How to Smoke a Hookah - Hookah Charcoal and Heat Management

This blog was updated on 1/23/2019

Our mad scientists here at Hookah-Shisha.com are always testing out various hookah set ups and accessories in search of the best hookah smoking methods and troubleshooting tips to smoke a perfect bowl of shisha, and as such we would like to to take a minute to share some of those tips with you!

Today's blog focuses on heat management. The top of the hookah can be one of the most overlooked parts when smoking a hookah, especially for those that are new to hookah, but it can also be one of the most influential parts of the hookah smoking experience. For those of you that don't know, a hookah is heated by hookah charcoal. Some hookah charcoals are easier to light and arrange than others, but they all serve one common purpose: to heat a hookah bowl. Heat management and maintaining the heat transfer is the key to gaining the perfect hookah smoke.

Types Of Hookah Charcoal

The type of charcoal you use can greatly impact your ability to properly manage the heat of your hookah bowl and thus can effect your overall hookah experience. Generally speaking there are two types of hookah charcoal available (Quick Lighting Charcoal or Natural Hookah Charcoal) and there will be some pros and cons to each of them. 

Quick lighting charcoals will have a chemical accellerant coating on them which allows the coals to be easily lit using a standard cigarette lighter, and these types of coal are a particularly great option for new hookah smokers as they are easy to use and require very little management throughout the smoking session. Quick lighting coals are also a great option in situations where you may not have access to the type of charcoal heater required to heat natural coals. However, because they have will have an accellerant coating on them they will also have a stronger odor and taste to them than natural coals, and they will also burn hotter and quicker than natural coals. 

Natural hookah charcoals will typically be made using compressed coconut husks, though there are also several great options for wood based natural coals such as Lemonwood Hookah Coals as well. These coals will not have an accellerant coating on them so you will need to use a Natural Charcoal Heater to light the coals, and they will take a few more minutes to heat than quick lighting coals, but once they are fully lit they will burn longer and with a more even heat than quick lighting coals and will not have the same odor or taste that quick lighting coals can have as well. 

Foil vs. Heat Management Device

Traditionally hookah bowls were smoked by loading shisha tobacco in to the bowl, covering the bowl with aluminium foil and poking air flow holes in to the foil, and then setting your lit charcoals on the foil. Within the last few years however there have been a multitude of modernized hookah components hitting the market (e.g. washable silicone hoses) and heat management devices that replace foil have been some of the most popular within the hookah community. Traditional foil set ups are still extremely popular and will allow you to customize the amount of airflow going down in to your bowl depending on how you punch your holes in the foil as well as allowing easy access to your charcoal if you need to flip or rotate the coals during the session. Heat management devices will save you money over time as you will no longer need to keep purchasing foil for your bowl and they have the added benefit of allowing you to control how much heat is being contained and focused down on to your tobacco to better manage the temperature of the bowl. 

 

Also, if you are using a heat management device such as a Kaloud Lotus 2 or an Apple on Top Provost then natural coals will give you the best session with that set up and if you are unfamiliar with heat management devices check out our in depth review blog on the Lotus 2 here: Introducing The Kaloud Lotus 2.

There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to foil vs. heat management devices so try a few sessions with each and see which method works best for you. 

Pro Tip

If you've got your hookah set up and ready to go but don't seem to be getting a full smoke then you may want to check and make sure that there are no air leaks in the hookah as well. Double check the grommet connections between where the bowl sits on to the top of the stem, the connection where the base connects to the bottom of the stem, and then also where your hose connects to the hose adapter on the side of the stem, and also check the purge valve on your hookah to make sure that you have a ball bearing sealing that opening as well.

When you smoke a hookah it should always be totally sealed to ensure that the top of your hookah bowl is the only entrance for air when you inhale on the hose. This will ensure that when you inhale on your hose you are pulling enough air in to the hookah to stoke your coals and provide enough heat down in to the bowl to really get those clouds rolling. 

Hopefully this blog will help you find the sweet spot with your own hookah coal heat management to get the perfect session, but if you are still having trouble getting your hookah to smoke properly please feel free to contact the hookah experts on our Customer Service team with any questions that you have. 

Comments (54) -

  • When I smoke my hookah in my house, it constantly makes my carbon monoxide detector go off. Why does it do this? Also how can i stop this, my parents are going to stop letting me smoke in my house and its way to cold outside.
  • John: Carbon Monoxide is a bi-product of the hookah charcoal you are using. It is also found in the actual smoke you are producing when smoking your hookah. What charcoal are you using? Quick-Light or Natural Coals? Also, be sure to light your charcoal outdoors if you can. I know that a lot of carbon monoxide is released when it is first being lit. In fact, you will typically always want to wait until your hookah charcoal is entirely lit (no black on it) and surrounded by a thin layer of ash before using the charcoal. You then know that your charcoal is fully lit and ready to smoke on your hookah. Otherwise you are smoking the carbon monoxide and other stuff that is being lit while it is still black.

