  

If a thunder cloud rolls in fast and releases a torrential down pour, you’re in trouble.  You aren’t the first person to have this happen and you won’t be the last.  A large umbrella is often the best solution when you are caught off guard.  

When it is just a light sprinkle, I wouldn’t stress over it.  More than likely, no harm will befall your prized smoker.  The worst that will happen in a light rain is the temperature will drop a degree or two.   

Alternative to using a smoker in the garage

So you’ve made the wise decision to keep the smoker safely outside but you still want to use it when the weather is bad.  Or at least have the option too anyway.  

Luckily, there are a few ways to keep you and your trusty smoker operational all year.

Obviously, a covered patio or porch may be a viable option if you have it.  Just make sure it’s doesn’t pose any of the hazards we discussed earlier.  

Don’t have a covered area?  

Well, you should definitely consider building an awning or cover off your garage or house.  Covers are not only for rain protection.  They provide nice shade on summer days when tending to the smoker under the blazing sun.

For a simple, quick and more affordable way to protect your smoker in any weather, get a pop up barbecue cover or gazebo.  

There are lots of options for durable, yet nice looking, covers that keep your smoker out of the rain or in the shade.  One of the best ones I’ve found is the Master Canopy Grill Gazebo sold on Amazon.  It’s super affordable and it is sturdier than most other brands.    

Want something faster to deploy and less permanent?  Get a portable pop up made by ABC Canopy.  This pop up cover is fast to set up in a pinch and easy to store.  It also happens to be one of the strongest pop ups available and will last a lifetime.  I also use it when grilling at the park on summer days or to stay dry out camping.  The best price is on Amazon.

Final thoughts

I’m not one to let weather put my meat smoking plans on hold.  When the family demands delicious smoked meats, I will rise to the challenge.  However, I won’t sacrifice safety, even for pork belly burnt ends.  

Always keep in mind that using a smoker requires common sense and caution.  Smokers create smoke and carbon monoxide gas during their long cook times.  Play it safe and keep it out of the garage.  

There are plenty of better options for getting the smoker fired up in less than ideal weather.  Be sure to take a look at the covers I recommended and you’ll be all set.