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Q-talk *ON TOPIC ONLY* QUALITY ON TOPIC discussion of Backyard BBQ, grilling, equipment and outdoor cookin' . ** Other cooking techniques are welcomed for when your cookin' in the kitchen. Post your hints, tips, tricks & techniques, success, failures, but stay on topic and watch for that hijacking.

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Old 06-06-2011, 10:02 AM   #1
Got rid of the matchlight.
Join Date: 06-03-11
Location: Washington, DC
Default Newcomer looking for tips/advice on how to get "sweet blue" from my existing rigs

New member, been lurking for a while and this is my first post. I've been experimenting with smoking/BBQ for a year or two and reading as much as I can (including these forums). I think I've figured a few things out, but I wanted to check with this esteemed group to make sure I was on the right path before I went any further.

To date my smoking experience has been with two devices: a cheap, cylinder-type electric smoker from Home Depot and my CharBroil RED 500 grill. Both rely on wood chips for their smoke. In the case of the electric, I put them directly on the hot element on the bottom and with the grill I put them on the U (the curved metal surface between the flames and the food). Both devices have their issues. The electric smoker maintains a rock-steady temp with little work, but I can't seem to get it above 200 F and to add more chips I need to essentially take it apart. It's easier to add more chips to the grill, but two 8-hr smokes will deplete an entire propane tank and the smoking area (essentially the upper shelf) isn't very big.

I've smoked pork ribs (mostly St. Louis cut), pork shoulder, and brisket on both devices. Technique is usually rub, a few hours on the smoke at 225 F, then foil and cook until it hits target temp, then cooler. I've got some great sauces too. In general, things have turned out pretty decent. Good flavors, pretty tender and juicy (especially with the pork shoulder) and good reviews from friends/family (usually cooking for 4-8 people).

However, I've come to the realization that I'm doing some things really wrong. For example, I was under the impression that more smoke = good, and for my cookers that came from pre-soaking wood chips (usually hickory, sometimes mesquite for brisket) and then putting them in aluminium pouches on the hot surface. And of course that results in thick clouds of heavy white smoke, which from what I gather in the discussions on here is NOT good BBQ. Reading through the discussion on creosote, I have never had black encrusted inedible meat, but I have noticed it.

Basically, I've been turning out crap and thinking it was "real good BBQ".

What I'm looking for is some advice on how to take my game to the next level. I'd like to be able to turn out good quality stuff, but it has to fit into my life. My wife and I work full time, I'm also full-time PhD student, and we have two kids (ages 1 and 3). For me, cooking is something I do because I love food, but it can't become a massive time sink. As much as I would love to get a stick burner and spent an entire day splitting wood and carefully tending the perfect fire, that isn't an option right now.

So what are my options? Can I modify either of my existing smokers or my techinques to produce good BBQ (ie, good smoke)? For example, would putting whole chunk wood on the gas/electric burners so that it burns cleanly do the trick? Or do I need to invest in a new pit, and if so what should I go with? Vertical water smoker? Offset? Pellet type? Remember, it needs to be something I can "set and forget" as much as possible. Obviously I'd prefer not to take out a new car loan, but I am willing to spend a bit to get something that fits my needs. I've actually been reading up on the Big Green Egg type cookers, as I also cook a lot of Indian food and pizza, and having one contraption that can smoke/grill/tandoor would be awesome.

And if I have come to the wrong conclusions anywhere above, please feel free to slap me upside the head.
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Old 06-06-2011, 10:25 AM   #2

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First of all, you may not have been putting out crap. It could very well be very good BBQ. I think you've probably been doing very well with what you have. I'm not a big fan of soaking wood chips, but sure you'll get lots of advice on that.

I did want to touch on the new smoker option. I think a ceramic like a BGE or Primo would suit you well. I'm nearby and went with a ceramic so I could BBQ all winter. My wife wanted the Primo Oval for the shape and versatility. She does a lot of baking, especially bread and pizza. I think either one is what you really want. One load of coal will BBQ for 20+ hours even at 10* outside.
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Old 06-06-2011, 11:10 AM   #3
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Join Date: 06-26-09
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I agree with Gore that your food may just be great.

Now, for smoke bombs, I am one who feels smoking on a gasser is totally possible. I build my smoke bombs wity dry chips and two layers of loosely wrapped foil. I want a little air between the layers of foil. I only poke 3 holes for a cup of chips, then fold up like a butcher wrap or gift wrap. You are minimizing air draft and thus preventing combustion. Done successfully, I end up with 1 cup of tiny charcoal lumps when done. If you soak chips, you get a billowing white mix of smoke and steam, impossible to gauge the quality of your smoke that way.

I use three smoke bombs per hour (one at a time), for 2 hours, at 225F to 270F, then no more smoke and cook until done. My cheap old Thermos gasser and Weber gasser get me three 8 hour smokes can. I use only one burner to maintain heat, smoke bombs go directly on burners or on grates. I will preheat each smoke bomb on lid for 10 minutes or so.
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Old 06-06-2011, 11:20 AM   #4
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You are on the right path... the key to good bbq is fire management... meaning to control a fire with the right conditions.

