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Bitter flavors

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by mschulke, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. mschulke

    mschulke Newbie

    The last two times I've smoked in my pit, I have noticed a bitter flavor in the skin and membranes (last two meats were a whole turkey flattened, and a rack of ribs).  Both times I used wild pecan with a few smallish pieces of wild grape, both obtained by me in south Texas.  So far, I'm finding the wild pecan (some in south Texas call it a pig-nut tree, because it produces an odd looking, flattened kind of pecan that are eaten by javelina and feral hogs) not to be my best wood, but it hasn't left any bitterness before.  I have used the wild grape (pieces vary from 1 to 3 inches in diameter, about 10-14 inches long) before, but only one piece for an entire cook, used early on.  This last turkey and rack of ribs got more grape, about 4 pieces each.  There were some bad temp spikes with the turkey, so I had to choke the fire down after adding the grape, and it smoke a lot, more than I'm used to.  I chalked up the turkey to amateur hour with the temps.  The ribs didn't spike, and didn't smoke heavily, but they also had the bitter flavor.  Up to now, I've used a mix of oak, wild pecan, and elm in my cooking (the elm has been far and away the best wood I've used), and in almost a dozen cooks, haven't had any bitterness until these last two times.  

    My plan to sort this out is to get a couple racks of ribs, halve them, and over the course of a weekend cook one of the 4 with just charcoal, one with just oak, one with just wild pecan, and one with wild pecan plus grape.  Just thought I'd get the forum's input on this issue.  Have any of you ever used wild grape, or wild pecan before, and had similar issues?  Any other thoughts on what might be going on?

    meateater likes this.
  2. meateater

    meateater Legendary Pitmaster SMF Premier Member

  3. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    How long has the wood seasoned and dried? I would say minimum of 6 months so season and dry the wood once it is cut into small fist sized pieces, longer for larger chunks. Other wise you are going to be cooking the saps and moisture in the woods and creating creasote, once you create creasote in your smoker it will continue to give your food a bitter flavor untill you clean out the inside of your smoker really well.
  4. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    I'm wondering about the grape wood. Is it a good wood for smoking or not. I'm not really schooled in the different woods. Now pecan is a good wood for smoking but you have to watch how much you use too. After all you are looking for a thin blue smoke. Not the thick bullowing white smoke. Thats most likely where your bitter taste is coming from. 
  5. brud

    brud Meat Mopper

    I do not know about the wood but those pig nut pecans are super bitter to the taste.

    As kids we would bring them to school and trick other kids into eating them. To say the least they would pucker you up! It could be the wood.
  6. richoso1

    richoso1 Legendary Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  7. scarbelly

    scarbelly Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member

     Great answer Mike - I even had my AMS going too strong the other day and had to tone it back.
  8. ak1

    ak1 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    My brother in law has a vineyard and I get ots of grape from him.

    What I've found is that grape is not a good smoking wood. Basically, there isn't much smoke or aroma.

    What it is good for is wood cooking. It burns nice and hot without a lot of smoke, and little ash.
  9. mschulke

    mschulke Newbie

    Thanks for the thoughts, everyone.  I'll definitely work on keeping the smoke down.  As for the seasoning of the wood, what I've used I collected in early June, split it, and have kept under the central Arizona sun since then.  I suppose it might not have seasoned long enough, but I figured the desert would do a quick seasoning for me.  My little experiment coming up may help me sort this out, especially regarding the pecan and the grape.  I'll let you know what I discover doing all those ribs... I love science!

  10. rbranstner

    rbranstner Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Yes too much smoke is very bad. I have had a few burnt stick tasting smokes in my day and it isn't very fun or very good tasting. But the key is you learn from it. If you learn something new and how to improve your product then it is still a success.
  11. mschulke

    mschulke Newbie

    Well, I did my experiment: 2 baby back racks, cut in half.  The first was smoked with charcoal as a control.  The next 1/2 rack was smoked with oak.  The third was the wild pecan, or pig-nut, and the 4th was apple chunks with a little grape vine.  My wife and I both tasted a couple ribs from each cook, blind so as not to be biased.  I took great care to make sure the smoke was thin and blue, not heavy and gray, and with a brief exception for the oak, they all went well.  The temps for the charcoal, pecan, and oak were pretty stable between 210-250 degrees.  The small apple chunks were really hard to control.  The temps for that cook were ~280-340.  I couldn't control the heat without generating too much smoke.  So, the results.  I liked the pig-nut the best.  Wasn't bitter this time around.  Neither was the apple w/ grape vine.  The charcoal was surprisingly good.  The oak, to me at least, had a subtle bitter flavor.  My wife, on the other hand, preferred the oak, and liked the pecan second best.  So, it's not my wood.  It's my technique.  Guess I just have to practice more!!!!!

    Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions!

  12. meateater

    meateater Legendary Pitmaster SMF Premier Member

    Mark, congrats on the smokey goodness.  Keep at it and get ya some camera skill's, we like that here. [​IMG]
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2010