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Q-talk *ON TOPIC ONLY* QUALITY ON TOPIC discussion of Backyard BBQ, grilling, Equipment and just outdoor cookin' in general, hints, tips, tricks & techniques, success, failures... but stay on topic. And watch for that hijacking.


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Unread 05-16-2013, 10:53 PM   #1
aarondramp
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Default Help out a charcoal noob

So here's my background...

I love food. I love to cook. I love learning about cooking and food in every way. One of my favorite websites is America's Test Kitchen because they really break down what works and what doesn't. Most of my expertise is in baking, but I have cooked iwith just about everything except one...charcoal.

Well, I have been wanting to learn how to smoke, so I decided to build a UDS. Everything went smoothly, and when I was done, I fired it up to season my new creation. I filled my fire basket with Kingsford briquettes and torched the top briquettes with my recently acquired propane torch. I put the fire basket in, closed off 2 of my 4 intake holes, opened the exhaust and let it go. It quickly got up to about 260, so I covered all but half of one hole, and then ended up maintaining 250 for a few hours with two holes half open.

After about 3 hours, I decided to throw on a couple fatties to help season the smoker. As many of you probably know already, my sausage ended up tasting like charcoal. I did a lot of reading and discovered that it is ideal to slowly get the temperature up instead of choking it down. I also had no idea that thick white smoke was bad. Lesson learned.

So today, I got some lump charcoal, and threw about 8 pieces in the bottom of my fire basket. I torched them and then added more lump on top for a bit of reverse minion approach since I don't have a chimney. I let it very slowly come up in temperature and let it go for about 2 hours at 260, and the smoke coming out of the top seemed to be blue and wispy. I put on a few italian sausages, but the taste still seemed charcoaly. It wasn't nearly as bad as last time but still overpowing.

So can you wise veterans give this noob some help? Should I have added some wood to negate the pure charcoal or am I doing something else wrong? I'm heading to bed, but I'll be back on in the morning to discuss some more.
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Unread 05-16-2013, 11:02 PM   #2
grantw
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you smothered the fire by putting more on top, the first fire was probably never fully lit then you choked it with air. ideally with just the coal burning you should have no visable smoke. with the minion method you need to have whatever goes on top fully lit. if your adding coal it needs to go off to the side. if you do dump unlit on lit you need to put more lit on top otherwise it will smoulder. youre going to have to figure out what temp the cooker will run best at and dont fight it too much. its been a few years since i messed with a barrell but i remember the one i used liked 275
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Unread 05-17-2013, 12:31 AM   #3
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Fill up the basket with lump mix in 4-5 man fist sized chunks of you favorite tree and hit it in the middle with a TX matchstick for 2 min drop the top and set your temp.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 06:45 AM   #4
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So my method the first time was good for lighting but bad for temperature control? I will give it another run tonight and see how it goes. Is the torch method fine as a substitute for the Minion method?
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Unread 05-17-2013, 06:49 AM   #5
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It is important to keep the top exhaust vent wide open and control the temp with the intake(s). wood should be used sparingly, 3-5 fist sized pieces are adequate for smoke flavoring.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 07:29 AM   #6
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After a couple tries, you will get the hang of it. Everyone does it differently. Generally visible white smoke is a sign of bad combustion. I prefer to have fully lit coals before I put them in my UDS. I fill up the basket with unlit charcoal, you can reuse it so don't worry about putting too much. I then use a charcoal chimney to start about ten to 15 briquettes, this seems perfect for 225 to 250 temperature. Once those are good, white, and ashy, I pour them on top of the unlit basket, place a chunk of wood on top of lit coals, put it all in the drum, close the lid. All exhaust vents are open, I throttle my 3/4" intake ball valve to the half open or less position. It then generally coasts right up to the mid 200's where I like to cook. With the right amount of fully lit charcoal in the drum to begin with, it just seems to start up easier.

My way is hardly the right way or only way. I find it very easy, and while it takes a bit of time to get the chimney going and such, it isn't really a lot of work. I can be prepping meat and doing other things.

