How much smoke is too much?

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by damnthatsgood, May 4, 2014.

  1. I made a charcoal snake for my side-firebox awhile back.  It is post #10 in this thread:

    It does greatly reduce the amount of charcoal I need, but I can never get thin blue smoke, or no smoke at all.  I think it's because it's always heating up and lighting new fuel, so it's always smoking some from this new fuel.  I use Stubbs charcoal, or Royal Oak lump, and I throw some very seasoned post oak on top.  I did this a couple times, but I'm so paranoid about creosote from my first botched smoke, that I've given up the snake, and now just use the old fashioned: "put a few briquettes on every now and then, or a hot chimney full"  method.

    Basically, I want this snake to work.  But I can't get it to be smokeless when I'm going for 200-225* smoker temps.  Is this just reaching for something that is impossible?  I mean how can you use the snake, or even use wood for that matter, and damp the firebox down low enough to achieve 225* smoker temp without creating a lot of smoke as a by-product??  I mean, you're basically snuffing out the fire by trying to get smoker temps that low.  It's not always a bellowing smoke, but it is always a thick, white smoke if I try to use the snake with charcoal and bits of wood at low smoker temps.

    What I have been doing to get around excess smoke on long smokes (like a brisket for example), is cook it with charcoal (no wood) and only add pre-burned coals from the chimney until it's past the stall.  Then I foil it and finish it off with wood, when I know the smoke can't get to the meat.


    P.S. - Yes, the exhaust is always wide open.  The wood is dry and very seasoned.  I use Stubbs briquettes, or Royal Oak lump.

    Thanks in advance for the help.  Let me know if I need to clarify something.
  2. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I don't have an offset smoker but my first thought when I saw your snake box was "man, that's a lot of wood."  You essentially have about a 2 to 1 charcoal to wood ratio there by weight.  Using the snake method the way you have it set up your fire is always going to be carbonizing a lot of unused wood fuel with a lot of air so yeah, you're going to have white smoke the entire time.  

    The snake method works because the heat is generated from a small, hot fire that has a supply of available fuel to maintain equilibrium with the available air.  The cold charcoals/wood act like a heat fence next to the hot charcoal and slowly allows the fire to progress through the available fuel as the cold coals heat up and eventually ignite.  The snake essentially "pre-heats" the fuel next to the fire, allowing for more effective use of the fuel. 

    Here's an idea for your snake box.  Cut those pieces of wood into fist sized chunks and space them about every 6-8 inches buried in the charcoal, not on top. As the fire from the initial load of hot charcoal progresses through the snake, the buried wood is going to pre-heat at the same rate as the charcoal, plus it will start to carbonize before reaching the ignition point. Buried in the charcoal the pre-heated, partially carbonized wood is going to burn cleaner because the burn will be balanced with the surrounding charcoal, using up the available air supply at the same rate as the charcoal which helps the wood carbonization process further.

    You're really close to getting it right.  Just needs a little tweaking.
    Last edited: May 9, 2014
    chef jimmyj likes this.
  3. Thank you for the reply!  I'll give it a shot.  I'm going to rebuild my box first.  The single dividers let coals on the other side ignite, and I'd like to do a better job building it.  I used expanded steel that I had on hand, and it's not very heavy gauge.
  4. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    Why are you killing yourself trying to stay at such a low temp? 250 is a good temp for smoking. You're going to have temp fluctuations in a charcoal/wood burner just the name of the game. I start with a chimney of coals and then go to splits. When you first throw the wood in you're gonna have some white smoke but it burns off pretty quick to thin blue or even non existent (invisible) smoke. If you can smell it then it's there trust me. I think @Bearcarver will back me up on this. I have a custom made giant now but started off with an el cheapo from Wally world and that is how I did it in that one as well. Just relax and don't stress about the low temp so much.
    just for reference these two butts were cooked Friday night for 11.5 hours between 250/300. Hope this helps.
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  5. It does help.  I'll up my smoker temps.  Thank you!
  6. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    I have a Lang 36 and like Brooksy I normally cook at 250F to 275F. I use Royal Oak hardwood lump. I start with my homemade charcoal basket 1/2 full and a couple of small pieces (coke can size) of camp fire wood, which burns hot and fast, to establish a bed of coals. Once I have a bed of coal I start the cook and add chunks of whatever hardwood I'm using from Home depot. Hardwood is hard to come by in Tucson and when I can find it it's very expensive -- for example a milk box of oak is $15. The meat will only take smoke up to 145F internal so once I reach that temp I stop using wood and only use lump for the rest of the cook.  
  7. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    SPOT ON ANSWER!!!...[​IMG]...JJ
  8. worktogthr

    worktogthr Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I agree with noboundries. Seems like way too much wood. I have only tried a snake once in my weber kettle but it's the same concept. Here's a link to my thread where I smoked some baby backs with a snake.

    Picture of the set up isn't the best but it shows the relatively small amount of wood I used and how I spaced it. I have a propane smoker as well and I find that a single fist size chunk at a time is more than enough wood. For a snake you really only need small chunks with some space between them. I had nice blue smoke the whole time.
  9. Okay guys, let me clarify...

