Stick burners, a few questions

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Original poster
Dec 28, 2023
I thought I made an account here in the past, but apparently I’ve just been a lurker.

I live in the PNW. Why is that relevant? A few years ago I decided I wanted a stick burner after smoking with a WSM and a pellet grill for years prior. There are very few of these smokers available here outside of a custom build, and honestly if I’m spending that kind of money I’d rather just go with something proven like a workhorse vs. something local that may or may not be designed and built properly. Even getting something like an OC Pecos shipped here is in the realm of $1300.

With that said, I ended up buying something on the cheaper end(a OJ Highland) purely out of local availability and to get my feet wet. I figured it wasn’t a super low end CoS and by all accounts was capable of doing what I wanted.

Here recently, I’ve had what I’m assuming is a creosote issue. I always run the outlet and intake at 100%(I just prop the intake door open 2-4”) to promote good airflow for a clean burning fire. The smoke itself is either clear or thin blue. Now the creosote(or whatever it is) isn’t this super thick tarry stuff like I’ve seen online, but maybe those pictures are extreme cases. Whatever it is seems to lightly coat the food and my probes. When I say it’s on the foods, again it’s not super thick. It doesn’t seem to have a flavor, numb the tongue or anything else. Unfortunately I haven’t taken pictures of it, but the best way I could describe it is if you had a shaker full of the stuff and you lightly seasoned the food with it. It’s apparent in the juices on the cutting board, you can see some black tinging on your fingers if you touch the meat. Again, it isn’t overly dramatic but it’s present.

The thing that’s perplexing about this is that the smoke looks clean. It’s not like it’s spitting out dense white or black smoke. I’ve tried switching woods thinking maybe that’s the issue.

I usually start the fire with a half chimney of lump and a reasonable sized split, then I use small chunks(splits cut down to 4-5” long and 2-3” wide) to keep the fire going from that point on because I know the firebox and chamber are on the small side. I do preheat them, either in the firebox, cook chamber, or on top of the firebox.

Sorry for the long winded message, but I wanted to provide as much info as possible.

When this thing puts out food it’s usually great. Even with this crap on there, it’s still good… but I’d prefer it greatly if it wasn’t there. I’ve tossed around the idea of trying to locate a higher end smoker as it seems fire management on those is easier… I’ve even considered going with the currently popular Grand Champ, but I feel like it’s close enough to the highland that it’s not going to make much of a difference if any at the end of the day. I’m sure it’s higher quality but I’ll still be fighting the same issues.

Maybe I should start propping the firebox lid open? Any other ideas/thoughts?

Thank you!
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It may just be smoke.
My probes and the inside of the smoker get a dark coating that's very hard to remove from the smoke residue coating.
That's what makes "bark".
Welcome to the site, had a stick burner years ago and I have had same issue at times but not all the time, I suspected it was the wood, to much moisture in it and was sticking to the meat more than normal.
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Maybe it's ash? Could be green wood. I don't know if those pits have enough exhaust, so you could be running slightly dirty. The other thing would be try cutting down your splits farther at least the width just to experiment. The length seems fine.
The entire trick to stick burner driving is mastering the size of the coal base.
Burning wood produces most of the flavor in the meat but the coals provide most of the heat.
If you have a small coal base, and add a full size stick, it will burn for one or two hours and the cook chamber temps will be just were you want them, UNTIL that large stick falls apart into coals.
If you add another, even small stick to the large coal base, the temps will spike high.
I find that small coal base and large sticks work best and removing some of the coal base allows the next stick to slowly burn producing sweet smoke without running the temps through the roof.
So pay attention to the coal base when adding sticks or mini sticks, and when you get a large build up, just toss half of them out.
Here is a link to smoke characteristics that may be of help.
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When this thing puts out food it’s usually great. Even with this crap on there, it’s still good

Thank you!

What's the problem again ?

If the food is great, that's all that matters.

My temp probe cables , half pans, or water pans or anything else in the cook chamber gets coated black. If you're burning clean, its not creosote.

IDK how many people lately, I've sent to this article at Amazing Ribs about smoke, and just scroll down to the part where he does the moisture testing
I just found this Meathead vid published 5 months ago by Weber. Its pretty basic stuff till about the 15 minute mark. I've got the video set to start at that point , which is where he starts to dig deeper into smoke. The whole vid is pretty good though.

I re-read most of that smoke article and got an answer to something I question. Why do course rubs attract more smoke, thus help build a better bark ?

And the answer is here ............. so this is why 16 mesh pepper and course kosher salt makes for a good rub.

Smoke and food​

In a smoker or grill, after combustion, the smoke rises and flows from the burn area into the cooking area. Most goes right up the chimney and very little contacts the food. Blonder explains why: “Around every object is a stagnant halo of air called the boundary layer. Depending on airflow, surface roughness, and so on, the stagnant layer of air around a piece of meat might be a millimeter or two in thickness. When smoke particles approach the meat’s surface, they follow that boundary layer around the food. Very few ever touch down. We’ve all cursed a form of this piece of physics while driving: Gnats follow the airstream over the windshields, while larger insects leave green sticky splats at the point of impact.”

Using a course rub helps break up the boundary layer.
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