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Can't get TBS while cold smoking with MES 30" and AMNPS

Discussion in 'Info and Practices' started by setesh, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    I have a 30" analog MES with the mailbox mod and a AMNPS.  I get wonderful thin blue smoke for hot smokes and the meat turns out absolutely amazing.  I'm still dumbfounded by the results I'm getting.  I mean, I'm a complete smoking noob but I am turning out meat better than anything I've had at a BBQ restaurant on this setup and it's all thanks to this forum and Todd's AMNPS!  Besides that I'm having an absolute blast doing it. Thank you all for the help!  Here is the smoker I'm using:

    OK, now for my problem.  I have tried three nights in a row to get thin blue smoke while cold smoking and all I can get is white smoke.  I have tried everything I can think of.  I added a fan to the mailbox and that just creates thicker white smoke.  In fact the smoke gets thicker the faster the fan speed is turned up.  I tried covering the ventilation holes on the mailbox one by one and that just made nasty choking smoke that burned my eyes and lungs.  What am I doing wrong?  I don't understand why the same setup makes TBS at 225f and white smoke at 60f.  Here is what the cold smoke looks like coming from the chimney:

    And this is what I see when I open the door:

    I stuck some cheese in for an hour just to see what would happen and it tastes absolutely horrible!  It's like licking an ash tray!  From what I have read this is probably normal, so I have it vacuum sealed in the fridge and will try it every week to see how it changes.  From what I have read it is normal for it to taste really bad right after smoking, but if there is one thing I have learned from brewing it is to try your products at every stage so you can develop a feeling for what is normal.  It may not taste good at any given stage, but at least you can know what it 'should' taste like at that stage.

    So, what am I doing wrong?  Why can't I get TBS while cold smoking?  I apologize if this is a stupid question, I scoured the forum for a few hours and couldn't find any info on what I am doing wrong.
  2. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    Welcome to SMF.  Typically when doing cheese, I never taste it for an easy 3-4 weeks plus.   You need to give the cheese time to mellow out. Once smoked, I usually let it rest in the fridge for a day or two then vacuum seal.

    Are you using Todd's pellets?   If you are generating too much smoke, you might want to consider getting some of his dust which is used a lot for cold smoking.
  3. SmokinAl

    SmokinAl SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    [​IMG]   What Craig said!

    The longer the cheese sits the better it gets, I have some cheese that's 1 year old & it tastes phenomenal.

    Did you light just one end of the AMNPS?

    You can also fill the rows up just half way to the top so you don't have as many pellets smoking at the same time.

    And as Craig said, you may want to try dust for cold smoking, that's what I use.

    Hope this helps.

  4. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    You probably need to get some Draft going with all that Plumbing. Try a Blow dryer or a Heating Pad wrapped at the base of the chimney for awhile. Get the chimney warm and the rising heat will suck fresh air in to the mailbox and get things flowing through and out...JJ
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
  5. daveomak

    daveomak Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    When cold smoking, the smoker needs to be above ambient temperature so a draft will happen and condensate will not form....  The chimney you have, will cool the draft in below ambient temps...  I would remove the chimney, preheat the smoker and see what happens...   The draft should increase and help your situation...  

    When warm, hot smoking, the draft is increased significantly and the stack may not be cooling the exhaust..

    In my mailbox, I have an upper air inlet to add additional air above the pellets....   you might try that also...

    bdskelly likes this.
  6. BandCollector

    BandCollector Master of the Pit OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★


    When I first got my MES I experienced the same issues you are experiencing.  Once I removed the smoke stack my issues went away.  Try removing the smoke stack and follow some of Dave's, Al's, and Chef JJ's suggestions. 

    Your mailbox setup seems fine and cheese is not meant to be eaten immediately after smoking...It needs to rest refrigerated for at least a month.

    Good luck,

  7. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    I read that it takes a while to mellow, but WOW, I wouldn't have thought that COULD mellow.  I might as well have sucked on a used charcoal briquette!  I completely skipped the letting it age for a couple of days before vacuum packaging it. I assume that lets some of the harsher stuff flash off?  How do you keep it from drying out in the fridge?

    I am using Todd's apple pellets, and they work great for TBS during hot smokes.  I thought about trying dust, I even saw people using techniques to turn pellets into dust.  I'll give that a try and see what happens.
    I only lit one end of the AMNPS, but that thing puts out some serious smoke even so.  I have been filling it all the way to the top, so filling it halfway is a great idea, I'll try that before I try anything else.
    I used a computer fan and a cowl made out of tin foil to develop a good draft and it continued when the fan was removed, but it still only gave me white smoke.  I even tried leaving the fan in place, it just made even more white smoke!
    How do you keep your smoker above ambient but not hot enough to melt cheese?  Maybe use a light bulb or a heating pad in the bottom?

