White Smoke - How to Minimize

Discussion in 'Wood Smokers' started by pianov, Sep 26, 2013.

  1. WOW! I'm a new member here and some of the reading I've been doing on older threads suggests that many folks are able to run their wood-burning smoker with little or no white smoke. I did not know that was possible!

    I certainly can get a good fire going and let it burn for a few hours and most/all of the white smoke will be gone, but any time I add more wood, it always smokes (white) quite a bit. I've always thought that was unavoidable. If one has a well sealed and well tuned fire box, etc., is that actually possible to keep the fire going, adding new wood, and not creating billowing white smoke?

    I do know that my firebox has numerous leaks.......

    Picture of my smoker:  P4150009.jpg
     
  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    What you speak of is very normal...add wood and you see lots of white smoke...then as the wood heats up and/or begins to burn, things settle down into a thin, more opaque smoke. There are a few things you can do to reduce white smoke when adding wood. You can pre-burn in a barrel (get it started burning first) or preheat the wood to near charring, and either method will remove moisture and trace amounts of volatiles from the wood before adding it to your smoker fire box. White smoke is mostly water vapor, btw, and high humidity creates an environment where smoke sticks to food more easily, so it's not always a bad thing to have white smoke, but you may not want it for long periods of time due to the obvious very heavy smoke application to the food.

    There are some things to consider about white smoke vs blue smoke, heavy vs thin smoke, and how each type of smoke effects your finished product. Each type of smoke serves a purpose and has usefulness in smoking meats. I think it best explained in this thread, where experiments were conducted and documented well by one of our own members here, and he also included info from another individual's experiments...very interesting and informative read:

    understanding-smoke-management-updated-5-18-13

    Nice smoker you have...love it!!! Wish I had more space to build one like that!!!

    Eric
     
  3. Hello PianoV.  WHAT A GREAT LOOKIN SMOKER!  Here is my opinion for what it is worth.  Others will have different advice.  This is only my opinion.  You have asked a question with many variables left unanswered.  How much wood are you adding at one time?  Are you adding wood for fuel, smoke or both?  Has the wood been soaked?  If it is for fuel I would suggest burning it down to coals in another vessel before adding it to your smoker.  If the wood is soaked, what you are probably seeing is steam from the wood before it starts to smoke.  If adding wood for smoke, maybe add it in smaller quantities.  White smoke is NOT always a bad thing.  Intensity of smoke verses time smoked.  Without more info I'll leave it there.  Hope others can offer an opinion.  Good Luck.  Keep Smokin!

    Danny
     
  4. Hello PianoV.  THERE YOU GO.  I couldn't remember where his post was so I was hoping Eric would see this post and sure enough as I was typing he shows up on que.  His smoke management post is well worth the read!  Keep Smokin!

    Danny
     
  5. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Well, for the record, it's not my post, but MR T was so kind to compile most everything he knows about smoke into that thread...I concur with most if not all of what is stated there, as I had been doing some undocumented experiments of my own in the past few years, but nothing as detailed as what Tom went through. He pulled all the stops on that thread and let it rip!!! Let him know you're appreciation for his efforts...he's quite an asset to us all!!!

    Eric
     
  6. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

  7. "How much wood are you adding at one time?"

    Oh, one or two pieces of oak that are commonly about 14" long and 2" or 3" in diameter. Whatever I need to keep the fire burning and the smoke box up to temperature.

    "Are you adding wood for fuel, smoke or both?"

    Always for fuel - always have more smoke than I need!

    "Has the wood been soaked?"

    No. All the wood I use is red oak (mostly live oak) and well seasoned - been sittin' outside under cover for more than a year - much of it is several years old.

    "If it is for fuel I would suggest burning it down to coals in another vessel before adding it to your smoker."

    Wow. I've read that suggestion several times now. I had never thought of doing that. Initially, I often let the fire burn down good so that it is not producing too much smoke before I put my meat on - but then when I have to add more fuel, I (and the meat) get smoked out. So maybe I'll try that then. I'll have to build another little fire pit of some sort for my wood coal prep fire!

    Thanks big time!
     
