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Unhappy With Charcoal Flavor


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Ok guys, I'm coming to the experts because I've exhausted all of my own ideas:

 

Is anybody else unhappy with the smoke flavor produced by lump charcoal?

 

Over the last year I've done around ~25 long smokes on my Big Joe, with all sorts of meats. Out of all those smokes, ZERO of them have turned out good. Not a single one.

 

Here's why: every piece of food that comes out of the KJ tastes more like a campfire than true BBQ. No sweet, subtle, flavorful aroma like you get from a stick burner - just pungent smoke as if it was cooked over wooden pallets. And to be clear it's not the amount of smoke (which easy to control): it's the actual scent/flavor of the smoke itself.

 

I want to mention that I've watched many @John Setzler videos, and combed through many forums. I've also done a lot of experimentation and handled all the usual suspects:

  • Always lump charcoal, no briquettes. Royal Oak or KJ Big Block.
  • NO white smoke ever. Wait about an hour for all smoke to clear and temp to stabilize before adding meat.
  • Not too much wood - usually just a single fist-sized chunk of hickory, oak or pecan.
  • Not too much charcoal - just enough to last through the smoke.
  • No grease or residue inside the Kamado. I often do 900F+ pizza cooks, which cleans the ceramic like new.
  • Limit time exposed to smoke - wrap early if needed.

 

All in all, I think I've gotten the hang of Kamado cooking and usually get tender, juicy meat. My methods are identical to what I see in John's videos, and I've controlled every variable I can think of.  When I feed other people they never complain - but everyone agrees that the flavor isn't as nice as XYZ BBQ joint.  It's not gross per se, but just unpleasant.

 

Long story short:  I'm led to believe that lump charcoal is the culprit.  Has anybody else noticed poor flavor quality from their charcoal smokers?  I can't be the only one...

 

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Welcome to the Guru.

 

The fastest way to tell if its lump or not is to switch to charcoal briquettes. They won't hurt your grill in the least and might have the flavor that you and your friends have found lacking. If it turns out that that is the case then you could either stick with them or else try other things to get better results from lump.

 

If you want to stick to the lump then try filling the firebox instead of partially filling it. This is so the volatile components in the lump can burn off. You might find a noticeable difference in the food that come from cooking over fresh lump vs lump that has already been used for a high heat cook.

 

Lastly, if you want that sweet sweet smoke to come from your wood chunks then stop burning them into ash and wrap them instead. It makes a huge difference. You will know that your wood chunks have "smoked" and not burned when they end up as charcoal and not ash.

 

Happy cooking.

 

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@Collin

 

You have to dial back the amount of smoking wood you use SIGNIFICANTLY in a Kamado if you are used to a stick burner smoke profile.  Stick burners are high airflow low efficiency fires.  Kamados are low airflow high efficiency fires.  The SMOKE production in the Kamado environment is quite dirty compared to the stick burner.  Its' not necessarily BAD smoke but it's more powerful smoke.  You just need a lot less of it in that environment to achieve good results.  

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@T Yelta @John Setzler I appreciate both your replies.

 

1 hour ago, John Setzler said:

You have to dial back the amount of smoking wood you use SIGNIFICANTLY in a Kamado if you are used to a stick burner smoke profile.

 

I did learn this the hard way!  Lately I've been using a single, small chunk of wood in the coals. In fact sometimes I'm pretty sure the wood has burned off completely before I even add the food.

 

To both of you (and anyone else): would you say the flavor profile you get from a Kamado compares favorably against a stick burner? Not necessarily identical, but side by side they both smell and taste like good BBQ?  For me the Kamado meat has honestly been almost unappetizing...

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I started out with a stick burner and still use it. I also have a couple of  Kamado's and have never been able

to get the same profile from of a Kamado that I can from my offset. It took me a while to figure that out

but I now use the offset for butts, briskets, ribs, jerky, fish, etc. The Kamado's get used as outdoor ovens

to cook meals that could be done in an indoor oven. My family and I like the taste of the BBQ from the offset

much more than what I get from the Kamado.

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, endou_kenji said:

Have you tasted Kamado-made food elsewhere and it tasted good? It might be just that it doesn't fit your taste, nothing wrong with that.


