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Three, Two, One, Abort! (part 1)

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I smoked my first ribs on my new CharBroil Silver Smoker yesterday.

Despite elaborate preparation on my part, and even with the help of my brother who has lots of experience with smoking, almost nothing went as planned or expected.

I'd like to get some feedback on some of the questions that occured to me as the strangeness unfolded yesterday. I'll break down the story into chunks, because it was a long, strange trip.

I might be wrong, but I think my first mistake was loading up the chimney with too many briquets. I was using them to light the pieces well-seasoned almond wood I wanted to use for smoking.

After the charcoals turned white I poured them into the firebox and put three big pieces of wood on them. (I'm thinking this was way too much wood, mistake #2) In short order the wood was burning nicely. I let it burn a while to make sure it was really well lit. I had the chimney vent fully open, and the air intakes on the firebox open about an inch. The smoker lid was closed.

When I was sure the big pieces of wood were burning, I shut the firebox door. I watched the thermometer shoot up to 350 degrees. I adjusted the chimney, leaving it open just a crack and also nearly closed the air intake doors, leaving them open about a half inch. I expected the tempreture to start dropping. Instead, the temperture was still slowly climbing.

OK, well, I'll just totally close the chimney and the air intake doors and then the temperature will start to drop, right?

But when I closed off the chimney and air intake doors the temperature didn't drop. I waited five minutes. No change. Five more minutes, still holding at a hellish 350 degrees. OK, I have an idea. I open the smoker door and let out a little of the heat. When I close the door, I watch the thermometer zoom right back up to the 350 range.

My best guess at this point is that I have too big of a fire going in the firebox. I carefully remove one of the three big pieces of burning almond wood. I still have all the vents and chimney closed. I watch the thermometer. No change. Another five minutes, ditto.

OK, now I decide I've got to remove the briquets. I take out the remaining pieces of almond wood, remove the grate, and then scoop out the all the burning briquets I could. I put the grate back in and two of the original pieces of almond wood. By now, due to the intensity of the fire in the box, I estimate the hunks of almond wood to be about half burned through.

I opened the chimney vent and air intakes to get the almond chunks going again. When the wood was obviously going, I started adjusting down the air intake and exhaust. After about 15 minutes I was delighted to see things starting to look like they were under control. I got the temperature down to 220 and watched as it held there for 10 minutes.

I went in the house and got my ribs ready to bring out. When I get out there everything looks good. Now the temp has been holding steady at 220 for over 15 minutes. I take a leap of faith and plop the ribs in the smoker.

For almost an hour the temp stays right in the 220 area, no adjustments to air intake or chimney necessary. I check the temp every 5 or 10minutes, it holds steady.

Then I look, and somehow it got up to 330. Whoa! I close the chimney about from 3/4 of an inch to a 1/4 inch, and close the air intakes similarly. The temp doesn't budge. I close the air intakes and chimney completely. The temp doesn't budge.

By this time the ribs have had about an hour of 220 degree heat, and probably 15 or 20 minutes of 330 degree heat. I haven't opened the barrel of the smoker at all. But since it's been an hour, and I want to look in on the ribs, I open it up, thinking it will help disperse some of the extra heat.

The ribs look good, and I loose the extra heat. But as soon as I close the door, the temp goes climbing up, way past the low 200s, and it's heading for 300. With the air intakes and the chimney CLOSED!

Now I'm starting to freak out a little. OK, I need to get the temp down, and soon. So, I open the firebox and take one of the two hunks of well-burned almond wood out. I set the burned wood aside so I can add it in later. The wood removal worked, I got the temp to come down. I re-opened the chimney and air intakes and was able to keep the temp hovering in the 220s for most of the next two hours.

Ok, that's Part One. I'd appreciate any comments or feedback, particularly on the subject of overloading my firebox (obligatory "That what she said").

And also on the topic of temp control. I expected closing the air intakes and chimney vent to choke off my fire and lower the temp. But when I closed everything down, the temp refused to go down. My guess, and I'd like to hear what you think about it, is that I had way too much fire, and thus residual heat, built up and merely closing off the vents was going to take a really long time to affect the temp.

What do you say?
post #2 of 14
Hi PDT_Armataz_01_01.gif

I'm just gonna reply to you via your post so it's easier to follow; I'll post replies in red so you can differentiate them.

Okay, no worries, bud. Learning experience, and nothing any one of us haven't gone through! Keep a few rules in mind and you'll be a-ok.

Leave the chimney wide open all the time.

Control heat more from "heat-dump" than "choking-off" from the inlet vent.

Experiment a bit, try different things, and keep asking questions. There are a lot of us here who are glad to help you out!