  8. Hello.  Thanks for sorting me out Eric. [​IMG]  You know you read so many good threads sometimes it get harder to remember who posted what.  This getting older and more forgetful thing is pretty good.  I get to watch all the old John Wayne movies again, FOR THE FIRST TIME. [​IMG]  Keep Smokin!

    Danny
     
  9. Hello PianoV.  I have looked again at your smoker.  You said your are adding a log 14"x2"-3" at a time to keep the heat up.  Is there no door on the cooking chamber or is that the door leaning against the cooker in the picture?  Where is your exhaust?  How many hours before putting your meat on do you preheat that large amount of brick?  I have never used a brick smoker but in my mind the whole idea of a smoker like yours is that you preheat that brick for several hours before putting the meat in and then that sucker holds heat like an oven for a couple days with only the addition of a few small sticks now and then, about 1/4 size you are adding now.  Unless you would like a fire pit, before I would spend the time and money to build a fire pit I would go to Wally World and buy a cheap BBQ to use as wood burner.  What, $20-$40?  Please read the threads posted above.  You asked how to minimize the white smoke.  Maybe stupid question but you didn't say why.  White smoke isn't always a bad thing.  Do you and the family like the final product?  Is it too smoked or does it have a bitter acrid taste?  There is a difference between it tastes nice but way too smokey for me and YUCK! I can't eat that.  Two different problems.  If you like your smoked food then unless you are experimenting, keep on keeping on.  Don't worry about how John Doe does it.  It's all about individual taste.  There is no "wrong" way to smoke food so long as food safety precautions are followed.  Cook it the way you like it.  That's the important thing.  Family and friends. This is only my opinion.  Others may have different advice.  Keep Smokin!

    Danny
     
  10. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    ROFLMAO!!!  [​IMG]
     
  11. Hi Danny - 

    Is there no door on the cooking chamber or is that the door leaning against the cooker in the picture?  

    Yes, the door is leaning against the cooker - the door and top of my smoking chamber are wood and the front is not hinged, but rather you simply lift it off.  I've been meaning for the past 15 years to re-do the top and front door. It's number 1,657 on my to-do list......  [​IMG]

    Where is your exhaust?  

    My exhaust is a 3" metal pipe that exits horizontally out the upper right hand corner of the smoker chamber. It goes out horizontally about a foot to clear the roof and then turns upward and is five or six feet taller.  That's another thing I want to improve.......

    How many hours  before putting your meat on do you preheat that large amount of brick?  I have never used a brick smoker but in my mind the whole idea of a smoker like yours is that you preheat that brick for several hours before putting the meat in and then that sucker holds heat like an oven for a couple days with only the addition of a few small sticks now and then, about 1/4 size you are adding now.  

    If I have my act together, I like to burn the fire for at least three to five hours before putting meat on. Not so much to heat the bricks (although, obviously that does happen), but rather to make the fire more mature (less white smoke). If I don't have my act together, then maybe a little less time. Whereas I'm sure you are correct that the bricks "hold heat" better than a steel drum, If I don't add the wood I am adding, the fire would burn out and the unit would cool down. Let's say I smoke a pork butt for 20 hours - I'd first get the fire mature, then maybe every three or four hours I'd be adding two sticks of wood (14" x 3").

    Unless you would like a fire pit, before I would spend the time and money to build a fire pit I would go to Wally World and buy a cheap BBQ to use as wood burner.

    I presume you are speaking here of something to pre-burn wood in so that I am adding red coals to my smoker - correct?

    You asked how to minimize the white smoke.  Maybe stupid question but you didn't say why.  White smoke isn't always a bad thing.  Do you and the family like the final product?  Is it too smoked or does it have a bitter acrid taste?  There is a difference between it tastes nice but way too smokey for me and YUCK! I can't eat that.  Two different problems.

    Not a stupid question at all. Long before I read anything on one of these forums, I always felt that lots of white smoke tended to give a tart or acrid flavor to the meat. That seems to me to be true. I agree with you that some white smoke isn't necessarily bad. But the general concensus at my house is "honey, this pork is really good - but I wonder if you could make it just a little bit less smokey next time" - and I agree with that. What comes out of my smoker is always good, but sometimes I think it could be better.

    If you like your smoked food then unless you are experimenting, keep on keeping on.  

