How to smoke with wood

Discussion in 'Wood Smokers' started by wyatt2050, Sep 24, 2009.

  1. wyatt2050

    wyatt2050 Fire Starter

    For those of you with large fireboxs that smoke with wood as the heat source what is your process? What I mean is do you burn the wood down to coals and then bring the smoker up to temp? Also when you need to add wood do you put in a a pieace of wood or do you continue to add coals?
  2. coyote-1

    coyote-1 Smoking Fanatic

    I start with a basket of commercial hardwood lump charcoal. From there, I add small log splits or sticks. I warm them on top of the firebox, but they go in without pre-burning.

    IMO you're simply wasting good smoke wood if you burn it down to coals prior to putting it in the smoker; likewise, you waste it if you use it during the warm-up stage.
  3. fire it up

    fire it up Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I use a weed burner to blacken all my wood chunks before I put them on.
    I prefer oak as my main heat source because of hot long and hot it burns. Start with one chimney full of coals, pour it onto my charcoal grate and place a big chunk of oak close to the coals but not touching, about 10-20 minutes later it has sufficiently heated up and I move the wood on top of the coals, add another chunk off to the side and repeat as the wood burns down, adding little bits of other woods for flavor.
    If the wood doesn't burn quick enough or the temps dip too much I will heat up another 1/3-1/2 chimney of coals and add that to it.
  4. meat hunter

    meat hunter Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I start by taking the wood that I plan on using for that days smoke and putting in a old tractor rim, then give it a good blast from my propane torch. You could just set them all on fire and burn off some of the undesirable stuff as well. When all the pieces are blackened, I take them out of the fire ring and extinguish them. Then I take 4 pieces, about 12-16 inches long and 3-4 inches in diameter. Put them in the firebox and light them again with the propane torch,(Its a fast way to get them going). Once they burn past their peak, the temps in my smoker are right around 225-230. I will either set some pieces of wood on top of the firebox or inside it away from the flames. This helps heat the wood up and burn away a little more of the things you may not want in the smoke. I check my fire frequently and when its time to add a stick, I take one of the preheated ones and put it in. It catches instantly and then I replace the one I added to the fire. Thats it. It took me a while to get this down and I'm still learning. I like a small manageable fire controlled with the draft on the firebox. Hope that helps and remember, if your unsure of something, just ask. No such thing as a dumb question here. [​IMG]
  5. rickw

    rickw Master of the Pit OTBS Member

  6. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Fire Control in the Offset Firebox Smoker

    As a stick burner, I tend to have more hands on during my smoke sessions than the Electric, Gas or Pellet Smokers. But ,then that’s what I enjoy. The involvement in feeding the fire, controlling combustion, and just being close to my Pit. Conversation and friendships flourish in this environment; beer(or other drinks) are definitely in order, as are the snacks you will be creating as you monitor the progress.
    And , the result of “showmanship” ensures only YOU are the GO-TO GUY for BBQ in your neighborhood.LOL!

    O.K. Say you want to go with just wood. What is first?
    Build a fire, be it with a chimney, gas support(weed burner), or the old Boy Scout way.
    Let this fire burn until you have a good bed of embers(1 hr. or so). Next, adjust the intake to the temp . you want(your exhaust should be wide open and left that way the entire cook).Do the adjustments slowly and wait between moves.It takes a few to do it.Drink something.
    (firewood. Should be about one year old, have no mold or bugs on it, and split to a size your smoker can handle.)

    Size of your wood is a factor in maintenance of a fire.
    In a smoker the size of “FLO”-(20”X40” with an upright) SFB I can use 16” sticks, split twice or appox. 4”X4”.

    however in my New Braunsfeld-(16”X30”)SFB

    I use 8” sticks , about 2”X2” in size.

