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The Smoking Lamp Is Lit! Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em; Part 1

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    The Smoking Lamp Is Lit! Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em; Part 1

    Howdy Meathead Maniacs!

    This installment of our kamado discussion is going to center on smoke wood. We’ll discuss where and how to place smoke wood in your lump pile. At the onset, I want to refer you to Meathead’s Essays on Smoke. If you haven't read Meathead 's discussions on Smoke, etc., I would urge you to do so now or after you finish reading this humble crafting.

    In my world, smoke is just as much an ingredient and part of the cook as is some other spice or rub. Because I tend to look at smoke as a spice in the cook, to me smoke brings an aroma and a flavor to every cook. Now, to me, smoke flavor is probably about 75% the same across the various wood types I put in my kamado. Yes, to be certain there is variation in the amount of intensity of smoke flavor across the board ranging from alder - very light, to cherry - a light fruit flavor, to apple - a more intense smoke profile than cherry, to hickory - a much more intense flavor and on to mesquite which has a very heavy flavor.

    Smoke aroma also varies widely across the spectrum of smoke woods. At the sweet end we have the fruit woods, i.e. cherry, apple, etc. and then in the middle there are the oak woods. Oaks almost have a savory smell to them. At the top end are hickory and mesquite. Mesquite has a really harsh aromatic aroma to it and it can easily overpower a cook.

    Here is a webpage that lists alphabetically the various types of woods, the characteristics, and the appropriate types of meat or veggies that that wood will pair with well. It is not dogmatic but rather is merely suggestive.

    There is probably no bigger mystery in Kamado Kooking that where to place your smoke wood in the lump pile, right? I'll tell you right now I don't have any hard and fast answers to this biggest of kamado quandaries! But I can give you the benefit of my expertise built on the expertise of my kamado cooking mentor.

    You have to know intimately your kamado. That only comes with experience and mindful observation. Your specific kamado has a specific airflow pattern through the fire bowl and those airflow patterns dictate burn paths through the lump pile. This is why you keep good notes on all manner of details on your cooks. You also have to know your charcoal ... how fast it burns, how much it produces its own smoke, etc. This is why it is suggested that you standardize on a specific charcoal and how you build your lump pile.

    On an a priori basis, nobody can tell you how a fire will spread in your fire bowl. Nobody. It's just too complicated a problem to figure out. BUT there is some hope. Remember how we discussed hot (and cold) spots in the last discussion on Kamado AKKoutrements? Those hot and cold spots in your kamado give you real clues as to how heat moves in your kamado. Heat is driven by airflow. Airflow will drive the fire in your kamado's lump pile! That means you have at least an inkling of where and how your fire will spread in the lump pile. Airflow drives the fire in your kamado. So over time, make note of how the fire spread in your lump pile. I can tell you this, fire is fueled by the airflow and that airflow will move from areas of high concentration to low concentration. Thus, air will generally take that path of least resistance from the bottom vent to the cooking grate. And your heat deflectors will definite affect how air flows in your kamado.

    Now I know from experience that all air that comes into TheBeast will flow from the vent up through the lump pile from the bottom to the top and then into the cooking chamber. If I use the rectangular deflectors, I know that I'll have two hot spots on opposite end of TheBeast. If I use the round deflectors, then I'll have a hot spot around the perimeter of TheBeast.

    Here is a picture of TheBeast with the rectangular heat deflectors in place. We saw this picture in our last installment. What I've done here is point out where the hot spots are most likely to occur. This informs me as to where to place the smoke wood so that it stands the optimal chance of getting ignited during the cook.

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    Here is a picture of a new lump pile in the belly of TheBeast with smoke wood in position if I'm using the rectangular deflectors. Notice that the smoke wood is placed closer to the 3 and 9 o'clock positions rather than just tossed randomly around the lump pile. I know that the hot spots will be at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions and that my fire will generally spread in that direction. It's not guaranteed, but it is more probable than not.

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    I also use my round heat deflectors for different cooks. Here is a picture from our last discussion of my round heat deflectors in position and I have marked the hot spots on this picture.

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    Now here is a picture of that same lump pile from above with smoke wood in a circle with a piece of wood in the middle of that circle. I use this configuration when I'm making use of the round deflectors. The airflow will move up through the lump pile and the out to the walls of TheBeast.

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    What I'm trying to achieve here with the wood placed so close together is a heavy smoke flavor on my cook. The configuration above means I'll get a lot of smoke wood ignited in the earlier phases of the cook when the cook is cooler and will be able to condense more smoke.

    Here is another picture of of smoke wood placement when I'm trying to get a lighter smoke profile when using my round heat deflectors. Not as much of the smoke wood will be in play as in the previous picture because it is spaced further apart.

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    At the end of the day, nobody can tell you exactly where to place your smoke wood in your kamado. However, over time and by paying close attention, you greatly increase your odds of properly placing your smoke wood. However, there is a technique that virtually guarantees thin blue smoke from the very first moment you want it. However, that's Part 2 of this topic!

    ​Finally, here is a picture of the BGE's plate setter, er ... convEGGtor, in place in the fire bowl of the BGE. I've marked the spots that are most likely to yield hot spots during cooks. Knowing these tendencies in the BGE can really help you in your Egg cooks.

