View Full Version : Fire Management...

04-29-2012, 01:49 PM
I thought this was an interesting piece that came from Bill Cannon at http://texasbbqrub.com/index.html regarding Fire Management for this month...

"One of the most asked questions we get each month is the question dealing with a bitter taste or some describe it as a creosote taste left on the meat after it has been smoked. You may have had this problem in the past or you may have eaten someone else’s BBQ that had this taste. It is easy to fix the problem and clean up the smoke which is what is causing this problem in the first place.

This is the first in a series of articles on fire management. This one is a little out of sequence but it seems to be one of the most asked questions we get about fire management so I am going to write about it first. Fire management and the flavor you get from good fire management is one of the two most important things you can do to get great smoked meat every time you cook. The other flavor adder is the rubs and spices you use to put on the meat you are cooking. Let’s keep on discussing the causes and way to fix the dreaded “stale smoke” syndrome which causes your meat to have a bitter or creosote taste to them when they are eaten.

What causes this “stale smoke?” Funny sounding name but the fact is that until you know what caused this bitter taste on the meat it could happen time and time again to you. It is easy to fix the problem if you just know what to do and make a few adjustments to the pit.

Here is what “stale smoke” is and how you can prevent it and not have to worry about it happening to you in the future. “Stale Smoke” is mostly found in pits that are burning wood as their only source of both heat and smoke flavor (stick burners). It really does not matter what kind of wood you are using to cook with you can still have the “stale smoke” syndrome. “Stale Smoke” is created by not having the smoke pass thru the BBQ pit and across the meat fast enough. Since the smoke is not moving thru the pit at a fast enough rates the smoke actually sits down on the meat and creates this bitter taste or creosote taste in the meat. You can recognize the chance of having this happen to your meat by looking at the color of the smoke that is coming thru the chimney on your pit. What you want is not thick white smoke or grayish colored smoke exiting your chimney. What you are looking for is what I call clean smoke, an almost clear or light opaque colored smoke coming out of the chimney. Some refer to it as a blue smoke but whatever you want to call it if you are bellowing thick white smoke you have probably experienced the “stale smoke” syndrome at one time or another. It is easy to fix the problem now that you know what the real problem is.

You may think that since you are smoking meat you need the thick white smoke coming out of your pit to give the meat that great smoke flavor. After all that is what you are doing, smoking meat but you don’t need or want that thick white smoke going across the meat and leaving your meat either bitter or tasting like creosote. So actually what you want is just the opposite of this. You want nice clean smoke and it will be filled with the nice flavor of the wood you are burning and this clean smoke will flavor your meat with the great flavor of the wood and not harm the meat with the gases and chemicals that are being created with the actual burning of the wood.

Well all you have to do is open up the air intake valve on the wood box on your pit all the way open. You want to add as much oxygen to the wood as possible so that it burns cleanly. Choking down the air will actually begin to smother the wood and not let it burn cleanly. So you want to have an active fire in the firebox so the gases and other chemicals created during the burning of wood are burned up and therefore do not get into the cooking chamber of the pit and on your meat.

So first thing is to open up the air intake valves on the firebox of your pit and let the fire burn lively and cleanly. And the other adjustment to your pit will be to open up the damper on the chimney all the way so you are moving the smoke thru the pit at a fairly quick rate. These two adjustments will allow the smoke to go thru your pit faster and avoid the smoke sitting in the cooking chamber which causes the bitterness and/or creosote taste in meat.

But you are asking your self if I am burning a really nice active fire won’t that make the fire hotter than I want and therefore increase the cooking temperature in the pit. The answer is it could but you will need to make a few more adjustments. The adjustments will relate to the amount of wood you are adding to the fire box and at what time intervals you will be adding the logs. A common mistake is made by assuming you need a bunch of wood burning to get a good fire and this just isn’t the case. A great fire in your fire box will be a really nice hot bed of coals and then adding on top of the coals a fresh log every 30 minutes or so to burn really nice and give the meat some nice flavor as it burns. Then it will be part of the nice coal bed and you simply repeat the process adding another log every 30 to 45 minutes as the pit temperature dictates.

Let me give you an example: I have a pit that is 36 inches in diameter and is 8 feet long. It will hold about 50 briskets in the cooking chamber at a time. Once I get a good bed of coals created (I burn down about 4 to 6 logs to coals) then all it takes is 1 log every 40 minutes to keep the temperature running at 220 degrees even with 50 briskets cooking at a time. About every 3rd time I add a log (the logs are 18 to 20 inches long and are split into pieces that are about 4 to 6 inches thick at the base) I will add maybe two logs at that time as I watch the amount of coals that are in the pit. You are getting your heat from the coals and the smoke flavor from the burning log. That is all the wood it takes to run that pit for hours on end. One thing to note is that when you add a log and it starts to burn you may get a couple of minutes of some white smoke and then it will clear up again as the log begins to really start burning. And depending on your pit you could see a slight increase in the pit temperature for a short period of time. Just let it spike up a bit and as the log burns down your temperatures will come back down to where you need them. This takes learning your pit so spend some time seeing how often you will need to add a log. But keep a nice bed of coals burning the entire time and if the bed of coals begins to get smaller the next time add 2 logs to replenish the bed of coals.

Now you know the cause and the way to fix the stale smoke issue. Remember you want clear or opaque colored smoke coming from the chimney. Open up the air damper in the fire box all the way open so the fire can burn clean. Control the heat in the pit by the amount of coals and the time between adding logs.

By the way if you are cooking on a pit that is heated with charcoal and all you do is add a few small pieces of wood to the charcoal as it burns (WSM, Backwoods, Big Green Eggs) you will very seldom every see this problem as you are burning charcoal and it has already been burned down and the gasses have already escaped during the process of making the charcoal. A few pieces of wood will not usually cause the “Stale Smoke” syndrome to occur."

Just an FYI and hope you enjoyed the read...:tu

05-02-2012, 09:56 AM
I just fixed my last issue on fire management last weekend. Imagine a man who buys box after box of cigars,
and this man is at Home Deeepo and everytime he goes in he sees a charcoal chimney for a little over ten bucks.
Well, that's too EXPENSIVE. So instead, he builds a small fire on the weekend, then covers the coals with unlit
charcoal til that gets going and then he closes the pit. But when the coals die, that man has to start a new batch of
coals the same way, and oftentimes he gets impatient and just closes the lid on a fire that is just getting to the
halfway point of becoming coals. To save ten bucks he will eat that meat that has combustion molecules all over it
instead of good smoke flavor. Well I finally wised up last weekend and got me a lil chimney.....shame, but it's true.
Been smoking 'backyard-professionally" for 3-4 years and only JUST NOW got a damn chimney.

Not to mention the up and down temps you get opening the pit and making a new fire....I forgot to mention, I have
a one chamber cooker posing as a smoker, indirectly smoking and heating my meat...works good, but not without a
chimney starter, lol.

05-12-2012, 06:33 PM
i enjoyed this read thank you!:)

No problem and glad you enjoyed the read. When you get the time, you may want to head over here:


and introduce yourself to all:tu