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I am smoking baby back ribs using an electric vertical smoker.

Given that most food absorbs smoke for an hour or two before saturating, what will happen if I stop adding wood chips after about two hours? Will I get the same result as if I continued to add wood chips, given that the ribs are unlikely to absorb appreciable amounts of additional smoke? In other words, does the smoke serve a useful purpose once the meat is saturated with smoke flavor?

Note that I am not asking about changing the cooking method (e.g. transferring to an oven or grill) or temperature, nor am I asking about meat other than ribs. All I am curious about is if I stop adding wood chips after two hours in the smoker, but continuing to smoke for the full duration.

I have been smoking ribs (and other meat) for years, but I have always added smoke chips up until an hour before finishing. I am curious if I am literally burning money by wasting wood chips.

Related question: How much time do I need to achieve a smokey flavor in bbq? Please note that this question is different because I am specifically not switching cooking methods, nor am I asking when smoking is more effective.

  • How long do you smoke your ribs for? I would with some certainty state that this is a case of diminishing returns. – Captain Giraffe Aug 28 '15 at 22:16
  • I normally smoke for 10-12 hours at 220F. I know it only takes 6, but they are oh so tender and fall-off-the-bone when I smoke them that long, yet not overdone, either. I then grill for 15-20 after basting with BBQ sauce until the sauce becomes carmelized and gooey. – user21524 Aug 28 '15 at 23:48
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The meat doesn't really "absorb" the smoke, as much as the smoke sticks to the meat, for the most part.

The real answer here is strictly what your preference is. While there are some preservative qualities that are delivered through smoking food, you should consider smoke a spice no different than salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. Smoking food for two hours should be plenty for most people's palates. It is better to be a little light on the smoke than a little heavy (I know this from my own mistakes in the past).

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I have also successfully smoked my food (fish and game meat) successfully with green and black Chinese tea... It imparts a different flavor to the meats. However, as the tea begins to dry it sometimes start to burn, and imparts a different (often unwanted) flavor and smell to the target. So there IS such a thing as over smoking. Smoking on salt and sugar beds should be really carefully monitored as the caramelized mess often leaves an unwanted texture to the target.

I do suggest trying a salt, sugar and tea smoke one day... This is a quick process that imparts flavor and aroma rather than colour to the target.

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