    What does this do for me?
    I use a thermometer at the grate level of the smoke chamber and one in the thickest part of the meat I am smoking. This gives me a visual of what’s happening, tracking both the IMT(internal meat temp.) and the cooking level temp.
    I try to keep the cooking temp. at 220*F to 225*F-giving me a window to work with when things start to change.
    I watch for a 5*F to 10*F changes on the grate level therm. When I notice it going down, I add a piece of wood and open the intake just a wee bit, watch and shut it back down when stable. When it increases in temp., I’ll close it down, in increments, until stability occurs .This change can happen quick so be aware. If it gets out of hand you could be fighting an hour to stabilize it…
    It takes a little more effort this way , but you will notice a great difference in the taste of your “Q”. I know circumstances call for alternate methods and different strokes for different people, but as for me……………………….
  7. wyatt2050

    wyatt2050 Fire Starter

    Thanks guys for the post. Very helpful....I am going to start my stick burning adventure!
  8. bman62526

    bman62526 Smoking Fanatic

    These are all GREAT suggestions.

    Not sure exactly what kind of smoker you have, but this is the method I use in both my offsets. (One smoker has a cooking chamber that's 16 x 31", the other is 24 x 36"...huge difference in size, but the method is the same. I just have to use more of lump coal and bigger sticks in the larger smoker)

    I light a FULL chimney of lump, and after 20-25 minutes, when the coals on top are just starting to turn red (they are still kind of black) then I dump it in the firebox, and let it go another 10 - 15 minutes as the smoker warms.

    Then, I push all of the hot embers over towards the edge of the firebox closest to the smoking chamber. At that time, I dump in a 1/3 of a charcoal chimney of UNLIT lump, keeping it over towards the air intake side of the firebox - so there is actually some space between the pile of burning coal, and the pile of unlit coal. Also at this time, I put TWO 1 - 2" x 8" sticks in the firebox, but resting them on the corners of my charcoal basket, above the actual fire - so as not to igite them yet.

    From this point, it's the same thing over and over again all day!

    1 - as the temp drops, put a pre-heated stick on the burning coals.
    2 - Repeat again in 15 - 30 min., when needed - controlling the air flow to maintain steady temps.
    3 - Move the now pre-heateted unlit lump coal in the firebox, over on top of the burning embers on the other side of the firebox, and put another 1/3 chimney of unlit lump inside - once again, opposite side of the burning coals...letting them pre-heat.
    4 - two more sticks go in the firebox to preheat.
    5 Drink a beer and then start over at step #1! [​IMG]

    This helps me maintain a steady fire all day. My temps will stay between 225 - and 240, just the way I like it.

    Hope that all makes sense...the key for me, is using slightly smaller sticks - even on my big offset, to avoid huge temp spikes. My typical stick size is 1.5" in diameter, by maybe 6-8" long. I'll go through 15 of those, plus ONE full bag of lump, for an 8 hour cook.

    All in all, using this method, I have to basically tend the fire about once every 45 minutes, no more - all day.

    There are times when I want a couple hours of "non-fire-tending" time.

    For these situations, I simply switch from lump coal to charcoal briquettes, and use the minion method!

    (charcoal burns ridiculously longer than lump, but I like like lump burns hotter using less pieces, and produces a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the ash that charcoal briquettes do. Too much ash can choke the air supply to the fire, and I don't like opening the firebox any more than I have to - and when I use briquettes, I'm always having to open the side door to clean out ash.

    Hope that all made sense and helps you figure out what's best for you!
  9. wyatt2050

    wyatt2050 Fire Starter

    hey Bman...sounds like a great method that I would like to use. However you lost me at "I put TWO 1 - 2" x 8" sticks in the firebox, but resting them on the corners of my charcoal basket, above the actual fire - so as not to igite them yet". Do you have a charcoal basket in the firebox between the lit and unlit coals?
  10. bman62526

    bman62526 Smoking Fanatic

    Yes and no [​IMG] Sorry for the confusion, I'll explain...
    I have a rectangular fuel basket made out of expanded metal. This is about the size of a extra large shoe box, I guess. A lot of us use fuel baskets for several reasons. Helps keep the buring wood all in one area, keeps burning wood off the sides of the firebox, etc. The fuel basket sits inside the firebox.

