How much smoke should you see during a cook?
Z Grills are very competent smokers, but how much smoke should the chimney be releasing during a long, low temperature cook?
The answer is very little. If fact if you can clearly see lots of smoke continually being released there may actually be an issue, such as lots of wood dust in the pellets.
The huge cloud of smoke released during the first 4-5 minutes of startup is NOT what you should ever see during a normal cook. Such a huge smoke cloud occurs during the startup cycle due to the large pile of pellets that is dropped into the fire-pot to establish a good fire.
During low temperature operation (<135℃/ 275℉), smoke is released in cycles roughly every 5-10 minutes. The controller manages both the delivery of wood pellets and the fan speed to allow the fire to die down, then a larger batch of pellets is delivered into the fire-pot which smoulder releasing a nice batch of smoke. This is one of the key reasons that larger temperature swings occur at lower temperature settings as it is required to achieve these smoke cycles. So it is normal to only periodically see smoke, not continually throughout the cook.
Smoke will be visible in cycles up to temperatures of about 121℃ / 250℉. Beyond this temperature the fire will burn hotter and cleaner will a lot less smoke.
What is the Smoke setting?
The SMOKE setting is not just used to start it the grill. It is a special mode that maximises the smoke released. The temperature will swing between around 70℃ / 158℉ to 90℃ / 194℉ with cycles of smoke released every 5 to 10 minutes.
Because the temperature is so low, it isn’t suitable for a full cook (the meat won’t get up to temperature), but can be used for the first period of the cook to impart more smoky flavour. An example might be using SMOKE for the first hour before increasing the temperature to 107℃ / 225℉ or 121℃ / 250℉ for the rest of the cook.
How much smoke for good flavour?
A small amount of smoke gently blowing over the food is all you need to get a nice smoky flavour. Too much smoke will overpower the food. If you are not happy with the amount of smoky flavour you are getting, trying using a stronger flavoured wood like Hickory or Mesquite, which you can use pure, or mixed in with your main pellets.
Another option is to use a smoke tube which can further increase the amount of smoke, or add a complementary smoky flavour to the cooking.
Don’t forget about the steam!
Wood pellets contain some moisture and so some of the “smoke” coming out of the chimney is actually water vapour (steam). This can be clearly seen in the photo above, taken on a cold winter morning. So consider that in cold weather the amount of “smoke” may appear to be much more than during hot, dry weather.