    If you are already doing all of the above, I would try and switch hookah charcoal to a cleaner burning brand or kind.

    I have also heard that some people use the www.hookah-shisha.com/...ookah-smoke-diffuser.html" rel="nofollow">Heba Smoke Diffuser to decrease carbon monoxide levels by creating more bubbles in your water and thus having more surface area for the smoke to touch the water and thus allowing it to filter more. I personally use a Heba Diffuser no matter what since it makes smoking your hookah much smoother. I'll talk more about that when I get to the base of the hookah in a future How to Smoke a Hookah series.

    One last thing I would try is use if you think it is coming from your charcoal is use an www.hookah-shisha.com/...te-combo-hookah-bowl.html"  rel="nofollow">Ultimate Combo Hookah Lid Bowl or you could use a www.hookah-shisha.com/...s-hookah-wind-screen.html" rel="nofollow">hookah wind cover. What this will do is allow you to use half as much charcoal. The Ultimate Combo Bowl or a wind cover traps the heat in near the bowl, thus requiring about half as much charcoal and thus (if the charcoal is what is causing your carbon monoxide detector to go off) you have much less charcoal that could be causing any problems.

    Try those Hookah Tips out (or use them anyways to get a better hookah smoke) and tell us how things went and if it solved your problem.
  • Thanks for the tips. I Will try using them asap.
  • Hey, this is gonna sound stupid, but can you give step by step directions for lighting the natural coals? I see "throw them on the stove" everywhere, but that doesn't mean much to me. I have an electric stove at school, what do I do?
  • Oleh,

    Not a stupid question at all. In fact people as us all the time. In fact, I am making another blog as we speak about the ways to light and smoke from natural hookah charcoal. In the meantime, here are some quick Hookah Tips:
    - When smoking your natural coals, be sure to fully burn the charcoal before using it. Meaning, make sure it is red hot all around or at much as you can get it. I typically flip it twice when on an electric stove.
    - Place the hookah charcoal directly onto the stove coils so that he gets REALLY hot. You want it to get as hot as you can so that it burns to the core.
    - When the charcoal is red hot or close to it, I will typically place it in a charcoal holder or a pan of sorts and push it up against other natural charcoal and let it sit outside. That way, the hookah charcoal are feeding off of each other's heat and they are lighting up together. This is a great way to add more un-lit charcoal and not have to light it up on a stove. When working with natural charcoal, I typically light more than I need because it is designed to burn much faster than quick-light charcoal.
    - If you don't want to put it on the stove coils and or don't have a charcoal holder, you can use an old frying pan and put the coal in their. That takes a lot longer and it can depend on your pot/stove. It does work though, and the advantage is that it also doubles as a hookah charcoal holder. The problem is that it is scorching hot and you can't really put it anywhere after it is done heating.
    - And finally, if you are indoors, I will typically use a vent. I will also watch the charcoal because occasionally you can get a piece that I like the call a "smoker". You will know it when you see it. It is a piece that gives of an exceptionally larger amount of smoke than other hookah charcoal. I believe you can get a "smoker" for one of two reasons. Either it is not the same wood as you are using and might be remnants of another piece of wood being used or it is a natural wood charcoal piece that has residue from other things like leaves or other wood. If you are outdoors, they are no problem and will eventually burn away all the "smoker" elements to it, but when it is indoors, it can make your place smell like a campfire or set off your smoke detector really quick.

    Hope this helps...
  • I would like to know how to smoke  Hookah Correctly....
    i've tried but i think its not right!!!

    I know it sounds stupid... but i honestly want to learn!
    Thanks!
  • thanks much, man
  • I dont have bricks to lite the hookah, is there something else that I can use?
  • Well, well. I learned a thing or 2. Thanks for the artical.
  • [...] After you’ve checked to ensure your hookah is air tight, the other reason could be that you don’t have enough charcoals on your clay bowl. Be sure to keep the charcoal around the edge of the hookah bowl. You want to be sure not to burn your hookah bowl though. Read about proper How to smoke hookah with hookah charcoal and proper heat management. [...]
  • [...] Natural coals are the cleanest way to smoke shisha and will let the flavor of your shisha really shine. The easiest way to light these coals is on an electric stove with an exposed heating coil. You can set your natural coals directly on the heating element and turn the burner on, turning the coals after 2 or 3 minutes. You will know the coals are ready when there is no “black” on the surface of the coals and they are completely covered in gray ash and glowing red-hot in the middle. This process usually takes about 5 minutes. If you do not have an electric stove, or you would like to know about an alternate method of lighting these coals, read this HookahLove post on how to smoke a hookah with proper hookah charcoal heat management. [...]
  • does the size of the bowl improve the flavor of the tobacco???
  • Sounds silly but can I use campfire coals?   I usually use my hooka camping and I didn't know if there would be side effects like being too hot or tasting funny?  