    I will try removing the chimney and see if that helps it flow better.  It makes sense that even though smoke is coming out of it, the fact that it is cooling in the chimney is slowing down the system.  I think I will cut/crimp that stack into sections a few inches long, that way I can add/remove pieces to tailor it's length to the conditions of the day.

    Your mailbox mod is the one I used as a reference, and I have holes the same size in the same places (except for the one you have covered in the photo).  I even messed around with the vertical location of the AMNPS within the mailbox.  I made a stand out of coat hanger that raises the AMNPS into the middle of the mailbox.  It definitely made it happier for hot smoking, I assume because it got more airflow from the bottom.  But for cold smoking it didn't seem to matter, I got white smoke either way.  
    When you say your issues went away, do you mean your drafting issues, or getting white smoke?  I found a thread on another forum last night that said you don't get blue smoke when cold smoking, that it is always white smoke.  Is that true?  If that is the case then I may be worrying about the color of the smoke for no reason.  I still need to fix my drafting problems because I know I'm getting stale smoke right now when doing cold smokes, but if the smoke is supposed to be white and not blue for cold smokes that would explain a lot.

    Thanks everyone!
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
  8. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member


    I never worry about blue or white, as long as it's not a heavy smoke.

    Sounds & looks like your smoke is too heavy.

    Like Al & Craig said above, I would try some Dust, and if the smoke is still heavy, don't fill it as high.

    With that big chimney you have, you're probably getting a real good draw of air flow, which is making it burn better than most, so with that long chimney, you should not fill your AMNPS up so high. You have to give it less to burn to control it.

    Remember---A light smoke for many hours is a good thing, but a heavy smoke for even a short time can be bad.

    setesh likes this.
  9. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    There is a big difference between Forcing air in and getting a Draft. The fan just forced more smoke in. A good Draft will move the smoke out and the system will settle down and smoke as designed...I am suggesting heating the Exhaust Pipe to get a draft rather than heating the whole smoker...Your Choice...[​IMG]...JJ
    setesh likes this.
  10. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    When I use my chimney when doing cheese or lox, I will open the smoker and stick my torch up into the bottom of the chimney and fire it up for a second or two, quickly close the smoker's door.  This causes the heat I just created to rise up the chimney and pulling everything behind it.

    Dave, I like your idea of having a hole in the upper position of  mail box.  [​IMG]  
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
  11. mfreel

    mfreel Smoking Fanatic

    Just to add my two cents, remove the chimney and replace it with a 3" elbow.  That seems to help my draw.  Also, why are you using the mailbox mod?  Why not just put the AMNPS inside the smoker?  

    I vacuum seal cheese pretty much after I cold smoke it for 3 hours.  I let it sit for as long as I can but for a MINIMUM of two weeks.
  12. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    You are getting good advice from all of the above. However, I will throw my 2¢ in. Look at adding smoke to any product as if you were filling a glass with water, once it’s full it’s full, by adding more will only make a mess. Don’t you find it strange that some can enjoy cheese directly out of the smoker while others have to let it age for an extended time before consuming? The last aged cheddar I smoked was smoked for 20 straight hours and was delicious right out of the smoker. Bitter or acrid tasting cheese is a sure sign of over smoking.

    After looking at your smoker there may be some changes made that could help you. First, your smoke generator does not know if you are hot or cold smoking, although it will work differently between the two because the amount of draft will be different between them. A hot smoke creates more draft than a cold smoke. Also, heat rises, the generator doesn’t care what the ambient temperature is as long as the heat created in the firebox has a path to follow through your food box.  I cold smoke below ambient all the time because my smokers are all in the shade; therefore they are always cooler than ambient. Of course, most times, applying heat from a torch is required in the firebox to get the draft started. Once the draft is started, any type of smoke generator can be used.

    Now for your setup. The purpose of my remote firebox (a cast iron stove) is to cool and clean the smoke before it enters the food chamber/box. To help you do the same, I suggest you replace the flex hose with two or three sections of single wall stovepipe. This will help in cooling the smoke and help in collecting impurities through condensation. Either raise the food box or lower the firebox so there is a gentle and straight incline between the two. This will allow the condensation and impurities collected in the pipe to flow back toward the firebox.

    As for your smoke, it is important to remember, the denser the smoke, the less forgiving it is. There will be times when a thick heavy smoke is desired for a short period, and then there are times when a very pale thin smoke is desired for long periods. The type of fuel being used can most generally control the difference. 

    As you are using a tray type smoke generator and wanting to smoke cheese, try pulverizing pellets into a talc type powder by using a food blender. This will produce a very thin and light smoke that by cooling and cleaning on its way to the food box will produce what you are looking for.

    OK, maybe it was a nickel’s worth.

    Have fun and enjoy your cheese.

    setesh likes this.
  13. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    I am trying to cool the smoke and keep the creosote out of the cooker.
  14. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    That makes sense, but am I correct in thinking you don't want to achieve a heavy smoke in your cooker by keeping the smoke from escaping because then it will go stale and condense on the food?  If you want dense smoke you have to generate a lot of smoke, not keep the smoke around a long time.  Is that accurate?

