Wood Chips - Initial Ignition Phase & Bitterness?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by gasbag, Aug 10, 2015.

  1. For some time I've been smoking meat at home, where I'm currently using a Hark electric smoker.  But I've also used a number of "homemade rigs" that have worked quite well.  I have read extensively into the preparation and curing of meats, so this is not at all a problem.  Unfortunately, almost every time I smoke meat, I get a bit of a bitter/creosote flavour to my finished products.  By no means is the cooked/smoked product "terrible" or inedible, but it is just not of the best quality.  After all the research and attempts I have made, I am absolutely certain that the issue is the quality of the smoke I am producing.  I have read time and time again that the ideal smoke is a "thin blue smoke", and to avoid at all costs thick, white, billowing smoke.
    Please note that I have tried all the following:

    - Never, ever used softwoods that contain high levels of sap.  Or treated woods.
    - Different types of sawdust from butcher suppliers.
    - Different types of wood chips.
      (I generally prefer Hickory or Redgum for Ribs and Beef)
    - Left the wood chips bone dry.
    - Soaked the wood chips in water.
    - Soaked the wood chips overnight in a bowl of boiling water (or boiled in a saucepan at length) - the water then fully penetrates the wood.
    - Rinsed and strained wet wood chips repeatedly.
    - Used either sawdust or wood chips "loose" and fully exposed to air.
    - Used either sawdust or wood chips wrapped in alfoil with only a few very small holes pricked through the top.  This method has given the biggest improvement in quality of smoke, where it's becoming a bit more "thin blue", but not perfect.
    - Opened the side wood-chip-chute to allow greater airflow through the unit, and out the top exhaust vent.  This gives much more air to the wood chips or sawdust, giving rise to thick clouds of billowing, white, smoke.
    - Left the side wood-chip-chute closed to restrict air flow to the wood chips.  This improves the smoke quality significantly.
    - Smoked (either hot smoke or cold smoke) for just an hour or two.
    - Cold smoked all night.

    So I've tried everything I can think of, in regards to how to burn the wood chips.  But only recently I came across the following articles:

    - http://www.barbecue-smoker-recipes.com/will-thick-white-smoke-make-meat-bitter.html
    - http://www.barbecue-smoker-recipes.com/charcoal-chimney-burner.html
    I have always put my meat in the smoker from the get-go.  I haven't let the wood chips burn through their supposed "initial ignition phase" before putting the meat in the smoker.  Has anyone got any experience with this concept of an initial ignition phase for wood chips and provide advice on avoiding creosote/bitterness?
  2. mike johnson

    mike johnson Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    I suggest getting the AMNPS. You will always have thin blue smoke and the variety of pellets is amazing.
  3. Mike,

    Thanks heaps for your reply - much appreciated.
    Should've mentioned this to begin with - I have an AMNPS - one for sawdust, one for pellets.  But neither suited to wood chips....which is what I am using, and will continue to use.  (Got access to plenty).
    What I need advice with is how to get a better quality smoke from the wood chips.  Alfoil pouches, along with other advice along those lines.
    Again, thanks for your reply.
  4. ohiojason

    ohiojason Newbie

    Sorry I can't offer a solution (except to say I don't notice the creosote since I switched from chips/chunks to pellets) but I do think your diagnosis is spot on.

    That is why you see some of the stick burner light their wood outside of the smoker, then shovel in the burning coals.
  5. ohiojason,

    Thanks for your reply.

    This is the way I look at it - pellets are basically compressed sawdust, where as wood chips are basically small chunks of wood.  So I think a pile of wood chips has much more air (oxygen) in that pile, compared to a pile of pellets.  Sorta like comparing a bucket full of big stones, compared to a bucket full of sand - much more air in the bucket full of stones.
    For this reason, wood chips seem to actually catch fire and stay alight, more so than pellets, which seem to smoulder.
    Gotta keep air out/away from the chips.
    This is the core of the issue from my view.

    If you can speak to any "fellow smokers" (meat, not cigarettes. lol!) who may have some ideas on this....would be greatly appreciated.
  6. mike johnson

    mike johnson Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    I wondering if the issue may be uncurred chips. I know using green wood causes bad taste so I'm wondering how fresh the chips you get are. I would try drying them out in the oven on low or in a dehydrater to see if this helps with the flavor.
  7. cal1956

    cal1956 Smoking Fanatic

    crank up the heat !!!!
  8. bmaddox

    bmaddox Master of the Pit

    Where are you buying your chips? Do you buy commercially made ones or do you get locally made chips? If you aren't getting quality wood that has been properly aged, cured, handled, and stored that could be the problem.