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    I'm sorry that I can't give you pictures of each type of cooker, their heat deflection systems, and where those combinations are likely to produce hot spots and where the optimal place is to spot your smoke wood. Observe your kamado during and after cooks. Examine the lump pile after every cook after it has had a chance to cool and record your observations. Keep great notes. However, that said, I think you are getting to understand that everything is related to air flow through your individual kamado. Heat deflectors definitely affect how that air flows.

    Type Of Wood To Use
    There are different means of getting the smoke flavor and aroma you crave on your cooks. You can use chunks, chips, or pellets. Each has a place in your smoking strategies. So lets chat about which to use and when.

    Let's start with chunks. First, DO NOT use woods with a high about of resins, i.e. pines, cedars, etc. Use ONLY hardwoods for your smoke woods. You don't want resins coating the inside of your kamado. You also don't want anything that looks like it might have been treated with some sort of chemical(s) or paints/varnishes.

    Chunks are about the size of your fist. They typically have been dried and many have been stripped of the bark. Chunks make great smoke for an extended period of time, i.e. chunks are consumed slowly and generate good smoke. Chunks are my preferred means of generating smoke in my kamados. I never soak them because chunks simply don't absorb water for the most part. Besides, I'm NOT looking to generate steam; rather, I want to generate smoke, thin blue smoke.

    Chips are about the worst option I can think of. That's just my opinion. Some people use chips that were soaked in water. The problem I see with chips is that they simply don't last. They burst into flame and are gone before much smoke is generated. Folks soak chips in an effort to make them last longer. However, as with soaking chunks, the object is to generate smoke, not steam. Soaking does absolutely no good whatsoever. So, in my world, chips are essentially a bad waste of good money.

    Pellets do have place, but they aren't in your lump pile. There, just as with chips, they tend to be nothing but trouble and a waste of time. Nobody wants to spend time picking unburnt pellets out of a lump pile.

    As an aside here for pellets, there is a very good product known as the A-Maze-N Tube Smoker. It is a perforated tube that comes if 6", 12", and 18" models. The idea is that you load the tube with pellets, light one end, place it in your cooker, and it produces smoke of the variety you load the tube with. I like this product, especially if you cold smoke or have a kettle. They really work except if you are doing a low-n-slow cook in a kamado. There simply isn't enough free Oxygen in the kamado to keep these things lit.

    I have another use for pellets that I'll show you in Part 2. They work really well.

    Okay, that's about it for this installment of our kamado discussion. I hope this discussion is beginning to help you think of kamado cooking in a different light. Everything is connected to everything else.

    Thanks to all of you who are following this, asking really good questions, making insightful comments. It is greatly appreciated and we all benefit from your contributions.

    Questions? Comments? Thoughts?
    Attached Files

    Mind if I tee one up for you?

    What about sources for smoke wood? Aren't they all the same? My local grocery store sells dirt cheap bundles of beautifully kiln dried firewood and I'm tempted to use it. All the same, right?


    • CeramicChef
      CeramicChef commented
      Editing a comment
      Pequod - I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.

    • Pequod
      Pequod commented
      Editing a comment
      To the contrary, couldn't agree more. Simply asking the rookie question many won't ask to invite your response. Sorry my meaning was lost.

    • CeramicChef
      CeramicChef commented
      Editing a comment
      Oops! Ya got me! Thanks, I appreciate it!

      Yeah, wood isn't just wood. Pequod is entirely correct. It's always good to know where your wood comes from. Always buy from a reputable supplier. If this was an Art discussion I think we'd call that the "Provenance" to use a $10 word!


    CeramicChef I have a question for you about the wood chips.
    I have chunks of oak and chips of pecan,chunks of cherry, chips of peach wood etc.. If I wanted to perhaps use pecan for pork and only have pecan in the chip variety I'd use them. (No soaking) I scatter them generously all through the lump and seem to get sufficient smoke but am I missing something? I smoke beef and pork ribs between 230 - 240 and the smoke flavor has been there using chips or chunks I thought. Perhaps I'm not being critical enough of the final outcome. Thoughts?

    GREAT article!
    Last edited by Holysmoke; July 11, 2016, 06:03 PM.


      Holysmoke - thanks so much for the feedback. I do appreciate it greatly. This is a collaborative effort, so we all thank you as well.

      Chips were the bane of my existence every time I was stuck with them and nothing else. Scattering them through the lump pile just meant that when the cook was over, I'd have to pick the unburnt chips from the pile and toss/reuse them. They worked, no doubt about that. BUT, chips were such a pain in the tush after the cook was over if you wanted another type of smoke. To me, life is too short to use chips.

      Now what I'd urge you to do is consider reading Part 2 of this post. There we discuss using a Cast Iron Dutch Oven to contain your smoke wood during the cook. It does away with the guess work of where to spot wood chunks/chips. Everything is contained in the smoke pot and everything is easily cleaned. i combine chunks and pellets at times. It is easy, inexpensive, and it just works.

      Thanks again for your question and your comment.

      Here's to great cooks and even better memories with family and friends!
      Last edited by CeramicChef; July 12, 2016, 04:35 PM.


        You sir are correct. That changes things for sure. Brilliant.


          Can't wait for Part Deux! Want to hear your thoughts on that thin blue smoke!



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