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How to Avoid Too Much Smoke and Bitter Taste

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Looking for some expert advice on how to avoid too much smoke flavor and bitter taste.  Cooking on a Vision Series B.  I'm using hickory chunks.  What's the right amount of wood chunks to use?  I hear a little goes a long way.  I have made the mistake before of putting the wood in with the charcoal before lighting.  When should I put the wood on the coals, and after putting the wood on the coals, when should the meat be put on the grate too smoke?  Ideally, I'd like to smoke meat in the 225 to 250 degrees range.  About how long should it take for the coals to be ready to introduce the wood, and then after introducing the wood, how long should it take before food can be introduced?



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Just make sure the coals are hot and clean not giving off smoke on its own. A few chunks spread thru out is probably all you need. Also make sure fat isn't dripping into your coals as that will create acrid smoke.

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This is something that everyone may have their own preference on how they do it and on what cut of meat. I'll start off by saying that hickory is one of the stronger flavored smoking woods. I personally only use it on beef so that could be part of what you didn't like. Here is what I generally prefer to use for different meats.


Beef  = Mesquite, oak or hickory.

Pork = Cherry, apple, maple, pecan or my favorite is peach.

Foul = Cherry, apple, maple, pecan or my favorite is peach.

Fish = Mesquite or oak  unless it's something delicate like trout in with case I'd use Cherry, apple, maple, pecan or peach.


There are plenty of other wood varieties that are used so this list is be no means a complete list but it's what I use and prefer.


As far as how to introduce the wood I usually just bury 4 or 5 decent sized chunks in the lump and then wait 15 to 20 minutes after lighting before I even think about introducing the meat. I wait until the smoke coming out of the top vent is a bluish color instead of the whitish color that normally comes out at the beginning.


Others may do it differently and there have even been a few that have made up what CC (Ceramic Chef) called a smoking pot to help get that bluish smoke. 




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1 hour ago, Donkey Toes said:

Looking for some expert advice on how to avoid too much smoke flavor and bitter taste.  Cooking on a Vision Series B.  I'm using hickory chunks.  What's the right amount of wood chunks to use?  I hear a little goes a long way.  I have made the mistake before of putting the wood in with the charcoal before lighting.  When should I put the wood on the coals, and after putting the wood on the coals, when should the meat be put on the grate too smoke?  Ideally, I'd like to smoke meat in the 225 to 250 degrees range.  About how long should it take for the coals to be ready to introduce the wood, and then after introducing the wood, how long should it take before food can be introduced?




Here are a couple of my thoughts on smoke as I've experimented over the years.


I treat smoke as a Seasoning and apply similar rules when using it. 


  It is possible to apply too much seasoning (whether salt or smoke) to any cook & I find that subtle amounts suit my flavor profiles adequately. 


I usually throw the wood chunks onto the coals as soon as they are lit and then put on my heat deflector/grates and as soon as I reach temp I throw the meat on.  In the end, it all comes down to your personal tastes and preferences so you will need to experiment.


*** one caveat to this is that I never use any type of smoking wood on any poultry cook.  I've tried it several times and I find the results to taste putrid.





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What @DerHusker said is spot on. Go ahead and toss your wood in prior to lighting the fire, wait until the thick smoke turns to a thin light blue smoke before putting your meat on. Cherry and Apple are two of my favorites for something that needs a lighter smoke (peach is hard to find around here but I imagine it is great as well) and I almost exclusively use oak or maple for beef. Hickory is a pretty stout wood as well as mesquite and both will become bitter (most any wood will) if you don't wait until the thick heavy smoke burns off prior to putting meat on. I'd give that a try and if it's still to bitter or smokey for you switch to a lighter wood.

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  • 1 month later...

So I did some ribs a couple of weeks ago.  Put a few chunks of hickory in with the unlit coals.  Lit the coals with my electric started.  After 8 minutes of using the electric starter, I cut the starter off and pulled it out, shut the lid and adjusted the vents for smoking.  Waited until the temp came up to about 225 and put the meat on.  Checked an hour later, the temp was good (between 225 and 250), but a lot of white smoke was coming out, so I took out some of the hickory, leaving the a chunk or two that had burned, and ended up with the nice thin blue smoke.  The ribs turned out really good, but didn't have a lot of smokey flavor to them.