PDT_Armataz_01_34.gif
post #3 of 14
Well looks like Rivet gave you some great advice.
Only thing I have to add would be your wood chunks, I burn all of my chunks of wood before adding them to the firebox, when I do add them I place them near the hot coals or lump but not touching so they heat up and begin to smolder. When the wood gets to the point where it is almost breaking apart and very light I place it on top of my main heat source and add another chunk to the charcoal basket, not touching the wood but close enough to begin heating.
These steps have helped me keep temps running smooth and avoid that white billowing smoke.
post #4 of 14
everything these guys said, +1 ~rivet has spelled it out very well, and FiU adds a good tip. pre-burning or pre-heating your smoking wood helps it get up to temperature fast and reduces nasty things such as cresosote and billowing white smoke.


above all, leave exhaust open always and forever! control your airflow with intake only and if things get way too hot due to a problem, open the firebox, smoking chamber or both to let out excess heat -all will be fine.
post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
"I'd like to get some feedback on some of the questions that occured to me as the strangeness unfolded yesterday. I'll break down the story into chunks, because it was a long, strange trip.....it's been...." Sorry, Grateful Dead flashback, here."

LOL. We are everywhere.

Wow, thanks for the analysis, Rivet! What you described is pretty much exactly what happened.

Thanks, too, FireItUp and TasunkaWitko! I very much appreciate the comments.

OK, I see the chimney vent issue was huge. I certainly won't do that one again. A question on the aftermath of that mistake: Is the creosote I generated yesterday likely to impart an off flavor to the next meats I smoke? Or will the smoke produced by my next fire flush it away/overpower it as it flows through the smoke chamber out through my ALWAYS open when cooking chimney vent? Any opinions?

Ok, I'm glad to know the briquets weren't an issue. It was a a guess, and actually a counter-intuitive guess. I had read of the Minion method of building a fire, and I couldn't see how one can of briquets could be the problem. Still, I had a run away heat problem.

Rather, a perceived run-away problem. I see from your explanations now that there will be some inherent temp fluctuation and now that I better understand how to control it, it shouldn't be such a problem.

But beyond the issue of the briquets, there was still a fuel issue:


After the charcoals turned white I poured them into the firebox and put three big pieces of wood on them. (I'm thinking this was way too much wood, mistake #2) In short order the wood was burning nicely. I let it burn a while to make sure it was really well lit. I had the chimney vent fully open, and the air intakes on the firebox open about an inch. The smoker lid was closed. Now I don't have a Silver Smoker so I don't know if this was too much wood or not. I don't imagine 3 chunks to be too much. Now if by "three big pieces of wood" you mean fireplace sized sticks, then yes, that is too much. I'm thinking you put 3 good sized chunks (3 - 6 inches overall?)

Well, LOL, I actually put fireplace size pieces. Like, roughly the size of a prestolog or so. I'm pretty sure they were rediculously large for the firebox. I got a little over-enthusiastic at that point in the process.

The first big chunk of wood I took out was wonderfully charcoaled. But since I was concentrating on controlling the fire, I carelessly tossed the wood into a bucket of water. Later, when I took partially burned wood out I set it aside and let it smolder down so I could add it back to the firebox. From FireItUp and TasunkaWitko's comments I can see I was sort of on the right track.

But, are you saying it's advantageous to pre-burn all your smoking wood?

Being a total rookie, I thought the heat generated by the wood burning in the first place was essential to the process. Or is it the case that you are talking about adding these pre-burned pieces to the coals left over from the initial pieces of wood burned? I'm can't explain what it is I don't understand about this. LOL!

When you say position the pre-burned pieces close to the coals, what coals are you referring to? Sorry to be so clueless!!!

Next,

Then I look, and somehow it got up to 330. Whoa! I close the chimney about from 3/4 of an inch to a 1/4 inch, and close the air intakes similarly. The temp doesn't budge. I close the air intakes and chimney completely. The temp doesn't budge. There you go. At this point we want to open the firebox lid slightly, leaving the chinmey completely open. A spike in the temp- especially when you add cold meat- is nothing to worry about.

Very good to know that one needn't be overly concerned about temporary temp spikes. "Remember, YOU control the fire, it doesn't control YOU."
Very nice! Thanks!

When you say open the firebox lid, do you mean the actual top half of the firebox barrell, or the side door in the lid?

By the way, is there a different name for the top and bottom firebox air intake sliding doors?

The ribs look good, and I loose the extra heat. But as soon as I close the door, the temp goes climbing up, way past the low 200s, and it's heading for 300. With the air intakes and the chimney CLOSED! The fuel, nicely carbonized was oxygen starved and burst into flames when you opened the chamber.

That's exactly what happened. I forgot to mention it, but I actually saw that when I caught a sideways glimpse of the interior of the firebox while I had the smoker door open.


Again, thanks for the comments! I am even more excited than I was before my first smoke!

Because now, the stupid chimney is going to be OPEN!!!! biggrin.gif
post #6 of 14

Happens to All of us

Don't fret, after all when you do get the hang of it you will look back on that day and laugh.

The maiden voyage of my homebuilt that I just knew was going to be awesome was a disaster as well.

There are a bunch of good people here to help.
post #7 of 14
wntrnd, all the above advise is good. Do not get discouraged, you would not believe the meat I have ruined in my learning curve. And the curve never ends, good luck. Just remember the exhaust advise and the rest of it will come in time. I kinda think of a smoker as an engine, air in air out and that is where it happens.
post #8 of 14
I can not give advice,because I have no such type smoker
however what I can say to you

do not be discouraged

we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes
post #9 of 14
All of the above advice is good. I do have one of the Silver Smokers and can attest to the difficulty in using them , especially the first few times. Burnt ribs, black turkeys and temps ranging from 175* to almost 400* Hey, but it's fun! There are some mods to do to the silver to make it easier to use. One of the most helpful is a box to hold the fuel on the grate. Here is a pic of the one I made.



