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Optimal Fire Management Approach for Stick Burner

pianov

Meat Mopper
184
44
Joined Sep 26, 2013
I am contemplating a radial new approach (for me) to firebox fire management on my smoker.

I have a medium sized masonry smoker that I've used for the past 25 years or so. It is an offset design (fire box to the side of cook chamber). My method of building my fire has been to fill the fire box with wood (oak - because it is plentiful here in Central Florida). When I say fill the firebox, I mean fill it - front to back and top to bottom (less wood rack a couple inches off bottom). I usually place one big log to the side that takes up about half the box and fill the rest with smaller pieces. I start the fire with a propane burner stick for about ten minutes, then let the fire burn with open firebox door, then closed door with vent open, and then throttle down vent as temperature in cooking chamber increases to around 300 to 350, where I let it burn until the white smoke dies down. After about two hours, my fire is ready for meat. Smoke is moderate to low and after the first hour or two with meat on, the smoke will be thin and blue to almost nothing visible while maintaining a temp of 230 or so. Typically, my fire will last a good 7 or 8+ hours without adding any wood. If I'm doing a longer smoke, I pre-burn several sticks of wood in a separate burner, and then add the wood to the fire after burning for 20 minutes or so to avoid any thick white smoke.

Because of the large volume of wood in my firebox, intake vent management is critical to maintaining a constant cook chamber temperature. Although, once stable, my smoker really does keep fairly steady temperatures. Just the occasional nudge of the firebox vent is required.

I run my three-inch diameter chimney wide open. I've never tried to throttle it down - just never had a reason to try. I do have a damper on it.

Over the years I've often read about it being best to build small hot fires rather than a large cool fire. I've been building large cool (relatively) fires. I'm thinking that maybe that is not the best approach. I've recently watched several videos of side-burner smoker fire management and they all build a small bed of coals and add one or two SMALL sticks of wood as needed to maintain a small but hot fire. That should be fairly easy in my firebox as my firebox is rather long and narrow with the only door (with vent) being at one of the long ends of the firebox. I'm thinking to build my bed of coals in the rear half of the firebox and add one or two small splits as needed to maintain the small hot fire. I should also be able to place one or two small splits near the front part of the firebox without them catching fire for pre-heating.

Just curious what thoughts anyone might have to share. Thanks. Some pics attached.....

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SmokinAl

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Nice looking smoker!
Al
 

kmmamm

Meat Mopper
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Joined Apr 30, 2016
You have a 25 year relationship with that cooker and it sounds like you have refined a process that works for both you and the smoker. Therefore, I see no reason to change simply because others in the herd are telling everyone to run in a different direction.
On the other hand, if you are not happy with your current process and feel a smaller fire will resolve the issues you find unacceptable, (or are simply curious) then by all means give it a try.
 

jcam222

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No advice here but man that’s an awesome smoker!!
 

Chasdev

Meat Mopper
277
171
Joined Jan 18, 2020
Coals provide some some smoke flavor and most of the heat.
Burning wood with flames produces most of the smoke flavor and some of the heat.
If you want the ideal smoke flavor and thick bark, burning small sticks or "mini-sticks" is the best way to get there.
It takes tons more driving and once or twice the cook chamber temps might rise OR fall as the coal base gets away from you but a few temp changes have little effect on a 10 hour cook.
I keep saying it and I'll say it again here, DRY wood is key to your offset pleasure.
Buy a moisture meter and check, check, check your wood before paying for it.
14% is perfect but 20% will do in a pinch.
Above that the water content changes the way the wood burns and causes headaches to the driver.
I look for dead fall wood, not green wood that some chainsaw jockey claims is "aged".
 

pianov

Meat Mopper
184
44
Joined Sep 26, 2013
You have a 25 year relationship with that cooker and it sounds like you have refined a process that works for both you and the smoker. Therefore, I see no reason to change simply because others in the herd are telling everyone to run in a different direction.
On the other hand, if you are not happy with your current process and feel a smaller fire will resolve the issues you find unacceptable, (or are simply curious) then by all means give it a try.
I have had very good results, and don't feel a "NEED" to change my methods. However, I am curious. One ominous thought that lingers in my head sometimes is all that wood in the firebox - what if somehow/someway the fire got more air than I had planned and the fire got away from me - left at full throttle, my cook chamber would certainly climb to 400/ 500/who-knows-how high a temp it might get to. My doors and very top are spruce - not designed for high heat. So I do have that one concern, but my thinking is more just curious if I might like the small hot fire approach better for as-of-yet an unknown reason.

Another consideration is that I just ordered a Billows temperature control fan (I also ordered their Smoke X thermometer). I was thinking that it might work a little better on a smaller fire that burns hotter. Lots of experimenting to do!
 

pianov

Meat Mopper
184
44
Joined Sep 26, 2013
Coals provide some some smoke flavor and most of the heat.
Burning wood with flames produces most of the smoke flavor and some of the heat.
If you want the ideal smoke flavor and thick bark, burning small sticks or "mini-sticks" is the best way to get there.
It takes tons more driving and once or twice the cook chamber temps might rise OR fall as the coal base gets away from you but a few temp changes have little effect on a 10 hour cook.
I keep saying it and I'll say it again here, DRY wood is key to your offset pleasure.
Buy a moisture meter and check, check, check your wood before paying for it.
14% is perfect but 20% will do in a pinch.
Above that the water content changes the way the wood burns and causes headaches to the driver.
I look for dead fall wood, not green wood that some chainsaw jockey claims is "aged".
My wood is not an issue. I stock up on oak from trees that have blown down in the neighborhood after a hurricane passes through every few years. I don't think that I've ever had to throw a piece of wood in my smoker that had been air-drying for less than a year, and most for several years at least. Trust me - it is DRY!!! I am lucky to live in a very free-fire-wood-supply rich area!
 

Chasdev

Meat Mopper
277
171
Joined Jan 18, 2020
It ain't dry until/unless you stick a moisture meter in it and measure.
The difference between 14% and 25% will show up when trying to cook with it.
 

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