How to Get that Perfect “Thin Blue Smoke”

When your BBQing, what type of smoke is best and how do you build the right fire to produce it? Everyone knows that different woods produce different flavor profiles, but the type of smoke that comes off these woods is really what is important. If you’ve been around BBQ enough, you’re sure to have heard about “Thin Blue Smoke”… and this is what you want to achieve every time you cook BBQ.
What is Thin Blue Smoke? Thin Blue Smoke is the byproduct of clean-burning wood – at just the right temperature – and it’s packed with pure “smoky” flavors. Too much wood will produce a thick, white smoke. If you’ve got this smoke, your bed of coals isn’t hot enough for the amount of wood and it chokes out your coals… There is too much carbon in a thick, white smoke and it produces a harsh, bitter taste on your meat. Coming out of my stacks, I want to see a trace of thin, blue smoke that has a great aroma and isn’t too heavy. How to get the right smoke A little smoke goes a long way, especially if you’re using a strong wood like Hickory or Oak. Fruit woods produce a milder, sweet smoke but you still can overpower the fire with too much. Knowing how to build the fire is the key to producing the right smoke. First you have to start with a good bed of hot coals. I use a natural charcoal to provide the heat for the cooker. I get these “first layer” coals hot and basically burn them off before I add any wood.
Next, I place on just a few chunks of whatever wood I am cooking with. At a contest, I will almost always use fruit woods… apple and cherry are my favorites at the moment. But you can use whatever wood you prefer. The wood will immediately start smoking when you place them on the hot coals… as long as you don’t over-load your fire box. When you overload, you’re going to get the thick, white smoke – and that’s not what you’re aiming for.
Some people will soak there wood in water before putting it on the coals to give it a longer burn, and I’ve done that before myself. But I really don’t think it’s necessary if your coal bed is the right temperature. If you using a stick-burner type smoker, you have to address your fire a little differently. You should always burn your wood down to create the coal bed. Always remember that this is where your cooker is getting its heat. The fresh sticks you add on top are where you’re getting your smoke and smoky flavor… and that should only be added a little at a time. With any smoker, as your “smoke” wood burns down they become part of your heat source. This is when you replenish with fresh wood to keep the light smoke rolling. Differentiating between heat source and flavor source is the key… with any type of smoker you are using. The best advice I’ve ever gotten came from Mike Mills. He preaches that you need to learn how to control your cooking temperature first before you ever worry about producing smoke – regardless of the pit you are using… because that and a little smoke goes a long way. Malcom Reed Connect on Facebook Follow me on Twitter Subscribe to my YouTube Channel Find me on Google+ Follow me on Instagram Buy Killer Hogs Products Here

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Comments 12

  1. Malcom,

    In my past competitions, I’ve noticed that my meat usually result in a dark color as opposed to a mahogany color. I’ve been using the 60” Myron Mixon water smoker but I think I’m putting too much wood in it at a time. I usually put about 3 sticks at a time before replenishing after about 45 minutes of smoking. Can you suggest what my problem may be?

    Kenny

    1. Once you get the color on the outside you want, protect the meat by wrapping or tenting with aluminum foil. That’ll help with the color. Also when you unwrap you can hit it with a lite dust of rub, let that cook for about 15 minutes then glaze with a sauce. Color should be perfect at that point .

  2. Hey Malcom, I’ve been following you for a while now and have learned a lot from you. Thank you! My question is if you have a stick burner, is your suggestion to let the wood burn all the way down to part of the coal bed before adding meat and at that point you add an additional piece of wood?

    1. Yes, you want it reach the point where it’s given all it’s going to give and is about to turn to coal. Usually about every 45 minutes (but each cooker is a little different). If you can add it steady like that the temps will stay steady.

