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How to efficiently heat the ceramic?


Random Pointer
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I use KJ2 with Kick Ash Basket. I placed two fist size chunks of wood at the bottom of the basket toward the opposite side of the bottom  vent, and buried it with good size charcoal (Fogo). I lit the charcoal with a propane torch close close to the vent (the opposite side of the chunks).

 

The smoker is not at temp yet, but the chunks were ignited. Which is fine, but it frustrating that when the ceramic is properly heated up, the chunks have been consumed.

 

Do you have any tips/guidance on how to heat the smoker and not wasting chunks? Do I need to put more charcoal?

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On 11/3/2021 at 1:28 AM, Random Pointer said:

The direction of the fire is from the spot nearest to the bottom vent, and going back to the opposite side.

 

I would prefer to burry the chunks so they will burn cleanly, but if that does not work, I guess I just have to stir the coal and burry it after it comes to temp.

 

The burying chunks for "a cleaner burn" is more theory than fact  

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  • 2 months later...

This thread is a little old, but just in case there’s still interest, I’ve found that I get the best smoke by waiting until my KJ is at temp, then placing the wood chunks in the hottest part of the charcoal. I make sure the wood ignites so that it is burning clean before I put the meat on the grill. Gets me plenty of clean (barely visible) smoke and eliminates the worry of a smoldering piece of wood putting off a foul taste.

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  • 2 months later...

@jark87 : thanks for posting this. I tried this last week. But what I found is once the chunk ignites and the lid is closed it starts to give some dirty smoke. ( Not particularly white smoke. but thick greyish smoke . Palm test tells me it still has harsh volatile content. ) . Any tips to avoid this ? I am targetting the 250-260F range.

thanks

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7 hours ago, Rodz said:

Any tips to avoid this ?

Maybe close your vents in stages once you have closed the lid. Instead of immediately closing to your 250-260 settings, dial them in a little more slowly so that you prevent choking out the burning wood too quickly. I also sometimes have heavy smoke right after closing the lid, but it clears up pretty quickly.

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Another option is to put wood chips in the ash tray, as needed. I have been doing this lately. They usually burn pretty quickly and I haven't gotten dirty smoke. I am not certain of flavor impact as I have done no with and without tests. 

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11 hours ago, lnarngr said:

Another option is to put wood chips in the ash tray, as needed.

That’s a good idea - I’ve seen others promote it, but I haven’t had the need to try it myself.  Here’s another good resource from @Smokingdadbbq

 

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On 3/11/2022 at 12:09 AM, jark87 said:

Maybe close your vents in stages once you have closed the lid. Instead of immediately closing to your 250-260 settings, dial them in a little more slowly so that you prevent choking out the burning wood too quickly. I also sometimes have heavy smoke right after closing the lid, but it clears up pretty quickly.

 

Hi Guys,

 

I did an experiment this morning. I think I am getting somewhere with achieving the smoke quality I want. 

I started a fire for a half baby back rib smoking today. This time I only used one half deflector and used the KJ fire basket divider with the opposite side filled with lump. This way I could see what's going on with the smoking wood as the smoke changed the color. 

 

I had 'half-way' top vent position with 20% bottom vent until the kamado was upto 220F and then put the top vent to '1' . Then placed a apple wood chunk right where I could see a hotspot in lump and then closed the dome.

 

It started a billowy 'grey' smoke but still with a acrid smell( not white like when it's cold, must be because the smoke wood warmed up quickly due to the hotspot) . After around 30 -  35mins the smoke started thinning out and looked OK, but I waited and at 45min it had the pleasant smell I wanted.

 

when I opened the lid at this time, I saw the wood chunk had a partial ember and other part was nearly turned black. this must be due to the evaporation of water content and some heavy VOC during the initial warmup time. 

 

So it seems to me it really takes some time for the combustion to stabilise.  If you introduce the smoke wood and let it catch fire, it would make the process faster to achieve that stable state. 

 

with this, I guess one can try to achieve the 'clean smoke' as the grill comes to the target temp range ( 250 - 275) without waiting additional time, by putting the wood at correct time. until that is worked out, patience is the key imo :) . Also I guess the reason that we often find our smoke wood burnt out by the time the grill is up to temp must be that we are warming up it faster than we should. 

 

in the past, I was following couple of youtube channels , all of them look like had visible smoke when they put the food. But to my taste this resulted in a slightly sharper taste. I came to understand that I should wait until the smoke is not only blue/light grey but also semi transparent before putting the meat on. 

 

will do a few more tests soon and send an update. please share your thoughts if you find other methods.

 

 

 

 

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update: I got the baby back rib rack out. 

 

I think I nailed the smoke this time. ( I had recently bought some smoked meat from a smoke house to see how they should taste). This time it is pretty close to what I ate. No harsh / acrid taste. But a subtle smoke flavor.

 

so the summary of my findings are ( just repeating what many other experienced pit masters have advised in different ways in the forum and blogs):

 

1) Blue / clean smoke  can be achieved by either placing the wood at the bottom ( under the charcoal ) , or on top of the charcoal.

 

If putting under the charcoal it must a good size chunk as fire moves downwards and the wood chunk will subject to a relatively intense heat than when it is on top of the lump charcoal. And most of the time that chunk may have combusted partly by the time the grill get to the target temp.  But the chances are that we get a subtle smoke flavor as most of the VOCs will be burnt off by the time we put on the meat.

