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Newbie issues - bad smoke and grease?


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I got my KJ and did my first cook on Wednesday of some cheap steaks and burgers. After they were cooked there was a STRONG smoke taste that I was surprised at since I had only used the lump charcoal. I was nervous as I wasn't a fan of the taste as it was campfire blowing in your face tasting and almost chemically. Thursday I did some chicken breast that came out good. It had that natural cook taste but not too smokey and is what I would expect from using only charcoal.

Here's what I did:

1st Cook (bad)

-Dumped some new charcoal in

-Lit 2 starter cubes left for 8-10min

-Messed with the charcoal too much after lighting and added some charcoal

-Closed the dome

-adjusted the vents to get to my temp

-Waited about an hr before food went on (seemed like lighter smoke coming out)

-Burger grease was dripping and creating smoke

-Cooked at lower level and upper level

 

2nd Cook(better)

-Placed large charcoal on the bottom and dumped smaller used and new pieces on top

-Lit 1 starter and left it for 15min

-Closed the dome and let it slowly come up to temp

-Waited an hour before food went on (smoke coming from dome seemed faint)

-Cooked at middle level

 

Obviously I am still learning a lot, but has anyone found that burgers dripping grease cause flare ups and poor tasting smoke? If so is something always necessary under food to catch drips?

Do you think I just closed the dome too early and it smothered the charcoal trying to light?

 

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@JCASI It looks from your description as you did not wait long enough on your first cook. "(seemed like lighter smoke coming out)", whereas, your second cook "(smoke coming from dome seemed faint)". You might have needed to wait a little longer on your first cook for the smoke to become less noticible.

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I agree with @Golf Griller, first cook you probably needed to wait a bit longer to put the food on the grill. Sounds like you corrected yourself in the second cook. Burgers dripping over the coals is gonna happen and shouldn't produce a ton of smoke. Keep cooking and you'll find that sweet spot of when to put the food on. 

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Thanks @Golf Griller and @buckleybj! I'm hoping I can keep learning to perfect it.

I also need to understand how much charcoal I should be adding. I dont want to burn through more than I need to for each cook. Any tips on how much to add and does the size of the lumps matter? ie all big lumps vs small vs mixed? Ive been thinking about dumping my bags of charcoal and sorting pieces in containers by size, am I overthinking it?

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Myself when use starter in charcoal I wait 10-15 minutes before I close my dome,  I have bottom vent and top vent fully open and then I am about 50 degrees away from desired temperature , I set my vents to reach temperature I desire.   Note:  I spent one weekend temperature mapping my Kamado. So I look in my log to look up which vent setting to use,   I am glad I did the temperature mapping.  I always wait for thin pale smoke.     

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17 hours ago, JCASI said:

Thanks @Golf Griller and @buckleybj! I'm hoping I can keep learning to perfect it.

I also need to understand how much charcoal I should be adding. I dont want to burn through more than I need to for each cook. Any tips on how much to add and does the size of the lumps matter? ie all big lumps vs small vs mixed? Ive been thinking about dumping my bags of charcoal and sorting pieces in containers by size, am I overthinking it?

I don't overthink the charcoal. I empty the ashes from the prior cook, fill the basket up with new lump, light and bring up to temperature and clean smoke. After I am finished cooking, I close down my grill and let the fire go out. This gives me enough remaining charcoal to cook on the next time. If I am feeling a little lazy and only doing a steak, burgers, or brats, I just light the left over charcoal and bring it up to temperature.

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On 1/29/2021 at 8:22 PM, JCASI said:

This was more than flame grilled @John Setzler. I think I may have smothered the fire messing with the charcoal and it gave it an odd taste.

I may have to do the same thing @Rob_grill_apprentice to get a better understanding of what it will take to get food on at the right temp quickly.

Oxygen starved fires cause more off tastes than grease smoking.

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Was this actually the very first cook on the KJ?  I usually recommend running a burn-in once before using just to be sure any residue from the factory is sufficiently burned off.

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On 1/29/2021 at 12:44 PM, JCASI said:

... a STRONG smoke taste ... as it was campfire blowing in your face tasting and almost chemically.

Welcome to the forum, and rest assured, we all learn this the hard way. This helped me a lot. 

 

Stages of Fire

- start: wood is surrounded by flame from the starter

- growing: wood starts to outgas and burn without external flame

- mature: wood fully engaged in stable, high temperature burning

- dying: fuel runs out so temperatures drop

 

The advice is only cook on a mature fire. @Golf Griller got it right out of the box. You need 1000-1500F in the coals to complete combustion of things that taste bad. Once I understood, I changed my process. 

 

I always use a chimney starter, wait for flames shooting out the top (maturity), and then dump on top of the fuel so it's the "peak" of the volcano, and the fire burns down. As new wood catches, the gas goes through the hot fire and completely burns. No issues in a Big Joe settling at 225F. I am often cooking in 15-20 minutes, albeit before reaching target temperatures. Big Joes don't heat (or cool) quickly, but the smoke gets sweet right away.   

 

HAve fun,

Frank

Edited by fbov
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10 hours ago, DonBB said:

Was this actually the very first cook on the KJ?  I usually recommend running a burn-in once before using just to be sure any residue from the factory is sufficiently burned off.

No I did a quick burn the first day. But maybe not long/hot enough??

I did disassemble and vacuum everything out again to pretty much start over and all my following cooks have been much better.

 

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On 2/1/2021 at 9:57 PM, JCASI said:

... anything different to do in using a chimney with the lump vs briquettes?

Nope. In both cases, make sure it's all ashed over a bit (i.e. mature) before you dump. Otherwise there's no advantage!

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