A smoker like a BGE, Kamodo, Primo, Bubba Keg/Big Steel Keg are indeed a multiple use/temp grill/smoker and does its job very efficient.
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Old 06-06-2011, 11:55 AM   #5
Got rid of the matchlight.
Join Date: 06-03-11
Location: Washington, DC

Thanks guys. Couple of quick add-ons:

At the moment, I'm actually living in Montreal (home of the famous and amazing Montreal smoked meat). We're moving to DC in July for my wife's job, and I'm looking forward to being able to meet up with some fellow smokers and possibly attend a couple competitions. It may indeed be the case that I am doing some things right, but because I am self-taught and my "customers" aren't BBQ people it is hard to tell for certain.

In my hometown of Syracuse, NY, there is a pretty fantastic place called the Dinosaur BBQ. It's an old Harley Davidson bike shop that got converted into a honky-tonk BBQ joint, complete with dank interior, blues music, smartass biker chick waitresses, and some pretty amazing BBQ. My goal in life is to one day be able to turn out a rack of ribs and BBQ chicken as good as they do.

Over the past month I've done Boston butts twice and just this past weekend a whole packer brisket. The pulled pork came out fantastic. The brisket had good flavor but was a bit dry. We had guests from Australia over so they were impressed just at the size of the thing :)

Gore, thanks for the tip on the "smoke bombs". I'll certainly try that out without soaking. The setup for my Char-Broil has been to turn on the outer two burners (keep the middle one off) and remove the grates over the hot burners so it's easier to add the foil packs. I then put the meat on the top rack with a Pyrex pan of water below it. One problem I run into with the bigger pork shoulders is that they touch the top of the lid when closed. I'm also concerned that using two burners at a pretty low setting (as opposed to one at a higher setting) might mean less quality smoke production.

But I guess the only way to know for certain is to keep on cooking :)

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Old 06-06-2011, 12:14 PM   #6
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I am very new to this myself, I did something like 3 years of looking into buying a smoker. My 1st smoker that I wanted to buy was the BGE. I hear nothing but great reviews and it has a great fallowing. The only thing I hear bad about them is the price and the need to replace a gasket. That's about it. You really can do it all except a whole hog on them. But due to the cost of $1k +/- I decided to wait.. or perhaps more accurate is my wife decided we should wait.

Then year 2 came along and I wanted something really for ribs, pulled pork and brisket. I was looking at everything from Meadow Creek pig roasters to a backwoods smoker. There is something great about them "refrigerator" style smokers with slide out racks. And yet once again due to costs I did nothing.

Year 3 and now, after much searching I decided to buy a Stumps smoker. After reading much about Backwoods, Superior or Stumps I was told you really can't go wrong with either one. So in the end I picked a Stumps b/c it was priced right for my location. Don't forget to calculate shipping and crate fees. I was ready to buy it till my wife said no way we're spending $1700 right now. So what did I end up with? An UDS!
I originally wanted to build one, but due to a lack of time I knew that it wouldn’t happen anytime soon. So I found a guy online that builds them for $180. Shipping was another $80. So I just pulled the trigger on this guy b/c I don’t want to spend another year looking at smokers.
So if you decide to get a new pit: The BGE is an awesome all-doing pit for $1k, If you want something in the $2k range I would go with the Stumps, Superior or Backwoods. If you want something that can do a whole hog I would check out the meadow creek. But if you don’t want to spend a lot of money and seems to have a huge fallowing, build or buy a UDS.
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Old 06-06-2011, 01:30 PM   #7
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Join Date: 01-11-09
Location: Cumberland, RI

Bear in mind that the discussions of "blue smoke" on this forum are related to smokers that are actually burning wood. Smoldering wood creates creosote and other nasty tasting by products, so grey/white smoke from, say, an offset smoker with a wood fire is not a good thing. This is why automatic draft devices (Stoker, Guru) are not recommended for wood fires. They regulate temps by shutting down the draft, and Smoulder = bad on an all wood fire.

This is not at all the case for low-smoke sources of heat, such as electric, propane, and charcoal heat. In this case you are introducing wood chips or chunks to get smoke from a naturally low smoke heat source. The only way to do that is to smoulder the wood. If the wood catches on fire, the amount of smoke you get will be too small to be helpful. Since it's a small volume of wood compared to a wood burning offset, creosote and other things are not going to be an issue for wood chips.

If you have even seen an insulated box smoker (Backwoods, Stumps, Superior, etc.) at work, you will see lots of grey smoke from them. They use a very low charcoal fire and smouldering wood to produce that, and make some very good BBQ.

So - if it tastes good to you, don't worry about the color of the smoke. You aren't going to get the "blue smoke" of a clean fire becaus, well, you don't have a wood fire.
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Old 06-06-2011, 02:08 PM   #8
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Join Date: 06-02-11
Location: Boston, MA

I've been smoking for quite a few years on the same cheap electric Home Depot (Brinkman) smoker. It has many issues, such as temperature control and the chips give off a thick cloud of smoke (that you have to keep feeding).

There are easy modifications that you can do:

1. Drill a hole in the side and put in a smoke generator, like this one You can make your own, search the forums for tips.

2. For temp control, check out a Ranco temperature controller:

The Ranco only goes to 220, but it is great to use when cold smoking of if you want to smoke at a lower/specific temperature. Without the temp control, I've noticed that my smoker can get up to 250 (which is much higher than you want for some meats).

3. When I smoke in the Winter (I'm in Boston), I wrap hot water insulation around the smoker.
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