    I would like to only use wood if I can.  I'm not putting the wood in for "smoke".   I'm putting it in to save on charcoal.  So if I try to only use wood, can I expect TBS, or no smoke at all, with low smoker temps?  Or is it just impossible?

    By the way, burying the chunks of wood does work like a charm.  I did that on this last smoke and had nice smoke the whole time.  Problem is, I want to try to get away from charcoal for a smoke or two.  Not for any other reason than the experiment of it.
  10. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    Yes you can get tbs on pure wood as fuel at 225 but just don't get scared when you throw another split on and you get some heavy white smoke for a couple of mins. I only start with coals then go to wood only. I have been cooking at 250 lately but have cooked at 225 with the same smoke. Around me oak is pretty cheap so using wood as the main fuel source makes sense. Try it out and see what happens let us know how it works for you.
    Last edited: May 9, 2014
  11. Okay, that extra smoke is what was worrying me.  Just how much is too much?  I managed to ruin the first brisket I cooked because of creosote.  I am better at smoking now, but a few smokes ago I wrapped a loin in bacon, and let the smoke go a little thick sometimes, and I could taste the creosote in the bacon.  So now, I'm back to being paranoid.

  12. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    IMHO, If it gets thick enough that it's hard to see through it when looking through the glass in my MES door, that's too thick.

    Or if you don't have glass in your door, if when you open your door it takes a few seconds for the smoke to clear enough to be able to see the meat in the smoker---that's too much smoke.

    Actually just having enough smoke to be able to barely see it is fine, in fact being able to smell it could be enough, as long as it's not just the smoker itself you're smelling.

    Hours & hours & hours of light smoke is Great !!!   But a short time with Heavy smoke is bad !!!

  13. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    Are you cooking with your stack all the way open? Gotta let the old smoke out. The white smoke should disappear within a couple of mins from adding new wood.
  14. That is what I think, and that has been my experience.  Just a few times of adjusting fuel and not dialing in my smoke fast enough is enough to ruin a brisket that I spent 12 hours babysitting.  It SUUUCKS!!!  I don't actually try and "smoke" my meat.  The way I see it, is just "cooking" it in this fashion will add the perfect amount of smoke as long as I try to keep the smoke thin blue, or nonexistent.  So what's fun to me when I smoke is just how long I can keep a rock solid temperature without any smoke at all.  Just like a diesel--I want to see just how fast I can make it go without smoking.  That is the part of smoking that is the most fun to me.  And that is also why I want to try and get it dialed with wood.  It's not a money thing, I work in the oilfield.  It's the "journey", I guess.  I don't know.  I just don't see why an offset smoker insists on burning about a pound of charcoal per hour.  Seems excessive.  Takes about a bag and a half to smoke a brisket every single time.
  15. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    You need to warm up your splits before you add them to the fire, I put them on top of the fire box or sometimes inside away from the fire. Heating them up allows them to catch quickly and burn cleanly, avoiding the thick smoke. Remember, always keep a small hot fire, it should burn, not smolder.

    BTW I agree with the others who advise cooking at higher temps, shoot for 275°-325°, best cooking temp range for most bbq meats IMHO.
  16. Yes, absolutely.

    About how big are your spits?  Mine are about as big around as a water bottle and twice as long.  The post oak I have is too knotty to get any smaller with an axe.  I don't have a maul.  And my saw is way too big to mess with this little wood without putting it in a vise or something.  So maybe my splits are too big.  How big are they supposed to be?
  18. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    Cooking with a good quality lump charcoal is the next best thing to cooking with hardwood. It's made from hardwood scrapes, which are carbonized. It leaves little ash and burns a litter hotter than briquets because of the increased airflow due to their irregular shape. The most important aspect is there aren't the chemical BINDERS in good quality lump that you find in briquets.

    Briquest start as sawdust and chips of mixed wood, which is then cooked down to 25% of it's original weight. It's then crushed and mixed with starch, sodium nitrate, limestone, borax and more saw dust and then formed into a briquet. As a result they produce more ash due to all the junk that was added during manufacture. I don't use briquets due to all the added chemicals. If I were to use briquets, a better choice is COMPETITION BRIQUETS, which contain only starch and a little borax as binders.   

    All hardwood or all lump charcoal or lump mixed with hardwood are ideal for smoking due to their compact cell structure so it doesn't matter which you use as a heat source -.either of the 3 combinations will get the job done. Pine, fur & spruce are not to be used. They have a open cell structure and contain lots of sap & turpentine and as a result they burn hot and fast and produce a lot of smoke. I know a lot of guys that cook only with briquets and swear by them so to each his own. 
  19. Thank you for the time you took to post that sir.  But we aren't debating briquettes vs lump vs wood.  I use all three.  I'm trying to achieve low temps and no smoke with wood.
  20. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    As soon as I get home I'll take a pic of my wood pile. I do not heat up my wood first. Hell I've thrown moist wood in the fire. You are probably going to have white smoke a littler bit longer at the lower temps but it should still go away let me clarify rained on wood not green wood
    Last edited: May 9, 2014

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