    Thanks
  • Perk, to answer your question, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to use any other coals besides natural, clean-burning coals produced specifically for hookah smoking.  Campfire coals may contain unknown substances that may make your shisha taste bad or even make you sick.
  • Thank God I've finally found a truely competent person who konws exactly what they are doing.
  • I have a 19" Mya hookah with a phunnel bowl, a scallis mod, and a nammor hose.  I've generally been using quick lite coals since I am still a complete beginner, and they are a lot easier.  Whenever I smoke I usually use two coals on my bowl, and I've heard that this is what a majority of the people do.  I usually have no smoke rising from the bowl, and I also rarely get a burnt taste from the shisha.  However, when I am cleaning up afterwards I notice that the shisha is black.  Does this mean that I have burnt it, and if so what should I do to solve the problem?

    P.S. I have also tried using only one coal and one and a half coals, but I never recieve a decent amount of smoke.
  • Ryan,

    If it is smoking well, don't worry about it being burnt. Technically a part of it is being burnt, but it such a small amount that it won't affect the flavor or smoke. It is a constant game of balancing between too much hookah heat or too little. You seem to have a good balance though.
  • Campfire coals are also actually ok, however as long as they are from real natural wood vs. something you bought from a store. For example, BBQ cooking coals are not good for a hookah. But if you  use some wood off the ground for a fire and you use that to smoke your hookah with, then you are good to go. Those are some of the best hookah smoking experiences cause you have an long lasting supply of natural wood charcoal. Smile Typically though the various woods you will find are not as good as the hookah charcoals typically sold for smoking the hookah because they are either too porous or too dense. If it is too porous, it will have too wide of a variance of heat, if too dense it will be light quick-light coals or other compressed wood coals. But it is a lot of fun to try! And a hookah is a great accessory to have while camping.
  • I understand that most bowls can hold 20-30 grams but if I want to smoke by myself, will I be sacrificing flavor and smoke quality if I load the bowl up only halfway, leaving a greater gap between the coal and the shishah?
  • Hello, I have a large, 34" or so hookah.
    It is three hoses, but i only use 1 most of the time and have the other two blocked off with stoppers.
    I have the basic black round coals.
    I was wondering how i could make the hookah smoke thicker? It has been faily weak.
    Should i put more tabacco in the bowl?

    Thanks so much.
  • Weak smoke? I bought my first one today and from trial and error i found that foil sucks, dont pack the tobacco or whatever your smoking down too much, heat your charcoal all the way through. I found at first was putting way too much water in which stopped more smoke from filling the base and with the charcoal heated thru the second time around was definitely more enjoyable!
  • As you say-
    "Hookah Tip: Never fill the hookah tobacco to the top of your hookah bowl. By having a space in between you are creating a space for heat to dissipate easier and are also preventing the hookah tobacco from ever having direct contact with your hookah charcoal."

    How large of a space between the foil and shisha is optimal? thanks for the great info!
  • I have a question, I work from home and I have a smoke detector right above my desk.  I was wondering if I smoked hookah inside while I am working will the smoke set off the smoke detector?
  • When using natural coal versus self lighting, can you use a torch lighter to burn the coal instead of the stove?
  • apl
    Any suggestions for lighting natural coals other than an electric stove?  I have a gas stove at home.  Do you think I can place the coals on the burner on a piece of foil?  (I cannot place directly on the burner as the gaps are too large).