Another item that will really turn your UDS into a top notch smoker, and some people will cringe, is some type of automatic temperature controller. I have a BBQguru PartyQ and love it for the drum. It really alleviates a lot of the pressure of trying to keep the temperature right on the smoker, so you can enjoy doing other things during long cooks and have confidence that the food will come out good.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 07:41 AM   #7
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Very good info, I'm building my first UDS this weekend and this will help.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 08:01 AM   #8
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My first smoke I got scared when the smoke turned non-white. I kept adding more wood to keep it white . . .

Smoked meat is supposed to taste a little like coal. Kinda. Is that maybe what you're getting?
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Unread 05-17-2013, 08:06 AM   #9
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My take on smoke color.

Just stright charcoal and you have white smoke - not fully lit.
Throw a peice of "smoking" wood on there and white smoke is good.
Throw a chunk of bad wood and you get yellow smoke. remove food, remove the bad chunk and wait for bad smoke to get out of system and try again. Yellow is resin burning out of wood (wood was not aged correctly.)
Gray/Black smoke - Grease fire.

Watch a video on the tube of how to home make charcoal and most will show the wood gas burning off and many show the yellow resin smoke too.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 08:08 AM   #10
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Thanks for all of the advice everyone. I had some of the sausage for breakfast, and the charcoal taste is still a bit strong. I know I should get some charcoal taste, but it's a bit too much.

I'll give it a run again tonight and fire up the middle for 2 minutes and then put some apple wood in and see how it does. After it goes for a while, I'll throw the rest of the sausage on and see what happens. If it goes well, then I'll be doing a butt and maybe some ribs this weekend.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 08:24 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teltum View Post
My take on smoke color.

Just stright charcoal and you have white smoke - We Have a Pope
Throw a peice of "smoking" wood on there and white smoke - We Have a Pope
Gray/Black smoke - We don't have a Pope

Watch a video on the tube of how to home make charcoal and most will show the wood gas burning off and many show the yellow resin smoke too.


Sorry couldn't resist.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 08:52 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teltum View Post
My take on smoke color.

Just stright charcoal and you have white smoke - not fully lit.
Throw a peice of "smoking" wood on there and white smoke is good.
Throw a chunk of bad wood and you get yellow smoke. remove food, remove the bad chunk and wait for bad smoke to get out of system and try again. Yellow is resin burning out of wood (wood was not aged correctly.)
Gray/Black smoke - Grease fire.

Watch a video on the tube of how to home make charcoal and most will show the wood gas burning off and many show the yellow resin smoke too.

This is good information here. Well said. And to carry on to what someone else mentioned earlier about coal tasting. If you do not like the coal taste, try switching what kind of charcoal you use, especially going from briquette to a nice lump charcoal, big difference in flavor, and it also cooks differently.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 09:22 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aarondramp View Post
So my method the first time was good for lighting but bad for temperature control? I will give it another run tonight and see how it goes. Is the torch method fine as a substitute for the Minion method?
The minion method is more of a way of burning than lighting. Torch lighting is fine. Personally I prefer a chimney lighting technique, then dumping lit coals on top of unlit, minion style. I then let it "settle in" for a few minutes before putting the lid on the cooker. Also, if you're using kings ford blue, learn to sniff for that chemical smell when it is first lit. It sort of smells like turpentine, and the smell will go away once the coals are burning cleanly. That smell makes food taste awful so beware! Keep at it you'll get it.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 09:31 AM   #14
aarondramp
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ajstrider View Post
This is good information here. Well said. And to carry on to what someone else mentioned earlier about coal tasting. If you do not like the coal taste, try switching what kind of charcoal you use, especially going from briquette to a nice lump charcoal, big difference in flavor, and it also cooks differently.
I already made the switch to lump, and it definitely smelled much, much cleaner overall. I'm sure it'll take a little bit to get the hang of this since it's not as simple as setting an oven to 350, but this place has already given me a ton of information.
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Unread 05-17-2013, 10:15 AM   #15
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I highly suggest a using a chimney to start the coals. I like to get them get nice and glowing before adding them to my basket. I will have to post my method of coal/wood ratio and how it is set up in my basket. Similar to the minion method, but different still. I feel it gives me a nice controlled cook without causing strange charcoal anomalies. We've all been in your shoes at one point or another.
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