Using Lump Charcoal in a smoker


 

KRubinow

New member
Hello all. This might be kind of a stupid question, but here goes...

I know that lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes, and therefore will burn out faster. Couldn't I "counteract" the higher heat by closing the dampers a bit to let in less oxygen, thereby lowering the temperature? Or will lump burn out faster than briquettes when at the same temperature?
 

Lynn Dollar

TVWBB Emerald Member
You haven't said what smoker you're using .............. but lump is perfectly fine in a smoker, cuz you're gonna control the temp with oxygen.

But .......... if you're using the Minion Method, lump does not burn as evenly as briquettes, which fit closely together much better than lump. If you use lump, you gotta place your coals together like fitting a jig saw puzzle, or else the burn will be uneven.

I prefer briquettes because of their uniform shape. Or maybe lump, if its smaller pieces .
 

KRubinow

New member
I'm using a Weber Smokey Mountain 18. Up to this point I have only used briquettes but am trying the lump at someone's urging. That's a very good point about things not heating as evenly, but in a WSM where it's all indirect heat that shouldn't matter too much, no?

I'll have temperature probes near the meat on the grate to monitor things and will keep the vents mostly closed to start. I imagine I'll have to add some more coals along the way.
 

RichPB (richlife)

TVWBB All-Star
I never really got the uneven burn thing. Had an 18, now the 14,5. Just pile in the lump over ignitor and light. With the 18, used 3/4 full regular chimney in the center of a ring of lump when well lit. Worked. I learned to fill the ring esch cook and damp down when done. Any coals left are reusable. Long cooks can require additional lump.
 

TimA

TVWBB Pro
I hear a lot about “uneven burning” with lump, but have never experienced it, and have switched solely to lump, be it an extended smoke or a quick 20-30 cook.

I don’t neatly stack lump, or try to fit it close together; I dump and either light directly, or scoot them to one side or around the charcoal grate and go from there. I’ve never had one problem and frankly, I think people spend way too much time worrying about stuff they don’t need to.
 

Anne M.

TVWBB Pro
I also only use lump charcoal.
We buy it on the side of the road.
Ours is not always fully charcoaled (new word ;) ), so not much or no smoking wood is needed.
I think any uneven lighting is only theoretical as you are heating up a fair amount of air + the chunk of meat needs time to react to a temperature increase/decrease. They act as buffers.
As an example: imagine a big roast in the oven. Now turn of the oven for 10 minutes and then turn back on. Your meat will not even have noticed ;)
 

Jerry N.

TVWBB Emerald Member
I use lump often. I like it better than briquettes. Re: Uneven Burn - You don’t have to arrange the coals like a Tetris puzzle, but you want to make sure there’s not a big air gap. For example, a big piece of lump could pour out of the bag and sit in such a way as to leave a big space. Just look for that and move the coals around enough to tighten things up. I’ve never had a problem with lump but it seems possible so I look for it and give it a little attention.
 

Lynn Dollar

TVWBB Emerald Member
I'm using a Weber Smokey Mountain 18. Up to this point I have only used briquettes but am trying the lump at someone's urging. That's a very good point about things not heating as evenly, but in a WSM where it's all indirect heat that shouldn't matter too much, no?

I'll have temperature probes near the meat on the grate to monitor things and will keep the vents mostly closed to start. I imagine I'll have to add some more coals along the way.

Its not uneven heating in the cook chamber, its about getting an even burn from your pieces of lump. If there's gaps, there's no sure thing the fire will spread from coal to coal. It really depends upon the size of your lump coals.

There's probably a small diff in flavor of the meats, but using wood chunks along with the lump or briquettes is going to mask any diff. Whether briquettes or lump, its only there for heat. How hot your fire, is going to be controlled by the amount of oxygen it gets. Flavor is going to come from wood chunks.
 

MartinB

TVWBB Pro
Lump just comes in oddly shaped sizes. A mix of small pieces medium pieces and big . The big ones don't necessarily nest well and you have a lot of dead space. In other words you don't get as much charcoal in the charcoal ring. It also might not burn as evenly , and of course those small pieces are going to fall through the bottom crate pretty quick. Briquettes just allow more charcoal in the ring, burn evenly, and last longer. Which is kind of what you want if you're going to let a brisket or pork butt go overnight.
 

