I need some help very badly (getting thin blue line of smoke)

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by newarcher, Oct 17, 2016.

  1. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Hi ladies and gents,

    I'm a veteran of about 4 seasons of smoking and have tripped through some pretty decent meals, but recently found out that I am apparently doing this all wrong.  I was mistaken in my approach.  I have temp control pretty much perfect.

    I have a Vision kamado and my MO thus far has been to light the lump with an electric starter with some chunks of apple and/or hickory mixed in the coals.  I would generally light the fire from the top and let it burn down.  Right before putting the meat on, I would toss in a couple handfuls of Apple/Hickory chips which generally would immediately catch fire and start with a heavy white smoke.  So you can guess that some of my smokes have ended up tasting acrid.  I like a lot of smoke and wrongly associated a lot of white smoke with lots of smoke flavor.  I've noticed neighbors whose smokes smelled sweet and wonderful with mine smelling like an ashtray at times.  It was only when I screwed up MY game plan that I accidentally ended up with the right blue smoke.

    So can someone give me the idiot's guide to doing this right?  How do I load it, light it, put in the wood, etc. to get that thin blue line of smoke?

    I'm looking for the idiot's guide because that's apparently what I am when it comes to smoking.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. bmudd14474

    bmudd14474 Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Well first I would say the top down aka Minion Method works great. What I would do is put your coals in and mix the wood thru out. Then I would light a small amount of coals in a charcoal chimney then once ready pour on top of your coals in a bunch. Then as it burns down thru the coal and wood it will do so evenly and you should be able to obtain Sweet TBS.

    I also have a question about how you are using your intake and exhaust?
  3. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Thank you very much.

    As for the intake and exhaust, I crack the lower grate just about to setting 1 which is maybe 1/2 and inch and then generally control the temp and airflow with the upper grate.  I generally only adjust the lower grate during a really long smoke (ala brisket) when the lump may be getting low and needs more O2 in order to keep it going--and the upper grate doesn't appear to be working.
  4. bmudd14474

    bmudd14474 Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Just make sure your exhaust is open all the way also. Try that method and lets see what happens.
    gr0uch0 likes this.
  5. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Interesting, if it is all the way open how do you control the airflow so it's not an inferno in there?

    Just cut the lower vent to the width of a slivered almond?
  6. bmudd14474

    bmudd14474 Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Exactly. Intake will control heat. If you have ever used a wood stove its the same principle.
  7. rogerwilco

    rogerwilco Meat Mopper

    One method of controlling temperature of the cooker, that seems to be getting trendy, is by opening the lower intake vent about all the way, and then controlling the cook chamber temps completely by the top vent alone. It will work. It will cause smoke to roll around more.
  8. hardcookin

    hardcookin Master of the Pit

    Quote: It was only when I screwed up MY game plan that I accidentally ended up with the right blue smoke.
    What did you do to achieve that?

    On my Kamado it is impossible to completely open the top vent. It gives the Kamado to much air, thus temps keep slowly climbing.
    How much wood are you adding to your lump?
    After I light my Kamado I usually let it burn 30-45 minutes to get settled in.
    Also wondering if you have tried switching to another brand of lump.
  9. Completely disagree, RogerWilco.  Think of any other burning application as bmudd described:  take a fireplace or his wood stove example.  The damper in the chimney is never altered to control the heat, but the air intake at the fuel source is.  Nor is there a cap put on the top of the chimney to regulate the heat--only to keep unwanted critters out.  Once the exhaust is stifled, it leads to creosote buildup, and voila:  chimney fire.  In a cooking application, creosote buildup leads to acrid tasting product.  Only time that the exhaust should be scaled back is when it's shut off to kill the fire at the end of the cook.  My $0.02.
  10. rogerwilco

    rogerwilco Meat Mopper

    As far as pure temperature control is concerned, a ceramic cooker and a traditional fireplace aren't really the same thing, grOuchO.  Although I've never used just the top vent to control temps, I have witnessed it done several times and the results were not catastrophic....at all.

     A very good reason not to use the top of a chimney as the point to control temps is because it would fill the dwelling with smoke, which is never part of the game plan (smokehouses aside). As was explained to me when observing the top-control method on a ceramic cooker, extra smoke was desirable for the particular type of cooking method they were using and at the particular temps, and for the amount of smoking wood they were using.  Smoke, inside the cook chamber, is usually a part of the game plan when one intends to "smoke" something, such as meats.