    Experimenting - that's it. I like to learn. If there is a way to exert more control over my smoking process, I want to know how to do it. I may choose to not do it in the future, but I'd like to know how to do it if I can. Ya never know, I may like it better if I do it a little bit differently!

    Don't worry about how John Doe does it.  It's all about individual taste.  There is no "wrong" way to smoke food so long as food safety precautions are followed.  Cook it the way you like it.

    I agree. I don't worry. But then again, I pretty much never have the chance to taste someone else's real BBQ, so it is difficult to know whether I am smoking my food as well as I can.

    Thanks for your input.
     
  12. Hello PianoV.  Thanks for the info.  We now have a better picture of what’s going on.  Please read the thread Chef Jimmy posted for you.  I have contacted the member who posted that tutorial and asked him to read your post and lend his advice.  I am sure he will be along as soon as he can to share his knowledge.  GREAT guy.  I am going to offer my opinion for what it is worth.  I thought you might be getting that bitter acrid taste.  Almost like: I can't tell if it is pork, beef, chicken or cardboard but IT'S SMOKED!!  I am going to assume that your wood fire is on a grate in the fire box and not on the floor and that you keep the stack fully open at all times.  I may be over thinking this and please , I mean no offense; but just seems to me that your nice brick smoker should be WAY more efficient.  It may be that your fire box is leaking as you said before.  When I used my offset,  I built a large wood fire, let the logs burn down and I was good for 10-12 hours.  I added wood chunks from time to time to hold temp and add smoke if more time was needed.  I would have thought that nice brick smoker would be WAY more efficient than my metal offset.  Without seeing it I just can’t get my mind around the fact that that nice brick smoker is requiring you to stoke the fire that often.  I am sorry to keep posting and asking questions but I have that can't see the forest for the trees feeling.  I just think the solution is staring us both in the face and we are missing it.   I am sure it is just me being stupid.  My advice is to seal your fire box and try again.  Other than that, buy a cheap BBQ/ fire pit and use that to pre burn your logs so that you only add coals to your smoker.  Then add a few sticks/chips for smoke flavor.  Hopefully someone will come along with better suggestions.  Sorry I can't help more.  Keep Smokin!

    Danny
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2013
  13. We now have a better picture of what’s going on. 

    Indeed - I put ALL the information ANYONE would EVER need to know in my first post.

    NOT!!!!!  Of course I thought so, but of course I didn't.....  ;-)

    Please read the thread Chef Jimmy posted for you.  I have contacted the member who posted that tutorial and asked him to read your post and lend his advice.  I am sure he will be along as soon as he can to share his knowledge.  GREAT guy. 

    I will re-read that. And thanks for the other referral.

    I am going to offer my opinion for what it is worth.  I thought you might be getting that bitter acrid taste.  Almost like: I can't tell if it is pork, beef, chicken or cardboard but IT'S SMOKED!!  

    I certainly wouldn't go that far! More like, this is good, but I wonder if it could be better?

    I am going to assume that your wood fire is on a grate in the fire box and not on the floor and that you keep the stack fully open at all times.  

    Stack open all the time, but wood fire is on floor of firebox - is that bad? What is the advantage of a grate? I just kinda figured sitting on the floor - or rather a bed of ashes would help things burn more slowly. I thought that would be good. No?

    I may be over thinking this and please , I mean no offense; but just seems to me that your nice brick smoker should be WAY more efficient. 

    No offense taken! I'm looking for input! Hey, if I don't like it, I can always ignore it - but I will certainly weigh all input.

    It may be that your fire box is leaking as you said before.  When I used my offset,  I built a large wood fire, let the logs burn down and I was good for 10-12 hours.  I added wood chunks from time to time to hold temp and add smoke if more time was needed.  I would have thought that nice brick smoker would be WAY more efficient than my metal offset.  Without seeing it I just can’t get my mind around the fact that that nice brick smoker is requiring you to stoke the fire that often.  

    Your smoker does sound efficient. I agree with all you say. I wonder also why mine seems to need more wood than one might think.

    I am sorry to keep posting and asking questions but I have that can't see the forest for the trees feeling.  I just think the solution is staring us both in the face and we are missing it.   I am sure it is just me being stupid. 

