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Fire management on vertical stick burner

DocP

Newbie
3
0
Joined Jul 30, 2018
Hello all, looking for help and advice from you who are far more expert than I! I've read a number of fire management guides and advice on this and other forums, but the usual things don't seem to fix my issues with fire control in my vertical stick burner. So I hope you're not all rolling your eyes saying "oh great, this again..."

Briefly, the issue I'm having is this: After the starting coal bed burns down and I'm switching to all wood, burning a normal-sized split of wood with nice TBS brings the CC temp up too high (>300F), and if I adjust the intake dampers down enough to bring the temp down, I just get the dreaded white smoke and the fire goes out (and the temperature fluctuates a lot). A standard split seems to require all the air I can give it, but always burns much too hot. Burning a small piece of wood at a time gets around this problem, but then I have to add more every 20-30 minutes, which is obviously higher maintenance than I would prefer!

What adjustments can I make to allow me to burn larger amounts of fuel more slowly (= longer time between adding) without smothering the fire? Is this something specific to a vertical?

OK, so now I'll try to provide detailed information about my equipment. I'm including lots of photos to help. Let me say up front that 1) Mrs. P will not authorize the purchase of a different smoker, so this is what there is, and 2) I can cut holes, but I'm not in a position to weld things.

Smoker: The smoker was made locally from half an oil tank (yes I've read the forums on that), 12 ga steel all around, 30" wide, 28" deep, and about 4' tall. Think black mailbox. The firebox is the full bottom ~1/3 separated from the CC by two 12 ga sheets spaced an inch apart, and I pretty much always use two full-sized catering trays of water on top of the heat shield for added insulation. I believe that the heat shield + water tray provide enough insulation from the fire because the temperature difference from the bottom grate to the top grate is consistently less than 10 degrees F (so, not hotter closer to the fire). The curved bottom is lined with fire bricks and I build the fire on a cast iron grate set about 4-5" off the curved bottom. I added two adjustable air intakes, one on each side, at the level of the fire/just slightly below, and fully open they each provide about 18 sq in of opening. The exhaust is 3 x 3" diameter holes at the top back, no proper chimney per se. I've sealed the CC and FB doors with typical bbq gasket tape, the so the only smoke I get is out the exhaust, and a tiny bit out of the hole near the top where I put the thermometer cables through.

Fire: I start the fire with a chimney full of white coals topped with a split and both air intakes about halfway open, and this settles at a nice 250F with TBS out the top, until that first split and the charcoal have all gone mostly to ash and coals and I add a second split. This is where I start to have issues - The second split ignites before I close the FB door, but smolders with white smoke unless I open up the intake dampers all the way. Then because of all the oxygen, the temperature spikes over 300F and I have to open the CC door to cool it off, and I'm fighting with it the rest of the day. If I put in a small piece of wood with the dampers half to mostly open, it burns cleanly at say 250-275F for about 20 minutes and then the temp starts to drop again and I have to add another one. I'm using 1+ year seasoned cherry, apple, and oak; they all seem to perform about the same, and all ignite quickly when added to the coals. I've included a photo with a ballpoint pen for scale to show what I mean by "normal split" and "small piece of wood."

Any advice for how I can burn larger, what I would call "normal sized" splits (to go longer between additions), while maintaining 225-250 and not smothering the fire, would be greatly appreciated!

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flatbroke

Master of the Pit
OTBS Member
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Joined Sep 16, 2007
If I were fighting it, I think Id keep adding a few pieces of lit charcoal to maintain the bed. the wood wont burn clean if it doesn't have a good heat source.
 

weev

Smoking Fanatic
★ Lifetime Premier ★
528
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Joined Mar 10, 2014
Unfortunately thats how stick burners work. In mine I put 1 or 2 splits in every 1/2 hour to 45 min.
I do make my chunks smaller in diameter maybe 2 to 3 inch wide by normal length
 

phathead69

Smoking Fanatic
492
298
Joined Dec 23, 2016
Pros will chime in but stick burners run in a range unique to that smoker. Mine runs in the.235 to.255 most of the time. Right now I have 10 # baby backs and waiting to had
17 # of ham for a dbl smoke for a co worker retiring tomorrow. Mines a homade offset.
 

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ndhall

Fire Starter
35
32
Joined Dec 22, 2016
I know you had it built with the stick burner idea in mind but have you ever thought about building a charcoal basket and running a bag of charcoal with fist sized chunks dispersed within the coals? Charcoal will give very even heat with minor fluctuations. The wood chunks would produce nice thin blue smoke. The trick is to light only a few charcoals and bury them in the center of the basket and it will slowly burn for well over 12 hours. Can easily just light a weber starter cube in the center and let it go.
 

DocP

Newbie
3
0
Joined Jul 30, 2018
I know you had it built with the stick burner idea in mind but have you ever thought about building a charcoal basket and running a bag of charcoal with fist sized chunks dispersed within the coals? Charcoal will give very even heat with minor fluctuations. The wood chunks would produce nice thin blue smoke. The trick is to light only a few charcoals and bury them in the center of the basket and it will slowly burn for well over 12 hours. Can easily just light a weber starter cube in the center and let it go.
I do have some charcoal baskets and could certainly give this a try! When I first tried something like this (Starting at the top of the basket not the middle) the entire basket of coals was all ash in about two hours. Maybe I just need to control the intakes better. But I read on threads here that people usually start with a coal bed and just add wood to keep things going, would like to figure out if I can make that work too.
 

ndhall

Fire Starter
35
32
Joined Dec 22, 2016
Yea its a pretty slow controlled burn when using briquettes. The key is to light just enough to slowly bring it up to temp. Its the way I run my drum smoker which is essentially a very similar concept as yours. The problem with the meat being directly over the heat is it gets hot when supplied with too much fuel which it seems your experiencing. And when trying to snuff out that burn you get smoldering stale smoke. Clean burns need maximal air flow. If stick burning is the goal id just stick with small splits and add splits as needed.
 

Rusty Long

Fire Starter
48
9
Joined Jul 4, 2018
i use a stick burner as well. we all have this problem when using wood for our heat source. if you dont want to watch the fire and have a more hands of approach you have to change the way your managing your fire.

Try a minion or snake method using chunks for your smoke source and the charcoal as your heat source instead of using wood for heat and smoke source.
 

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