WSM and Wood Chunk Quantities + Stick Burn Trial!

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fendersrule

Smoke Blower
Original poster
Jun 15, 2021
147
164
I've smoked a few times with my new WSM and absolutely love the flavor. For red meat, it absolutely creams my pellet grill because I get rich smoke flavor. However, it doesn't quite match my friend's offset (which is to be expected).

Curious how to improve the smoke flavor even more.

Right now, I've been using a rule of thumb that 1 chunk = 1 hour of cook. So for example, Baby Back Ribs = 5 hours, 5 chunks. Pork Butt = 8 hours, 8 chunks. Fist sized, or slightly smaller than fist sized.

I'm actually considering to up that wood amount since I haven't experienced "too smokey" yet. I typically let the smoker run until most of the white smoke is clear. I'll even put a couple small chunks into the chiney starter as well.

I may be doing pork spare ribs soon, so probably a 6 hour or so cook. I may try that out with 8-10 chunks, probably 50% hickory and 50% cherry. If I can get small splits, I'll probably grab that. Has anyone tried upping the wood chunks to about this amount?

I also have a fire pit off to the side of my smoker, so I could also burn splits into coals and add them into the WSM for fire management as well.
 
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I don't think I've ever gone past 4 fist-sized chunks in my 18" WSM...or the equivalent of smaller pieces, as I'm seeing fewer and fewer fist-sized chunks in my bags of chunk hardwood. Can't say it's wrong to use more, though, especially if smoking with a mild wood. I don't put any in the chimney when starting the smoker, it'll just burn up, as there is plenty of oxygen right up until you assemble the smoker with limited airflow. I generally use the minion method, with some hardwood on top of or mixed in the unlit charcoal, and at least one chunk placed on top of the hot coals when I assemble the WSM. And I generally don't add smoke wood after the smoker is assembled; food pretty much stops taking up smoke after the first few hours. I'll add smoke wood if I'm adding food, though; if I put a rack of ABTs on very late in a long smoke of a pork butt or brisket, I'll add a bit more smoke wood for the benefit of the ABTs.

If you haven't yet found Harry Soo's site (https://www.slapyodaddybbq.com) he is the master of all things WSM. He uses them exclusively in competition, and has been very successful at it. He's got vids out that include fire management in the WSM.
 
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#1 trick to maximizing smoke flavor in a WSM...bury the chunks in the cold charcoal. Chunks on top ignite. They burn too quickly to maximize the flavorful volatile-elements you want.

Load the wood chunks first. More is not better. 4-6 is plenty whether for a 5-6 hour smoke or overnight. I've often just put one wood split in the bottom of the charcoal ring.

Then load the cold charcoal on top of the chunks (or split) so the wood is deeply buried. Make a dimple in the center of the load and add 10-12 hot briquettes. Immediately set your top vent full open and your bottom vents about 1/8" open. Walk away for 2-3 hours.

A slow fire is a better fire. The slow fire preheats the buried wood chunks so they carbonize cleaner and release the desired flavor volatiles.

Happy Smokin'!

Ray
 
Yep, I pretty much do all that you guys mentioned. I'll even sometimes use lump coal and arrange it the best I can with wood chunks down on the bottom first.

Was just trying to inquire using even more wood than what I usually try. May even actually think about using splits on a a small bed of charcoal and spend the time to manage it. Obviously wouldn't waste time doing that for a long smoke, but I'm considering cooking St. Louis soon and may want to try that out.

I like the idea of using a split, since oak around here comes in splits and not chunks. Just get a very large one that's someone close to what I would use normally use and bury it, while leaving the middle of it open for the starter.

Or like I mentioned, use the grill more like an offset and add starter on the bottom, then load a couple splits and let them burn down, then just only fill it with splits and manage the fire more.

Basically, I'm trying to see if moving the charcoal/wood ratio to 50/50 improves the taste, instead of 20/80 or whatever. I personally don't find 8 chunks too much at all.

FWIW, I love rich, deep smoke flavor. As-is the WSM produces it, but just curious how much closer I can get it to an offset. If using more wood gets it as close as it's ever gonna get, then I'll use more wood.
 
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I had one more thought. I dry smoke and do not put water in the water pan. To me, it is merely a heat deflector. Why use fuel to heat 25 lbs of water that would be better used to heat meat?

The water pan (and the WSM instructions) are for wet smokes and people who cannot control chamber temps with their vents. Water has specific properties in physics that prevents the chamber from exceeding temps much beyond 212°F at sea level and ambient air pressure. I'd rather use that heat to slowly carbonize wood, cook meat, and extend the life of the fuel in a smoking session.

Ahh, the thoughts that pop into one's brain in the shower.
 
I have the 14.5" WSM so for me the chunks are going to be on the smaller side.Four does the trick for just about all smokes.

I pretty much do the same as noboundaries noboundaries with exception of a dimple in the center.The 14 being smaller holds a lot less charcoal so before I put in my chunks and charcoal I put a soup can in the center and place the charcoal chunks around it and then put my lit briquettes in the hole.
 
That is one thing I need to get is a metal can of some sort, so I can make a nicer "hole" in the center.

I know some of the smoke flavoring is pretty preferenced based. There's people that prefer mild smoke. I never understood that personally, but yep, not all tongues are the same!

I've been to some places even in Texas where I thought the smoke flavor was lacking. Typically, the stronger the flavor, the more I like the 'q.

My neighbor brought pulled pork from is offset yesterday, and made me create this thread. It was probably the best pulled pork I've ever had. 80% post oak and 20% misquette. SPG is all he did.
 

