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D.Drackett

Need Help With Fire and Smoke Management Problems

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Our Spatchcocked Thanksgiving Turkey made me realize I need help.  I have a new KK 21” Supreme with all of the accessories.  There was already lots of charcoal in the basket from a previous cook I had smothered, but not realizing that, I filled a charcoal chimney with Cowboy brand natural briquettes and combusted them to red hot and little or no “dirty,” white smoke, added it, with four small chunks of Post Oak and hooked up the BBQ Guru and fan bellows, fully opened and also opened the exhaust chimney wide to get things going.  (It was 21 degrees Fahrenheit at the time.)  I set the Guru for 350 pit temperature and the Turkey probe in the center of the breast at 155, figuring it would continue to 165, while resting.  After about 40 minutes, having partially closed the exhaust chimney and with the Guru fan running regularly, acrid, “dirty” smoke was still billowing from the exhaust damper and when opening the cook chamber, but it was better and time to start cooking, so I put the turkey on the top grate.  There were red charcoal and red flames by then, but still lots of smoke and NOT the almost invisible “blue smoke” we all strive for.  I lowered the desired pit temp to 300 degrees and went inside to monitor the cook from the warm kitchen, basting quickly every 30 minutes or so.  Most videos had estimated a 90-100 minute cook time for a spatchcocked, 16-pound turkey, but we were prepared for a longer cook if necessary.  The Turkey probe was probably not inserted, because it read 145 very quickly and repositioning didn’t seem to fix it, so I switched to my Thermo-Pen and relied on that.  At 100 minutes the chamber was 300 and steady and the bird about 145, but looked magnificently mahogany and juicy, so I took it off at 150 instead of 155 and rested it for a 40 minutes, but when I tried to remove a leg-thigh, I realized it was far from cooked and put it in the oven, already preheated from side dishes.  When I rested again and carved, the breast was juicy and appetizing looking, but so smokey we only took a few bites and focused on the dressing and the wine, happy that it was just the two of us this year and no embarrassment to be shared.  I have the same “smoke-fire management issues with my Stump’s Junior, Gravity Fed Smoker, so I am doing something basic in a very wrong way, but I am determined not to regress to my old Traeger.  That Turkey went out with the trash!  I need your help.  What am I doing wrong?  Thanks, Dan.

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I’m not terribly familiar with cowboy brand lump, but if I remember correctly, it not highly thought of. That’s step one, make sure you’re using quality fuel.

Secondly, it sounds like you had too much fire lit. A full chimney in a 21” is pretty full, so I’m not sure the coals were fully smoldering. Even for a 300°-350° fire, I suggest lightning and one or two spots and let the temperature come up naturally. It sounds like you were more keeping the fire down as opposed to simply controlling the fire with airflow. Between fire management and fuel, I believe that’s probably your smoke problem.

Dennis’s coco char is the best, but in lieu of that, I’ve had good luck with forgo and rockwood. There are more out there, so do some research and find a good quality fuel.


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I find that if I have lots of leftover lump it doesn't take much new lump to have a good fire. The smoke will clean up fairly soon too. One thing to remember, poultry soaks up smoke like a sponge. Was your turkey at room temperature when you started? 

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Thank you both.  I have some of Dennis’ Coco Char fuel, but it was stacked with random boxes in the garage.  Cowboy Brand Natural Charcoal Briquettes are highly recommended at BBQ competitions, and my other smoker manufacturer (Stump’s Gravity Fed Smoker) recommends against “lump charcoal,” because big lumps clog the feeder chute.  Sounds as though I need to use Dennis’ Coco Char extruded coconut shell fuel exclusively.  For those of us who can justify buying such a great cooker, fuel cost is hardly the issue.  My wife, Martine is not a fan of harshly smoky BBQ, so I have to remedy this problem quickly.  Sounds as though I have an “overkill” issue with both smokers, trying to light a fire hot enough to fire enamel jewelry and able to grill a steak in a half an hour as with my Viking grill or a Weber.  It seems these sophisticated cookers require much more restraint and are far more efficient, able to burn at smoking temperatures for 85 hours on a basket of fuel.  I overdid it and then over-controlled to tamp down the raging temperatures I created.  Thanks for pointing that out.  Dan 

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Hit it hard upfront - Cowboy is CRAP charcoal made from scrap lumber. Burns up quickly and you never know what kind of wood it's made from!

While the advice of your other smoker (Stumps) against lump charcoal probably makes sense for that grill, it does NOT translate to your KK. Go lump, dump the briquettes as they contain binders that are very harsh - a likely source of your bad smoke problem. Dennis' cocochar is not made the same as a briquette, it's extruded under high pressure - no binders. 