It is simply a four side square, no bottom, made from expanded metal. I load in the unlit lump and wood chunks, keeping the fuel piled up on the vent side of the box. I then pour in a chimney of lit on the chamber side of the box, beside not on top of the unlit fuel. The fire box vents are at about half open and the stack is fully open. Let every thing come up to temp and start your cook. Adjust the vent as necessary. When it is time to add more fuel, push the hot coals over to the chamber side of the box and add new unlit lump beside, not on top of, the lit. This procedure works well for me and get constant temps and a reasonably long burn time with little to no fiddling of vents. A typical 6 hour cook sees me adding fuel two maybe three times. Good luck with your new hobby and Keep on Truckin'. Another Grateful Dead reference.
post #10 of 14
GOOD JOB RIVET!!!!

I like this part:

You do not have to worry about religiously sticking to 220-225 temps. When I smoke with my wood burner the temps often spike by 50 to 100 degrees depending on the wood, situation and addition. This is where the "heat-dumping" comes in. Wood burner folks learn this quickly. It's all good, no worries. It is simply fire-manangement. Remember, YOU control the fire, it doesn't control YOU.

Wood burners are separate from the "set-it-and-forget-it" smokers... so fire management and Anger management go hand in hand.
post #11 of 14
Good advice there, not too much I could add - but I'll give it a shot PDT_Armataz_01_12.gif

Actually, this may have been mentioned already, but since I have a similar smoker to yours, and since I've been down this road many times - I guess I'll just either repeat it, or say it in a different way...

First off, the exhaust damper - just like Rivet said, never close it.

Second, the wood chunks and charcoal. The amount of fuel and the size of the fire, was your only other problem - besides not knowing to keep the exhaust damper open.

For smokers who are just starting out - the best way to maintain FAIRLY level temps (I am in agreement that you don't need to fret the occasional temp spike - even if it's + 30-40° for 10-15 min) is to use mostly charcoal or lump as your heat source, and add very small amounts of wood for the smoke flavor

My Brinkmann Cimarron is a little smaller than your Silver, and mine is 1/4" thick steel plate - but they are very similar in size and design.

Try this method and let me know what you think:

First - start a FULL chimney of charcoal. While that is prepping,
throw 12 unlit briquettes into your firebox...piled all the way over to the side closest to the air intake vent. On the unlit pile of coal, place two chunks of wood on top that are not MUCH bigger than a golf ball!

Then, when your full chimney is ready, dump it into the firebox on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE PILE OF UNLIT COAL. Keep the two piles seperated - very important...

Close your intake vent 3/4 of the way, so it's only 1/4 open.
Go have a beer biggrin.gif In 10 -15 min. check the temp. If it's too hot, close the intake a little more, check again in 5 min.

Once your temp is steady - toss the meat on.

Now, here is the fun part. Once your temp drops about 10 - 15° (say from your 225 target to 210) then open the firebox and push the unlit coals over so that they are touching the lit coals, and toss ONE of the preheated chunks of wood onto the hot coals.

The temp might spike a little bit, but not for long...don't mess with the air vent at this point. Toss on the other chunk as needed...once the first one is gone, and the smoke has died down.

The beauty here, is that the pile of unlit coals and the two wood chunks are ALL pre-heating until you need them.

Now is the time to add 12 more briquettes and two more small wood chunks to the firebox - once again, keeping them on the other side of the firebox so as not to ignite until you need them - they are pre-heating only!

Repeat this process over and over and you can go all day, with temp spikes that are very mild.

As you get more smoking experience, you can cook with more wood and less charcoal...

Good luck - hope that made sense - and have fun! biggrin.gif
post #12 of 14
That's how I learned exactly... good tip
post #13 of 14
How good is the thermo you're using to measure smoker temps? I don't know much about your particular smoker, but I know a lot of entry/mid level models have some room for improvement.

A decent thermo will definitely help you dial in and control your heat.
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you all very, very much for your replies and suggestions.

I'm very excited to try again, now that I have a clue.

I'm not going to publish the rest of the story here because all the subsequent problems can be traced to not keeping the chimney vent open, and poor fire management.

I titled this post 3-2-1 abort because I discovered this forum right at the third hour of my smoke. So I took the ribs off, wrapped them in foil and kept a pretty even fire for the next two hours (even if it meant taking out and re-adding burning pieces of wood to control the temp). Then when I got to the supposed final hour where you remove the foil and let the meat firm up, I totally lost my fire. It took nearly 45 minutes to get the temp back to 200. Then when I did get to 200, it took THREE more hours to get the temp of the ribs even close to 172. D'oh!

I particularly appreciate the people who offered reassurance and encouragement to continue.

Great BBQ is worth suffering for. I don't mind paying my dues.
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