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Mar 30, 2008 01:13 PM

Side Smoker help needed

I'm thinking about buying a Char-Grillin' smoker. What I need to know is do you start the wood with charcoal? If not, what. Where I live I can only get wood chunks not small logs. Do you burn the wood the whole time, (Brisket and Ribs)? Any and all help needed as you're working with a dunce here.

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  1. You start the fire like you start a fire in the fireplace--with kindling like small twigs or pieces of wood and maybe tightly twisted newspaper. And yes you burn with wood the whole time. We gave our smoker with the offset firebox away because smoking was just too much work, IMO. You have to start the fire early in the morning, and tend the fire and meat all day. Yeah, the brisket and ribs were great. But spending more than ten hours tending to a smoky fire was just no fun.

    I've only smoked with fireplace-sized logs, not wood chunks. I think the chunks would burn away too quickly and your fire would be running too hot because you'd be adding wood chunks constantly.

    Try real hard to find logs.

    1 Reply
    1. re: janniecooks

      heavily flavored woods like hickory or mesquite can, if used as ther only fuel, can oversmoke the meat and give it a bitter taste. If you're going to do the whole cook with just wood, use a milder wood like apple or peach. Better still, use a mostly dry log and supplement with lump charcoal

    2. I have the side box smoker, and I have started my fire with charcoal, lump charcoal, and wood, all work good. I have used wood chunks, as well as wrapped soaked wood chips in foil, making smoking pouches(changing them out every hour). I use the side fire box sometimes, and sometimes use the grill cavity for smoking( using indirect heat, especially during the winter when it was difficult to keep a steady temperature using the side fire box because of temps below freezing.)

      Smoking is a time consuming art form, and one of the toughest cooking tecniques to master. I look forward to long sessions tending the smoker to turn out top notch brisket, ribs, and pork butt.

      Good luck, the product you will eventually turn out will make it worth it.

      7 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        Time consuming, yes. Labor intensive- doesn't have to be. Most offset smokers are just ridiculous fuel hogs that require constant fire tending.

        If you want to tend to a fire and work hard to make good Q, go for the offset. If you want to improve your chances of success without having to be as fussy about it, get a WSM.

        1. re: ted

          time consuming is a good thing in my world. Cant beat an overnite, or all day smoke with a cooler full of beer, & a bottle of tequila.

          Im not a big fan of the WSW myself. But thats just me.

          1. re: swsidejim

            That was fine for me pre-Chowpup. And she's almost 3 now, so she might almost sleep in sometimes.

            But the reality is that, no matter how late I stay up, she still gets up at about the same time.

            I used to have a Bandera, and the most run time I'd get out of it without serious tweaking was 1.5 hours. To do a 15-18 hour smoke for a big brisket basically meant not sleeping the night before in order to produce Q for dinner. I'd run through 30 lb.s of charcoal and a decent stack of wood chunks to do it. And it had enough air leaks that it'd keep burning all on its own for 24 hours after a cook. That's even with adding a bunch of gaskets and other mods to try to improve how it worked.

            I bought a Weber Smokey Mtn (WSM) for my folks and I've used my neighbor's. It'll burn all night without much tending on not a ton of charcoal. I'm not sure what applehome's referring to about it not giving you as much control. No, you can't burn just sticks in it, but for the price point and capacity it's very well built.

            I made the giant leap and bought a used Stump's. It cost a mint, but it'll run within a degree or 2 all night on 10lb or so of charcoal. Gives me time to sleep and the ability to focus on what woods I'm using for flavor and my rubs/sauces.

            I'd still go for a WSM for most folks. If you're going to get an offset, I'd start looking at the 'net for all the modifications folks do to improve them (baffles, charcoal baskets, lowered stack, etc, etc). And if you can find a used one where the metal is heavier gauge, that can't hurt. Or look at a Brinkmann Cimarron, Klose, or the like. More mass means it'll hold an even temp for longer, though it also will take longer to get up to temp at first.

            1. re: janniecooks

              I'm not ted...but I assume he's referring to a Weber Smokey Mountain. It's a 'bullet' type smoker.
              For reference:

              1. re: janniecooks

                WSM is short hand for Weber Smokey Mountain. They are a near legend.


