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Charcoal Smokers and Wood Chunk Amounts, Does It Really Make Sense?

FFchampMT

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This thought string has plagued me for a few years, so maybe some more experienced pit masters can lend a hand.

Why is the general consensus to only put 4 or 5 chunks (tennis ball size) of flavor wood in your coals for long burns when cooking with charcoal?
Stick burners run all wood, all the time.

Now I understand that our heat source is the charcoal, and wood chunks are only lending flavor, but is the use of 5 wood chunks based on experiment or is that just what everyone does because it works?
Are we just at the maximum amount of smoke flavor that can be imparted in to a piece of meat with 5 chunks?

Has anyone done 10 wood chunks? There's obviously a tipping point where you're basically running a wood fire if you get enough in there.

I do notice temp spikes when I've got a wood chunk that flares up, even buried in the coals, so I understand the control portion in having less wood. I'm just curious on other's experiences and results.

Thanks in advance!
 

jcam222

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I run a 270 Charcoal cabinet for several years and still do occasionally. I do not go by any set rule on number of wood chunks. When I start it up I add 3-4 fist sized chunks in with the lump charcoal. When smoke tails off I add 2-3 more and rinse repeat throughout smoke. Yes when you add more you may be a short period of thicker smoke but it cleans up. I have turned out plenty of good meat like this.
 

ravenclan

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Also depends on your smoker. My smoker I use 3 chunks no more or my temp goes up and the smoke is not Blue thin smoke. My buddies old cheap Walmart smoker he uses 5 chunks some times six but there again because of heat and smoke. My other buddy uses only woods chips but he has a top of the line smoker.
 

noboundaries

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I've done four to ten chunks, all buried at the bottom of the cold charcoal. It really depended on how big the chunks were. There's too much white smoke when they are placed on the top.

Nowadays I bury one 3-4" thick by 8-12" wood split in the bottom of the cold charcoal in my WSM. Minimal bad smoke and maximal :emoji_wink: good smoke for my entire cook.
 

BrianGSDTexoma

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Nowadays I bury one 3-4" thick by 8-12" wood split in the bottom of the cold charcoal in my WSM. Minimal bad smoke and maximal :emoji_wink: good smoke for my entire cook.
I might have to try that. I usually just throw on top. I found one of those big bags in front of Albertson couple weeks ago. They look about size you said. Get tired of buying bags and only being a few big chuncks in there.
 

Hamdrew

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Nowadays I bury one 3-4" thick by 8-12" wood split in the bottom of the cold charcoal in my WSM. Minimal bad smoke and maximal :emoji_wink: good smoke for my entire cook.
How long does a split add smoke for you? I have been meaning to try that. I've used splits in a kettle countless times, although that definitely has more airflow.. I don't usually "minion", but it would be nice to be able to dump coals on a split, rather than having to add more chunks on something like a ~6hr rib cook, or a hot & fast little butt
 

Hamdrew

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I might have to try that. I usually just throw on top. I found one of those big bags in front of Albertson couple weeks ago. They look about size you said. Get tired of buying bags and only being a few big chuncks in there.
You may want to check Craigslist/FB Marketplace first. While a cord is gonna be cheaper, you can probably get a big wheelbarrow load for the same $20 that a bag of Western/branded splits would.

Can always cut down the splits into chunks, too.
 

JCAP

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The longer I've been at this hobby the less wood I use. I've settled in around 2-3 chunks total for the entire smoke. Seems to be a nice amount for me and the wife who doesn't like super smoky things. I always used to add wood throughout but find the food is better now. Personal preferences apply!
 

BrianGSDTexoma

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You may want to check Craigslist/FB Marketplace first. While a cord is gonna be cheaper, you can probably get a big wheelbarrow load for the same $20 that a bag of Western/branded splits would.

Can always cut down the splits into chunks, too.
Actually I thought was decent deal. 10 for about 30lb bag.

