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Bitter Skin on Smoked Chicken

shutterm4

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Joined Feb 19, 2014
Hi all,

I am new to the forum and recently bought an 18.5 WSM.   I have been looking around and decided that for my first smoke I would try a whole chicken since they are cheap.  I didn't want to totally ruin a great (and expensive) cut of meat quite yet. 

I used a basic Sea Salt and Sugar brine on the chicken and then used Famous Daves Rub for the outside of the chicken and as an injection (probably was overkill to brine and inject.)  I set my smoker up with enough charcoal for a long smoke, used my chimney starter to get some coals burning and used apple wood to create my smoke.  I maintained right around 275-300 throughout the duration of the smoke which took around 3.5 hours.  I pulled the chicken when the breast measured 165 and the leg was 180.

The chicken turned out decent and the color was gorgeous but the skin was uber bitter and inedible.  I originally got the taste of the skin on my fingers and thought the whole chicken was ruined.  The rest of the chicken tasted good with plenty of room for improvement. 

Any advice on how to avoid the bitter skin in the future?
 

jarjarchef

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Welcome....

Was the top vent fully open? If not you don't get a good smoke flow/exchange and the smoke will cause the food to get a bitter taste.

You want a thin blue smoke when you do long cooks. If you had a billowing white smoke that can cause the bitterness as well.

Just a couple things to start with to look at.
 

noboundaries

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First, lets assume you did an empty seasoning run to burn off the shipping oils.

Second, it doesn't appear that the brine, rub, injection, or temperature you used was the problem.  I've done all those with no issues at all.  Chicken is better at the higher temps IMO.

Third, I suspect you loaded the chicken in the smoker while the wood/charcoal was still in the yucky early burn stage, especially since you loaded the smoker for a "long smoke" for a meat that is considered a short smoke meat.  If anything, that heavy fuel load was your overkill and source of your bitterness.

Once you reach your desired temp you have to look at the smoke coming out of the smoker.  If it is white or grey, do not load the meat.  Keep the temperature where you want it and watch for the smoke to change to a thinner light blue, THEN load the meat.  Easily it can take more than an hour to reach the proper "time to load the meat" smoke level in the WSM, longer on a  "long smoke" load like you used.  I typically fire up the smoker then go prep the meat for smoking knowing I have plenty of time.   

Also, to save fuel, with a little experience you'll figure out how to fuel load your WSM so you aren't burning a bag of charcoal each time you use it.  I'm typically a hot n' fast, dry smoke guy with my WSM.  I don't use anywhere near the amount of briquettes that the instructions recommend.  I've learned that a little goes a long way.  If I need more fuel during a smoke, I fire up some more briquettes in a chimney, let them get hot, then add them to the fire.  I use the door as a fuel "chute."  I open the door, tilt it back, then carefully dump the chimney of hot briquettes on the door and let the briquettes slide down into the fuel pile.  If they need rearranging I use long BBQ tongs to move them around but usually they are fine where they land.

BTW, I use Kingsford Blue Bag in my chimney.  In the smoker I usually use either lump, KBB, or a combination of both along with my wood of choice. If I want lower temps I use more KBB.  Higher temps (excess of 300F), all lump.  I've never had a bad taste issue using KBB.       
 

shutterm4

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Joined Feb 19, 2014
Hey guys thanks for the great replies. I definitely had too much charcoal in the smoker, but waited around 45 minutes to put the meat on. It stopped smoking several times, so I did have to add some wood. I'm using fist sized chunks that I bought pre cut from the grill section of homedepot because I haven't had the time to find whole logs to cut up. I've just been using the regular blue bag kingsford charcoal charcoal.
I actually did 2 high heat burns with nothing in the grill to ensure anything left from the manufacturing process was gone.

