Lighting Charcoal and Tending the Fire in WSM

Jeff Brown (KY)

TVWBB Super Fan
Welcome Jamie and thank you for taking the time to be here!
In Weber's Smoke, your steps to preparing the smoker include putting a full chimney of unlit charcoal into the charcoal ring and then lighting a 1/2 to a full chimney and poring it on top of the unlit. The unlit eventually lighting and extending the cook.
In the tending to the fire section, if you need to add fuel you recommend adding lit charcoal because unlit can emit an acrid aroma at first that can ruin the food.
My question is - Why isn't there a concern of this acrid aroma from unlit charcoal at the start of the cook but there is when adding unlit later in the cook?
 

Jamie Purviance

TVWBB Super Fan
Good question, Jeff. Wow, you are really paying attention. The answer has to do with the differences between a smoker and a charcoal grill. I don't really understand why, but adding unlit charcoal to my water smoker does not produce any acrid aromas, yet the adding it to my charcoal grill sometimes does produce those aromas. So, to play it safe, if I am cooking on a charcoal grill, I often add lit charcoal briquettes or unlit lump charcoal.

Thanks,
Jamie
 

Jeff Brown (KY)

TVWBB Super Fan
Sorry Jamie but I have to call you out on this one. In "Smoke" your exact quote is this,

"The charcoal can be lit or unlit, though standard briquettes are prone to emit an acrid aroma at first, producing a taste that can spoil the fruits of your labor, so either light those briquettes in in a chimney, or use lump charcoal or hard wood briquettes to refuel the SMOKER."
Which takes us back to the original question.
I'm not trying to be a pain, just learn.

Thanks for your patience....and tolerance!
 
You're right, Chris. And I do want to hear what Jamie has to say -- and you too!
I'm working hard on building experience, but there's no way I'll ever catch up.

BUT -- I do have a theory. I think that lit coals on top of unlit both causes the unlit to start AND burns up the chemical residue which can taint the food. If you add unlit on top of lit, the smoke will not pass through the hot lit and consequently may cause bad tastes. There may be also a question of just how much quantity of bad residues will be generated at one time if the burn is slowly induced by previously lit coals.

Rich
 

Jamie Purviance

TVWBB Super Fan
I think Rich may be onto something there, but I'm really not sure. I am cook, not a scientist, and I am just giving you my own experience in my own backyard. I figure that's what this forum is all about -- friendly outdoor cooks sharing their questions, ideas, and speculations. So just between us, after I have used the Minion Method, which has never created any acid aromas for me, I add unlit charcoal to my smoker -- and everything works great. Nice even temperature and no acrid smoke. Now I tend to use the Kingsford Competition briquettes. Obviously there are a lot of other choices out there, and the materials used in all different brands vary pretty significantly. Some of my barbecue friends report that they have tasted some acid aromas with some types of briquettes. When I am writing a cookbook for the general public, I need to mindful of all the likely scenarios out there and I need to give foolproof advice. And the surest way to avoid an unwanted aromas is to prelight any standard briquettes. I've never heard of anyone having problems with pure hardwood briquettes or lump charcoal, so I think it's safe to recommend that people not prelight those.

Thanks,

Jamie
 

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