Folks here are high on Fogo, Rockwood, Jealous Devil and KJ Big Box. Check out the Naked Whiz's database on the different charcoals. 

The Lump Charcoal Database -- Naked Whiz Charcoal Ceramic Cooking

Search the Forum for the instructions on making Syzygies' cast iron smoker pot. Best solution for getting nice clean smoke from your smoking woods.  OR, use the cold smoker unit from Dennis and wood pellets. 

As Robert said, for a cook in that temperature range, you don't need to light a ton of charcoal. As we preach here to new owners, "Don't Chase The Temperatures!" Once the KK gets heat soaked, it's very difficult to lower the temperature. And the Guru can't do it either. If the actual temperature is above the set temperature on the Guru, it just shuts the fan down, but with the fan damper open, the KK can still draw enough air in to keep the fire going, so your temperature won't come down. Two tricks for using the Guru - top vent should be just barely off the seat - make the fan do all the work; and, close the fan damper to at least half closed. The fan will still push enough air to maintain the temperature and you don't risk the KK drawing in too much air on its own when the fan isn't running. 

Hope some of this helps. Good luck on that next cook!

 

 

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You guys are all so helpful.  I am going online the second I finish thanking you, to order several more boxes of extruded coconut fuel from Dennis.  My suspicions are being confirmed, that “slow and easy wins the race.”  Reminds me of my early pilot training in a Bonanza; trying to overcorrect variances in altitude, keeping the wings straight and level and the speed constant.  Those first few lessons, I was flying through airspace like a porpoise.  I will now use high quality, consistent fuel and restraint.  Maybe now I can “navigate” to blue smoke and ultimately a great brisket, by the time we can safely entertain again.  Thank you so much,  Dan  

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To me cooking in the KK is more like cooking in the kitchen oven, the fuel is lump and once you get within about 50 degrees of your desired cooking temp, start closing the vents, mainly the top vent until you settle at the desired temp. By then the smoke should be good so put your goodies on the grate. Unlike the kitchen oven your cooking temp. will remain stable and not a lot of air passing through the KK if you keep the lid shut and you should. The result will be a much moister cook than the oven.

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Indeed, I received immediate, helpful, friendly advice and ordered Dennis’ fuel.  My tendency was to use hardware store cheap fuels, fill the charcoal basket to the brim with raging hot coals and too much Post Oak, then try to control an out-of-control situation with the dampers.  This is a far more subtle and restrained method of cooking and I want to become an expert.  I can remember marveling at the chefs at Trader Vick’s making Chinese spare ribs on grills like this.  I am determined to get good at this.  Thank you all for your advice.  Dan

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Yes, Coco Char is available and I ordered 4 boxes of each and the order was confirmed already.  I sequentially owned two new Bonanzas I think my first was an F-33 to learn on, but quickly replaced with a new B-36 TC, because I was based at Phoenix Sky Harbor and really needed air conditioning and the turbocharger for mountain flying.  Tail number was 91DD, and it was a 1991.  It is still flying and based in Van Nuys.

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Beechcraft planes are all Nirvana.  I toured the factory and watched my B-36TC being manufactured and they let me fly home, left seat, hands on, from Wichita to Phoenix in a new King Air 350.  Later, I was a King Air passenger from PHX to London and Paris (via Minneapolis, Goose Bay, Rikiavik and Shannon).  Fun stuff.  I miss it.

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  I have been using Cowboy at least for the past year or two in all my applications and really haven't experienced an off flavor or lighting issues. I'll make a purchase at BJ's wholesale club similar to Costco for $18 at 34lbs a bag. Sometime other brands are purchased when I see a value choice such as Big Block, Royal Oak and Rockwood, all with good results. Cowboy lump is a product put out by Royal Oak in Atlanta, I know this because of an issue once regarding small size pieces in a large bag required me to call the company for a remedy, They sent out a coupon for a replacement.  The better choices are your South American hardwoods but, if you can work it,, Cowboy will suffice. I used Cowboy for my Turkey and did notice the white smoke at the beginning and for some time afterward. Like you I grew impatient, however I sped the fire along and sat back till it cleared choosing to play catch-up at the end by raising the temp. Although you can burn briquettes in a KK your best choice available will always be lump. And as far as quality is concerned, I can't argue...Cowboy isn't at the top but, I have learned to work around it's drawbacks and adjusted to it's shortcomings. Hope your next KK experience is better.

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