For smoking a chicken (we will estimate 3-4 hours), how much charcoal should I be using on an average temperature day? Right now our weather is in the 60's-70's daily in Texas.
 

minx boy

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Im in louisiana so we have about the same temps as you. The amount of charcoal that you use is all up to you, no one can really tell you how much to use. Use as much as it takes to keep your temps at the desired level for the duration of the smoke. If you need to add more, then add a few lumps when you see the temps start to drop. I dont know why your skin tasted nasty, but the only thin I can think of is that you had a rubbery gross skin, because you didnt let the skin crisp up at the end, which is what most people do by ramping up the temps to around 300ish to get that crunch smoked skin. Maybe the wood you got from homedepot could have had some lumber in it. You have to be careful because some of those pre-cut wood pieces can have a few chunks of 2x4 in them. Just check it out before you buy it next time. Other than that I'm not sure why the skin was bad. Do you have any pictures of the process? 
 

jarjarchef

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Just because you don't see smoke, does not mean the flavor is not getting in there. When you add chunks you will get a thick white smoke at the start. I have seen some make a "C" shape with the charcole and light one end. They will place a few chunks throughout the charcole. As the charcole burns around the ring it will light the wood and generate the smoke you need.

I would also suggest cooking at 300 degrees, otherwise you run a chance of rubbery skin. If you are cooking at that range you should be done long before 3-4 hrs........
 

pc farmer

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Poultry takes smoke very easy. A lot of times I use lump only or just 1 or 2 wood chunks.
 

venture

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I am guessing too much smoke from too much wood?

No need for visible smoke through the entire smoke?

Best smoke is barely visible and sweet smelling.

Good luck and good smoking.
 

javin007

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I've come to prefer my chicken cooked lower (225) for longer (10 hrs) and with a very, VERY light smoke.  Dunno if you have time constraints here, but one time I did a chicken with a high temp, heavy smoke, and while it LOOKED good, I ended up tossing the whole thing.  (Wasn't smart enough to toss the skin and taste the meat).  I let the "grey" smoke burn out and go for a light blue smoke for a long time.  When it spends an hour or so above 145, I pull it.  The key to killing bacteria is temperature + TIME.  Not just temperature alone.  
 

cliffcarter

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I am guessing too much smoke from too much wood?

No need for visible smoke through the entire smoke?

Best smoke is barely visible and sweet smelling.

Good luck and good smoking.
IMHO the reason for the bitter taste is highlighted in the quote above, in my experience a little well seasoned apple wood goes a long way.
 

hambone1950

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FWIW , when I cook chicken on my WSM I use a full chimney of lit charcoal ,one chunk of maple or oak (sometimes just straight charcoal), no water pan, chicken on the top rack , vents wide open , nice hot fire. The chicken cooks pretty quickly and it gets a nice smoky flavor AND the skin comes out crisp and edible.
 

shutterm4

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Joined Feb 19, 2014
Based on what you guys are saying should be adequate for fuel, I definitely had too much charcoal in the grill, which wasn't a huge problem because it just got reused for grilling the next weekend, but I also over smoked it. The chickens came in a two pack, so we will see how the next one turns out next week. I'll add a lot less wood, and maybe try keeping the water pan dry this time.
 

flash

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Never seen chicken take to long to smoke. 3 to 3 1/2 hours tops. I do a low and slow to start (215 to 220º), allowing longer in the smoke, then either move to a hot grill or up the temps in the smoker to crisp up the skin.  Not that you should eat the skin. 
 

redwood carlos

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Take us through your setup.

1. Was there water in your pan? (Might be causing the burning up of fuel)

2. How were your vents three on the bottom open, closed or some combination?

3. How was your top vent open closed in between? (Temperature should be controlled by air flow from the bottom vents.)

4. Was your smoke white or thin blue, or not visible?
 
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shutterm4

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Joined Feb 19, 2014
I started with it half full of charcoal and then added a half chimney of lit charcoal. Water pan was 3/4 full. It came up to temp pretty fast. Next I added 3 chunks of wood, which caused white smoke. Shortly after when I knew the temp was stable I added the chicken.