So it got me wondering about how I shut the lid and opened the vents to the smoke setting right after lighting the coals.  When I pull the electric starter out, not all of the coals have caught fire yet, so as the fire slowly spread to the unlit coals, I think it was causing the unburned hickory to smolder and create the thicker undesirable smoke.  So I am wondering if I am supposed to let the fire spread to all of the coals, and let all the coals burn until they are coated with ash, then throw in hickory, wait for the white smoke to stop, and then put the meat on.  The manual says to always wait until all the coals are coated with ash before cooking, but it seems like if you do that, you'd have really high temps and have to wait for the temps to come back down to the 225 to 250 range.


Not sure what the best approach would be.

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Using a smoke pot will almost instantly turn your smoke to the desirable smoke. Also, mesquite is pretty harsh. I like pecan because it's good on everything I've tried so far. I pretty much never use more than three fist sized lumps. I don't think you need as much wood in kamado cooking as other forms of cooking because there isn't as much airflow, thus you don't burn through it as fast. 

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Funny thing about the acrid smoke...  I notice that horrible after-taste and then reflux from the acrid smoke, after eating out at a lot of BBQ restaraunts.  Just last night, wife was working and two of my four kids were away with friends... So I took the two kids I had to a local BBQ joint that's pretty good(they've been featured on DinersDriveIns&Dives).  Had some burnt ends and chicken wings.  Woke up in the middle of the night with the worst acid reflux essentially gagging on that acrid smoke taste.  Very dissappointing and disheartening, but I notice it from other places too.  After the very rudimentary learning curve of the basic concept of "dirty smoke", I haven't had that happen to a single item I've grilled or smoked in years.  I know these places understand this stuff much more than I do, so I have to wonder why they don't do better with this?  Inconsistency with the people working?  Rushing the process?  I've never been to Franklins' but everyone says it's good because of the consistently "good" product.  Some places might be "great" sometimes but not other times?  I'm rambling, sorry.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been having a problem lately with not enough smoke being generated. The only variable that changed is my switch to Fogo lump. Prior to the switch I was using Cowboy. I love Fogo and I plan to stay with it.


I start a low and slow the same way as usual: MAP torch in the center for 30 seconds, close the lid, open the vents, watch the temp, begin closing the vents and hit my desired temp.  At the target temp or a little before, I add 3 or 4 chunks of wood on top of and around the fire, put in the deflector and the grates and wait until the white smoke dissipates and then add the food.


After a cook I have most of the 3 or 4 chunks of wood left and there is little to no smokey taste on the meat nor is there a smoke ring evident. . I also notice that the fire doesn't spread concentrically but usually in a straight line laterally and down without involving the wood.


I usually break up the larger chunks of Fogo but I'm not too fanatical about lump size consistency.


Anyone else experience similar problems? Any advice? fixes?


Thanks y'all!

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I've used FOGO for quite some time, 3 years or better, and I've never once had any problems as you detail above. 


First, I would suggest that you really look hard at your burn patterns.  Do you hand place you lump or do you just dump it as do I?  It's airflow that determines how your lump pile burns.  Air will always follow the path of least resistance.  Always.  Thus your burn pattern is a direction function of both your kamado and the way your lump is laid in the fire bowl of your kamado.  Your setup may also affect your burn patterns. Take notice over time of burn patterns for basic setups that you use for cooking.


Secondly, if most of your smoke wood doesn't burn, then change how you place your wood.  How you place your wood should be a function of your observed burn patterns for specific setups.  


Thirdly, FOGO is a lump that comes in large pieces.  I use it in both my 19", Beauty!, as well as my 32", TheBeast.  My airflow patterns are basically identical because airflow is designed to go up through the lump pile.  In your Akorn, as I remember, airflow comes in the bottom but it is not forced to go up through the lump pile.  It may be that FOGO is bigger than you want.  FOGO has other brands of the same charcoal but is smaller in size.  Maybe a smaller size of lump may be more appropriate for your Akorn.  


Just some thoughts based on my experience with kamados and especially with FOGO.  I hope this helps.

