how much wood

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Original poster
Mar 4, 2006
I am an avid fan of smoked barbecue, and will be producing my own in the not too distant future, I hope. Right now, I am busy as a starving student. Well, I'm in culinary school, so I'm not starving. :)

As a project, we are to submit a recipe/set of recipes for our favorite food, and cost it out, ie, determine the food cost per portion. Now, I'm all set with my favorite recipes for rub, mop, and sauce. But my instructor tells me that I also need to factor in the cost for wood for producing the smoke.

So, I want to ask, what form of wood would I use (I'm assuming logs)?

Also, how do I figure out how much wood to use?

Is there some kind of formula relating smoke to amount of meat, or is it a matter of how much smoke to fill the smoker regardless of the amount of meat?

Would the amount be the same if I smoked one brisket or 20 at a time?
There are many factors invovled... Maybe too many to give you a direct answer. It will depend on the type of smoker you are using, the type of wood, your location and the availability of various smoking woods, the type of meat, the current ambient temps etc... The amount of meat you add to the smoker at any given time will also affect the pit temps and the fuel required to get the pit back to the desired cooking temp.

Different types of food take on smoke (taste) differently. Fish or poultry usually do better with a lighter flavored smoke wood like alder, almond, apple and the like. Pork and beef can stand up to a more pronounced or heavier smoke flavor like oak, hickory or even mesquite. All things being relative of course, the longer the item in question is in a smokey environment, the more smoke residue will be layed or absorbed by it... My favorite all around wood for all food is Pecan. Have not found anything that it doesn't agree with...

There are several types of smokers that can accomplish the job. Gas or electric that can use wood chunks, chips or sawdust provide the smoke, cookers that use pressed wood pellets, cookers that are best served with charcoal and wood chunks, like the Weber Smokey Mountain and of couse my personal favorite, the log bruning offset smoker...

Do you have to include electric/gas costs too? Wood price will vary by location and availability. I can only relate my personal experience and you can google the costs in your area...

When cooking on one of my larger offsets, I usually start the fire with about 10lbs of charcoal (Royal Oak or Kingsford) and about 3 to 4 wood splits about 18" long by 4" x 4" or so... After I get the fire going, a good coal base in the firebox and the pit up to temp (approx. 235° - 250°), I only have to add about 1 split per 45 mins/1 hour (again, weather and outside temps will have an effect) until the meat is done. This would apply to beef and pork. Poultry (chicken, turkey or cornish hens) I prefer to cook at higher temps (275° - 300°) and requires a bit more wood usage.

In my WSM, I fill the fire ring up with about 10 - 14lbs of charcoal, add 6 -7 chunks of wood. That is usually good for the entire cook no matter the meat in question...

I have no experience with the larger commercial type of cookers, so maybe others can chime in with information of those.

Hope some of this made sense...

drew, something that might make for a simpler answer for your class project is to use some figures that apply to my pellet cooker. It's certainly in a size class that could have catering or small commercial applications.
The following is quoted from the Fast Eddy page of the Cookshack website.

Electrical and pellet economy The FEC100 runs at 2.5 amps/300 watts @ 120 VAC, which means pennies per hour operating cost. Pellets cost about $20 for 40 lbs. Expect a finished cost of about 5 cents per lb.

Low operating cost, about 37.5 cents per hour

here's a link to the page

Hope this helps.
While it does vary with brand of smoker and type of smoker, if I assume that you are going to want a commercial smoker cost, here goes:
I assume a Propane smoker, so most of the heat comes from the propane. So here's the cost per smoke. Sometimes I buy Hickory (or pecan or Mesquite) logs in a bundle at the local Albertsons. In each bundle, there are about 6 or 7 logs. I use two logs per 12 hours smoke. I also use 1/3 can of propane at $9.50 per refill. So:

1/3 bundle * $10.00 per bundle= $3.33 for wood.
1/3 can propane * $9.50 = $3.17

So for an average 12 hour smoke, it costs $3.33 + $3.17 = $6.50

For this I can cook 4 Pork shoulders or briskets. More meat will slow the cooking time by about 10% per additional piece of meat.

While mine is not a commercial cooker, it is insulated and efficient. So I think it loosely approximates what you might see in a commercial environment.

Also, you didn't ask but in pork shoulders, you yield about 40%. By that I mean, if you cook 10 pounds of meat raw, you will get about 4 pounds of pulled pork.

Hope this helps.

Aubrey Page


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