Temp was controlled by the bottom vents. I believe they were all about half closed but it's possible they were a little more. I tried to keep all the bottom vents at the same adjustment just to make sure airflow was even. Towards the end of the smoke I opened the vents on the bottom up to increase temp to crisp the skin. I did a really good job of not peeking the whole smoke to ensure the temp stayed even.

Over the next 2 hours I added wood probably 2-3 more times when I saw no smoke visible. (Probably what caused my problem.) i didn't have any problems holding temp and choose to intentionally put a larger amount of charcoal in so that temp wouldn't be a problem, There was enough left over in the chamber at the end that I grilled burgers on it the next day and didn't add any fuel.

I think next time I am just going to add the wood at the beginning and leave it for the duration without adding additional wood.

The only thermometer I used was the lid temp and occasionally I stuck my meat thermometer in the temp probe port. Both were reading close to the same
 
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redwood carlos

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I started with it half full of charcoal and then added a half chimney of lit charcoal. Water pan was 3/4 full. It came up to temp pretty fast. Next I added 3 chunks of wood, which caused white smoke. Shortly after when I knew the temp was stable I added the chicken.

Temp was controlled by the bottom vents. I believe they were all about half closed but it's possible they were a little more. I tried to keep all the bottom vents at the same adjustment just to make sure airflow was even. Towards the end of the smoke I opened the vents on the bottom up to increase temp to crisp the skin. I did a really good job of not peeking the whole smoke to ensure the temp stayed even.

Over the next 2 hours I added wood probably 2-3 more times when I saw no smoke visible. (Probably what caused my problem.) i didn't have any problems holding temp and choose to intentionally put a larger amount of charcoal in so that temp wouldn't be a problem, There was enough left over in the chamber at the end that I grilled burgers on it the next day and didn't add any fuel.

I think next time I am just going to add the wood at the beginning and leave it for the duration without adding additional wood.

The only thermometer I used was the lid temp and occasionally I stuck my meat thermometer in the temp probe port. Both were reading close to the same
The primary function of the water pan is to stabilize temperatures. Keeps the spikes and drops from happening. It is a heat sink. Many people argue on both sides of the adding moisture in the air argument. I use bricks in mine so I am not converting my charcoals heat energy into steam. Surprisingly it takes quite a bit of energy, which may have contributed to your charcoal usage.

If you left the top vent fully opened then I think you were okay on vent placement.

Well on to the main reason we probably all think the skin was bitter. You state you added wood when you did not see smoke. I think anyone that did not have some guidance when they began smoking did this at least once. Below are some pictures of different smoke. The white on the left is bad and will make food bitter fast. The blue on the right is what you are looking for, though that is a pretty heavy blue there. The below picture shows a truly THIN blue smoke, or TBS as the guys around here call it. Go for either of those. Now get that chicken rubbed up and on the smoker, and don't forget the pictures.



Best of luck,

Carlos
 
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shutterm4

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Joined Feb 19, 2014
Thank you for the great advice. To achieve the thin blue smoke is it just a matter of ensuring you don't have too much wood on the coals? Should I be adding the wood at the same time I add the lot charcoal, or should I wait for the charcoal to ash over?

I like the idea of bricks, I'm sure it keeps your temps really stable once they heat up. How long does it take you to get your smoker up to temp?
 

redwood carlos

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Any wood/charcoals you want to let ash over. The initial burn off of material is what is causing the heavy smoke. I use the minion method for longer smokes. For chicken I light all charcoal I will use at the same time. (I like to cook chicken at 300+) If the fire needs more I will, most of the time, light a chimney and add in hot coals.

Check out this thread that talks about a burn barrel. http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/50038/burn-barrel-for-true-wood-smoking It will give you an idea of what is going on if I remember correctly.
 

flash

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Sometimes smoke is hard to see. There is a saying, "if you smell wood burning, you're smoking".  Maybe you should try just one large or two small chunks and try again?
 

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