    I am not of the opinion that anything you have said is stupid. I am looking for as exact an answer as I can get. The only way I can get that is if the inputter (is that a word?) has a very clear picture of what is going on - only way that is going to happen is by asking questions! So ask away!!!

    My advice is to seal your fire box and try again. 

    I'll do that. Gotta run - gotta pick up my sweetie........  ;-)  Thanks

    Other than that, buy a cheap BBQ/ fire pit and use that to pre burn your logs so that you only add coals to your smoker.  Then add a few sticks/chips for smoke flavor.  Hopefully someone will come along with better suggestions.  Sorry I can't help more.  Keep Smokin!
     
  14. Here is my method, somewhat different from what I see most members doing, but it has always worked for me.

    Wood,= I too like to use live oak, well seasoned until the bark peels off easy. I will pull the bark off before adding it to the pit. I cut and split it to size to fit the smoker, with my rule of thumb being 2.5 pieces of wood burning should be able to maintain my desired temperature. This usually takes a few burns on a new pit to find what size splits the pit needs. Once the size of logs required is determined and seasoned logs are cut to size, I then start the fire with three logs, and then when fire dies down to approx only 2/3 ( or equvilent of 2 logs ) is left burning, I then add the 3rd log.

    So, my fire is never burning more than 1/3 of un chared wood at one time. Also, I believe going with the larger logs instead of small plits extends my cooking time in between adding more wood. I usually can get about 2 hours with the small pits and almost 3 hours on a large pit. so even if my fire puffs up a little white smoke after adding maybe a not so perfect log, its only going to happen two or three times during the cooking cycle, and If I have to, I can just open the cooking chamber door for a few minutes and let it escape with out it effecting the food.

    Here are some recent pics of one of my smaller smokers running on 100% seasoned live oak. Can you see any smoke?

    [​IMG]

    Here the temp at the time the pic of the stack was taken:

    [​IMG]
     
  15. As far as preburning the wood, yes its worth it, but with steel pits like mine its kind of a pain so I dont do it very often.......

    But you have a brick pit, and you can pre burn and put all the heat from pre-bruning into that mass of bricks , and then just use the burnt coals for smoke......I dont understand why your not already doing that.

     From your pic, that area below your cooking chamber where you have wood stored looks like the perfect place to pre burn. Usually a brick pit will have both the pre burn and smoke chamber doors side by side to make it easier to move the coals over, but still, ....shouldnt be that big a deal with a clever designed wood bucket.
     
  16. But you have a brick pit, and you can pre burn and put all the heat from pre-bruning into that mass of bricks , and then just use the burnt coals for smoke......I dont understand why your not already doing that.

    Well, there is actually a very simple explanation. 21 years ago I had never even heard of smoking meat in the backyard. Then I went with my wife to visit her relatives in Malvern Arkansas. Her uncle had a side burner barrel smoker that he had made himself - and you can guess the rest of it - he smoked us some pork and I sat down and was in smoked pork heaven - I had never tasted anything so heavenly. So when I got back home to Tampa, I saw all the concrete block and bricks laying around my house and I decided to build a smoker. I pulled the design right out of my still-smokin' rear end and went to town with the bricks and mortar. I had only seen his smoker - that was the basis of the design. I have never seen anyone else use a smoker. I don't know anyone else that smokes meat. Yesterday was the first time I had ever looked at a smoked-meat forum. So the reason I'm not already pre-burning is that I had never heard of it, nor had I thought of it on my own. That's it. That's why. I didn't know.

    From your pic, that area below your cooking chamber where you have wood stored looks like the perfect place to pre burn.

    Yeah, there is nothing down there. Since people have mentioned the pre-burn thing, it did cross my mind about using that area. I'd have to do some work though - I'd have to line it with fire brick and I'd have to install a steel plate to serve as the roof of the pre-burn chamber and the new bottom of the smoking chamber. And then I guess a door and a stack out the back. That way the pre-burn chamber would serve to add heat to the smoking chamber, and I could really cut the air to the smoke firebox because I wouldn't need as much heat. Wow, that seems like it has all sorts of possibilities for both controlling temperature and the amount of smoke.

