charcoal smoker vs wood smoker???

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Fire Starter
Original poster
Feb 8, 2006
I just bought a Brinkmann pitmaster deluxe and am curious what the difference between charcoal and a wood smoker is?
If you want to use just wood, do you start with charcoal or just all wood?
My firebox is offset from the smoking chamber if that helps for some advice. How do I go about starting a fire in the firebox to smoke some spare ribs? All wood or charcoal first then wood?

Another question is, my smoker has three levels for the grates, high medium and low. At which level is best to smoke meat?

Cant you use wood in a charcoal smoker and visa-versa? Im a little confused with that. thanks
rock, the size smoker you have is a bit small for an all wood fire, not saying you can't do it with all wood, but as a beginner, you'll have much better luck using charcoal for heat and small quantities of wood for flavoring.

First things first, smoker is a bad name for a Q cooker. It gives the impression that you want to see copious quantities of smoke belching from the stack. This isn't at all what you want, nearly invisible pale blue smoke is the goal.

To achieve this in your rig, a small charcoal fire to generate enough heat to cleanly combust small (no bigger in diameter than a beercan, and 4-6" long) sticks or chunks of wood. For best results, put the next stick of wood to be added on top of the firebox to preheat. This will help ensure quick clean combustion.

Keep the stack damper and firebox damper full open to allow plenty of oxygen to get to the fire. Regulate temps with the size and posistion of the fire. If it gets too hot, have a coal bucket nearby to pull some of the coals out. Moving the fire a bit closer to the cook chamber will up temps as moving farther away will reduce temps.

Periodically the charcoal bed will dwindle and you'll have to add fresh charcoal. Make sure you prelight these additions of charcoal (if you're using briq) in chimney.

This should give you a start on basic fire control, I'm sure others will share what works for them as well.

Best of luck, you'll think this is old hat in no time.

I also have an ECB Pitmaster and I have produced quite a bit of high quality Q since joining this site. I have access to quite a bit of apple, cherry and alder wood so I normally start with charcoal but then leverage wood for both smoke and heat for the next several hours and then at about hour 6 or 7 I will add another chimney of charcoal to stoke the heat again. But I have no problem using wood as the primary heat, in fact I like it just remember to keep your fire small and burning not smoldering. Check this post about some basic modes I made The two things I think you have to do is build some kind of heat shield to allow the heat and smoke to roll evenly into the smoker and lower the exhaust tube into the smoking cavity. These two adjustments will really even out the heat. Good luck and welcome aboard
Scott has given you some excellent advise. Another option is to pre-burn your wood in a "Burn Barrel". Think of it as a Huge charcoal chimney for Wood! I fabricated mine from a 55 gal. drum.

Basically, you get your wood logs burning above the grate. As the wood turns to large ember chunks, it falls thru the rebar grate. I set mine up right next to my Firebox - so as heat is needed, I simply scoop it up with a flat shovel and add to my firebox!

This is "True" wood smoking! No adding of any other wood is necessary, as this method provides the best "Thin Blue Smoke" you'll ever use. If you truly enjoy tending a'll love this! It is labor intensive, and requires attention (not for the "Set and Forget" crowd) but the end results are phenomenal!

Here is what mine looks like!



I appreciate the advice. Im looking forward to learning a lot in this forum, so be patient with my silly questions.

One question that wasnt answered was, what is the best level to smoke on in the chamber? High level, medium level or the lower level?

When saying "if you need to add more charcoal for heat, make sure you light it in the chimney" What do you mean?

thanks for the quick reply, but I guess im still a little confused. Obviously this is my new adventure and looking forward to get out of my novice state.

Is it like your barrel idea with previously burning embers? So basically before I add any charcoal, make sure it is already lit and burning before putting it in my firebox?
In response to your charcoal chimany question. A chimany is a small, gadget for lack of a better word, that you can pick up in most home and garden stores. You use it to pre-light your charcoal before putting it on the grill/smoker/fire. They are a very useful tool and a must have in my opinon. It also seems to start charcoal eaiser than say stacking it in your grill and dousing with lighter fluid. That was my dad's way of starting a fire and boy am I glad I learned better.

With this you'll be able to have the charcoal ready right when you need to add it to the smoker for more heat instead of realizing you need to up the temp and waiting for the coals to get hot.

Here is a link to some good ones on Amazon, you'll also be able to see what they look like (tried to post one in the message but can't use .btmp images)
Ok, I see, thank you. Nice pic BTW!
So Ill assume that with this extra device, you'll have extra charcoal ready when you think you'll need to add for extra heat or regulate heat. Obviously you dont want to light to pre-maturely or you'll burn it all up before needing
When is the perfect time to put the extra coals in?
Also tell this newbie what is meant when the letter "Q" is being mentioned? Is that just an abbreviation for barbeque or barbequing?

"I have produced quit a bit of high quality Q since joining this site". huh?
Well kind of, I have a Brinkman horizontal that I wanted to burn wood in. In the past I just placed logs in there or charcoal and it tends to be too smokey. I bet this would work out great for that
The most obvious reason is so it doesn't burn the grass below it and it brings the bottom ember area up to a more suitable shoveling height. I would suggest that if you leave it ground level you put it where the heat will not burn, crack or melt gets extremely hot!

Jeff, someone bumped this threadup and I just read it for the first time and I've got a few questions.

What kind of smoker are you fueling with this?

Do you only use these embers, or do you use logs as well?

How long does the barrel last before it rusts/burns out?

Does the rebar start to sag after a while, and if it does, how long before you have to flip it over or replace it?

We used to do pigs and beef sides on a three sided cinder block pit w/ corrugated sheet steel on top, and we kept a fire going and only used embers. As I remember, there wasn't much smoky taste, but the meat was deeeeeelish. This would've been the thing to have for that.

Thanx for the pix,

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