    Also, the key to wood chips is getting them to smolder instead of burn. If they catch fire then that smoke will have a more bitter taste. The foil pouch method seems to work for a lot of people. 
  9. cal1956

    cal1956 Smoking Fanatic

    at low temps  chips start to smell like burning paper , you have to push them past that and get a good smoke going as fast as you can then reduce the heat , this should give you the smoke that your looking for
  10. I've used both commercial BBQ wood chips, as well as untreated, chemical-free, Redgum wood chips from a landscaping/timber/gravel yard.  100% natural and safe, guaranteed.

    I've used wood chips bone dry.
    Used chips soaked in water.
    Used chips soaked in a bowl of boiling water overnight, then fully strained.
    Used chips boiled in a saucepan on the stove, then fully strained.
    All of the above.

    The issues at hand are:

    Quantity of wood chips.
    Starving the chips of oxygen, or giving them plenty of air.  This seems to be the main issue.
    Level of heat.
    Letting the chips burn/smoulder for a while first before adding the meat, or adding the meat and chips at the same time.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2015
  11. I use wood chunks myself.

    From my experience, I let the wood do its initial burn and carbonize before adding any meat into my WSM. Depending on the amount of moisture in the wood, this can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes before the TBS begins to become noticeable. When I've used wood soaked in water, the steam being released could be mistaken for white smoke. Another problem I find with soaked wood, is the moisture from the steam gathers in the smoker dome and drips back onto the meat, possibly causing the creosote flavor to penetrate the meat itself.

    Just my $0.02
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  12. Appreciate all the comments.  I think I have a fair idea of what to do from here.  No guarantees how it will work, but fair idea.

    1.  Starve the chips of air - really make it hard for them to burn.  Alfoil pouch seems the go.  Only a couple tiny holes.
    2.  Let the chips get past an "initial burn phase"....then add meat.
  13. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    In  my opinion, what really matters is how Thick (Heavy) the smoke is:

    A lot of (Many hours) light smoke is Great.

    However even a short time of Heavy Smoke can be bad.

    That is why the AMNPS and AMNS are so awesome. As long as you only light one end of them, they will not produce too Heavy a smoke.

    When you burn your chips or chunks, Once they get going the smoke can get too heavy for awhile, then maybe level off to a nice smoke, then a little light, but still fine, then eventually no smoke unless you put more Chips or Chunks in. Then the whole cycle starts again from no smoke to too much smoke & back again. Those few times of Peaking "Heavy Smoke" are what is causing your problem with the taste.

    That's why you liked the results of the foil punch with only a few small holes in it. It was a very light smoke all the time. 

    I have found that it doesn't matter if the smoke is Light Blue or Light White----The important thing here is "LIGHT". Most people who say they get "Blue Smoke" are really getting White Smoke, but it's so thin and hard to see that it appears to be "Thin Blue". However as I said, "It doesn't matter" because as long as it's light smoke it doesn't matter if it's LIGHT Blue or LIGHT White.

  14. GaryHibbert

    GaryHibbert Smoking Guru OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Yep [​IMG]   .  IMO John's got you covered.  A lot of the time, the TBS is SO thin, it is almost impossible to see.

  15. Thanks bigtime for the replies - much appreciated.
    If I was to use a "smaller" pile of wood chips -vs- a "bigger" pile of wood chips...but in either case, the pile was THOROUGHLY wrapped in alfoil with a tiny hole punched in the top of the alfoil...would both bundles of chips produce more or less the same DENSITY of smoke. Obviously the bigger pile would smoulder for a longer time, but would the smoke rate/density be about the same?
    Busting my arse to get the smoke density-rate as thin & consistent as possible.
    Any experience with this?
  16. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    In My Opinion, one package or 2 packages doesn't matter. The important thing is the total amount of smoke. If I look through my glass door, I don't want the thickness of the smoke so dense that I can't see the food inside. As long as I can see the back wall through the smoke I'm good.

    Also it's not too light, as long as I can barely see it. Sometimes even just smelling it is OK, as long as it's actually the smoke I smell, and not just the normal smoky smell of my smoker.

    Hope that helps.

  17. Bear,
    Got your reply -thanks.
    What you mentioned...spot on. But what I've been trying to figure out is specifically HOW to achieve the type of smoke u mentioned. What I'm thinking is wrapping the chips in a few good layers of alfoil...sealing them up real tight...then pricking 1 or 2 toothpick holes in the alfoil. Really make it hard for too much air to get to the chips. Lots of air to the chips = instant billowing white clouds.
  18. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Thanks GB !!

    I replied on PM too as below:

    Yup---You just gotta play around with it until you come up with what you like.

    I just use my AMNS and my AMNPS, because they work perfectly for me.


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