    I considered going to a garage sale and finding a cheap single burner plug-in unit.  This would work fine, no?
  • I have a new hookah, I am pretty familiar with the hookah but not a new one that hasnt been used.  I have the quick lite coals which I have used and seems to not be doing the trick.  When I breathed in to try to get the air ciruclating I have taken quite the motuh full of coal taste. which has left me quite dizzy and light headed.  How do I stop this and make the coal more efficent?
  • If I have a glass top stove can I heat the coals on it?
  • I have a ceramic bowl, and when i light the charcoal, no smoke comes out when i take a hit, is it because i didnt use foil or because i didnt put water in the thing???
  • Korl,

    You must but water in the base of your hookah in order to smoke. Make sure the stem to bowl is airtight, and depending on how large your bowl is, you want the pipe to be submerged into the water; but be careful, too much water will make the water flow into your hose. As far on know 'how much' water to add, its really trial and error until you know your hookah. Too much makes the water flow into the hose, and not enough will make it so you won't be able to take a proper hit.

    and Ashley,

    Make sure your coal is COMPLETELY lit (e.x. no black, and a thin layer of ash/burning red in the middle). Also, make sure to place the coal on the edges of the bowl rather than the direct center of it to keep it from burning too harsh. When you begin to smoke and it does feel harsh/poor tasting, you can try a few things.
    1. Move the coal around to prevent it from burning too much in one place (I usually switch sides of the coal every 20mins or so)
    2. Blow into the hose in order to clear out the stem, it won't do any damage to the hookah itself or the tobacco.

    Hope some of this helps Smile
  • I'm looking for any tips on how to reduce the amount of ash from my coals. I use foil and poke a sufficient amount of small holes (not too large) and I find that everytime I smoke I have to remove the bowl and blow out the ash from the bottom. When I smoke at my local Hookah Bar I haven't experienced this. Is there a trick to the trade??
  • Can a regular Bic (7-11, fas-mart) lighter be used to light the natural lemonwood charcoals? if not, can you use regular fire such as a fire from a BBQ grill. obviously not those BBQ coals to smoke hookah with. but use their fire to light the lemon wood?
  • Electric single burners work great. This is what I use all the time, even in places where there is an exposed element (as opposed to glass) stove present, like mine: because then I don't have to deal with ash falling down into the stove. With the freestanding burner, after I'm done and it's cooled off, I can just shake the ash out into the garbage.

    BBQ coals, even natural wood ones, don't really work that well. I tried this once when I was going to a camping event and left home without my hookah coals! We went to a Wal-Mart and got some natural wood BBQ coals. It never really worked right - took forever to light up, and then they were *too* hot. Those are really designed for BBQ's, not hookah. They will *sort of* work, but I would only use them when absolutely nothing else is available. You're much better off getting coals designed for hookah.

    Torch lighters aren't really enough to light non-self-lighting coals. You would be standing there a LONG time, LOL! A propane torch or propane burner will work, if you don't have access to electric. You can use regular fire, but you may have a hard time getting the coals back out of the fire, as it will be really hot.
  • I just ordered my first Nammor Hookah, and I'm pretty sure I'm having some operator error in terms of the quality of my smoke.

    I'm packing my bowl loosely with flavored Romman shishah.  I make sure to not pack it all the way to the top of the bowl, and I'm using the screen with larger holes that arrived with the hookah.  My smoke is thick, but the flavor is almost non-existent.  My shishah seems to be in good shape.  I bought it less than a month ago, store it in an air-tight container, and it still is wet and sticky.  

    What can I do to improve the intensity of the flavor of the shisha?  The flavor lacks so much that when someone smoked my hookah, they thought it was unflavored.  :-(
  • Hey crystal make sure that you have the water
    level at the correct level and use very cold water. I am pretty new at this myself and just went through the same issue. You might want to try using different brands of shisha until u find a flavor that tickles ur taste buds. Trying all the different flavors is what makes it so fun. Another thing u might want to try is puting some juice in ur base and a little milk this will make your fruit shisha creamy. But remember this what ever u put in your hook has to come back out and milk is not fun to get back out but it does taste awesome and produces exelent thick smoke
    I hope that helps....JABBA
  • When I smoke my hooka its works great for the first bowl after that the bowl pops off the rubber seal and won't stay on after that its a ceramic bowl and there is often a lot of liquid in and around the inside of the bowl and around the rubber stopper that it sits on how can I fix this?
  • Hello, I have coca Nora natural coals. I light them on my Electirc stove top ( kind of old school) as directed, but when I am smoking the bottom and top of the burning coal keeps going black in the center. I do not fill the bowl completely full as directed. So, how can I keep a nice hot burning coal with out having to run outside and blow on it every so often. Please email me.
    • Jacob,
      If you heat it up long enough, then it shouldn't go black. I allow my coco-nara coals to get red hot all around. I make sure that when it is on the stove, that I rotate it every few minutes so that it gets heated from all sides and gets down to the inner part of the charcoal. The inner part of your hookah charcoal should always be the last part that gets black (or colder) than anything else. It could just be that you aren't letting it heat up long enough.
  • i have a problem with wood coals....i try to heat the wood coals (10min) on stovetop but the wood chips lite but do not stay lit or hot enough to burn tobacco.  how do i fix this problem or do i need to light the wood chips longer?
  • I'm having a real problem keeping my charcoal at a high temp. I start my charcoal and leave it for at least 30 mins until its glowing hot then i transfer a few pieces to my hookah and begin smoking, but the problem i'm faced with is that after only about 10 mins the charcoals seem to have lost  all it's heat and im getting barely any smoke through the hookah.
    HELP....................
  • Hey Dustin,
    Try squeezing out the shish tobacco to remove some of the moisture, this should help a little. You could also wrap a little strip of tissue around the rubber seal (grommet) that will help with the ceramic bowl keeping its grip on the rubber seal (grommet).