    I will definitely try pulverizing the pellets in a blender.  The method I read about involved wetting the pellets to get them to expand and then drying them out, your method would yield results much faster.
  15. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    Thank you all for the help!  I really appreciate it!  I will put your advice into practice and report back with how it went.  Unfortunately I won't be able to play until Sunday [​IMG]
  16. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    That makes sense, but am I correct in thinking you don't want to achieve a heavy smoke in your cooker by keeping the smoke from escaping because then it will go stale and condense on the food?  If you want dense smoke you have to generate a lot of smoke, not keep the smoke around a long time.  Is that accurate?

    All you need to do is to keep the smoke moving so the smoke can accumulate on the product. Can't say I've ever experienced "stale" smoke. Condensation collecting on the product will collect more impurities, eventually causing the bitter taste. The reason for using your mod is to eliminate as many impurities as possible before it reaches your product. 

    I will definitely try pulverizing the pellets in a blender.  The method I read about involved wetting the pellets to get them to expand and then drying them out, your method would yield results much faster.

    If you are looking to do things fast and easy, you are conversing with the wrong person. LOL  The method you read about will break the pellets down but not to the density I am referring too. I am talking baby powder not sawdust. 

    setesh likes this.
  17. setesh

    setesh Fire Starter

    This has been a very busy week, but I did get to play a bit.  The first thing I did was load up a full row of pellets into the AMNPS and load it in the mailbox.  I wanted to confirm that my problem still existed....it did.  I tried heating the chimney with a torch.  This worked really well at creating a draft, but when the chimney cooled off the draft slowed down to the point that smoke was now exiting the holes in the mailbox.  So I removed the chimney and that made a huge difference.  The smoke rolled out much more quickly.  I put a small computer fan over the exhaust hole to create a stronger draft.  This helped even more, and reduced the density of smoke in the cooker.  I spread some peanuts on a grill mat as a test of this arragnement.  After 30 minutes I gave them a try and they were smokey, but bitter, like camp fire smoke. I tossed these peanuts into a ziplock bag to see how they change over time and spread the remaining pellets in the AMNPS out until the row was only one half filled to the top and tried again.  The difference in smoke surprised me.  I got maybe 1/4 the smoke of the full depth row of pellets.  I put fresh peanuts on the grilling mat, and after 30 minutes I gave them a try.  They were just barely smokey.  After 2 hours they were pretty good, but I could taste a bit of bitterness.  I let them go for another hour and the smoke and bitterness increased.  Definitely a big improvement over the full depth row of pellets, but still not acceptable for something like cheese.  Next I put some pellets in the blender and reduced them to powder.  The only difficulty with this method was keeping the stuff in the AMNPS.  I put a tray under the AMNPS to catch what fell through and then poured it back in.  I had to repeat this 5-6 times until the larger pieces formed a bed and the dust and powder stayed in.  This method was the most trouble, but it produced the best results by far.  The smoke it produced was thin, light blue, and smelled sweet and delicious.  My wife even commented on how good it smelled.  I loaded more nuts into the smoker and after 30 minutes i could barely detect smoke flavor.  I checked them every hour for another 6 hours, which is when the AMNPS burned itself out.  The resulting peanuts are delicious, so much so that it made me wish I had done a full batch.  They have a mild smoke flavor with absolutely no bitterness or harshness.  I want to try this method with cheese now as I bet it would be delicious right out of the smoker this way.  It's supposed to be cool on Friday, so hopefully I can give it a try then.

    The next thing I need to do is make/find a stand for the smoker so it can be higher above the mailbox.  Then I can see about replacing the flexible ducting with stove pipe.  Those things combined might remove the need for an exhaust fan.  Thanks again for all your help! [​IMG]  I love tinkering with stuff, and I"m really enjoying this hobby. 
  18. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Thanks for keeping good notes and the detailed report. You are doing a good job by learning how each change affects the results along the way.

    Your smoke generator will work better once you raise it a bit. As you have learned, the generator has to be handled very gently. No need to worry about some powder escaping, it can be used on the next smoke, there will be enough retained to do the job. If possible, load it while it is inside the firebox.

    When you smoke your cheese, I suggest you start with one small block of cheddar cut into bite size pieces. You and your wife can then sample at different intervals and note the results along with the color. Also, make note of the internal food box temperature. It will come in handy later.

    At times, smoking can be a PITA but, to some, that is what makes it fun. You are on the right tract, with a few more fine tunings; you will have a very nice setup and producing some excellent cheese.

    Good luck on your smoke. Will be waiting on the results.

  19. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    You might consider buying Dust from Todd. Will save you time grinding and messing with the fine powder...JJ
  20. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Thats a good idea JJ but, unless the dust is like baby powder, he would still have to put in in a blender to get a ultra slow burn.