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"Incomplete" charcoal for optimal smoke levels, is this a thing?


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Hey all. First time posting!

 

So I got my first Kamado, a standard size classic Kamado Joe about six months ago. Loving it, but still working on getting my smoke technique right. Seems to be the main challenge with a Kamado as opposed to other types of smoker, as its hard to get the wood to burn hot enough to produce nice quality smoke without it burning out too quick or spiking the temperature. It's definitely possible and I have achieved it from time to time but consistency definitely seems to be something everyone struggles with, judging from the amount of posts on the topic and the huge variation in techniques.

 

Anyway, I had a thought. Would it be possible to produce charcoal that wasn't quite finished combusting, so that a certain percentage of the tasty non-carbon wood compounds remained? Just enough that you could simply use this instead of regular lump + regular wood, and you'd be pumping out a small but consistent amount of wood smoke throughout the burn? No more fretting about chunks vs chips, where to place and whether & how to add partway through. Plus no worries about either sudden belching of thick smoke or its total disappearance!

 

Or am I misunderstanding the process, and any such 'incomplete' charcoal, while producing some smoke, wouldn't necessarily be producing the right type to make those butts delicious?

 

 

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Half baked lump would certainly add a smoky profile, I find partially converted lump in some of the cheap lump brands.

 

I suggest using a handful or 2 of wood chips tossed all over your lump for the cook.  They burn hot but won't spike temps, since they are spread everywhere they will continue to ignite for a significant amount of time.

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@PorkyBoy

 

I believe that MOST of your south american hardwood lump like Kamado Joe, Fogo, and Jealous Devil fit into that category.  I don't believe any of them are fully carbonized.  Those charcoals DO have a more pronounced smoke profile than the fully carbonized coals like Rockwood and Royal Oak.

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@philpom Yes that's a good point, I suppose that technique would mimic what I'm talking about closer than anything else. Haven't actually tried it yet, but I will next cook.

 

Generally I use a chunk or two in the middle of the coals from the start, but I find that by the time the smoke has stopped billowing out in thick nasty clouds and I put the meat on, it must be nearly burnt up because in another 30 or so minutes the smoke has completely disappeared. So then I'm left with lifting up a plate and sprinkling on chips every so often.

 

@John SetzlerThat's interesting, I did not realise that, haven't used the Joe brand since I finished the bag that came with it but maybe I will switch back and see if it's smokier than what I'm using now. Still, if that is the case and it's intentional for the flavour profile, makes me wonder if there isn't a market for even less carbonized lump that largely removes the need for wood if all you are going for is a subtle but unmistakeable smokiness.  

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I believe John is 100% correct.  I have used all those charcoals and it seems I get the most flavor out of KJ, Fogo and JD. 
 

Although not everyone likes the flavors. 

Edited by Gebo
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18 minutes ago, PorkyBoy said:

 

 

@John SetzlerThat's interesting, I did not realise that, haven't used the Joe brand since I finished the bag that came with it but maybe I will switch back and see if it's smokier than what I'm using now. Still, if that is the case and it's intentional for the flavour profile, makes me wonder if there isn't a market for even less carbonized lump that largely removes the need for wood if all you are going for is a subtle but unmistakeable smokiness.  

 

I don't believe it's intentional.  It's due to more rustic methods of producing charcoal in environments that don't have as much control as those like Royal Oak and Rockwood.  Those south american coals are also inconsistent in their level of carbonization from one batch to the next for the same reasons.

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I think the flavor from the charcoal is from the wood used and how much it's carbonized. When I do chicken with the dome closed Royal Oak gives it more smoke flavor than Rockwood. We notice this because we aren't big fans of smoked poultry. Dome open not much difference do to the smoke not hanging around in the dome and less contact with the chicken. Now for pizza we only use Royal Oak for the flavor. The different carbonization is some what apparent with the size of a 20lb bag, and the tinkling sound it makes as you pour it into the grill, and maybe why some smoke more when first  lighting them than others. This is all part of learning the grill and what you like and not what I like. 

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Len440 makes a very interesting point when he mentioned “tinkling sound.”

 

When I tried Rockwood it seemed so light and when you poured it there was exactly what he said.  It “tinkled.”  Sort of a squeaky tinkle if you will.  

 

The KJ, Fogo and JD are more like “thuds.”

 

I will come to my conclusions (based on my intellectual capacity and limitations) that the more a charcoal “tinkles” the higher the pure carbon content.  

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1 hour ago, Gebo said:

Len440 makes a very interesting point when he mentioned “tinkling sound.”

 

When I tried Rockwood it seemed so light and when you poured it there was exactly what he said.  It “tinkled.”  Sort of a squeaky tinkle if you will.  

 

The KJ, Fogo and JD are more like “thuds.”

 

I will come to my conclusions (based on my intellectual capacity and limitations) that the more a charcoal “tinkles” the higher the pure carbon content.  

 

I agree with this....and I really like "tinkly" lump. I have been using Marabu (invasive hardwood thorn tree) lump wood for the last few months. It "tinkles" a lot, lights well, burns hot and clean and for a long time. I can't fault it. It's quite heavy though - but it does "ring" when it gets knocked together.

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Thanks for the responses all, really clarifies some things. And I like the idea of the tinkly test, definitely makes sense and I have noticed that sound from my lump so I guess it's definitely on the more carbonized side of the scale.

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I simply put wood chips in an aluminum-foil envelope and punch a few holes in it with a fork.  At the end of the smoke I have an aluminum-foil envelope full of usable charcoal.  I don't think it really matters if you soak the wood chips in water.  I know of other people who put solid chunks of wood or even pine cones(!) in their grills to produce smoke.

 

It continues to amaze me just how miserly kamado grills are with fuel.  I always have quite a bit of charcoal left over, even after an "all day" cook.

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