    Hope this helps.
  • I was wondering if it is bad to underpack the hookah bowl will it change the smoke and flavor?I am getting really frustrated my hookah is constantly rough and has thin smoke. If i put my coals on the very side its not rough but has minimum smoke. Or if i put them close to the middle it gets really rough with minimum smoke is it because of the way i pack the bowl???
    please help... thankyou
  • So I bought natural coconut coals, and for some reason they are not creating the normal smoke effect. I heat them until they are red hot in the middle with grey ash on the outside. Is there something wrong with my hookah or am I lighting the coals wrong? Please help, I don't want to say that I've wasted ten dollars.
  • asa
    Make sure that you are using a couple of coals. My hookah from social smoke takes 2 coals with a wind screen and 3 without. This is with coconara's and social smoke shisha. I get them decently lit just to the point where the whole coal has started to turn red and I get between 45 minutes to an hour out of a set of coals. I pack my bowl almost to the foil so when the foil data a little bit its still not quite touching it and every ten minutes or so I remove a coal to keep the tobacco from burning. Depending on the brand of coals you got you may need more. I joyful cheap coals that were coconut once and three coals would last about a half hour and it was super thin almost flavorless smoke. Remember that heat management and how you pack the bowl as well as the products that you are using and the amount of water in your hookah are all contributing factors to the quality of your smoke. Oh yeah and the amount and size of holes in your foil Smile hope this helps!
  • HI Hookah Seaher,

    I recently smoke Hookah with a buddy of mine and we smoked with the coals half lite. Im just wondering if that's a bad thing?
    • Hi Carlos! It's not bad, but half lit coals will not properly heat the shisha the same way that a fully lit coal would. If they are natural coals, just leave them on the burner longer next time. If they are still not lighting, you may have a bad batch. If you got them from us, contact our customer service department and we'll help you out! info@hookah-shisha.com
  • I believe you confused your temperature units, I had a thermocouple in my bowl the other day embedded in the sheisha and max temp reached 160 Celcius, which is 330 Fahrenheit. i was using wood coals and i watched the temperature drop as i drew on the hookah. which is opposite of what you said would happen. the temperature did not increase as you said then return to a resting temperature. instead it dropped about 5-7 degrees from a resting point and then slowly climbed back up to that point. my bowl reaches max temperature at the second set of coals. the first bowl and the first pack always seems to be shortlived and goes bad really fast. but every bowl after that is fine. that must mean a hot bowl from the start is important.
  • *** Kinda new to my hooka...... How do you know when the shesha is done burning and the hooka is done?
    • You'll know that your session is over when the smoke output starts to diminish. Additionally, some shisha will burn faster, or lose flavor before then. It's really up to you when you decide to terminate your session!
  • Hey guys! If u want a truly great head and don't want to worry about the heat or ur bowl here's a few things me and my friends do as we grew up with a hookah being there in a traditional fashion.
    1. Take the tobacco out of the container and onto a paper towel
    2. Take some of the juice out/ dry the tobacco out a little
    3. With scissors or a knife chop the tobacco up finer and take out any stems
    4. Fluff it out with ur finger and pack it I to a bowl leaving some space down from the rim
    5. The foil should be composed of 3 layers and held tight around the bowl
    6. As ur holding the foil tightly proceed to poke the holes as close to the edge and u can
    The holes around the out side provide for better air flow as well at the finer tobacco because the hear will flow right through ( been tested many times)
    After the out side rim poke one in the middle and get enough holes that arnt to big, a sowing needle is ur best bet.
    7. Suck through the bottom of the bowl, if the flow is smooth the head is right, if it feels tight or the foil starts to get sucked in, add more holes...
    8. The water in the case shouldn't be more than 1in to 1.5in above the stem
    And on average the bowl should last u 2hrs easy
  • I'm having issues with clouds I'm getting very weak clouds is it due to my two coals natural coconut not being fully lit? Under packing/ over packing my vortex or ceramic bowl? Too much water in the base? Do I need new hoses??any help will be appreciated