20210623_165306.jpg
 

noboundaries

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I use a WSM and smoke butts and briskets overnight.

I started burying chunks long ago. Then I bought a 40 lb bag of mesquite on sale at Wally World for like $5. It was filled with splits, not chunks. What the heck, try burying a split instead of cutting them into chunks. One smoke and I was an instant convert.

I don't minion. I dump. I put the split in the center of the charcoal grate, then over-fill the charcoal ring by three or four inches (dump method). I make a little dimple in the center of the cold charcoal and add 8-10 hot briqs. I set my bottom vents for the chamber temp desired, not full open. Takes longer to come up to temp, but it is a controlled burn that preheats the split.

I see blue charcoal smoke for a half hour or so (don't be fooled) after loading the hot briqs. Then I'll see light gray smoke for another 45 minutes to an hour as the preheated wood starts to carbonize. I usually load the meat around 2 hours.

I get TBS and eventually invisible but fragrant smoke for the entire cook. At around the 4-5 hour mark I'll make any necessary minor vent adjustments.

I usually knock the ash off the briqs in the morning, open all lower vents, and let the heat rise as high as it wants to go to finish the smoke in 3 to 5 hours.

I do the same process for shorter smokes and reuse the existing charcoal /wood on the next smoke after knocking off the ash. There's almost no light gray smoke when reusing charcoal/wood from a shorter smoke.

The key is don't hurry your fire at the start. More than once I've started my fire, then ran errands or attended a writer's meeting (pre-covid) for 3 to 4 hours before loading the meat.

Give it a try.

Ray
 

Hamdrew

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I will, but I am confused as to how that isn't the minion method (or may not really know what it is)
 

Fueling Around

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Great question.
I don't consider myself as educated. I don't have a WSM.

I use a kettle after kicking my cheap Brinkmann offset to the curb.
In the Brinkmann I would use wood chunks as it leaked smoke everywhere around the lid so excess airflow.
Kettle I don't use chunks or chips. Wife doesn't want a lot of smoke flavor, and a kettle doesn't have enough airflow. I often wish the kettle lid has 2 daisy wheels to get more airflow, especially for grilling.
I use a pellet tube in the kettle for cold smoking. Still learning, still adjusting
 

RiversideSm0ker

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I have actually been using a smoke tube in my OKJ offset for a few cooks. Since charcoal is much easier to come by here in So Cal I’ve been using charcoal purely for heat while working with the tube for smoke. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how well this has worked. The pellets seem to provide very good TBS. It’s really clear and the heat is easier to maintain without flare ups from the chunks that I used to use for my smoke. I know that it will be tough for most people to believe but the dirt cheap hickory and oak blend from Walmart has been amazing for me. My wife and I both love the flavor profile from these pellets and from Royal Oak lump or RO briquettes. I love finding new ways and especially eating great barbecue.
G
 

Hamdrew

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I was thinking the other day how how good my ribs where when I had that thing. Was many years ago. Just set it up and let it go. No vents to adjust. That thing really made go BBQ.
i got a pretty old one some months ago and like it, too. the damper was/is rusted pretty bad, but it's wide open anyways. i know there's the common complaint of too much airflow from the firebox to cook chamber, but that can easily be fixed with anything fireproof.
thinblue.jpg


MUCH better, thicker than the cheap Chargriller I briefly had. When greasy enough it seals decent, too.
 

noboundaries

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I will, but I am confused as to how that isn't the minion method (or may not really know what it is)
I humbly stand corrected after doing some research.

What I call the "dump method" is more like the original form of the Minion method. What I've seen people call the Minion method is they place a can in the middle of the charcoal ring, surround it with cold charcoal, fill it with hot charcoal, then remove the can. I think I did that once, then changed to what I called the dump method which gave me more fuel, less wasted space, and longer burn times. Plus, later, I could easily bury splits in the center of the pile of cold charcoal.

So, again, I humbly stand corrected. I am absolutely using the original form of the Minion method. Still learning something new!
 

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