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Bad Smoke

mimaulermimauler Posts: 136
edited 3:42PM in EggHead Forum
The general consensus is that you let the lump burn for lets say 15 20 minutes to burn out the so called bad smoke. OK so how does that work in a long and slow burn where new lump is lighting. Does that not produce bad smoke? If you have bad smoke when you first light up then why would you not have bad smoke during a long and slow when the new lump starts cooking off?


  • GriffinGriffin Posts: 7,658
    I've always wondered that, but never seen an answer. The only thing I can think of is the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) must burn off at a much lower temp than 250 and that they all burn off right in the beginning. At least that's what I figure.

    Rowlett, Texas

    Griffin's Grub or you can find me on Facebook

    The Supreme Potentate, Sovereign Commander and Sultan of Wings


  • mimaulermimauler Posts: 136
    Yes but how can they burn off if the lump itself has not ignited. Or is bad smoke not from the lump itself but from the way it is started?
  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 22,732
    theres just an initial burst of bad smoke, probably more from gassing off than from lighting on fire. somehow on low and slows i dont get the grease smoke sticking to meat either, cook a duck low and slow direct and it smokes like crazy from all the grease catching fire and smoldering, yet no grease fire taste. i am not too concerned with a really clean burn with overnighters either, dont notice any off flaver on a pork butt put in too soon
  • Grandpas GrubGrandpas Grub Posts: 14,226
    I am not sure of the physics, but it seems to me when the lump bed is struggling to ignite adjoining pieces of carbonized wood the 'bad smoke' is an issue. When the lump bed is hot the adjoining pieces of lump will ignite without producing the 'bad smoke'

    As for how long it will take, sometimes when I use alcohol to light I get only a minute or two of 'bad smoke'. Using starter cubes, oil and paper towel for some reason 'bad smoke' lasts longer.

    I use my had to know when the egg is ready. I put my had over the top vent for a short while and smell the aroma in my hand. If the aroma is acrid (bad smoke) I wait a little longer. If the aroma is pleasant the egg is ready. Sometimes there is more physical smoke and sometimes the smoke is very light or almost no visible smoke. The lower the dome temperature will usually have more physical smoke present.

  • gdenbygdenby Posts: 5,836
    Here is an analogy. I work in an art museum, and we are very concerned with how fast paint dries, as anything that is "off-gassing," including water vapor, is considered a hazard to the art works. We have learned that at room temperature, most paint is still off-gassing as long as three weeks. Some paints, no longer used, will never really dry at room temperature. New display cases must cure for at least that much time unless dried under heat lamps under an air vent.

    The lump is much the same way, except that it is its own combustion that is "drying" it out. I believe the various volatile compounds either off-gas or burn by 451F, wood's kindling temperature. An established charcoal fire is a lot hotter than that. Once the ambient temperature of the lump mass is up to that heat, or more, its only a matter of time till most of the VOCs are driven off/consumed. I'd suppose there is always a little bit left, but the waiting time is lets most of it go away.
  • BananaChipzBananaChipz Posts: 207
    great analogy. Makes sense..
  • mimaulermimauler Posts: 136
    That's the way I'm leaning. That the bad smoke or VOC's get burned away being heated next to already burning lump and do not actually become "smoke". Sometimes I wish I was a scientist.
  • Grandpas GrubGrandpas Grub Posts: 14,226
    I am not sure how much different charred wood (lump) would burn as compared to wood, but as for wood...

    The smoke is what actually burns and why the flash backs are so 'exciting'.

    Here is a link that explains the physics.

    What is fire?.

  • gdenbygdenby Posts: 5,836
    I came across a report about various charcoal making methods somewhere in Africa. The poorest quality was still as much wood as it was carbon. I would suppose that burns just about like wood. The average was about 75% carbon.

    I've come across mention that most lump sold in the U.S. is 80 - 85% carbon (although I seem to get enough bits that are plainly just smoked wood.)

    Japan produces a very clean variety called binchotan. According to wikipedia, the oak wood is steamed at 1000 C, which removes pyroligneous acid, and so the charcoal emits no odors or smoke when burning, but does burn at a lower temperature for a longer time.
  • thirdeyethirdeye Posts: 7,428
    Oh boy, I hope you're ready for this one.... Just remember, you asked for it. Heheheee.

    The “bad smoke” is really volatile organic compounds, sometimes referred to as VOC’s. VOC’s are organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases, in this case when heat and charcoal is involved, but the gasses that come off other things like paint thinner, glue or cleaning solvents are also VOC’s.

    If you’ve ever thrown any foreign thing into the bed of coals at a campfire or your fireplace (like a paper plate, a Styrofoam cup etc., the smoke you see for a few minutes are either VOC’s, or hydrocarbons. Even a new piece of wood tossed into a bed of coals smokes for a while until it gets up to temp. (Along these lines, many competition cooks using stick burning pits pre-warm wood [or charcoal] on top of their firebox before adding it to their cooking fire, you’ll understand this better in a minute).