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Great information on this thread.  The one thing that seems to be contradictory is that you should not start cooking until you get nice clean smoke. I assume this means that the coal is now burning well and has got past the initial startup "catching fire".  But for low and slow you just start in one or two places, so essentially it is always just starting some new coals as it works its way across the pile. And when it hits the chunks of hardwood, it then starts pushing out a lot of the white smoke.  My thought is that it is always making some degree of white smoke, but just a really small amount.  And as long as you don't have too much of it for too long, all will taste awesome.  But if you have an extended time of the thick smoke, you will have the acrid taste.  And it is much more important for the cleaner burn early since that is when the meat picks up the most smoke.  And white charcoal smoke is much worse than white hardwood smoke.  All of this is just my theory on how it works.  Feel free to contradict with science. 

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@soccerdad - good quality lump burns clean from the initial light.  There is no real time differential between lighting and the time you can start cooking.  I've put on cooks and sealed things up right after lighting my fire.  Of course, the issue is quality lump.  I use FOGO.  Size distribution is excellent, everything is carbonized, it burns hot with little ash production.


Now, if you're using smoke wood, you want good quality, dry wood,  devoid of bark (at least I don't want bark).  I also use a 2 qt. cast iron smoke pot loaded with smoke woos/pellets so that I get good, clear blue smoke from the moment smoke is generated.  The smoke pot has 3 holes drilled in the bottom and injects the smoke directly into the fire.  This injection of raw smoke into the fire means that all the volatiles that give white smoke it's acrid taste are consumed by the smoke and all you're left with is clean blue smoke for the entirety of the cook.  That's the real advantage of using a smoke pot.



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While you are on the subject of the smoke pot, can you talk about placement?

Do you put it on top of the lump, right on the fire grate or with some lump over and some under?

Also, when do you place the smoke pot? For instance right after the fire is started or closer to cook temp?


Using the same size pot as yours, and my first time (with five 1/4" holes),  I placed on it top of the coals right before I closed the lid to let the heat build toward cook temp.

My mistakes were using too many holes which caused too much smoke in too short a time, and placing the pot too early (at least I think so).

At the end of the cook the pot had sunk down into the ash to the extent that airflow may have been restricted so I added some "stilts" to keep it from sinking too deep into the ash on a long cook.

The screws have the added feature of plugging up the excess holes!

One larger hole may not be enough but I can always add more!




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What the heck is that contraption?  Stop trying to be so dadgummed brilliant and just do what I've outlined here at least a dozen times!  


Start actually thinking.  Why would placing that contraption, or any other smoke pot, on the dire grate accomplish a darned thing?  Come on and think!  Would placing a smoke pot on the fire grate allow for the injection of raw smoke into the fire and thus produce thin blue smoke?  Heck no!  All it does is pout smoke into the bottom of the kamado, block air flow, and get you nowhere in a big hurry.


Get rid of those stilts and block all those air holes.  I've said time and again you want no more than 3-4 1/8" holes.  You place the smoke pot into a small invention in the lump directly over the established fire you have in the center of the indention in your lump pile.  


I have absolutely none of the problems you've detailed above.  None.  Look, I'm a simple guy, a chemical engineer, an accountant, and a business strategist by training.  BBQ is simple; it's not astrophysics.  The reason I have success is because I know how to read and follow directions.  Never make something simple complicated.


Look, just go back to basics.  You want 3-4 holes 1/8" each drilled in the bottom of your smoke pot.  I'd space the holes about an inch apart.  Make a 1" deep indention in your lump pile and light your fire right in the smack dab middle of the indention.  Place your smoke pot righ over the active fire and then move the lump snug up around your smoke pot.  Put your deflectors in place, your cooking grates in, place your cook on the grates and seal up your kamado.  


This ain't rocket science.  Just follow the instructions above and you'll be successful.  I've done at least 300 low-n-slow cooks with my smoke pot using exactly the steps outlined above without a problem.  My smoke pot didn't sink, it didn't restrict airflow, no smoke flow was restricted by ash, no problems whatsoever.  I've introduced this method of laying smoke on cooks to at least 15 friends who have exactly followed my instructions and not one has had any problems like you've delineated above.  


I hope you take my comments above in the spirit I intend them to be taken.  I want you to succeed.  I want you to be successful.  I want you be enjoy your cooks and to have BBQ on your table that is the best around.  I want you to create great cooks and even better memories with your family and friends.  But as long as you insist on thinking you know better, you'll just waste your time, effort, and money.  Just try following the directions I've posted here and you'll be just fine.


I wish you nothing but the best.

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