Smoked Barbeque at Altitude

Dear BBQ Friend:

Did you ever notice that good, juicy smoked barbeque is slowly cooked near the boiling point of water? This way, the water does not evaporate too fast and stays in and on the meat longer - basting the meat surface and keeping it moist inside and out. The slow and low temperature also allows the collagen in the muscle fibers to break down over time to produce tender smoked barbeque. The boiling point of water is 212 deg F for those pit masters who didn't know. But that's only at sea level. As you go up in altitude, the atmospheric pressure goes down and the boiling point of water drops. What this means is, at higher altitudes, your slow smoked barbeque juices will evaporate faster if you smoke in the normal 220 - 250 range that most pitmasters smoke at. The result will be dry meat. Here's a little table of just some of the altitudes and the corresponding boiling point of water.


Boiling Point of Water

Sea Level

212 deg F

1000 ft

210 deg F

2500 ft

207 deg F

4000 ft

204 deg F

6000 ft

201 deg F

This chart is why it takes so long to boil an egg in the mountains. So... how do you cook better slow smoked barbeque in the mountains? The answer is... instead of cooking at 225 deg F at an elevation of 5000 feet, maybe try 215 deg F and just cook it a little longer. That way all your juices will not evaporate too fast.bbq at altitude

An easy way to remember the proper slow smoked barbeque cooking chamber temperatures at altitude is to basically subtract 2 deg F for every 1000 feet in elevation. Subtract this 2 deg from your normal smoking temperature. For example... let's say you are cooking some smoked barbeque on vacation in the Smokey Mountains. You're smoking some ribs and from reading "Competition BBQ Secrets" , you know you are supposed to smoke them at 230 deg F. You have read "Competition BBQ Secrets", haven't you? If not, you should get it HERE. Anyways... you're at 4000 feet so you don't want to cook like the book says to cook at sea level. You'll want to cook your smoked barbeque ribs 8 deg F lower (or at 222 deg F). Maybe cook for an extra half hour or so until done as described in the book.

Tip #1: Also take into consideration weather when cooking BBQ. For the longest time, I only cooked in the Southeast. Then I went out to Las Vegas to cook in the World Food Championships. I didn't have time to do a test run, so I didn't figure out this wasn't Savannah anymore until it was too late! There's no humidity! My BBQ developed a serious bark - quickly. Cooking on a borrowed smoker with a huge convection fan didn't help either. So be sure to add a water pan or something to your cooking chamber if the humidity is too low.

If it is raining and your pit is out in the weather, that rain on a typical offset smoker will lower your pit temp 100 degrees in about 3 minutes. So, get it under a conopy quick.

Tip #2: By the way... make sure you measure your temperature AT THE GRATE where your meat is. Do not go by the thermometer in the lid of your smoker. Those things are the #1 cause of terrible smoked barbeque and can be as much as 100 deg F off. Get yourself a dual probe digital remote thermometer like the one below. Just click on the graphic to purchase...


Bill Anderson