    So, back to your question…. Charcoal has some residual organic compounds, dust, dirt, and other foreign materials on it, and most likely in it. When you first light it you have a good heat source (propane or MapPro torch, starter cubes or gels, and in some cases lighter fluid), but usually we light charcoal in one spot for a barbecue fire, or 3 or 4 spots for a grilling fire. The VOC’s in those areas are immediately released, and while the fire is still taking root in the lit areas, the other charcoal in the cooker is warming up too. As it warms, it releases some VOC’s as well. In 20 or 30 minutes, the lit areas have become established, and the unlit charcoal has warmed and released some of it’s VOC’s. I often plan on 45 minutes to an hour for my fire to get where I want it. The color of the smoke coming from your top vent has changed from “white, thick and smelly” to “grey, thin and woodsy”. Later on it will turn to “blue, very thin, and fragrant”.


    Part 2 of your question.... Since the fire moves slowly during a long cook, by the time it reaches new lump in your firebox, that new lump is better prepared for combustion than say a piece of lump from the bag. It’s the same if you have some flavor wood splits buried in within the lump, it’s also pre-warmed and ready for the fire when it reaches it.

    Bonus Answer.... Now, the one thing you didn't ask about….,but I’m going to mention because I’m on a roll this morning, is particulate. In the early stages of a fire the smoke will contain particulate (think soot). You see this all the time in a fire place, it’s just harder to see in a barbecue pit. While the fire is becoming established, and you are getting your vent settings set correctly, this soot is carried by the smoke. If food goes on too early it can collect some particulate because particulates likes to attach to the surface of cool food. This is most noticeable on chicken because it has such a light skin. If chicken goes on too early, you can actually see fine spots and a premature darkening (like within the first 5 minutes), this coating will result in a bitter taste to your food. Try tossing a chicken wing on right after starting your fire, in 5 minutes when you remove it the dark color on the skin can be wiped off with a paper towel.

    So, watch your top vent. If it's puffin' white, it ain't right. If it's blowin' blue, it's good for Q.
    Happy Trails

    Barbecue is not rocket surgery
  • FWIW, I don't really worry about "bad smoke" that much, because (in my Eggsperience), usually from the time I start the Egg, to the time I've got it to the appropriate temp, any "bad" smoke has since disappeared.

    Also, I don't really worry about "grease taste" when cooking things that drop grease either. For example, the other day, I grilled some chicken thighs, direct. No "grease pan" - no "indirect" - just good old fashioned pieces of chicken thrown right on the grid over top of an open pile of burning lump.

    Sure, there were times when I went out to flip the chicken that flames were licking the bottom of the chicken pieces due to the chicken dripping fat - but I didn't worry about it.

    And apparently neither did my GF and her son, as they both LOOOOOOVED how the chicken tasted coming off the Egg.

    I also didn't worry about "cleaning" the lump after that cook because the next day, I did a pizza using the same lump (the pizza did NOT come out tasting like old, burnt chicken fat).

    Sometimes, I think it might be a bit of an over-reaction to "good smoke vs bad" smoke & "grease drippings" etc - because, at least in my Eggsperience, this (luckily) hasn't been an issue...

    However, YMMV :P
    Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup... Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. - Bruce Lee
  • mimaulermimauler Posts: 136
    Thanks to all on the great replies. I'm more inclined to believe now that the bad smoke thing is overblown too much. The most logical thing to me and what several of you said is that the lump being pre-warmed by the already burning lump causes the new lump to burn off the VOC's.
  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 22,732
    you do want to smell the smoke before you put the meat on, if it smells bad the food will taste bad, wait til it starts to smell good
  • bostonjoshbostonjosh Posts: 67
    My theory: to get a good fire, you need airflow; fire needs oxygen. Burning produces carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air (air is mostly nitrogen, which weighs 28, and oxygen, which weighs 32; CO2 weighs 44).

    If you don't have good airflow, the CO2 does not properly escape, thus smothering the fire as it is trying to light, which causes hot hydrocarbons which should burn to vaporize instead, producing bad smoke.

    (the smoke a candle gives off after putting it out is actually vaporized wax (hot hydrocarbons that want to burn)... have fun... you can actually re-light a burned out candle by holding a match to the smoke... anyway, i digress...)

    my first bge lighting, i didn't know what i was doing. shortly after lighting, i kept the bottom vents pretty wide open, but virtually shut the top. Bad airflow, nasty smoke... not so great day 1 with the bge.

    so, i think an important way to avoid bad smoke is to keep the top open as much as possible, particularly when early in the lighting. get that airflow going.
  • jaydub58jaydub58 Posts: 2,127
    When lighting up, I just take the ceramic top off and don't put the DFMT on until I am getting some strong temp rise.
    Never had problem with bad smoke that way.
    John in the Willamette Valley of Oregon
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