Jerry N.

TVWBB Emerald Member
Using lump you should do the double grate mod and wire tie the ring to the grates. This way as you add a layer of lump you shake the ring and that helps compact it.
Yep. Did that. A nice mod if you’re going to use lump.
 

Lynn Dollar

TVWBB Emerald Member
Lump just comes in oddly shaped sizes. A mix of small pieces medium pieces and big . The big ones don't necessarily nest well and you have a lot of dead space. In other words you don't get as much charcoal in the charcoal ring. It also might not burn as evenly , and of course those small pieces are going to fall through the bottom crate pretty quick. Briquettes just allow more charcoal in the ring, burn evenly, and last longer. Which is kind of what you want if you're going to let a brisket or pork butt go overnight.

Right, it depends largely on the length of the cook.

I've had lump burn off to one side. Especially if I use Billows. That caused problems getting the WSM to run at the temp I wanted. Its like loading only half a chamber of coals.
 

Lynn Dollar

TVWBB Emerald Member
I only use lump in my 18” WSM.

I will use Kingsford Pro/Competition (whatever it’s called) in a kettle.

Lump doesn’t billow nasty gray smoke when it’s lighting off so it’s perfect for use in a smoker.

This is sort've one of the mysteries of charcoal/chunk barbecue.

If doing the Minion Method, and starting with 25 lit coals, that are fully ashed over, there should be no white/gray smoke from the charcoal. Look at starting a chimney. When the coals are lighting, there's a lot of white smoke but when fully lit, that smoke disappears.

IMO, the white/gray smoke is coming from smoldering wood chunks and continues until they burn down. That's what I got from my WSM. I get white billowy smoke at the start and then it clears.

The surprising thing about the Minion Method, is why the white/gray smoke from newly ignited coals is not present.

Couple years ago, I found a Masterbuilt Gravity Feed for half price at Wal Mart. I bought it more out of curiosity. I expected the white billowy smoke from newly ignited charcoal to last for the entire cook. That does not happen. When the briquettes are first ignited, there's a lot of white smoke that quickly goes away and its thin blue smoke for the rest of the cook. Was a pleasant surprise.

The guy who built the first gravity feed in Georgia, known as Stump and I can't recall his name, says that the " superheated air in the firebox cleans the smoke " . I can't argue with that, and its the only explanation I've heard.
 

J Hasselberger

TVWBB Pro
You haven't said what smoker you're using .............. but lump is perfectly fine in a smoker, cuz you're gonna control the temp with oxygen.

But .......... if you're using the Minion Method, lump does not burn as evenly as briquettes, which fit closely together much better than lump. If you use lump, you gotta place your coals together like fitting a jig saw puzzle, or else the burn will be uneven.

I prefer briquettes because of their uniform shape. Or maybe lump, if its smaller pieces .
Agree, Lynn. The beauty of a WSM is its ability to hold a steady temp for hours and hours ... BUT ... you have to set it up properly when using the Minion Method. I'm sometimes careless when dumping the lit briquettes on top of the unlit, which will result in the temp yo-yoing during the cook. (Lump complicates that issue, like you said.)

I may go back to the "Coffee Can Minion" method, where you remove the top and bottom of a coffee can, set it in the center of the chamber, pour unlit briquettes all around it, dump lit briquettes into the can and then yank out the can (with pliers). The fire will grow evenly from there.

Jeff
 

Jerry N.

TVWBB Emerald Member
When I load the charcoal, I make sure there’s a nice indentation in the center of the pile for my hot coals. You want to transfer the core of the fire you started in your chimney into the center of the charcoal. You don’t want a bunch of hot coals spread out on top of the pile.
 

KRubinow

New member
So, I smoked this nice pork butt using lump charcoal:

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It came out ridiculously tasty, and there definitely was a much nicer smell while it was cooking.

The lump coals did burn out a little faster than briquettes, so I had to add more in late in the cook. My only complaint, as others noted, was that there are so many little pieces and only a few mid-sized to larger ones. Where do I get that mod for the bottom grate to hold in the smaller ones? Or, does anyone recommend a brand that usually doesn't have so many small pieces?
 

 

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