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Help with black, acrid ribs in smokin-it #1

ixarka

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I recently bought a smokin-it #1. I primarily bought it for smoking fish since electric smokers seemed to do a better job with the low temps required. Following some basic directions (dry brine, a couple small chunks of apple, temp at 160, then about 4 hours for the fish temp to hit 140), my first smoke was amazing. I think it's fair to say it's the best smoked salmon I've ever had. I made it a few more times to ensure it wasn't a fluke but it came out identical and perfect every time.

With that (over?)-confidence, I decided to move on to ribs. Again, I followed a basic recipe (st. louis cut, dry rub with 4:1 brown sugar to kosher salt, a couple chunks of apple, small loaf pan with apple juice on the bottom, temp at 225, then waited 5 hours). I opened the smoker and disaster! The ribs were completely black and had a taste that is hard to describe, not really bitter, not burnt, just gross. The texture was perfect (tender, just the right amount of bite but falling off the bone) but the flavor made them inedible. I thought it was a fluke so I made another attempt -- same recipe only this time I used turbinado sugar, split the slab in half, used a couple small small chunks of hickory (probably 3oz total) that came with the smoker, set the temp to 215, and took out the first half after 4 hours and the second half after 5. The first half definitely looked better but was not tender enough and still didn't taste great. An hour later, the second half was very tender but was completely black and inedible.

FWIW, after the second cook, the two chunks of hickory had completely burned away and just had a little bit of ash left. I've attached pictures of the first and second cook.

Any thoughts on what I am doing wrong? Any help is much appreciated!
 

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chef jimmyj

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Welcome to SMF...Electric Smokers and Smokin-It in particular, are very well sealed, insulated and have tiny Vents. This keeps Moisture in the cabinet. Moisture is good and bad. That moisture can speed cook time, give a nice Smoke Ring and Tenderize the meat. But Too Much Moisture in that tightly sealed cabinet with tiny vent can allow the accumulation of Creosote, the black, bitter, oily coating that tainted the surface of the Ribs.

Some fixes...
No need for the Extra pan of Juice or water in an electric smoker.
Try Mild flavored Wood to start with. Apple and other Fruit Wood are good choices. So is middle of the road Nut Woods Alder, Oak or Maple. Nut Woods Hickory, Pecan are stronger yet with Mesquite being a Strong Acquired Taste for most outside of the South West.
You need very little Wood in that tighly sealed, small cabinet to get plenty of smoke flavor. Less wood, less Creosote generated. For Short Cooks, <6 Hours, preheat the Smoker,add one Wood chunk, wait for your exhaust smoke to go from White to Blue, 15-20 minutes, Then add your meat.
For long cooks Only add Wood when the first chunk burns out.
Consider not adding any more Wood after 4-6 hours. A big Butt or Brisket can be moved to your kitchen Oven if you want at this point.
Give these suggestion a try with some meat you find on sale, until you have your smoker, technique, flavor of Wood and timing dialed in. Best of Luck...JJ
 

indaswamp

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You can also check the smoke with raw biscuit dough. Place them all over your smoker and you can also find the hot spots as well as the smoke. you can take a very very small piece and chew it to check for creosote.....
 

mike243

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Looks like a grease fire in the wood pan to me,was there grease in the burn pot?
 

mcokevin

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JJ the master craftsman has got it nailed for you.

Chickens and Pork Shoulder are cheap and forgiving. Give a shot there first. Ribs are a little pricier and not as forgiving, get a few good smokes under your belt before moving on.

Don't get discouraged - you will be cranking out great Q in no time.
 

Lonzinomaker

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Sounds like your hickory burned instead of smoldering. I have gotten the heavy creosote flavor when my wood burned.
I have not had any luck getting a good mild smoke flavor using hickory, I always use apple wood chunks and occasionally a little cherry wood.
I also use an aluminum boat made out of flashing to keep the wood from combusting. You can make a boat out of aluminum foil to try it and see if you end up with charcoal instead of all ash.
I also weigh my wood so I don't use too much. 4-6 oz is all it takes.
 
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ixarka

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Thanks for all of the tips and suggestions! I will try an aluminum foil boat (similar suggestion on the smomkin-it forums so thanks for that link) and also ditch the water pan and will report back.
 

chopsaw

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I also weigh my wood so I don't use too much. 4-6 oz is all it takes.
I don't have a smokin it smoker , but researched them for awhile . The one thing I saw from people that passed the learning curve of this smoker , was the amount of wood used . Most used to much .
I would take note of the advice to weigh the wood .
 

PulledPorkSandwich

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I have a Smokin-It model 2 analog. For ribs, 2.5 to 3 oz. of wood is recommended.