          2. I start my fire with Lump Charcoal and then add soaked wood hcips to the fire -

            1. I have had everything from electrics to gas to side smokers. I now have a semi-home-built where I have attached a side box to a vertical gas unit - I can still use the gas pretty much as is with a wood pan (a cast iron square pan, 3" high with slanted sides that came with the gas unit) over the flame, or I can use the side box with wood alone and cover the gas burner. If using gas, I use chunks in the pan, if using the side box, I use logs. In the winter, I can use the side box with the gas going to insure that the temp is hot enough - that isn't necessary the rest of the year.

              I agree with janniecooks - the purpose of the side box is to allow me to do 8 and 12+ hour smokes for large shoulders and full briskets, and the real benefit is to be able to throw on that log and then only worry about minor tending (adjusting the dampers). I've let it go overnight, knowing that the fire would die down in a few hours. If you keep having to put in more chunks of wood, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the box.

              The side box doesn't come into play at all for raw cured sausages, fish and other items that I want to smoke for only 1-2 hours. Ribs are kind of borderline - I only do spares, and getting the side box going is worth it, but if I only have chunks, I'll use gas. Ribs go for 4-6 hours. A half brisket (point or flat) goes for 6-8. Pork butts (blade roasts) also go for 6-8. Shoulders go for 8-12 and full briskets go for 12+.

              You do burn wood the whole time for the side box - it's the source of the heat as well as the smoke, and you have to keep your heat at 225-250. You get the wood smoldering and make sure that your temp is correct and the smoke is flowing by adjusting your dampers - once it's going ok, you can leave it for hours at a time, but you have to readjust every time you put in fresh wood and you get the fire hot again, which is why I wouldn't want to work with chunks on the side box. I do cheat and put in wood charcoal if the temp has dropped drastically (real wood charcoal burns very hot), but that's just a temporary measure until the wood log(s) gets going again.

              With gas, you can control the heat and smoke somewhat separately, but the trade-off is that you have to keep filling the pan if you have a long smoke item. For fish, it's usually just one pan anyway, so that's not a problem. But for ribs, for example, I can use the gas, fill the pan every 2 or 3 hours, and I must be there to turn it off or it will be overdone. With the side box, I can get the fire going, throw on a couple of small logs, adjust for temp and walk away - knowing that after 5 or 6 hours or so without more wood, the box will die down and the ribs will not overcook.

              I do start the wood in the box with wood charcoal, which I start in a chimney with newspaper or on my turkey fryer gas unit. I dump the lit charcoals in the corner and put the logs on them - like a fireplace. I open up the dampers until the wood has caught on, then blow or tamp out the flames and shut the dampers down.

              I'm still playing with the setup, although I've had it for years. I actually used to have a third piece - an electric bradley smoke generator that could be hooked up on the side of the smoker away from the side box. That broke, and wasn't worth repairing. The idea of the setup was to allow me a great deal of control. It doesn't take minute by minute attention - but it does need hour by hour monitoring - I'm not sure good food deserves anything less. I've never had a Bullet smoker - WSM or the BGE (Big Green Egg) are the best known. I've always heard that they are very easy to use, but don't offer as much control. I do see bullet smokers at bbq cookoffs, but I see far more side smokers.

              1. I have an offset, and I start my fires with lump charcoal. Once the cooking chamber is up to cooking temp (200-230F), I'll throw on a log of fruit or nut wood, and start cooking. The effects of smoke on meat tend to disappear once the meat temperature gets above about 140F (more or less), so if the meat is above that, I'll only add more lump charcoal to the fire, but not logs.

                I can usually get about three hours of consistent burn from the first load of lump plus log. I have a fire basket made from expanded metal that is about a foot square. I load this almost to the top with unlit lump, then start a chimney full of lump. When the chimney is fully engaged, I'll pour the contents on top of my fire basket so the fire burns DOWN through the unlit pile (adding a log for smoke when the cooking chamber gets to 200F). Around the 2-hour mark, I'll peek into the firebox to see how much lump is left in the basket, and when the temps drop below 200F, I'll add some lump on top. The extra lump on top of the fire will burn more quickly than when it was below the fire, so I check about once an hour or so, adding when necessary. I leave the chimney vent fully open, and control the fire by opening or closing the intake vent. This produces a smaller, cleaner fire. Closing the chimney vent will cause creosote build-up, and oversmoke the meat, making it taste bitter and burnt.