     It's not all that far different than the "official factory (as in, the company which manufactures and markets the Big Green Egg) approved and recommended method" of cooking a steak, which involves completely shutting down both the bottom and top vents while grilling, so as to get that "delicious, smoke-infused flavor,"  Others might feel this is just a recipe for a creosote disaster, but it has it's adherents, just as does the top-control method. And as mentioned, I have seen this practice growing among some BGE users, and have read glowing reports of same by an increasing number of others. Some have stated that it has prevented their fires from going out in the middle of the night. The metal top cap on a BGE has a daisy wheel for a reason, and that is not solely for extinguishing the fire.

    I offered the method as an alternative to standard practice, which it is. It just might be that some may find it a useful tool to keep in their cooking toolbox. You probably won't be one of them.
  11. rogerwilco

    rogerwilco Meat Mopper

    ....And then there is the Hasty Bake, a little cooker that has been in production since the 1940s and can be found in many professional kitchens. It has almost no way to exhaust any of the wood smoke entering the cook chamber. While it certainly does not use anything other than a bottom vent to control temperatures, it still results in a cooking chamber filled with "stale" smoke. I'm not aware of them having creosote problems, either. But the food sure can be tasty.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2016
  12. Congrats, Roger, for proving my point. You stated that the vents are closed to "grill" a steak, not to slow smoke a brisket or pork butt for many hours. I stand by my original comment.

    Also, Hasty Bake has multiple vents, for both intake and exhaust. Just because they aren't found in the hood doesn't mean they're not present--or utilized--on the units. Take a look on their website: or don't. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?
  13. rogerwilco

    rogerwilco Meat Mopper

     I don't know about the 'why let facts get in the way of a good story' part, but the H-B ovens do lack vents in the top, and do keep smoke rolling around much more than on a top-vent design as is found on the BGE. Of course there are vents on the H-B unit, but not in the top, as would be found on a fireplace. Having toured the factory I feel no need to tour the website, thank you.  Creosote does not seem to be a problem on any of the food I've eaten from these (at least in this area) popular cookers.

     Your point concerning the length of cook is well taken: I really didn't consider that aspect and it very well might have a major influence on how things turn out. I do know that the pulled pork cooked on a BGE with the bottom vent fully open and the top vent almost fully closed was delicious, and I'm not any more fond of eating creosote than the next guy. As was stated above, I have not tried this lower-open-top-mostly-closed myself but have eaten the results. I offered this method to the OP as another (and in my experience, demonstrably viable) option for achieving his desired results. I'm sure you are doing the same when completely disagreeing. 

  14. Go to Hasty Bake's website, www.hastybake.com.  Hover over the "Learn" tab, and click on the "Features" link.  Once in the features section, scroll down to the 8th video clip, entitled "Vents".  There you will find that there are both intake and exhaust vents on their units, as demonstrated by their representative.  Further, each grill description shows the air flow entering from the intake, circulating into the chamber, and exiting through the top exhaust vent as shown by the flowing red arrow.  Your comment about, "It has almost no way to exhaust any of the wood smoke entering the cook chamber. While it certainly does not use anything other than a bottom vent...", is erroneous, ergo my remark about not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.  The exhausts may not be located in the hood, but they are certainly located above (thus:  top) where the intakes are located.  I again stand behind my comment on this as well.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2016
  15. rogerwilco

    rogerwilco Meat Mopper

    ^^^^ As explained in the video, the air enters in the bottom, rises through the unit, swirls around in the top, "and is forced below the cooking grates, to the exhaust vent."  The exhaust vent is located below the cooking grates. Below. As in where this whole thing started, with some stating that having less than a fully open top vent on a cooker would cause creosote to ruin the food. I gave a possible method to control temps, a method that IS used by some, to aid in controlling the temps and without the creosote.

     In the method I advanced, the air enters the bottom, just like the H-B, fills the cook chamber (in the H-B it is because the unit lacks an escape route in the top) with smoke, more so because the BGE top vent is partially closed down, and in the case of the H-B...'is forced down below the cooking grates to the exhaust vent." In the case of the BGE, the smoke simply exhausts through the top, although more slowly than would otherwise occur if the top vent were fully open.

