All Wood as the fuel source???

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Original poster
Sep 9, 2013
Batavia, IL
Just switched from a vertical propane to a COS.  I have an abundance of Oak on my property, and want to be an all wood smoker.  Having trouble keeping a good fire going, kind of dies off. Been using smaller logs, under larger logs, then starting with a propane weed torch.

Saw some posts and videos where folks used charcoal as a base, then added there wood on top, and those seem to burn pretty well.

So my question is, is there many all wood smokers out there, or do most use charcoal and wood, or atleast charcoal as a good base for the wood fire?  Maybe i just dont know how to start a good fire.  Is all wood alot more work than charcoal, or charcoal/wood combination?

Love the taste of my oak, any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Hello Jerry.  I will offer my OPINION.  Others may think differently.  Back in Tx.  I used ONLY mesquite wood for years.  I ALWAYS had another fire to pre-burn my mesquite wood for heat.  I used a fire on the ground or a fire in a cheap knockoff BBQ kettle from Wal-Mart.  I would pre-burn and then add coals as needed to my smoker.  If you want to increase the smoke flavour you can then add unburned splits or even chunks to your smoker.  I found that if trying to control a wood burning fire and also trying to control the temp in the smoker, sometimes the too were at odds.  The fire needed more ventilation but the temp in the smoker was holding pretty well.  Soon the fire goes out. and you are completely stuffed.  This has been my experience.  Maybe someone knows an better way.  You can also use lumpwood charcoal for your heat and the add your oak for flavour.  Keep Smokin!

I start with a base of 15-20 briquettes of charcoal for 2 main reasons. It's a hassle free way to get the fire started, and I don't have a supply of wood that's free, so I don't want to use a lot of my cooking wood to start fires. :) If I had land with lots of trees on it, I'd probably never buy charcoal again.

It also lets the charcoal serve as my 'wasted fuel' to do the majority of the smoker warm up.

If you have issues getting/keeping a fire burning, in my offset it seems to have issues with anything split larger than appx 1.5 inches square. Just a thought.

Also make sure that your wood is well seasoned. The last run of hickory I had, you couldn't keep the fire in control sometimes (it was well seasoned, the bark would just fall off if you dropped it from waist high onto the driveway). The run of red oak I'm using atm makes me want to change wood suppliers and never look back (bark hard to remove with a hatchet). lol
Hi All I would also like to use more wood in my COS, but I'm afraid of over smoking the meat, "IF" I only use wood after starting the fire with charcoal.

Thanks Dan
I just recently purchased a 36" custom offset reverse flow that is really designed to be a stick burner (1/4" steel).

In playing around with it a few times, the best method I have found (so far) is to start with a full charcoal chimney mix of Kingsford Blue briquettes and Royal Oak lump.  I use a mix because I like the consistent burn from KFD, but don't like all the ash, so I also add in some Royal Oak.  Lump burns hotter, so the mix seemed to work well.  I dumped this chimney of burning coals into a fairly large charcoal basket (10" x 16" basket).  Then from there I just add sticks on top of the bed of coals, and it seemed to keep the fire going.  The sticks would slowly burn down to coals, and then I'd add another stick. 

After dumping the coal from the chimney into the basket, I add 2 avg size sticks of firewood (oak is what i've used so far).  Then immediately put the basket in the firebox and let the 2 sticks burn down while heating the smoker up.  Once they've burned down the smoker is hot and ready, then I added another stick of flavoring wood (hickory, cherry, whatever) right before the meat goes in.  And from there the process is just add a stick as needed, once the temp starts to decline like 10* from my target.

I would think as long as you don't use heavy smoke wood during an entire smoke, you should be fine burning only wood.  Don't burn mesquitte and hickory during an entire cook (unless doing brisket I guess).  I would mix oak or cherry with whatever else you are burning to help lighten the flavor if using strong woods.

