When it comes to smoking, everyone is looking for the unicorn, and that unicorn is the thin blue smoke that comes out of your smoker. It's what gives your meat that incredibly deep smoky taste, and after many years of tinkering and tuning, I can say that I can show you how to do it every time!
Thin blue smoke is perfection! It means you have all the components of your fire perfect! Temperature, fuel quantity, airflow, and the result is the pure smokiness that only comes when your wood is burning clean! So just keep on doing what you are doing - ‘cos it's right!
- A simple and easy method for setting your fire properly to get that thin blue smoke every time you cook.
- How to troubleshoot your fire if you are getting thick white smoke to avoid creosote buildup and get back to ideal smoking conditions.
In this article, we will look why and how that thin blue smoke is achieved with the setup of the fire and fuel and maintaining it throughout the cooking process, plus some additional tips on what you can do if your smoke isn't blue.
Why Is Thin Blue Smoke So Important For Smoking
Getting that thin blue smoke from your smoker is the ultimate goal of every smoke master!
It means that you have achieved equilibrium with all the elements of the combustion process.
Thin blue smoke means a clean-burning fire with the right amount of fuel, the right heat, and the right amount of air that produces a super-efficient heat source and will deliver superior quality smoked food.
How Do I Get Thin Blue Smoke
The key to getting thin blue smoke is to build a fire right from the start. One of the more effective methods is to use a bed of coals first to provide the heat and let them burn off before adding any wood .
With smoking, less is always more, and one of the biggest mistakes that most people make in my experience is adding too much wood too soon.
The thin blue smoke results from burning wood in a low or zero oxygen environment.
This prevents the wood from combusting but allows the wood's main chemical compounds, namely cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, to decompose into charcoal and gases .
And it's the gases that are the source of the flavor, not the smoke. Smoke is a result of combustion, and this is not the result you want in your smoker.
Remember that coals produce the heat, and wood delivers the smoke. Look at smoke like seasoning so you won't add too much to overpower the flavor.
How To Build Your Fire For Blue Smoke Success
- Start with the coal bed and use natural charcoal if you can.
- Wait for the coals to get properly hot and resist the temptation to add wood before this point.
- Once the coals have formed a god hotbed, add two or three chunks of wood and allow that to become part of the charcoal before adding more wood.
- Use the right wood for your smoker. Don't use treated wood as they have resins. Rather look for hardwood like hickory, maple, or any wood from a fruit or nut tree.
- Applewood and similar woods have very little sap and impart great flavor to your meat.
- Manage your airflow by using your vents and keeping the exhaust open; letting in too much air will increase the temperature and burn too fast, preventing thin blue smoke from forming.
Tip: Keeping your smoker clean will prevent creosote from building up and give you better control and a greater chance to produce thin blue smoke.
Creosote builds up from too much heavy thick smoke and adheres to the grill and inside of the smoker, so when you cook the next time, it burns off and contaminates your food – so make sure your smoker is cleaned after every cook.
Read More: How to Clean Creosote From Smoker?
I'm Getting White Smoke, What Can I Do
If you find that even after doing all of this, you are getting white smoke, here are some easy steps you can take to eliminate it and get back to that thin blue.
One of the causes of thick white smoke is too much wood, and while the instinct may be to add more, rather add less or remove excess and go back to a much lower quantity.
Another reason for this is that your coal bed isn't hot enough. Remember, the coal delivers the heat, and the wood delivers the smoke.
So if you see that your coal bed isn't set and burned down, you may have added wood too soon.
Remove the excess wood, or you can place it to the side and open the air vents to heat the coal– or both – and then restart the process once the coal bed has achieved the right temperature. Then add a few small chunks of wood, and your blue smoke should appear like the Genie out of the lamp!
Use Your Air Vents For Control
Work with adjusting your air vents and observing the smoke color at the same time as this will tell you whether what you are doing is working or not.
If the thick white smoke is gradually thinning and changing color to blue, then your temperature is heading in the right direction.
Some people look to soak their wood to extend the burn time, but this won't be necessary if you build your coal bed right.
Adding to this, if your wood is wet, you may also see white smoke, so store your wood undercover to keep it dry.
The two main causes for white smoke are when you overload the firebox, and the coal bed isn't hot enough, and overloading will reduce the flow of oxygen to the burning coals and effectively cool it down.
Is White Smoke Always Bad?
No, only when meat is exposed to it for a long time does the effect of creosote come into play. White smoke can certainly add a greater depth of smokiness to the meat's flavor, but this must be very carefully controlled.
Shooting for blue smoke, especially as a beginner, is a better option to start with, as white smoke is more complex to regulate, and as you improve your temperature control skills, you can start experimenting more.
Furthermore, there could be a slight difference when using different types of smokers.