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If you're using store bought wood chunks. Chances are they're kiln dried. Many folks believe that kiln dried wood produces a lighter smoke profile that naturally dried wood does. One other option is to use a stronger wood like hickory or mesquite.

Chris
 
It's near impossible to get stickburner smoke with a WSM but there are things you can do to improve it. With my 22.5 I have to have the vents almost completely shut down to keep temps at something like 225. Running at 275 keeps my vents more open which means better air flow and that equals better smoke. Water in the pan will help reduce the efficiency and get those vents open more. I honestly don't run water in the WSM just because the cleanup is such a pain, but there are a lot of benefits. One big one is it helps keeps you from burning the bottom of your briskets. It will also help your smoke ring believe it or not.

Another thing is to use wood with more moisture content. Kiln dried wood can be way too dry depending on how much they dry it. Some is better than others. You might try cutting some chunks off your buddy's logs or getting wood from a place like Fruitawood. You'll notice an improvement especially if you are in the more=better camp with smoke flavor.
 
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I’d try a stronger wood. But like you said trying out more chunks won’t hurt anything if you like the flavor
 
If you use the water pan, make sure you fill it with boiling water at light up or you're just wasting fuel. And you should do the same with the water even when grilling on the que, or roasting food in the oven, never fill a water pan with cold water, it takes too long to heat up to cooking temp.
 
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That is one thing I need to get is a metal can of some sort, so I can make a nicer "hole" in the center...
Metal 1 pound or "3 pound" coffee cans (open both ends) work well here. (Costco and Cafe la Llave still use all metal cans.) Of course you pull the can out with channel-lock pliers last thing after adding the hot coals to help the fire spread radially out
 
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If you use the water pan, make sure you fill it with boiling water at light up or you're just wasting fuel. And you should do the same with the water even when grilling on the que, or roasting food in the oven, never fill a water pan with cold water, it takes too long to heat up to cooking temp.
Yep. I usually at least will fill it with hot water. Never tried boiling water. I'll probably do a 1/2 gallon since I'll be spritzing...me thinks there should be plenty of moisture in there.
 
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Still trying to figure out if I want to go full stick burn or do the charcoal split route. I'll probably decide it day of.

Stick burn route plan:
1) Heat up a full chinmey of lump. Toss it in WSM. Stick 2 half splits on it (1 split cut into two peices). Let it clean up, then add food and continue to babysit. Keep all vents open, lid propped, and even likely keep firebox door ajar. Manage fire by adding half splits splits every 20-40 minutes.

charcoal split route plan:
1) Place full cut splits on bottom grate, then surround with cold lump. Chimney start on top, then just operate the WSM as it's intended.

It will be a pretty cold morning 12F, so maybe the stick burn route will be more painful than needed. That may be more of a spring/summer thing.

I'll probably notice a difference using real local logs regardless of the route, so that even that would be a nice evolutionary step. So maybe just the charcoal split route makes sense. I'll be making st louis spares, so I'll probably keep whatever size splits would equal 8 "fist" sized chunks. 60% oak, 30% cherry, 10-15% mesquite for a little bite.
 

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If you use the water pan, make sure you fill it with boiling water at light up or you're just wasting fuel. And you should do the same with the water even when grilling on the que, or roasting food in the oven, never fill a water pan with cold water, it takes too long to heat up to cooking temp.
The reasoning is sound, but I usually don't bother with hot water in my WSM water pan since I always run it for 45 minutes or an hour after I assemble it on the lit charcoal bed. That gives time for the dense white smoke to thin out, and by then the water is hot anyway.
 
Decided to do a trial run. Yes, we are stick burning.
 

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Notes so far:

Dealing with "firebox" is an every ten minute thing. Either to move coals, reposition things, reignite to get a flame, etc. You always want to see fire. Always.

I've done enough research on this to know what I should look out for. For this trial, I am keeping the ambient temp at a MINIMUM of 250F. Only a few times it fell below 235. It will fall within SECONDS too (more on that down below) but at the minimum I'm keeping the cook at 240-270F. You will NOT want to try this if you want 225. Don't even bother. Beef IMO is more forgiving.

The biggest problem is that there is meat temp, ambient temp, then FIREBOX management. Duh, this is stick burning. But what is making that more difficult isn't necessarily the air flow (see my pics, that can be mitigated easily) but the fact that it's easy for hot coals to fall down in grate. So you're going to have to constantly manage this (move stuff around, bring coals together, rerrange, stack).

Keep in mind it's my first time doing this as well, so I'm learning. I've never ran an offset. You should expect 50 degree swings, and not sweat about it. 240-290 is kinda what I'm doing, and IMO is about the max a WSM 18.5 is capable of.

The Meater probe is a life saver and is the only reason I can come inside and sit on the computer and type all this out. I go outside once it starts falling, re-arrange, throw a new mini split on, then come back inside. It's an every 10-15 minute ordeal.

Next time I would seriously recommend getting a second grate to cross-hatch it. That would probably reduce some of the effort to keep hot coals present.

Is the taste going to be worth it?

My goal is to make sure the fire is burning hot at all times, airflow is maxed. You should reap the rewards if all that is true--you *should* get stick burner taste. The WSM taste is really damn good as-is BTW. :)

Recipe:

Small rack of beef back ribs. Mustard as a binder, SPG all the way. Also, I'm burning nearly 100% oak. May throw some mesquite chunks on, but that's about it. Just a simple experiment.
 
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Here’s some random MEATER screens.
 

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