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I've noticed when smoking on the grill that sometimes there is no visible smoke, though there's the clear smell of burning wood.

Once the wood has begun to smoke, what grill temperature will ensure the process continues and that the food is smoked? Is the chosen temperature just a matter of maintaining this minimum temperature and stretching or shortening cooking time and smoke exposure?

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Is there a specific food you're looking at? I've added a general answer, but I didn't get in to detail on 15min vs 30min vs 12hr smoke times, which can make quite a difference in how you solve the issue. –  yossarian Mar 25 '13 at 21:18
    
What sort of wood are you using. How old is it? –  TFD Mar 26 '13 at 1:28
    
@tfd Typically hickory chips from newly purchased to a year old. –  Jeff Axelrod Mar 26 '13 at 3:56
    
If you want good smoke, try a soft wood or shrub wood (cedar, lavender, tea tree). You only need to age wood with running sap. Smoking wood with liquid sap can be nice, but may be too astringent –  TFD Mar 26 '13 at 6:50
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2 Answers 2

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Don't let the tail wag the dog. When smoking, you want to figure out time and temperature first and worry about smoke second. This can obviously vary widely. That said, there are things you can do to get more smoke going:

If you can smell it, you'll get some smoke flavor. If you can see it, you'll get more. If you're not getting (much) visible smoke then you need some combination of 1) wetter wood 2) lower temperature 3) larger wood. You get less smoke when the wood just goes up in flames. Chips are particularly prone to do this. Larger chunks smolder better. Things also smolder better when they're very wet or the fire isn't so hot. But again, you want to figure out your temperature and then get smoke, not make large temp changes just to get smoke.

If you're doing very low and slow (225F), sometimes that's not enough heat to get your wood smoking well. Smaller chips or higher temperature are the only things I've found that really solve this problem.

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Proof that soaking wood chips accomplishes almost nothing. –  Carey Gregory Mar 25 '13 at 22:20
    
@CareyGregory That article doesn't sound like proof, only hypothesizing. Or did I miss something? Were there blind tastings and experiments? –  Jeff Axelrod Mar 26 '13 at 15:04
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@JeffAxelrod He proved how much water is actually absorbed during a 12-hour soak: 3% for chunks and 6% for chips. He makes the point that such a trivial amount of water would evaporate almost immediately, and until it did so it would limit the temperature of the wood to 212F/100C, preventing smoke generation. So, soaking accomplishes nothing. In practice, I've found he's quite right. Soaked wood begins to smoke (not steam) a few moments later than dry wood, but it burns up just as quickly. –  Carey Gregory Mar 26 '13 at 17:16
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The usual temperature range for traditional low-and-slow BBQ is between 200F and 250F, although there's plenty of variation allowed - I've made solid BBQ at 300F. (Cold-smoking, as in for making smoked-salmon, is a wholly different animal)

With a closed grill and smoke-wood mixed in with the coals, there should be plenty of heat to smolder the wood. Note that you DO NOT need to see visible smoke to get smoke-flavor - most pro-BBQ pitmasters will allow the smoke to get to a 'blue-smoke' stage - not thick, billowing white smoke - for best flavor.

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