    So to answer your question, all of the coal is inside the fuel basket. The burning coals are on one side of the rectangular basket, and the unlit coal is on the other side...with just a few inches of space in between. Is this making sense now?

    The reason I like doing it this way - is not only are there wood splits inside that are preheating, but the unlit coals are also pre-heating, so everything ignites extremely fast once I decide I want it to!

    The wood splits, I place above the unlit coal - but I rest them on top of the fuel basket, laying across the top corners of the the wood is just pre-heating.

    For a long time now, I have been meaning to post a pictorial thread here, that shows how it looks. It really is a great way to maintain temps, and also - you only have to tend to the firebox once every 45 min. or so, on average.

    Hope that made more sense.
  11. rickw

    rickw Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Well lets get to it [​IMG]
  12. wyatt2050

    wyatt2050 Fire Starter

    ok...I understand now....thanks for clearing that up for me....I wouldl love to see a pic of all that
  13. eaglewing

    eaglewing Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    What he said ^
  14. jdt

    jdt Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    I am on the fence with pre burning, tried it once and didn't think it made a bit of difference so I never did it again, it sounds right in theory but in application I didn't "see" anything different, I use one chimeny at first like many others but have done it without lump and just started the logs on fire with the weed burner, I don't think this brings me up to temp as fast as the lump and splits does however.
  15. meat hunter

    meat hunter Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I preburn with my weed burner, to char the outside of my wood, burn off any nasties that may have gotten on there and so on. After I have a good manageable fire going, I stack a few sticks right behind my firebox door. These heat up almost to the point of igniting, but don't. When its time to add another stick, I just move one of them to the back and they light instantly, no smoke plume or anything like you get when you add a raw piece of wood. In the second picture, it may be hard to tell, but I have a small piece of flavor wood, this case, Mesquite. I set that about 8 inches or so from the fire. It gets hot enought to where it just starts to smolder, adding just the right amount of smoke. Getting your wood hot, whether it be preburning it, or setting it on top of your firebox to heat is up, does in my opinion make a huge difference. Think of it like boiling water. If you have a pot of boiling water and you add a an equal amount of tap water, the boiling stops and you wait for the temps to come back up. If you have a pot of water that is just a few degrees below boiling and add that to the boiling water, it may stop boiling, but it will be back to temp within moments. It works for me.

    Here you see that the wood pieces have been burnt with my weed torch, which by the way is one of the coolest toys you can have. Wood stacked up right behind my firebox door. When they are set on the coals, they are on fire in under 2 seconds.

    This is the photo of the small piece that I use for flavor. The larger pieces are for heat.
  16. So what about these bricks in the firebox. I would assume they're used as a heat sink. Do a lot of guys do this? Seems easy enough to do!
  17. smokeon

    smokeon Smoke Blower

    This isn't something I've tried yet, but how does this idea sound.

    Use a 55 gallon drum with a removable lid, build a fire in the drum with the wood you want to preburn. Then when it's all started, put the lid on and leave the drum sit for a week or so. Basically, making your own lump charcoal.

    ETA, this is the kind of drum I have in mind.
  18. sescoyote

    sescoyote Fire Starter

    I've always done it the boy scout way, start small and build your fire from there. I trim my sage bushes and keep the trimmings. After a while they dry out and are great for kindling. I start with the days newspaper, wad each page into a ball and put into the firebox. I then lay a few sticks of the old sage bush on top and light it. Since the sage is dried out, the fire really gets going quick, I then place a few small pieces of on top the sage and once that gets going I bring in one log to the side. While the fire is going, the log on the side will smoke down a little the heat. I keep adding sage until the log is nice and roasted, I then place it on the fire and adjust my temps accordingly.
  19. Does anyone remove the bark from there sticks? I have heard this helps with some of the nasties.

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