It takes longer to smoke meat than it does to grill meat. Beef brisket, for example, may require five or more hours of smoking. As a result, you need to ensure your smoking chunks aren’t burning too quickly. If your smoking chunks burn to ash in just 20 or 30 minutes, it will expose your meat to short bursts of thick smoke negatively affects the flavor and tenderness of your meat. Thankfully, however, there are several ways to prevent smoking chunks from burning too quickly.
Place Smoking Chunks Next to Charcoal
Don’t just toss your smoking chunks directly on the charcoal. Instead, place your smoking chunks next to the charcoal. Charcoal burns very hot, with temperatures often reaching as high as 2,010 degrees Fahrenheit. While different varieties of wood burn at different temperatures, all types of wood — as well as smoking chips and chunks — burn at lower temperatures than charcoal. Oak wood burns at roughly 900 degrees Fahrenheit. When placed directly on a bed of hot charcoal, the temperature of oak wood will exceed this combustion point, causing it to burn and turn to ash. But if you place your smoking chunks next to the charcoal, they’ll be exposed to heat, allowing them to smolder at a lower temperature.
Use a Cast Iron Smoker Box
You can also use a smoker box to prevent your smoking chunks from burning too quickly. A smoker box is a rectangular-shaped metal container that’s used to store smoking chunks. They typically have a lid that you can open and close. To use a smoker box, open the lid, fill it to the top with smoking chunks and close the lid. You can then place the wood-filled smoker box next to the charcoal inside your smoker.
Rather than using a stainless steel or aluminum smoker box, consider investing in a cast iron smoker box. Cast iron smoker boxes cost more than their stainless steel and aluminum counterparts, so they are naturally better insulated. And with greater insulation, a cast iron smoker box will reduce the amount of heat to which your smoking chunks are exposed, allowing them to burn more slowly.
Use Less Charcoal
The amount of charcoal you use will affect the burn time of your smoking chunks. When smoking meat, most people use a combination of charcoal and smoking chunks. The charcoal produces the heat required to cook the meat to a safe internal temperature, whereas the smoking chunks produce a delicious flavor and pull-apart tenderness. If you add too much charcoal to your smoker, though, it may cause your smoking chunks to ignite and quickly burn to ash. Therefore, you should start with just a small bed of charcoal and gradually add more until your smoker reaches the appropriate temperature. Using less charcoal is just one way to slow down the burn time of your smoking chunks.
Use the Right Type of Smoking Chunks
Certain types of smoking chunks burn more slowly than others. If you’re struggling to prevent your smoking chunks from burning too quickly, consider using a different variety. Hickory smoking chunks, for instance, burn the longest. Oak smoking chunks also offer a long burn time, though they still burn more quickly than hickory smoking chunks. When in doubt, stick with hickory or oak smoking chunks. Both varieties burn longer than most other types of smoking chunks.
Adjust the Dampers
You can adjust the dampers on your smoker to control the speed at which your smoking chunks burn. Most smokers have two dampers that you can open or close to control airflow. When the dampers are open, more air is able to flow into your smoker, resulting in a higher temperature. You’ll need to keep the dampers at least partially open, but you shouldn’t pull them completely open. By closing the dampers partially, your smoking chunks will smolder at a lower temperature.
Will Soaking Smoking Chunks in Water Make Them Burn Slower?
Conventional wisdom may lead you to believe that soaking your smoking chunks in water will make them burn slower. While you can always conduct your own experiment by using pre-soaked smoking chunks, this usually won’t affect their burn time. Research has shown that wood absorbs very little moisture, even when soaked for hours.
And don’t assume that soaking your smoking chunks in water will make them produce more flavorful smoke. You may notice what appears to be thick smoking rising from your pre-soaked smoking chunks, but this is actually just steam. As the wet smoking chunks burn, the water will evaporate as steam. Soaking your smoking chunks in water won’t necessarily hurt, but don’t assume that it will make them burn slower.
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