7.7 Pre-burning wood
[What is pre-burning of wood or charcoal?]
A technique allowing the as-needed production of pure, hot coals for the
use in the slow smoker firebox. The technique is especially useful for anyone having a
smoker constructed of lighter gauge material, typically, smokers costing less than $500,
because controlling temperature is usually easier when working with hot coals instead of
raw wood. Pre-burning is accomplished in an old grill, a half-drum or heavy duty pan, or
even in a small fire pit if your yard can take it. Build a small fire with several split
pieces or limbs of fuel wood such as hickory or oak. You can use the pre-burned pieces at
different stages. Using pieces which have been only blackened on the outside provide smoke
to blend with the primary smoking wood in addition to heat. Slight pre-burning also allows
any undesirables, such as insects, spiders, mold, etc., to be burned off before they add
to the flavor of the meat. Wood which has been pre-burned to hot coals is used to provide
heat only. Using coals makes temperature control much easier since no extreme temperature
drops occur as when adding cold wood to the firebox. Anticipate your needs and add
additional pieces as needed to your pre-burn fire.
[Why should I pre-burn wood before I put it into the smoker's firebox?]
There are several reasons for doing this.
1 It takes heat to get the new wood burning so by adding glowing coals
to the firebox instead of unburned wood, you eliminate temperature swings.
2 It drives off a lot of the creosote.
3 It gives you the chance to play with the ultimate power tool- fire.
My second fire is in a kettle grill. The logs go about 20 minutes before
I move the coal over to the smoker firebox.
[I used some red oak and smoked a brisket for 12 hours. I kept the fire
clean-burning but I still got a bitter taste to the meat. What can I do to prevent this?]
Some woods, such as walnut, red oak and hickory are strong-flavored
woods. So even though they are good woods to use, you may not want to smoke for 8 plus
hours with them as they can over-power the meat. There are several ways around this if red
oak happens to be your wood of choice:
1 Make sure that the wood is well-seasoned--at least 1 year
old after it was alive and cut up,
2 Start off with the red oak and after about four hours of
smoking, switch to charcoal, either lump or briquettes,
3 Start off with the red oak and after about four hours of
smoking, begin to use pre-burned red oak (red oak that you have reduced to red glowing
coals in a fire pit outside your smoker),
4 Start off with the red oak and after about four hours of
smoking use a milder smoking wood, like apple, pear, alder, cottonwood, etc.
The most likely reason that people say red oak produces bitter tasting
meat is that they did not get a clean burn with it in their firebox. Learn to keep the
fire small and hot with lots of oxygen so that the smoke coming out of your smoker is
almost invisible to a light white color and smells good.
I have finally figured out how to manage strong woods (walnut, red oak
and hickory). It is kind of a modification of a preburn which works well in a wood-fired
off-set firebox smoker. What I do is pre-heat/dry the next piece of wood in the back of
the firebox, and when I need to put it on, I burn it with the firebox end door open for
about five minutes. This takes care of the smolder/bark stage and all the bitterness goes
out the firebox door. Then I close the firebox door and the smoking resumes. Because of
the way it is constructed, the Hondo (NBBD, SnP Pro) smoke chamber loses relatively little
heat during the five minutes with the firebox end door open. And I don't need a separate
facility for preburning.