      1. VERTICAL PELLET SMOKER FIRE MANAGEMENT:
        I put a hygrometer in my Tupperware container where I store my charcoal blended smoking pellets.
        I have had these pellets for a year now and one day I decided to take my hygrometer and put it in my storage bin and came back and checked it the next day and then moisture was 38% inside the container.
        Manufacturers say they have moisture content in their pellets of 10 to 15%. I have not checked the moisture content of my other pellets and they all do produce white smoke and never have had any even try to create blue smoke. So I’m thinking the pellets just don’t get hot enough to create blue smoke because there is a temperature range of about 650 up to about 750 Fahrenheit that this process occurs..
        When I use my charcoal blended pellets you initially see a little white smoke then the light thin blue smoke starts coming on like gangbusters and there is no doubt in your mind that you are looking at none other than thin blue smoke, but not with any other smoking pellet that I use that looks like wood. Never had any luck with flavored wood and all it did was create white smoke.
        Thin blue smoke happens between 650 and 750° f.

        Since all these manufacturers that are creating wood smoking pellets are using premium hardwood with no fillers like they say they are, then the fire is not getting hot enough to create the coveted blue smoke because of either wood quality or moisture content or a little of both.
        As of now I’m a little gun shy of using wood pellets that look like wood.
        How long can you smoke pass the proverbial 140°kill zone if you are not injecting your meat???

  3. Malcom,

    I’m looking at making my first offset smoker purchase this year and I’m doing research on fire control and smoke production and came across your article. You state that I need to control the temperature first and then worry about smoke. On an offset, would I leave the firebox vent and stack fully open and control the temp only by changing the amount of fuel? If I close down the firebox vent, then aren’t I partially choking the fire and creating excess smoke?

    Thank you.

    P.S. I love your YouTube channel.

  4. Malcom – I am running a stick burner (Lang) and ever since buying I don’t seem to get a sweet smoke taste. It’s not dirty smoke at all, fire runs very clean, but just something tastes off. Any thoughts on where I might be missing the boat?

  5. With a blindfold on can you differentiate between light blue smoke coming from a stick burner or a pellet smoker or a little smoke generator with each smoker burning the same wood?
    I’m not asking if you like the flavor of the wood being burnt and without getting close enough to the smoker to feel the heat coming from the heat source. A dead give away for a stick burner.
    I was about 40 years old when I taught myself how to smoke meat in Texas. I was also taught to use pecan when smoking brisket.

  6. After adding the wood I always get some white smoke which turns to blue within 20 – 30 minutes. I add the meat after the smoke turns blue. Am I doing this correctly?

  7. Malcom I only have a 22 inch Weber to smoke in how can I get a clean smoke in that? Seems Impossible to get that clean smoke on that kettle. Thanks in advance also when I smoke I use the snake method with a water pan opposite of coals.

  8. I am a first-time pellet grill owner and I bought a vertical pellet smoker. I tried many brands and I just could not coax any blue smoke out of any brand of pellets that I tried. I don’t know how long my pellets sat on a shelf in a store or Warehouse before I bought them.
    A charcoal type of pellet was the only brand that worked for me, isn’t that odd? I saw three bags of these pit boss charcoal pellets sitting on a shelf but I wasn’t going to fall for the trick and by 3 so I only but one bag and now I wish I’d bought the other two LOL.
    This brings up another problem, now I’m not sure that it was because of the charcoal for my blue smoke. Somehow somewhere somebody’s getting blue smoke out of these pellets that I’m not having any luck with. I do realize even less blue smoke is even better. Low and slow or lower and slower.
    I can’t control the air flow enough.if I decrease the velocity of the smoke it only tries to find any crack to escape.
    no I’m not a disgruntled consumer I’m just trying to find some answers.
    A person can talk about flavor all they want from a pellet grill but you can’t taste flavor in a video.
    Pit boss is the brand of smoker I have. A natural draft on a vertical smoker is all the airflow you need on that type of smoker
    Instead of trying to control the draft on a pellet smoker as the smoke is leaving the smoker couldn’t you adjust the fan speed to preheat the pellets to bypass The white smoke stage or use a heater to warm the pellets so it doesn’t take so long to light in the pot ..

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