I don’t know anybody near me with a Kamado, so unfortunately can’t compare.

 

I really hope what I’m seeing isn’t just the normal “Kamado flavor”. It’s not very pleasant - can’t imagine anybody with experience would find it acceptable.

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45 minutes ago, Collin said:


I don’t know anybody near me with a Kamado, so unfortunately can’t compare.

 

I really hope what I’m seeing isn’t just the normal “Kamado flavor”. It’s not very pleasant - can’t imagine anybody with experience would find it acceptable.

Maybe, like John said, you are oversmoking it... Have you tried the aluminum foil method? 

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This isn't a solution but it is important to rehighlight something @T Yelta stated. No one has ever advised the following: 

 

7 hours ago, Collin said:
  • Not too much wood - usually just a single fist-sized chunk of hickory, oak or pecan.

 

A full firebox is always the way to go.

 

Personally, I have found cooking on the Kamado with lump to have a very clean profile but, it's not for everyone. Your favorite XYZ BBQ Joint may be using a gas fired smoker with pellets, smoking disks or splits added. Two of my favorite spots cook over direct coals- also a prevalent form of cooking in the Carolinas- I'll never be able to replicate that in a Kamado. The methods of firing an offset also are so varied that it cannot be said in every case it is necessarily cleaner (charcoal briquette base w/ wood splits added, wood coal base w/ wood coals added, wood coal base w/ wood splits added, etc). However, undoubtedly in each case it is far greater airflow and consumption of fuel as @John Setzler mentioned.

 

So how do you increase airflow in a Kamado? Obviously by cooking hotter. So, if you haven't tried it, that's what I would suggest. At least in the 270° to 285° range. I've found that it produces a far more subtle smoke profile compared to cooking at 225° to 240°. Also renders a much better bark in my opinion for those of us who value bark for it's bite. 

 

 

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I also hated the first few cooks I did with lump coal, having switched from a stickburner.

That scrap wood fire smell stunk up my porch and ruined the meat IMHO, the cure was ditching cowboy and royal oak and switching to Fogo and KJ lump.

Night and day difference with almost no flavor added from the lump, all smoke flavor from the wood I chose.

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9 hours ago, T Yelta said:

Welcome to the Guru.

 

The fastest way to tell if its lump or not is to switch to charcoal briquettes. They won't hurt your grill in the least and might have the flavor that you and your friends have found lacking. If it turns out that that is the case then you could either stick with them or else try other things to get better results from lump.

 

If you want to stick to the lump then try filling the firebox instead of partially filling it. This is so the volatile components in the lump can burn off. You might find a noticeable difference in the food that come from cooking over fresh lump vs lump that has already been used for a high heat cook.

 

Lastly, if you want that sweet sweet smoke to come from your wood chunks then stop burning them into ash and wrap them instead. It makes a huge difference. You will know that your wood chunks have "smoked" and not burned when they end up as charcoal and not ash.

 

Happy cooking.

 

Avoid matchlight! But trying briquettes sounds like a great experiment. 

I am intrigued by the idea of wrapping the smoke wood. Gotta try it. 

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11 hours ago, Collin said:

@T Yelta @John Setzler I appreciate both your replies.

 

 

I did learn this the hard way!  Lately I've been using a single, small chunk of wood in the coals. In fact sometimes I'm pretty sure the wood has burned off completely before I even add the food.

 

To both of you (and anyone else): would you say the flavor profile you get from a Kamado compares favorably against a stick burner? Not necessarily identical, but side by side they both smell and taste like good BBQ?  For me the Kamado meat has honestly been almost unappetizing...

 

No.  I don't think a kamado can hold a candle to a stick burner in terms of low and slow BBQ.  The Kamado is a swiss army knife of outdoor cookers. It does a lot of things and it does a lot of things well.  It's forte is not low and slow BBQ, even though it does it well.

 

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6 minutes ago, John Setzler said:

 

Some of my best results in the Kamado come with just hardwood lump and no smoking wood at all.

 

 

Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought you were doing a series of experiments using wood in the kamado in a fashion similar to the way it is used in an offset (someone here was).

 

What was the final take on that?

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