This is what a typical fire in my stick burner looks like. Once the steel is heated it doesn't take much of a bed of coals to keep the heat steady. The residual heat in the steel is doing the work. Sometimes I have to add wood when it's really not needed just to keep enough coals to ignite the next piece of wood. I have splits of all different sizes and use them all during a cook. From pencil size splits all the way up to 6 to 8 inch splits.
Similar to what Dave was talking about. A good bed of coals with splits on top. There is a fine line here. You don't want smoldering for any length of time you will get too much creosote and your meat will have a bitter taste.
Most of the time all I can see is a heat signature coming out of my exhaust with a whisp of smoke every now and again.
This is a pic of my exhaust during a cook. When I see that I know it's time to stir the wood in the fire box. That's a little too thick for me. Sometimes I will let that go for 15 or 20 minutes if I think I want something to have a little stronger smoke flavor. But at this point I can open the fire box and poke the wood around get a little flame going to settle the smoke back down and get back to my heat signature.
Whats coming out of your exhaust will tell you everything you need to know about what's going on and what you need to do next.
Stick with it and don't get discouraged. Stick burning has a learning curve but once you get there it's second nature. Nothing more rewarding than stick burning.
Thanks for the advice, I'm going to try this next time (big fire, let it cool and run at 150 for an hour or so). I had the leftover ribs today and I was able to tell that I used hickory this time and not cherry, which was good (perhaps too much smoke in the lungs yesterday) however I still think the smoke flavor was way too mild.
3montes, I usually keep the smoke running clear because I thought that was right, the minute I see white smoke I'm getting the flames back up with splits (and leaving the fire box door open until it's clear again). I like what you're saying about leaving it going with the white smoke for a little while to bring up the smoke flavor, I'm going to give that a try.
timmy, evening..... As near as I can tell, you might have a flame burning in the firebox of the smoker.... are you building a small fire and continuing with that for the duration of the smoke ?? If so, build a big, BIG fire in the firebox, when it get to coals, add a split or two.... or throw in a couple of chunks of flavor wood.... you do not want any flames in the firebox.... flames consume smoke like an afterburner... once the chunks or splits are thrown in, they should smolder giving off smoke.... bed of coals for heat, hunks for smoke and flavor..... control the cooker temp with the air intake to the firebox.... leave the exhaust stack wide open....
I've never used a reverse flow so I can't speak from experience in regards to that. Could be a lot of different factors going on here. Maybe your expectations of what smoked foods should taste like is different from others. If you want a heavy smoke flavor you will need a heavy smoke which means a cold smoldering fire. As I said earlier there's a fine line between smoke flavor and bitter creosote flavor. Myself I prefer a milder smoke flavor. I don't like anything that totally over powers the natural flavor of the meat.
You can try your method stated above but you will won't be accomplishing much at 150 degrees except keeping your meat in the danger zone longer.
Try some hickory salt in your rubs or some of the other smoked spices to amp up the smoky flavor more. The Spice house or Savory's carry all sorts of smoke spices such as paprika, salt pepper and so on.
I've tried a lot of BBQ around the country, some over smoked (bitter creosote) and some (like mine) too little smoke flavor. When I get the chance, I'm going to try some of these techniques and see if I can get what I'm looking for.
Every time I smoke fish, chicken, pork, or whatever it ALWAYS tastes better to me the next day. A good part of the flavor of food is the aroma. I think my nose gets saturated with the wonderful smell of wood smoke while I'm smoking meat and I can't smell well for the rest of the day. The next day ... mmmmm!
I did spare ribs again the other day for Memorial Day and got great results. All I did different was I let the fire smolder a little more than I usually would, I let a little white smoke run through and some lower temps while the fire wasn't flaming up. The result was a nice, stronger than usual hickory flavor. Not too strong but better than what I was getting. Of course, as always, the flavor was even better the next day.