Fuel Efficiency

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morning wood

Smoke Blower
Original poster
Dec 5, 2012
SW Iowa
What would you consider to be a true test of an efficient smoker? I have read on a few posts that the Feldon Calculator didn’t necessarily use math to determine some of the formula(s), such as chimney height, but rather compared actually smokers and incorporated their characteristics to make the formula.

If this is true what made these smokers and their smoke stacks good enough to be used? Is there a standard for fuel efficiency that all smokers should be compared to? I think it would be interesting if there were a test that we all could do on our smokers to not only compare them to but, if shared, would also help builders to determine how to make a better mouse trap so to speak.

The problem is that there are too many variables, altitude, humidity, but rating of the fuel, moisture content of the fuel, etc.

Then you get into the quality of the construction, thickness of metal, sealing of the doors, etc.

Then even when you start comparing the different sizes of cookers, even if you have the exact same cubic inches , the shape of each compartment can make one cooker more efficient than another.

Not much of an answer, I know, but I really don't think it's something that you can through numbers into a computer and come out with the perfect design. It's really more of an art form and honestly, that's why I enjoy it so much!
I understand the variables of altitude, humidity, air temp and other enviornmental issues that can't be controlled.  And these would really cause a problem in allowing for truly accurate comparisons.  As far as the fuel variables go why not use Kingsford bricketts?  They are a fuel source that is readily available to all and manufactured to a fairly consitant basis.

The quality of the construction, thickness of metals, sealing of doors, shape of each compartment are all controllable factors for the builder.  If there was an efficency test, and if builders shared results of their smokers, these variables would show what works and the next builder could design around it.

I am assuming that all the infomation in the calculators had to be generated based on some kind of standard or established formulas.  I just think it should be possible some how to check against that.  For instance the rule of thumb is that the FB be sized 1/3 the size of the CC.  If I have 2 identical smokers with only the FB size different how would I tell if one was better than the other?   How fast they get to temp? How long they hold temp without adding additional fuel?  What would be ther rule of thumb to check the rule of thumb?

By the way I have looked at your cookers and your builds more often than I care to admit and for YOU it truly is an art form.
The only problem is, Im not sure if a cooker built for total efficiancy would produce the best BBQ, so there needs to be a test for the cook chamber as well to keep it a cooker and not a heater.
C'mon Rib...between you and Dave, ya'll should be able to pull this off!  LOL...Talk about a monumental task...I'm not even sure a math geek could pull this one off.  

Morning wood, as Rib pointed out, there are just so many variables when it comes to cooking and performance of a cooker, it would be nearly impossible, nearly...not completely, just nearly.  I am on board with your idea of the Kingsford blue bag test though, you could .  How long will your smoker maintain 225 on 20#'s of KBB test for all smoker builders, at least then you could have an idea of what builds work and what builds need some tweaking.   But even with the variable of fuel source taken out, you still have wind, ambient temperature, humidity, not to mention the size of your charcoal basket, if it's wide and short, versus tall and narrow that will have a direct effect.  
I know no single test can ever be all encompassing for every condition.   And as an efficiency test for smokers is concerned it very well could be monumental to establish something. 

What I do know is that a lot of people, myself included, put at least some amount of stock in the formulas provided by the Feldon Calculator, or some other mathy program as being the way to build one of these.   And as it appears these formulas do work and do create some good cookers therefore it is assumed that the calculators help.  But I still question how Feldon determined the formulas?  At the top of his site it says, “These are just guidelines based on years building smokers…” This makes me think he built a smoker(s) he felt was better than other(s) and input their characteristics.  But what made him determine one was better? 

I just feel there should be a way to check your build (and the calculator) with an applicable test.  Even if we came up with something simple like say 1lbs of Kingsford for every 1000 cubic inches of cook chamber and determined a “mark to hit” it wouldn’t help to determine why your cooker didn’t hit the mark it would just tell you that it could be improved somehow.  Now if you changed the smoke stack and re did the test you would know if it helped or hurt. And so on with the Fire Box and intakes and…..
Well, I kind of do that in several different ways with my smokers, but instead of focusing on just the fuel efficiency, it's more about the overall performance of the cooker. After all, it is a cooker, and not a heater or a furnace.

So, while fuel efficiency is important, it has to be well balanced in several areas.

I pride myself in that I can now build a smoker that will run at least two hours before having to load more wood, and are able to run smoothly from as low as 225* all the way up to 400*, and also react very quickly to adjustments and give me very good heat control.

But this has not resulted from playing with one smoker , this is the result of over 25 years playing with every single type and configuration of cooker I could get my hands on, modifying / converting , looking at other peoples builds, eating at every BBQ joint I've ever drove past and looking at the pits at those places and tasting the product they put out.
I pride myself in that I can now build a smoker that will run at least two hours before having to load more wood, and are able to run smoothly from as low as 225* all the way up to 400*, and also react very quickly to adjustments and give me very good heat control.
This sounds like a standard to shoot for!  You're right it isn't just abour fuel efficiency, and it shoudn't be.

Learn your smoker and put as much fuel in as needed to get it to 225* and walk away. Don't touch it again until it is below 220* or above 230* with the the intial bench mark being 2 hours.  "225 for 2" sounds like a good rule of thumb to me.
I'm not a very experienced smoker by any means. However, the question of efficiency was one that did cross my mind. I have a lot of engineers in my family and I studied engineering myself (didn't graduate) naturally, I was concerned about this.However, when it comes right down to smoking meat, I don't really care about efficiency. Hell, having to monitor the smoker, add wood or coals, open/close vents and everything else is what attracts me to cooking this way. It's an art and not a science. In fact, it's the same reason I got out of engineering and turned into a film major. I like the grey area and having the space to do what I want and not meet any particular standard.I cook about four nights a week and smoke maybe two or three times a month. I do these things because I have a lot leeway in how I do them. I make my own rubs and sauces. I vary my technique for how long I cook something. If I can change something, I usually do and judge the results.Anyway, to circle back, efficiency is not something I would look at even if there was a standard for smokers. I just want tasty food. :)
We'll, the 2hr + window gives you time to run to home depo! or the grocery store if you forgot something! and allows for a better night sleep when doing overnight cooks. Much more than that really isn't necessary, other than for bragging rights.
Don't get it?

Cars have been manufactured for many years?

We know that standardizing parts in cars would save a lot of money.

Smokers are produced in smaller quantities.

Neither car makers nor smoker makers have chosen to standardize.

Could profit and price points be a factor? 

Where does logic fit in their formula?

Or is it just profit?

Good luck and good smoking.
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