Does Dirty Smoke Truly Equal Bad BBQ?

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Its_Raw

Smoke Blower
Original poster
Nov 25, 2023
117
92
I have been watching a few of videos by Jirby (Johnny from Goldie’s). He does not seem to mind putting meat on the grate and closing the door even before he lights the fire. He promotes the practice in an effort to get as much smoke on the meat as early as possible. Jeremy at Mad Scientist BBQ has a video supporting some mildly dirty smoke early in the cook as well. From the beginning of my pursuit of smoking meat that started jut a few months ago, I have read comment after comment about avoiding dirty smoke at all cost. What do you think?
 
I agree with the above, I've ran mine by putting the meat on when I still have some white smoke and then letting it settle in to TBS, for years now. Some won't hurt but think majority of the cook needs clean smoke.
 
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Before I understood and learned about TBS, I ruined a chuck roast. It was inedible and tasted like creosote. I clearly remember my mother-in-law saying how bad it was and I agreed completely. Now that I have only slightly more understanding, I try to keep my smoke thin and blue, maybe even clear...
 
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Before I understood and learned about TBS, I ruined a chuck roast. It was inedible and tasted like creosote. I clearly remember my mother-in-law saying how bad it was and I agreed completely. Now that I have only slightly more understanding, I try to keep my smoke thin and blue, maybe even clear...
I've ruined a chuck roast as well. It's probably the only thing I've over-smoked and it was on the WSM. I followed the advice of people who said it didn't matter if you put it on at the beginning before the pit stablized. I think Jirby gets away with some dirty smoke because the pit has a ton of airflow. But I've had over-smoked food from bbq joints and it's not pleasant. One place I went was Pecan Lodge in Dallas. They cook on Over/Under style pits and are proponents of more smoke=better. Most of the time their food was fine, but that one time it was terrible. Why take that risk with a really expensive piece of meat? No one will ever complain about clean smoke. Dirty smoke can be ok to a degree but when its not ok it's REALLY not ok.
 
It's all about what you are smoking. When I smoke andouille, I intentionally want white smoke for most of the cook. This is produced from the addition of dark brown sugar on the fire. The sugar has moisture and that produces the white smoke. If you smell it, it is not bitter and will not burn your nose like heavy creosote white smoke.

With BBQ, small amounts of white smoke will be made when you add fresh logs/chunks to the fire. Not an issue IMO.

And yes, the most smoke will adhere to fresh meat. But as long as the surface temp. of the meat stays under 140*F, the smoke will continue to penetrate. After that, you are building bark and surface smoke.
 
Using a stick burner - and a few other methods- will all produce a little less than optimal smoke (dirty smoke) every time you toss a fresh stick on. It never hurt anything I cooked.

As mentioned above, green wood is the enemy.

About the only way to completely avoid ANY dirty smoke is to burn down wood to coals. And that method makes truly incredible BBQ, bar none.
 
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Back in my greenhorn days I ruined a brisket trying to do an overnight cook by loading up the firebox with wood, closing the air intake down to a sliver and going to bed.
Meat went into the trash, not even chili worthy.
A word here for checking the moisture in your splits, it DOES matter and a moisture meter is under $20 on Amazon.
If you burn sticks you need to check the moisture, unless of course you burn kiln dried wood.
14% to a max of 20% will produce clean smoke and a much more managable fire.
(Okay, 22% will work but not nearly as well as 14%).
 
When I first started I was crazy about trying to get only TBS. After a while I figured out a little bit of white smoke was no big deal. My wood is usually pretty dry and I get to that TBS quickly and when a new split goes on I get a bit and don't sweat it. As long as its not hours of thick white smoke I see no problem. Also I preheat all splits on top of my fire box so when they go on it is very quick to light up.
 
If running a stick burner, you will get some "dirty" smoke from time to time, especially when adding fresh splits. It's no big deal. As long as you ain't got coal black smoke coming out of the stack like a freight train, it's fine.
 
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In a smoker I say get as clean (blue) smoke as you can.
A wet white smoke is not very good for you.
Natives use wet white smoke to do smoked fish but it is outside where the wind takes the smoke away pretty fast.
 
There's so many different aspects about this subject, I think a small book could be written.

But bottom line = no one can answer your question. Its all about what you like and you have to find that out for yourself.

TBS has been the standard for as long as I can recall. There's hard science that's identified the different chemicals in smoke and which ones produce the off flavors. Meathead at Amazing Ribs has gone deep into this. As has Franklin in his books.

Charcoal chunk can produce TBS some times, unless it doesn't. And many people love the charcoal/chunk flavor. When I bought my first WSM in 2002, some Texas A&M fans on a college football mailing list told me I was getting dirty smoke with the Minion Method. Well.................... people are still loving their WSM's today.

The nuances of diff bbq joints in central Texas have to be taken with a grain of salt. Franklin set the standard and they're all trying to do what he does but yet differentiate themselves. Hell, Franklin's first partner moved to Charleston to open a joint. He said " there's 50 people doing what I'm doing in Austin " . If they're gonna survive, they gotta have their own schtick, whether thats how they run the smoker or what sides they offer. They're in business and that's not what we do in the backyard.

Some guy on Youtube doing experiments and putting on a blindfold to do a taste test and say one is better than the other, hey, that's his personal taste. Its entirely subjective. Even when Harry Soo does that, it must be kept in the perspective that his tastes are aligned with what bbq judges want, not necessarily what he likes.

There's only one sure way to find out, do it for yourself.
 
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I have overall quit using color of smoke as my indicator. I put my hand over the stack and get some on there. If it smells acrid and like a forest fire it's not good smoke. If it smells like bacon and I want to lick my hand it's good smoke. In my Lang it's darn near impossible to generate bad smoke. On my Smokin Tex I let it run a good hour before the smoke smells right and pretty much the same on my 270 cabinet. I've also noted in both cabinets if I run a large pan of broth or water it impacts smoke color which I think is due to steam mixing with the smoke.
 
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