    Usually a brick pit will have both the pre burn and smoke chamber doors side by side to make it easier to move the coals over,

    Looking at a lot of pictures of masonry smokers the past few days I have seen exactly what you are referring to. I wondered why there would be a door below the smoke chamber - but that probably is a pre-burn chamber. Another thing I could do with a pre-burn chamber located below the smoke chamber is to make the steel plate removable so that if I wanted to cook something directly over a wood fire I could do that also.

    Man, I wish that I had known what I know now 20 years ago - I could have incorporated all this into the original build. I'll have to give it some serious thought - go out there and poke around - seriously I forget exactly how I built the bottom of the smoke chamber - I know there is something in there!

    Thanks for all the input. My head is really swirling now!   [​IMG]

    but still, ....shouldnt be that big a deal with a clever designed wood bucket.
     
  17. Hello PianoV.  I'm glad we are getting more advice. I really want to try and help you with this.  I think we have found the problem.  Your fire is on the floor.  No air flow underneath.  You are correct in that it will slow things down but in my opinion that is the problem.  Your wood is smoldering, producing white smoke and no real heat.  Assuming you have an adjustable vent in your firebox; If you get that fire elevated on a grate and keep the ash cleared from underneath I believe you will have one fantastic smoker.  You want a REALLY hot fire.  You control the temp by the size of that really hot fire.  You want the wood you add to really produce heat.  No air flow, no heat.  Have you watched the movie Back Draft?  Fire smolders until oxygen is introduced.  I'll bet you will use less wood, produce WAY less white smoke and have some really great meat if you add a grate to your firebox.  Just my opinion.  Hope it helps.  Keep smokin!

    Danny
     
  18. "Assuming you have an adjustable vent in your firebox."

    It is more crude that crude can possibly be, but yes, I do have an adjustable vent - and I almost always have to have it all the way closed down - I'll do my smoking with an opening of less than one square inch. If I open it more, the fire gets too hot and the temp in the smoke chamber will get too hot.

    "If you get that fire elevated on a grate and keep the ash cleared from underneath..."

    That may well be worth a try. Not only do I have the fire on the floor, but there is usually a three to six-inch layer of ash on the bottom from previous burns - I only dig out the ash once every six or eight burns. The fire essentially gets its air from above.

    Maybe an improvement would be to get it up on a grate, but make the fire smaller - a smaller hotter fire could be controlled to produce the same amount of heat. Perhaps I would even be able to open the firebox vent up more and have more air flow through the entire unit - just thinking that might be a good thing - I've read mention of not wanting things to be stagnant (not that it is stagnant by any means, but with my firebox vent only opened one square inch, how much air can flow through?).

    I used the smoker calculator on my smoker and found that my firebox is just about perfectly sized, etc., etc. However, the calculator recommended something like 10 of my one-square-inch vent openings for the firebox. No way could I ever open those up the way I have things set up now. What size firebox vent openings are commonly used on other smokers?
     
  19. I think the vent calculations are more for start up, usually once my pits are up to temp and going good, my vents are barely cracked open.  But when starting up and warming up the smoker, they are wide open.  Id also think that a less efficient smoker made of thin material that would not hold heat would need more air flow, so better to advise a larger vent that could always be shut down than a smaller vent that could not open up enough.

    getting your fire up off of the ground and out of the ashes would be the first step I'd take.
     
  20. "Getting your fire up off of the ground and out of the ashes would be the first step I'd take."

    I just made two posts directly related to my firebox - regarding vent size and some observations about how my fire burns. If you read those I think you will be proud of me! I'm really trying to understand things and not just blindly make changes. But my understanding, such as it is, clearly does suggest that your recommendation of getting the fire up off the floor is an excellent first step. It may also be such a good change that I'll find that adding not-pre-burned wood to my new, elevated, smaller, hotter fire that has more oxygen will make that new wood burn more clear with less white smoke.

    Damn, this is so cool!  [​IMG]    I am so glad I found this forum. What on earth did people do before the internet?   [​IMG]  

    Thank you so much for your input Ribwizzard. I think I'm heading in a very good, very interesting direction. One that will very likely improve my already pretty-darn-good smoking!

    BTW, what area of Tampa do you live? I'm in the south end of Brandon. Maybe sometime if you are around, I could stop by and check out your smoking setup - and likewise, if you get down to my area.......
     

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