Sometimes, the Smokin-It will "burp" if the wood ignites rather than smolders. This can happen if the wood you're using is overly dry. The result in this case can be a bitter flavor. I have experienced burps but I have not personally experienced the bitter flavor others report.

There are quite a few knowledgeable folks over on the Smokin-It forums who can help you get the best results from your smoker. Good luck.
 

Ackmack78

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Smokin it #3 owner here. Definitely weigh your wood. Lots of people say 6oz of wood max for large cuts of meat but I find that's not enough. We generally will go up to 10 oz of wood for ribs and butt never done a brisket on t here and probably won't ever, but anything over that can get bitter and some people even find that amount too much.bnat 10oz I like the smoke flavor and my wife likes the flavor but finds it's too bitter and she ends up with heartburn from the smoke.
 

ixarka

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I did another rib smoke without water and putting the wood in a foil boat. I think it's a step in the right direction. The ribs were still black, but at least they were edible. I wouldn't say they tasted good, but definitely edible. There were about 4oz of wood this time. I don't have a scale (yet!) so I will try again once I get one. Some of the wood definitely combusted so I will look into trying a non-grocery store brand as well (eg, fruitawood or smokinlicious).
 

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chef jimmyj

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Glad to hear you are getting closer to a solution. Try switching out your Brown Sugar for Demerara Sugar, aka Sugar in the Raw. The dry crystals don't darken at temps below 320°F.
Those ribs are a bit dark, but nothing I would be unhappy with. I've seen hundreds of Rib posts that color...JJ
 

ixarka

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I wanted to post a final follow-up for posterity, in case any other smokin-it owners run into this problem. After some pointers from this thread and some more extensive research, I concluded my issue was a combination of too much wood and wood combustion. I initially discarded those two as possible explanations given my success with salmon where I just put in two large chunks, set the temp to 160, and let the smoker do its magic.

I suspect ribs are different because the temp of 225 means the heating element spends much longer turned on initially before the smoker comes to temp, which gives more time for the wood to ignite rather than smoke. Furthermore, I suspect my initial attempts at reducing the amount of wood backfired because using smaller pieces made it even more likely that they would burn since they are more like kindling than chunks. The smokin-it FAQ even points out that if you are using chips, you should soak them first.

Lastly, I noticed that if I check on my ribs early in the smoke, the color seemed pretty good and it seemed to get steadily worse the longer the ribs were exposed to the smoke. Although I prefer my ribs to have a bit of bite, I thought of giving the 3-2-1 method a try since it involves shielding the ribs from the smoke. Putting all of that together, I did the following:

1. Bought a digital scale. I measured out a single 1.85oz of wood chunk (of my grocery store apple wood)
2. I soaked the wood for about an hour while the meat was dry brining.
3. Used demera sugar in the rub. Not sure if this made a difference or not.
4. Put a loaf pan with water on the bottom. I tried taking it out earlier and it didn't seem to make a huge difference. I might try without next time since I also like my ribs on the dryer side but most smokin-it owners seemed to use one and it supposedly helps to moderate temperature swings.
5. Set temp to 225. After 3 hours, I took them out and wrapped in foil. At this point, the color looked perfect.
6. After 1.5 hours, I took them out of the foil. Color was unchanged from before and still looked great.
7. Smoked for another hour and then took them out.

The bark darkened noticeably in that last hour but the ribs tasted quite good! Definitely not winning any competitions but I went to taste one and before I knew it, half the slab was gone. They were falling of the bone, which I didn't love but knew would happen as a result of 3-2-1. I feel like I am finally in a place where I can comfortably iterate from (will probably tweak the 3-2-1 timing and go from there) without wasting any more meat :)

Thanks everyone!
 

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chef jimmyj

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Glad things are working out. For more Bite in your ribs try less time in Foil. Stick a thermometer in the meat between bones. When the IT hits 180°F, take them out. Finish the cook,Necked, in the smoker or even in your Oven or Indirect Heat on your Grill. Your Ribs should be Bite Off when an IT of 195°F is reached. You still may wish to tweak the finished IT one way or another for your personal taste. No shame in finishing up a cook using other equipment than your Smoker...JJ
 

912smoker

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And it's all about finding the right combinations of flavors and doneness for your tastes. Sounds like you're keeping good notes on you cooks and the process. Keep fine tuning and you and your family will be rewarded for a lifetime.
Keith
 

Lonzinomaker

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I don't soak my wood. Moist wood just takes longer to produce smoke while they are drying out.
I want my wood to start smoking right away while the meat is cold. When meat gets over 140 deg, it doesn't absorb smoke as well as cold meat.
And for long smokes, I use the biggest chunks I can because they smolder better than chips do.
 

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