Coals versus fresh wood...

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pacman

Fire Starter
Original poster
Jul 15, 2007
55
10
Southern California
I recently got into a discussion with one of my supervisors who is also a smoker...

We got to talking and he swears by lettin his wood burn down to embers or coals before puttin his meat in his smoker. Were it not for these facts, I woulda agreed with him:

1. You're not gonna get much smoke flavor in your meat with coals.
2. When you gotta reload the fire pit, not only do you disturb the embers and kick up ash that gets on your meat, the coals won't keep the cooking chamber hot very long since much of the heat-properties of the wood have been used up by making them coals.

However, I see his point in that I have had problems in the past with too much creosote build-up on the meat (over long cooking periods) and some charring...

Also, if you are on a long cooking project like brisket or shoulder... you never see the pros burning down their wood till their coals... they throw that wood right on the embers and get good smoke out of it.

Anyone have any input on this subject? Coals or wood? Solutions to creosote buildup?

Thanks... I like playing "Devil's Advocate"... and gives me some ammo with which to talk to my supervisor.
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i get my fire going, and smoker up to temp. then i put the food in. when needed, i add more wood right to the fire. i use a horizontal offset, and the ashes do not get on my food.

letting the wood get to good hot coals is for grilling, in my book.
 
wood... as far as "pros", ya saw it on cable.... if it's mesquite or hickory or red oak(live oak) then yeah just add the coals, thats a high creosote wood. fruit woods or "white woods"no prob adding a stick straight to the fire. now if the mesquite is aged & cured- not so much a problem.depends on the meat, the heat, & time smoking. i didn't quote you but if you have wood, heat, & air... you get smoke... you just may not see it but it's there- ask a fireman.
 
Creosote on your meat is caused by a few things.... Too much smoke in a small smoker, using "green" wood is another. You and your boss both have good points. There are also those that use the infusion method, using both wood coals and tossing soaked wood on top or using a water bowl, as the steam will assist the smoke with penetrating the meat and giving you the desired flavor and the accompanying "smoke ring".

I like to use a base of charcoal embers and begin tossing on wood, dry or wet depending on desired heat and smoke. I have also recycled partially burnt charcoal and wood from a previous smoking session.

I like to see the blue smoke coming out of my smoker, however I believe that a wood coal heat source also imparts that desired flavor in the meat. I have a buddy that loves the strong smoke flavor while his wife likes a subtle hint of smoke.

It all boils down to personal tastes. I am lucky to be the only meat smoker in my neighborhood, that way I am always right. :)
 
lol, i am the only smoker in my 'hood too. there are several grillers though.

i like the heavy intense smoke flavor, and i use mostly mesquite. i use only good seasoned wood. i might also add in a bit of pecan, oak, or maple sometimes. i have never had a creosote problem, yet. i also leave my smokestack wide open (don't even have a damper in it or a raincap on it; and i have a 4" diameter stack.
 
I would agree with gypsyseagod. If you have wood, heat & air you will have smoke. Remember that the goal is to slow cook the food and not oversmoke it at the same time. Thus the need for Thin Blue Smoke or as you will see mentioned from time to time Invisible Blue Smoke.

Stay away from green woods of any kind if possible and mix your heavy smoke woods with lighter woods and the food will come out with a nice smokey flavor.

That's my opinion

Keep Smokin
 
if it helps, I usually use the hickory chunks from Walmart.... most abundent source.

I've seen the "wide-open-chimney" approach and will certainly try it... especially with the brisket I have in my freezer. Just a matter of controlling the temps with the firebox damper. I'll report on my next endevour.
 
I'm a wood burner also and use pecan and hickory. It takes me around 1-1/2 hour to get my smoker temp where I want it, my firebox is large enough to set a couple of extra splits in there to preheat before I put them on the fire. This helps keep down the creosote problem.
 
gotta say smoking is awesome andif it was that easy everyone would do it. Having trouble regulating my heat using oak fresh split wood.Question should i be using coals to start or just use the oak DUMB QUES i know  THANKS.
 
My two cents...

Pre-burning the wood would always be my first choice if possible, but I rarely do it. Usually I load up two or three logs ( good size, not the little splits I see a lot of people use) and let them burn down good before loading any meat. For ribs and chicken this will get me through the cooking process, for butts and brisket, I will have to load more wood, but with no bark and only the best seasoned pieces I have on hand.

If I took the time to do it correctly, I would have a seperate fire pit going and only load the smoker with pre burnt wood, but we are talking a piece that is what? 16" long, 7" or 8" wide by 4" thick, not exactly what I would consider a "coal" , rather just a log that is chared really good, and is not putting out that nasty white smoke anymore.

To me, perfect BBq is sweet, red smoke ring way into the meat with no bitterness taste from the wood. Does not taste like liquid smoke at all,
 
I have seen in a couple different posts of people talking about stopping the smoking process and finishing the cook. Now how is that really possible? If you are talking about pulling out the wood, are you putting back in coal for heat without over smoking? The reason I'm asking here is the other forums they really didn't seem like they knew that much of what they were talking about. If I'm wrong here please set me right. Also, as for the white and blue smoke, if you are not pre-burning the wood, how are you getting past the white smoke? Sorry, still new.
 
gotta say smoking is awesome andif it was that easy everyone would do it. Having trouble regulating my heat using oak fresh split wood.Question should i be using coals to start or just use the oak DUMB QUES i know  THANKS.
What do you mean by "fresh split"? Is it freshly cut and split or is it well seasoned and dry wood that you have just now split? It will also be helpful if you tell us what you have for a cooker.

When I cook in my Chargriller offset I start with a chimney of fully lit lump charcoal in the firebox and add preheated wood splits as needed to maintain the cooking temp. I preheat the splits either on top of or inside the firebox, doing this gets the wood to the igntion point much more quickly.
 
I use red oak as a base wood or the main heat source if you will. It has a nice subtle flavor and is suitable with any meat. I then use apple for flavor unless I'm doing beef then it's oak all the way.

I start with charcoal briquetts but thats just used to get my wood burning. I normally burn wood for about a hour before doing any cooking. I generally run the exhause fully open but on my new smoker I have a double stack so I'm doing some experimentation. It has a vertical warmer that has it's own stack and then the main chamber stack. I can close the main stack halfway or more and force more smoke and heat through the warmer stack depending on how hot I want the warmer to run.

If you are getting creosote you are choking your fire or slow burning. By using a good bed of hot wood embers you avoid this as it will genraly quickly ignite and keep burning what ever new wood you add. You will find the sweet spot of damper control, wood and temp.

Here is a pic of my double stack from a smoke I did last weekend. This is a considerable heavier smoke than what I normally run but I was playing with the exhaust dampers. Normally my smoke is nearly invisible and I get just the right amount of smoke flavor.

 
I have seen in a couple different posts of people talking about stopping the smoking process and finishing the cook. Now how is that really possible? If you are talking about pulling out the wood, are you putting back in coal for heat without over smoking? The reason I'm asking here is the other forums they really didn't seem like they knew that much of what they were talking about. If I'm wrong here please set me right. Also, as for the white and blue smoke, if you are not pre-burning the wood, how are you getting past the white smoke? Sorry, still new.
Many times this means taking the meat out of the cooker and finishing in the oven, but most of the time people are using charcoal for the heat source and adding wood for smoke flavor. This way they can add as much or as little according to their tastes. When I cook a turkey in the kettle I use charcoal for heat and wood for smoke flavor for the first half the total cooking time, thus limiting the amount of smoke taken on by the meat.  I finish cooking with charcoal only, thus I have stopped adding smoke flavor and finished the cook.
 
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