     "The exhausts may not be located in the hood, but they are certainly located above (thus: top) where the intakes are located."  Being located above the "bottom" does not mean located in the "top." The top of one's basement is still below one's floor. And exhaust vents being located above intake vents, yet below the food, is not quite the same as "being located in the top."
  16. red farr

    red farr Fire Starter

    .... these kamodo , drum , kettle , bullet things are designed to cook with a slow burning smoldering fire      they work this way 'cause there's no air circulation      the operation is simple take any one of them and open the bottom vent then adjust the top vent to cook at your desired temperature they all work the same        it's done this way since no more air can come in the bottom than can leave through the top thereby controlling cooking temp       as you've discovered when you add wood chips , chunks , saw dust or whatever else you think you're adding for flavor the taste worsens    not seeing any smoke is best believe me it's still there            they're at their best when used for short cooks      longer cooking times will require you to wrap in butcher paper to keep the smoke off       toward the end of the cook unwrap and dry out      stay away from foil that's a suckers bet

    the problem as I see it is you have no benchmark to learn from       if you've never had good bbq you will never be able to cook good bbq       find a place thats made a name for itself and copy      most of them love talking about what they do       learn to use wood for fuel , it's a bit of work learning but once learned the BBQ from your rig will impress       if you decide to go for it , the above cookers will not work they don't circulate air well enough to keep a fire lit   new rig 4U     uprights are the most efficient , then horizontal , after that  probably homemade some good ideas out there    

  17. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Well okay here is an update (I'll do my very best to get a Q View picture when completed, depending on when it gets done).  I'm not getting into the top vent/bottom vent argument, although I can say that I've read--and it makes sense--that restricting the ability of smoke to get out will allow acrid smoke to get out.

    Anyhow, I made the following changes:

    1)  I loaded up the firebox with my Rockwood lump, mixing in both some chips and chunks of Apple wood (love me some apple wood).  I put a thin layer of lump over top of the wood/charcoal so that when I dumped in the hot coals, it wouldn't immediately ignite the apple wood and cause the acrid white smoke.

    2)  I started a chimney starter full of lump until it was red hot.

    3)  I dumped that chimney right over top of the firebox and spread them around evenly.

    4)  I then managed the temp up to 230 and I dropped on the butts. 

    As I sit here working from home, I can tell you that these changes have produced the thin blue smoke I was after.  The smell is simply amazing, probably is going to turn out to be the best I have ever done and smells perfect, very sweet.

    I have two problems:

    1)  It is EXTREMELY windy out there today with gusts up to 35MPG.  I took a couple chairs and put the gas grill's cover over them to create a wind break, which seems mighty effective.

    2)  I learned a valuable lesson.  Somehow when moving the chimney to dump it in a single hot coal fell out and I managed to step on it with my bare foot (lesson, never BBQ with bare feet).  I have a little nerve damage due to some lower discs in my back and couldn't really feel it until that stupid coal burnt far enough in.  So no I'm nursing a sore foot.

    But anyway, thanks for the great help it has been very helpful resolving my problems.
  18. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Oh yeah, one more thing I tried which was new.

    I normally do the mustard and dry rub as my preparation but have been toying with a somewhat strange idea. 

    Given that I ran out of mustard on the first of my two butts, I did something that I think is going to do well.

    I coated the second butt with grape jelly and then put on the butt rub.   I think it probably won't really change too much but I think the sugar in the jelly will mix well with the apple wood smoke and taste great.

    Time will tell.
  19. That sucks about your foot, newarcher. Haven't done that one yet, but the day's not over, either.

    Regarding the grape jelly, post your results & thoughts after you're done. I have always steered clear of anything with high sugar content--glazes, sauces, etc.--going on the meat until about 30 minutes before the finish so that it wouldn't burn and have that awful taste. Be curious to see what you think.
  20. newarcher

    newarcher Fire Starter

    Yeah that foot, duhhhh.

    I just opened the grill to inject the butts with some apple juice.  Both of the butts look exactly the same, I will certainly post some results back once I taste them.

    I put them on at 12:30 PM and five hours later they are at 153, so it looks like I have a long night ahead waiting on these things to get ready. Yet they smell amazing, so much better than the old way of doing things.

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