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Ogopogo

Near disaster winter brisket smoke with mini log

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A while ago I picked up a bag of mini logs from Menard's. I thought they'd be the size of small splits, the kind you use for kindling big logs, and would provide an even smoke source for briskets.

 

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Turns out "mini log" means "normal log cut down just enough to get yourself into trouble." Oh well, what's the worst that could happen? Those chips on the top are just some mesquite chips I use as secondary tinder to catch from 91% alcohol cotton starters. That log is a monster and I don't think I put in enough charcoal to fully compensate for it.

 

 

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Initially went with pretty conservative vent settings to hold around 240 but this didn't last.

 

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Configured, 12 pounder (maybe 9 or 10 post-trimming) with SPOG rub.

 

I didn't get many pics during the cook because I was a little busy panicking. Temps were not very consistent, and I think it's a combination of that stupid log and the cold outside. Grate temps fell initially below 200, and throughout the 13 hour cook it jumped around between 208 and 450 (!!!). A couple of times I was convinced the fire went out so I cracked open the vents by a mm or two and then things spiked in a hurry. Worse, the meat probe went to 150, then fell to 141 and stalled there for 3-4 hours, which seems pretty long for a 9-10 pounder. Then it happened again; temps rose to about 175, then stuck around 170 for an hour. I stuck my hand over the grate and it sure didn't feel hot enough; I had to let the chamber spike to a grate probe temp of 350 for the thing to finish and get probe tender. That log was smoking the whole time and I was really worried about creosote and oversmoking.

 

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Split off the point through the fat seam this time, though I didn't do it too well. The thin part of the point was too tender and the knife couldn't tell it apart from the deckle.

 

Overall the end of the flat was a little overcooked and the bark turned out crunchier than I like, probably due to the heat spikes and being past the edge of my diffuser. Flavor was smokier than I usually like but not inedible or creosote-bitter. Point tenderness is fantastic as usual and all fat rendered correctly. I used bagged pepper instead of mortar-ground and I miss the strength of fresh cracked pepper but other said the pepper balance was perfect (maybe they don't like pepper as much as I do). I don't think this is my best brisket but it's not ruined like I had feared.

 

At least I think I managed to solve my smoke ring problem.

 

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14 hours ago, Ogopogo said:

A while ago I picked up a bag of mini logs from Menard's. I thought they'd be the size of small splits, ...

That's the stuff I use(d) for flavor in my stick burner. Only way I use it in a Kamado is to bury it under a full bowl of good lump. Light high in the center (volcano method) and let it burn down to the wood. Burning charcoal above it will temper the smoke flavor, and since the smoking wood burns faster, you get a cavity at the bottom that naturally stirs up the charcoal. 

 

That said, I have a confession, I'm a reformed Akorn owner. Your panic time sounds very familiar. I can tell you that a Big Joe will eliminate the panic (as will cooking at 275F), but I have a cheaper thought.  

 

Try premium-chunk hardwood charcoal (eg. KJ Big Block) and no smoking wood. Fill the fire bowl loosely with golf ball- to fist-sized pieces, breaking down anything larger, so there's lots of space for air flow. Light top center (volcano). Big pieces should burn completely once they get lit, and burning takes a long time. Just never try to kill the fire, because chunks don't relight easily. 

 

I also have an ash basket in the BJ that lifts the fuel away from the walls. Getting that added air flow gives me a lot of latitude in burning-up dust if I want. Just not in the low-n-slow cooks. Don't underestimate the power of air flow. 

 

And your brisket looks none the worse for its ordeal; use it as a reference point next time. 

 

HAve fun,

Frank

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I think my original plan was to set up a crosshatch of splits to make a little rack but when I saw the log size I just kinda forgot. Yeah burying it under coals seems like the way to go. I think I should just shoot for 275-300, which I've done in the past with success, but it's hard to break old habits like babying a fire to hold 225.

 

I like the Akorn but I have the same problems with it I had when I bought it: it's way too efficient to get any kind of airflow at low temps and it's super finicky about vent settings. Not sure I'm ready to invest in a ceramic yet; decent kamados seem pricey to me, but I'm a cheapskate.

 

I've done chicken with only lump and some chips sprinkled for a little accent in the smoke profile, but I never thought of going lump-only for a brisket. Normally I use maybe 5 chunks of hickory and get a nice but light profile, which is why I bought the logs in the first place (get a longer burn time out of the wood). I'll have to get some KJ big block if I can figure out which Costco around me carries it.

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I will forever be thankful I got an Akorn, because I'd never have sprung for ceramic $$$$ otherwise.  It turns out my most frequent cooking modes are pizza and low-n-slow, the two extremes where the Akorn falls short. 

 

There are options. This summer, I picked up some mesquite-based charcoal. No need to add wood flavor, just hope you like mesquite! My wife prefers oak-based; she can taste it even in pizza. Burns really hot, too, which is not what you want in an Akorn... I wish I'd tried big chunks before upgrading. (not really) 

 

HAve fun,

Frank

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Smoking at 250F on the Acorn seems like the butter zone to me.  Decent airflow, but not so high that things dry out too much.  Mine likes to sit there with the top vent at .9 and the bottom between .5 and 1.  I've done the 225F thing, but find it doesn't actually improve anything and I like the flavor from the higher temp better.

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