I smoked 2 whole chickens a couple weeks ago using this method, and they definitely had a smoky flavor but it wasn't overpowering.
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The chances of over smoking the meat are slim if you have a nice clean smoke coming from the exhaust stack.  Almost a clear blue smoke is what you're after.

If the fire keeps dying out on you, I'd think that you have either green wood or not enough air intake.  Keep the exhaust wide open and make sure you have a good air intake on the fire box.

Now, like Danny said, another fire going with wood that is pre-burning helps a lot!  That assists with temp consistency and also doesn't under combust when placed into the FB which can cause an acrid white smoke that turns to creosote.

HI All OK then if I do have a nice clean fire=TBS, I should have no trouble over smoking the meat..I have 6" splits 2-3" of apple/cherry/pecan..Looking for thicker splits for heating only.

Thanks Dan
Hello Guys.  WOW.  I see some of you folks are newish.  If we start trying to answer all questions on a single thread, the original poster could get lost as to who is answering their question and who is answering another question.  If some of you folks are having troubles, start a thread and we will do our best to help you out.  We are starting to talk about offsets and reverse flows and ect., ect.. As we usually state, knowing which smoker you have and where you are located MAY affect the answers you receive.  What works for 1 smoker MAY not work for the other.  Keep Smokin!

COS=cheap offset smoker.

I agree about not confusing the thread with other types of smokers. I've been rocking my COS for 4 years now. From trial and error, I stand by the method I mentioned in my earlier post.

And as mentioned above, as long as the fire is actively burning (small fire is the goal, and this will require tending...a lot) then you will not over-smoke. I killed more meat trying to use charcoal as a heat source than I could dream of using wood as my main heat. Just keep your exhaust open fully, and adjust your intake to keep an active fire.

A small, hot fire is what you're after. If your airflow is good, then the flames should be visibly leaning toward the exhaust stack. (This is from my experience, with my COS). You really don't even have to see smoke to be smoking, and if it is visible, then shoot for a wispy blue (like a car that is just starting to burn oil due to bad valve guides <--that's the mechanic in me coming out, don't know if that makes sense to the OP or not lol)

Cheers. :)
Having again re-read the OP, I'm left with a question. 

What size is a 'small log' and what size is a 'large log'? The answer to this question could well resolve the issue altogether. :) lol
What I was trying to do is just talk about my method of starting with lit charcoal and then using wood.  I don't think there should be any confusion, because regardless of whether it is a cheap offset or a reverse flow, it is still a similar design.  I have a offset.  

I agree that, from what little experience I have over the past couple of weeks, the best method that seemed to work for me was getting a hot bed of coals/embers and keeping it going by adding wood that will slowly burn down.
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Let me just add my 2 cents.

The size and type of wood/charcoal smoker you are using doesn't necessarily determine what type of fuel to use, just how easy it is to use the fuel.

When I smoke with my ECB and small offset I use lump charcoal as the primary fuel source  and small chunks or splits (maybe 1 to 2 inch diameter 5 - 6 inches long) of dry, well cured pecan for flavor.  I do this because these smokers have small smoking areas and there is not enough steel in their construction to help moderate temperature swings.  It's just easier to keep my temps stable.  The wood is just flavoring the meat.  I've tried all combinations ranging from pure charcoal to pure wood and find a fire fueled with lump and flavored with dry wood the best combination for me

When I smoke with my Lang 36 I am able to start the fire with charcoal but then use splits the size of a beer can or a bit larger as fuel.  The reverse flow has a sizeable food chamber and the Langs have a lot of steel in them.  It's not difficult to keep the temps in range.

As far as getting to much smoke on the meat please remember that most foods stop picking up TBS after a couple of hours.  TBS prevents creosote buildup on the food and the acrid taste on food often labeled as  "oversmoked".   If you are still concerned about too much smoke then you can wrap the meat in foil at anytime in the process and allow the food to finish cooking on the grate

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