 

If placing at the hottest part of the fire from the top, it must be after or just before adjusting the vent down to set the temp at target range. Otherwise the intense heat can burn a good portion of the wood piece by the time we settle on the temp.

 

if the wood is added at the beginning with lump, then the grill must be taken up to temp slightly slow rate ( ex: bottom vent 20%, top vent between 1 - 2 ) in order to not let the smoke wood chunk to burn off too quickly.

 

to the original point of this thread: it took me close to 1 hr to reach target temp, but another 30 - 40mins to achieve blue smoke. So I guess if we put on the smoke wood  just after the initial 150 F degrees and adjust the vents down, we would reach that sweet spot by 1 hr 15min mark. 

 

2) Check the smoke visually and by smell before putting the meat on :

 

although the smoke may turn blue / light grey color , it may still have VOCs which can give that sharp taste. Always trust the palm test at the exhaust. 

 

3) there will be smoke in the first 1 - 1.5 hour even though we cannot see : the smoke once cleared is barely visible at the top vent / exhaust. But if you are really keen open the lid , take one defector off and look into the lump. it will be visibly there , and easy to see with dark background of charcoal. ( this cleared my initial doubt that once visible smoke seemingly disappeared from the top vent that wood is totally burnt and smoke is no more there  )

 

hope this is helpful. But there may be more valuable advice from others. good luck !

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6 hours ago, Rodz said:

I had 'half-way' top vent position with 20% bottom vent until the kamado was upto 220F and then put the top vent to '1' . Then placed a apple wood chunk right where I could see a hotspot in lump and then closed the dome.

Glad you got the smoke right! In the end, the only thing that matters is whether you and those you are serving enjoy it. My wife is sensitive to smoke flavor, so I tend to use small chunks of wood and sometimes, none at all, as the lump will impart plenty of smoke flavor.

 

It sounds as if your method of bringing the dome up to temp differs quite a bit from mine. Nothing wrong with that, but I’ll outline my method, as that might explain why we had different results with the smoke.

 

I’ll use a KJ fire starter and leave bottom vent wide open and lid up until starter is burned out and several lumps have a healthy orange glow and are ashed over. I then mix up the coals to ensure an even fire, still leaving the lid open and bottom vent wide open, until the fire is spread fairly evenly. I’ll then close the lid, but leave control tower top fully open, with bottom vent fully open, until I’m about 25°-50° below target temp. I then close the control tower, but leave control tower vent wide open, and start closing bottom vent - usually will close to 50% at this stage. I’ll keep closing the top and bottom vents until temp settles at target and I’m at my respective vent settings. This is when I add the wood and I’ll wait to watch it ignite before closing the lid.

 

The reason I mention this is because if your bottom vent is already at 20% as you let the dome heat up, your fire is burning very differently from mine - at least I’d think so.

 

When I first got my KJ, I was shutting vents down more quickly, as I’d read that overshooting temp was a problem because it’s hard to cool down the dome. I found that I can overshoot the temp by as much as a few hundred degrees, as long as I get it under control quickly, as the temp gauge rises much quicker than the ceramic actually absorbs the heat. I’m not recommending that, but just pointing out that getting a clean burning fire is key to getting clean smoke.

 

In the end, experiment and find what works best for you and run with it!

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thanks @jark87 , very detailed and clear steps. I do agree about getting all lump activated for a cleaner fire. By the time it is slowed down to settle at 250 range it is producing a much cleaner burn already.  

 

Main reason I follow this slow rate of heating up is , over the time I have worked out it takes around 1 hour to get there and I can attend some other work without hanging around near the grill while its warming up.

Normally once I let the fire starter to burn off and charcoal started with dome open, like you do , I used to close the dome, set bottom - 20%, Top 1  - 2 . After 45 mins  I set Kontrol tower to just a notch below mark '1' ,  come back when total time is 1 hour - 1:15 hr . It lands me at that 248 - 255 F range consistently. So I am just doing that because convenience other than anything ( just two adjustments along the way). 

 

In my thinking this would have the same final fire size as yours, but most of the lump would not activate , where as you method will start all of them to burn off that initial VOCs to give a cleaner burn. It's very good point you made.

 

I will try to follow your method and see, I remember this is the method even the KJ user manual suggests.

 

Also I agree that overshooting claims is an exaggeration. It takes so much of heat in the initial warm up , to actually heat soak the ceramic body to that 250 range. 

 

thanks for sharing your thoughts !!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I learned a lot from @Smokingdadbbq, amazing videos. I do not use his pie configuration anymore. found the pie configuration heats the deflector and the hot air escapes. The area near the top vent was much hotter than the rest of the dome.

 

I put the deflector plates on top of each other in the middle. This configuration forces the hot air to hit the dome wall, rather than escaping through the top vent. I felt the dome was more evenly heated this way. 

 

Right now, I started heating the grill with the leftover coals, if I have enough. After dome is hot enough, I raked the hot coals to the front, near the bottom vent. I placed the chunks at the bottom, then pour the fresh coals to fill the basket. I have hot coals on the south side of the basket, chunks lining up south to north, and fresh coals on top of them. After 10-15 minutes, I got a clean smoke from the first chunk.

 

I have been doing few low and slow cook this way, the ceramic is evenly heated, the chunks are not spent, and the chunks are in places where they are more likely to get burned continuously, and cleanly.

 

image.thumb.png.28fa7b8419908fb93c863cc7928cec9c.png

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