I recently bought new smoker after reading Aaron Franklin’s BBQ book and other sources that convinced me that using an all-hardwood fire would produce superior flavor compared to the charcoal-and-hardwood-chunks I’ve been using for about 10 years in my old reliable Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.
The reason for the improvement is that the flavor that comes from fully-combusted hardwood is light and clean, whereas the smoking wood chunks in my WSM give off a dirty smoke that has a lot of creosote. A little is okay, but overall I think it gave my barbecue a metallic flavor that I knew could be improved.
The trouble with all-hardwood fires is that they are much harder to manage than charcoal fires. To control the heat output from a charcoal fire, you can just control the amount of air that it gets. That’s how the WSM works: you build a charcoal fire in the bottom, and then control the temperature by opening or closing vents around the fire. If you choke off a hardwood fire in the same way, you get sooty, black, creosote laden smoke.
Most serious (and professional) cooks who want all-hardwood use an offset smoker with a firebox next to a cooking chamber. With smokers like these, you have to be very good at managing your fire so that it burns freely (without denying it any oxygen), but without being too hot for your meat. I decided I was not up to the task of mastering such a smoker.
I was intrigued by the amazingribs.com review of a very unconventional smoker, the KBQ C-60/SS. It’s a boutique smoker built by an enthusiast out of his garage. It has a free-burning firebox on top, and smoke is sucked into the cooking chamber below whenever a thermostatically controlled fan kicks on.
I just tried my first cook with it last weekend–a bunch of chicken leg quarters, usually easy and a crowd pleaser. The cook was easy and fun (because you get to poke the fire but don’t actually have to worry about hitting the right temperature). The smoke profile was definitely lighter. I forgot to take a picture, but the color was more of a golden brown rather than the deep mahogany I’m used to. But most interesting was the taste: I used half mesquite, half oak, and I could really taste the sweetness from the mesquite. There was no metallic bite. Everyone seemed quite happy with the flavor.
Next up I’ll move to the real stuff: ribs and brisket.